Isn’t there an old joke that Heaven is full of harp players, and Hell is full of banjo players? I can imagine the twinkle in John Harrison’s eye when he decided to put this event together. Having said that though, there is also a saying that the devil has all the best music (written by a blues fan I suspect) so, let’s see what this evening’s interesting Bonn Folk Club mix masterminded at Dotty’s has in store.
One thing that is immediately pleasing to see is that by the time John shouts out his customary “Ladies & Gentlemen…”, the room is as full as in pre-covid days. Or is it possibly an illusion caused by a stage area full of harps pushing the tables back into the room that makes it appear more crowded? No, counting heads, there are indeed a lot of them (heads that is) as John invites us all to ‘Come on in my Kitchen’. Thank you also John for remarking that although Robert Johnson is known to have played a Blues Harp (harmonica) there are no actual recordings of him playing one. Only a harp player would have spotted that one I suspect. I confess that the name Michael Chapman is only synonymous with John Lennon’s death to me, but there was an excellent folk musician of that name whom John Harrison holds in high esteem and indeed played a song from this evening – ‘Rabbit Hills’. Hopping over to Michael’s website I am sorry to see that he passed away in September 2021. He did leave behind though plenty of excellent music for me (and you possibly) to discover. John’s final number this evening was Blind Blake’s ‘Police Dog Blues’. Blake was certainly not your standard blues player. A fact that has made his music popular with many a folk musician, especially those who enjoy playing a good rag-time melody, which is not as easy as it seems – kudos to John Harrison for picking this finger-picking gem this evening then.
There are, as the Folk Club blog pointed out in advertising this evening’s event, two types of ‘harp’. One fits in your pocket and the other very definitely does not. The six-piece band Spielplatz has two of the latter variety. How do you even tune a full-sized harp within a day? It takes me ten minutes to tune a six-string guitar. A modern harp has almost fifty of them. And are the different colours of string important? Maybe there is a tab chart with coloured lines on it for learners? I do know that if I did manage to tune one I could never get it to sound like these two ladies. I especially enjoyed the group’s interpretation of WB Yeats’s ‘The Stolen Child’. Children being stolen by fairies? Well, fairies were, in Ireland at least, not necessarily friendly and you didn’t want to mess with them. Do they exist? Well, Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was fooled by fake fairy photos – but that’s another story. Beautifully sung and played on the night and if Bronwyn Claire who accompanied Simon Kempston at last month’s meeting is reading this, I would love to hear her try it with fiddle backing. John Newton’s ‘Auld Lang Syne’ proved to be an early sing-along favourite of the night and so we were already off to a flyer with the Harp side of tonight’s ‘double bill’ at least. Bring on the banjos…
Winfried Bode was next up and banjo-less, but he looked familiar. Somewhere in the vaults of the Folk Club Blog page, there will be an appearance by him mentioned at Haus Müllestumpe. An irregular regular when it comes to appearances in Bonn then, which is a shame because I really liked the way he attacked the songs, all his own compositions. Good songs they were too. ‘Keep on Moving‘ had a tricky oriental groove to it. ‘Der Sauberer bin ich’ showed Winfried also writes a good lyric with its message that our fates and fortunes are in our own two hands, don’t wait for someone to magically transform your life – YOU are the magician to make the magic happen. I gather that Winfried is a ‘Kölsche Jung’ i.e. lives down the road in that big City with the big cathedral. If so, please pop down to Bonn a bit more often Winfried, preferably on the first Friday of a month – and bring your guitar.
Gerald Löhr and Martin Riedel have been playing music together for a while now and have put their skills and enjoyment of playing live to good use on various projects such as helping raise money for Ahr flood victims and later for those fleeing from the War in Ukraine. A couple of enjoyable U2 covers followed from them in ‘With or without you’ and ‘Still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ along with Cat Stevens’s ‘Father & son’. All in all a nice set and hats off to the duo for their fund-raising initiatives.
And here we are. The first sign of a banjo this evening. Well actually two of them have been ‘lurking’ in the shadows beside the piano waiting for their entrance (the piano is still waiting…). What started out as a planned group spot by members of Fomiander gradually slimmed down through various grounds in the days leading up to this evening to a solo spot by Mario, hence the two banjos + a ukelele actually equalled just the one banjo player – and even then Mario admitted it’s not his best instrument playing wise. He did manage to find last-minute assistance with the ukelele part from Holger Riedel though who deserves a medal of some sort for taking it on at ten seconds’ notice and will now forever be referred to by me as ‘Banjo Boy’. Mario turned out to be a more than adequate banjoist as it turned out and also belied his claims not to be able to play/sing the Blues by presenting a very good ‘Deep River Blues’ with of course assistance from Bonn Bluesman himself John Harrison on harp. Yes indeed – a true Banjo/set to celebrate the evening’s title with a rousing sing-along to ‘Will the circle be unbroken’ taking us up to air the room and buy a drink before the second half time.
