It’s 6.30pm, an hour before Bonn Folk Club part 51 is due to start. There is already a pile of guitar cases stacked up outside the hall that is growing steadily by the minute and a selection of garden chairs that is diminishing just as steadily by the minute as they are taken into the backroom of Haus Mullestümpe. By 7.15pm they are being carried in, only minutes later to be carried back out again – full house. By the time John Harrison shouts his cordial “Ladies & Gentlemen!” at 7.30pm there are a dozen or so people reduced to peering in through the entrance doors.
The concept was a bold one. “We would start after midnight, and the finish would be open-ended”. That’s how Peter Rüchel describes the vision behind Germany’s legendary TV music extravaganza in his book ‘Rockpalast’. I’m thinking that Folk Club Bonn is evolving along similar lines. Not, thankfully, starting after midnight – but the open-ended bit could, venue permitting, become standard. There are so many people who want (need?) to play live acoustic music in front of an appreciative audience that walk-ins could keep literally walking in until the early hours.
For the present though John Harrison still retains a ring-masterly control of proceedings. Tonight is a themed night for Singers, the theme being “City names”. The first city on our World tour being Blair – the berry fields thereof to be exact, sung A Cappella by John himself, before heading up to Scotland for ‘Caledonia’. Especially nice to hear this one as I remember many years ago waiting in vain to hear Scottish troubadour Dougie Maclean do this one (he cancelled the gig and no-one had told the promoter). I doubt he would have bettered the version we heard with backing from Paulo Pacifico’s blues harp though. A visual feast of gesturing from John with ‘Molly Malone’ from Dublin’s fair city finished the first set. Paulo was then joined by the sweet sound of Svenja Jesumann’s violin for a soulful’ San Franciscan Nights’
and followed in turn by John Hay and Gerhard Robert Schweizer for a double helping of Reinhard Mey (‘Herbstgewitter’ and ‘Über den Volken’) before finishing with Hannes Wader’s ‘Heute Hier, Morgen Dort’ – which I guess is sort of a song about a City, or even two cities in the very broad sense of the term. They get the benefit of the doubt. Laurence O’Toole continued the vague city referencing with his own ‘The Town is Full’ before getting down to naming names with a bitter sweet own composition titled ‘Birmingham’. If you didn’t know the man was Irish from his name then you would know by the twinkle in his eye as he sang.
Time for a break. With all doors open we can hear the Wedding celebrations going on in the (rather larger) room we normally occupy. They seem to be having fun, but are they having more fun than we are? I doubt it.
The fun factor actually increases after the break when Gerd Schinkel introduces Marili Machado.
This lady is booked to play some prestigous concerts in NRW but tonight Gerd has convinced her that there is an appreciative audience and good music in Bonn, so here she is with just a guitar and a voice. Well,in fact calling it ‘just’ a voice is rather like calling a RollsRoyce just ‘a car’. This lady purrs as sweetly as a Rolls too, and can hit the power button like the finest Ferrari. Her official set list was ‘Buenos Aires’, ‘Todo Cambia’ and the intriguingly titled ‘Ayayayayaya’. You won’t be surprised to hear though that encores were begged and enthusistically answered. I often joke that one day Eric Clapton might turn up for a spot. Sometimes when I hear musicians like Marili Machado, I wonder if I’m actually joking.
So poor Ralph Gogo. Someone had to follow that and it was him. With a song he’d never played in public before. He promptly messed up the first line of ‘City of NewOrleans’ to rapturous applause and went on to play a stormer.
Mario Dompke, usually a super confident performer, also threw a couple of wobblies’ with the lyrics of his own city song ‘Lappenstuhl’ and yes, there is a place called Lappenstuhl. Mario swears it. There is certainly a place called Heidelberg, and with the help of Rheinhard Altenhofen and the entire audience we celebrated it with ‘Ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren’.
The 50th Folk Club saw Janero play one of my all-time favourite anti-war songs by my all-time favourite anti-war song writer Eric Bogle. This time around Janero played it again, but alongside Mario so that they switched between English and German versions. Magical idea guys!.
Magic is just the word to describe Werner Krotz-Vogel’s own instrumental piece ‘Karlsruhe’. Barbara Kloep however was ‘Hoffnungslos’. By which I should hastily add that this was her songs title, and actually it was a very funny take on getting old.
Time for the doors to be opened and fresh air and fresh beers, before Barry began banging drumsticks on the floor, on the backs of chairs and indeed on all available surfaces (except a glass of beer that dived for cover off the edge of Detlev’s table to crash and splash fatally onto the floor below). “We fired our guns, but the British kept a coming’ he (and soon the audience) began singing. “But there wasn’t near as many as there were a while ago”. Which could also be said for the audience, as finally a few vacated seats allowed those who had been watching from outside doorways a place inside.
Thomas Bausen and Martin Kuenen were here courtesy of winning a raffle prize that offered a highly prized floorspot and turned out to be perfectly prepared for an evening of City songs with, what else, some Kölsche melodies from down the road.’Ich war noch niemals in Köln-Kalk’ and ‘Du bes Kölle’. It had me thinking that no-one had sung a song about where we were, Bonn. But what? ‘Sound of Silence’ maybe. Sad but true I fear. There is of course only one song about ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and Lothar Preute from ‘Kölle’ actually came surprisingly (scarily?) close to Tina Turner’s vocal range in his interpretation. There was another nod to Berlin’s downside from Helge Kirscht before John Harrison joined Benedikt Steilmann for a rampaging attempt to cover every city not so far referred to in ‘I’ve been everywhere man’.
And still, to misquote Barry’s opener of the set, the music kept a coming. We already had Janero and John Hay gracing our ‘stage’ from the United Nations. Tonight we increased that UN contingent with three gentlemen from Indonesia, Wibowo Susetio, Hendrikus Andy Simarmata, and Budi Rosadiawan. The latter particularly shone on piano.
Back to more traditional Folk Club fare with the duo Gerd W Spiller on guitar joined by Mary Krah on harp – and I don’t mean a blues-harp either, but the stand on the floor variety, for Wenn der Senator erzählt’ which seemed to rival Ullyses for length but was thankfully a lot funnier.
Stephan Weidt and Ulrike Hund gave us three enjoyable songs on guitars, including a rock-song. Well, being the Folk Club of course, The Scorpions ‘Wind of Change’ had to lose it’s Schenker driven electric solo – which meant we could see what an excellent Folk Song it actually is. Something true of many a Rock epic – think of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for example.
To finish there was a reprise of ‘Cockles and Mussels’ this time with appropriate placards held aloft by the Meoneo’s Werner and Claudia. John had earlier announced that with so much music he was sure Jock Stuart would long be in bed by the time we finished. Mr Stewart however was not to be left in peace and given a quick black coffee in time for the finale which is the nearest Haus Mullestümpe has ever come to being a Gospel Church. An audience swaying and singing as one to the beat, the melody, and the love of good music and good company.
Afterwards, and after much shaking of hands and “Have a safe trip homes”, I saw John Harrison take off his glasses and rub his eyes. In relief that the stress was over? Or disbelief that an evening usually played out in a restaurant room had survived the transition to what was, in comparison, a veritable matchbox? In the other room the Wedding music was getting louder and they were clearly having a good time. But better than we just had? I don’t think so.