After two years it seemed almost like business as usual at Dotty’s last Friday. Almost…
Things had definitely changed. I missed the last Folk Club meet, and arrived for the June one to find that a stonking great grandstand was now standing next to the hockey pitch whilst cars and coaches were vying for space outside. Finally, Folk Club Bonn has taken off I thought! Rockpalast cameras await us. A bit disappointing then to find posters announcing that Dotty’s was actually being spruced up for the German Field Hockey ‘Meisterschaften’ due to start the next day. Upstairs, in the usual room, it was really business as usual (if you ignore the fact that for obvious health reasons we had played seemingly everywhere else at Dotty’s but in this room for the last two years). There was also a sense of sadness in the air as the good news news that our organizer Steve Perry was making his first appearance since serious illness kept him away from Dotty’s for a long while was tempered with the fact that he would be stepping down from his duties officially due to the severity of his condition.
So, on to that ‘business as usual’… Not to be outdone by the media interest in a certain hockey tournament we also had plenty of cameras on hand – including a young lad by the name of Jan who was down to film everything should Steve not make it or stay too long. Indeed, Jan was following John Harrison and guitar around the stairs with his camera in a very documentary way as I arrived. Who indeed needs Rockpalast?
Back in the tried and trusted events room and John, joined by harmonica maestro Christof Thiebes, reminded us that it was indeed ‘Summertime’ and that the living should be easy with fish a jumping and cotton growing high. ‘Stranger Blues’ from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (a seminal guitar/blues harp duo) led on to Peetie Wheatstraws ‘Bring me flowers when I’m living’ which does have a very poignant message in that the protagonist points out that he would rather people show their appreciation of him when he is still in the land of the living. Very poignant today especially.
Dotty’s is not as famous a venue as Ronnie Scott’s in London of CBGB’s in New York, but there are at least two songs written around Bonn’s Folk Club, and tonight Holger Riedl introduced ‘Folk Club Railway Line Blues‘ that depicts the frustration of getting to Dotty’s when you are from the ‘other side’ of the tracks. I still remember Katie Melua onstage at Museumsplatz saying she was almost late getting to the venue because of the railway gates. If you should read this ahead of your show at Kunst!Rasen this year Katie – beware! things have not changed.
John Hay left his CAYU friends at home for tonight’s meet, bringing with him instead a bit of Bach (‘Toccata‘) and ‘Astorias’ (Leyenda), a musical work by Spanish composer and pianist Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). John has really developed into a fine classical guitarist as you might already have discovered if you saw him with Ismael de Barcelona recently in Kessenich. Juanito del Rin, you are already making me jealous with your finger-picking abilities.
I was holding onto my floor-spot in the hope that Steve would be there to see it, but after Hans Ihnen gave us a fine rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ it was showtime for me. Should I sit or should I stand up to play? Does anyone else have this conundrum in their brain whenever they step onto a stage with an acoustic guitar? No? it’s just me then. I’ve mentioned ‘Jack’s Song’ and it’s meaning before so I won’t repeat myself other than to say it’s putting myself in my late father’s shoes and always emotional to play.
Theo Mey also arrived with an acoustic guitar and didn’t seem phased by the sit/stand dilemma. Maybe because he was more concerned with keeping an eye on his dog, who to his (Theo’s and the dog’s) credit sat obediently throughout ‘In Köln am Ring’. A proud Kölsche Jung it would seem.
There was a moment of silence as the entrance door opened and then a huge rush of loud applause as Steve Perry stood in the doorway. You could almost see him taking in the energy, and I thought for a moment he was going to throw his rollator back down the stairs and somersault into the room. In the end, he utilized a tree branch walking stick that looked to be more for effect than needed as he and John Harrison did their much-loved version of ‘Ikla Moor Baht’at’ with both cloth capped clad, as seasoned ramblers out on the Moor.
