A year ago I could not have imagined writing the words ‘Folk Club Bonn’ and ‘Harmonie’ in the same sentence. Even sitting down with co-owner of the venue Kolli to discuss a possible show there recently was surreal. Here it is then – the sentence in cold black and white for perpetuity: “Folk Club Bonn on Tour from the Harmonie“.
There is an old saying amongst the English boxing fraternity that someone participating in an event at a level seemingly above their own is ‘Punching above their weight’. John Harrison would have you believe that Bonn Folk Club is such an entity. Hang on though John, FCB certainly does carry some weight nowadays. This wasn’t non-league Middlethwollop Town FC making it to the FA Cup Final at Wembley. The members of CAYU, Dennis Ledermann, and of course guest star Johannes Epremian have all been on this stage before. Indeed our guest for the cancelled Club meeting in September Sean Taylor is now playing at the Harmonie in November. No, FCB won’t get 400 people in when things at the Harmonie get back to ‘normal’, but it will do more than alright down at Dotty’s audience wise.
Indeed, the audience size was a prime concern this evening of course. Only six hours before the show Bonn announced formally that it was now a ‘red’ area for Covid with cases now at 50.6 on the RKI index (50 being the critical mark). Soundchecking our instruments, the unspoken thought of everyone must have been “will people be so totally confused by the regulations that they stay home”? Despite a quiet sigh of relief that new lockdown measures would not come into force until the next day, still – who will dare to turn up in such uncertain times?
Well of course we should not have worried. The faithful backbone of Folk Club attendees did dare – and as the saying goes, who dares wins! No one could reasonably expect the 80+ who cram into Dotty’s when the likes of Schank or Simon Kempston are in town to be at the Harmonie on such a day. There was though a very healthy 50+ good men/women and true seated and served with drinks by concert start. Perfect for a comfortable atmosphere, in a well-ventilated hall and with a barkeeper bringing drinks to the seats. We thank you all – the barkeeper most definitely included!
Poor Axel the soundman. Probably expecting an easy evening of sound-checking acoustic guitars, he arrived to see a harp and drum kit onstage from CAYU. He did a tip-top job all evening I am pleased to say. All we had to worry about was signalling to him at the end of our performances that we were about to unplug our guitars to avoid a possible explosion onstage the likes of which has only previously been since at early ’70’s shows by The Who.
First to step out under the spotlights were John Harrison and Eva Henneken. The duo was even deadlier than usual with Eva adding some excellent backing vocals to John’s performance which turned out to be an appetizer for a surprise lead vocal later in the evening with CAYU. John’s long introduction to ‘Albert McTavish’s Brand New Frigidaire’ turned out to be a luxury as time raced on later in the evening. ‘Celtic Aire’ and ‘Summertime’ were excellently played with the first reminding me that the air in the hall was good, and the second reminding me that even if the living isn’t easy right now and it isn’t Summertime, live music can fool you into a pleasant world of non-reality. Axel got another test of his soundman skills and nerves too as John made a surprise invitation to have Dietrich Koll join in on cello. Test passed with flying colours by both soundman and cellist.
Eva, having played this stage before with the UN Band must have tipped John off about the bright lights, since both were wearing straw sunhats. As I stepped up the steps to go onstage after them it occurred to me that Henrik Freischlader wears his Stetson’s here for more than just sartorial elegance. My own Stetson cap though was hanging from a peg in my apartment. Should I call home and ask to have my cap driven down immediately? Ah, the life of a Rockstar! I opted for trying to form the front of my hair into something resembling the peak of a cap. Without success sadly. I’d been nervous at the prospect of looking down from the high stage to a concert hall audience. As it turned out though I discovered that the lights were so bright I couldn’t see anyone at all. I plugged in my guitar, hoped the invisible Axel had seen my raised arm to switch off the power whilst doing so, and played ‘Jack’s Song’. It’s a number inspired by my own father as a Japanese Prisoner of war, and I thought that standing on a stage that means so much to me, having been the home of so many musical heroes like Johnny Winter and Ian Hunter, I should sing a song that meant a lot to me as well. I did so, savoured my moment on the stage, and afterwards waved to Axel to switch me off, unplugged, and went back to the normal evening job of looking at the stage through a Nikon lens.
My first picture opportunities after playing were of Daniel Bongart. If I had to nominate my hero of tonight it would definitely be Daniel. First to step up when Axel arrived to sort out the sound and lighting, Quick to take over on the door taking entrance vouchers and issuing tickets, sharing duties as raffle host, playing guitar, piano, and singing too. A trio of excellent songs they were too, including Daniel’s tribute to the late and much-missed Folk Club favourite Richard De Bastion ‘As Long As You Sing’.
