Mario's report from Folk Club No 136 on 2 June 2023
The landscape of emotions
It took me a long time to write the report this time. I have often sat down and wanted to start - but how? What was so special about the last Folk Club that robbed me of my imagination, so to speak, or gave me too much of it, so that I couldn't just press the keys and type out a narrative report peppered with a bit of humour as usual. What was it that, after a moment's reflection, led me to the conclusion that perhaps the flowers needed to be watered first, or the melody tried out on the forest zither, or a piece of cake eaten? Well, I think it was the fascination of the diversity of the expression of feelings and their colourings. And suddenly I had it! A journey (whether by bike, car or train) from north to south shows us constantly changing landscapes, shows us the colourfulness but also monotony of the flat landscape alternating with the changing flora of hills or even the barren, but no less fascinating environment of the mountains - and that was exactly it : Landscape/ Landschaften was the theme of the evening, and this was musically coloured in such a way that different feelings could be accommodated in one and the same landscape. Whether it was "Amazing Grace" in the arrangement by Stefan Mönkemeyer, which in connection with the story told that an old woman who suffered badly in Germany during the Nazi era thanked him for his music with the words "It doesn't matter where you come from, but what you do", gave both shame about the past, consternation about similar misdemeanours in other countries and the feeling that humanity still exists, or the Cajun music of Johannes Epremian showed that it is not the perfection of a sterile environment that is important, but the expression of the music that fits the environment (he told the story that in a recording studio with a tin roof, a very special atmosphere of the recording was created by the rain drumming on that very roof - the landscapes were so diverse that the journey from north to south became an exciting trip. But there was more. The original of German (real) folk music Tom Kannmacher additionally transformed the landscape into historical dimensions, so that not only geographically different areas could be viewed, but the same area was accompanied in its temporal development.
But enough with metaphors and philosophical reflections and back to sober reporting.
Who would not be surprised if a report of a folk club evening did not begin with the words "Laaaadies and Gentlemeen.......".However, this time this battle cry from FCB Master John Harrison did not come abruptly, but was already announced by the gong of a singing bowl.John then opened the musical landscape round with "Gypsum Sack", a song from his own pen, with which he describes a time when he filled gypsum-plaster sacks. He then recited a poem. "Dubh" describes a green landscape in the Staffordshire and Derbyshire border area along the river Dove. "Lost My Driving Wheel", as the next piece, is a country blues which, with the title, actually describes the beginning of the story - as the plot tells how the goal was achieved afterwards anyway. Not for the first time the story of John's "St. James Infirmary Blues" came on stage at the Folk Club.
A completely different landscape was presented by the Villwock Brothers. A cheerful landscape of bluegrass, which sweetens the free time after work in rural regions in the USA. Although not all of the songs performed were pure bluegrass songs, the Villwock Brothers remained true to their style even in the interpretation of Irish songs, for example. In the line-up with fiddle, banjo, mandolin and double bass and of course guitar, they played "Blackberry Blossom" as the first song, a tune (i.e. instrumental piece) which can be found in bluegrass as well as in old-time and Irish tunes. "Oh, My Sweet Carolina" by Bryan Adams followed and showed that bluegrass only really melts hearts when the instrumentality is accompanied by polyphonic singing - or do the instruments accompany the singing? In any case, it became Celtic (not to say Irish) once again. With "Galway Girl", the five musicians interpreted the very well-known song in their very own way and did it so excellently that the audience did not let them go without an encore. This encore showed how different landscapes can be, even if they are passed through in a carrier medium (here bluegrass). "Don't Think Twice" the well known piece by Bob Dylan provided a worthy encore and was also surely the ticket for hopefully many more performances by the group at the Folk Club.
John Hay, the well-known and much loved musician from Bonn, came on stage with Annette. He didn't sing a duet, though, because - for those who don't know or don't know any more - an Annette is a performance of just one piece at the Folk Club. And this time the Annette was called "Your Song" by Elton John.
Your Song is no spring chicken either, but now it was getting really old. Tom Kannmacher, the veteran of German folk music, not only brought a new achievement on stage in the form of a bass lute, but also old songs as usual. With "War einst ein reicher Schlächtersmann" he described what happens when the father tries to impose his will on the daughter and will not allow her to marry her love. A recurring motif in old songs, which gives ample room for emotion and ridicule. With the "Feyerabendlied", a song advertised as a philosophical song, which, as the title already says, describes the longing for peace and rest - but also the finiteness of life - Tom continued to show his skills. The short performance concluded with "Bettellied", as always leaving the audience wanting more - and even though Tom is a veteran, we hope to welcome him to the Folk Club many more times.
The first featured artist of the evening was Johannes Epremian (without John this time). Johannes plays traditional Cajun music, whereby this is a constantly changing landscape in itself. Cajun is less to be found in the Louisiana metropolis of New Orleans, but is strongly represented in the rural regions. "Invented" by mainly French-speaking immigrants and coloured with all kinds of influences from Louisiana's inhabitants, Cajun music describes the everyday worries, solutions and also joys of immigrant life. Johannes opened the round with "Adieu Rosa", a typical dance song at Louisiana parties of the past (such parties were celebrated with families, who were often the last to know about the party when it had already started :-) ). Johannes describes the fiddle music as monotonous, but - whether it's because of the melody or his virtuoso playing - the music simply carries you away. And last but not least, the powerful voice through which Johannes also convincingly brings in the atmosphere of the Southern celebration. Another dance piece was then the turn of the Two Step "Amedé Two Step". This song breaks out of the monotony and invites you to dance - an instrumental piece that makes you want to join in (clapping, stomping). Again, the driving rhythm is in the foreground. Johannes ended his first part with "Lumière pâle", i.e. the pale light. With the background knowledge that this was music from rural dances, does it actually need any further explanation? All right, for those who don't have enough imagination. As the parents in the next room refill their punch, the pale light on the dance floor is exploited to get closer. The shock of the parents' return is mitigated by the fact that they have to get used to the pale light again, giving them enough time to part demurely.
