The theme of Folk Club Bonn #102, was ‘Animals’ and with it’s ‘All creatures great and small’ reach it generated probably the most theme-oriented songs of any club meeting to date. Kangaroos, pug dogs, sparrows, bees, ducks, geese, dragonflies… There would have been one about emus if someone had written such a song (and now I will wait for you to check Google and tell me I’m wrong!!!)
Okay, yes, there’s ‘Emu Song’ by John Williamson. I was wrong. Now let’s get back to Dotty’s Sports Bar before the last seat is taken on this zoological musical ride of an evening with John Harrison and special guest from Birmingham David Fisher.
Having laid my reporting hat on the table to join John Harrison with Dave Webbers ‘May Song’ I was back, pen in hand, to start the first of many jotted notes for the evening. I don’t think too many female humans would like to be named ‘Zeppelina’ but it’s a lovely tale of a female duck written by Mr Harrison himself (and the title comes from John’s daughter Jenny). Is a bee an animal? that’s questionable but unquestionable is that Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’ is one one the best songs from one of Britains best Folk musicians of the 20th century, Richard Thompson. I’ve tried to play it and failed miserably. John makes its busy rhythm look so easy.
For Loriot lovers ‘Ich wünsch mir eine Miesekatze’ is the best Jazz/swing banjo ditty ever played, by a dog named Wum. No, I’m not mad, see the video HERE. Holger Riedel made a brave attempt at upstaging the cartoon canine – but who could stand a chance? ‘Otto’s Mops’ was safer ground. Interestingly the comedian Loriot who ‘discovered’ Wum, was a big fan of ‘Möpse’ – which are, to the uninitiated, cute pug dogs.
On now to ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport’, and it’s not much easier trying to present a Rolf Harris classic either. Jörg Böhnsack did have the help of Steve on Jews Harp though to ‘realistically’ recreate the sound of a kangaroo jumping (although I’ve never actually been present when such a thing happened, so I may be wrong). Gert Müller‘s poem in Bonn dialect was titled ‘Minge Pudel’ so my guess is that a poodle was at the heart of it. I will try and understand these poems to the end, honestly, I will try. The second poem was entitled ‘Mona Lisa’. Maybe it fitted the animal theme if she led a dog’s life? As we don’t know for sure who she is, you’re on a safe bet for now Gert. Are there classes in ‘Bönnsch’? Maybe after I’ve mastered the genitive. nominative, accusative and dative cases in German…
Thank goodness for Hanna Navarro. She just sat down and played the most beautiful melodies on a harp. Did I say ‘just’? That was certainly an insult to her talents. This young lady stepped up to her instrument with such a shy appearance that I feared stage-fright would ruin her confidence to play in front of an audience for life. Instead, though, there was something almost trance-like in the way she embraced the harp for a few moments before hypnotizing us all with two magical musical pieces. Perhaps some instruments benefit from being ‘electrified’ but the pure sound of a harp ringing out its natural tones really is a joy to behold.
Paul & Monika Haag would be ideal teachers of that Bonn dialect that I actually find rather endearing after I get over the frustration of not quite understanding it. Some words though are not even guessable. Ostermann, for example, wrote “De Mösch”:
“De Finster steiht op, op eimol flüch en Mösch Bei uns erin on setz sich op dr Desch!”
but what exactly is a Mösch? It’s actually a sparrow, and, as Paul points out, when Willi Ostermann wrote the song he could never have imagined that this most common of domestic birds would sink so startlingly in number over the years. Proof of startling changes in both language and environment. This is a good place to mention another ornithological rendering, this time Jutta Mensing with ‘Alle Vögel sind schon da’. Something of a child’s song, and certainly sung along to by the audience with hearty childlike enthusiasm. It translates in English as “All the birds are back again” ‘The Birds are Back In Town’? Utta Schäfer too brought us Herman Lön’s melancholic ‘Das Bittersüße Lied’ bemoaning that, sweet as the Nightingale’s song is, it robs the listener of their sleep. With so many songs to choose from, maybe there should be a separate theme for ‘Birds’ next year?
The Hobo Jenssens are a ZZ Top-like trio in their (cheap) sunglasses and despite their Texan hats and attitudes hail from Bonn. Their instruments were as enjoyable as their music – the former being seemingly home-made guitars and basses from boxwood and the latter having an undeniable coolness to match the looks. The sunglasses were indeed needed during a blinding rendition of ‘Sunny’ with its irresistible violin hook.
