I know I keep saying it, but Bonn Folk Club does get some amazing musicians to come down and play. Don Alder is an unassuming man who nonchalantly mentions that he has over two million views on YouTube. Actually he’s one of the world’s premier harp-guitarists. No wonder the seats disappear an hour before the first feet hit the boards at Haus Müllestumpe.
There are actually more seats available this time around, as the Haus has done some mathematics and managed somehow to shoe-horn in another twenty odd seats. The stage is now pointing straight down the corridor so you could even see it from the meeting room at the back – if it wasn’t for the 125 people in between of course.
Quick thinking is the order of the day, and Janero has to re-think his video settings with a bright window behind the performers. The performers themselves will have to do some re-thinking too as it’s now a very long hall to carry a voice and a guitar to. This time around it’s my problem as well since I’ve decided to give ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ an airing in remembrance of the recent Anzac Day. My parlour Guitar is looking smaller by the minute as I peer down the long rows of chairs. Damn that man Harrison and his ‘no amplification’ rule!
Before any music is played in earnest there is a minutes silence. Even the seemingly sleepy suburb of Graurheindorf is sadly not immune to evil. The senseless stabbing to death of a man in the nearby Mullestümpe housing quarters is a stark reminder to us all that we should enjoy the moment – for it may be all we have. Fortunately, Bonn Folk Club is rather good at getting people to ‘enjoy the moment’.
I’m on the bill after a small chap named Amor with a ukulele even smaller than my guitar. God is smiling on me – I would hate to precede a man who had two million Facebook hits and won both guitar Idol and guitar superstar titles.
I can relax at first though as John is Reminding us that it’s Mayday and telling us the story of Zeppelina the duck. Doris Meyer (assisted musically by Steve Perry) is telling us about dandelions via the fairytale by Reiner Kunze (‘Der Dichter und die Löwenzahn Wiese’) and suddenly there’s Amor with his ukelele, or possibly it’s a guitar, but it’s smaller even than mine, and where is mine? Panic! Head for the rehearsal room, five strings are in tune, one almost. Close enough for Rock n Roll – but this is Folk. Where’s that tuner?
Suffice to say, that when I finally take the stage it’s a staggering success (hey, this is my review after all!) Actually I spend five minutes singing and feeling my jacket slipping down my legs minute by the minute. I’m supposed to be a war veteran and by the time I get to sing “to hunt tent and pegs, a man needs both legs” the jacket is approaching a shin that I shouldn’t have. Note to self: next time just sing a song.
There are a lot of people performing this evening who do that rather well in fact. Saitenpfeifer for example who seem to take the stage as if they were storming a Normandy beachhead. Equipment (drum, double bass, guitars, Hurdy Gurdy (?!) carried arms aloft over the heads of the audience.
‘In Mai hört Man die Hahnen Kraien’ is not only spot on for the evenings ‘Jahreszeiten’ theme but has the audience immediately drawn into the bands obvious enthusiasm. ‘Mädel lass zum Tanz dich führen’ was quite a sprightly number considering it’s almost a hundred years old. ‘Es gibt nur Wasser’ from Santiano doesn’t need a translation, nor does the refrain “Wir brauchen rum, rum, rum!”. Difficult not to smile and be happy when these guys and girls take the stage and dust off some oldies but goodies from folk musics long past.
A similarly crowded scene could be seen when John Hay took the stage. My crib-sheet for the evening said he had Juan, Maria and Jose with him but as there were actually six people assembled I can only surmise either names were missing or there were two Juan’s and two Maria’s. Despite his face being partially hidden behind a large shell-flute I recognized Juan (or possibly one of the Juan’s?) from my work-place. Adenauer Allee could be for Folk what Beale Street is to Blues!
Colombian and Brazilian Folk was on the much too short a set played – with a bit of Bob Marley sneaked in for good measure. Note to self: Ask Juan what ‘Nossa, Nossa’ means. Big smiles from both performers and audience.
I have to get on to the main act or this review will go on for hours – rather like the show did in fact.
Steve Perry accompanied his brother Bill for a trip to Canadian folk territory. ‘Farewell to Vancouver Island’ and ‘Too long in the valley’. Some constrained yodeling from Bill fitted in very well with ‘Ich bin ein Berg Vagubund’ and the dramatic story of a train crashing into the valley below was made none the less dramatic for Steve’s pointing out that actually it was a ‘milk run’ and no-one was killed. A lively set by Sascha and James under the name ‘Pony & Kleid’ and I hope I’ve now accounted for everybody except the ‘guitar superstar’ appearing as main guest.
Don Alder really is a bit special. One of those musicians who plays something utterly gob-smackingly amazing and makes it look so easy that you think you’ll go home and do that yourself later. You try playing the entire rhythm section on a guitar soundboard and the lead on the fretboard AND singing at the same time though. As if that isn’t enough, the man picks up a guitar harp the size of a small tree and proceeds to make it look and sound as gentle as a feather.
I won’t go into any more detail about Don Alder’s appearance other than to suggest watching the video below this article. It’s a far more eloquent testimony to his talents than my words could ever hope to muster.
So now it’s gone 11 pm and we have more than slightly over-run.
“Shall we ‘do’ Jock Stewart?” asks John doubtfully.
Surprisingly, given that we started some four hours ago, there is a large contingent of people still with us. We do indeed ‘do’ Jock Stewart and the bar staff at Mullestümpe are probably sighing with relief when they can finally close up.
John is unphased, and suggests all will be well next time – we just need to start punctually at 7 instead of 7.20. Considering the popularity of a floor-spot now, that might need to change to a 5pm start John.
And finally, some heavenly harp guitar from Don Alder: