Bonn Folk Club laid it’s hat in a new home this month as the first evening at Haus Müllestumpe got off, literally, to a ‘Whistle Test’ of a start. There were familiar faces in new places, playing new games like ‘deciding which side of the pillar to sing round’ and ‘dodge the waiter’. It soon settled down to ‘business as usual’ though, and soon I was the one playing familiar games like ‘name that tune’ and ‘new name to check out later on Wikipedia’.
Despite being away from the the main streets ‘Haus Müllestumpe’ turned out easy to reach – a short walk from the ‘Josefshöhe’ tramstop and there it was, tucked away in peace and quiet in tree lined tranquility.
The very place in fact for a club that eschews amplification. Except that when I hold the door open so John can carry his guitar cases in, there is a rush of noise from inside that sounds like tables full of people enjoying their evening meals before settling down to an evening of conversation sans music. I suspect we are catching a lot of regular guests by surprise. John though seemed unphased by it – perhaps quietly considering there were likely to be future ‘Folkies’ amongst the unwitting audience. It will take getting used to, this not having a separate room. For us as well as the ‘locals’?
Well, the piano looks pleased to see us anyway. It’s pointed, as if in embarrassment at its presence, at the wall. There’s a nervous extra clatter of forks on plates (or do I imagine it) as the guitar toting man in the white beard and straw hat enters. This is what it must have been like to see Jesse James walk into the saloon in Dodge City I suspect. The arrival of of other guitar toting ‘hombres’ (The Harrison Gang?) in the form of Richard Limbert, Lother Heinrich and Silke Frost silences the clatter. The tables are cleared, nervous diners take refuge behind the bar – and John reaches for his spoons. He will be making good use of them tonight.
When the dust settles and the tables are rearranged I rub my eyes. The seats are all not just filled, but filled with familiar faces (familiar bottoms I suppose to be exact, but you know what I mean).
By the time John shouts out his famous ‘Ladies & Gentlemen!’ even the standing room is filled with familiar faces (feet). It’s pretty much a full house, with additional ‘viewers’ witnessing a Folk Club meet for the first time in their lives. Who are these two men walking jauntily round the restaurant blowing into harmonicas? Of course we in the know do know – it’s John Harrison and Paulo Pacifico. We even know they are playing ‘Stone Fox Chase’, and those of us old enough to remember it will recognize the theme tune of ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. Having seen Paulo at the recent ‘Nine Below Zero’ concert where Mark Feltham played this very number I can see his inspiration. Feltham stayed firmly onstage though, whereas Harrison and Pacifico go walkabout. I suspect that, come Summer, they will disappear for the occasional verse into the beer garden. Right now though there is nervous anticipation as John reaches for his silverwarespoons. A palpable silence, and then he and Paulo launch into ‘Donkey Riding’ tapping spoons together as makeshift castanets, by the end of which no one is shot , hit with a whisky bottle, or even bitten by a donkey. Instead everyone has a good sing-along to the chorus.
There are serious matters this evening too of course. Included in John and Paulo’s set are a couple of numbers in memory of the late, great, Louisiana Red. ‘Too poor to die’ was a title from Red’s early days. He never became rich materially of course, but a lot of people remember him fondly in a way that money and fame could never even hope to buy. Red settled here in Germany largely because his friend Champion Jack Dupree did, so Jacks mournful ‘Bring me flowers when I’m living’was an inspired choice to play.
Andreas Gruner added a bit of sax appeal to the evening with a short set that included ‘Stormy Monday’ and then it was time for what would have been this evenings main act.
Silke Frost unfortunately, for family reasons, had to leave early, but by the time she did so we were all asking when the lady would return. ‘Tagebuch Music’ (Diary Music) is how her excellent WEBSITE describes Silkes style. Songs originally meant just for her own ears that (thankfully) found their way onto a CD ‘Tagebuchmusik’ and even onto a video of her poppiest number ‘Froschkönigin’ (Frog Princess). From the moment she chose, instead of the corner ‘stage’, to seat herself on one of the tables, she had everyones rapt attention. Her gentler songs remind me very much of Bonn’s own Anika Auweiler solo – particularly the reflective ‘Amnesie’ (Amnesia) As she sings “I’ve forgotten who I was” she could be addressing past lives or lost chances. Thoughtful lyrics, gentle melodies, diary entries with strings for sure. Frost has an ear for a hookline too, that suggests it would be a musical crime for her ‘diaries’ to remain ‘private’. On ‘Frosch Königin’: “A Face like Heidi Klum?’ ‘A bosom like Pamela Anderson?’ whatever men want, I can be it – You just need to kiss me” is her message – My research tells me that Silke Frost will be playing Mausefalle next week (10 March) but if you can’t make it, then check out her website – one of the best I’ve seen – it puts that of many a top musician to shame.
Barry Roshto was first up after the break, which gave us time to make the piano happy by wheeling it away from its glum position facing the wall. ‘Mr Bojangles’ it was that got everyone back to their seats. Not the most cheerful of songs. Barry’s face was even more forlorn as he mournfully noted that, just as Max Raabe also experienced, ‘Kein Schwein ruft mir an’. Imagine his joy at the songs close when his cellphone began ringing! Somebody loves you Barry…
If anyone in my introduction had really been toting a six gun instead of a guitar it would have been Lothar Heinrich. He obviously loves his Country music and the Wild West of Wayne and Cooper. What better way to mix the two than the thunderous Johnny Cash hit ‘Big River’ followed up with Steve Earle’s pion to the dangers of toting a six gun ‘Devils Right Hand’ and that classic of western classics ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’? we were all ‘Yippy Yi Yeahing’ into the evenings last floorspot.
Strange what even a few months can do. Last Folk Club saw a rather nervous looking Richard Limbert take the floor in a manner rather reminiscent of Robert Johnson – seated, feet square and playing with a nervous air of someone who knows what he can do but isn’t quite sure if it will come across. In between there have been more appearances (one in support of John and Paulo at GoVinum) and Richard now not only knows what he can do he knows WE know. He takes on the challenge of having a pillar right in front of the stage by singing from one side of it, then the other, before saying a metaphorical ‘F**ck it!’ by going on a walkabout with his twelve string. It’s amazing what a difference those extra six strings make to the volume here too. The sound hasn’t always been kind this evening to quiet songs on six strings, but Richard is loud and clear. ‘St James Infirmary’ seems to be very much in fashion these days (thanks to Hugh Laurie?) but Richard covers it with aplomb. His own numbers ‘On MyMind’ and ‘Wait’ show he also has promise in the contemporary Folk world and his version of Rev Gary Davis’ ‘Hesitation Blues’ might lack the ragtime dexterity of the original and Ralph Mctell but then he has a few years to catch up on them both.
… and we’re back to ‘Jock Stuart’. The end of a first evening, a new venue baptized. The baby needs a bit of parental care: More (brighter) lighting, a place for the ‘stage’ that is better both musically and visually. What seemed initially to be a minus though may turn into a plus: those people who came here not expecting live music were to be seen coming back and forward to the bar and often as not staying for a few numbers. I suspect they might be back as part of the audience next time – so come early.