We have Shay McVeigh to thank for the first appearance of Englishman Chris Livings. Shay met Chris at an Open Mic night in Oxford Street and suggested we might like to hear him play at Dotty’s, and Shay was right! Folk Club, with its mainly quiet and attentive audience, was the perfect place for his light vocal style. ‘Like Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Full Moon Rising’ and ‘Driving Home’ were all excellent self-compositions by Chris and hopefully he will grace us with some more songs again now he knows we are here. Always good to hear/discover new music, especially from fellow Brits abroad.
John Hay‘s ‘Es Kann Gelingen’ was so new that I could almost smell the ink drying on the lyric sheet in front of him. Like most of us, John has been thinking deeply about Ukraine as the War has plodded on. To me, the conflict seems almost like a step back in time. For many years the talk was of airborne missiles doing all the (destructive) work in a war – yet here we are in 2023, with two armies of soldiers dying just to take a few metres of land that may well be taken back a week later. Is it just me or have we regressed to battle plans that were drawn up in the Somme and Ardennes? At any rate, John found some stirring words for the senseless nature of it all – “Lügen und Mord sind kein Gesetz” (Lies and murder do not create laws to be enforced). Nice to see that John is developing not just as a guitar player but also as a lyricist.
Things got a fair bit louder after John left the stage (to loud applause I might add). The band Hof Jebräu generally lean towards an electric rock style. If the players and the songs are good enough though you can take away the Marshall stacks and microphones and still be left with a cracking sound. Part of that is about attitude, and the duo Micha & Axel have that in spades. They also have a secret weapon in the shape of John Harrison’s blues harp on their more recent musical ventures I discovered. Some might argue that their set was maybe too loud and too rocky for a folk club. Not me for sure. How could I not love their takes on songs from two of my all-time favourite musicians? A Kölsch version of Ralph McTell’s legendary ‘Streets of London’ (here ‘Strosse en Kolle’as sung by Cologne Band Domstürmer) and one of my fave Wolfgang Niedecken compositions ”Jraaduss’. They closed their all-too-short set with a new song to my ears, the rocking ‘Schuften’ by Stoppok accompanied by Mr John Harrison on harp. I loved the song choice, the presentation and the sheer exuberance of Hofjebräu. Definitely in need of a repeat performance and recommended as a support band for any bluesy bands playing the Harmonie. Great music played with a smile. super stuff!
Things remained loud. This time though due to the arrival onstage of a microphone and amplification. “What?!!!” I hear long-time club visitors scream. We’ve marvelled at how beautiful Yawen’s voice is accompanied only by her guitar so it was a shame that rather than work on training her voice to get louder she opted for the ‘quick fix’ of electricity. A light show isn’t FolkClub style either. Yawen has a lot of talent and it’s wonderful that she sees Folk Club Bonn as a place to develop her style and her confidence. Please though just bring your guitar and your beautiful voice next time Yawen. They really are all you need. ‘Why’d you only call me when you’re high?’ (Arctic Monkeys) and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ would have sounded just as, well, perfect, purely acoustic.
After the sudden burst of volume, the harps of Uwe Jendricke & Antje ten Hoevel seemed to be especially delicate on the ears. It’s clear that both Uwe and Antje are harpists of a very high calibre indeed. They proved that later by managing to produce solos to ‘Jock Stuart’ at the evening’s end out of nothing. The two also clearly have a telepathic ability to play together. Special mention deserves giving to ‘Receipt for drinking whiskey’ by blind Irish Harpplayer Turlough O’Carolan. Legend has it that O’Carolan dedicated this number to his doctor out of thanks that his ban on drinking alcohol whilst ill had been lifted. All of which sounds very plausible coming from an Irishman. Uwe also showed he can turn his hand to singing with a ballad about Knights and Ghosts. There is a video on YouTube of their playing ‘Stone of Bodgar’ if you want instant relaxation after a hard day’s work too. Finally, a bit of audience participation as bells were handed out to those who could not sing for the aptly named ‘Bells are ringing’. I happily took one and spent a relaxing five minutes going ‘ding!’ whenever the mood took me and the melody demanded.
Did I just say ‘finally?’ Well, obviously the real finally was ‘Jock Stuart’ with that aforementioned Harp break mid-song.
Next month’s theme is ‘Friendship’ so bring a friend and enjoy an evening with special guest musician David Lübbke from Hannover.