Whoever first said you don’t get anything for nothing had never attended Bonn Folk Club. They certainly would have changed their minds if they were at Dotty’s Sportsbar/Restaurant for FCB #101. It was a night on which we actually enjoyed multiple ‘somethings for nothing’ in the form of two excellent headline acts from the Folk World – and that’s before factoring in the additional ‘something for nothings’ that came in the form of numerous local and visiting musicians who once again dropped by to perform a song or three. Here’s the low-down on an evening with Daria Kulesh, Lindsay May and many other contributors to another magical evening of acoustic bliss.
Fate can be a hard thing to bear. Take Friday at 6.45 pm at Dotty’s as an example. I was proudly setting out my new photobook celebrating 100 Folk Clubs, only to discover that, for the first time in my memory, we have two performers with merchandise stands. Daria Kulesch had some rather adorable little puppets pepping up her table whilst Lindsay May had an attractive turquoise chiffon runner under her collection of cd’s, T-shirts and tote bags. Attractive as the presentations were, they were also a sign that ‘something for nothing’ is not a way to make a living for professional musicians of course. A quick decision: ‘My books can wait until next month’. My philosophy is that if you see a good professional musician for nothing then 10 Euros for a CD is a bargain (and even if you bought it last time, as John Harrison always points out with a smile, Christmas is never far away).
John Harrison’s opening musical salvo included Leadbelly’s ‘The Last Fair Deal Going down’ which seemed appropriate for an Englishman exasperated by the current dithering from Britain’s Parliament over Article #50. Englishman? John has also taken the wise option of taking up German citizenship. Just in case the last fair deal does indeed go down in the London/Brussels dustpipe.
Gerald Matuchek seemed much more relaxed about life though (maybe because he isn’t British?). At least his song from Grundermann ‘Immer Wieder wächst das Gras’ (The grass will always grow again) sounded positive. Possibly his second number was similarly positive, but my Polish is non-existent so I can’t comment on the lyrical quality of ‘Jeszcze Sen’ (Dieser Traum).
Fresh from appearances at the Springmaus, The Grufties certainly hit the ground running where positivity is concerned. Marius Müller’s ‘Es Geht Mir Gut’ radiates optimism – until the last verse which sees the complete ensemble hobbling around the stage with aching limbs at least. The following ‘Jede Zelle meines Körpers ist Glücklich’ (Every cell in my body is happy) from Günther Sturm can, therefore, be taken with something of a dry-boned pinch of salt. It did have the whole audience standing and waving arms vigorously in the air though. Put all that enthusiasm down to the fact that these ‘Grufties’ have refined their act brilliantly via the popular and long-running ‘Rock n Rollators’ theatre show. I had aching arms the next day – but they certainly fooled me into believing every cell in my body was happy at the time at least.
I’m not sure that The Scorpions will have ageing in mind when they surely sing the classic ‘Wind of Change’ at Kunst!Rasen this Summer. I’m not sure that Lothar Prünte did either when he played it tonight. There was far too much smiling on his part for it to be a change for the worse after all. Something about walls coming down I think – Donald Trump wouldn’t be smiling I suspect.
Lothar shares, in common with Robert Hrubes, the ability to take the whole audience in via his sheer enthusiasm for the music being presented. It’s been a while since Robert was here (I know he visited sometime in 2016 for certain) but he’s based in San Francisco which is a fair excuse. Actually, Robert usually shares a stage with Paolo Pacifico, but proved to be a very charismatic ‘frontman’ in his own right as he took on popular oldies ‘Let it Be’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun’ before finishing his piano-driven set with another classic made famous by The Animals (“one of my all-time favourite groups” – Robert) ‘Bring it on Home’ in which he was enthusiastically joined not just by John Harrison and Hansjörg Schall, but also by most of the audience.
Wolfgang Schriefer‘s choice of song ‘Eve of Destruction’ seemed like a nice counterweight to the optimism of songs like the earlier ‘Es geht mir Gut’ and perhaps even to ‘Let it Be’ which it might be argued suggests leaving the lunatics to take over the asylum – but I really shouldn’t keep referencing Brexit and British politics every paragraph.
