I would be a happy man indeed to make it to100. Bonn Folk Club though has now made it to 103 and, on Friday’s evidence, it has never been healthier. A visit from the very popular and very talented Cynthia Nickschas to Dotty’s Sports Bar was always going to draw a big and enthusiastic crowd – and so it proved. An evening of song, laughter, and …plants.
Tonight’s theme of plants was one that could fill many an evening without fear of replicating a song. But why so many songs about roses and so few about cabbages? “My Love is like an orange, orange carrot” anyone? As it turned out, the evening wasn’t awash with flowery sentiments at all, even John Harrison’s opening salvo had, for the most part, only spurious links to the soil.
Martin Donnelly was a guest at Folk Club in 2012 and his ‘The Green Man’ just about fits the theme being about (Wikipedia here) ‘The representation of a face surrounded by, or made from leaves, branches or vines…’ There’s no denying the rightful place tonight of Cousin Joe’s ‘Everything that’s made of wood was once a tree’ though (and what a wonderful song title!) but ‘Macpherson’s Farewell?’ I suppose the unlucky Macpherson was hung from the gallows tree. The story of Jamie Macpherson is indeed a fascinating and true one though, as you can read after this review below. The original tune is said to have come from Macpherson himself on that fateful day, the later lyrics came from Robbie Burns, and tonight’s ‘alternative’ ending that featured said Macpherson’s fiddle being in the hands tonight of fiddler supreme Eva Henneken came (not surprisingly) from John Harrison himself. he defended his twist in the tale to me later thus: “I wanted to give it a happier ending!!!”
Gert Müller’s ‘Jedischte‘ in Bönnsch dialect this evening was a local tale from the nearby Drachenfels that had a dragon and a Knight named Siegfried, but no flowers, plants or even shrubs that I can recall. I knew what the subject was this time though which proves my ‘Bönnsch’ is improving.
Hans Ihnen proved himself as a multi-instrumentalist with Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ on piano (where else?!) and followed up with two flowery numbers ‘John Denver’s ‘Garden Song’ and one of my all-time favourites of the theme Tom Petty’s ‘Wild Flowers’. I even played this myself here some time ago in memory of TP’s passing. fine songs, finely presented by Hans this evening.
Lothar Prünte was taking a day off from hosting his own shows at ELPI’s to make a surprise guest appearance with a clap-along version of‘Horse with no Name’ so he wasn’t on my ‘Cheat sheet’ of music that John Harrison handed out.
Next up, according to my ‘Cheat-sheet’ though looked equally mistaken. Steve had written only ‘Damen mit Bube’ for the next three numbers. Things got more confusing when Mario Dompke appeared, and even more confusing when he apologised that the planned Damen part of the duo had called in sick at short notice. You can’t keep a good man down though and Mario teamed up with Uta Schäfer for ‘The Water is Wide’ and finished with an instrumental that really was a joy to the ears ‘Gabriella’s Song’. I haven’t heard Mario play in this style before and have to give him kudos for a job well done indeed. Out of necessity played purely acoustically to a guitar arrangement by Jens Komnick, it proved to my ears to be the magic moment of the evening part one.
Cynthia Nickschas is the very recent winner of a German Language prize for lyrics. Before the show, I asked if this meant she wasn’t likely to write anything in English. “Oh, but I have!” she replied – and proved it with her set opener, the appropriately titled ‘Write it Down’. After playing the English language number she apologized with a wink – “and now I’ll continue with some boring German stuff”. Which of course, as her award has already proved, was just a joke.
The magic, or at least a part of it in Cynthia’s music, is that she truly seems to live each and every song for its duration. I almost expect to see spent ‘shell cartridges’ after each number such is the power with which each song is fired off. Lots of dancing, jumping around, and joking with both audience and band. Let’s not forget that band either, Cynthia’s feathered hat is reminiscent of another feathered hat wearer, Robin Hood – and like he, she is also supported by a group of very able ‘merry men’.
There’s a magic and tension that audiences enjoy from musicians who seem to change music and songs out of the blue during concerts – but what must it be like to play in their bands? At the end of the day, there is a boss to be followed – an ‘Egoschwein‘ perhaps? At any rate that very title was a great number to finish a great opening set with.
Unusually, it’s John Harrison kickstarting us into part two with a new poem of his about Swifts in fact that saw his arms swooping around the room with as much abandon as the wings of those majestic birds hoovering up insects high in the evening sky.
GW Spiller was taking it easier tonight and had left his tuba at home in favour of an acoustic bass. He was the able support for a very enjoyable set of ragtime/blues from Hans Steege. This is a musical style that you really don’t hear very much of these days. I first heard and fell in love with it via Ralph McTell who was and still is a huge fan of Blind Willie McTell (now you know why ‘Streets of London’ wasn’t a hit for Ralph May) I hope Hans and GW will be back with more such music because I could listen to such tunes played well like this for hours.
Speaking of good tunes I could listen to for hours, World Music Bonn are the best of eclectic magpies with their choice of songs and seem to be going from strength to strength. This evening’s set included The Star is Born song ‘Shallow’ with John Hay taking Bradley Cooper’s part and Carolin Schaulandt Lady Gaga. It’s not an easy number acoustically with its low-key opening and a sudden jump in tempo and tone. When Schaulandt jumped into the power section vocally though she showed herself to possess a strong rock vocal. They are down for an appearance at the new ‘Kunst!Zelt’ this year during the Kunst!Rasen Season, and will have the advantage of some amplification I would guess to add punch to what is already a very harmonious sound. Certainly, World Music Bonn are always a delight with their low-key attitude and high-class performance and it was no surprise to see Cynthia Nickschas in the doorway of the rehearsal room smiling happily as the chorus of ‘Je Veux’ bounced around the room. It was also a joy to have her join them in time for the chorus when it came around again (in no small part down to the audience clapping along so enthusiastically the first time around).
So here we are again, for the second set from Cynthia Nickschas. The Zaz tune played shortly before seems perfectly appropriate. I’ve seen both Isabelle Jeffroy (Zaz) and Cynthia on numerous occasions now, and though they are born in different countries to different mothers, they really are musical twins. Sharing an impish zest for the music that has them dancing around. An infectious enthusiasm that never fails to rub off on both audience and fellow musicians alike. There’s a moment in one of Cynthia’s songs that echoes the ‘voice trumpet’ that delights Zaz fans. Both came up from playing music in the streets, and both have learnt from it how to hold an audience in the palm of a hand. How important it is not just to play, but also to entertain.
Comparisons only take me so far though. Who but Cynthia Nickschas could write a song called ‘Stock im Arsch’? (I will leave non-German speakers to Google-translate here). Who but Cynthia Nikschas would finish a song that very day, and sing it brilliantly to a live audience after only playing it through at home twice beforehand? Who but Cynthia Nickschas would play solo, get to a song verse where she has forgotten a lyric, and cajole the band for having packed the lyric sheets away? Most of all, who else would get thunderous applause for all of these things? At a time when so many singers sound the same, and so many songs sound like the ones you heard before, it really is a pleasure to have the likes of Cynthia in the music scene, and it really is something to especially treasure that such a unique talent can be heard so often in the Bonn area. She may well be the first act to play on the big Kunst!Rasen stage this year supporting Max Giesinger on 27 June. That would be very appropriate indeed.