Sonntag, 14. Juli 2013

Simon Wahl -
Finger Style Guitarist -
as if choice was an option?

It was certainly quite a humbling experience for all the guitarists in the room (and to my knowledge there were at least a couple of dozen of them present, if not more), but as one much wiser than myself once profoundly said, “If you go out with your guitar on a Friday or a Saturday night, then you should go out to learn, not to teach.“

“Your Man“, which is Irish for “Simon Wahl“ this evening, certainly taught us a thing or two on this musical night to well remember. A guitar is usually composed of several pieces of wood, expertly glued and honed together with six strings placed and tautly strung across it and fretted by a luthier. That is a given. The possibilities of what one can do with this “given“ is something else. In the case of Simon Wahl it is, completely something else.

Simon played it in standard tuning, and dropped D, double dropped D and open D minor tuning, moreover he played it well, very, very well indeed. So well in fact that many of the audience were suffering from “dropped J“ (dropped jaw) after trying in vain to reconcile what their eyes were seeing and their ears were hearing.

There are literally many millions of guitarists and really so few different notes to play. Some, one can recognise after just a few bars, and one can put an immediate finger on them. B B King, Carlos Santana, and to a lesser extent (not because he is worse, but because so many others play in his exact same genre) Eric Clapton.

Both Jeff Beck and the guy from Dire Straits (Mark Buttons) pick fingerstyle on an electric guitar without a plectrum, either with their nails or their finger tips.

Simon Wahl touches his guitar strings on his acoustic guitar with his fingers, without a plectrum. He touches so finely that harmonics are extracted from almost impossible places. I think his composition “Always“ will always be my favoutite tune of his and my favourite “ear worm“ of the year. It is aflush with bristling harmonies and glistening harmonics. In fact he seems to spirit harmonics forth from where they seemingly shouldn’t be. My second favourite was “Take It Easy“ which, swings with percussive interludes and makes such a wonderful double pack with “Always“. The two French entitled numbers “Maintenant“ with its delicate melodies interspersed with powerful chords and “Deja Vu“ are notewothy, as is “Lovely Day In Cologne“ which somehow conjours up images of sheer delightful vibrant pleasure. His Eminem medley was so convincing, dropping the lower E string so low that it sounded like a snare drum, it even had Theo threatening to trade in his Roy Orbison dark glasses and become a hip hop fan! The slower more soulful number, “I can’t see till I see you“ is one tune of Simon’s which, more than any other, seems to be literally crying out for lyrics though.

Simon confided that he is actually currently having tuition for his voice, so that in future he may also sing as well as “just playing the guitar“. If he sets the same standards on his voice as he does his guitar playing then it may be a few years hence before we hear it, but if it is only half as good as his guitar playing, it will be bliss indeed. So some news of Simon's voice and "work in progress". All I would ask Simon is that when you do feel it is time to bring out the voice and make a debut as a singer, that you do it on a first Friday of the month and that you do it in your old home town, just a few hundred meters from the river Rhine. It would be both an honour and a pleasure for us to have you back with us again.

It is rare indeed that we have a special guest at the folk club so young, (he’s still not yet notched up a quarter of a century) so talented, and yet in himself so equally as humble as he can be humbling. It was the first time that a special guest performed completely instrumental sets since Reiner Weiss from Cologne musically regaled us on the piano in 2010, but all the pieces Simon played for us were of his own composition. So scarcely any one in the room had heard any of his music before, but everyone was left in awe and wonderment of his guitar finesse and his composition skills and were totally enthralled from start to finish. He also does much physical percussion, knocking, banging and scratching on his guitar and smiles, a lot. Simon Wahl lets music thrive in a most modern and refreshing cross-genre sense. Simon was a little sceptical at first as to whether a “finger style“ acoustic guitarist like himself would be able to play to so many people without any amplification whatsoever, but the quieter the audience became the louder and clearer Simon seemed to become. Yes, it can be done, in fact people have been doing it for many hundreds, indeed many, many thousands of years and we sometimes forget to remember today that electrical amplification is not yet one hundred years old. Throughout the course of time, as Barry often points out, if there was something playing or some one singing that you wanted to hear, you simply huddled in closer to listen better. Not a problem.

At the folk club we like to both respect tradition and equally encourage creativity and in this respect we couldn’t have wished for a better special guest in July.

“Tradition“ will one day also say,

“Thank you Simon Wahl“

Until that day let us simply enjoy his wonderful love of harmony and harmonics and dynamic, progressive, envelope-pushing guitar playing, and music in general, that most universal of all the human languages. His latest CD “Deja Vu“ would make a wonderful gift for anybody with a future birthday, it left me very much with one of those “Joie de la vie“ smiles. You’ll find a link to his web site on the right of this page. He certainly deserves as much encouragement as he can get, and you will certainly enjoy his music.

Before the last folk club meet we questioned all of the musicians who had ever played at the Bonn folk club, and also those who had shown an interest in doing so, about their opinion on being videoed in general, but particuarly about being "rogue videoed" whilst performing, by an unknown third party, without being asked, without a possibility of them ever seeing this video themselves, and potentially with the possibility of this video also being placed in the internet for all and sundry to see without their permission. If a performer asks a friend or relative to video their performance this is perfectly OK, but when one performer is being videoed simultaneously by six different people, one thinks, is this something which we should condone, or even encourage, or simply just ignore, or perhaps think about a potential solution about how we could possibly manage it in a better way in the future?

