FIRST he took Glastonbury, then he took Birmingham. But if Leonard Cohen’s ability to blow away the giant crowd at the summer’s biggest open air festival at the age of 73 came as a slight surprise, his string of arena concerts this winter before true believers were always going to be emotional celebrations of a remarkable career.

Few artists at Birmingham NEC can ever have been as warmly welcomed to the stage as the great Canadian song writer, as he jauntily danced on to the stage to open with Dance Me to the End of Love. And for more than two-and-a half hours the dignified figure in the double-breasted suit, resembling a 1930s gangster, merely had to gesture with his fedora to generate thunderous applause.

After 14 years, his fans did not expect to see Cohen on stage again. After all, the last time he played, as he said, he was just “a 60-year-old kid with a crazy dream”. He jests that it was only the intrusion of “cheerfulness” that led him to suspend his philosophical and religious pursuits. And even if we all know that financial misfortune has forced the poet to peddle his trade on this long European tour, for his devotees it has been a chance to acknowledge his unique place in contemporary music.

In return, Cohen is repaying that faith with a series of concerts that will enter the ‘best gigs of all time’ shortlist for many. Gripping the microphone with white clenched fists, his great songs are delivered in his inimitable baritone, perfectly complemented by the two Webb sisters, and his long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson. Cohen has always liked to surround himself by beautiful talented women and he clearly sees no reason to stop now.

A superb six-piece band, led by the guitarist Bob Metzger, offered polished and varied reworkings of Bird on a Wire, Chelsea Hotel and Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, some with delicious jazz arrangements, others introduced by gorgeous flamenco guitar work.

The only depressing thing about this Cohen concert were the chaotic scenes preceding the performance which saw hundreds crammed into narrow passageways in scenes reminiscent of 1970s football grounds, resulting in many missing the opening number. This most good- humoured of crowds deserved better.