You can’t live in this neck of the woods in Germany as a music fan and not hear certain names. One of the first I heard when working in Cologne was of course BAP. Another that floated around in similar circles was Richard Bargel. It’s taken rather longer than it should have, but I finally got to see the Cologne Blues legend as part of this year’s Stadtgarten concert series and it was well worth the wait. There’s Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and Willy DeVille in the mix , but out of it all comes the very individual sound of Richard Bargel.
His band name ‘Dead Slow Stampede’ fits the tempo perfectly. Bargel has an endearing somewhat ponderous onstage presence. He takes his seat on a simple stool at the corner of the stage and stays seated on it throughout. By the time it’s dark and the stage lights take effect it’s almost like we’re all sitting around a prairie campfire. Their leader sets the song, and pace, and the band seems to drift into each piece as if hearing it for the first time and chipping in with their spot-on improvisations around the flickering evening flames.
There is no shortage of songs to pluck out of the warm evening air for sure. Two of the excellent early numbers in the set, the haunting ‘I Will Die For You’ and mournful ‘I Go Blue’ both stem from 2005’s ‘Mojo and the Wolf” disc. On the other hand, ‘Risk and Chances’ towards the end of the set is from the not-yet-released new disc. Filling in all the music recorded between the two would have taken us well past 10 pm on Saturday night, possibly into next year, so choices had to be made and the result was an eclectic set at times but always staying close to Americana, and the Blues of course. Eclectic choices were a surprise feedback-driven Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Sundown’, which worked surprisingly well with Bargel’s throaty whisky-soaked vocal, and Leonard cohen’s ‘Bird on a Wire’ which sounded almost like Leonard himself was singing it in the late sixties.
The highlights for me though were all very blues-tinged. ‘Empire State Express‘ charged on like a real express train to make my shortlist for the best song played at this year’s Stadtgarten concerts. A fabulously played tour-de-force that showcased the class of Bargel’s backing band. Each solo was perfection, but I can’t let a review of the evening go without saying how excellent the contribution was particularly by dutchman Fabio Nettekoven. His strident note-perfect runs along the fretboard were always a joy to hear and non-more so than on this particular track.
Yes, the wait to hear Richard Bargel finally was well worth it. A True-Bluesman for whom feeling trumps clinical perfection every time. The tasters from his upcoming disc suggest the fire to create great Blues is still very much alive in Bargel’s soul and he would definitely be my go-to man if I ever plan to arrange an evening sitting around a campfire and listening to authentic music from the heart with a cold beer. We might run out of beer, we might run out of firewood, but we would never run out of great songs.
Support for the evening was Folk-Club favourite Daniel Bongart. No need to write in detail about his music as it has already been covered in former articles on this site. Tonight’s set featured the same band and largely the same set as we saw at the Folk Picnic recently. ‘As Long as you Sing‘ his tribute to Richard de Bastion was touching and the delicate ‘Her Silhouette’ is becoming my favourite Bongart number. The frantic end to ‘Where Are You’ always has me waiting for a string to give way to Daniel’s sudden explosive change of pace and when I hear ‘The Old Man’ I think back to Daniel playing this very song at his very first Folk Club appearance and have to shake my head in wonder at how far he has come down the road of playing, writing, singing and presenting music since those first tentative steps. Daniel and Band, you were the perfect openers for one of the most enjoyable musical evenings I’ve had this year.