My son Richard and I turned up at Tilburg Railway Station late Friday evening with the idea from the hotel Website that their premises were "nearby", so a leisurely walk seemed in order: several kilometers it turned out, a long hike but too late to turn back by the time we realised just how far it was.

The 43rd International Cliff & Shadows Fan Meeting itself was eventful enough, in fact there was so much going on that it would have required tremendous stamina to sit through the lot: I wonder how many people did? Maybe there are Shads fans who can listen to umpteen different goes at THE SAVAGE (the flavour of the weekend it seemed), but Richard and I are not among them. In fact, we were pretty selective and spent much of the time talking (as well as visiting Utrecht's giant Record Fair on Saturday morning). I learned much, as expected, from Jim Nugent, Alan Taylor, Alan McKillop, Ulrich Sasu and others, and Richard and I conversed at length and at various times over the weekend with Ronnie Gustafsson, a great guy and a great player: one of the guitar giants, one of my heroes from way back!

Ronnie had talked at length to Jim, Alan T., Richard and myself about the "Pistolesi theory", to which he is a convert, on Friday evening, and at Saturday lunchtime he staged a brief demonstration with a Gretsch. My own view is and remains that this is a false scent, though I can see the appeal to the host of players who vainly strive, with all the variables in force for any given recording now wholly beyond recall, for the unattainable, a replica of the original Shadows' sound. Since Roberto Pistolesi, the main exponent of the idea, was indisposed and unable to attend, it seems unfair to comment in detail on the demonstration so eloquently mounted by Ronnie. All I will say is that I have not yet heard from a Gretsch the attack and bite in evidence on the early recordings - not so much via vinyl reproduction with the associated benign distortion which rounds off the sound, but certainly on CD (CD, that is, played on high resolution equipment).

Nor am I attracted by the notion put about by some (not by Ronnie himself I should add) that we are dealing with a group conspiracy, a secret pact to close ranks and assert that they were true to the Fender brand but in reality did not give these instruments the time of day (on the Pistolesi theory: according to him in the early days the Fender was barely touched! This is in total contrast to what Jet Harris told me at the last Shadowmania event, that the moment Hank acquired the Fender, he was "welded" to it). No doubt the Gretsch theory will rumble on - unless the question is taken to a different level and subjected to more rigorous scrutiny.

As for the music on offer, since this Website entry only sets out to record impressions, I will be brief, and let the pics taken by Richard evoke some of the busy atmosphere. Jens [Jens Varmlose] And Friends (in various incarnations) were impressive, not least because they attempted to do different things with Shadows material. The most striking number by far in my view was the Emmanuel -influenced rendition of SHINDIG by band-member Danny Franklin, though his attempt at Hanks's DANCE WITH ME (in the wake of maestro Earl Klugh), was less assured.

Jens and Friends

The Mustangs provided some welcome diversification: not a Shads tribute band to put it mildly. I have CDs, including live CDs, from this group, but to be honest I have rarely listened to one from beginning to end at one go: the music, exciting as it usually is, is a bit relentless and uncompromising for that in my view. On the other hand, both of their sessions at Tilburg left me wanting to hear more. True, they knocked through the numbers at dazzling speed, with scarcely time for a sip of beer between numbers, but their technical brilliance was awesome. The expressionless lead guitarist's guard was dropped only occasionally: what Alan Taylor and I agreed were two and a half slips on MIDNIGHT elicited two and a half unmistakable smiles, so the picture was not entirely bleak!

The Mustangs

Ronnie's band 1961 (not the original band) performed on the Saturday and closed proceedings on the Sunday. The instrumentals were tremendously enjoyable, the more so as two of the Clerwell trademark numbers were offered (would that there had been more though). A surprise was the inclusion on both spots of a few country songs, which seemed incongruous in this setting; there is nothing like variety, but I did not expect the final encore to give the audience yet another song in this style. Still, an unforgettable experience.

1961 with country vocalist

Ronnie Gustafsson of 1961

To conclude with one band which was quite new to me, Indra and Parc Avenue Connection. Jim Nugent had said that they were first-rate, and he was right (it was a bit unnerving that Jim and I in one evening actually found ourselves agreeing about something no fewer than five times, and not just about the untouchable Beatles!). I have never seen anyone perform with such gusto, and poise, as the Sri-Lankan lead guitarist (resident in Switzerland), and the choice of material was imaginative: not a string of the grossly over-subscribed classics, but numbers like VALENCIA and ADIOS MUCHACHOS. And the rendition of SHADOOGIE (the oldie, not the glossy new version) was simply brilliant, both in musical and presentational terms. My only complaint here is that they did not play for much longer!

Indra with Brian "Licorice" Locking

Indra and Parc Avenue Connection

Finally, something of a rogue's gallery: a few pics of the people who spent a lot of the time talking and arguing about our favourite group. Click on the pics for an enlargement and credits.

The Rouge's Gallery of Tilburg, April 2003

Photographs © Richard Campbell

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