Country, Blues & Gambas at the Folk Club

Lothar Heinrich

‚From Henry Purcell to Robert Johnson’. That’s what the top line of John Harrison’s typewritten notes for the evening said. A tall order, even for Bonn Folk Club, but John wasn’t bluffing as the December meet revealed. He even had a new instrument up his sleeve (or in the evenings case, one might say his poncho) in the form of a Gamba.

The name Robert Johnson was immediately crossed off the ‘to do’ list with John’s rendition of the infamous ‘Crossroads Blues’. Did John sell HIS soul to the Devil? Maybe he just rented it for the duration of the song. Anyways it was a spirited interpretation, as were Willie Dixon’s ‘Little Red Rooster’ and Son Houses ‘Walking Blues’.

Whilst John popped down to the pawn-shop to retrieve his Soul we heard a short but sweet piece from Jutta Mensing of the FiF Folk Club before Lothar Heinrich took over with accompaniment on guitar from Peter Philips and rounded us all up into Marlborough Country by way of Johnny Cash’s ‘Never Picked Cotton’ and Kris Kristofferson’s cowboy lament ‘Come Sundown’ Highlight of the set, and probably the whole night, though was a Tom Jones song. No, not as as Lothar pointed out, “Sex Bomb” but a different Tom Jones and a different song – ‘Ain’t no Grave, gonna hold my body down’ – and you couldn’t hold Lothars body either as he jumped around to it and had everyone clapping frantically along. Super stuff Lothar & Peter!

We needed to chill out after that, and Daniel Mennicken was perfect for the job. “A shy Tom Waits” as John memorably described Daniel. A sane Tom Waits maybe would also fit. Starting with a romantic and self-penned song I believe was called ‘Home to you’ through the late Chris Whitley’s ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Living with the Law’. A big fan of Whitley, Daniel recalls once having the chance to meet the man but missing his chance. Talking to stars is tricky Daniel – I once congratulated Paul Potts saying it was wonderful to see a successful English Opera singer.  His Welsh smile back was somewhat icy I felt. Suitably relaxed by Daniel we took a break.

Daniel Menniken

Barry Roshto Kicking off the second half with Purcell is a bit of a contradiction.  Replace ‘kicking’ with ‘gently nudging’ for a better fit.  A set of Purcell Theatre tunes offered up in a falsetto voice that surely has no place in a Folk Club – except that it’s so beautiful to hear so I don’t care (and Barry would probably argue that Purcell was the finest Folk singer/songwriter of the 17th Century).  Also beautiful on the ears was Barry’s rendition of WB Yeats ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’.  What made it even more memorable was a first appearance on the Folk Club stage of a Gamba.   For the uninitiated, the  Gamba originated in the 15th Century and is not to be confused with a violin.  Wikipedia:

“Unlike members of the violin family, which are tuned in fifths, viols are usually tuned in fourths with a major third in the middle, mirroring the tuning employed on the vihuela de mano and lute during the 16th century and similar to that of the modern six-string guitar.”

They might also add that it’s the size of a cello so unlikely to inadvertently be  balanced on even a short sighted violinists shoulder in error.  I loved the carved Angel headstock – sadly omitted by messrs Gibson and Fender when they designed their guitars in the 20th Century.   My notes tell me the player was named Thomas.  Sorry for missing your surname Thomas, but I had eyes only for your wonderful instrument.

Thomas and Viola da Gamba

The onerous task of trying to follow that fell to Canadian Steve Perry.   I have in the past suggested Steve seems to specifically seek out tales of misery and woe.  I can only say he will have trouble following up this weeks opener in the melodrama stakes:

“I want to get home to kiss Mama goodbye, before God takes her away” cries the little boy caught on a train without a ticket on ‘Lightning Express’.  If I tried that out on the Deutsche Bahn they’d probably insist on a Doctors certificate and accompany me to the hospital to check my story.  His ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke’ about a wife lamenting her husbands evenings spent away from home wasn’t a whole lot more cheerful either.  Oddly enough, when you speak to Steve he’s a very amiable guy.  Don’t bet on hearing him sing Benny Hill’s  ‘Ernie – the fastest milkman in the west’ anytime soon though.  Oh, and full marks for playing guitar despite a bandaged finger Steve.  Never was a bottle-neck more welcome I suspect.

David Rushto brought his lively Acapella ensemble on for the next set, and we were briefly back in Marlborough Country with the opening ‘Rawhide’.  Anyone remember the tv series with Clint Eastwood?  I suspect David and his friends have a combined age that would barely make them old enough to remember it.  “Keep those dogies rolling, Rawhide” Yee ha!  ‘Scarborough Fair‘ was gentle and made ‘Hit the road Jack’ all the more dramatic.  As a man from a naval town I particularly enjoyed ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’.  I remember when I worked in a Bank we used to charge them double when they came in to change money.  Ah, memories.

Rheinfolk brought the evening to a close with their unique blend of Rock songs and Folk instruments.  Fiddle driven rather than Fender driven Rock.  The opener was a surprise though – ‘Ferry cross the Mersey’.  Gerry & the Pacemakers in case you couldn’t remember.  Jim Morrisons ‘Light my Fire’  and Metallica’s ‘Nothing else Matters’ with a furious fiddle  break that had every ‘air-fiddle’ player waving their arms wildly (okay, maybe not, but it makes a great picture in the mind) brought the evening to a close – well almost.  Instead of ‘Jock Stewart’ Barry and Ingrid had found something more seasonal to finish.

“When the snow falls wunderbar,  and the children happy are…”  lyrics possibly by Udo Jürgens, but I suspect he might deny it.  The last line though is undeniably spot on:

“Frohe Weinacht, frohe Weinacht, Merry Christmas allerseits!”

At which point I expected to see Father Christmas added to the list of contributors of a fine Folk evening.  I guess he was at home watching the last ‘Wetten Das”.  More fool Santa – he missed a treat.


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