Bonn Folk Club is 80


I’m getting a bit of aggravation from John Harrison over this one.  Having heard that Folk Club #80 was getting a visit from the television crew at WDR on Friday I suggested that this was ‘interesting’ given that the guest spot for the evening was Kathy Freeman, described on Wikipedia as a member of a 70’s punk band ‘The Accelerators‘ and later linked with such un-folkish genres as Trash Rock and Punk-Metal.  YouTube led me to this  Video of Kathy in action that supported my  research.  Not that I had visions of telly viewers thinking Bonn Folk Club was all safety pins and pogo-ing mohican haircutted mobs.  But who knew what would happen?  Well of course, John did.  He was right – as always.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here.  6 May was of course (as you knew?) National Tuba Day.  Gerd-Wolfgang Spiller being our go to ‘Man with Tuba’ the said instrument was represented, if not with quantity then at least with quality.  On this evening ‘GW’ was adding clout to fellow Gerd, Gerd Schinkel, as he harangued Uli Hoeness in song.  I would most definitely not like to get on the wrong side of Gerd, he knows all the words to retaliate in devastating lyrical fashion.  Marvelous stuff and a note made to wish Gerd a Happy Birthday and Christmas every year just to be safe.


Another man who knows his way around words is of course resident FC poet Gert Müller.  Except Gert’s Art is centred around dialect and I find myself getting the punch line half a minute after everyone else has stopped laughing.  My fault I know and I have to get to grips with this before the German test towards dual nationality.  Is there a class I can attend?  Bönnsch for Beginners’ maybe?


Folkscheuchen Are not what they seem from their name musically speaking.  The secret is to read their T-shirts:  There you will find the names ‘Eagles’ and, even more pertinently, Black Sabbath.  Fear not in advance of those (not yet arrived) people from WDR – No giant amplifiers or biting heads off bats, but Folk with a distinctly Hard Rock edge with ‘just’, on acoustic guitar (Jan Hoffmann) and violin (Volker Lindner).  It seems to build towards Rock with every song in the set though.  Starting with a fairly innocuous Jewish traditional piece ‘Sherele’ but by sets end our duo are Rocking out to the Irish traditional reel ‘Drowsy Maggie’ and by the similarly legendary fiddle driven train anthem  ‘Orange Blossom Special’ I’m getting pictures that remind me of Robertson/Gorham guitar duels with Thin Lizzy but instead it’s acoustic/fiddle frenzy.


It’s immediately prior to the said frenzy that the duo from WDR arrive with a camera that looks surprisingly ‘dinky’ compared to the huge ‘tank-built’ monsters that wave before my eyes at Rockpalast Harmonie shows.  Doesn’t Rockpalast have the spare cash for  splashing out on 21st century technology?  even late 20th century would suffice.

The camera is still rolling when Kathy Freeman steps into the spotlight (well one of the many tiny ceiling lights anyway).  I hold my breath:

“You’re a party animal.  You always will be.  You don’t look for trouble.  But it always finds you” (Party Animal)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       I can hear the angry rebel punk still in her voice and in her lyrics but actually it’s also rather excellent music in a Folk Club setting.  And why not? I realise John was right.  The best Folk music has something to say, and Kathy is in a fine Folk tradition.  Her guitar might not have a sticker on it saying it kills Fascists but there’s a line down from Woody Guthrie in her delivery and taking a topic by it’s horns.  It’s actually more effective coming from a figure looking more like Helen Mirren than Siouxie Sioux.  Hard to believe that Freeman was once hitting stages on bills that included The Banshees and other punk legends.  Strange that you can say something with a raucous racket and be laughed at only to say exactly the same thing years later and suddenly, because you are now visibly mature? the same lyrics are meaningful.  Yes, I am definitely warming to Kathy Freeman – a wolf in sheeps clothing musically.  Can’t wait for the second half and her return.

Before we can start part two, we have to finish the entire evening.  Yes, read that again, it’s quite correct if totally nonsensical.  In order to avoid the cameras rolling on a half empty room for the final traditional farewell of ‘Jock Stewart’ we have to fit Jock in at ‘half time’.  Maybe it was so that the camera crew could have an early night?  This certainly wasn’t the Rockpalast mob with sweaty T-shirts and two day beards.  So it’s a rather atmosphereless round with ‘Jock’ and a camera panning round bemused/confused faces that may well think it’s all over until June.


