Proof if proof were needed that Bonn Folk Club is a true survivor was very much in evidence on Friday. The evening originally planned with Helsinki’s Juhana Iivonen as guest became, following illness, a singers night ‘with possible surprise guest’. The visit last month by WDR Lokalzeit television to Dotty’s Sportsbar led to a 25 second advert on Thursday night directing anyone wishing to play or simply listen to – Haus Mullestümpe where the club hasn’t been for months. Theme of the evening was ‘Seas & Oceans’ but should have been ‘Survival’. Oh, and if things couldn’t get any worse, I was booked to close the evening…
Not many pictures this month then as I had a guitar, a music stand, and a swiftly greying overhead sky to worry about as I headed to Dotty’s Sports Bar where, rather like the stairways in Harry Potter, the chairs and tables were again moved mysteriously as if to frighten anyone from visiting the toilets and finding their place was now unfindable. I headed for the practice room to stake my claim on a table there and build my music stand (well I don’t have much experience in these technical things). A quick run through of the first two verses that Mario, John and Juan are doing with me of ‘Sam Stone’. First problem: it turns out that there is more than one Sam Stone, actually many versions of the John Prine Vietnam veteran song have been done. Compromises are made, deals are struck, heads are nodded and I’m optimistically certain we have an outside idea of what will go down later. A deal is also struck with John Harrison for me to appear before guests Junodori so that I don’t finish the evening – finish being the perfect word here. A very wise deal as it turned out.
So John Harrison, true to the Sea and oceans theme kicks off the evening with ‘San Francisco Bay Blues‘. After that, outside of Steve & Regine’s take of ‘Ein schiff wird kommen’, all references to large patches of water are, at best, spurious. The best explanation coming from Mario before his German language rendition of ‘Sam Stone’ who clarified that the second line of Stone mentions the doomed star (Stone not Mario that is) is “in a conflict oversees”. John’s achingly sad song to his childhood friend ‘Flan’ was however the first of a number of very sad numbers including Mario’s ‘Wenn ich dann gestorben bin’ and Steve with Regine’s version of Ian Tyson’s ‘Fifty Years Ago’. Still, Mario and I had a real classic weepy to present in our double dose of Prine’s ‘Sam Stone’ that was actually voted sixth saddest song of all-time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll.
Paolo Pacifico was not such a surprise guest, after all he has the record for most appearances with other musicians in one evening (have harmonica will tavel!) but tonight is special because he has music partner Charley Deanesi visiting from Italy. As Dos Equis the duo have played support to some pretty amazing musicians over the years. BB King and The Blues Brothers have been on top of the bill’s of the duo’s appearances for example as my interview with Paolo describes. The two men have a short and busy schedule so this evenings appearance is literally shoe-horned in before a later appearance in Bad Godesberg, so it’s a short but very sweet set with Charley on a battered looking Cort acoustic and Paolo on vocals and of course his ever present harps.
The sudden lack of a guest star referred to earlier doesn’t turn out to be the problem that it would be for a bog-standard concert event. there are singers and poets aplenty happy to very ably fill the empty slots. Günter Peters, who was very first Folk Club face saver during an early guest shortage years ago (unthinkable now!) even creates a choir to sing ‘Ode to Joy’ after accompanying Bob Marabito on piano as Bob walked round the room enchanting the ladies present with ‘I can’t give you anything but love’. Dammit, How do Americans get to be so bold?!
The break is spent looking for a quiet corner somewhere outside the main room so that I can get a quick practice in with my ‘band’ (I’ve persuaded work colleague Juan Isaza to bring his tom-toms) and nail down the magic moment when we take an emotion laden pause midway through Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’. We have time to try it out one and a half times before I can hear Steve and Regine’s loud applause that precedes our appearance. Will our set be ‘bookended’ by loud applause? I hope, pray, wish I had a lucky rabbits foot to stroke, and drag my music stand onto the giant, floodlight stage and into the super-trooper spotlight that will be my home for the next three numbers. Okay, if you were there you will no there is no floodlit stage – indeed there actually is no stage at all. That was poetic license.
When I say there was a standing ovation at the end, well that would also be poetic license too. Applause though was present although whether for our efforts or for the fact that we had finished I am too polite to say. For the record I played Thin Lizzy’s ‘Still in love with you’ and discovered next day that this was actually the 39th anniversary of the songs appearance on Lizzy’s ‘Live & Dangerous’ album. Karma or what? Leonard Cohen, as mentined earlier, also got a spin courtesy of ‘Tower of Song’ (thanks Juan for your accompaniment and an ‘on the nail’ pause in the middle of the son). Being on the stage and not in the audience I can’t comment on the set or indeed the final english take of ‘Sam Stone’. I suspect the audince should have been invited to the earlier rehearsal I did with Mario as they were singing along to the chorus as per the earlier german version. Note to self: Invite audience to next rehearsal.
Finally, following a ‘brief’ appearance by the stalwart ‘Fliege’ (Hermann-Josef Wolf) I got to discover what a stroke of genius it was for me to swap places with Junodori. Writer Judith Nordbrock and saxophonist Sergii Chernenko were mesmerising and proof once again of the quality of music that comes through the folk club doors. This duo would have easily graced the recent Jazzfest with their presence. I will let their music do the talking – HERE
I know I’ve missed mentioning a few people, but I was busy trying to remember chords, lyrics and slot times so my apologies.
Just to finish I will add what I should have said when I had the stage on Friday: I am usually known for my appearances to musically remember a recently departed music legend (Bowie and BB King were examples). To that end I would like to leave you with the words of a man who died recently and whom I had the honour to photograph at what turned out to be his final German gig, which was in Bonn 2011. Greg Allman died last week and his son Devon, also a gifted musician, was asked if his father left him any wise advice about playing music. This is the advice Devon recieved from his father:
“That you sing and you play with feel, and wherever it ends up, whatever category it ends up with, it’s fine. You play and sing with feel and you go up there and you take it to the people, and that’s the commitment, is doing it with feel”
It seems to me as if this has been an unwritten proviso for anyone wishing to appear at Bonn Folk Club since day one. Ladies and Gentlemen, ‘onstage’ and off – I salute you all!