New Year at Bonn Folk Club

FCa“‘Twas the Folk Club after Christmas and all over the Haus, not a creature was making music – not even a mouse”

That must have been the song scrambling round John Harrison’s head as he lay down to attempt sleep on the night before Fridays session at Haus Müllestumpe.  There were so many changes/cancellations to the first Folk Club of 2014 that John was probably even worrying that Jock Stuart himself would stay at home.  By 10pm though John was back to the usual, and more satisfying, worry of how to STOP people from wanting to play.

Full of New Years cheer (or beer?) I was quite optimistic that Bonn Folk Club would do much more than ‘wing it’ despite the absences of Steve, Barry, Detlev and pencilled in acts that had to be subsequently erasered out.  I even warned John Harrison that if he didn’t manage to fill the evening with music I would get up and play something myself.  Calling my bluff John promptly put me down for a slot early in the first half.  Ostensibly so I wouldn’t get too nervous but more likely so I wouldn’t take fright and leave at ‘half Time’.

Surprise 'Star' guests got the evening started

Surprise ‘Star’ guests got the evening started

The truth is though that Bonn Folk Club does have an excellent musician who has never done a full Guest Slot but is well capable of matching the best of them – John Harrison himself.  Regulars know that John plays a mean authentic Blues as he did again tonight with Omar Dykes’ ‘Black Bottom’, they know too that he slips in the odd bit of poetry as this evenings ‘If’ from Kipling.  It’s always a particular delight though when John adds one of his own songs, even when it’s the true and tragic tale of ‘Flan’ a friend whose death by hanging was never properly explained.  It left me hoping that one day (and only ONE day for Johns own sake!) no-one would turn up to play other than John himself, and we would have a treat.

I swapped my Nikon for John’s Guild to play George Ross Watts Let My Love.  There is a wonderful and free CD available of Glaswegian Mr Ross Watt and his Band Big George & The Business that reminds me how much great music is out there that never gets the attention it truly deserves.  Following Georges tragic death last year there was a memorial concert which drew amongst others Ian Siegal – one of Britains top rated Bluesmen.  Siegal said of George: that he was “A huge influence”.  King Kings Alan Nimmo dedicated ‘Old Love’ to George at a show near Bonn last year.  Moral of the story: If you want to know who is worth hearing, don’t ask the Pop Chart or ‘Voice of Germany’, ask a musician.

Stephan Weidt & Ulrika Maria Hund

Stephan Weidt & Ulrika Maria Hund

Stefan Weidt has both a shy and a calming presence when he appears.  Both work perfectly to get everyone sitting quietly for his delicate playing and singing style.  It is a perfect style to blend with flute accompaniment as it does this evening via Ulrike Maria Hund and Stefans own ‘König in deinem Reich’ and especially on the song made famous by Mary Hopkin ‘Those were the Days’ that had the audience singing and clapping along by the third line.

Someone always able to be relied upon is Mario Dompke.  Both to play and to enjoy.  Mario has a veritable arsenal of excellent self-compositions.  Some funny, some sad, all wonderful to hear:  Today he leaned more towards sad with ‘Wenn die Seele träne trägt’ (When the spirit Weeps) and ‘Klagelied’ (Song of Loss)but always with a twinkle of the eye that said life not only goes on – but it can be FUN too.

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Oli Budd

A highlight of the previous Folk Club meet was the floorspot of englishman Oli Budd with a quiet and melodic style that left everyone captivated and wanting to hear more.  This time we had the chance as Oli introduced some more of his own compositions and quickly established himself in the hearts and hopefully the future guest lists at the Club.  He has a style that reminds me of a favourite of mine, Jack Savoretti.  The ability to play and sing relatively quietly yet command utter silence from the audience as he does so.  ‘We Live On’ had a gentle refrain that stayed firmly in the mind as all good pop/folk songs do.  There was something of a family theme in his music too with ‘Just a Boy’ about being away from home (or ‘on the run’ as he calls it in the song) and ‘Call Me’ dedicated to his sister but again all about being away from his roots: “I’m sorry for the distance” he sings.  “Maybe I’ll come home”.  I hope not Oli, we want you to stay and play at Bonn Folk Club for a good while to come.

Jutta Mensing had John Harrison breaking sweat by joining her in a German folk song that tells the tale of a woman searching for the perfect man who finally settles for the local Schinner (in english, the Knacker – who skins and sells left-over animal meat. John’s discomfort was understandable as he was hearing it for the first time as Jutta sang it. Nice one Jutta and well done John for following the famous advice: ‘Keep Calm’

You're never alone with a Hurdy Gurdy - Alex Gerardi & Friends

You’re never alone with a Hurdy Gurdy – Alex Gerardi & Friends

Never mind Jock Stewart as a man you don’t meet everyday, this evening we had an instrument you most certainly don’t meet everyday.  When did you last see/hear a hurdy gurdy?  Indeed, do those words mean anything to you other than possibly the name of a Donovan hit from long ago (and even then you never knew what he was singing about)?  As a concert goer of some years now I’m fairly certain it was a first for me when Alex Loch sat down to play his rather odd looking instrument.  I later found out what was inside a Hurdy Gurdy but you had to be there to actually know one up close and personal.  It looks like an accordian but sounds a cross between violin and bagpipe.  In the right hands (which it was tonight) it can sound positively haunting.   I closed my eyes at one point and it seemed as if a choir of angels had joined in – only to find that a half dozen of Alex’s friends (Steppenwind) had actually joined him to sing and play along on a Russian melody  ‘Ach ty step schirokaja’.  They played a set from a musical world that I’m not a part of but found out later included the Mazurka “Rose of Raby” and the Bourree “Last Chance” from the European Bal-Folk Movement.  I may not know anything about the Euopean Bal-Folk Movement but I do know good music when I hear it.  The bar of excellence has now been set high at Bonn Folk Club – and it’s only January!

Gerd Schinkel - Singer/Songwriter/Storyteller

Gerd Schinkel – Singer/Songwriter/Storyteller

Final guest of the evening was a man penned firmly in as star guest later in the year but who made a welcome appearance this evening too Gerd Schinkel.  On his website Gerd states that music “sichert mir geistige Unabhängigkeit” (maintains my spiritual freedom). He is very clearly a singer/songwriter of the 70’s generation with a fine instinct for the socially unjust and the poltically insane.  I need do no more than to quote the subjects of two songs this evening: ‘The Bishop of Limburg’ and ‘Uli Hoeness’ to give you an idea of where Gerd finds just a tiny bit of his inspiration.  Checking out his website revealed a gargantuan collection of material so there should be something for everyone when Gerd Schinkel makes his scheduled appearance as main guest in March.

And of John’s worries that we might run out of music before 10pm?  The official Folk Club was still underway as the clock struck 10.  Indeed, even when I left at 11pm there was a huddle of musicians with guitars, flutes and Hurdy Gurdy around a table playing together.  To purposefully mis-quote John Lennon:‘ MUSIC is what happens when you’re making other plans’ John.

Finally, one of the best interpretations I know of (and there are MANY!) of the Etta James classic ‘Rather Go Blind’ by Big George and the Business:

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