Folk Club 33 – Singing in the New

Photo: W. Krotz-Vogel

Photo: W. Krotz-Vogel

Richard Limbert reports from Bonn Folk Clubs January Meet:  With barely time to sleep off the intoxicating celebrations that saw in the New Year, Bonn Folk Club was up and running once again with its 33rd meeting . Of course, whilst you always hope for great things with your heart, your head says that a lot of people are still on vacation with their loved ones, or simply enjoying well-earned and much needed quality leisure time.   What in fact happened though was that  the optimistic expectations were actually not just met, but exceeded!  There were both old and new faces as the venue filled up, the atmosphere was anything but lonely when things got underway as always at 7.30pm with a full house as usual.

With a thunderous voice worthy of any boxing ring announcer, John Harrison announces  “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” for the first time in 2013.   As usual, John started the evening, this time with a few A cappella numbers, But not without a little message to accompany each piece, with his usual mix of charm and wit.  In the first two pieces, John revealed his sentimental side with “The Snow It Melts The Soonest” (traditional arr.), taking on the background noise of the Rheindorfer Hof’s  kitchen as he sung.  He had already won the audience hearts though from the very opening line.  The transience of the changing year and it’s freezing weather came across perfectly in this song.  Transience was also evident in John’s second A Cappella  number  ‘January Man’ that allegorically compares the months to people but at the same time one feels the break that a change of season brings.  The contemplative mood was lightened at the end of John’s set by his rendition of Robert Johnson’s rootsy blues “Love in vain” which, together with John’s terrific Blues Harp accompaniment,  made him a hard act to follow.

The man who had that unenviable task was Ralf Klein and his Classical guitar.  With an approach as laid back as his sweater he unobtrusively stepped onto the ‘stage’ of the  restaurant , almost apologetically announced “Ohne Worte” (“Without Words”) and played so well that really words would have been superfluous.  His baroque Bourrée by Bach fitted as perfectly into the contemplative late Winter atmosphere as John’s earlier numbers had done.  Even Ralf’s strings got into the seasonal atmosphere, by relaxing in the humidity – which required a couple of re-tunings before ‘Manha do Carnival’ and finally ‘Besame Mucho’ with its cheerful rhythm brought the set  to a classy end.

What must it have been like in the 60’s to step down the steep stairs into the semi-darkness of the ‘Gaslight’ Music Club, towards  ever louder musical tones and an ever thicker cloud of cigarette smoke?  Where old traditional black blues singers such as Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt plied their trades alongside  New Age writers like Ginsberg and “modern” white folk singers such as Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs.  Robert Zimmerman (before emerging to the world as Bob Dylan),  once wrote a poem upstairs on the Gaslights public typewriter.  Soon afterwards he introduced his new work in the Club downstairs.  It was a song reflecting on the rising youth culture of the day, and it’s inevitable repercussions, titled  “The Times They Are A-Changing”. “The Gaslight Cafe”  in New York’s Greenwich Village was really something special, housing as it did the growth of  this new, peaceful, music-oriented “revolution”.  A fusion of so many disparate ideas that were suddenly seamlessly connected to each other. Times were indeed a-changing forever.

Richard Limbert’s first song was a recollection of that famous establishment.  Called “The Gaslight Rag”,  it’s a satirical piece  from Dave Van Ronk, who often appeared at the Club  in search of a hot meal in exchange for his musical contribution.  It was allegedly Van Ronk’s sofa that served as Dylan’s bed sometimes – although whether ‘His Bobness’ actually used to play Bach on those occasions as the song declares who knows?  Certainly in Folk Clubs, as we know, anything is possible!

