In Celebration of Dandelions – Folk Club #134

The late American psychologist Dr Wayne Dyer famously remarked that “The only difference between a weed and a flower is judgement”. This extends into the cultural herotage of songs and poems too I realised. I mean, there are zig-thousand references to roses and lilies, but how many devoted to the common dandelion? Thank you John Harrison for bringing this deficit to our attention with an evening devoted to songs about dandelions…

So are there actually any such songs? One was actually found. More on that later. Special Guest Matthew Robb has a dry, desert-like musical style that doesn’t contain any references to dandelions – but plenty of excellent lyrics on other topics to enjoy. Join me for a round-up of April’s Folk Club meet at Dotty’s. Be prepared to stand up though as it’s already crowded…

First thoughts when I arrived were A) pleasant surprise at how many people were already there, and B) how professional we are getting. Roland, the proprietor at Dotty’s, was at the top of a tall ladder carefully adjusting the spotlights to point ‘stagewards’ (gone are the days when Detlef’s floor standlamp would cast a ghostly glow when tall performers ventured too close to them).

We even had a floral arrangement on top of the piano. Well actually it was a tin-can containing the theme of today’s meeting – Dandelions. It must be said that dandelions have not featured too heavily in songs historically, but John Harrison did manage to find some in poetry which got the evening off to a ‘Feeling of Spring in the air’ start. Had he brought in some dandylions with seed heads we could have wished for the healthy future of the Folk Club but judging by the attendance on this particular night it’s looking good right now at least. John’s set was ably rounded off by ‘Cockles & Mussels’ with stunning effects i.e. two signs held up at appropriate times saying ‘Cockles’ (Christoph Thiebes) and ‘Mussels’ (Holger Riedel). It’s only a matter of time until we have laser light shows and John popping out “Deus ex machina” from a trapdoor in the floor to announce ‘Ladies and Gentlemen!…”

John Hay presented two excellent flamenco pieces in advance of his appearance at Wein Amigos in Kessenich on Friday (21 April) which is already sold-out, and with good reason as John showed with his performance.

It was unusual to see Gerd Schinkel‘s name alongside songs by other people. This was partly down to his sharing the spot with Tomke Winterboer who provided sweet vocals reminiscent of the likes of Sandy Denny and Eva Cassidy on songs like ‘First Cut is the Deepest’, ‘If you say nothing at all’ and particularly Townes van Zandt’s ‘If I needed you’. Tomke managed also to fit in a self-composition titled ‘Flower’ which was about the closest we came to a dandelion song all evening outside of one actually called ‘Dandelion’ (which we will come to later!) All-in-all Gerd and Tomke made for a very pleasant combination and it was good to see the former with a relaxed smile away from the earnest face usually found accompanying his songs of protest.

Hans Ihnen brought us a sing-along in the form of Udo Lindenerg’s ‘Mein Ding’ and the dramatic storyline of ‘The Thunder Rolls’ by Pat Alger and garth Brooks, who said of the song that it described “thunder rolling inside of a marriage and outside at the same time”. It certainly rolls thunderously along as the adulterous man drives through the storm to the safety of his wife – who detects a new perfume on him…

We needed some cheering up after that and it came briefly in the entrance of Matthew Robb wearing an uncharacteristically blue hat borrowed from John (Matt’s own trademark battered hat was left in the car after a long drive from a festival appearance in Essen). The blue hat disappeared before I even had a chance to get one shot on camera. Quite right too on reflection. Matthew’s music has a low-satch/black & white quality about it. That said, opener ‘Spirit in the form’ does have a catchy chorus.

Overall though the description of Mark Higgins from FATEA music of Matthew’s style as “sharp poetry riding on rough dark music” is pretty accurate for Matthew’s sound. Imagine an even more world-weary version of Bob Dylan. Where the wind has finally stopped blowing only to find it was not carrying an answer. Don’t think twice, things are not alright as Matthew is ‘Trying to keep my head above the rising tide’ (‘Slave song’) and lamenting a ‘War without witness’ that seems unthinkable in an Age where everyone has a cellphone and an internet connection; yet massacres seem to be discovered weekly somewhere in the World. Don’t blame the messenger for the message though. The premier UK magazine ‘Blues Matters’ gave Robb’s latest release a stellar review with the words “Great songs from a mature poet who deserves maximum artistic respect”. Matthew’s poeticism paints the world as a pretty bleak place right now though, and if you were looking for escapism to a happy place Matthew Robb is not your man.

You could drown your sorrows though with a beer at the break, and Gerald Matuschek even managed to provide a specific dandelion song – although even he doubted that we would recognize either it, or it’s writers a german band from the early ’70’s called Bad Jane. No chance then to compare it to the original but nice one Gerald. There is a song ‘Dandelion’ by a combo called the Rolling Stones apparently that was covered by Donny & Marie Osmond. Okay, now I’m curious…

You can always tell when someone is playing from their heart, and Artur Glogowski certainly was. He brought a couple of songs from his native Poland including his own ‘Latawce‘ (Drachenflieger) and an excellently pared down acoustic version of the Journey big ballad ‘Faithfully’

Which brings us to what Monty Python would describe as ‘something completely different’. Uwe Johann‘s vocal ensemble EmDo – named after their meeting day (EnseMble am DOnnerstag). Even the set within their set was different. Variations of Schubert’s Launigen Forelle, the spiritual ‘Deep River’ and a beautifully arranged A-Capella take on Dave Stewart’s classic ‘Sweet Dreams’. Many thanks to all eight members of the choir, who really did put a little extra into their performance – even taking the trouble to each wear a dandelion brooch to keep the theme going visually even if not musically. Wonderful harmonies indeed, and I also rather liked it when they helped the waitress to locate the correct table by loudly singing “Pommes!”. All orders should be dealt with this way I think. Let’s get singing lessons for the bar staff.

A first, to my knowledge anyway, was hearing Bonn Roda-Brazilian played at the Folk Club; it stems from Choro which is an instrumental popular music genre that originated in 19th century Rio di Janeiro which, despite its name translating as ‘cry,’ often has a fast and happy rhythm. Wikipedia goes on to say that Choro music is characterised by virtuosity, and Rafael (guitar), Johannes (guitar) and Viola (flute) certainly displayed that in abundance along with an admirable supply of enthusiasm. So enjoyable were they, and so infectious their enthusiasm, that the whole audience called for an encore despite John ushering the trio off with the apology that we really were running late and it might cost us time for ‘Jock Stuart’ later on. Choro though is music you don’t hear every day and people were obviously ready to sacrifice the man you don’t meet every day to hear we got the encore (and still managed a last-minute ‘Jock Stuart’

A second set from Matthew Robb that included a favourite of mine ‘Dead men have no dreams’ and a new song? ‘The devil drives’. I’m not too sure, as by then the evening was well advanced and we had heard so much and so varied music since 7pm. Matthew Robb really is a craftsman when it comes to songwriting that stems I’m sure from his early days as a spoken-word performance artist and if you keep attentive and alert you will be rewarded – all of which was asking a lot after so much and varied a musical evening. I suspect too that even Matthew, after a long day that started with playing in Essen, was also ready for Jock Stuart to see us safely home. Maybe, just maybe, like great chocolate, you can have too much of a good thing? But then, I would not want to have to decide who doesn’t get a slot when there are so many fine and motivated musicians knocking on Dotty’s door for spots these days.


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