Funny Thursday saw the welcome return of Hansjörg Schall’s choir Funny Thursday. I must remember next time to ask about the name, but the singing itself is no mystery – just vocal heaven. Another musician appearing at Kunst!Rasen this year was song checked when the choir sang John Fogerty’s ‘Have you ever seen the Rain?’ and’ although I’m not sure about ‘Auld Lang Syne’ being sung any time after 1 January in any year it proved a popular sing-along choice even without a glass of champagne.
‘Born to Run’ with a double bass backing though was one of those inspired oddities that makes a visit to Folk Club worthwhile anytime for the magic of the unknown. Thank you Gerald & Co for that one. I rather liked their take on ‘Creep’ too. It made me think Radiohead would make a great featured artist at Folk Club. Or maybe not all of their material translates so well into acoustic folk?
Usually, I would finish my review with the Featured Guest. When there are two of them – and they are two Ladies who are so different in style, temperament and delivery though it’s impossible deciding who to start with, without giving the impression that one ‘supported’ the other. In the end, I tossed a coin, and start with a review of Canadian Lindsay May.
Or maybe that was a mistake. I wouldn’t want to get on Lindsay’s bad side. There’s a song called ‘Start somewhere’ that she penned, with the lyric “My neighbour’s house is on fire. I know because I started it myself.” not to mention that she is over 6 feet tall and immediately after stepping under the spotlights is staking her ground and smiling straight down the lens of Sabine’s Nikon at a nearby table. I hope I’m going to like her music. If not, I might need to change my name and home address after this review.
Fortunately, I do like her music. Very much in fact. Back in the day, Lindsay May might even have been a regular on The Grand Ole Opry. She might be singing tonight in a Folk Club in Bonn, but she has the vocal sound of a Nashville Country Star and the sassy confidence of a June Carter. Lindsay May is watching all the angles for sure as well. There are t-shirts and tote- bags on the merchandise table alongside the cd’s, and she asks during the break if I can get a shot from behind of her with the audience for Facebook. Something she didn’t see coming though was the glass of red wine deposited on the piano top behind her by the young waiter who had earlier passed in front of her as she began a song. “He’s nice”, she had winked. “If you see him come by carrying a glass of red wine later please let me know” The sheer timing of the said young waiters arrival was worth an Oscar. The applause and laughter were priceless.
Lindsay May is also a committed songwriter, and her lyrics sound, as all the best ones seem to sound, carved from real life – but with a fresh twist. I’ve heard many a love song but the simple line “Sitting in my window. Face full of Sun” is a wonderful way to describe waiting for that special someone in life. Or take “I Told a Lie, because I wanted you”. Her lyrics leave you wondering what will come next. Even the song titles themselves make you hungry for more: ‘I get what I tolerate’, ‘ Love gets ripped away’. Great songs accompanied by a slick black acoustic guitar that Johnny Cash would have enjoyed picking and Lindsay is also a mean Mandolin player. I have enough tote bags and band t-shirts to fill a wardrobe, but I do indulge in buying a cd and her ‘Acoustic 4.0’ doesn’t disappoint as a reminder of an excellent set by a talented songwriter.
It was not going to be an easy matter to take the stage after a ‘force of Nature’ that is Lindsay May. It fell to Daria Kulesh to close out Folk Club #101 though, and where May commanded instant attention, Kulesh was content to let her natural magic gradually win us over. She began by introducing her ‘friends’ this evening. Tiny dolls. Small they may be, but they become larger than life when she begins to introduce them more formally.
Kulesh, like May, is a storyteller. The two styles are worlds apart though. May’s World is the real one with all its beauties and heartaches. The dolls suggest that Kulesh inhabits a World of Fairytale, and fairytales can be pretty scary places to be as anyone with a knowledge of The Grimm Brothers will attest. Each song is preceded by a lengthy description of its background and creation, that sometimes seems as long as the song itself but actually embellish it perfectly – helped also by the obvious sincerity and emotion brought to each introduction.
