Some of the highlights for me this year were not about music itself but interviews with people who make it and clearly care about it very much. Sitting in the warm sunshine of an April afternoon with a cold beer as Henrik Freischlader described his love for a hero of mine Gary Moore. Actually getting to interview a real hero of mine in Rock Legend Ian Hunter, and ending the year getting the lowdown on Samantha Fish’s plans in the week she made it to top place on America’s prestigious Billboard Blues Chart. Three very different people but all sharing an obvious love for what they do.
On the stages in and around Bonn, fortunes, like the music itself, were mixed. I never visited The Underground in Cologne but know many who held it in high affection as THE place of their concert-going youth. Cafe La Victoria, also a popular venue for local bands, closed it’s doors to live music in November sadly. A further blow was the announcement that no license was being extended for the little Kunst!Garten stage that heralded the start of bigger things to come on the big stage behind by the Rhine, but more importantly, was a key starting point for aspiring bands to cut their teeth. I even got to play there myself once with John Harrison and Paolo Pacifico from the Bonn Folk Club. Certainly there was an air of sadness as the curtain came down metaphorically speaking on Max is Alright and on the Kunst!Garten’s short but bright lifespan.
speaking of Messrs Harrison and Pacifico brings me to a more positive side of 2017. A new local venue in the form of Cafe Lieblich on Bonner-Tal-Weg where the two played. I saw a lot of potential too for live music in the Pantheon Theatre whilst catching the JazzTube Final – memorable especially for a wonderfully imaginative set by the splendidly named Mary & The Poppins.
Over in Bad Godesberg there was also the welcome appearance of Bonn’s Rock & Pop Zentrum (RPZ) offering young local talent the opportunity to rehearse, record and play shows in one location. It fitted in perfectly with the Band Competition Toys 2Masters – offering the main prize to the competition winners of a studio for their first ever release. 2016 winners Millennia made use of it to good effect and had an enjoyable CD release party there as well as revealing a new name inspired from graffiti in the UK (Letlowe). Despite worries over it’s future, Kult 41 also clung onto life as a venue and I remember seeing an excellent show there by Masters Monkeys. The Dottendorf Jazz Zentrum is growing in stature as a venue and on my list of places to visit in 2018. Zone Blues Bar in the City Centre also provided some excellent music, punching well above it’s weight (size).
On the subject of punching well beyond their weight Bonn Folk Club Had some excellent guests including former Punkrocker Kathy Freeman and the man who makes me give up on trying to play acoustic guitar – Edinburgh’s Simon Kempston. The Folk Club also registered a first in having a CD Release Party for Bromo (first ever appearance too at the Folk Club of a genuine merchandise Desk!).
It may not have been a year of megastars on the bigger stages in Bonn but we still had some shows to remember. The biggest stage of all at Kunst!Rasen got off to a breezy start which was a relief given that Passenger’s appearance had at one point been in danger of cancellation due to storm warnings. Amy MacDonald and Zucchero both put in spirited shows, the former despite a dreadful evening of constant rain. Strangely disappointing was the turn-out for the year’s most spectacular concert – Jean-Michel Jarre’s laser and light spectacular was jaw dropping. One of those shows never to be forgotten in fact. A shame that not more people were there to remember it. Bonners don’t be surprised when you see the likes of Joan Baez playing in Cologne next year. Too many of you stayed at home too often in 2017.
The Stadtgarten down by Alter Zoll just keeps getting bigger and better thankfully and taking in the start of JazzTube was a masterstroke. A lot of good bands were to be heard this year but the ones that come to mind were all headed by ladies. My favourite show was Claire Veritti with Luna Gritt but others would vote I know for Magdalena Ganter and her band Mockemalör as the highlight. On the heels of both would be Makeda and Steal a Taxi. Yes indeed, Stadtgarten 2017 was an extended Ladies Night.
My travels beyond Bonn for music were few but fruitful. For Blues Fans Walter Trout’s appearance at Stollwerk in Cologne was a true cause for celebration. One of the genres most loved players, Trout was lucky to be alive, never mind playing music, after a long wait for a liver transplant. He could have played an out of tune guitar and yodelled all night and the audience would not have minded. Just his being there was enough. In the event of course he showed his playing is as good, if not better, than ever; and with Layla Zoe and Danny Bryant on the bill too it was a highlight show of the year.
This year’s Rockaue also had it’s highs, despite throat problems ruining the appearance of Blues Pills. Danko Jones made a positive impact though, as did the fireworks each stageside before headliners In Extremo closed the evening. By the time those fireworks had exploded though I had already decided on my band of the day and okay, they were English so I might have been biased. London’s Skinny Lister were a mesmerizing blur of energy even mid-afternoon in the sunshine. What must they be like inside in a dark and sweaty concert hall? I got my answer seeing singer Lorna Thomas being carried round over the heads of hundreds of several hundred dancing, beer carrying fans later in the year at the Kantine. Definitely my gig of the year 2017.
Not that there were no great shows at my second home – The Bonn Harmonie. The absence of Mark Feltham meant Nine Below Zero’s set lacked it’s customary edge but the early runner for best gig of the year went to Blues Giants with the powerful double punch on guitars of Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia aided by Sugar Ray Rayford’s raw vocals. Raw vocals also came in the form of The Temperance Movement’s Phil Campbell with a voice very reminiscent of Joe Cocker in his prime.
Thorbjorn Risager, Danny Bryant, The Brew, Paul Jones with the Blues Band, Julian Sas (sold out as usual) Samantha Fish… Lots of good shows as always at this wonderful venue. Seeing Ben Poole finally was great and of course King King were their mighty selves. Two shows stand out though – those of Henrik Freischlader and Ian Hunter.
Freischlader was for me a welcome return to what he does best – electric blues. Hunter was a man I’ve wanted to see since hearing his solo live disc ‘Welcome to the Club’ from 1979. I’ve seen enough 70’s superstars in the last few years to know they are as likely to leave me in tears of disappointment as tears of pleasure but Ian Hunter very much proved to be of the latter. I was on his side even before the show began after hearing that he still carries a notebook to catch song ideas on after all these years. The best band he’s had he told me is ‘always the one I’m fronting at the time’ If 2018 brings a few more Ian Hunter’s and Henrik Freischlader’s with their passion for music and humility to the fans then I will be a very happy music goer.