Scottish Folk Music? All bagpipes, kilts and ‚Donald where’s yer troosers’? Whisky riven Highland tales about lost Nationality and adventures funny, sad, or both. Simon Kempston’s appearance at Novembers Bonn Folk Club was not so easily pigeonholed under standard Scottish Folk though and he proved to live up very aptly to the title ‘Special Guest’.
But lets keep to the evenings running order. John Harrison started things as ever with the old words we’ve heard before – a loud ‘LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!’ but then proceeded to produce a set that was completely new. Kicking off with Fred Wedlock’s ‘The Folker’ – a homage to a hopeless Folk musician sung to the tune of S & G’s classic ‘The Boxer’ and followed up by Davey Graham’s celebrated instrumental piece ‘Anji’. The song had special resonance this evening as it was most famously played by Bert Jansch who sadly died recently after battling Cancer.
Furry Lewis’s ‘I will turn your money green’ led us into one of John’s famous Folk Club history lessons as he presented a number from Alex Glasgow – ‘Close the coalhouse door’. A song immortalising the bone breaking work of coalminers and leading John to remember one of Britains worst coalmining disasters from October 1966, where the Welsh village of Aberfan was partially buried when heavy rain caused the colliery face to collapse, entombing houses and the local school in minutes. From a total death toll of 144 was the even more shocking statistic that 128 children had perished. The whole disaster became an embarassment for the government and raised questions about the whereabouts of money donated by a shocked nation and compensation for bereaved families.
John finished up his set with ‘Lemon Street Blues’ and made the stage free for Siegfried Königsfeld (guitar, vocal and harmonica) who with his fellow musicians Marianne Mallmann (vocal), Wolfram Mallmann (vocal & rattle) and Ronan Sevellec (Cajon) played a couple of short pieces to get us warmed up before taking on Springsteen’s ‘The River’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, along with Eddie Money’s ‘Take me home tonight’ giving the audience something to sing along to – something that the Folk Club audience can be relied upon to do with boundless enthusiasm. All in all making an excellent atmosphere for the evenings’ special guest to start his first set.
Edinburgh born Simon Kempston provided us with a completely self composed set of top drawer songs and top quality musicianship with a voice that was strong enough to fill the room but always tone perfect – even up to Pianissimo. His lyrics were often very personal or with historical basis, often with melancholic undertones. Beginning with ‘To the wilderness’ with it’s tale of the unavoidable errors and confusions that are the lot of everyday human life. (“and into the desolate wilderness we’d go”). Songs with great conviction. ‘Careless Interventions’, ‘Ladies Lookout’ (about the brilliant but unfortunate Scottish King James IV), ‘Strangled’, ‘Barricade’ (about the Baltic Independence Movement), ‘To See The Lights’ (about the rise and fall of the St Margarets Hope Naval Port in the Orkneys). Impressive stuff, and that was just the first of Simon’s sets for the evening!.
John made an interesting observation after Simon finished. The hommage to Bert Jansch played by John earlier ‘Anji’ shared with Simons set the very distinctive and unusual DADGAD guitar tuning (standard tuning is EADGBE). To quote Wikipedia on the subject:
“DADGAD, D modal tuning or Celtic tuning is an alternative guitar tuning most associated with Celtic music … The suitability of DADGAD to Celtic music stems from the fact that it facilitates the use of a number of moveable chords which retain open strings. These act as a drone on either the bass or treble strings, approximating the voicings used in traditional Scottish and Irish pipe music.”
It’s not just for ‘Folkies’ either – Jimmy Page is a famous advocate of this tuning and used it most famously on ‘Kashmir’ from Led Zeppelins mega selling disc ‘Physical Graffiti’ .
Barry Roshto started off part two of the evening with two unusual acapella songs that soared between high falsetto and deep baritone: the famed Father Rhine hommage ‘Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten’ and the old local humour song ‘Es saßen die alten Germanen zu beiden Seiten des Rheins’. Both songs were a taster for Barry and his co music-school teaching colleague Ursula Quint’s Musical event ‘Hydrophonics’ based on the astounding underwater sound recordings made by them in the Rhine and Maas Rivers and mixed with comedy and traditional Rhine songs.
Theo Seitan was a surprise guest for the evening, presenting two songs that included John Denvers ‘Last night I had the strangest dream’. The regular and popular face of Steve Perry was next up onstage, this time accompanied not just by his brazilian Viola Caipira but also by Bernd Wallau. The two presented ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ (popular through American crooner Perry Como) and ‘Ballad of the Teenage Queen’ (Johnny Cash). Great too that the two seemed to have brought their own fan-club along who kept perfect backing from their table with cries of ‘huuh, hooh huuh hooh!’. Naturally there was also a Brazilian song from Steve.
Then it was time for the crowning finish to a fine evening with Simon Kempstons return that was every bit as sad, thoughtful, melancholy and excellent as his first set: ‘Carefree prisoner’, ‘Mad Dog’, ‘Cast iron guarantee’, ‘In the Lord I trust’, ‘Full of regret’ and ‘Derry Walls’. All excellent songs and all very well presented and very well appreciated by the ever louder audience applause. For anyone who missed the evening, or indeed anyone who wants to relive it! A vist to Simon’s website is highly recommended: http://www.simonkempston.co.uk.
The melancholy side of Simon’s songs carried over with the news that after January 2012 Bonn Folk Club will be homeless as the Gaststätte will be closing its doors. It would be a dreadful shame for all the momentum and enthusiasm that John, Barry and, indeed the many regular visitors and musicians who have performed over the Clubs history, if that really means the end. If anyone can suggest a new home for the music please let me know and I will pass the ideas on to the Folk Club Team.
– Based on original German language report by Detlef Stachetzki on http://folk-club-bonn.blogspot.com/