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Elvis Party Weekend in England
(Festival organized by the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain and The Commonwealth)

Célia Carvalho, October 1994

celiamcarvalho@gmail.com

1994 - Célia com James Burton. 1994 - James Burton with Célia.
Legends: Me, with James Burton, during his autograph session / And right before James left, when we said goodbye.

And the story goes on...! It's incredible. We went and we're back; I can't hardly believe it. Before I start this article, I have to confess some things to you. This year I was very sad about some aspects surrounding Hemsby.

1.    We would have only two days and a half of Elvis fun, instead of a whole week, like the previous year. When I knew about this, I was very sad...! If a whole week hadn't been enough...

2.    Isabel Gonçalves couldn't come this year and I was going to miss her terribly in the festival. We're friends for more than 10 years after all, and Elvis fans for longer than that. Manuel Monteiro was supposed to go as well, but couldn't go for professional reasons.

3.    Peter and Eddie (remember them? The boys I met in Hemsby last year? I kept in touch ever since) wouldn't be in the festival this year. Eddie didn't have enough money (unemployed) and as Peter hadn't find a job either and Eddie wasn't going, he wouldn't be there as well. Bummer... I would have loved to see them again.

It was with this sad spirit (and also excitement, of course!) that I left with Ana, Paulo and Carlos Santos for the adventure of this year in England. The flights and train journeys were okay, in spite of the fact that we "carried" our luggage for 10 hours in a row! The worst thing was to listen to Carlos, who was impatient to arrive and didn't shut up - "We never get there...!"


Legenda: Me, inside the plane, London bound.

The weather in London was fabulous, a sun shiny day, just like last year. I swear I'll never believe in that story of the England capital filled with fog, clouds and rain! I was feeling glad for not having taken my umbrella.

During the 3 hours train ride, from London to Great Yarmouth, I couldn't stop thinking about lots of things and I couldn't help making comparisons to the previous year. I didn't see anyone that looked like going to the Festival, I just saw a guy with slicked back hair and sideburns. I didn't see any t-shirts, or heard Elvis music playing or find fan club's buttons on peoples clothes.

When we arrived at Great Yarmouth station, we dropped our luggage, since we didn't see any bus carrying the sign "ELVISI PRESLEY FAN CLUB ON TOUR" and assumed it hadn't arrived yet. Maybe because I was carrying my membership card and because of Carlos' sideburns, a guy asked us if we were going to Hemsby. We said yes and only then we noticed an Arena Travel bus (the agency that takes care of the fan club's trips) parked nearby. We got in - no Elvis music was playing, and only 12 people were inside... "So different from last year," I thought, with sadness. Only Carlos was raving about it, very happy for being so close to our destination and, of course, he didn't have any memories to cloud his brain like I did.

However, when I saw the Hemsby camp, I cheered and felt at home. When the bus drove up the drive-way and turned right to access the camp, I jumped over my seat. Everything looked the same! Except for the absence of Elvis photos on the windows. Only then we found out that this year no window dressing contest was going to take place. Better luck next time... we were going to hang our Elvis flag just the same, the one that read PORTUGAL.

We had asked John Coventry (one staff member from last year who interviewed us on TVE and takes care of the travels) to stay in the same chalet. Now we couldn't stop wondering - would we or wouldn't we? It would be great if we did, for every reason - nice location, quiet (this is a bit relative!) and also for a question of good ol' nostalgia feelings, very characteristic of the Portuguese people!

Ana went to fetch the keys, the programmes and the Bingo tickets at the reception while we remained on Elvis Presley Boulevard waiting. Bob Bacon strolled by (the man who got us the electricity plug the previous year and that we took with us this time!) and he remembered me and the others too, I think, since he said hello acknowledging us. In the meantime, I heard the lady saying some numbers that sounded like music to my years: "472." Hey, that's the number of "our" apartment! We were very happy and we got there faster and everything!

We got home, threw our luggage over the beds and, as arranged, we decided to go to the beach shop. Last year we hadn't go there and Eddie and Peter bought lots of Elvis stuff there at cheap prices. Of course we checked the programme first and as only the disco was the thing that interested us on that day, off we went. Bad luck, the shop was closed! But it was worth it to see that part of the village by night. Yes, 05.00pm and it was already dark! It was worth it because it's like a mini Las Vegas, with lots of lights, casinos and hotels names, very similar to LV. On the way back, Carlos realized he lost his pass! We weren't there for one hour yet and he already had lost his pass... Ana and I decided to go and check the place out to see if everything remained the same, while the boys went to search for Carlos' pass.

