Pints, Pubs and Rambling with Johnny Campbell

A special guest from Huddersfield UK, Johnny Campbell, and a special event of a different nature were the defining features of Folk Club Bonn #139.  A pleasantly full house at Dotty’s in Dottendorf was there to enjoy a pleasantly varied collection of music and musicians – and that special event?  Read on…

It’s 6 pm.  A full hour before John Harrison will be calling the evening’s music to order with his ‘gentle but extremely firm’ “Ladies & Gentlemen!”, and there is already applause at Dotty’s – but it’s coming from the adjoining musicians’ practice room?  

Reverse back to FCB #83 (Sept 2017) where Lena Walbröl sang a selection of songs with Barry Roshto on the piano including ‘I’m Falling Fast’. Later on, Denis Ledermann sang with his brother Marvin the song ‘Schrei Nach Liebe’. Later in the evening, Lena joined Dennis for Ed Sheeran’s ‘Fire on the Mountain’… Fast forward to last Friday, six years and 56 Folk Clubs later – and Denis popped the question to Lena in that Folkclub backroom. Proof that good music is not the only thing you find at Bonn Folk Club. Sometimes you find love too!

2016 – 2023

Back to that ‘good music’ aspect of Folk Club. Tonight’s theme is ‘Beer, wine & other delights‘ which explains why John Harrison is resplendent in a Marston’s Pedigree t-shirt and the first audience participation of the evening is finding someone in the audience with a bottle-opener for said beer, and the first song is a Harrison composition entitled ‘Marston’s’. His second song is a folk-beer classic extolling the vice of a man whose job it is to make the beer for his workers less a hindrance to their labour ‘I’m the man, the very fat Man, who waters the workers’ beer’. His reasoning in the song: “For a strong and healthy working class is the thing that I most fear!”. It might even be argued that in a Britain of not so many years ago the factories were running on beer, and the Navy was running on rum (rations were only abolished in 1970!).‘The Berry fields of Blair’ rounded off John’s alchohol-soaked opening salvo.

In stark contrast was the set from John Hay which gave us an alcohol-free break with the rather sobering Snow Patrol classic ‘Chasing Cars‘, followed by one of John’s own, and to date I think best, compositions ‘A tree that is mine’ finishing with the Dougie Maclean tribute to Scotland ‘Caledonia’ which he attributed to first hearing via me. Glad to serve John!

Next up was Yawen, the young lady whose presence automatically plunges the average age of attendees radically. A new one to my ears, Katy Sky’s ‘Monster’ and a rather better known one called ‘Yesterday’ by a Mr McCartney I believe, continued the non-alcoholic switch. Given Yawen’s age probably a good thing too.

Then it was time for a quick ‘onesie’ from Stephan Weidt with ‘Nobody Knows You (when you’re down and out)’ and a plug for his upcoming gig in Bonn. It’s not actually a Clapton song despite EC making it famous on his MTV (remember that?) unplugged appearance many years ago, but Stephan follows Clapton’s version very closely and very well. Always a pleasure to hear him play – no flash or frills, Stephan plays in his own unassuming way and lets his excellent playing do the talking so to speak.

Johnny Campbell played his first set to take us up to the break, but I’ll cover his contribution in one chunk later in the review. Suffice to say that Johnny had the audience eating out of his hand before completing even two verses of ‘The Derby Ram’. More later…

A quick beer out of respect for of today’s theme, and then John Harrison was back for part two with his own mini band of friends in Christoph Thiebes on harps and myself on rhythm guitar for ‘People Get Ready’. Had John mentioned earlier that he would be playing his very loud steel guitar for this one I might have left my tiny Guild parlor guitar at home in favour of something larger and louder (or even stayed at home completely!) I’ve since heard the audio of the song and I can’t actually hear me – so if you were on my side of the audience and DID hear me – apologies, I was doing my best with a combination of brute force and ignorance to be heard.

Mario actually managed to get us back on theme with ‘Drachenblut’ and ‘TrunkenheitsLied’, he even managed to cajole everyone into sing-a-longs with a jolly song admitting that whilst everyone must die once, they should therefore go happily (Lüstig’) to their grave. 10 out of 10 for staying on the evening’s theme and also for getting everyone to sing along to a not-always-simple chorus.

