Well, he certainly left it late this year. The new CD was pressed just days before this year’s December evening at Bonn Folk Club. Regulars will know that Edinburgh singer-songwriter extraordinaire Simon Kempston made a ‘crossroads-like’ deal with John Harrison some years back – a secure guest-spot in return for a new CD. Since 2011 in fact, Simon has been a ‘regular’ in the literal sense of the word at the Club. With copies of a new CD neatly arranged on the merchandise table, same procedure as every year, all is right with the World at Dotty’s Sportsbar. Folk Club number 108 can begin!
The evening was kicked off by two Nightwatchmen. Both John Harrison and Christoph Thiebes can be found keeping the streets of Bonn safe after sundown – usually with a large group of camera wielding tourists following them around the historic cobblestone paths of yesteryear. The appropriately named ‘Nightwatchman‘ was followed by John’s infamous ‘song’ ‘Albert McTavish and his brand new frigidaire’. The harrowing tale of a spot-welding wife, and a man drowned along with his gas frigidaire. A common story it is not. It needs to be told though because the ‘song’ that follows is actually an instrumental!
John Harrison knows how to make an audience laugh. He knows how to make them cry too. ‘Angel in Disguise’ first appeared on John’s 2004 CD ‘Blues to make your Ice Water’, written by John’s friend Jonathan Ole Wales Rogers. John was accompanied once again by Eva Henneken on Violin. Classically trained Eva discovered, during a five-year visit to New Zealand, that there is far more to Violin than Bach would ever have admitted too – and has since become a key musician for both players at Folk Club and the local troubadours ‘World Music Bonn’.
Next up was an Annette – Wolfgang Schriefer. If that sounds confusing then I should add that I too have been an ‘Annette’. It’s a long story, but turning up to play a single song on a night has that description. If I’d been the first, it might have become known as a ‘John’, but I digress… Wolfgang actually managed to cram a bucketful of song snippets into his Annette – with bits and bobs from a bunch that included The Hollies, Golden earring and Udo Lindenberg. All nicely wrapped up under the header of love and relationships which itself fitted nicely into tonight’s theme ‘Together/Apart’. (I guess John Harrison’s Albert Mctavish was together with his Beryl until he ended up in the lake with a frigidaire for eternal company).
Daniel Bongart is no Folk Club stranger of course and has become an important champion, not just of the Folk Club team, but of the many people who believe in hearing good music on the streets of Bonn. He certainly knows how to come in from those streets and lay down an excellent set of songs indoors as his recent CD release ‘Little Bird’ proves. Lately, Daniel has been seen around various musical establishments in the area accompanied by Carola Heyden on cello. His set with Carola started very poignantly with ‘As Long as You Sing’ dedicated to the late Richard de Bastion, a popular figure on the Folk circuit internationally and visitor to Bonn Folk Club who died after a battle with cancer in October. ‘Angel’ and ‘Richtig’ rounded off a gentle set by the duo.
Rob Taylor was a new name to me. From Cologne I believe if my memory serves me correctly. Well, ultimately from somewhere in the British Isles for sure. When I tried to track him down on Google I discovered that ‘Rob Taylor’ might well be the most popular musicians’ name ever. There’s only one though singing a song called ‘Happiness is Deafening’ so if you hear someone singing those words it will most likely be him. Actually, all of Rob’s songs were excellently written, catchy numbers. For some reason he reminded me of Elvis Costello.
Rob is a big man who I can imagine heading a company staff meeting rather than declaring he doesn’t want to go to Chelsea. Indeed, as Rob Taylor himself pointed out, he is playing with his shirt buttoned up to the very top. Not the stuff of anarchy.
From a new name to the welcome return of one I know well. Tom Kannmacher has been an active musician since the late 1960s and was even a founder of the German Folk Movement in 1972. He is still very much an active figure in the presentation and development of Irish pipe music – whether it be the Northumbrian small pipes, Uilleann pipes or the Irish bagpipe. Tonight though Tom is playing a ‘guitar’. Being Tom, of course, it’s no Gibson dreadnought or Martin orchestral model. With its ten strings it’s probably more accurately a Lute or Harp guitar. Similar to the harp itself, this instrument emanates a warm and soft tone that has the audience spellbound. Long songs, with long verses; normally the guitar backs the song – but in Tom’s case this evening, it seemed the other way around. As always, a pleasure to see and particularly hear Tom bringing us back to the very roots of Folk music.
