3songs is currently putting together a list of live music venues in Bonn, and walking past Cafe Lieblich on Bonner Talweg every day as I do, the recent addition of ‘Live Music’ stickers on windows caught my eye. This week the poster especially got my attention since it included a picture from this very website. There’s not much I can, or indeed need, to add with reference to the promised guests. If you are Bonn Folk Club regulars John Harrison and Paolo Pacifico will be familiar and popular faces. For the rest of you who love the Blues pure and simple, take my word, there’s no duo better at recreating the pure acoustic Folk Blues atmosphere of days gone by than these two.
It’s always advisable when visiting a new venue to get there early; scout around for a good position to get pictures, check the lighting, and ensure you have a comfortable armchair. Armchair? There may not be many seats available, but those that are here look to have been raided from sitting rooms up and down the country, from the floral to the pastel shaded. If you’re lucky(and early enough) you can even bag a comfy cushion for your back or bottom. General Manager of the Cafe Boris Jurgenowski has a friendly and ready smile that makes everyone feel at home too so it’s sort of like sitting in your own living room, but with a bigger supply of beer and someone else to make the coffee and wash up. Oh, and not forgetting, the occasional passing musician to listen to as well…
The musicians passing this way tonight are pretty well known in Bonn. If you want to know how Paolo Pacifico came to be the master of harmonica he is then check out my interview with the man himself. Just don’t try and call Paolo a bluesman – he’s not someone who likes to be pigeonholed. You can pigeonhole John Harrison as a Folksinger though. Mainly because John sees the genre as covering just about every other genre. He will very likely remind you of Big Bill Broonzy’s assertion: ” I guess all songs are Folk songs. I ain’t never heard no horse sing ’em” .
This evening though when John and Paolo take the stage it’s for over two hours of what I can safely call acoustic music of the best sort. I say ‘stage’, but actually it’s a gap of around five feet of floorboard between the front row of comfy chairs and the door leading to the rest rooms. I can well imagine that the audience gradually begins crossing their legs during sets here and when all legs are crossed the musicians get the message and take a break…
The stage light comes on at around 7.45pm. In keeping with the ambience it’s actually a floor-lamp with a shade that suggests it was once in the same living room as some of the chairs. It makes for a simple but warm atmosphere and is so inviting that every seat is soon taken and by mid-show people are craning heads from the bar area to see and hear John and Paolo making their musical magic.
In keeping with the early tours of 60’s Bluesmen which were touted as Folk music the set is a walk through the history of acoustic Folk Blues and begins fittingly with a couple of erstwhile worksongs – Stagger Lee and Take This Hammer. Despite their being no room to swing a cat let alone a piledriving hammer it’s easy to close eyes and imagine a hot day of backbreaking work and how the words must have been spat out to keep the rhythm (and the hammers) in time.
Some songs, despite their serious subject matter, have a humorous side to them. Machine Gun Kelly was a gangster who had his named coined by his wife – Following conviction for the kidnapping of wealthy Oklahoma resident, Charles F. Urschel, Kelly spent his remaining life in jail – where – due to his demeanor being totally at odds with his nickname – he became ‘Pop Gun Kelly’. Not just good songs then, but good stories behind them too, which John tells with infectious enthusiasm.
As someone who remembers Clapton’s famous MTV acoustic set on the BBC many years ago it’s interesting to hear how much of that set has stuck around. As if EC was an illustrious forerunner of JH and PP here this evening. ‘Alberta’, ‘Walking Blues’ and ‘Nobody Knows You’ are all in both his and their sets – which are frighteningly some 25 years apart. Great songs just get better with age though, and these classics have long since outlived any one version.
John’s storytelling is particularly effective in introducing ‘Little Red Rooster’ (and I was pleased he mentioned that just maybe Willie Dixon didn’t write it – and just maybe Howlin Wolf did – Dixon was by all accounts ‘imaginative’ when it came to credits and royalties). If you only know one joke about roosters then this is the one to know. I won’t tell it here – you’ll have to go and see John Harrison play if you want to know more!
An evening then of classic Blues, classic Folk and even a couple of lesser known but not lesser quality compositions, one from John himself and another by his friend Jonathan Ole Wale Rogers that deserve to be, if not classics, certainly heard and enjoyed because they’re wonderful songs, albeit with sad backgrounds. John even manages a quick advert for his alter-ego life as Bonn’s Nightwatchman with ’12 gates to the City’. which gets a great workout as he and Paolo get down to some serious harp duetting.
It’s been a long evening of music, but sitting in a comfortable chair beside the radiator with all the worries of the world on the other side of a frosty window gave me the feeling that if it never ended I could live with that – except that the restrooms were behind John and Paolo and my legs were by now firmly crossed.
Thanking Boris Jurgenowski for creating such a pleasant evening in his pub and heading out the door seemed almost like taking leave of athe host after an enjoyable dinner party. Classic and timeless tunes that have whirled around in my head on and off for forty years or more were whirling around once again. Memories of John and Paolo going head to head with their harmonicas on ’12 gates’, of John’s rooster joke, of Paolo’s spot-on harmonica runs, of so many good things that money can’t buy but are rarely in such abundance.
Should you feel like going out for the evening but at the same time staying at home, Cafe Lieblich is the perfect place to head for. If you’re lucky enough to catch a rare evening when live music is on the menu so much the better. Keep watching those pub windows for further details!