It seems like a lifetime since the basic decisions before a Folk Club evening were: Who plays? When is their slot? Who will be next month’s guest star? Since Covid came along, working out ‘the basics’ has seemed like a luxury. So it is then, that in the first week of March 2022, John Harrison had far wider problems to consider. On or Off? Inside or Outside? 2G or 2G+? Who checks the entries on the door against the attendance emails? It was all the more amazing then that we still had a full evening of quality Folk music to enjoy at Dotty’s.
Initial plans to once again utilize the Rugby/Hockey pitch outdoors looked promising, especially as the weather seemed to promise a sunny, if not a warm, smile. The pitch itself though was not smiling. Probably a victim of the recent storm in Bonn, it looked 50% mud and 50% chalk/clay. Not ideal for pitching barbeque benches and chairs in, or people for that matter. Fortunately, the owner of Dotty’s, Roland, has done further renovations to the balcony. With more solid plastic window covers. As a result, there was no billowing plastic, plenty of opportunities to ventilate, and no roaring log fire to lap around anyone’s guitar stand (Simon Kempston will be pleased to hear about that after December’s meet). Warmth was instead provided by Roland’s menu offering hot and spicy Potato soup along with mulled wine. I didn’t indulge, but if it tasted as good as it smelled then I should have!
Mindful that Folk audiences range from nine to ninety-year-olds, entry required not just full vaccination, but also a test certificate (Roland even had that covered – with a test centre outside the entrance)
Inside, the heat was still on John Harrison to deliver a high-quality evening of music though. Luckily their was plenty of excellent musical support at hand. Kicking things off were ‘The Bonn Nightwatchmen’. I made up the name, but it is appropriate for John and fellow Harmonica maestro Christoph Thiebes. Both can be seen roaming the streets of 17th Century Bonn on behalf of Bonn tourists. Tonight though they were not pointing out past plague pits or dens of iniquity but bringing to life great blues such as Missippi John Hurt’s (no relation) ‘Stagger Lee’ and Big Bill Broonzy’s appropriately titled ‘Nightwatchmen Blues‘. They even did a nightwatchman-like walkabout (with Harps rather than Halberds in hand) amongst the audience to ‘Twelve Gates to the City’ and if you want to hear it again then SIGN ON for a walkabout.
Probably the most powerful song from John’s set came at the end. ‘What are you gonna do?’ he sings out, with emphasis on the ‘you’, in his composition inspired by the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs in the 1990’s. It is of course chillingly relevant during Russia’s present ‘Military Action’ in Ukraine.
You may remember my remarking that a young Chinese lady played two wonderful songs at the Bad Godesberg Christmas Market after the set by Winterfeld last December? You may also remember my saying she went away with a card for Bonn Folk Club. I am pleased to say that she kept both the card, and a promise to come by some time. Yawen Liu is the young lady’s name (English good manners prevent me from giving her age, other than to say she is not yet a teenager, but she really has the stage presence of a seasoned professional with her parlor sized acoustic guitar and the laid back interpretation of Maroon5’s ‘Payphone’ that she presented was gentle on both the ears and the heart. If we knew the words to ‘Let it Be’ we were welcome to sing along, she smiled. We naturally did know the words almost as well as Mr McCartney probably does, and we sang along with gusto. I dimly remember my own first appearance at a Folk Club. I was a teenager and struggled to get the words of my own songs out in the right order. A dialogue with the audience? I just shut my eyes and pretended they weren’t there. Hats off to Yawen then for her confidence – and come back soon!
I know I’m repeating myself from all of their past concerts that I’ve reported on, but CAYU once again came up with a new set of own material that sounded even better than the last set of new material. It seems to have evolved that between John Hay and Eva Henneken they have two writers going in completely different directions for inspiration yet bringing their individual thoughts perfectly together as a band every time. Eva’s observations of a friend, ‘Tomboy Girl’ is an observation of a friend who manages to walk the line of being a Tomboy without losing her femininity or becoming a stereotype. By being simply who she is. This was followed by John Hay’s ‘Stella’ – the tale of a cafeteria waitress and a rich man who really isn’t. Songs based on observations from two songwriters who just keep getting better and better.
My favourite song of the evening though was undoubtedly the one inspired by the Glasgow Climate Conference (proof that inspiration can come from anywhere and anytime). Both John and percussionist Alex Paris work at the UN’s Climate Change base in Bonn and they certainly found the words to describe the hopes and doubts that such conferences create. The song’s chorus of “We’ll do it. Yes we’ll do it. We won’t let our future slip away!” seems like a nod to protest Folk songs of old and I couldn’t help thinking that the legendary Ewan Maccoll would have loved it just as much as he would have been dismayed that such songs need to still be written in 2022.
John Harrison was back again, this time though without his trusty Guild, but with instead a couple of timely poems about Spring. Yes, with all that’s happening in the world these days, it’s easy to forget that the Seasons are changing (especially when floods, storms and hurricane winds seem to suggest that the weather is the same 12 months a year nowadays). ‘Snowdrops’ bring new life and new hope. It all seems so natural, whilst those aforementioned storms all seem so unnatural. Climate change. Can we do it? Save the World? Yes, we’ll do it for sure – what is the alternative?
The closing music this evening came from Mario Dompke, accompanied by the delicate voice of Sonja Daniels from local Folk Band Fomiander. one of their closing songs was ‘So Lange’ (So Long) which poignantly raises the hope that people will all live together in peace. Can there be such a time? Mario remembers that this was the first song he ever performed at Bonn Folk Club – many years ago now. It’s sad to think that the songs answering refrain of “Only the wind knows” still applies. A nod towards the famous ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ for sure and raising the question ‘Will we ever learn’? A wise man once concluded to that one that the answer is just ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.
So there we are. It almost seemed like old times at Dotty’s. It is certainly comforting to know that people still come together to enjoy each other’s company and listen to music with open ears and hearts and indeed that they still insist ‘Jock Stewart’ rounds off the evening at Bonn Folk Club. Order in chaos, but also a sign that time moves on. Spring has begun and Summer awaits. Covid, Climate and Human Wars are but a tiny hiccup in the galaxy’s universal clock. It was good to take a time-out from worrying for an evening and smell the musical roses.