Let your chronicler jump into the second half and simply describe Johannes' performance as a whole. After Johannes had already performed a Two Step, he now came to a One Step - was it exhaustion or simply programme - I think rather the second, because Johannes is a lively, all-engaging musician whom I have never noticed exhaustion. With "Happy One Step" Johannes gave us another little dance song. How emotional Cajun music is was shown in the song "Les barres de la prison" (The bars of the prison). With this song, a painting is drawn in which a mother, incarcerated in hopelessness, takes her own child's illness into the care of the only higher power she knows - God. That blues and Cajun do not always have to be different musical styles was demonstrated by the next song. "Blues du saoulard" is a blues that does not begin with sorrow in the morning, but on the contrary, tells of a happy love of many years. A very old couple asked about the recipe of their long marriage answers: We have the same hobby, we both drink:-). Johannes did not leave without an encore either and gave us the tragic story "Travailler c'est trop dur", a tale about how work is much too hard to do, but without work there is no life and so we simply work again - French logic.
Back to the first half. A special treat of fingerpicking is Stefan Mönkemeyer - many still remember him from his first visit to the Folk Club 5 years ago. And many also knew that Stefan is a musician of quiet tones, which is why it was very quiet in the hall, as everyone didn't want to miss a single note of his performance. And, to say it in advance, it was worth it!!! As the second featured artist of the evening, he started with the song "The Sky Is The Limit" - a title that says it all. Only the sky shows you limits and who has ever reached them in life? And even if Stefan reports in his announcement that moments in which he believes that everything is possible are rather rare - we are happy that there was this moment to give this great song its foundation. The following piece "Love" was introduced with a True Story. After his last concert at the Folk Club Bonn, Stefan, following a biological necessity, stopped at a motorway service station on his way home and paid his toilet fee of (at that time) 70 cents. What he was offered shortly afterwards by a pair of lovers hiding in the next cubicle was certainly worth the price of an upmarket radio play. Stefan was able to slip away unobtrusively, continue his journey and let this wonderful piece emerge.
Not from his own pen, but
beautifully arranged, was his last piece of the first half. "Keep
It Simple" is not only a musical delight, but also describes the
concept of the Folk Club to the point. No amplification, an attentive
audience and beautiful music (which, however, is not always simple
:-) ). Stefan came back in the second half, of course. And that with
"A New Hope". This was not (only) for the Folk Club
audience, but describes a situation Stefan felt sitting in front of
the TV in 2008, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first
Coloured President. It continued with a "Blues" -
instrumental, of course, and again Stefan showed what ten fingers can
do. Yes, here again a landscape was described with sounds, which
figuratively appeared in the heads of the audience. The Villwock
Brothers had described the Galway Girl, but now another Irish girl
came to the fore in a completely different style, but still Irish.
The "Star Of The County Down", sufficiently known to almost
everyone present, also instrumentally shook her brown hair enticingly
and, as described in the lyrics, gave rise to many dreams. It is
always fascinating how music can tell stories without language/text.
And when these are then introduced by a True Story, such stories
become even more vivid. As already described in the introduction to
this report, Stefan had the experience at a concert that an old woman
simply wanted to take him in her arms and hug him after the concert
out of gratitude for his music. A woman who suffered terribly under
the Nazi regime and yet now has the opinion that "it's not where
you come from, but what you do" - my and hopefully everyone's
respect for this attitude. With "Amazing Grace", Stefan has
thanked the audience for this experience in every concert since then.
When a musician is enthusiastic about the music of a group and then
has the ability to interpret the music of this group in his own
style, the result is usually a great work of art. This is also the
case with Stefan Mönkemeyer's "Beatles Potpourris" - a
homage to one of the most influential pop groups in recent world
history. Even if played quietly, it was - as already written -
listened to attentively. And that the audience listened very
attentively was also shown by the vehement "demand" for an
encore, which Stefan gladly fulfilled with his interpretation of the
piece "Oh When The Saints Go Marching On".
But let's jump to the beginning of the second Folk Club half. Frauke, a loyal Folk Club visitor, always wanted to - and this time she did. Quickly got out the ukulele and encouraged the audience to join in. With the songs "This Land Is Your Land" and "Cotton Fields" she brought the character of the Folk Clubs to the point.
Dare and let everyone join
in. Next to professional and "perfect" musicians, this is
the refreshing aspect of folk music.
After the Featured Artist have already been described above also in their performances of the second half, it only remains for me to mention that it was of course not too late to pay homage to the patron saint of the Folk Club.
Jock Stewart with Johannes and Stefan Mönkemeyer and also, not for the first time, Thomas Monnerjahn, tickling the ivories on Jock Stewart at the end of a most wonderful evening.
Out of the bedroom and into Dotty's
Translated with DeepL ammended by John Harrison
These photos courtesy of Uta Schäfer