The 1980’s: the first deccenium of FATA MORGANA

During the first deccenium of FATA MORGANA’s existence the group experienced three player-changes, it gave 130 concerts in 7 different countries (of which several radio and TV appearances), and it released two cassette tapes. FATA MORGANA developed it’s own style with their own arrangements. The quartet won first prize at international competitions three times.

When Elly van der Walle heard the EMC trio playing, she realized that she also had lots of fun in group playing in earlier years, and that group playing was more challenging that playing in the orchestra. So she approached the trio asking if it were possible to change the trio into a quartet, with herself on chords. This turned out to be an excellent idea. From then, Ronald would play bass, Elly would play chords, and Rob and Erik would play chromatics. Although in the beginning they didn’t have their own arrangements yet, the group members realized the added musical value of a fourth person playing second lead (in comparison to trio playing). The date of the first rehearsal became the official founding date of the quartet: September 16, 1980. The group name had to be something different from other names in the harmonica world. Names with harmonica, chromonica or -cats were not applicable. When brainstorming, Erik thought of the name FATA MORGANA. And although this name (meaning mirage) doesn’t have anything to do with music or harmonica, it was considered so recognizable, that FATA MORGANA became the group’s name. In addition to the black and white EMC outfit the quartet chose a black bowler hat, a black shawl and white gloves. The first concert (also being the only one in 1980) was at October 29, during an EMC performance in Jurriaan Pels, a home for elderly people in Eindhoven.

Two appearances, with the second one including a humorous act in cowboy outfit, with Erik arriving with a giant suitcase, shooting the locks with a toy gun, and getting a very small little lady harmonica out to play the next piece. That was the start, it was great fun and there were multiple reasons for continuing.

The Dutch harmonica community got to know FATA MORGANA at the harmonica festival of the Dutch Accordeon and Harmonica League (Novam) in Baarn. The first radio recordings were made at the local station Omroep Brabant in October. In November, the first official group pictures were taken by Jack Ottenheijm during a photo shoot at the Autotron car museum in Drunen: the four harmonica players together with a classic Rolls Royce. Since the new repertoire also included some latin pieces, it was decided that there would be a separate Mexican outfit: ponchos and sombreros. Elly’s mother took care of the tailormade ponchos, exclusively for FATA MORGANA.

In March, it was the first time that the quartet did a harmonica presentation at a Novam accordion weekend, during the agenda-item “listening to music”. Because of the military services of Rob and Ronald (that started in July), 1982 didn’t leave much time for playing music. The quartet had registered though for the Novam harmonica festival in October in (again) Baarn. Short before the festival date, Elly turned ill, and couldn’t play. As an alternative solution, an ad-hoc trio was formed with Ronald, Rob and guest lead player Dirk Neerhoff, who at the time didn’t know yet that he would become a FATA MORGANA member himself four years later.

Because of Rob and Ronald being in the army, 1983 started without FATA MORGANA activity. Only when (in April) an invitation for a radio recording was received, the group became active again. The invitation was for a TROS radio show called “Tongen en toetsen” (reads and keys) on the classical station Radio 4. When planning the first rehearsal, Elly said that because of other activities, she wanted to leave the group. So Ronald, Erik and Rob had to find a new chord player. Arnoud Jansveld was playing chords in the EMC orchestra and was interested in group playing. He became the new FATA MORGANA chord player as of May 1983. After a few weeks, the group had four classical pieces on the repertoire that were recorded in the NCRV studios in Hilversum on June 17. More pieces were added, and in the autumn of 1983 the group was able to play concerts again. This year FATA MORGANA did play as a quartet at the Novam harmonica festival in October (in Rotterdam). When the festival evening concert was over, the group went to Jazzclub L’ Esprit together with the Dutch trio Rapido’s and the German trios Blizza Harmonica Gang and Picca Trio. They had a great time with their jam-sessions that went on for several hours.

The first concert in 1984 was at a gospel night, organized by The Young Gospel Singers (the group in which Ronald played the piano). This FATA MORGANA performance lead to their first TV appearance. The Dutch broadcasting organization EO celebrated that they had reached a higher status with more broadcasting time. FATA MORGANA took part in the TV-show to celebrate this achievement. Whereas all other singers and musicians used playback tapes, the technicians had to provided FATA MORGANA with microphones that actually worked. This for the simple reason that FATA MORGANA didn’t even have a recording available to be used as a playback tape. In May, the first performance at a harmonica festival abroad followed: Duisburg, Germany. When Arnould couldn’t make it to a concert in October because of illness, FATA MORGANA played with an alternative line-up: Erik played chords, and Olga Kamminga played Erik’s chromatic part. In November, the group tested a new concept. Being asked to play a 90 minute show, they played as a quartet, but also as a seven piece band with Ronald on piano, Arnoud on drums, Erik and Rob playing chromatic harmonica, Henk Lagewaard on bass guitar, Wijnand Jansveld (Arnoud’s brother) on guitar and Olga Kamminga playing mandolin. With a total of 21 pieces, the 90 minute show was realized. Because of an increase in revenue and expenses, FATA MORGANA started proper accounting, with Ronald becoming the first treasurer.

