FCB 43 in December - Guitar arts and poetry
The Scottish songwriter and guitar maestro Simon Kempston has become almost a folk club tradition in himself. He has now honoured us with his third visit as a special guest, each time in December, thus becoming a tradition as old as the folk club itself. This time he couldn’t resist appearing in traditional Scottish dress, with a kilt bearing his family’s tartan. It was actually the result of a wager made the previous week with John Hurd, author of our English language reports on the “3SongsBonn“ website, who promised to bring his girlfriend along to the next folk club evening if Simon performed in a kilt. Some had said that Anna was perhaps a figment of John Hurd’s, albeit very vivid, imagination as they had never seen her, but she indeed showed up and Simon had to, or rather, was allowed to grace us resplendently in his kilt.
Each year he presents new self-composed songs which appear on his annual new CD. The regular folk clubbers have thus been able to see first hand how his style has matured and become more sophisticated and transparent.
Simon’s 2013 album which only appeared in November and is appropriately entitled “A Fine Line“. All of his song texts are based upon actual stories, many of which happened to him personally, and Simon revels in relating the often amusing details of these between songs in his dulcet, finely ironic, Scottish tones. In contrast to the light hearted explanatory stories, the actual song texts themselves deal with the contrasting problems of failure, injustice, the fragility in human life and the sometimes existential problems of the common people. Even his love songs have a touch of cautious optimism and melancholy. An important theme in his songs is war, which for him is beyond the pale.
Simon performs his songs with a wonderful, forceful, finely modulated yet variable voice. The guitar accompaniment is of wonderful clarity, technical brilliance and sophisticated precision. He uses the DADGAD tuning on the guitar by which both the lower and the higher E strings, as well as the B string is dropped two frets, two semitones , or a whole tone, lower than standard tuning. This allows an easier switch between major and minor scales in certain keys and gives the instrument a more open and powerful resonance.
“Underdog soldier” is the title of his opening song which relates the story of a renegade Scottish politician, George Galloway, a controversial personality who split from the British Labour party on a matter of conscience and who rejected British participation in the second Iraq war, later forming his own political party “Respect the Unity Coalition“ and was successfully re-elected into the House of Commons against all odds and on the strength of his own bootstraps.
Beautiful fingerpicking and strongly syncopated melodies hallmarked the start of Simon’s set with reflective yet melodic songs. A friend of Simon’s, who had an urge to bet on the outcome of football games with tragic financial consequences is the inspiration for “Gambling Blues“. “Careless Interventionist” is a well known song for us about a lonely Scot forlorn in, an anonymous, and much larger than life itself, London. Simon has sung this song here many times, and each time with a different interpretation. It appears to me that this particular song both personifies and underlines Simon‘s gradual musical and interpretational journey. Further new songs were, amongst others, “Fine Line“ the title song of his new CD, “Leipzig Frost“ and the “Bus to Nairn“ about an encounter in Inverness, with an unknown man who was already somewhat inebriated in the morning, when a conversation ensued about what time the bus to Nairn would leave. “The Dust And The Paint“ is a song about the death of physical bricks and mortar record shops using the example of the particular one in Dundee where a very young Simon bought the very first album of his life. Besides these premieres we were treated to some old favourites of his, viz “To The Wilderness“ , “Roland“, and “Derry Walls“. Tumultuous applause crowned yet another astounding performance. We wish Simon every success with his music and his numerous performances. For the coming year in 2014 he already has nearly thirty firm bookings, including many in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
However, as usual, in addition to Simon, there were several other musicians to experience.
Our MC John Harrison had opened the evening, true to form, with a few of his pearls, all of which, with a nod (and a wink?) to our special guest, had Scotland as their underlying theme. “The Berry Fields Of Blair“ , sung A Cappella by John, is a song about berry pickers who earned a little extra money during their short holidays by helping to harvest the strawberries and raspberries in Blairgowrie. It’s always a pleasure to hear John’s own creation, “Albert McTavish’s Brand New Frigidaire“. This is an amusing tale in prose about the unfortunately unavailing attempts of a Scotsman on a lonely island to make his wife happy with a fridge. A difficult journey to distant Edinburgh and back resulted only in him fatally returning with a model with the incorrect energy system. The subsequent song finally revealed itself as a creditably played instrumental piece – the Best of British humour! The whole cumulative sorrow of the Scots who felt themselves betrayed and under the yoke of the English is incarcerated in Robbie Burn’s poem, „Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation“. The poem describes how certain powerful Scottish personalities let themselves be persuaded, perhaps by personal pecuniary rewards, to agree a fusion of the Scottish and English parliaments in the early eighteenth century (an often forgotten fusion of the Scottish and English thrones had already occurred a century earlier with James VI of Scotland succeeding the childless Elisabeth I to become James I of England upon her death in 1603) . It was the later occurrence in 1707 which the Scottish national poet judged as treason.