It was a very special surprise at the 100th Folk Club when Dennis Ledermann said he would play. An even better surprise was that he had written a song about Folk Club. Who better to invite along this evening then than Dennis, who went from a nervous teenager playing a couple of self compositions only a couple of years ago to the final of a regional talent competition (Toys 2 Masters) with brother Marvin. Singing along to the Folk Club Song was a classic moment that evening. Sadly we could only hum along to the chorus this evening – and even then I saw Bert from the Harmonie looking around to check the masks were all firmly in place. It was a chance for Dennis to air some new material though and as always just a pleasure to see his enthusiasm for music and for Folk Club.
We were fortunate indeed to get Johannes Epremian as Featured Artist at short notice for the evening. Many people will know Johannes as a key part of the sound with popular band Le Clou and their representation of the Cajun sound of the Mississippi. Johannes though has a wide palette when it comes to the music he listens to and plays. His last solo release was “Blues dans mon violon” and he has recently been in the studio with Halifax UK born Folk/Jazz musician Ray Austin and keyboard man Chris Weller, where he can also be heard on guitar – which should be no surprise as Johannes was and still is a keen guitarist and fan of Dick Gaughan and Bert Jansch. The Fiddle though is what we know and love to hear from Johannes Epremian, and as always he did not disappoint.
What I love, aside from obvious musical ability, is the happy face that Johannes has whilst he plays. It’s simply a joy to photograph such happiness in fact. He knows how to connect with the audience between songs too. Telling the story behind one composition of an elderly couple who, when asked the secret of their romances longevity, replied it was down to both having a strong taste for alcohol in large quantities. If you have a strong taste for fiddle played with emotion then check out “Blues dans mon violon“. I for one am looking forward to hearing the trio album, which, if it follows the previous ‘Written in the Night’ promises to be a super Folk disc in the ’70’s tradition. A smiling audience, a smiling musician, music played with emotional intensity, what more can anyone ask for from any concert?
Had we not been blessed with the talents of Johannes Epremian as a special guest then CAYU would very easily have fitted the top of the bill spot. They really have developed from an eager group of amateur musicians formed loosely around the United Nations into a talented pool of professional competence with a seemingly boundless repertoire. I’m not sure I ever heard them play the same song twice in all their appearances.
Today’s selection was as eclectic as always. ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy‘ from The Waterboys, ‘World Dance’ (Yanni), the traditional Irish tune ‘Drowsy Maggie’ a Folk Song from Brittany ‘Tri Martolot’. Of special mention too was Eva Henneken’s contribution ‘Away From You’ which saw both her onstage writing debut and her onstage lead vocal debut. For Folk Clubbers who missed out – you missed a treat. Hopefully, though she will do more singing at future shows. An unexpected surprise of the best kind.
By this time it was indeed time to worry about time – which was starting to run out. Nikola ‘Nik’ Novakovic came down with his bowler hat from Cologne to present some excellent self-penned songs on acoustic guitar. Nikola is certainly no stranger to electric gigs, having performed in Cologne at Underground, Luxor, Hard Rock Cafe and MTC. His musical contributions tonight were all top-rate too, and none more topical than ‘In The Lockdown’. Nik certainly has a voice that springs surprises – hopping up high suddenly for dramatic effect and dropping back down again sometimes within the same line. I liked ‘All Of My Heroes Are Dead‘ – a song to wallow in. An enjoyable short set from Mr Novakovic in all then, and good to find Bonn Folk Club attracting singer/songwriter talent from Cologne.
The bad news for John Harrison was that Nik’s songs were also quite long, and we still had a floor spot from Shay Mc Veigh and the second set from Johannes Epremian to come – with 15 minutes left before the 10:30pm curfew. On that note: Thanks Shay for not just graciously cutting your three-song set to one, but also for contributing the best performance of the evening in my book – a super version of John Prine’s classic ‘Sam Stone’. I know John Harrison offered as compensation to pay your fare home. I know too that you only live around the corner from the Harmonie… I’m sure John’s offer was well-meant – more importantly, you are welcome back for a longer spot next time for sure Shay.
So just time for Johann to do one song as a closure for Folk Club Bonn On Tour and no time at all for Jock Stuart – who will be silenced for a while sadly as singing-along is outlawed until further notice (who would have thought that a year ago?). Only time left for a raffle to pay the evenings costs. Thank you loyal Folk Club visitors for buying those raffle tickets, and indeed for turning up in good numbers on such a confusing day regulation-wise. Thanks also to The Harmonie and in particular Kolli, Bert and sound/lighting man extraordinaire Axel for helping us put the show ‘on the road’.
Ultimately it will be wonderful to go back home to play at Dotty’s again, but until health restrictions allow a proper audience inside or weather restrictions allow one outside again – hopefully this won’t be the last ‘Folk Club On Tour’.