Luckily Barry Roshto hastily wheels out the club piano before all coats are gone from chairs and their owners gone from the club.  It’s the first anniversary of Barry’s father’s passing, and memories are strong of an emotional rendition  12 months ago of ‘Crossing over Jordan’.  The cameras are gone now of course.  They are sadly missing the true spirit of Bonn Folk Club.  It’s the spirit that gets Barry a humungous applause and has him struggling for an encore as sheet music keeps falling from his piano.  Bob Marabito calmly steps from his seat,  picks up the pages and holds them so Barry can finish.  The true spirit of Folk Club once again.  It can’t be bottled, and I fear cannot be filmed adequately either – but it’s why every seat is filled long before each evening begins.


John and Clare Hay are also the spirit of Bonn Folk Club.  Two generations of a family brought together by a love of music.  Where else could they share that love if not here at Dotty’s Sports Bar?  One day, probably very soon, Clare is going to be a a star of Folk Club’s to come I venture to suggest.  Certainly her rendition of Alex Clare’s ‘Too Close’ was magical and her set with John had charm in abundance (and not just because of that cheshire cat grin on John Hay’s face as he saw how entranced we were with his daughter’s voice!)

Daniel Bongart has become a familiar figure to hear at the Club and is now also becoming someone to watch as his performances continue to get better and better – the confidence thing again that is often a barrier which sometimes remains forever, but usually magically disappears after a few regular concerts that end in applause.  Daniel gets that applause now and very deservedly too, as his set takes in own compositions that are as compelling as the covers.  Dave Matthews ‘Grace is Gone’ and Travis’ ‘Driftwood’ are equalled by Daniel’s own ‘Little Bird’.  One to watch is Daniel Bongart.  Bromo have started something in the young folk movement in Bonn that is pleasingly replicating.  Youngsters playing Folk enthusiastically –  and where did it all start?  Bonn Folk Club was, and is, a place to find feet on the way to bigger (paying!) gigs.


… and then there are the totally unknown quantities that walk out onto the stage and blow everyone away.  Enter Melchi.  This young man hasn’t even been in Bonn long but is holding audiences in the palm of his hand with his German patter.  He has two of those wooden ball instruments on sticks that you click back over on your hands.  There was a similar toy I remember from my youth that threatened to break the fingers of careless children.  Melchi plays them like he plays his Stanford acoustic – effortlessly.


The Stanford has a contraption attached (by hand I remember him explaining) that gives a useful drum sound.  He also manages amazing rhythm backbeats that have us discussing his style in awe after the show with the question ‘How did he do that?’ turning up mystified raised eyebrows.  Melchi is someone you might see playing on a street corner whilst the Justin Biebers of this world play to arenas.  Is there any justice in this world?  No there is not.  Research tells me that in Cameroon 55 Afro-Asiatic languages, 169 Niger-Congo languages, 4 Ubangian languages, and 2 Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken.   I don’t know which of these Melchi was singing in, but it really didn’t matter because when music is played well it’s an international language in itself, and, as Forrest Gump would say: ‘That is all I have to say about that!”

“Whew! as we english say – that was a hard act to follow” were Kathy Freeman‘s words when she came back for her second set of the evening.  Fortunately her own style is so totally different from Melchi’s that comparison would be futile.  I doubt that any of his equally wonderful songs translated to lyrics like…

“I know your story – I know your game.         But this is different sweetheart, it’s not the same.  Get back in the sewer, where you came from.  You might find some fool, who wants to belong – to a bitch like you. (Bitch Like You)

In an interview Kathy describes her lyrics as “Things you can’t make polite talk about – but can come out in songs”  This is certainly the case in my favourite track of the evening ‘Tattered Flag’.  She didn’t want to be drawn on the subject of politics when we spoke later, but this song needs no explanation with it’s chorus of  “England doesn’t want me anymore”.  Now based in Berlin, it’s a song of disenchantment with the Motherland from Kathy that was released in August 2016.  The Brexit referendum was in June 2016.  Need I say more?


By the end of Kathy Freeman’s set I’ve become a firm fan of Psychobilly – and two hours before I’d never even known such music existed.  Country, meets Folk, meets pop, adds a strong shot of Blues and a small sprinkling of Rock-a-billy.  I just checked her Facebook site and found a super video of Little Walter in action.  So now  you’ve got an inkling of the many directions the lady is coming from.  Find out more HERE in my interview with Kathy.   Putting it simply, you never know quite what you’re going to get when you come to see Kathy Freeman – rather like Bonn Folk Club itself.


Television cameras eye-view of Jock Stewart



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