‘Folk is great, beer is good, people are crazy’ If ever the Bonn Folk Club lived up to it’s motto, it was tonight s show at Dotty’s Sports Bar with special guests Schank. If there is a better place to find professional, amateur and hobby musicians enjoying an evening of music together in Germany, or even on planet Earth in general for free, then I would be surprised indeed.
Theme for the 87th Folk Club meet was ‘True Grit’. No it wasn’t the start of a John Wayne theme evening, but although there were plenty of gritty performances, the theme would better be described as ‘Alcohol’ perhaps.
John Harrison himself got the beverages underway with his opener ‘Marstons Pedigree’ about his favorite local English beer:
“A Marston’s man am I and I’m telling you no lie. I was weaned on Marston’s Pedigree, and I’ll drink it ’till I Die!”
He continued, ably accompanied by fellow Nightwatchman Christoph Thiebes on harmonica, with the more well known Blues that John does so well: Robert Johnson’s ‘Rambling’, and Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘All By Myself’ not to mention a great Folk song -Dave Sudbury’s ode to a famous racing pigeon ‘The King of Rome’, but Beer was a theme that would be revisited in force later in the evening.
Bob Marabito meanwhile found himself a dancing partner to deliver with Barry Rushto’s piano help, a sterling take on ‘Blue Moon’. How does Bob keep so fit? It’s all down to dancing I suspect – certainly he’s a popular motif for my lens on the roof at Sommergarten Concerts in the sunshine. You make me feel so old – but keep it up Bob!
I had trundled my Cort guitar down with the hope of a ‘walk-in’ and due to a couple of cancellations was offered a spot after Bob or before Schank. Given the explosion of energy that the latter delivered my decision to follow the ‘restrained energy’ of Bob was a wise one. Seeing and meeting the legendary Mott singer Ian Hunter last year had reminded me that Ian has written some great songs so I gave his ‘Irene Wilde’ an outing. It does actually fit the evening’s ‘true grit’ theme in that it’s about one of the first tests of modern man’s courage – falling for an unattainable girl whilst a teenager. I love the turn-around at the end where Hunter concludes: “At the time it seemed so sad, but it didn’t turn out bad. If she hadn’t stood me up I’d still be there”.
‘The Dom von Immerath’ isn’t actually a Cathedral but it is now a song, albeit about a tragic event about to happen affecting the Kirche Sankt Lambertus. Gerd Schinkel wrote the song as next week it’s two imposing towers will disappear forever. When the RWE is finished with it’s work the coal mining town of Immerath will virtually disappear. Brushed aside like a fly – the logo on Gerd’s guitar. A very sad story for the 1888 built church and the town. The death of a building and a town sadly but beautifully chronicled by Gerd with the help of GeWe.
Sparkling Lights had the challenge of lifting the mood and started the task with the Cure’s ‘Friday I’m in Love’. ’50 Tips’ is Ulla Meinecke’s take on an old Paul Simon Song ”50 Ways to leave your lover’ but Meinecke’s is more 50 ways to tell your man to get lost. Less romantic than Simon’s song but, dare I say it? more realistic. The band are obviously fans of Chrissie Hynde as they closed with Pretenders songs ”I go to sleep’ and ‘2000 Miles’ (the latter something of a Christmas song that never quite became a standard as those by Chris Rea, Slade and co did). Nevertheless a reminder that The Pretenders had some marvelous lyrics and that Sparkling Lights are good at finding less obvious gems to be polished up and presented with passion at Dotty’s.
I’ll come back to Schank later but suffice to say I would not have wanted to follow their first set – thankfully there was a pause whilst some semblance of normality was restored after much singing, jumping and foot-tapping.
Wolfgang Schriefer made a nervous start with ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’ and I feared the worst for his nerves. Mid-song though confidence seemed to kick in and his playing became precise and voice doubled in volume. By the end of his second number, ‘The air that I breathe’ he finished to well deserved applause and will hopefully come back again with the confidence gained in those ten minutes in the limelight.
‘I han di halt so gean’? Stoffel is Bayern born and was by chance in the area to deliver a song that wins the hearts of the women – in Bayern at least. ‘You are welcome to join in’ he announced. ‘It’s in Schwäbisch!’. The audience did their best but ‘Stoffel’ did better and his dry delivery of this very special schwäbische lovesong had everyone in stitches of laughter. A highpoint of the evening without doubt.
Mario and Steve are of course Folk-Club stalwarts by now. Steve’s collection of instruments onstage could even put Joe Bonamassa to shame – or so it seemed as he picked up something different for every song. Unlike Joe though there was no willing roadie to strap each mandolin etc over Steve’s shoulder so Mario had the unenviable task of ‘filling in’. It was worth it for ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke’ and ‘The Martins and the Coys’. Their excellent set was rounded off by the appearance again of Bob Marabito to join in on Stephen Forster’s ‘Oh! Susanna’ with his best Alabama accent and Mario with his best banjo on his knee.
And then there was Schank…
My research beforehand suggested that Schank were either The Pogues, or Brings in Karneval mode. As I have a lot of time for both bands I had high expectations that were not to be disappointed. ‘Party Folk aus Köln’? Don’t let the description on their website fool you. The roots of Schank are actually in Progressive Rock, but, as Cologne born singer Tim Talent explained with a chuckle later – they quickly realized there was more money to be had in the carnival crazy City of Cologne delivering a party sound. The result is indeed a punk-party sound – imagine The Pogues at their 70’s wildest doing a Bläck Föös cover album and you will have some idea of what was on offer.
For a moment I thought they had sneaked a pair of speakers past John at the door. It turned out to be boxes for standing on and hitting for percussion rather than running electricity through. ‘Geld vom Himmel’ hit like a hammer and both of their sets never let loose on the throttle aside from a short lived change of gears for the ballady ‘Nostalgie’. Local press has proclaimed Schank as ‘The best Hochdeutsch Party Band in Cologne’ which for less seasoned readers I should explain : The majority of Karneval songs are performed in Plattdeutsch – in Cologne usually in the ‘Kölsch’ dialect. Schank thankfully give the listener a chance to understand the songs without having to listen with a Plattdeutsch dictionary.
The central theme though, as in many of those Plattdeutsch anthems, is drinking. ‘Wir gehen noch lange nicht schlafen’, ‘Wir trinken zu schnell’, ‘Ich brauch jetzt ein Bier’. All great for dancing, jumping, drinking and singing along to. I’d left my Nikon at home in favor of a lighter compact camera and the lively dancing, not to mention jumping from boxes emblazoned ‘Schank’ was too much for the latters focusing talents. Suffice to say that Schank move around is like saying that Usain Bolt could run a bit.
Schank acoustic bass player Martell Beigang comes with the pedigree of being bassist with top German rockabilly band ‘Dick Brave & the Backbeats’ (featuring Sasha). Spotlight though, (metaphorically speaking at Folk Club) for the most part is on Tim Talent, whose worn in bowler gives an appearance of Tom Waits. Thomas Schüßler attacks the accordian like no one I’ve seen since James Fearnley and, again reminiscent of the early Pogues, drums are kept to a minimum but with maximum effect by Moritz Groß.
Along with their own material, worth a mention are the band’s lively covers of Dexy’s mega-hit ‘Come on Eileen’ and, a surprising choice, a slightly up-tempo ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. I could try to describe the atmosphere, but instead I will leave you with what best captures Schank – ‘motion pictures’ from the evening…