Bonn Folk Club number 79 might well have set a record for the average age of it’s performers at around 18 years. No, John Harrison and co haven’t discovered a fountain of youth long hidden away in the nearby Kottenforst, the average was largely formed by fresh faced youngsters from, as Steve wryly put it, the nearby suburb of Bonn known to locals as Cologne. The evening was, as John Harrison described with a particular emphasis that will become apparent, ‘Seltsam’ (unusual)
Seltsam was also a good way to describe John Harrison‘s first number of the evening from his home town: ‘The Derby Ram’. It’s a very old tale that has had almost as many verses in it’s time as the number that Leonard Cohen reputedly wrote for ‘Hallelujah’. John’s version alluded to Derby County Football ground – notorious for it’s marsh-like qualities as I recall. But back to the legendary Derby Ram which reputedly had:
“Horns that reached the moon sir,
and a tail that reached to hell,
So that every time he waggled it, it rang the old church bell”
Seltsam indeed! A return to the present with John’s second – a protest against Trump’s immigration policy via Prefab Sprout’s (Paddy McAloon’s) ‘America’ followed by that great Scottish tragedy ‘Albert McTavish’s brand new figidaire’ Well actually, it’ an instrumental, but because it lacks lyrics John has to explain it beforehand. I’ve heard this one a few times now but this was, for me, the definitive version. Hopefully Mario has captured it on audio for the Folk archives. I should mention that John’s fine Scottish jig instrumental incorporating ‘Scoland the Brave’ actually shows him to be pretty mean finger picker when picking with fingers is required!
It was good that the youngsters from Cologne were busy in the back-room tuning up because Gerd Müller’s poem for the evening was just a little bit unsavoury for young ears. When I say that it made some equations between managers and ass-holes then I think you have the drift. It was also very funny (I understood every word – please note when I apply for my dual citizenship!)
Usually it takes onla a few moments for performers to assemble on the folk club ‘stage’ but this time it was a little longer. Firstly there were nine musicians, and secondly there seemed some vying for position in the first and second rows. Ralph Wackers then introduced the band that in one fell swoop reduced the average age of the musicians tonight to around school leaving age.
‘Kids for Music Cologne’ was created for youngsters from six to ten years old in southern Cologne. The music is provided by S guitars, or Tenor guitars as they are known in english, but don’t let their simple four string appearance fool you, the original models came from venerated guitar builders Gibson and Martin and were offered for use by banjo players who needed to double-up on guitar.
Tenor guitars make a perfect ‘starter’ instrument as the nine pint sized practitioners who came to Dottendorf on Friday proved, with energetic renditions that included the Nina classic 99 Luftballons. Maybe this is how Jimmy Page, Rory Gallagher and co got started – or maybe not. Whatever, you needed a heart of stone not to feel the enthusiasm for playing music that radiated from the youngsters – and surely this was the start of a life-long love affair with music for many of them.
So how do you follow nine charming youngsters with 36 strings and a combined smile radiation warm enough to melt the polar ice-cap in a day? Karin & Gerald, armed only with acoustic guitars and three songs, had the unenviable task. The duo’s best weapon was Katie Melua’s beautiful composition ‘Spider’s Web’ which is, in my humble opinion, one of the best songs for peace ever written. Having seen Katie sing this very song in Bonn and experienced her charismatic charm in doing so, she might even have been able to out-charm the youngsters. But it would have been a close call.
Visits from Robert are always enjoyable. His amiable smile is welcome on it’s own, but his piano playing is veritable icing on the cake – especially when combined as it was this evening by an ‘Own composition’ from Paolo. The tune was a familiar one from T-Bone Walker but the theme wasn’t about a stormy Monday as Paolo and Robert were joined by John Harrison and his trusty Guild. “All three of us are suffering currently from bad politicians” sighed Paolo with reference to his own Italy, Robert’s America and John’s Brexit riddled UK. The resulting song went down so well that, had they not done an encore of ‘House of the rising sun’ there would have been riots the like of which Dottendorf has never seen before:
“Stormy Fools’ Day
They call it stormy monday, the election day went bad
Let’s call it stormy fools’ day, the referendum day went also bad
Lord now’s getting worse, any election day was oh so sad
The opinion polls on Friday, said Saturday everything was going to be alright
Election polls on Friday, said Saturday everything was going to be alright
My God I can’t believe my eyes, watching the TV news on Sunday night
Media have mercy, mercy on democracy
Lord have mercy, my country’s now in misery
I’ve been moanin’ weepin’ cryin’ night and day
I wanna grab my passport and throw it away”
(Thanks to paolo for the lyrics)
Were they inspired by Bromo? I didn’t get the chance to ask, but Ramin, Tilman and Michael were a young trio with a similar age range and ear for excellent cover songs. No originals yet though it seems, but a nervous start quickly and justly gained in confidence verse by verse led to loud applause, especially when it came to singing along to ‘Horse with no Name’. A round of applause too when ‘Trains’ was introduced as “A song by Porcupine Tree’ who are a progressive Rock band you maybe don’t know, but are similar in style to ‘Pink Floyd” As if the nine pre-teenagers hadn’t made me feel old…
The familiar face and voice of Steve, as always with an odd looking ‘guitar’ followed. A late decision on song as his duet with Regine was cancelled due to illness. Please update me with the song title and type of guitar Steve. It was beautifully sung in the understated way that Steve presents so well. He was so close to me when he played that I could feel the strings resonate inside me. A most pleasant experience (that, as Mr Harrison would point out, is impossible with amplified sound!) Nice one Steve and get well soon Regine!
“Singer/songwriter meets Jazzer. Seven instruments: two voices, two guitars with six or twelve strings, flute, soprano and tenor saxophone” is how Hamburg band Seltsam! describe themselves. The band are essentially a duo consisting of Wolle on guitar/vocals and Holger on saxophones, flute and electronics but were ably supported this evening by Emily on violin. It’s plain to see that Wolle and Holger are the sort of musicians who would play music even if it was outlawed in Germany. Talking to Wolle during the interval I was struck very much by the sensibility he has towards songwriting. The first half had all been sung in english. “But we will sing some also in German in the second set” he pointed out before explaining: “Sometimes a subject will seem better described in one language and other times in another”
An example is ‘Wundermädchen’ inspired by Wolle’s Grandmother and the famed ‘Trümmerfrauen” – women in Cologne who somehow managed to clean away a desolate landscape of bombed out rubble strewn streets to create a new City phoenix-like from the literal ashes. The feelings involved were best describable in german and so the song was written in that language.
To build on the evening’s ‘Seltsam’ jokes from John Harrison I have to say that I found the overall sound of the band to be, yes, seltsam, and in a very positive way indeed. I love well written and crafted modern folk songs and I love saxophone and jazz tinged bluesy music. All boxes roundly ticked by Seltsam! There is an excellent dynamic in the delivery of the songs in this constellation too. Wolle’s voice is at times very reminiscent of Neil Young and with nods I also thought to the somewhat gentler acoustic approach of Nils Lofgren. His voice picks up momentum that is dissipated in a very pleasant way by Holger’s sax and Emily’s violin. It’s a long way from Frankfurt to Bonn but I hope that doesn’t deter Seltsam! from visits to Bonn Folk Club. This is their second and hopefully one in a long series of gigs from them here.
So there we are. With a lively Jock Stuart to tell us it was time to vacate the premises, it only remains to say that an enjoyable evening was had by all – which is really not ‘seltsam!’ by Bonn Folk Club standards.