Bonn Folk Club edition #128 had the optimistic motto ‘Ain’t it good to be alive!’ and in these rather dark days when the news seems brimful of spiraling prices, war, and human oppression, we can certainly do with all the good thoughts that can be mustered. It is certainly safe to say that if you are going to find your glass half full anywhere these days it will be one filled with Kölsch and served at Dotty’s in Dottendorf to a background of excellent music with just as excellent company.
A little different this month were the uses of US fiddle and desert spoons. The musical quality of the evening though was as high and diverse as ever, with a couple of guests who had traveled some distance to enjoy the unique Bonn Folk Club atmosphere – Marina Eckhart from Austria and main guest Juhana Iivonen from Finland.
The normally super-calm Detlef had a concerned expression on his face when I arrived. John Harrison had set him a somewhat onerous task for the evening: translate Kipling’s ‘If’ into German. Even the likes of Deepl though struggle when it comes to poetry translation, so how was poor Detlef to cope? Does ‘”If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run” really translate as “Wenn du die unbarmherzige Minute füllen kannst mit einer Distanz von sechzig Sekunden”? It sounded plausible after I’d downed a few sips of Kölsch…
There are not too many songs better at getting an audience warmed up to singing along than ‘Mercedes Benz’ so it was an inspired starter from John Harrison and then already time for Detlef’s German ‘If’. It sounded spot on to me Detlef – maybe we should try some John Donne or Chaucer ‘auf Deutsch’ next time.
Next on John’s set was a poem of his own that also somewhat reflects what I, Sabine Büttner and Detlef endeavor to do every first Friday of the month – capture 3d reality in 2D images (reflections) with a camera.
“Never call a mirror sad. Call a mirror many things – reflections of enjoyments had”
Reflecting the ‘enjoyments had’ at a Folk Club concert, indeed at any concert, is a hopeless task. A challenge never to be successfully completed. But oh, the fun of trying to capture an inspired guitar solo, an emotion drawn from strings plucked, drumsticks beaten or words sung. To mirror transient reality. If I ever hear “That’s a nice picture. You must have a good camera” again…!!! You would indeed need a very good camera to get a dramatic picture of a man playing spoons though as John did on ‘Donkey Riding’.
It was great to hear Eva Henneken and John Hay perform a traditional Ukrainian song and especially great to have Marina Eckhart and Alex Bartunek join them and perform some music as a taster for their coming appearance at the Kessenich library (gradually becoming a cult venue for folk musicians/fans I suspect!)
You might remember Marina and Alex from their Tree Guardians appearance at Alten Zoll during the Summer. The duo traveled down from Vienna to Dotty’s and delivered an excellent laid-back set including ‘I am Floating’. Beautiful, gentle vocals and melody. You can see a video HERE. If you bought her band CD ‘Under Violet Skies’ then you will know that this lady also has a heavier Jazz/Rock side but I guess that we will have to wait for a show in a different location to hear Marina on her favourite instrument – a full drum set. Not to worry though, her gentle solo CD is also a winner – just in a different way.
Remember that Bonn Folk Club banner? the one saying ‘Beer is good and people are crazy’? It was carried through the Graurheindorf streets by Ralf Haupts and Tatjana Schwarz to celebrate the Clubs 50th meeting in 2014. Ralf and Tatjana had something to celebrate themselves this year – getting married. Ralf got fit for the challenge by crossing the Alps. He certainly looked fit and pleased to be back with a guitar this evening after a long Folk Club absence. He also used the occasion to introduce me to some songs by a German ‘Liedermacher’ (songwriter) that I had not heard of – Franz Josef Degenhardt who was clearly a talented writer, from deceptively simple songs capturing snapshots of local life like ‘Deutscher Sonntag’ to complex allegorical tales such as ‘Wolfe mitten im Mai‘. Written in the mid-1960’s it’s thinly veiled warning of the rising far Right in politics is chillingly relevant in 2022 as recent European elections show.
Next on was Yawen, whose every appearance reduces the average audience age by around 20 years. She proudly announced she was now 12 years old, to which John retorted in awe – “But you were only 11 when we last saw you?!!”. Time, and indeed birthdays, fly. Elvis had long ago left the building when Yawen was born, so it’s somewhat eery, in a nice way I should add, to hear such a soft and gentle voice singing that she ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’. The Bruno Mars hit ‘You Can Count On Me’ had everyone singing along – in a gentle way of course. How does that small girl command everyone’s attention with seemingly so little effort? Whatever the secret ingredient is – I want it! Ah yes, ‘talent’. I guess I will have to pass on that.
If you live in Bad Godesberg then there is a good chance that you have seen and heard Ry Burhans already. He is often to be found playing lively fiddle tunes on the steps in the marketplace on a Saturday morning. The big plus hearing him tonight at Dotty’s is that we also got to hear the words to some of those tunes. It is also a plus that we got to hear Ry’s often witty introductions. He’s not averse to admitting that a great number of the tunes are virtually identical. Indeed complaints when he plays on the streets are usually of a kind that begin: “He just plays the same song over and over…”. Ry’s answer to that allegation is that there are chordal variations and even tuning variations – and ultimately his defence is that “Old Time Fiddle Music is better than it sounds”! A claim that is as difficult to argue with as it is to understand. The instrument does have a fascinating historical backdrop though for sure as evinced by the lyric “15 cents for the morphine, 25 cents for the beer” from ‘Soldiers Joy’. Being a relatively portable instrument, fiddles were often heard being played by US Civil War soldiers, and I can well imagine such a lyric being sadly poignant on the front lines. Robert E. Lee himself allegedly declared that “I don’t think we could have an army without music.” Just remember that declaration next time you think Ry is playing the same tune for the fifth time. Whilst we are on the subject of fiddle tune lyrics, a shout out to anyone who heard the tune ‘Chinkapin Hunting’. No Chinkapins were hurt (or shot) during the writing of the tune. A Chinkapin is actually a chestnut (see, something else Folk Club taught me!)
So here we are at the evening’s main act. Juhana Iivonen evokes a peaceful easy-going atmosphere by his appearance and manner that is also reflected in his music. “There’s no better way to face this World than with love” is Juhana’s credo. He adapts on the spur of the moment to invite Eva and John to back him on a song dedicated to Steve. Like many of Juhana’s songs ‘Mery’ is a quiet, melancholic, number. On it’s outside about an ocean, but saying that the imagination is always free and always lives on. ‘On the outside’ is a good way to describe Juhana’s beautiful songs – he delivers them with such a depth of emotion that even in the simplest of sentences one can feel an emotional layer beneath, even when singing in Finnish and one doesn’t speak the language.
Juhana closed a haunting musical set with the hypnotic ‘Taxi Drive’. It reminded me of Ralph McTell’s ‘Barges’. Not in structure, but in it’s ability to transform the simplest of experiences into emotions for the heart to enjoy. Sometimes the best things in life are indeed simple and even free. I hope Juhana will forgive me for quoting him from a Facebook post after the show where he describes Bonn Folk Club so perfectly: “Haven and heaven for music and heart”.