Anyone who has ever been to the Jacob’s Ladder Festival will know that there is an abundance of folk musicians around these parts. There are the Anglos themselves, or the progeny thereof, and an increasing number of Israeli-born players who simply dig American and British pop, folk, blues and suchlike. Jerusalem Folk Music Evenings are occasionally the beneficiary of the Galilee-based event, when top musicians from abroad come over, predominantly to play at Jacob’s Ladder, but also make the most of their trip to the Middle East by fitting in dates elsewhere around the country, including at the club.“We’ve had quite a few people from abroad come to play at the club,” notes British-born Philippa Bacal, who has, basically, served as chief cook and bottle washer of the folkie enterprise for the past nine years. The offshore guest list features the likes of famed American bassist, tubist, guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer Freebo, irrepressibly entertaining guitarist-vocalist Sean Altman, James Durst of Work o’ the Weavers fame, and singer-songwriter Tim Isberg. Not bad going for a club that is basically run by a bunch of diehard enthusiasts who have little in the way of management, marketing or organizational training.The current venture is now in its 10th year, but, in fact, American and British folk music has been on offer in Jerusalem for far longer.“The folk club started in the early 1970s, with Moshe Shuster,” Bacal says. “It started at Tzavta in Jerusalem. That was on King George Street.”The legendary Taverners troupe, with the likes of Canadian banjo player, vocalist and front man extraordinaire David Deckelbaum, British-born bassist Dave Gould, Jonathan Miller and Shay Tochner were a regular draw for Jerusalemites who dug folk, bluegrass and country-leaning fare. Welsh-born Angela Ben-Gur, with nigh on half a century of Jerusalem residency behind her, has been a willing accomplice to Bacal, as have South African-born Tessa Shrim and Barry Nester, who hails from Montreal but spent a couple of decades in London before relocating to Jerusalem 30 years ago.“We all help out with selling tickets and checking bills, which I often get wrong,” Ben-Gur chuckles. “But Philippa does most of the work, getting the artists.”“Philippa does all the work, getting the artists,” Shrim smilingly interjects. “Philippa’s the organizer and she gives us things to do.”And there appears to be plenty “to do.” With little in the way of budget, the club has moved house a few times over the years, holding its monthly meets at such venues as Beit Yehudit, Kehillat Yedidya in Baka, the First Station and Mike’s Place.“Mike’s Place didn’t work too well,” says Bacal. “It wasn’t a good atmosphere. We were listening to the music, but there were people talking around us.”Therein lies the club’s pulling power for the musicians.“People like performing for us because we listen,” Bacal states. “The audience is quiet and they come to listen to the music. They socialize during the break, and at the beginning and at the end everyone waves and says hi, but no one talks during the shows, and they don’t mess with their mobile phones.”That sounds like a breath of fresh air in this day and age of excruciatingly brief attention spans. IN ADDITION to the big names from abroad, some of the stalwarts of the local national folk scene performed at the Jerusalem Folk Club Jerusalem Folk Music Evening.“We had [American country-folk style threesome] Jane Bordeaux before they were really well known,” Bacal notes. “And Shay Tochner was involved with the original folk club in the early '70s.”The latter’s name will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has attended Jacob’s Ladder anytime in the past four-plus decades. Guitar-and harmonica-playing Tochner, who also pitches in with vocals when required, has been a fixture on the national folk scene for as long as any of us care to remember.Other leading lights of the Israeli folkie fraternity who have strutted stuff on music evenings include Sandy Cash, O, while the blues have also been in the mix for some time, with Canadian-born Eli “Dr. Blues” Marcus making frequent appearances, while American-born blues seasoned rocker Lazer Lloyd has also thrilled the Jerusalem faithfuls over the years.
Mark Clarfield, for one, got more than he bargained for when he latched on to the folk community in his, then-recently adopted hometown of Jerusalem. The Canadian amateur guitarist-singer was only around a year into his aliyah when he noted an ad in The Jerusalem Post which was to have a profound effect on his music-making endeavor, and his life in general.“We’ve been in Israel for 27 years, and we’ve been involved with the folk scene for 26 years,” he says.While Clarfield had been merrily making mellifluous melodic instrumental and vocal sounds for some time prior to coming here, his artistic pursuit moved up several rungs after he moved here, and he is now a regular at Jacob’s Ladder, recently as a member of the delightfully titled Unstrung Heroes troupe, and putting in appearances in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere up and down the country.“I’ve been playing music for most of my life, since the early seventies,” he says. “The funny thing is we hardly, at all, played in public before we came to Israel. We played a lot at home with our family, and among friends. I would say that 95% of our appearances have taken place in Israel. There was no mandate for us to play, and we never thought we were good enough to play in public.”When people make aliyah, that generally not only entails a geographical shift, but the olim’s lives tend to undergo something of seismic transformation as they grapple to come to terms with a new language and radically different cultural and social codes. Clarfield’s social milieu certainly took on a new look here.“In Canada most of our friends were doctors,” says the medical professional. “Most of our friends in Israel are people related, in one way or another, either as performers or active listeners, to the folk scene.”It must be said that Clarfield didn’t just hang around waiting to be discovered in Jerusalem, not that he had any plans to take the local folk scene by storm.“I remember one Friday morning I was reading The Jerusalem Post. It said in the right bottom corner of page two – Folk Night AACI. I think it was a week away. It said if you’re interested call Bruce.”The said gent was a certain Bruce Brill, who was a mover and shaker behind the local arena for many a year. “He was the sort of host of the AACI folk club. We started talking about music, and I told him I played guitar.”Unbeknownst to Clarfield, the die was in the process of being cast. “After a few minutes of chatting, Bruce said to me: ‘OK, you’re on with three songs at 9 o’clock.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not why I called. We just want to come along to listen. We don’t perform.’” Clarfield’s protestations came to naught, and he, his singer wife, Ora, and often any or all of their three offspring have been playing folk music at the Jerusalem Folk Club, intermittently, over the years.Bacal puts together her lineups from an expansive hinterland.“We sometimes have students from the academy [of music of the Hebrew University], and we’ve found good players performing on Ben-Yehuda Street,” she chuckles.WHILE THERE may be no shortage of musical influx, with members of the younger crowd, such as former Mancunian singer/songwriting folk duo Portnoy, guitarist-singer Yona “Opie” Schnitzer, who does a good Dylan turn and some more rock-leaning material and a fun bunch called Folding Chairs, who met at a Jacob’s Ladder jam session, Bacal says the club itself could do with an injection of more young blood.“We have young people who love playing the music, like Ayala Ciderman, who sang an Adele song, and then another girl did it, which was actually made famous in the early '70s by Carol King. It shows that what goes around comes around, in a good way.”The Music Evening offerings also include jam sessions, house concerts, twice-a-month singing rounds and fun open-air hoots. The next musical evening – “a program of traditional and contemporary American folk and blues,” as the flier has it – is scheduled for November 12 at 8 p.m. at Kol Haneshama on Asher Street. The varied program features Schnitzer, Folding Chairs, Hebrew-language musical comic Nadav Gal and musical storyteller Seth Hoffman.“We all enjoy the music, but we really need to attract younger audiences,” Ben-Gur notes. “We get younger musicians, who bring their family and friends, but that’s not an ongoing thing.”“It’s a volunteer thing,” says Bacal. “We need younger volunteers to take over and keep it going. There’s always a great atmosphere at the shows. It’s a fun social gathering, too.”For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or 054-752-1239.