They do get dropped in at the deep end. Poor Fil Campbell and Tom McFarland played the only Folk Club ever held in the aircraft hangar-sized Basecamp in 2015 – without microphones. Now, on their first visit since, they are sharing the evening with a Birthday celebration from New Orleans. Lucky for us that Fil and Tom are genuinely nice people – and that Bonn Folk Club seems to laugh at challenges and come out smiling.
For those interested in figures, this was Folk Club 92 and Barry’s Birthday was a round one (more I will not say!) The family was certainly out in force – if you were to shout out ‘Roshto!’ half the audience would likely turn in your direction. Barry being the Man of the evening though had the biggest instrument too – his marching drum even dwarfing the sousaphone which was just one of what seemed like every instrument imaginable that made an appearance.
In case there was any doubt on the theme John Harrison kicked things off with The Animals ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and an added attraction of Eva Henneke on violin who went on to be the evenings ‘go to’ extra musician – challenging even mouth harmonica multi-talent Paolo for most appearances in an evening.
Possibly St James Infirmary is/was also in New Orleans? It does for certain have a Jazz history, having first come to attention through Louis Armstrong. The aforementioned Paolo lent a helping hand to John on this one before the first appearance of Barry’s brother David who joined John with ‘Walking to New Orleans’
No New Orleans evening would be complete of course without ‘When the Saints’ and indeed a saintly band of musicians came marching in bearing brass instruments that sparkled in the overhead lights.
‘Little Liza Jane’ is a favourite of Barry’s, and his version with Regina Haverkamp was an early highlight. Various combinations of musicians were on hand to assist Barry in his jaunt through the New Orleans songbook. We’ll just call them the ‘FCB Allstars’ and you can match names to faces in the attached photo gallery, but all played with obvious enthusiasm. We even had a sousaphone in back – eat your hearts out Bonn Jazz Youth Orchestra 🙂 ‘Jock ‘a’ Mo’, ‘Battle of New Orleans’, ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and, to round off the first set, The Roshto Brothers with an excellent ‘The Beacon’.
“Well, how can we follow that?!” were Fil Campell’s first words as she sat down to her first set of the evening with Tom McFarland. Of course, they followed it perfectly, their calm, relaxed style being a perfect counterpoint to the previous energetic comings, goings and instrumental brass. Fil Campbell’s gentle voice should be on free prescription in this often over-stressed World. It hovers delicately in the air, constantly on the verge of breaking up like a delicate glass mirror on the World, on it’s beauties and faults. Fil Cambell’s voice is truly best at a whisper. A perfect voice for the non-electric but attentive Bonn Folk Club audience in fact.
New songs including ‘We’ll get there’ began the set. The latter inspired by a typical Irish answer to that most famous of travel questions to which comes the answer: “We’ll get there when we get there – and not before that!”. Don’t be fooled by Fil’s or, in this case, Tom’s, sweet voices; there is some strong political commentary going on here at times. ‘Send me Flowers’ is my favourite song from the couple, so I was glad to hear it again. There were some surprise song choices in store too. Fil: “When John (Harrison) told me of the Louisiana theme this evening I found this song that I haven’t played or sung in years, so excuse me if a make an absolute mess of it!” She didn’t of course and instead had the whole audience singing along to the chorus of ‘Blue Bayou’ rounded off by flourishes of Tom on bar chimes. Tom maintained the audience sing along for the chorus of ‘Ready for the Storm’ and we were ready for the short break – and a walk to the balcony for some ‘Mississippi Bonn’ fresh air.
Back into the fray, and part two kicked off with Barry introducing a trio of songs about being homesick, and with all the good music that came out of his hometown I could well understand the sentiment. ‘Jambalaya’ continued the audience sing along (one of those songs it’s impossible NOT to sing along to). Barry’s daughter Emily delivered a beautiful version of Holly William’s ‘The Highway’ with backing from Keith Roshto, who followed up with ‘Go take a little trip’ which he confided comes from the family history – “and if you buy me a whisky, I’ll tell you the whole story!” Nice try Keith, and nice song too.
Phew! It really was a case of close your eyes for two minutes, open them and whoever was onstage would be different. Mario played a fine Mississippi blues on John’s steel guitar and a couple of numbers with Regina Haverkamp, I especially liked their interplay on ‘Louisiana Woman/Mississippi Man’ (move over Johnny Cash and June Carter!)
Another highlight for me was hearing Lena (with Barry’s honky-tonk piano and Paolo backing) sing Bessie Smith’s ‘Backwater Blues’. Great to hear a youngster taking on Bessie – more please! (Etta James and Billie Holiday too deserve a new generation to carry their standards on). Randy Newman’s ‘Louisiana 1927’ also harks back to the flood mentioned by Bessie Smith and was a new evening highlight. Vocals by Barry and Paolo with massed violin backing and soloing by Barry’s wife (what a musically talented family!). My evening’s highlight – except… then came Shawn Spicer.
More usually to be seen with a saxophone in a Jazz setting, Shawn proved to be no mean guitar player/singer either. By the end of Steve Earle’s memorial to 2005’s hurricane Katrina ‘This City’ Barry clearly had a tear welling in his eye, especially during Shawn’s chorus of “Maybe our bones will wash away, but this city won’t ever drown.” Not surprisingly after so many great songs about his home, Barry’s set closed with Tom Wait’s ‘I wish I was in New Orleans’
Back in Bonn after our Mississippi sojourn, Fil Campbell and Tom McFarland had another mammoth musical mountain to follow. They did so of course in fine style. A bit of politicizing again on ‘Talk About’ where Fil shows her exasperation at Ireland’s penchant for ‘Talks’ that seem to lead nowhere. A bit of political respite in Tom’s lament ‘The Bird’s Song’ about bird’s declining to let other birds who migrate, back into their Country again the next year (hang on – do I detect something political in there again?!)
When I talked to her during the break Fil told me which numbers from the new CD (‘Together’) she wanted to play tonight. “Maybe that will be too quiet though?” she mused at times. I reassure her that the audience here is capable of letting a dropping pin be heard. She might have been a little nervous at introducing a German song but bravely did so, and was rewarded by huge applause at the end of Hannes Wader’s ‘Heute Hier, Morgen Dort’.
Closing time, and room for just one more before ‘Jock Stuart’. Fittingly the duo had the perfect song to round off an evening at Bonn Folk Club, in a room where strangers always feel like friends: ‘Here we are together’. As Fil pointed out before the song: “You’ll never become financially rich playing as a musician. But the thing that does make us rich is the places we get to and the people we meet”.
My thought to take away after an amazing evening of music was a lyric from Fil and Tom’s ‘Sunshine in the Rain’:
“I see a World that is confused. Please let me step outside it for a while”
A better explanation for the need and existence of Bonn Folk Club I cannot imagine.
Bonn Folk Club meets on the first Friday of each month (except August) DETAILS HERE