A look at the Bonn Folk Club Blog-site tells me that they are now 19 shows old. Time, as the great poet Dylan (Bob, not Thomas) once said, is indeed “A jetplane”. Not that the original writer of John’s opening song would have known what a jetplane actually was. ‘Charlie is me Darling’. Not a pion from Camilla to the current Prince of Wales, this song goes back to a much Bonnier Prince Charlie’s time – when heads were routinely hacked off and men hung drawn & quartered. Ah well, I didn’t say a ‘better’ time… Another famous nod to the Bonnie Prince came also in the form of ‘Over the seas to Skye’. John Harrison also filled us in on the historical context of the texts, but if you’re reading this you’re on the WWW and can flipping well ‘Wicki’ it yourself! If you missed the boat to Skye you could always go on a ramble with ‘Ewan MacColl as John sang ‘I’m a Rambler’: “I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday” Certainly something to print on a T shirt and wear to the next Company barbecue…
Gerhard Sonnenberger rescued us from John’s Bucolic Anarchy with some gentle acoustic songs including Hannes Wader’s ‘Seit du da bist’ and encouraged us all to “Sing, sing sing”. Which Lothar Heinrich immediately did, taking us on a ‘Sea of Heartbreak’. No let up from heartache as he headed straight into ‘Don’t they know it’s the end of the World’. His version of ‘The man who shot Liberty Valence’ had me thinking of Gene Pitney and James Stewart at the same time – an odd experience. It also made me reflect that possibly the last time I heard the song live it was probably Mr Pitney himself singing it at Portsmouth Guildhall. Thinking how long ago that must have been made me even sadder than the force of ‘Sea of heartbreak’ and ‘End of the World’ combined.
Thankfully Barry Roshto’s wife Christiane and son David were there to soothe me with some gentle violin/piano arrangements. This was much needed because next on the bill was a man whose music I enjoy very much but who has certainly sung his share of disaster based songs at Folk Club.
The man in question, Thomas Steffens, had as usual a surprise or two in his guitar case. Following on from last weeks ‘Liverpool Lullaby’ we had ‘Liverpool Lou’ which is a love song in which surprisingly nobody dies. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ would be pretty depressing but for the fact that it’s such a classic that people can sing along without really thinking about the lyrics too much. “All the lonely people” sort of get forgotten in the melody. The ‘Moptops’ are just too well known I suppose.
Less well known, and all the better for it, was ‘Her Father didn’t like me anyway’ which Steffen’s voice fits perfectly. I can almost see him supping a pint of bitter and telling this to his mates at the ‘Fishermans Rest’ or the ‘Dog and Spigot’. Although written and movingly sang by Gerry Rafferty, the song really comes alive in the right hands – see Shane Macgowans version at the end of this review. Of course, Thomas wouldn’t be Thomas without the odd surprise and an excellent take of Mark Knopfler’s Madame Geneva from the ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’ album, was bettered only by ‘Fresenhof’ which to my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong John) is the first ‘Plattdeutsch’ song we’ve heard at the Club. If you fancy a linguistic challenge check out the link to ‘Fresenhof’ provided by Steffen in the ‘comments’ below.
Tangoyim, the evenings starguests, also delivered some musical firsts. Traditional Eastern European melodies, Klezmer, Jeddish, Hungarian all played with gusto. Daniel Marsch providing perfect rhythm on accordian to accompany Steffi Hölzle’s violin, clarinet and vocals. I particularly enjoyed ‘Faded Love’ which had an atmosphere that made me think of old style black and white westerns – John Wayne heading up the cattle in ‘Red River’… The addition in part two of Ecki Schwandke on violin added extra texture and it must be said that the Gaststätte Hall seems perfect for such music. I was going to say ‘violin’ music but hang on – the Tangoyim website says Daniel and Steffi also play the Bratsche (Viola). A song that went down especially well with the bar staff had the refrain ‘Frau Wirtin entschuldigen, aber zahlen wir nicht’ (‘Excuse us barlady, but we won’t pay!’)
John’s adverts for the club said something about a band called ‘Worldwide Fiddles’ though, so despite fearing my ignorance would be laughed at by the Folk Club music experts, I threw caution to the wind and asked ‘fiddler’ Ecki Schwandke about the difference? Seemingly a fiddle is played in folk music and if you take it out and play it at the symphony then it’s a violin. I suspect though that a Stradivarius is always a violin!
Time was again not on our side and even though Tangoyin slipped in an extra song (cleverly making it one called ‘Johnny’ which Mr ‘Johnny’ Harrison accepted without hesitation!) before we knew it everyone was singing ‘Jock Stewart‘ and heading for the bar in the hope that John would one day be true to the lines he sings “whatever you drink I will pay”. Once agin we were out of luck. Maybe next time…
To finish, a lively rendition of ‘Her mother didn’t like me anyway’ which was sung at the club by Thomas Steffens. It was written by the late, great Gerry Rafferty for his band the Humblebums.
Shane MacGowan’s version here sounds like its from a man who’s been there…