Steve definitely had the evening’s most moving song all sown up. better known as ‘All Through the Night’, his version uses the welsh lyrics which he described as describing how the stars join together with their combined light in the night skies to give strength to the old and the sick. Delicately sung by Steve and delicately played too on his Waldzither (a form of German Lute). Never mind a pin – you could have heard a feather drop. You can read Steve’s thoughts on his Folk Club time in my recent post HERE He sadly had to leave straight after the performance because of his weak immune system, but it was to a long and loud round of applause that very likely was the best medicine he could have wished for on the night.
You would not have found it hard to realize that the next spot was taken by Steve’s brother. Bill Perry was visiting from Canada, and visually they really are two very similar peas in a pod. Bill remembered that seeing his elder brother discover Rock n Roll both musically and fashionably was the moment he realized “Hey, my big brother is cool!”. His opening song ‘North Appalachian’ captures the essence of two brothers who went their own ways physically but remain bound together in spirit. Very much a song to reflect on this evening.
Karin Schüler was the only pianist this evening and presented a Zaz song (the only time we will ‘hear Zaz’ in Bonn this year thanks to her concert being moved to Cologne). ‘Que Vendra’ is very much ‘Que sera sera’ in its outlook, accepting what we cannot change and being happy with what we have rather than do not have. I have to admit that whenever I put on a Zaz CD I regret not understanding French.
Mario Dompke was joined by Uta Schäfer and Manfred Möhlich for a short set that included an instrumental specially written for Steve. Titled ‘Steve’s Polka’, it was a sprightly, cheerful tune that I’m sure Steve will enjoy when he hears the evening’s music back at his home.
John Harrison’s second contribution to the evening was well thought out. There can’t be too many poems that slap the frailty of life squarely and solidly in your face as the one by John Donne with its doom-laden famous refrain – “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee!”. Thankfully it was swiftly followed by the whimsical light-heartedness of ‘The Hippopotamus Song’ with an altogether jollier and just as famous refrain of “Mud, mud, glorious mud”. Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood”. John even found Franz Josef Hunsänger to duet the deep vocals on the chorus.
Theo Mey also got a second spot and again his canine companion behaved impeccably throughout, almost watching to check we were all joining in with the right words on ‘Halleluja’. No one was able to join in with any words on Theo’s second number, the Roy Orbison classic ‘Your Baby Doesn’t Love You Anymore’ though. Even Theo, very wisely, didn’t go for the final high falsetto of “It’s over!” that Orbison closes the song with. Probably the only Roy Orbison you hear covered anywhere is ‘Crying’ – the rest of his excellent repertoire is a key too far for all but the most adventurous folksinger.
Bill Perry’s second set was also a winner, with the old Bluegrass number ‘Rabbit in a Log’ and George Hamilton IV’s ‘If you don’t know I ain’t gonna tell you’ providing a double salvo of sure-fire hits. I seem to remember Steve doing an excellent version of the latter himself at a past meeting. Tonight though it harked perfectly back to Bill’s earlier comment on Steve about growing up and learning how to be cool.
There was no break this evening as so many musicians wanted to play for Steve. Despite no pause things never got boring with so much diversity on show. Folk from the Middle Ages? Seems rather a dour subject, but as Fomiander showed , it can actually be very enjoyable indeed – something completely different, as a certain tv program might proclaim. It can also be surprising. The first song was announced as being from ‘Blackmore’s Night’. He of the guitar histrionics behind ‘Highway Star’, and Smoke on the Water’? Yes indeed. ‘Night’ is the surname of Richie Blackmore’s wife and singer on the original. A fine song well sung by Fomiander and not a Stratocaster in site.
I honestly don’t know what Fliege played as the next act. His experience as a musician gives him a repertoire that I suspect he plucked something out of the air at random on the night.
I do know that John Harrison practically plucked Elena at random to accompany him on John Connolly’s ‘The Librarian’ because I was there when he put the request to her only ten minutes before the evening started. Kudos then for bravery, but also for a fine acting performance as a shocked woman misunderstood by the librarian with hilarious results. Wonderfully improvised. Shakespeare awaits Elena!
Next up was ‘Jock Stuart’ so you will know it was evening’s end. What an evening too. Business as usual at Folk Club Bonn, except…