There are not many Elvis fan clubs in the world that can gather 700 fans in a prestigious location for an evening of Elvis music in a showroom.
The United Elvis Presley Fan Club of Belgium succeeds in this feat with a degree of regularity that is quite astonishing. Even though Belgium is one of the smallest European countries, Hubert Vindevogel, president of the UEPS for more years that he probably cares to remember, has honed the presentation of Elvis shows to a fine art.
This year's main event took place on 18 October in the prestigious Casino at the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke. The Casino is one of the most enviable locations imaginable, having hosted tens of international stars, including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Edith Piaf, Elton John and Jacques Brel (who was Belgian, incidentally). Furthermore, its interior decoration gives it added allure: the largest chandelier in the world welcomes guest in the foyer (2000 lights in no less than seven tons of Venetian crystal!) and provides an impressive introduction to murals by Keith Haring, Paul Delvaux and, the absolute topper, a more than 70 metre long mural by no less than René Magritte. What a setting!
The doors opened at six o'clock and Elvis fans were soon queuing to collect their reserved tickets and their free gift of a promo-CD called "Elvis, King of The World," the title also used for the event. If any fans had hoped to buy tickets at the Casino itself, they were disappointed, for all 700 had already long been sold out.
Passing under the enormous chandelier and climbing the stairs to the upper level, the fans had a chance to meet and greet the performers and to enter the magnificent Magritte Room, home of the aforementioned mural and, for the evening, also of an impressive Elvis Boutique.
The show began shortly after eight o'clock with the poignant sight of a stage devoid of players, but with Elvis's voice singing "King Of the Whole Wide World." The first part of the evening's entertainment then got under way with a performance by a Dutch group called René Shuman and Angel-Eye. Denim-clad and with a largely rock-and-roll repertoire, these two young performers provided an excellent opening, with numbers such as "Rip It Up," "Long Tall Sally" and "Let's Have A party." Angel-Eye showed that she had studied the piano-style of Jerry Lee Lewis with her accompaniment to "Great Balls Of Fire" and René Shuman provided admirable vocals and lead-guitar. The duo is currently riding high in the Dutch hit-parade with their own version of Elvis's "Don't Be Cruel" and this was used to close their part of the show -- a catchy and unusual arrangement, helping to bring Elvis to the younger generation.
After a short pause, during which the fans again had the opportunity to admire and perhaps buy items at the Elvis Boutique, it was time to return to the showroom for the real attraction of the evening, Terry Mike Jeffrey. Terry Mike has been a favourite of Belgian fans for many years and rightly so. He has a charming personality and performs Elvis songs with a great voice, but does not fall into the trap of imitation -- no jumpsuits, no sunglasses, no exaggerated "Elvis movements."
Terry Mike Jeffrey appeared onstage accompanied by two keyboard players (one of whom being his wife), a bass player, drummer, and a percussionist (his son, Adam); he provided lead-guitar himself. His first number was "Devil In Disguise," which segued into a succession of songs to provide a great Elvis medley. What a start! The following numbers not only demonstrated his great voice, but also his guitar playing, and a superb solo during "That's All Right, Mama" seemed to indicate that his playing had got even better! Son Adam took over the spotlight briefly to offer a swinging version of "Johnny B. Goode," which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Terry Mike slowed the tempo down by accompanying himself on the piano during a very lovely rendition of "Young and Beautiful."
Duke Bardwell played bass during more than 200 of Elvis's shows and Terry Mike introduced this seldom-seen link with Elvis next. This was Duke's very first appearance in Europe, a real accomplishment for the UEPS of Belgium! Duke accompanied Terry Mike on several numbers, including a steamy version of "Steamroller Blues." The audience was pampered again when Terry Mike announced Charlie Hodge. Charlie seemed to have aged considerably, but still managed to put on a good show with Terry Mike, singing duet with him on such numbers as "Help Me" and "Don't Cry Daddy." His professionalism came to the fore when the two of them gave a quite excellent rendition of the seldom performed number, "I Will Be Home Again."
All too soon Terry Mike announced his closing number -- "Suspicious Minds." Wow, that was good, and the audience simply wouldn't let him leave the stage! As an encore, he performed "American Trilogy," which got the whole house on its feet. If Terry Mike had kept on singing, nobody would have complained, but the show had come to an end, leaving 700 Elvis fans very happy indeed.