On the face of it, this looked like an easy one to review. No Guest Star to research, just familiar musicians, early finish… but of course nothing at Bonn Folk Club is actually as it first appears. Guest stars have familiar songs and researchable websites at least, and it seemed in contrast that tonight, not a few musicians used the toned-down nature of this meet to be adventurous with their musical selections. Apologies in advance then for errors and omissions regarding tunes played, and if I missed the odd ‘fuge in D minor’ adjunct then ban me from the Beethoven Fan Club (I’m not a member anyway!)
At least I could rely on John Harrison and Eva Henneken for a set that was generally familiar, although even John was stretching out his creative instrumental muscles with his material. ‘Celtic Air’ was both an intricate little tune and an excellent number for both John on guitar and Eva on Fiddle/violin to warm up with, and John’s moving tribute on the tragic death of his friend fifteen-year-old Flan is familiar – even though the sadness in John’s voice is palpably moving for us all when he sings it even now. Eva obviously relished improvising to John’s next number, a Blind Blake-inspired rag-time piece, and I was ready to head for the bar and get a couple of drinks whilst John did his ever-lengthening, spoken intro to ‘Albert MacTavish’s Frigidaire’. When John invited Detlef Stachetzki to attempt an expurgated version of the said intro, the said Detlef looked like he would happily have joined me at the bar instead. Possibly he managed to cut the story of how Albert bought the wrong fridge and met a violent end, at his angry wife’s hands, down from a quarter of an hour down to 14 minutes…
After that long introduction, it was a welcome announcement from Mario that he would, in accordance with aerosol disbursement and Covid, only be doing instrumentals. This was where my greatest challenge began for the evening – the first of many instrumental arrangements that didn’t have a chorus line to even take a stab at the title. I know there were two instrumentals based on interpretations by Jens Komnick including the moving ‘Gabriella’s Song’ which comes from the film ‘As it is in Heaven’ (Wie im Himmel) . and also ‘Ann-Kathrin’s Waltz’ inspired by Komnick discovering in a crime novel that the detective commissioner relaxes by playing some music by – Jens Komnick. The Commissioners name was Ann-Kathrin Claasen, hence the title ‘Ann-Kathrin’s Waltz’. Certainly, Mario finished with the recognizable ‘Katz Rag’ from Stefan Grossman. Full marks to Mario for taking on such intricate compositions that made me fearful of whether he could pull them off on the night. 99% of the time the answer was a resounding ‘yes!’ and the other 1% I felt his frustration when it didn’t go perfectly. I was impressed also by the volume that Mario got from his finger-picking style. I began to think I should invest in some finger picks too – except that I was due to play in twenty minutes’ time and all the shops were closed.
I saw Blackberry Smoke at Harmonie in 2018 so it was nice to hear Hans Ihnen do a cover of their song ‘One Horse Town’. It was great to see and hear how much Hans enjoyed playing Jesse Fuller’s classic ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’. It was also a compliment to the popularity of a favorite album of mine ‘Unplugged’ that Hans credited the song to Eric Clapton. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there thinking EC wrote the likes of ‘Nobody knows you’ and ‘Alberta’. Interestingly, there is an old YouTube video of Fuller introducing the song as the one that he says “Made me a whole lot of money”. I wonder what ‘a whole lot’ really was?