We were going to the Tupelo Shopping Mall (the place were Elvis stuff was sold), when we realized that the goodies were being sold at Lowe's Theater (which, this year, was called Norfolk's Bar). Needless to say that we stuck there for a while. There was Elvis music playing, the bar was open, the room was considerably full and I immediately saw a familiar face - Mick Haywood, the man that last year let us film our TVE appearance and from whom I bought three different Elvis patterns to knit a sweater, especially for Hemsby. He recognized me and said hello. He introduced me to his daughter, Lisa Marie, who's very nice.

After that I started to pick some Elvis articles. While I was looking, someone covered my eyes with his/her hands. The hands were cold and as I saw a glimpse of a jacket, I thought that maybe the boys were already back. But it was strange, since they had to come back running to be there already. I turned. And guess who I saw? Peter (he was the one covering my eyes) and Eddie! I think I opened my mouth with surprise and said (in Portuguese): "What is this...?!" They just laughed and Ana said, "This? This is Eddie and Peter." Those little bastards just said in one voice, "We lied!" Sons of a gun! They lied to me the WHOLE year! But I was so happy to see them.

A very strange feeling started to come over me, which prevailed from the beginning till the end. I felt like a year hadn't gone by, but just a few days, and that was merely a follow-up. I found myself saying, at least three times, "last week" instead of "last year".

After I bought two books, we went home and found "our" boys at the reception area - they had found Carlos pass. I must say Carlos was overwhelmed with everything. He couldn't stop saying that it was very cool, a different world apart, where no-one found anyone strange or weird, regardless their age, sex or nationality. It's quite true. He wasn't telling us nothing new. I could tell he was also catching the "Hembsy bug".

I went home and put my Elvis jumper on, the one I knitted with the Loving You pattern and went to have dinner at the canteen. When Mick saw me with the jumper on, he was overjoyed! He said it was beautiful, that it was the best Elvis jumper he had seen and he wanted everybody to see it. "I'm so sorry Lisa isn't here rightnow...!", he complained. Actually, that Elvis pattern was made by his wife, who died a couple of years ago and that's why he was so emotional.

As usual, the disco is the meeting point. It was weird because although Hemsby seemed more empty than last year, when we got there, it was full just the same. I looked inside and saw another familiar face - Neil (the winner of the 70's mimes contest in 1993). Only he looked different. He had dyed his hair jet black and I must say it shocked me a little, maybe because I met him with his natural colour (light brown) last year and it seemed weird to me. Would he participate the mimes contest again this year? Would he wear the same jumpsuit?

Oh... there were Eddie and Peter, sitting in the entrance steps. I sat between them and we started to update the news. We talked a lot and it was great. Carlos and Paulo danced, Ana was filming. I wasn't in the mood to dance because the disco didn't feel quite right. Then I understood why - the disc-jockey wasn't Gary Baines. This guy is great and the one on that night didn't know a thing about the fans tastes. He didn't play the songs with choreographies (or "Elvis aerobics", as they call it) and played very slow songs at the beginning, which slowed the rhythm down.

While I was there I saw *lots* of familiar faces from the previous year and that gave me a comfortable welcome feeling. I'm glad they were all there, otherwise it would have been awful. I've got to be quite honest about this: the disc-jockey was awful. He didn't play the songs until the end and broke them abruptly with some silent seconds in between (instead of mixing them); sometimes he played two songs at once and didn't interact with the fans like Gary did. To make things worse, the giant screen (last year we had just one, this year we had two, which was an improvement) wasn't properly used. Instead of showing Elvis singing and dancing with us, they just let the same image of a photo to be there, sitting still for an eternity. Very honestly, I didn't like it. They could have done a terrific job and didn't because they didn't put more effort into it.

I was lost in my own thoughts when I looked up and saw James Burton standing there, looking at the bunch of people dancing, right behind us. I yelled of surprise, astonishing Eddie and Peter and gestured for them to look up. They weren't as thrilled as I was, at least that I could see.They prefer the 50's and I can't blame them for that. As you know, I can't tell which is my Elvis favorite phase! For those who don't know (I doubt there are any, but here it goes), James Burton was Elvis main guitar player since 1969 until the end of his life. He took part in several studio sessions, some soundtracks and countless live concerts. Elvis thought he was "the best guitar player I've ever heard in my life."

