Bonn Folk Club 109 was a Singers Night. So why was almost every inch of ‘stage’ floor filled with Harps? Because it’s Folk Club, that’s why – where, outside of the rule ‘No Amplification’, nothing is written in stone,and everything is the better for it. Join me for meet #109, in the event room at Dotty’s in Dottendorf.
The aforementioned crowded stage meant that John Harrison, and Christoph Thiebes on harmonica were almost stting with the people in the front row, so for the two Bonn Nightwatchmen there truly was no need for amplification. John also remained true to the evening’s ‘Winter’ theme with the folk classic ‘The snows they melt the soonest’, before which John noted “Christoph hasn’t actually heard this song yet even though he’s accompanying me – so good luck Christoph!” Both were on familiar gound again though with ‘Nobody knows you’ and ‘Silver City’.
Some fine fiddling followed by a lady named Martha with “A song that made it into a movie – but I can’t remember which one”. The later benefit of hindsight (and Google) told me that it was ‘Ashoken Farewell’ which featured in ‘The Civil War’ and really is a beautiful and emotive piece of music which Martha did proud on the night I might add.
Time now to finally fill in the space behind the assembled harps, and to enjoy more calming melodies, this time from Lavender Blue. The name comes from the traditional melody ‘Lavender Blue’ (which gives everyone the irresistible urge to sing the next line “Dilly Dilly“) – it’s one of those stick in your head classics that is much loved for singing to children, but I digress unnecessarily since they didn’t play it anyway… The three enchanting harp wielding ladies certainly cast a spell with their playing so it was a good thing there were a couple of other instruments in there to stop us all nodding off in restful contemplation. The tune ‘Julia Delaney’ is actually an Irish Fiddle Reel tune, but translates well to harp. ‘Glasgow Reel’ similarly works well interpreted on harps. ‘Cruel Sister’ was the perfect tale of murder and intrigue to listen to by a fire on a cold Winters night. Beautifully sung too. ‘Deck The Halls’ was partly in Welsh and singing along was requested – so no sleeping here. It did make me sad that Christmas was over though. Fortunately the sing-along part was the tra-la-la part and not the Welsh one. ‘Winter Träumerei’ was one to settle back and relax to though with it’s gentle chiming melody.
It was John Hay’s task to wake us up from our reverie then. John though also had some gentle tunes to offer on flamenco guitar, penned by himself none the less. More relaxing and dreaming then to his ‘Winter Song’ and ‘Buddhist Flamenco Song’ although his tempo jumps kept attention and his lyrics about mankind as vapour in the sky and water in the ocean on the latter are apt ones coming as they do from a man involved with the very real problems of negotiatons over climate change as a full-time career subject. ‘Winter Song’ though was actually a jolly one thanking the people who make his life worthwhile when life isn’t always so simple. Something we should all do but generally don’t. I suspect it was actually called ‘Thank You for being there’ and renamed for this evening’s theme. It brought the loudest applause of the evening so far though. Nice one John Hay!
So Nikola Nowakowic had a hard act to follow on his first-ever appearance. Nik is described on the web as “known for his emotionally charged blues ballads, floating indie-folk songs and soulful vocals”. All of which proved to be a correct assessment of his short set this evening. Hats off to Nik too for paring down what are clearly electric arrangements to appear with just an acoustic guitar in hand. I have added a video of his playing one of the songs he brought to the Folk Club as proof that they really are attracting some top-class young musicians to Dotty’s these days.
Starting the second half of tonight’s show Günther’s Bluebirds got us back on the Winter theme, with a vengeance. ‘Schneeflöckchen” “Winterwonderland’ and ‘Schneewältzer’ – all with impeccable harmonies led by Günther’s piano. There’s something about any appearance by Günther that gives Bonn Folk Club it’s true air of authenticity. The feeling that anyone, from 9 to 90, can find a place in the hearts of the Bonn audience if they truly care about what they are doing. Günther has truly cared about what the Folk Club stands for from day one, Folk Club #1, and is as popular as ever 108 meetings later whenever he sits down at the piano to play.
Karin & Thomas are also amongst that small group of musicians whose images come to mind when people ask me about Folk Club. They certainly hit my musical sweet-spot with ‘Dans ma rue’ which has been a favourite of mine since I first heard Zaz singing it at Bonn Museumsplatz what seems a million years ago now. It’s one of those songs (Etta Jame’s ‘I’d rather go blind’ is another) that has been a staple song to cover for many years by so many singers and I never tire of hearing it’s sad story and melody. Good that they followed it up with Antonio Jobin’s ‘No More Blues’ which is a pretty accurate title as the song has a Bossa Nova beat.
Another duo that has been a staple of Folk Club’s over the years are Tatjana Schwarz & Ralf Haupts, better known these days as 2Sunny, so it was a great and pleasant surprise to see them back again this evening. They might have started with a song admitting they were ‘Zu Müde’ (Too Tired), but the sing-along and frenetic applause that followed their electrifying rendition of Hildegard Knef’s classic ‘In Dieser Stadt’ tells a different story. Truly a memorable set that has me hoping very much that we see Ralph and Tatjana more often at Dotty’s
When it came to Winter themes Hans Ihnen was also making other plans – with a song of that very same name from Mick Fleetwood. Nice to hear the piano getting an outing for the second time tonight after Günther’s set. His second number, this time with some fine guitar finger-picking, on ‘Winter Song’. This particular Winter Song was penned by Seattle band The Head & The Heart whom I hadn’t heard of before. Once again, Folk Club has sent me in my research to a pleasant discovery – thanks for that Hans! I was impressed by the guitar playing of Hans, and his closing choice of another Winter Song, this time by John Denver, showed him to be capable of changing style – from Folk to Country – with ease.
So there we have it – with the addition of a rousing communal ‘Jock Stuart’ to send the audience home happy and looking forward to Folk Club #110 in February. If I tell you it will be the 10th Anniversary Folk Club Show and that the number of musicians appearing is well into double figures, including some very special local guests, take it as a tip to come early. It may very well be a crowded house even by Folk Club standards
Finally, the promised video by Nik Novakovic