I always considered John Harrison to be a friend. But here’s the thing – he put me on after a duo who presented one of the most enthralling sets that I have ever heard at Bonn Folk Club. This was though, in John’s defense, one of those aforementioned moments when things were not as they first appeared. On paper, Uwe Jendricke and Eva Henneken had only played together a couple of times ever. A great Liverpool football team manager once roused his team by telling them that, yes, the opposition was certainly better on paper – but the game was being played on grass! Bill Shankly knew not to take statistics too seriously. Statistically, Uwe and Eva should not have been able to hold us spellbound for 15 minutes… in the event, they dimmed the lighting, hung Christmas tree lights from the music stand, and our collective attentions were held by a viruoso performance. Whether Harp inspired as Christoph Pampusch’s ‘Roter Himmel, Blauer Volken’ (Red Sky, Blue Clouds) or more rousing violin compositions like ‘The Seafarers Song’ (Sailors Song) whose swirling tune is one I always enjoy hearing from Eva’s ever-growing repertoire. This was real folk-club magic, and deserving of a room bursting at the seams with listeners as with club meets of yore. A tough act to follow. and John Hurd, aka me, was unlucky enough to be on next!…
I’ve been listening to a lot of Tom Waits recently, particularly enjoying his interviews on the US chat show Letterman. On one occasion he recalled taking some friends to a music shop and no one recognizing him there. On the next day, he was with the same friends visiting a junkyard – and a dozen people wanted his autograph instantly. Gotta love Tom! Anyway, his ‘Last Leaf on the Tree’ seemed very appropriate in October with Autumn’s arrival. I also thought its sentiments caught some of Folk Club Bonn’s not giving up tenacity in the face of Covid this last 18 months too. Hanging on in there – “Autumn took the rest, but it won’t take me. I’m the last leaf on the tree”. As John was occupied at the end of the song, I even managed to sneak in one I hadn’t practiced lately but have been playing for some 40+ years – ‘Easter Sunshine’. I remember creating the melody in the late 1970s and playing it around the house. Is it odd to like playing a tune for so long without ever playing it to an audience? Anyway, the moment felt right, and what did I have to lose? No one was going to remember me after the amazing music that preceded my set.
John Harrison was back, in time for my last note to introduce a couple of poems. ‘Autumn Colours’ which wasn’t completely the expected woodland celebration, beginning as it does with “Crisp golden coins tingle in the till”… Sounds more like Winter i.e. Christmas to me. Short, but evocative, John. I think self-written? John’s second poem was more well known, By Rainer Maria Rilke, and perfectly captures the winding down of Summer and preparation for Winter. John used the German original, titled ‘Herbst Tag‘ but it is also eloquent in translation:
“Who now has no house, builds no more.
Who is now alone, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly here and there
in the avenues, when the leaves drift”.
Next up was Thomas Monnerjahn, accompanied and then followed by Werner Krotz-Vogel. Here is where the music titles certainly get ‘hazy’ for me. I know he played the lively ‘Bossa Dorado’ with Werner Krotz-Vogel because I remember the tune from an appearance not so long ago in Bonn by Joscho Stephan. There was some Bach in the set too, including the tricky to pick ‘Prelude in D minor’. As has become clear, what started out at 7 pm under the name ‘Folk Club’ had developed into a ‘Grand Concert’ evening with more musical styles than you could swing a music stand to, and we weren’t quite finished…
Werner Krotz-Vogel is probably best known these days for his seemingly ever-present ukelele (he even designed a holder for it on his bicycle). I do however remember very vividly seeing Werner as a part (with Claudia Huismann) of Meneo playing an electric jazz guitar outside Bonn Guildhall on a Street Music Festival Saturday some years ago. He was good. All the better than that he now has a CD on sale. There is a CD release party at Rheinbühne in Oxfordstrasse Bonn on 2 December, but folk-clubbers were given a taste of what to enjoy at the end of this hugely enjoyable evening that included his own composition the lush and wistful ‘Become One’ and Stefan Grossman’s classic ‘Hot Chocolate Rag’.
So there we have it. As my review has hopefully shown, Folk Club Bonn was once again full of music and poetry without boundaries of nationality or style. Stephan Grossman to Blackberry Smoke via Bach, Blind Blake and Jens Komnick on through Jesse Fuller. Only one thing is certain on the first Friday of the month – Jock Stuart will bring a musical smorgasbord of music to a close. Corona limitations meant that many seats had to go un-sat-upon. Hopefully, that will not have to be the case much longer as it’s such a shame that so much joy in music cannot be shared by a full-house.