Christmas Folk Tales

It’s not always so easy to get a floorspot at Bonn Folk Club.  Take Simon Kempston from Edinburgh as an example.  Undoubtedly one of Britain’s most talented singer/songwriter/Folk guitarists, Simon has been under pressure every year since his first appearance in 2011 when John Harrison laid down the challenge: An appearance may only be granted if the said Simon Kempston of Edinburgh has a new CD to offer the audience.  Since then, the likeable Scot has been Christmas guest of honour every year (don’t tell Simon, but he’s so popular now that they’d even let him play without a new cd)

This evening’s theme was Fairytales John Harrison is a good deal too tall and bewhiskered to be considered a fairy – but he did have a tall tale to tell – that of ‘Albert McTavish’s Brand New Frigidaire’.  It’s a tale that takes longer to tell every time it’s told.  John admitted he’d forgotten half of it, with the result that what he remembered on the night was actually even longer than what he’d forgotten.  While you’re trying to work that conundrum out You’ll be even more confused when I tell you that it’s an instrumental.  John’s other contribution though was a starkly plain song about brothers fighting in Sarajevo ‘Trouble & Strife’. If only wars were Fairytales…

For those who haven’t yet ventured out to find decorated pine trees on every second street corner of Bonn, I should point out that Christmas is coming.  We all know the Christmas story of course – with one tiny mistake – it all actually happened in Bonn.  Gert Müller was on hand to tell the story as told him by Ferdinand Böhm – ‘Weihnachtsgeschichte ob Bönnsch’  (The Christmas Story in Bönnsch dialect).  It is now available on CD, read by Gert, and hopefully there is a translation included in the booklet.   Even with my linguistic limitations of all things Bönnsch though I understood enough to have a grin on my face throughout.  Merry Christmas Gert!


Peter Deteren followed, with more poetic inspiration, before the first ‘foursome’ took the stage for the evening.  4 Fun all looked rather nervous – until they started singing.  The smiles soon appeared all round and they treated us to enjoyable renditions of ‘The Rose’, ‘Only You’ and ‘Mercedes Benz’.  Probably three of the most recited titles at Bonn Folk Club.  Now there’s a task for the Club chronologist Detlef:  the number of times particular songs have been played (‘Jock Stuart excepted!)

My playlist gives Bernhard & Gebläse as next act up, and all I know of the matter is that the man in charge was named Bernhard and he had wind instrumental support in the form of two ladies – one with Oboe and one with bassoon.  The first ever bassoon onstage?  Over to you for checking Detlef.  Possibly the first sonatine (short Sonata) ever too, based on Finnish Folksongs.

Simon Kempston made a relaxed entrance, copies of his freshly pressed brand new CD lined up tidily on the piano top.  The new disc was only represented once in the set though, by it’s title number ‘Onwards She Travels’ a dreamy instrumental number inspired, as is the whole CD, by Scottish Folkguitar wizards like John Martyn and Bert Jansch.  Otherwise Simon stuck to tried and tested favourites like ‘You Never Needed Me’ from ‘Vanishing Act’ and the jaunty tempo of 2015’s ‘Down from the Dock’.  Simon though is at his best sounding thoughtful and melancholy, so highlight of the first set was again from last year’s ‘Vanishing Act’ disc ‘Sweet Release’ with it’s themes of camaraderie, war and ultimately death with it’s closing couplet:

“I won’t go back, I never will.

He won’t come back,  He never will”

“I won’t go back, I never will.       He won’t come back, he never will”

Only John  Harrison’s announcement of the break can wake me from my reverie.

Part two and time for getting into a Christmas spirit courtesy of Ingrid and Barry.  Music and text from Hans Knipp it says in my notes.  Knipp wrote over 100 songs for renowned Cologne Folkies Bläck Fööss so no ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ here – only Ingrid’s sweet vocals and Barry’s gently tinkling piano keys – oh, and an audience singing along.


Günter Peters is best known as our Man on the Folk Club Piano and that’s where he took his place again this evening but in the company of Rita Nattermann to present Foxtrottand Operette music and song.  Always a pleasure to hear Günther who never fails to surprise and delight with his choice of music and accompanists.

Note-4-Note sing (note perfectly of course!)

The second 4 piece – numerically and per name – of the evening were next up.  Note-4-Note is a collective name for the Ladies Quartet with a lively barbershop style set that was brightly sung and finely presented,  It’s always great to see that performers have put thought into not just singing/playing but also to presenting their act.  You won’t be surprised to hear that I particularly loved their ‘Birth of the Blues’ but Neil Sedaka’s ‘Love will keep us together’ was close second favourite and you couldn’t help but feel a tear in your eye to the words of Jerome William’sMay the road rise to meet you; May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face” (Irish Blessing)


Kempston Kaptivates the audience


We were waiting though to ‘meet’ Simon Kempston again for his second set and suffice to say we were not disappointed.  He’d been sitting down for part one – apologizing immediately for his choice of socks with the request not to tell his mum.  Part two was a stand up affair and odd socks or not Simon is fast on his feet, weaving back and fourth gently to the melodies  like a boxer taking on a tricky opponent.  How to approach these thoughts?, these emotions? A Simon Kempston song is a serious matter, even when he gives out a sudden ‘yelp!’ or two as on ‘Belfast Night’.  That sweet vibrato harmonic in Simon’s unique voice  draws the listener in where he/she is held firmly by sweet trickling droplets of melody.  Simon not only covers Dougie MacLean’s classic ‘Caledonia’, Kempston owns it.


I’m woken once again from my reverie by John Harrison asking all the evening’s performers to get together for ‘Jock Stuart’ and sadly another Folk Club has come to an end.  Simon’s smile as he joins John on the chores of ‘Jock’ tells me that he’s had a good time, and Simon’s recent internet blog confides that he has a few songs already earmarked for the next release.  There is a very good chance that Simon will be back next December.  Good news for anyone who loves delicate melodies and vocals beautifully played and sung.

All smiles – It’s time for Jock Stuart!


No apologies for showing this video from Simon – beautifully created by Simon P Biggs…


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