The musicians who answered the questionaire were overwhelmingly in favour of a test and so we did one at the July folk club. Even Martin Donnelly from Northern Ireland who has written the song about the "Green Man" told us we should "go for it". His most famous song "The Green Man" is still available on YouTube as background music to Stonehenge as you can see and hear here:

but he has sinced ceased to show himself performing it live on YouTube on his own video channel. It is a very wonderful song, and what ever his reasons for this are, they are his reasons, it is his song and one should respect the writer's decision.

The performers who answered the questionnaire have obviously thought about the proposition and weighed up the pros and cons in their own minds, and have at the same time confronted themselves with the very idea of being videod and considered the potential positive aspects of being able to use this video document in future to be able to perhaps further their musical careers by presenting this as a guide to potential bookers, of their actual live musical ability. The videos will certainly not be of MTV quality, but hopefully by being static, will be better than an impromptu video made with a hand held device.

There was very many heated discussions amongst ourselves on this issue and we don't yet know if we have found "a" let alone "the" solution. Better people than us have tried and failed. The folk club is in one sense like coming and performing in someone's living room, one just gets up and plays, on the other hand the longer it exists, the higher the quality becomes. Videoing does, however, push an amateur dramatic forgiving live moment aspect, with all its charm, into an unforgiving moment, possibly damning, captured eternally as a film documentary. So our discussions could never be anything other than heated on a matter so fundamental.

So if we do eventually decide to video everything, it is mainly in order to discourage "rogue videoers" who have not asked permission from the performers. The house videos made in the folk club, will only be made with the individual performers' consent, will not be put on YouTube for all to see, but will simply be "given" (back) to the performers, to whom they really, if we all think about it, actually belong.

If you come to the folk club you are offered an amazing and diverse variety of music performed by an equally diverse variety of performers, not only from many different countries but also from many different continents. It doesn't cost you anything to experience this, and it's probably, depending on the night, one of the best free live musical events in Bonn.

So in July we did a video trial.

The results are still open, it's our "work in progress" and the jury's still out.

It seems like Martin Donnelly not only replied to the musicians' questionnaire, but that he actually sent the Green Man over to check out the best guitarist in the room, and probably far beyond the room. This is a picture of Simon Wahl playing just a guitar, a wooden instrument made from the trees of the forest, and it looks like the Green Man wanted to check out not just Simon's guitar and original music but also the modern technology perched on a forty year old tripod, as the first video trial in the Bonn folk club was being conducted. Have a look at the picture down below. It's one thing having the "Green Man" played and performed in the folk club, but it's a different thing entirely when he actually pays us a visit during a concert.

It was a little bit quirky and a wee bit spooky, but luckily dear Martin Donnelly, probably a bit of a closet internet video sceptic himself, had given us the OK, so we felt kind of comfortable about it!

We are still not sure if we are doing the right thing,

but we are trying.

What is your opinion as the audience? The musicians have already had their say and being more often the objects being videoed rather than the videoers they probably have perhaps given the matter more consideration but will certainly have a different opinion than you the audience. The idea is that the folk club produces a video and presents it as a service or small "Danke schön" to the performing artists, with their permission. If any performer does not wish to be videoed whatsoever, we turn the camera off. If a member of the audience wishes to view a video of any performance at the folk club, they can ask the individual performer or group who can grant or deny permission as they see fit, according to how they view the quality of the film as a video document.

This is certainly not a new rule or regulation, but it will hopefully reduce the need for so many simultaneous videos to be made, which can be annoying to the people adjacent to the filmer on the same table, who may be unwittingly prominently visible or audible on any video made there, and at the same it will also be less daunting for some of our less experienced performers who may, or may not, on their stage premiere, (and we actually had two in July, Franz Kalina and Steffie Ruben - though most of you would probably not have been aware of it from the fine quality of their performances) be ready to deal with staring straight into the lenses of maybe half a dozen unknown amateur documentary film makers, whilst trying to keep calm and sort their thoughts and remember their words and chords.

This has nothing to do with live streaming the folk club direct into the internet, or increasing folk club postings on the internet. It is about making the folk club a more pleasant environment for performers to perform, and for the audience to listen to and enjoy the music, live.

That's what the folk club has always been about and what it will continue to always be about. If it works, and we still don't know whether it will, it will be about empowerment of the performers. The decision about the video document produced will be in future entirely with the performers, and they can decide if they wish to keep it for themselves, distribute it to family and friends, use it for their own promotional purposes or even, if they think it merits it, post it on the internet themselves, for which they will then assume any potential copyright considerations or responsibilities.

If any of you reading this wish to comment, agree, disagree or make suggestions, either in English or in German, please feel free to do so, either directly here on the blog, where a public comment can be added at the bottom of the page, or via e-mail to

Don't forget NOT to come in August when there is no folk club meet, do enjoy your holidays and return refreshed in September when we have a Singers' Night, where the theme is the weather, which means anyone able to perform a song pertinent to the weather can come forward to do an "Annette" - a one song floor spot - without having to go through the now normal unfortunate rigmarole of applying for a floor spot several months in advance.

Keep your eyes wide open and your ears well peeled and if you do happen to see the Green Man, greet him well from all of us and tell him, like Simon Wahl, he's very welcome back with us again, any time he wishes.

John Harrison.

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