‘Spring’ was the theme at this month’s Bonn Folk Club meet in Haus Müllestumpe. Songs with ‘May’ in them are of course plentiful. There’s ‘Maggie May’ for example, or ‘May Each Day’, even ‘MAYbe it’s because I’m a Londoner’? Well, okay, not quite so easy. Would, or even could, anyone run with the idea? MAYbe…
John Harrison, having suggested the theme, really had to come up with appropriate material. We were not let down either as he opened, voice blazing, with Dave Webber’s ‘Hail the first of May’ with it’s strident tones:
“Wintertime is gone and past-o
Summertime has come at last-o
We will dance and sing the day
And drink to the Hobby Horse to bring the May”
This is of course THE time of year for traditional Folkies. A time of Maypoles and Morris Men with bells jangling and wooden sticks clattering in the sunshine. I well remember seeing them outside the ‘Still & West’ Pub in 70’s Portsmouth. It looked harmless enough, but I’ll wager there was some damage done if you’re concentration wavered as jingling chunk of hardwood met shinbone. And the ‘Hobbyhorse’ which was a figure made of wood and attached to the waste of dancers could also bring tears to unwary eyes I imagine. John’s poem ‘Magnolia’ was a lot less threatening and his rendering of the Gershwin’s classic ‘Summertime’, although lacking the tenacity and volume of Jimmy Bowskill’s full blooded double necked electric attack was just the ticket to celebrate, well, Summer. A reprise of the Harrison classic ‘Zeppelina’ with the piano support of daughter Jenny rounded off the set but was not the last time this evening that a musical family would gather for a ‘sing-song’ to our delight.
I didn’t catch the words of Andreas Grüner’s first number on acoustic guitar other than the chorus of “Leute von Folk Club”. Already the tables were full and the few available extra chairs had been snapped up, with the result that I was hemmed in by the cash-till and had to regularly move out of ‘audio reception range’. In short, every 30 seconds I had to move out the door and couldn’t hear anything. The same is true of Andreas’ second number, Robert Johnson’s ‘Love in Vain’ which was played with great restraint but which I at least knew the words of even if I couldn’t always hear them above the chink of 50 cent coins.
Alvaro Arango Vallejo was back from Colombia for a short set which was excellent news for us all. With typical aplomb, John announced him as a ‘Long walk in’ guest. He’s actually quite busy musically these days with the group ‘Thee Oiva’. It was particularly good to hear Alvaro play tracks from two musical heroes of his (and mine) An enjoyable version of Tom Waits ‘Lucinda’ for which I take off my hat – it’s a long piece with around ten verses. Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ was considerably more straightforward in comparison. Alvaro is obviously someone who enjoys a good lyric and I think provided some of his own on ‘The House That Caught Fire’ correct me if I’m wrong Alvaro. I really must get down to see your band ‘Thee Oiva’ play it’s style ‘Fuzzyprock’, if only to hear a Melotron again for the first time in about forty years.
Time for the first set by this evenings main guest Gabi Beckenbach, assisted expertly on piano by Hans Peter Kempkes. I must have a word with John Harrison about censorship. How can you allow such explicit utterings as “Veronika, der Spargel Wächst” in a family restaurant Mr Harrison? I’m pretty sure the Comedy Harmonists’ had a bit of double entendre spun into that when they introduced it in those salacious days of the 30’s. A Large portion of Gabi’s set was given to songs by the German Chanson singer Hildegard Knef (for perfectionists I point out that her name in English speaking circles was often altered to ‘Neff’, the 60’s were a time of freedom linguistically as well it seems). It’s not my usual fare as far as concert going goes, but I must admit to being a bit partial to these heartwarming ‘torch songs’ of yesteryear and Gabi Beckenbach sings them exquisitely not just from her lips but clearly from her heart too. Knef died in 2002 after a successful film and later musical career, but songs like ‘Er War Nie Ein Kavalier’ and especially ‘Für Mich Soll’s Rote Rosen Regnen’ will live on indefinitely – simply because they are wonderful songs, full stop.
Getting part two underway is always difficult, never more so than when the sun is shining outside. It was worth stubbing out cigarettes (new rules on that of course!) and crowding back amongst the tables which seem to have multiplied like oak rabbits since last months meet. It was a second half of many highlights, not least of which was the best Melodica solo I have ever heard. Actually it was a hit and miss affair from Barry Roshto, but as the ONLY time I ever heard a melodica solo it has to by definition be the best. (actually I had to ask the name of the bright red plastic keyboard with a mouthpiece at one end). To be safe, Barry had covered himself against being pelted with rotten tomatoes in any case by having his whole family take part, shall I call them ‘The Roshto Four‘? sounds quite jazzy? Christiane and David were impeccable but really daugher Emily’s voice stole the show for me. There was a truly eclectic mix of material, and, as Barry pointed out it’s always fascinating to hear of young musicians that younger generations know about and older ones often miss until much later. I’ve never heard of ‘Passenger’ or ‘Boy’ but their songs ‘Let Her Go’ and ‘Little Numbers’ were a joy to hear. As was Taylor Swifts ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’. Emily’s voice has that gentle but entrancing quality that draws listeners like a magnet in the best traditions of Linda Thompson and Sandy Denny.
Astatine could have been special guests for the evening in their own right. Singer Ana-Maria Cutac had caught many eyes when she arrived in a summery fifties style cotton dress and she certainly commanded the audience’s attention effortlessly with her colleagues Frank-Olaf Nagel guitar Simone Hans on flute and Thomas Neuhalfen on bass. Jazz meets Bossa Nova. A sparkling rendition of ‘Hey Big Spender’ to finish and we were onto ‘Dusty Instruments’ as Steve, Jutta and their colleagues Thomas Bandholz, Gerd Wolfgang Spillers and Mary Krah call their impromptu sessions with often forgotten instruments. Most interesting was hearing an acoustic guitar played with one of those drum-sticks that has a padded end (can any of my drumming associates help me on that one? Wayne?, Denis? Stephane?) Technical stuff indeed. A marvelous second set by Gabi and Hans (who was forced to admit that it was his birthday this evening – what better way to celebrate than sharing your excellent piano talents Hans Peter?)
Possibly a couple of acts didn’t turn up on the night, and possibly some turned up who weren’t expected – I wouldn’t want to be arranging this slippery snake of an event called Bonn Folk Club. The only thing you can be sure of is surprise – and perhaps that a gentleman named ‘Jock Stewart’ will arrive in time for last orders.