This year we had different dances! If you could only see our silly gestures, TRYING to imitate the teachers who were showing us how to dance on stage! Probably many people will laugh of us this year. Some gentlemen of the English TV channel East Anglia were there, filming the festival to make a documentary that was aired on the 18th December. Too bad we couldn't see it. "Our" Carlos was even interviewed by them for the programme! And we were always right in front of the cameras, so they could capture us.


Legends: Carlos, at the disco, on different days.

The following day we tried to try our luck with the beach shop again, since Peter assured me it was open on Saturdays. But we went too early. It was still closed... That wasn't too bad, the worst thing was the heavy rain that fell on our way back and none of us had an umbrella! Now is funny, but at the time I was infuriated and was happy I had the presence of mind of bringing an extra jacket, since that one was completely soaked...!

We went to see the 10.30am karaoke, but not many people were participating. I bought 3 video tapes and the 1995 calendar to compensate and went home to leave them there. We tried the beach shop again and, by some miracle, it wasn't raining and it was open! Who did we find there shopping around? Eddie and Peter. I bought a bunch of old magaznes (many from the time Elvis was still alive, from 1965 onwards) and came back home runing. I didn't want to catch another rain shower!

After lunch we saw the 50's mimes contest. Can you believe this? The same kid from last year won...! But only 4 participants were there this time, while in 1993 they were, at least, 10. The afternoon's karoke was better and the room was relatively full. Speaking of karaokes, I'll never forgive Carlos for not having participated. He said he would, but, when the time came, he chickened out and sat still with us singing for our table...! He already stepped on a stage more than once. We had an excuse, he didn't. As usual, karaokes are loads of fun. You should have seen the performance of a group of 8 friends that sang Pat Boone's Speedy Gonzalez. I always liked this song and now, each time I see the filming of that particular moment, I laugh a lot! On the introductory sequence of "la-la-la-la-la..." (you know how it goes), they all yelled so loud and with such screeching voices that the whole audience covered their ears with their hands and some acted like they wanted to run under the tables...!

After the karaoke, there was a kind of mask ball competition. We had a horse, an arab man (who was a girl in disguise), an Hawaiian girl (who was a boy in disguise), clowns, a tin-man, etc. We also had two Elvises - a young boy with a jumpsuit that intended to be similar to one that Elvis wore in 1970, in That's The Way It Is, the chain suit; and a man who had quite a beautiful jumpsuit - a reproduction of Aloha suit, complete with cape, belt, shades, leis and everything. He looked good and was quite photographed. Eddie took a photo of me next to him. He was from Wales, nice, but a little self-assured. I saw him with another suit, Sundial suit, that Elvis wore in CBS TV Special in 1977, with the Mayan calendar drawned on his chest and back.

Well, what we were all looking forward to was James Burton's concert. As we couldn't find any sign anywhere sayig it was forbidden to film, we were hopeful. Before that, James sat at Norfolk Bar for 3 hours to sign autographs. Jenson Bloomer (Mondo Carne's vocalist, who was going to perform with James and already had performed with Scotty and D.J.) was standing there, selling photos of James. I looked at him and he said hello from afar. I smiled. I had already asked if we could use our video camera during the festival and he had said yes, except maybe, in James Burton's concert. But, from what I could gather, James didn't object to it and whoever wanted to film, could do it. Of course we also did!

1994 - James Burton, na sessão de autógrafos.
Legend: James Burton giving me his autograph.

When my turn to have an autograph arrived, I put my pass on the table, so James could see my name and write down on my programme. He reached his hand to hold mine.

- I'm very pleased to meet you. - he said.
- And I'm very pleased to meet you. - I stuttered.
- Where are you from, honey? - I think he asked because he found my surname strange.
- Portugal. - I replied.
- Portugal, huh? I didn't see you last night.
- But I saw you! - I told him.

He smiled while he was signing my programme, with the words "To Celia, peace + love, James Burton", Paulo shot us together holding hands. I found him quite nice, I really did. I didn't have a very good opinion on James, although I think he's a genious with a guitar. But my views on him changed a bit, especially after the concert. I'll tell why later on.


Legend: James Burton with me, Ana, Paulo and Carlos.

Before the show started, the disco was functioning for a few hours and I danced for a while to be in the mood for the concert, and also to get a good spot right in front, close to the stage and sitting on the floor. The concert began with the 2001 theme and it was thrilling to be there, listening and feeling everything.

1994 - James Burton ao vivo.

