It all seemed so innocent. Bonn Folk Club for February had a Singers Evening (Cowboy Theme). So how did it end up with a dozen singers armed with guitars, banjos, accordions and harmonicas blazing out ‘We Shall Overcome’?
Well part of it was down to the sad demise of legend Pete Seeger, but the rest was down to sheer enthusiasm – and don’t anyone ever tell me that Bonn doesn’t have music in its lifeblood after this one…
Innocent indeed. Is there a more innocent start imaginable than ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’? That’s how John Harrison lulled us into a false sense of peace and serenity soon after 7pm at Haus Mullestümpe. He followed it with ‘1001 Protest Song’ accompanied by Christian Schooster according to my notes. I can’t comment on that one though because I was busy running the notes of ‘People Get Ready’ through my head for my first ‘jam’ with the man. As it Happened Paulo Pacifico was on hand too with his harmonica. The result was a lively trio take on that most famous of Curtis Mayfield classics. I like to think Curtis wasn’t paying too much attention to my hit and miss chord changes from his house in Heaven.
I was reminded of how it should be done as early as the next act – Sebastian Landswehr whose rendering of ‘Vincent Black Lightning’ had me thinking of Richard Thompson even before I realized it was one of Thompsons own compositions.
The guitarists were flying thick and fast this evening as Mario Dompke got us back on the trail with his own western composition ‘Kindergarten Cowboy’. We had appearances too by Gerd Schinkel and the mysterious man introduced by John as ‘Flieger’. The western theme actually held up further when Bob Marabito sang a couple of Acapella standards ‘Oh Suzanna’ and ‘Cottonfields’ which, Bob coming from Texas, could only have been more authentic if he’d had had either a cotton sack or a banjo on his knee.
Flying on again and we have two more guitars and no cowboy song. Rather than boo in disbelief however the Folk Club audience actually not only applauded Positano but gave them such a huge ovation that the lads managed to steal an extra encore from John’s steely timekeeping hands. Seriously though the songs of Daniel Schult and John Brandi are very funny. A super vignette of German law in the shape and form of ‘Streifenpolizist’. They even make the closing of their favourite Pub sound fun:
“Was haben wir gefeiert, haben wir gelacht. Unser Lieblings Bar hat Pleite gemacht!”
The duo really have a natural talent for appearing relaxed onstage and if John doesn’t invite them back for a full spot then I will demand retribution!
No Cowboy song either from the next trio, so fresh they don’t have a name yet. Maria, Juan and John had given it some thought and, using their names and the land of their songs, Cuba, had decided that Mary-Juan-a sounded more like an illegal substance than a Folk Group. Their music is from the Buena Vista Club and the first song being about the hopes and dreams of a Cuban farmer is sort of Cowboy-ish in it’s dreams and aspirations. A very pleasant to the ear set, and possibly the first Guiro on a Folk Club stage (any Folk Club anoraks want to take that claim up?)
For the record, there was a break, but so much to follow still that I will jump forward to a magical session that saw Barry Roshto and his daughter Emily sing about as sweetly as anyone has ever sung at any Folk Club to date. If you sing quietly then you have to sing very well indeed to keep the audience attention and compete with clattering glasses and cutlery. Emily managed this with consummate ease with a Fantasy theme featuring ‘Fire in the Mountain’ from ‘The Hobbit’ and (I believe) ‘Noble Maiden Fair’ from Disneys’ ‘Brave’ with Barry on steel bowl for extra effect.
Which brought us further down the line to cowboy country – sort of – in the shape of ‘Freight Train’ and the form of 2Sunny. The 2 being Ralph Haupts and Tatjana Schwarz. They even managed to cover both the Western song and the Pete Seeger memorial to some extent with this one. It’s writer, Elizabeth Cotten, actually originated her own finger style on guitar that became known as (you guessed it) ‘Cotten Picking’. Elizabeth was recorded by Pete Seeger’s half-brother Mike hence the Seeger connection. Tatjana was particularly enjoyable vocally on Hildegard Knef’s ‘In dieser Stadt’ and their own composition ‘Ruhe nach dem Sturm’ stood up very well indeed to the two earlier covers. Another act that I hope we will see doing a full Guest-spot sometime at the Club.
Steve was on hand finally to make up the missing quota of Cowboy songs that had everyone needing a drink to drown their woes: The tragic story first told by Marty Robbins of ‘black eyed Felina’ at Rosies Cantina in ‘El Paso’ and the young cowboy who shot his rival to her heart only to be shot himself later in the song. Which brought us to… Francis Henry Maynard’s ‘Cowboy Lament’ – known to many as ‘The Dying Cowboy’. Unfortunately beautifully sung. I say unfortunately because after two such songs I could almost feel the bullet in my chest.
Thank goodness for that amiable drinking companion of the Folk Club Mr ‘Jock Stuart’. In the proverbial ‘Null comma nix’ we were all singing, drinking and forgetting about dying cowboys in Laredo.
We didn’t forget about a much more recent loss though. It had been decided that we should/must celebrate the passing of Pete Seeger, a man without whom a great many of the people who pick up a guitar or banjo would never have done so. A man who, rather like Nelson Mandela, was prepared to lose his liberty rather than his principles. It was way past 10pm when ‘Where Have all The Flowers Gone?’ floated out into the night air on the wings of a stage full of musicians. Many of whom would have known Seeger’s body of work well and others who would only have known the name as one spoken reverently wherever Folk Music is played. I like to think That Pete had a twinkle in his eye seeing this little band of people, musicians and listeners, paying tribute in a little venue in Bonn. “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender” was written on the calf-skin of Seeger’s banjo. I like to think FCB does a good job on the ‘surrounding hate’ front too.