Spring was definitely not in the air – in fact it was pelting down outside. Inside Haus Müllestumpe though John Harrison was celebrating the Summer and the return of swifts and ducks to Bonn. Just don’t look over his shoulder to the rivulets running down the window panes…
Ah, the futility of a ducks life; Laying endless eggs, just in the hope that a few will survive. Johns story of ‘Zeppelina’ was a sad one. In the light of Irish famines and dying hobos that were to come in later texts this evening though. it was almost boisterous. Swifts of course avoid problems on terra firma by steadfastly remaining airborne, as described in Johns gentle poetic tribute to them. Until of course they too must touch down – to breed or to die. We humans on the other hand have our own problems – Robert Johnsons ‘Love in Vain’ was one that John addressed in his introductory triplet, as always the National Steel guitar was on hand and used to great effect this time on Willie Dixons’s ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’. ‘Misssissippi Muddy’ Harrison was, as always, in fine Blues Form.
Andreas Grüner had a new partner on acoustic guitar this time. Wearing Summer shorts in strict defiance of the Winter rain outside, Andre Moldovans guitar strings appeared to stick out a good two feet beyond his guitars headstock – and threaten to rip Andrea’s shirt to shreds at any careless movement. Maybe that’s why Andreas was particularly spirited, especially with some excellent jazz guitar runs on ‘Hard Stuff’. All credit to him also for attacking ‘Child in Time’ – even though the threatening guitar string ends failed to elicit the required ‘Gillanesque’ screams to really carry it off in a comporable manner with the Deep Purple original.
I doubt that Thomas Steffens could do a Deep Purple song justice on an acoustic six string either – but he does more than just ‘do justice’ to sing along numbers like ‘Liverpool Lou’ and ‘Donald wheres yer troosers’. He asks John if there’s time for one more and thankfully John nods. Thankfully because‘Fields of Athenry’ is a number I wasn’t familiar with until Thomas played it, but by songs end I had another Folk Club favourite to check out on Wikipedia (in case you wondered it’s been done by the Dubliners amongst many others and is a traditional tale of a man jailed for stealing wheat during the Great Famine in Ireland).
On the subject of Ireland, it was time for our special guest. Thomas had come all the way down the motorway from Düsseldorf but our guest was here all the way from Crumlin, County Antrim. Further proof if proof be needed, that Bonn Folk Club has found a niche and a name internationally. ‘Have guitar, travel through Bonn/Cologne, play at Haus Müllestumpe’ maybe it’s becoming part of a Folk ‘European Tour’. Martin Donnelly is a popular musician on the Folk Circuit in Britain and it’s not hard to see why as soon as he begins to sing. “Hear the Blackbird in the morning, as he lifts his head to sing…” Like John earlier, Donnelly begins his set with a gentle melancholic nod to Spring and the wild birds with his ‘Flute of Ebony’. It is very much a taster for most of the evening. Love songs are very much Martin Donnelly’s province, but more often than not they address a love for nature, especially in his native Ireland. Man, Nature and Family all feature in ‘Daddy Will You Run’, inspired by Donnelly’s daughter. A reminder that adults so often overlook simple natural pleasures that are there but unseen around us in the tangle of our busy lives. Forgetting the pleasures of just running “down by the shining sea”.
Donnellys most famous piece is ‘The Green Man’, which he describes as something of a druidic experience, telling of a mythical figure both Man and Nature. It’s a powerful song lyrically and a haunting one musically that even the occasional clatter of glasses at the bar can’t distract from. Earlier I’d been fondly thinking of the complete silence at last Sundays Harmonie set by Jack Savoretti. It was a silence that Martin Donnelly’s delicate songs certainly deserved but rarely got which was a pity. When a concert lives from sales at the bar as is so often the case with ‘free’ music though it’s an unavoidable hazard.
Even the bar telephone couldn’t compete with the Saragina Combo however. Twelve strong, with just about every instrument you could imagine and a few you couldn’t. It would have been embarrassing if the musicians had suddenly outnumbered the audience. Thankfully, such a danger seems very much in the past at Bonn Folk Club where again the turnout was pleasingly large despite the wild weather. The Combo played instrumentals from France and Russia, with a Kletzmer number that reminded very much of recent visitors to the Club ‘Tangoyim’. They produced a lively counterpart to Martin Donnelly’s serenity for certain.
Thomas Steffens had brought a colleague with him and the colleague turned out to be as enjoyable to hear as Thomas himself. The man in question was Gerd Werk whose lively rendition of Dylans ‘Only a Hobo’ was a reminder of the great mans scheduled concert in Bonn at Kunst!rasen. I doubt His Bobness will play this old classic, and if he does I doubt he will do it better justice. The same can be said of ‘Last thing on my Mind’, a number that needs to be played with gusto if it’s to avoid being done to death and Gerd Werk plays it with the required ‘clout’. Enjoyable, and someone I hope will come back again, and again.
The last half of the second set belonged to Martin Donnelly. White Park Bay in Antrim was one of the first settlements of Neolithic Man in Ireland so it’s a particularly fitting setting for one of Donnelly’s most emotive songs of the same name. Generally Donnelly’s tone was, as on ‘Aphrodite’ smoothe, evocative, and romantic in a Man meets Nature and falls in love way. Even when he ups the tempo a little it’s with the classic paen to Nature ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.
Despite a couple of bill cancellations, there is still barely time for the traditional round of ‘Jock Stuart’ before the assembled listeners, having heard about Natures beauty for so much of the evening, went out to face it in it’s wettest and windiest form. The cold rain pattering down the back of my neck would normally be a cause of shivering and complaint. Instead, it all seemed very, well, Natural. Only a true songsmith like Martin Donnelly could manage a trick like that. I looked in vain to the sky for any sign of the Swifts from Johns earlier poem, but there was not even a Zeppelina in sight as we closed the car doors and the gentle sound of windscreen wipers replaced the gentle sound of Martin Donnellys guitar in our ears.
The next meeting of Bonn Folk Club will be at a different location:
1 June 2012
53117 Bonn (Graurheindorf)
7pm – 11pm
For more information and details of future meetings visit the BONN FOLK CLUB WEBSITE