Fritz Casper had travelled down from Cologne, where he is usually part of a band, to play at Bonn Folk Club for the first time. He was a little nervous at the volume of the conversations before the show started, particularly given the ‘no amplification’ policy. I reassured him that the audiences at Dotty’s were always very well behaved when the music actually started, and any errant talkers were always ‘shushed!’ into silence by those sitting near them. So it turned out, when Fritz came to play. All credit to him for settling down very quickly to deliver an enjoyable set of self-penned numbers. I particularly liked the choppy chord rhythm of ‘My Girl‘. On the one occasion that he did falter for a moment with the words he took three steps back facing the wall behind him and immediately came back with words and music both lyric and note-perfect – with a relaxed smile. Hopefully not the last visit by Fritz Casper – I think he would be a marvellous addition to the regulars at Dotty’s.
There were two special guests scheduled for tonight, but as Attila Vurral couldn’t make it, David Fisher had the stage (and the CD sales) all to himself. David is based in Birmingham (UK) but has released a book that suggests you are unlikely to find him there. ‘Busking Beyond Borders’ is a fascinating account of David’s three-year journey around a large part of the World, largely unplanned in advance, and quite terrifying to plan too I would think, which is why he perhaps made his plans so ‘elastic’. It’s his favourite way of life though, as he sings on ‘People Say’:
“People say “get a 9 to 5″, but I don’t see things this way. … I want to play in the streets, and see the smiles on the faces”
What occurred to me during David Fisher’s sets though was that, despite his travels, he sounded like the most quintessential British Folk Musician I’ve heard in years. If you really want to get a feel for the music coming out of British Folk Clubs in the ’70s then David would be an excellent compass point. There’s a touch of Bert Jansch in his vocal delivery and traditional songs that were guaranteed to have the locals singing along and spilling their 50 pence pints of ale. ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?’ How can anyone NOT sing along, and fail to add a pirate-like “Early in the Morning!” at the end?
‘The Northwest Passage’ is one of those serious songs with lots of verses and a dramatically unfolding tale that also regularly raised it’s head in my Folkclub going youth. It’s a song by Canadian Stan Rogers about the tragic and true story of Sir John Franklin and his expedition to map the Northwest Passage. They endured terrible conditions with their ship frozen into the sea, forcing them to endure winter in a stationary position. The first winter went by without a whole lot of trouble. They were located on Baffin Island, only a few crew members died. However, the weather turned worse each season. The next winter they were stuck next to King William Island. Eventually, they left the ship and searched for a safe haven but eventually, all died.
There were also some excellent compositions from David himself, often inspired by his travels. ‘The Lofoten Islands’ which he encountered during his travels in Norway and ‘Girl from the Mountain Town’ about a young lady he met during his travels in Salzbürg to name just two played this evening.
I loved most of all though his final number: ‘The Wild Goose’. Not because it was his final number I hasten to add. I loved it because it was a shanty, sung acapella. Now, this is really something that I used to encounter every week in Portsmouth at our Folk Club. Usually sung by a large man in a Shetland wool jumper and with a finger in his ear to check for tonal fidelity as he progressed. David, thankfully, had neither a shetland woolly jumper or his finger in his ear as he sang, but it was wonderful to hear such a performance again. I can’t remember anyone doing this in any of the 101 Folk Clubs that took place before tonight, but I have missed a couple, so maybe I’m wrong.
All in all, an enjoyable zoological stroll of an evening that unexpectedly found us spending a lot of time in the aviary with feathered friends. For me, it was also a nostalgic visit to Folk Clubs past. I do recommend that if you are, plan to become, or have an interest in being a street musician, you get a copy of David’s book. It will give you an insight into those hours spent literally on the road through the eyes of a very readable and talented English Folk Musician.
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David’s performance reminded me so much of my 1970’s Folk Club visits. That inspired me to check out some of Britains most talented Folk Musicians, during which I came across the following documentary. Recommended viewing in that it covers pretty well every major British guitarist/singer Songwriter worth mentioning (except for the unaccountable absence of Richard Thompson). Its central figure is the legendary Bert Jansch and its presenter is the equally legendary folk-singer/comedian Billy Connolly. Grab a coffee and enjoy a walk through the streets of London past…