Folk Club Bonn number 95 – ever closer on the 100 mark! John Harrison will tell you of the early days when calls were made to get musicians down to this ‘new-fangled’ idea for musical get-togethers in Bonn. 95 shows later and not only is there an anxious waiting list of performers pencilled in often months in advance, but we even have two guest stars in Stefan Mönkemeyer and Matthew Robb. One a virtuoso of melodious guitar pieces, the other a virtuoso of dark and dusty Folk Blues. The Bleak and the beautiful in fact.
Even John seemed to eschew tonight’s designated theme of Morning/Evening with his choice of openers (strike me dead in a pit of vipers John, but I venture to suggest dropping the theme idea). Some good old Blues belters were forthcoming from John though in the form of Mance Lipscomb’s ‘Silver City’, Mississippi John Hurt’s ‘Creole Belle’ and that most famous first blues ever written that actually isn’t (blues) WC Handy’s ‘St Louis Blues’. The mix of John’s steel resonator and Eva Henneken’s violin gave a very pleasant nod in the direction of the dusty old roads of the wild west which is a musical location that one of our special guests also inhabits.
A pleasant ‘Annette’ (single floor spot ‘in ‘Folk-Club-ese‘) from Karin and Gerald with Maroon 5’s ‘Sunday Morning’ was a reminder that there was a theme tonight even if it did feel a little like wishing one’s life away to be singing the praises of Sunday with such a pleasant Friday night before us. Speaking of night, John Hay brought the whole ‘Morning/Evening’ theme crashing down again with ‘Starry Starry Night’. You had to forgive him though when you heard Carolin Ds beautiful voice. ‘Donna Donna’ was also beautifully sung and very moving; brought to life perfectly with gentle melodica and fine violin by the Folk Club’s new favourite for musical backing Eva Henneken. She could well take on Paolo’s record for most appearances in one evening. I’m sure Paolo too would forgive her as it’s always a pleasure to hear that extra texture she brings to many songs.
The ensemble plays under the new name of World Music Bonn and already has shows lined up (The library in Kessenich was next on the list. so I would expect that the ‘no amplification’ rule at Folk Club will have put them in good stead for that one). A well deserved encore with ”Heute Hier, Morgen Dort’ that brought a spontaneous sing-along from the audience (something that speaks volumes for the Folk-Club audience – half of whom are themselves musicians and the other half who, like me, sing along quietly hoping the tuneful ‘pro’s’ around them will hide the errors)
Stefan Mönkemeyer stepped quietly into the light from the ceiling spotlights, and just as quietly began to play his Maton acoustic. Clearly, for him, increasing the volume of his finger-style playing was not an option. Each note had an optimum length and an optimum volume. We would have to put in the effort to really listen. But would we? I feared for him for perhaps half of the first piece. His second number, though, said it all ‘The Sky’s The Limit’. You could visibly see people leaning forward in their chairs and glasses being put extra silently back on tables as Stefan’s beautiful set progressed. There was no doubt of two things: his trip down from Dortmund was not in vain and my cameras noisy shutter meant taking pictures between the music.
On then to tonight’s second guest star, and this time not a newcomer. Sometimes you see someone walk onto a stage and just know you are going to love what they do. It happened a couple of years ago. This rather gaunt, scarecrow figure with an old hat, and an even older guitar stepped into the limelight (well the bar-room light) of a Folk Club evening and, with just a Cajon and a stand-up broom handle bass for accompaniment set the room on fire. He went on to sing some dusty and dishevelled songs in a sonorous tone that simply hypnotized. I loved it. I wanted more. But where were the CDs?
Fear not. Tonight Matthew Robb is back, and with a whole disc of dusty dishevelled gems to hear. Gone this time was the broom handle bass. The band in 2018 being a family affair of Matthew’s wife on Cajon, teenage son Sam making one of his first appearances on guitar, and playing everything else, Sascha Loss (last seen at Folk Club I believe accompanying Steven Crawford – and a part of Crawford’s band ‘Ballad of Crows’). They made for a potent quartet too.
Until now, if you googled Matthew you would only turn up one song – on video – of ‘Dead Men Have No Dreams‘. No bad thing either in that in truth it really tells you everything you need to know about the man and his music. Dark and dusty tales that seem to wallow in hopelessness. Hobo’s tales, told in a hypnotic droning voice that nevertheless pulls you in. It’s not a pleasant world that Robb offers, but you enter it all the same because that voice is like a magnet. Now that there is a CD there also reviews, and a comparison that regularly crops up is with early Bob Dylan. I think any folk singer could live with that. The new CD is called ‘Spirit in the Form’ and that very number gets an airing in the first set. Sounds good too. I think money will be spent on a new CD at the break.
New CD in hand, I am happy to enjoy a beer as Steve Perry starts part two with a multi-lingual tilt at ‘All through the Night’ (Welsh and English). A first appearance followed for Knut Rausch and he made a good impression with some excellent 12 string guitar, particularly with a finely delivered ‘Here comes the Sun’. Certainly, someone that would be happily welcomed back for further Club Meetings. I don’t know if he felt nervous after hearing the exquisite playing of Stefan Mönkemeyer, but if he did it didn’t show. I certainly would not have liked to follow playing of such warmth and calibre.
It was impossible to fault Stefen Mönkemeyer’s second set. He even ticked the evening theme box with ‘Morning Song‘. ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘While my guitar gently weeps/Let it Be‘ convinced me that I would be parting with money for another CD at evenings end. Beautiful melodies followed in rapid succession: – somehow he even managed to make the busy tune of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ sound relaxing. It probably didn’t help the beer sales for the evening that no-one dared touch their glass for fear of making a noise – but that’s the price you pay for musical magic.
Ovation and encore for Stefan’s amazing set over, the audience could sit back in their seats again and let the music come to them. Matthew Robb was back for his second set, and clearly, the CD sales hadn’t gone so well as hoped – Putting on the hat he’d forgotten in the first set he noted: “I expect you didn’t recognize it was me on the CD cover without my hat!” It was a joke of course. But hopefully, a lot more CD’s were sold afterwards because it really is a gem of a disc. In fact, the second half featured songs from the CD and if you tear your concentration away from Robb’s hypnotically dusty delivery, there is really some top-notch lyrical poetry on offer:
“In that light one night I escaped. Tired from my body and conscience being raped. Old Hannah rising, Shadow on the road. Hard to tell if it’s from friend or foe’
Hounds ran me down, one cold morn. Made me rue the day I’d ever been born. You can beat my body with hardship and pain, but my spirit lives on in the wind and the rain” – ‘Slave Song’
When Robb starts to play the big venues (and I’m sure on the evidence of this collection that he will) then he already has a closing singalong for the audience in ‘The River’. No. nothing to do with Springsteen’s apocalyptic ballad of that name, but actually something uplifting. “There’s a river that runs through you. A river that runs through me” – something that unites us all in fact. There’s something of Tom Waits in Matthew Robb that goes beyond the penchant for battered hats, as in ‘Until Then’ with it’s brooding chorus:
“I gladly confess, I listen to stone. I trust in forgiveness as a way to atone. Redemption waits, but I’ve got nothing to say. Searching for truth every step of the way”
You’ll have guessed by now that there’s a lyric book in Matthew’s new CD and it’s worth reading. For the true dusty, dirt road feeling though, a visit to Tombstone Arizona isn’t necessary – Bonn Folk Club will suffice.
Finally, a taster from Matthew Robb’s new disc with the title track ‘Spirit in the Form’