Daria now lives in the UK, but she was born in Russia and her ancestors came from Ingushetia in the Russian Caucasus Mountains. The Ingushetians were deported under Stalin’s regime and the songs tonight often show the pain of that deportation. Daresh even falters momentarily during ‘The Moon & The Pilot’. it’s intensity almost seems to consume her, and when she falters it’s as if she has come out of a musical trance. The song tells of her Grandmother who, despite being married to a heroic wartime pilot, is deported. It’s a song of courage and defiance and it is truly hypnotic. In unison with her beautifully honey-toned vocal delivery and the eerie intonations of a Shruti box, the Folk Club quickly finds itself drawn into a magical set. A Fairytale set you might even say.
A Shruti box? I hear you ask. Well, I hope I do. Or maybe I’m the only one in the room who wondered what that strange instrument on Daria’s lap was. In keeping with the fairytale entrance and the dolls, when I saw her pick up a small oblong object from the table I was expecting it to be a book from which she was about to read. In fact, she began opening it and closing it to create the most eerily and beautiful atmospheric music I’ve heard in a long time. I even took the opportunity whilst she was called back for the encore to take a seat behind where she was playing to see what was going on. The box actually has some keys at the back which are played as the box is opened with a bellows effect. It is, to be exact, a drone instrument from India (not to be confused with the drone ‘instrument’ from Heathrow recently).
I’ve already mentioned ‘The Moon and the Pilot‘ which is about Daria’s Grandmother and if there is a theme that unites the material from her this evening it’s female courage. There’s a song about Jane Wenham, a true story of the 1712 conviction and later pardoning of a girl accused of witchcraft. My earlier mention of The Brothers Grimm fits the style of ‘Vasilia’ – a Russian Babes in the Wood fairytale with a twist as the girl protagonist finally burns her wicked stepmother to ashes. There is a song too ( ‘Shame or Glory‘ ) dedicated to Florence Foster Jenkins. This ladies biggest claim to fame is that, despite being universally vilified for not having a decent voice, she came to play the Carnegie Hall. She managed to carry off the concert fearlessly too, but died only months after the show – some say of a broken heart at all the bad reviews. What matters though to Daria Kulesh is her courage of conviction, or, as was famously remembered, her quote: “People may say I can’t sing. But no one can ever say I DID NOT sing!”
Daria Kulesh herself though very definitely can sing. I would not advise anyone to try covering anything made famous by Sandy Denny, but Kulesh is as fearless as Florence Foster Jenkins with ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’. Unlike Mrs Jenkins, she need have no fear of negative criticism. She has a quintessentially English Folk voice, and British Folk Guru Mike Harding describes Kulesh as one of his favourite singer-songwriters. She certainly proved Harding’s wisdom with her performance on this magical Friday in April.
Did I mention that the new Daria Kulesh disc ‘Earthly Delights’ includes musical contributions from members of Britain’s premier Folk Band ‘Show of Hands’? Or that top multi-instrumentalist Jonny Dyer is also on it? Did I mention that entrance to Folk Club Bonn is free? I think you get the message. You can very definitely get something very special for nothing – but please buy a cd (or t-shirt/tote bag) afterwards. Music may calm the savage beast, and applause is very much appreciated – but it doesn’t calm the hungry stomach or fill the petrol tank of gifted musicians. We really are a lucky bunch in Bonn in the quality of musicians who play at FCB. It says much for the club and its international reputation.
The last word(s) and video go to Daria Kulesh introducing her song ‘The Moon & The Pilot’ …
“With The Moon and the Pilot, we remember those for whom 23 February 1944 was the end of the world as they knew it and the start of an outrageous injustice which cuts deep, even to this day. It’s the story of a family and a nation banished from their homeland – Ingushetia – under the orders of Stalin. The dictator declared them enemies of the state in 1944 – when in fact they had been fighting for Russia in the war, and lost loved ones in the process. In the middle of winter, on 23 February 1944, Ingush and Chechen people were brutally deported from their homes.
Despite being written about an atrocity carried out over 70 years ago, the theme of ‘The Moon and the Pilot’ is achingly current. A song of our time, a song for a world where people are displaced every day by inhumane governments and war.”