I will come to Simon Kempston later in the review, so jump forward if you wanted to know more. Better still, grab a beer from the fridge and emulate the ‘break’ that preceded Tom Waits…
Okay, not exactly Tom Waits in person. The following day (Dec 7) was Tom’s 70th Birthday and Bonn Folk Club doesn’t miss celebrations when they are in favour of the cream of songwriting talent. We certainly won’t forget the set by Barry Roshto and Ruth Petermann in a hurry for two reasons. Firstly, there was the conviction with which Barry sang the line “You make me feel like a natural-born woman” and secondly for a moving rendition of the Tom Waits classic (from 1989’s ‘Raindogs) of ‘It’s Time’ that saw more people joining in on the chorus of ‘Time’:
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time, that you love
And it’s time, time, time”.
Time next for Uwe Gillert, who was excited to introduce his band Musikkomplizen and quite rightly so. A more enthusiastic group of musicians would be hard to find and Uwe’s songs were a perfect springboard for the music.
If there was a group even more enthusiastic then it may well have been the one that followed. Le Clou are a very popular Cajun-inspired band in the area whom I last saw in front of a dancing mass of happy ‘Bonners’ on the Bundeskunsthalle roof. Johannes (Hannes) Epremian was a folk Club guest in September and must have enjoyed the experience since this time he was back, this time with fellow band members Yves Gueit and Steve Crawford for esteemed company. Not surprisingly, the trio went down a storm, particularly when Yves proceeded to play two flutes at the same time. From the smiles, they would happily have played a 90 minute set for us. Dotty’s though does have to close eventually tonight, and we still have the second set of the evening from Simon Kempston to enjoy.
I think Simon Kempston will be making a new deal with John Harrison for next December – “If I bring a new release and you promise not to put me on after Le Clou…”. Not that Simon really needs to worry about competition stealing his thunder. If you can imagine the peacefulness that one feels after a storm has passed, then you will have some idea of how Simon easily got the audience back into his low-key, high-quality style.
His first set in the evening had included the opening part of his new CD. Although it was only an abridged version of the track, Simon had warned us that ‘The Resolution Torn Asunder’ would still be around seven minutes long, so anyone wanting to visit the toilets should do so now.
“Why should a non-commercial singer-songwriter make a non-commercial CD of instrumental tracks?” This was Simon’s question, not mine. “Because he is one of the most gifted acoustic guitar players out there” is my answer, not his (Simon would be far too polite to say it himself). The good news is that, whereas before you had to listen to what was going on behind the vocals of Simon’s songs to enjoy those gentle melodies – and now you don’t!
There was a return to Simon’s ‘Suite for Solo Acoustic Guitar’ in his second set too, that was once again spell-binding. As Simon himself pointed out though, he is by nature and profession a singer/songwriter and both his sets this evening included a good selection of past releases. Songs that have almost become old friends since he introduced them over the years. ‘You won’t remember him’ from last year’s ‘Broken Before’ CD or ‘Belfast Night’ from 2017’s ‘Balancing Act’.
Simon was proud recently to have been a part of the ‘Around the World in 80 Plays’project which celebrates the music of legendary Scottish Folk Musician Bert Jansch. He is particularly proud to currently sit next to Richard Thompson on the page of musicians who have played the Bert Jansch guitar that has been making it’s musical travels in the great man’s honour. Anyone who has attended Bonn Folk Club over the years and been captivated by Simon’s magic though will tell you – it’s where he deserves to be.
A quick mention (and thank you) to Dotty, who is leaving Dotty’s Sportsbar at the end of the year. It’s thanks to her enthusiasm for an evening of live entertainment, and the enthusiasm of her hard-working staff, that a new Folk Club home was found after Haus Müllestumpe. It’s been a relationship that both sides have profited from, with the Club having a reliable monthly base and Dotty having a reliable evening of beer and food sales (Folk Club audiences are a hungry and thirsty bunch).
The Club will continue at it’s present venue into next year though – so make a date for the first Friday in January!