Folk Club Bonn Meet number 118 won’t go down in the books as the biggest, the loudest, the longest, the most visited, or even the most difficult evening that the Club has ever put on. Nor does it need to prove anything. Right now, the most important thing is maintaining that there even is a Folk Club event at all. ‘Outside and free!’ as John Harrison announces it on Social Media. It seems to become leaner, but certainly not meaner, every month – and like the best of lean mongrels scratching to make ends meet it is coming out fighting. Thankfully there are also still enough ‘good men/women and true‘ who love playing and listening to music in an environment that is free from hype and makes no promises other than to be a place to come along and enjoy being with other people. The Folk Club anthem Jock Stuart’ puts it perfectly: “Be easy and free when you’re drinking with me”
It was a relief to be a bit freer this month. Not having to capture the names of everyone coming through the gate onto the hockey field at Dotty’s. A deserved applause is certainly due to ‘American Bob’ Maribito who was on the door to check Covid status and is a great example of the spirit that keeps FCB going through thick and currently thin. I don’t think Bob could have heard a word of the evening’s events from his place at the gate – take a bow Mr B, and thank you!
John Harrison had spoken to the ‘God’ of the woodland and the Green Man had promised no rain between 7 pm and 9.30 pm. He was as good as his word. Certainly, it was quite bright still when Mr Harrison and Eva Henneken took the stage to open proceedings with Loudon Wainright III’s ‘New Paint’. John’s interpretation of Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’ is always a song to savor, and it was great that John paid tribute to English folk musician Roger Chapman who died last month with the song ‘Rabbit Hills’. The latter is in an unusual open D tuning which gives it a deep sonorous drone sound. I know the tuning because I was on next and John had asked if he could use my guitar for it. It would have taken me half an hour to retune, so I did my ‘primadonna’ bit and refused to have someone else touch my instrument lest they ruin the karma.
Friday being International Smile Day my own contributions were two Blues numbers (well, the ‘Smile Day’ news reached me on Friday morning and I hadn’t rehearsed anything else, so…) ‘Banker’s Blues’ is a Big Bill Broonzy song but I know it best through the genial acoustic forays of Irish electric guitar wizard Rory Gallagher. My second blues offering of the evening was again inspired by someone who didn’t write it. I always loved BB King playing ‘One Kind Favour’ so I tried the old Blind Lemon Jefferson song myself, even twisting the last verse around to address the earlier verse’s request to “Dig my grave with a silver spoon” and thus finished with: “When you hear that Churchbell sound. “Better start digging in that ground!”
Twelve-bar blues is certainly not Gerd Schinkel’s musical style. Gerd is very much a man in the mold of Woody Guthrie. Guthrie’s guitar poudly proclaimed ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ whilst Gerd’s guitar has so many slogans stuck to it that I imagine if the wood melted it would still be playable under the sticky paper. ‘Kein Baum ist Egal’, ‘Nazi bleibt Nazi’, just a couple of stickers proclaiming the political heartland of many years making music with a mission. Gerd Schinkel is most definitely not your go-to musician if you want to switch off and relax. His songs can be long and his words can be blunt. Is his a dying art? The Protest Folk Song? I will happily take the names of other like-minded souls. A young Gerd would probably be Rapping his material, but where would the protest stickers go?
‘Alter Wahl Plakat’ is certainly a feeling I get when the elections are over and we are awash with posters and banners long after the winners and losers have gone to Berlin or gone home. By Gerd’s standards, it’s even a straightforward song. The remainder of his three-song set tonight was very much more demanding on the grey cells. ‘The Club of Rome’ for instance was founded in 1968 and is composed of “scientists, economists, businessmen, international high civil servants, heads of state and former heads of state from all five continents who were convinced that the future of humankind is not determined once and for all and that each human being can contribute to the improvement of our societies.” Its published findings, ‘The Limits to Growth’, in 1972 concluded that economic growth could not continue indefinitely because of resource depletion. Its findings have, as Gerd notes in song, been totally ignored.
’Finger weck von Lützerath’ is very much both contemporary and local. Lützerath is one of several small villages on the edge of the lignite mining area of Garzweiler in North-Rhine-Westphalia and made world headlines through both images of people living in treehouses and a visit by Greta Thunberg. There was a strategic line where the mining should stop, following guidelines that would keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. The line is actually a physical one in Lützerath – the trees where protesters began living. More to the point is: why evict people from the land for mining, if the mines are due to close in the next 10-15 years? The battle rages still – even if the headlines don’t.
“Are you Satan’s servants? and do you want to please him like this?
Do you voluntarily serve despots as vassals in violation of the law?
Do you like to see people suffer and cause pain with pleasure?
Then just slide on your butt on down to hell!”
Tomke Winterboer is a young neighbor of Gerd’s. He lent her his guitar for a short and enjoyable floor-spot. All those slogans on it seemed at odds with the diminutive young lady holding it. Her own songs were sweetly sung and easy on the ear. I especially liked the final one ‘Zwischen Schwarz und Weiss’ (Between black and white). Living next to Gerd I wonder if there just might be a new young Folk Rebel in the making…
Next up were John Hay and Eva Henneken. Their band CAYU also tilts it hat at a few causes in song these days. I was relieved that after Gerd’s set the numbers John and Eva chose tonight though were more straightforward. The Turkish ‘Esmera Min’ is a sad lament over lost love and Manu Chao’s ‘Me Llaman Calle’ always sounds bright and uplifting but research suggests it as a song of defiance from prostitutes on the street. It certainly sounded more optimistic than the duo’s own song ‘1989’ that deals with German Unification and asks the question: “1989 – when people yearned for unity and freedom. What’s become of it all?”
I was very much in need of some spiritual assistance by this stage of the evening and Petra & Eva, aka ‘Gedanken Spiel’, were there to lend a hand. I do have to admit though to having most enjoyed their wry observational song about Toilet Paper in the Covid crisis. Sorry about that ladies. We had some heavy texts beforehand and you lightened the load with that one (no pun intended).
I mentioned earlier the ‘unsung’ role played by Bob Marabito and the same can be said of Mario Dompke. Without Mario we would have been singing very loudly and strumming our guitars furiously into the deepening night without amplification. Without Mario setting up the lights we would also not have been blinded like deer caught in headlights on the stage – but the idea was good and John’s hat certainly saved me from a migraine. Seriously though – hats off to Mario for helping keep the various parts of Folk Club 118 glued together. He even found time to play on stage with the formation ‘Fomiander’. The quartet has an interesting repertoire that spans Irish Folk but also digs into medieval music – and they actually sound at their best when the two merge – as on ‘All Souls Night’ a haunting song made famous by Laura McKennit but Sonja’s vocals this evening fitted just as perfectly.
So it’s coming up to 9:30 pm and ‘Jock Stuart’ time. The Green Man has kept his word and has sternly told the clouds off on a couple of occasions when they sprinkled a few raindrops on our heads. There has been a good 40+ people enjoying the music and there is hope that next month we may even be able to move indoors with an audience of 50+. Covid rules being like a ball of string – we can but wait to see what ‘unwinds’ regulation-wise by November. We have though kept the music alive for another month. There have been many occasions when both music and options seemed to be running out.
Truth to tell, it’s not the green man at all who has kept Bonn Folk Club going against the foul weather of circumstance that has been Covid 19. IThat feat is actually down to a seemingly easy-going man with wooden clogs and an impish smile who has never taken negativity for an answer that has kept our ship afloat and off the rocks. Hats off to John Harrison, without whom all souls on board the HMS Folk Club Bonn would likely have long since been lost.
Finally, here’s Rory Gallagher with ‘Bankers Blues’