How many men does it take to move a piano? No, that’s not the beginning of a joke, but it is the beginning perhaps of a new home for the Bonn Folk Club. Meeting number 70 (crikey!) saw us visiting a new venue as Italian guest duo Serena Finatti and Andrea Varnier were first guests at Sträters Sports Bar.
Arriving shortly before 7pm at Haus Müllestumpe usually meant squeezing into a standing place at the bar, so it was a little disconcerting to find myself opening the door onto a completely empty room. No less disconcerting to have the pub owner stick his head round the door at the emptiness and murmur something about 80-90 people as he greeted me. I couldn’t imagine that they were all down the road visiting ‘Rock am Ring’ so where were they?
Still, I was clearly in the right place because there it was leaning casually against the front wall of the room – The Folk Club piano, and with new wheels to boot. The wheels were courtesy of master piano tuner Gerhard Haug, and the piano’s presence down to combined hefting from Benedict Steilmann, Dennis Ledermann and Thomas Monnerjahn with a trip from Grauerrheindorf in a rented van, John Harrison at the wheel. Gentlemen, I salute you all!
Bonn Folk Club is the sum of many parts and I had no fear that the most essential of those parts, it’s regular audience, would not let us down – despite storm warnings and venue changes. But yes, I was still quite relieved when the owner returned again at 7.20 and found, if not 80 to 90 people, at least 40 or 50. By mid evening it was a good sized crowd of 70+.
The carpeted floor didn’t manage to absorb much of John Harrison’s heartily loud ‘Ladies and Gentlemen!’ to start the show and it’s chosen topic ‘Lullabies’. Fittingly John was first man on the piano for a rousing ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ (although I’m not sure that the song itself fitted the topic of lullabies!) I almost said first man on the piano stool, but that’s still currently at Haus Müllestumpe.
In order to avoid writing the regular book that comes out of a Folk Club meet I’ll jump forward from John’s relieved smile that the piano sounded wonderful, and palpable relief that there was actually an audience there to hear it.
In Mario’s absence Janero had the onerous tasks of videoing AND sound recording the evening – and proved that men can multi-task by not just pressing all the buttons necessary but singing some Phillipine lullabies quite beautifully as well. In the Phillipines, as Janero explained it, lullabies are not sung to send children to sleep but to entertain them. We were all well entertained. Nice set Janero and where else would you hear Phillipine lullabies in Bonn, on this or any other day of the week in Germany?
Onto the newly weds. Regine and Steve had what can only be described as a wedding and reception of the luxury kind entertainment-wise recently. It can certainly be an advantage knowing so many talented friends. Today was pay-back time though as they did the singing and we the listening. ‘All through the night’ is something that always makes me feel very sad so thankfully they followed up with brighter numbers in the form of the gospel ‘All night, All day’ and the topical lullaby ‘Die Blümelien, sie schlafen’.
The Beatles weren’t renowned for writing lullabies but they were rather good at knocking off quick pop standards as was proven by Karin, Gerald and Thomas with their acoustic versions of George Harrison’s ‘I, Me, Mine’ and Mr Lennon and Mr McCartney’s ‘Till there was you’ and ‘I Will’.
This evening’s special guests are indeed quite special. Serena Finatti’s website reveals her to be not just a singer but also a writer of screenplays and stage-plays as well as being a trained actress. You can certainly tell about the actress part as she conveys her lyrics not just vocally but also with flourishes from her arms and hands. Actually the hand flourishes would probably give her away as an Italian even before she began singing in that language. She and her excellent guitarist Andrea Varnier met in 2005 and there is a wonderful almost telepathic musical cohesion about them as Andrea waits patiently during Serena’s introductions and then begins playing with all the fluidity of someone who is in the middle rather than the start of a musical piece. Hypnotizing to behold.
Anka and Jörg kicked off after the break with a similarly telepathic performance and a bit more Beatles in the form of ‘Norwegian Wood’. Their version of the Country classic ‘You were always on my Mind’ actually segues very nicely into the next guest.
Ulf Below (or ‘Hardin’ as he likes to be known) Could have been guest of the evening in his own right. He’s recorded several CD’s over the years as part of duo ‘The Trailriders’ from the unlikely Country & Western town of Bergheim. He cuts a rather splendid dash too with Stetson and cowboy boots. No “Yee Hah!s” though – it is instead mainly a gentle set that includes Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Peaceful Waters’. I’m not a huge Country fan but those who care the genre and do it justice I do admire –Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard always found the right tone and so do Willie Nelson and Ulf Below.
Bernd became second man on the piano seat for the evening when he introduced the nightingales (Die Nachtigale) who actually did sound every bit as sweet as their feathery counterparts. I particularly liked ‘Over the Rainbow’.
A little bit of Ireland followed with a surprise spot by Curragh. Ellen Jeikner and Ralf Wackers have been promoting Irish Traditional music for some years now and they do sound authentic to my ears (although I haven’t been further west of the UK than Wales and my measure of Irish Folk is The Pogues so I’m no expert). I do love a tin whistle though, whether it’s played by Spider Stacy or this evening by Ellen Jeikner. Good to see Ulf Below helping out on guitar with them too.
Which brings us back to the wonderful voice of Serena Finatti and soothing guitar of Andrea Varnier. A second set that included a blinder of a cover in the form of ‘True Colors’ with extra drama added by the rumble of thunder as Serena got to the line “beautiful like rain” which, with the evening winding down, led me and possibly others to fear we were about to be drenched by that ‘beautiful rain’ in the car park. Mention should also be made that Serena played one of those little instruments that you see in the Christmas Booths with metal pins that you ping (*correct instrument name on a postcard to me please!) and credit to the room’s acoustics that we could hear it right to the back of the room.
Finally, possibly the first Jock Stewart rendition ever on a carpeted floor by Bonn Folk Club. Time for another glass of wine and a quick debate on the venue whilst waiting for another thunder roll. All in all very positive. No bar noises, no long waits for a drink/meal despite there being only one waitress (who was very considerate in when and where she went during performances) good acoustics for music and reasonable lighting for photos. Jock Stewart may very well have found a new home!
And if you missed them on Friday don’t despair – Serena and Andrea are at The Fiddlers in Endenich this very Thursday ((10 June)
*Thanks Andrea for pointing out to me after I wrote the review that the ‘little instrument with metal pins that you ping’ is in fact called a Kalimba!