The highlights were Polk Salad Annie, Steamroller Blues and Suspicious Minds. As surprising as it may sound, I was quite disappointed with Johnny B.Goode's number, maybe because James played at the same with Mondo Carne's guitar player. I think he should have done it alone. And Jenson didn't seem thrilled enough with this song. An American Trilogy was the highlight, but Hurt was Jenson's best rendition. He was able to prove to some non-believers (like Carlos) that the man has got voice. And what a voice! I really enjoyed his work on this song. James Burton's attitude throughout the whole show was always the same, as if he wasn't the star and it wasn't for him that we were there. He was all dressed in black, with a collar that had musical notes silver lining and a small guitar shaped tie (if we can call it that) in gold and silver. A nice touch. The guitar he carried wasn't the famous pink one, but it was red. It didn't interfere with his mastery, though. James pulled out great sounds from his guitar and, as Carlos is saying the whole time, "blessed hands he has". The moment I most enjoyed in the concert was during Steamroller Blues, when Jenson, without quite realizing, said "Play it, James" like Elvis always did. I loved his joy expression for actually saying that to the one and only James Burton, on the same stage with him. That boy and that band of his are really fortunate. They're Elvis fans, after all, and this is the third Elvis connected big name (as far as I know) with whom they work and socialize.

After the concert, we saw James on Elvis Presley Boulevard, looking in a hurry and ready to leave. This happened on Saturday night, 28 October, and he had arrived on Friday night. We braved ourselves and approached him. I was the spokesman (or shall I say, spokeswoman!), so to speak. I told him we were Portuguese fans and that we would love if he told us a funny Elvis story to share with our friends. He reached for his pocket and took two business cards (advertising his bar - Rock'n'Roll Café, in Shreveport, Louisiana, as it was expected). He gave me one and he gave Ana another. He asked us to write him to that address, explaining who we were and where we had seen him. He wasn't going to share any story with us now because he was in a hurry and as he was writing a story on Elvis (I didn't understand if it was a book, we hope so!), if we dropped him a line, he would answer and send several information. Well, we have to try, to see if he sticks to his word! I asked him to take another photo. "Just one more, for the road," I said. He found it funny and put an arm around my waist. He looked at me and said, "It's too bad that I have to leave, otherwise we could get all together and have a party." How nice...!

Carlos, who was emotional about the show, had gone home to recover and lost all these moments. While I was talking with James, Paulo went running to fetch him, but he didn't manage to get even a photo, because James was running and getting inside a taxi that would take him to the airport, I presume. He forgot his beer on the reception's counter, however, half full. And Carlos, to make up for having missed him, drank the rest of if and brought the empty bottle home as a souvenir! I went outside to watch James leaving. It was raining. He saw me and waved goodbye. I waved back. Incidently, the guys, Ana and I were the only people present when James left... I really liked James. If he answers back when we write to him, I'll like him even more.

When I went to buy 2 more video cassettes and 9 CD's, Mick asked me to wear my Elvis jumper, so Lisa could see it. I promised him I would. When he saw me on Sunday's morning without it, he was sad, and told me, "You said you would wear it..." I renewed my promised. But he was looking so miserable and doubtful, that I ran home and put it on. When he saw me, he was so happy that he asked to take a photo with him and another one just of myself, "to publish in the magazine", he said. I don't know which magazine he was referring to. He asked me if I minded and I said no. When Lisa saw me, she said, "Finally! He hasn't done anything else besides mentioning your jumper to me..."


Legends: Me, with Mick Haywood, at his request, so he could have a photo of me with my jumper on.

After lunch, at 02.00pm, the 70's mimes contest took place. Of course Neil was one of the contestants. And he wore the same jumpsuit. I was hoping he would wear another, but then again, they must be very expensive. His suit was actually bought in Memphis. When I saw him, I immediately realized the black hair effect. It created a more close to the reality illusion and Neil must have been on a diet, because the suit was looser and fit much better. This year we had 6 participants. Of course Neil won again. His performance was much better than last year's. He moved and danced more, he never forgot to mime the singing and he didn't move his lips as much as he did last year. I think he must have seen some filming on himself and tried to correct the mistakes. At the end of his performance, I approached him and asked for a photo. He was exhausted (after 4 numbers, just miming!) and drenched in sweat, but he didn't deny my request. He got up, put his arm around my shoulders and Paulo snapped the photo. He thanked me for having photographed him...! He's very nice and actually quite shy. That night, at the disco, Peter agreed with me. Neil was much better than last year - he did karaté moves and streteched his legs. "But did you notice how tired he was?" Peter stressed. "And he was only dancing! My God, I don't think we'll ever imagine what Elvis must have been through..." It's true. By the end of two days singing and cheering at the disco, we were all hoarse. I still am! And Elvis sometimes gave 2 to 3 concerts a night, during a whole month, in Las Vegas, where the hot and dry hair is awful to anybody's throat. Elvis was unquestionably unique...


