After last months mammoth sax session at Bonn Folk Club in Grauerheindorf, we had an evening where just about every other instrument except a saxophone was present it seemed. From the regulatory house piano, to the exotic Brazilian 10 string ‘Viola Caipira’ and finally with a rousing finale from the multi talented (and multi instrumental) DerElligh.
In the spirit of Folk Club, Franz and John were discussing music before the show, Scott Joplin was mentioned and John said ‘Do you want to do it?’ Franz said ‘Yes’ and so it was that piano Jazz got us off and running this time.
Mr Harrison kicked off the Club proper with Robert Johnson (no, Mr Johnson was not in attendance – physically at least, but when John gets ‘into it’ he seems to be taken over by some inner force so who knows?) The Dobro was in use for Blind Blakes ‘Police Dog Blues’ which is having a resurgence of life following it’s inclusion on the new Hugh Laurie release. I love the steely Dobro sound and the harmonics John puts in on this track are icing on the Blues cake.
Mario Dompke is a new name to me but a pleasant surprise. Mario has a very emotional approach to his own songs and they obviously lay close to his heart. His song about ‘Wann ich begraben bin’ (When I am buried’) hit a mournful theme that recurred a few times throughout the evening.
The guests for the evening, DerElligh, upped the tempo (and the cheerfulness) immediately with Christine’s spirited vocal on ‘I courted a sailor’ as they began their first set of the evening. Whistle Wizard Stefan Dekker’s lively version of Thomas McHugh’s jig ‘Crooked Road to Dublin’ also kept the tempo upbeat. Elder statesman of the band Karl-Wilhelm introduced the band’s set explaining about the healing powers of music and you really had to agree with him where DerElligh were concerned as one harmonious melody followed another in melodious succession on a list of instruments that would double the length of this review if I named them all, or indeed knew what they all were! Is Saskia playing a violin or a fiddle ?(or does that depend on what she’s playing?), is That a Whistle or a flute, or indeed a Recorder Stefan is so beautifully playing? Why is Folk so complicated? ‘Relax and enjoy the music’ I tell myself. Thematically, ‘Sir Eglamore’ was a return to the theme of death, about a dragon that “Killed God knows how many men” It was thankfully finally killed itself after making the mistake of yawning and thereby allowing the brave Sir Eglamore to thrust in his sword… Maybe not serious stuff, but dramatic nonetheless.
After a quick break to smooth the vocal chords of all singers present John Harrison was back, and with two surprises. The first as he placed his hat on the piano top and had the temerity to start playing it too (the piano, not the hat. Even John Harrison can’t tune a straw fedora). The second surprise was the addition of Joker drummer Detlev Martin. This was a historic first appearance of a drum kit at the Folk Club – although as Detlev pointed out to me it’s not a complete kit, just snare and cymbals.
Musically it was an excellent addition to John’s opening ‘Rocks in my Bed’ from Duke Ellington.
It didn’t fit in so well with the classic ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ but as the audience was singing along anyway it didn’t matter. Certainly a Blues trio of John, Detlev and Paulo on Harp would be worth at least a mini Pub Tour. Maybe a future set at FC at least John?
American Steve Perry looked unexceptional enough when he stepped in front of the spotlight clutching a flamenco guitar. Nothing however was what it seemed. Steve had us all confused as he put on his canvas hat and began singing a sad lament in Portugese. His ‘Flamenco guitar’ was also not what it appeared. On closer inspection it had ten strings! Totally bewildered I just gave up analyzing, listened to the pleasant rythms of the music and made a note to ask him what it was all about afterwards – fortunately he was sitting next to me later. The ten string is actually a Viola Caipira which if I understood correctly (unlikely) has three sets of identical strings and two sets which are an octave apart. This makes it exceptional in tone and exceptional in its ability to go out of tune somewhere within the course of each song. Which brought the second question – what was it all about Steve? “Death” was the answer, which explained the rather unjolly tune. A man who murders his wife to be exact. I asked if there were any comedy songs in Portugese and he recounted one about a donkey and its reaction to the various people who sit on it. At the end the donkey dies. Well it’s a Portugese song you see…
Thomas Steffens continued his tributes to travelling journeys of old with Ewan Macolls ‚Champion at Keeping ‚em rolling’ The classic ‘Dirty Old Town’ and a favourite of mine, one of many anti war songs by Eric Bogle, ‘No Mans Land’ Thomas just keeps getting better and better. His vocals are bold and powerful to match his playing. Always a pleasure to hear. For further proof see the video link below!
Back to the final set by the talented half dozen who make up DerElligh. As whistle/guitar player Sebastian announces: “Ireland has two favourite days – Christmas Day and Summer” The song ‘Winter is Over’ is therefore particularly poignant for a band dedicated to Irish music. So we were at the end of another Folk Club evening, and thinking ‘Who knows where the time goes?’ which was poignant because that was the last ‘official’ song of the evening. A brave one at that, since Sandy Denny’s sweet high tones made it her own – and a challenge for anyone coming after. Christine didn’t get up to Sandy’s high notes but gave a rather lower key (literally) version that nevertheless made the spine tingle in it’s timeless sentiments. Most importantly, they managed to ensure we went home happily tapping our feet by finishing with the traditional Irish jig ‘Madam, I’m a darling’ as a reminder that wherever the time went we spent it well, as ever, at the Bonn Folk Club.
Thomas Steffens sings ‘Champion at keeping ’em rolling’
and finally, a reminder of a wonderful voice – Sandy Denny’s demo of ‘Who knows where the time goes’