A “Walk-in“ from Düsseldorf, Philipp Grimm, aka „Maps and Keys“, performed two self-penned songs. “Bald Trees“, tells the story of people “written off“ too early. His voice which varied wonderfully between higher and lower register sounds reminded one somewhat of Bryan Ferry from Roxy Music in this one. His second song “Heroine“, was dedicated to Janero del Rosario, our FC team member from the Philipinnes, who, amongst other things manages our video trial. Perhaps there is more to hear from Phillip.
An additional highlight was provided by Kenny Legendre, an American from Indianapolis, who now lives in Bad Kreuznach, and who as “Majiken“ and a few other colleagues is responsible for running a stage known as “Majik Lounge“ in the Markthaus (Market Hall). He started his set with “1-2-3 What Are We Fighting For?“ the Woodstock Festival classic from Country Joe McDonald, which Kenny had cunningly transposed from Vietnam to Afghanistan and retitled “21st Century Fixin’ To Die Rag“. Also nodding to Scotland, Kenny included his tongue in cheek song “Pink Sheep“ relating a personal journey to Scotland. The moral being, “if you see something that you don’t know, it needn’t necessarily be bad!“ With the witty “Heidi Hottmehl“ (A word play with a spelling in German of the English pronunciation of Hotmail – “Mehl” is flour in German) Kenny crowned his set with a song about friendships forged on social internet networks. We hope that we will be able to greet Kenny with his powerful voice, and wonderful banjo and resonator guitar accompaniment and original self-composed songs again soon in the folk club – a big applause for Kenny aka “Majiken“!
Gerd Schweizer is an old aquaintance with a predilection for the songs of Reinhard Mey. “Zeugnistag“ / Report Day is one of the songs he sings today in homage to parents who support their children against school report odds. “Aber deine Ruhe findest du nicht mehr“ / You Won’t Find Peace Any More is surpisingly also a homage, but this time to the young inexperienced parents of new born children who deny them their necessary sleep. A wonderful set by Gerd, opportunely presenting his new guitar.
An additional “Walk-in“ from England was the new Bonner Oli Bud who presented two of his own songs with a characteristic voice. “You Are the Only One“ und “Times Are Getting Rough” are the beautiful poetical songs encompassed with melodic music. Perhaps Oli will soon visit us again and bless us with a few more of his compositions.
After a long interval Jutta Mensing revisited us with the support of Thomas Bandholz, Gerd-Wolfgang Spiller and Steven Perry from the “Verstaubte Instrumente“ / Dusty Instruments scene formation from Bad Honnef; which meet on the third Friday of each month there. wherever Jutta sings, one can be sure of hearing good old German traditional songs, and this time, as always, we were not disappointed! “Scheeflöckchen, weiß Röckchen“ / Snow Flake, Little White Skirt was played and sung by the quartet with guitars, Steve’s mandolin and Jutta’s fiddle and with voluminous vocal support from the audience. A small Intermezzo was provided by a recital of Loriot‘s poem “Advent“ – pure black humour. The song “Ach bitt’rer Winter“ / Oh Bitter Winter was certainly not humorous, neither black nor otherwise, and reminded us of the cold bleak seasonal times in bygone years when it was a severe challenge to merely survive the time between harvest and spring alive and unscathed.
Luckily this particularly melancholy song was not the last one. Our regular visitor and follower “Jock Stewart“ was once more on hand to lead both musicians and audience in a final song of the evening and bid them fare well and a safe journey home, with a wonderful feeling of happiness and jollity ringing in their ears.
As ever, one lives in hope, and there is a fair hope of another well endowed year of folk club features in 2014. As we say in Germany, after eating the goose, “it goes loose“, and already in January, on the first Friday, the 3rd of January with an action packed programme for our first Singers‘ Night in many‘s a while.