Wall to wall guitars with cases stacked haphazardly in the cracks left between the instruments. In the corner I finally spot a bar and someone is serving drinks. This is indeed Haus Müllestumpe, and for final confirmation John Harrison appears as if through a trapdoor in the floor to announce in his 100 decibel Bob Harris whisper “Good Evening”. Bonn Folk Club number 29 is about to get underway.
If you’re reading this to find out in detail exactly what was played by who and when, then I suggest holding on for Detlev’s review on the Folk Club’s own website. Suffice to say that if you imagine Cropredy perhaps or a three day Folk Festival being crammed into one evening then you will have at least an overview of my predicament. The fact that so many Steves and Stephens seemed to be playing only seemed to confuse things, but I do know that the evenings music started with a John as Mr Harrison got us off to a folk Blues flyer with the help of some Lightnin’ Hopkins in the form of Arkansas and Mojo Hand. His acapella ‘Mercedes Benz’ didn’t knock spots off of the Janis or Joan versions but it always gets the audience in the mood for a sing-along and John’s earnest, barebones style of delivery is always a joy to hear.
Stephan Weidt appeared as a duo, with another Stephan (Engwald), just to further confuse my note-taking (yes faithful reader, I do try to make notes).
Happy Hunting Grounds it transpired were actually not a tribe from North Dakota but a trio from Cologne/Bonn. Singer Barbara Seidel had a gentle style in the manner of Sandy Denny and I would love to have heard Denny sing Stings ‘Fields of Gold’. It was certainly the first highlight of the evening as I heard people around me quietly joining in the songs refrain. I once heard Mary Black do this song quite wonderfully at Bruckenforum and thought it was a traditional number – Full marks to Sting for the song, and this evening to Barbara who played some excellent tin whistle. Frank-Olaf Nagel and Ralf Buchau also deserve praise for their accompaniment on guitar and bluesharps. An excellent version of the old Man number ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ too with shades of Steeleye Span.
In between Folk Clubs Richard Limbert is expanding his gig diary (Mausefalle for example), and we reap the rewards every Folk Club. First the voice got more confident, then the guitar got louder, and here he is digging deeper into a retro look with a black hat and a bronze guitar shaped belt buckle identical to one I had in the 70’s . Maybe I can sell him the old flared levis in the bottom of my wardrobe? I can’t sell him my 70’s musical talent though, partly because I never had any and mostly because he doesn’t need it. He even knows just what is topical – his self-titled ‘Think about your eyes’ was a good choice for me as I’d just ordered some new spectacles. Uncanny. Joking aside though, Richard has a lot of writing talent and a healthy respect for traditional Blues as his fresh version of the oft played ‘Nobody Knows You’ showed. Respect tradition, but build on it. Way to go Richard!
Next up was a familiar face but an unfamiliar line-up. Lothar Heinrich took the ‘stage’ without his guitar but with a pianist, a guitarist (Gerhard Lemm) and a saxophone player for a barnstorming ‘tour de force’ of music that took no prisoners. From the opening ‘Route 66’ he was a bundle of energy with arms waving energetically and whizzing from one place to another on the floor with enough energy for three. The Man hit ‘She may be your girl’, Hank Williams ‘You Win Again’ and ‘Willie & The Handjive’ all got similarly energetic workouts. If only some of the bands I’ve seen live (and paid good money for) had half this energy and enthusiasm…
We needed a break after thatand Steve had us all back from the and bar tapping our feet in good time with his version of the comic ‘Plastic Jesus’. There’s a good deal of controversy over who wrote them, but the song has some wonderful lyrics unless you are a religious zealot: “Well, I don’t care if it rains or freezes, Long as I have my plastic Jesus Riding on the dashboard of my car” Mercy me! great stuff. His other offering of the evening was an altogether more complex one on his ten string Viola Caipira, as John announced: “Now Steve is going to take us on a musical trip around the world in fifteen minutes – good luck Steve…!”
I think you missed out the Galapagos Islands there Steve, but nice try.
Next up was a somewhat mysterious duo. Manuela Riedel aka ‘Slinky’ Williams’ and Wolfgang aka ‘P’tit Loup’ form half of the band X-perts. The band were formed in South Louisiana in 1978 and it shows in the duos almost telepathic understanding that characterised their version of the Little Walter classic ‘My Babe’. I’ve never heard the tune played without a Walter style Blues Harp until now, but somehow the duo pulled off the feat excellently just with guitars. My favourite instrument of the evening too was Manuelas, a beautiful Como Mandolin with it’s serif style headstock that was put to good use on JJ Cales ‘These Blues’.
Once again the Folk Club attracted International interest, this time with a visit by Steve Crawford. Aberdeen based Steve has quite a name in Scotland as part of the four-piece Catford and has also released a CD ‘5 am’ with Harmonica man Spider Mackenzie. This evening he is joined very ably by Sacha ‘Salsossi’ Loss from Freiburg on guitar and violin. To cut a long story short – these guys were GOOD. So good in fact that the audience would have kept applauding until midnight if John hadn’t stepped in to suggest an encore. Excellent self compositions with a folk/pop delivery is how I would describe Steve’s sound. Those of you who were clapping ferociously might like to know that Steve is due back in Bonn with the Band ‘Catford‘ on October 28 (Kult 41 – Hochstadenring 41). You will have to pay 8 Euros to see them, but I greatly suspect that with this band the old lyric that: “You gets your moneys worth in the first ten minutes and the rest of the show is free” is going to apply. Between now and October you have time to check out the CATFORD WEBSITE which I thoroughly recommend doing.
So we were running late already and John had the English Folk Club tradition to maintain. Anyone turning up on the door is entitled a ‘walk on’ spot in the show. As Philip Hellmann was from Berlin I suspect he was quite a ‘long’ walk-in. I rather pitied him having to follow Stephen and Sacha but as it turned out Philip too had a style of his own, delivering a wonderful song ‘Mein Kind ist Hoch Talentiert’ and it’s tale of a proud father and his conviction that his very dumb son really has hidden genius, with a perfect straight faced humour that was a joy. He followed it up with an excellent ballad utilizing an ‘invisible kazoo’ that he must have bought from Zaz that convinced me English Folk Club rules are well worth upholding.
And we still had excellent music from Petra and Götz playing under the name Brookland to go, so it was the latest a Folk Club has ever closed it’s metaphorical doors and without Jock Stewart. Given the queue at the bar and the endless line of guitars to be put back into cases, I suspect the last guest/musician is probably leaving about now.
Finally, A rather excellent bit of Blues featuring Steve Crawford with Spider MacKenzie on Bluesharp…