Legends: Neil Holland's participation in this year's competition and my photo with him, at the very end.

That night, at the Bingo, we took our tickets to try our luck - a trip to Memphis for two people, with everything paid, in January to attend to Elvis' 60th Birthday celebrations, was at stake. Of course Lady Luck didn't smile on us, but she passed pretty close. A lady sitting next to us made full house at the same time another gentleman did. It was painful for me to witness the casting vote. I can well imagine how painful it was for the lady to lose the trip she had just won seconds before. She returned to her seat, close to us, looking extremely sad. However, when the responsible person was congratulating the winner and said that she wouldn't be leaving empty-handed, my eyes filled with tears when I looked at her. She was weaping. I looked at Ana. She had her eyes filled with tears as well. They gave her a trip just for her and not two people, also to Memphis in January. She was so happy! It wasn't happening to me, but I was quite moved. Can you imagine what she had to go throught? She won, she lost and she won again! Damn, you have to have nerves of steel not to break in a situation like this...

We couldn't believe that our stay in Hemsby was ending. On the last day, thank goodness, Gary Baines was the disc-jockey at the disco. I danced more in these two days than in the whole week last year and it was great. But the shows weren't over yet. The best was yet to come, although we didn't know. An English band was going to perform, The Jets, on Sunday night. We stayed up front, as usual. This was the best concert I saw to this day. I liked this show more than Jame Burton's or Scotty and D.J.'s. Honest! And they only played 4 Elvis songs. It was a typical 50's concert, with lots of rhythm, color and spectacular lights and sound effects. I LOVED it! We also got that on video and it's really impossible to put into words the show those 3 brother lads can put on.


Just some final considerations before ending this already long article. This my second trip to Hemsby was intended to be my last goodbye, to go there for a last time, enjoy the most I could and say farewell. I always thought that twice would be enough. But Sunday night came and I was having an awful empty feeling inside. No... not the last time. That would be too much. When we started talking about the time we should leave on that day (yes, it was 02.00am already!), different opinions were expressed. I wanted to stay longer (and so did Carlos) and Ana and Paulo didn't. "We'll come back next year!" Ana said. Carlos supported her. And kept looking at them. As if it weren't enough, Peter joined them. "Don't be sad," he said. "You return next year, with more time and Eddie and I will show you around London." That would be interesting, I thought. They live in London for years now and know the town and Elvis spots by heart. "What if there's no Hemsby next year?" I asked. We had already talked about this and we all agreed. We think that, maybe, Hemsby will be no more (concerning Elvis festivals, of course!). It seems the fan club is loosing profit with these activities and, to make things worse, some fans don't help a thing. Todd Slaughter - the fan club's President for more than 20 years and who is extremely sick rightnow, waiting for a heart transplant - said that the fan club has had more troubles in these last 4 years in Hemsby, than in the previous 10 years. And all because there are some rowdy fans who get drunk and are a nuisance. If you ask me if I'm going to return to Hemsby, I don't know what to tell you. I feel happy for having been there last year and enjoy a whole week of activities - mabye it won't be a weekly event again. And I feel happy I was there this year - who knows if there will be more conventions in Hemsby? They are trying to replace Hemsby by other places without special guests.


One more thing. Elvis was one of the youngest men in the group of people working with him and he's no longer with us. The others aren't getting any younger and, if we don't take our chances to see and meet them now, maybe we'll  just meet in the after life... It is sad to think that, soon, no-one else will be alive to tell how it was. Someone that socialized with Elvis, who breathed the same air and lived common moments with him. But this is real. Therefore, I leave you with an advice: don't waste chances that you might regret later on. Going to Memphis is everybody's dream. To see the house where Elvis lived, Graceland, is the most we can do now and the closer we can get to him (althought I think he is wherever we want him to be). But don't forget that, even though some people who worked with him on stage and studio might be there, the chances to ever see them performing live are minimum. And don't forget that Hemsby and England are closer and England is a neighbor country of the European Community and the US is on the other side of the Atlantic. Elvis is in the US, in England - wherever we want him to be, since he is inside our hearts. Don't put Hemsby aside though, just because you dream about Memphis (if you always wish for the sun, you'll never see the stars). Hemsby is great, believe me! And I know I'll be back. As for Memphis... we all shall go there - one day!

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