Knut Rausch admitted that he did not have many live appearances under his belt and actually asked if he could bring an amplifier. He should have known that the FCB audience is an attentive one – and also appreciative. Knut very bravely chose Davey Graham’s challenging instrumental ‘Angie’ as a part of his set. If he didn’t execute it perfectly, he did do a 1000 percent better job than I could ever do. Simon Wahl’s ‘September’ and the traditional ‘Scarborough Fair’ seemed like doddles by comparison even though I wouldn’t want to take even them on as pure musical pieces. Bravery Award of the night to Knut for sure!

after the earlier pressure of proposing, Dennis Ledermann probably found playing his set a veritable breeze. His smile perhaps a sign of relief that Lena said yes. Chris Stapleton’s ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ was certainly ‘on theme’. Given the earlier events mentioned, his second contribution, ‘Folk Club Bonn’ was similarly ‘on theme’ as a thank you to the Club that brought he and Lena together, and, for him on such an evening, the perfect finish was of course a love song – Florian Künstler’s ‘Kleine Finger Schwür. If Dennis directed his glance largely to Lena for the song’s duration then I think we forgive him:

Da ist so ein Gefühl im Bauch
Das ich nie gekannt hab, mit dir ist es anders
Ey, bitte, weck mich nie mehr auf
Weil ich bei dir keine Angst hab, mit dir ist es anders

As John Harrison confided later – Whatever else FCB did, or indeed does in the future, bringing two rather special people together will be up there with the best of its achievements because, as our very special guest was to note, bringing people together is actually what Clubs and pubs should be all about.

Star Guest time. Johnny Campbell somehow slipped through our fingers in the past. For whatever reason, we never had him at meetings on his previous forays across Europe. Huddersfield-born Johnny is, rather like our own Simon Kempston, an inveterate World traveler. Johnny even does his travels sans automobile, relying on public transport. Despite that, he managed to be at Dotty’s in good time to set out his merchandise stall: CD’s, t-shirts, stickers, patches …and tea towels?! There, I said Johnny was a bit special. He actually has a wonderful designer, Katie Allen, who really does capture the essence of English Folkiness as much in her graphics as Johnny does in his songs.

Getting older sometimes leaves one longing for the perceived values of a past era. It’s good then to find someone infinitely younger who also shares many of those common values. Or maybe not, in that those problems we were singing about in the ’70’s are still unresolved. Often they were sung about long before the ’70’s in fact. The legendary Ewan Maccoll addressed the privatization of woodland and footpaths as long ago as 1932 with ‘The Manchester Rambler’ for example and here we are in the 21st Century with Johnny Campbell on the theme, as unresolved as ever, with ‘The Right to Roam’, ‘A Roving I will Go’ and ‘Winter Hill Trespass’. The latter, written by Johnny, is based on a real event in 1896 where the local landowner shut down a path through his land that had been used for many years. An estimated 10,000 people turned up to protest over several days (and filled the village’s two pubs to well beyond bursting point). Here in 2023, only 8% of land is open to public use (‘The Right to Roam’). Germany in comparison protects the right to access farmland for recreational purposes, including walking and biking trails with specific ‘Right of Way’ laws ( Betretungsrecht). I hang on this theme here because it is a key one in Johnny’s set. He even took part in a recreation of the Winter Hill protest.

There’s something pleasantly comforting too if you are an English folk fan just to hear the titles of Johnny’s songs. ‘The Derby Ram’,‘The Four-loom Weaver’, ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’… a solid feeling of age and tradition. Johnny does cracking versions too. His guitar playing is solid and generally uncomplicated as it is for the most part embellishment for the lyrics, but he’s no slouch when it comes to picking out a tune – witness his delicate opening to the song ‘Complaint’ via a Scottish fiddle tune ‘Sweetness of Mary’ for proof.

Johnny touched on another theme that the earlier betrothal between Dennis and Lena underlined. The importance of pubs, and clubs (Folk Clubs very much included) in providing a place of social interaction. The traditional working man’s (and women’s too) meeting place was such locations. Nowadays you often can’t have a conversation because of the television (inevitably permanently tuned to Eurosport). If Johnny is to be believed though the rot had already set in decades ago when pool tables popped up in every saloon bar. ‘Playing Pool’ is a wonderfully humourous song, but carries with it an undertow message that where society was built through chat and dialogue, landlords, in their infinite wisdom, installed all manner of devices to interrupt the basic socializing action of sitting around a table with friends, a pint and a point of view – Television screens, dartboards, bar billiard, and pool tables…

A wonderful evening then of British Folk at its questioning and traditional best. The sort of songs and attitudes that I remember from 70’s and 80’s Folk Clubs. It’s comforting to know that although many of the problems protested by the likes of Ewan Maccoll and Leon Rosselson are still not resolved, there is Johnny Campbell still eloquently underway throughout Europe to remind us. I very much hope that this is just the start of a long relationship between Johnny Campbell and Folk Club Bonn.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.