It’s a funny thing about people. You spend some considerable time with them, think you even know them quite well, and then you go to the Rheinaue Flohmarkt. There I was, a few years ago, flipping through racks of ‘Top Pops’ and ‘Schläger Allstar’ discs – the average fare at a market stall CD stand in fact. Suddenly, staring back up at me was a familiar black and white face – John Harrison. Like most of the visitors to Bonn Folk Club I had no idea that John had ever gone into anything other than a sun studio, yet he had visited a recording studio and here it was, a gem of a Blues disc called ‘Blues to make your Ice Water’. Tell the truth – who else but a Brit could write a title like that? Meet The Trentonians and grab some chips early at Kunst!garten.
Down by the Kunstgarten duckpond the Ice Water man has actually found some more copies of the aforementioned CD and is headed for the stage cardboard box in one hand and Guild acoustic in the other. Close on John’s heels is the man for whom the duo has partly been named this evening: Paolo Pacifico is from the picturesque north eastern Italian town of Trento, John Harrison is from the (possibly not so) picturesque English town of Burton-upon-Trent. Hence today’s quickly invented band name ‘The Trentonians’. “Well they wanted a name for the adverts” explained John later. Oddly enough they had settled for ‘John Harrisson’ in the Kunstgarten pamphlet. The name was right, even if the spelling wasn’t.
After explaining to the bar staff where the wine was, where the glasses were and how much it cost, I joined some companions who were gamely waiting for their electronic discs to flash and announce that the chips ordered half an hour ago were ready for collection. The Kunst!garten is not a place to be hurried – either side of the bar it seems. But so what. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and there is music in the air…
If you visit Bonn Folk Club then you will know the set-up. John holds court with a strong voice and a steely precision on his Guild dreadnought – the steel dobro is winking in the sunlight on its stand to the stage left, waiting for it’s introduction in the bluesy key of open G. A few feet away from John’s right shoulder Paulo Pacifico is living up to everything that such a laid back name suggests. Like all the best blues harmonica players he seems to pluck his harps out of thin air and to change key in a mere breath. Today Paolo needs to be especially calm though because he and John have built a considerable reputation locally for playing traditional blues songs – and a rule of Kunstgarten is somewhat problematic in that regard: ‘No Covers!’
It actually turns out to work very well indeed, stretching John a little to revisit his own self-penned repertoire. Again, folk-clubbers will recognize the likes of ‘Zeppelina’ which, with it’s tale of a duck seems to be tailor-made for today’s location (although it has to be said that the real thing seem to take refuge across the lake on music days). There are gentle gems in the set such as ‘Angel in disguise’ and the poignantly sad ‘Flan’ the subject of which was a classmate of John’s at school in Leicestershire who was found literally hanging from a tree on a rope one morning around 1970. As John recalled it: “At the inquest about his death there was an ‘open verdict’, which means nobody really knows what happened”. It is though a reminder of how short life can be, and all the more reason to sit back with a good glass of wine and enjoy the music and the sunshine.
Great as it is to hear the Folk side of John’s music I am, as anyone who knows me can tell you, here for the Blues – and no-one around here does Delta Blues quite like John Harrison and Paolo Pacifico. The two men grew up separated by an ocean but joined by a love of twelve bars and waking up this morning songs. ‘Gypsum Sack’ is John’s own donation to the canon of Blues work songs but there’s Blue in everything his voice and guitar turn to.
John Harrison is in fact a rather under-rated guitar picker and has worked with the likes of Louisiana Red, Angela Brown and Abi Wallenstein. in Paolo’s absence John can also play a mean Blues harp when required.
When Paolo is around though that particular instrument is best left to the Master. Having discovered that John had recorded in the past I thought perhaps I should dig a bit deeper into Paolo’s CV and discovered that the unassuming Trentonian played as part of a duo in the 90’s with guitarist/songwriter and chart artist in Italy Charley Deanesi, even laying down tracks for a sadly unpublished record. I say sadly but thanks to itunes and Spotify I managed to trace the duo (named Dos Equis) back to an album titled ‘Sonora Soul’ which is rather good, especially in the harp department. The duo opened festivals for the likes of Garland Jeffreys and BB King, Paolo even remembers playing alongside Stax legend and Blues Brothers band guitarist Steve Cropper.
All of which is to say that when John says Paolo is a bit special, he isn’t kidding. In fact both of these unsung heroes of the current Bonn music scene are a bit special in my book. A bit crazy too. Who else would finish the set with a walk-about sans microphone through the wooded huts and tables of the Kunst!garten? As they strolled past alongside the lake I looked in vain for a duck that may have been named Zeppelina, but all had been roused temporarily into flight by the loud applause of a small audience who know musicians with big hearts when they hear them.
Closing my eyes after a sip of cold Weissburgunder I can almost see some of the youngsters who currently play at Bonn Folk Club standing on this stage in 30 years time. If it happens it will be because the likes of John and Paolo inspired them to do so.