Richards next song was his own composition ‘My Heart Machine’.  He asked the listener to interpret the song as they wished.  He also did some major re-tuning: changing both E strings down to D.  Had he brought the A string down as well he would have been in Open G and set up for Bottleneck classics like ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Walking Blues’.  Had he moved the B string down to A he would have been in the DADGAD tuning loved by recent guest Simon Kempston and many Celtic guitarists.  Richard however stayed with ‘double dropped D’ and answered the curious listeners questions by saying that he was experimenting, in a search for the chords that would represent Argent’s ‘Dance in the Smoke’ hence the D’s top and bottom.  Simple and imaginative, but very effective. You can see and hear what a man is playing on his guitar, but not what he actually thinks. Does Richard really have a calculating Machine Heart as he suggests in the song?  or are the six machine heads of his guitar trying to stem the chaotic heartbeats of their player?  Forming  a stairway to sobriety?  The morning after the long night before?  Your guess!
“One Meatball” was another favorite of Dave Van Ronk. He thought it was an old blues song learned from Josh White, and in his own words, “damned near played it to death” before returning it to the shelf 20 years ago.  It is an unusual Blues with mixed emotions.  Sadness for the poor man with only 15 Cents in his pocket for a meatball who gets yelled at in the restaurant for audaciously requesting bread to accompany it – but happiness in that it makes for a perfect singalong with its three word refrain and black humor!  The true origins of this song are actually  not in the black African-American blues, but in one evening in the middle of the 19th century in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   A sophisticated dinner party where a group of literary luminaries from Harvard, etc. James Russell Lowell and Francis James Child and perhaps Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, sang a song under the influence of alcohol, about a lonely fish ball with the title “Il Pescabello” parodying part of an Italian operetta.  As a well-deserved Encore Richard sat at the  piano and let the New Year commence on a happy note with some Zombies, the group that is, and their 1968 song “This Will Be Our Year” Somewhere, the old ragtime guitarist, Dave Van Ronk, musical mayor of MacDougal Street, was watching us with a grin.  His demise ten years ago continues to be no obstacle when it comes to inspiring young singer songwriters.
Then it was time for Annette to contribute another small piece of Folk Club history.  In normal Folk Club parlay, someone who comes along to do just one song as a ‘floor Spot’ is a ‘walk-In’.  Since Annette’s first appearance with just the one song ‘Loch in der Banana’ Bonn ‘Walk Ins’ are now officially known as ‘Annette’s’  The lady herself actually didn’t ‘do’ an Annette this time – contributing not one but two tunes:  First she played (on Johns resonator guitar) “Acadie” by Daniel Lanois a song of the displaced French minority on Canada’s east coast. Followed by an old Bulgarian folk song in 7/8 time, called “Imala Maika”.  This was based on a version by Piirpauke, a Finnish fusion band, and played this time on Spanish guitar with Wolfgang on recorder.   This song definitely has a mystical, eastern vein, highlighted perfectly by the recorder. With her mystical rendition Annette brought her appearance to a, by her own standards extended set, to an end.

Known from German televisions LindenStrasse, Brigitt ‘Annessy came next. She is already a familiar face in the folk club too as,  almost exactly one year ago, she played an unforgettable set along with her pianist.  Indeed, a year ago her French chansons were  floating in the air for hours after the restaurant had closed. From the evenings beginning she was sitting right in front of the stage and, with friends, listening with pleasure to the music. After she was spotted however the applause left no choice other than for her to step up and improvise – which she managed very well.  The first thing we heard from her (The subject of Annette’s first song too), was a piece about French Canadians, she us to clap along. After having considered song suggestions from the audience she finally decided on “La Mer” by Charles Trenet. Without any musical accompaniment, the depth of the song was a lot stronger. The crowd waiting anxiously on every word that whispered from her lips. Finally, by great public demand, she sang “Non, je ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf. With everyone in the audience happily singing along.

After a short break for smokers and those who wanted to have a beer in between, there was now a brief interlude by Jutta Mensing, who sang the rather pessimistic Baroque song “Es geht ein dunkler Wolk’ with the audience. Evergreen that it is, the song now has new more modern resonance.  One can understand the “Wolk” both as ‘War’ as well as ‘Atom Cloud’.   As it is with many traditional Folk Songs – temporally miles away from their time of writing, yet thematically always very close.

Then Canada was back in the spotlight as  Steve Perry came ‘onstage’ in the spirit of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Alberta Bound” found ‘hidden’ value in a beer called “AGD (Alberta Geuine Draft)” which Steve used as a very unique bottleneck (can-neck?!),  ‘gifted afterwards to the person who sang the loudest on the chorus. On his Brazilian 10-string guitar (viola caipira), Steve took us back 50 Years Ago with “Summer Wages” by Canadian superstar Ian Tyson. In between there were short speeches in English (if Steve put on his Canadian woolen cap) and in German (without the cap), which provided comic relief. Very interesting was the traditional folk song “Un Canadien Errant” with the help of Brigitt ‘, her eight-year-old daughter,Marine, Richard Limbert and a four-part choir. It was again about French Canadians, but this time from Quebec City. Very atmospheric!

Lothar Heinrich has already graced the Folk Club with his unique style (who could forget his magnificent version of “Highway 66”?) the audience has really taken his live appearances to their hearts. After he teasingly bartered with John Harrison on the number of songs he could sing this evening it was time to actually tune his guitar and start with “Parla Piú Piano.” Why did we feel we were off to the shores of Sicily?  Of course, it was the title music of Copolla’s ‘Godfather’ trilogy.  Then there was the (also very romantic) “Solamente Una Vez” by Agustín Lara,  a bolero, bubbling with ‘Wanderlust’.  Lothar saved the most popular song for last: ‘Take me home Country Roads’ in which everyone could (and did!) join in, to finish with loud and appreciative applause as a smiling Lothar vacated the stage.

Throughout the evening some of the most enthusiastic singing and loudest applause had come from the lady sitting near the piano.  Now it was her turn onstage.  Claudia Huismann picked up her guitar, moved centrestage and began to play, at which point the orderly charm of her surroundings instantly disappeared, to be replaced with an altogether more jazzy environment.  Kicking off with an almost Progrock piece called ‘Merci’ that was self-penned.  The second song, “Sant Ajacada” sounded a little Spanish, but was this perhaps Claudia’s sense of language, “Aukilanisch”? We can only listen, enjoy and marvel. Claudia kept the biggest hit for last:. “Thoughts” (written by herself and a friend) came across best to the public, especially with it’s scat-style mouth trumpet solo.   In English and later, in German, jazz hearts were beating higher to ‘Through the Night’.
After plenty of applause she made way for Adam, with his trademark headscarf and old concertina from Saxony. The story literally sprayed out of the instrument! Very appropriately he played an old song, “Zu Coblenz auf der Brükken’ (text from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”) about  the bridge in Koblenz (and here we come full circle with John’s set as the melody is from the song “Es ist ein Schnee gefallen’.  You almost felt back in time, in a tavern a hundred years ago.  Extraordinary!
Then it was the turn, unexpectedly, of Katy Sedna.  Katy played a fairly small Taylor guitar and unfortunately only sang a single song – but a very recognizable one.  Her voice was really pleasant and harmonized very well with her somewhat rustic fashion choice. The little guitar and the long skirt looked exactly like their music, timeless.   After “Saved by a lover” TEXT HERE we were already at the last floorspot.
Mario Dompke has always been a welcome guest musician at Bonn Folk Club and this evening was no exception.  With Jumbo guitar on lap and sitting on the piano bench, he made it clear to everybody: “I have always hated to wear hats”. In plain English: “No one dictates to me what language and what style I must sing in!” Always the right attitude! Then he was onto his first song, in Hannes Wader-style, plucking cleanly on the jumbo. In addition there was a song that was really thought-provoking, ‘Keine hat’s gewusst’ (Nobody knew about it’)  taking up the other side of domestic violence: Perhaps offenders are sometimes more victims than perpetrators?  Interesting questions.. After such serious issues we were brought back to smiling with  the “Klobürsten (toiletbrush) Blues” which stands the actual topic of the Blues on its head and brought a smile to everyone’s face again after the previous thought provoking piece.  Just as a good musician should do.  A lesson in presenting live music properly from a true professional.

After all these musicians who better to herald in Bonn Folk Club 2013 than our old Scottish friend ‘Jock Stewart?   This time without Barry’s piano and thus completely A Capella, a clean and sparkling new version for the New Year!  Could there be a better way to bring Bonn Folk Club into a new Season?

Report: Richard Limbert

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