The year 1985 started with a performance at a “harmonica promotion event” in Veldhoven that would lead to the foundation of the Veldhoven Harmonica Club (VMV). Throughout the year there were two clear highlights: the release of the cassette tape FATA MORGANA and the participation at the SMI harmonica festival in Lenzburg, Switzerland. In March the 14 pieces for the tape were recorded in one weekend and the mastering was done in April. The tapes were ready on time for selling in Lenzburg an by the end of the year, quite a number of them had been sold.

At the Lenzburg festival (with numerous guests from several countries) FATA MORGANA presented itself for the international harmonica world. They borrowed Arnoud’s father’s car for the ride to Switzerland and had a wonderful three days.

The performances in 1985 also included four harmonica presentations at Novam accordion weekends and an EMC/Novam harmonica festival in October in Eindhoven. According to the local newspaper (printed the Monday after the festival) “…the jury considered FATA MORGANA to be the real stars of the festival…”. In November the first investments were made regarding sound equipment: the group purchased some microphones, cables and speakers.

Arnoud went to Delft university in 1986, making rehearsal planning more difficult. Yet the group played 16 concerts that year. Erik had found a girlfriend, Cobie, and they wanted to get married. Since Cobie lived in Groningen, Erik decided to move and since 250km one-way was too far, he had to leave FATA MORGANA. The last time the quartet played with Erik was at the Novam harmonica festival in Rotterdam in November.

Again the group had to search for a replacement. By coincidence, Ronald met former EMC-member Dirk Neerhoff, and it was agreed that Dirk would become the new chromatic player in FATA MORGANA as on early 1987. In September the quartet was invited to play a concert in Solingen, Germany, as a replacement for the Picca trio who couldn’t make it due to other obligations. Although as a trio, FATA MORGANA delivered a good performance and in the following years, the group would play as a replacement for the Picca trio several times. Additional money was invested in the sound system and by the end of 1986, FATA MORGANA had a complete system of their own and didn’t need to ask EMC for (a part of) their equipment. This was also the time when the FATA MORGANA members decided that they would leave the EMC orchestra in order to concentrate fully on their quartet activities.

Dirk spent much effort on studying the FATA MORGANA repertoire. 1987 ended up with 15 quartet performances, including 5 radio shows, the wedding of Erik and Cobie (where Erik joined the group for one tune as well), the Novam harmonica festival in ’s-Hertogenbosch, and a special evening in Westerhoven. At this occasion, FATA MORGANA played 8 performances of 20 minutes each, at 4 different locations in holiday parc Kempervennen: it turned out to be very exhausting and the group decided not to take on such performances again. The absolute highlight of 1987: the World Harmonica Championships at the island of Jersey in October.

Since Ronald and Rob had participated in recording activities (with Jim Hughes and Ivan Richards) in the UK in May ’87 and donated their revenues to the group, FATA MORGANA could afford the trip. The Jersey week was spectacular. The quartet members met many harmonica legends like Tommy Reilly, Larry Adler, Sigmund Groven, Pete Pedersen, Helmuth Herold, Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats, The Adler Trio, Pete Madcat Ruth, Al and Judy Smith and Cham-Ber Huang. Championship organizer Jim Hughes asked FATA MORGANA to play during the official opening ceremony. The next day the quartet played in the group competition and won first prize. Another two appearances during evening concerts followed. It definitely became one of the greatest events in the history of the group. By the way: the results of the recording activities of Ronald and Rob with Jim and Ivan would only surface in 2005.

In June 1988, Arnoud announced that wanted to quit playing harmonica and leave the group in December. So the other members had a few months to find a new chord player. Lex de Rijck was not a member of the EMC harmonica orchestra, but Ton Scheepers (conductor of the EMC orchestra, who was also a music teacher) knew Lex, because Lex had asked him to teach him how to play the chromatic. That’s how Ronald, Dirk and Rob met Lex, and they got along well: Lex would start playing chords in FATA MORGANA as of January 1989. But before then, 1988 came to be the bussiest year ever for the quartet, with 25 concerts. 5 radio performances, 4 concerts abroad. It began with a show in Genk, Belgium, where the group was not allowed to use their own sound system. Since then, FATA MORGANA hardly ever agrees on using other equipment. Then there were the DHV harmonica festival in Leichlingen, Germany and the SMI Festival in Eglisau, Switzerland. A few days before leaving for the Swiss festival, Arnoud told the group that he wouldn’t join for the trip to Eglisau. A trio repertoire (5 pieces) was prepared quickly with Dirk on chromatic and Rob on chords. In October, FATA MORGANA was part of the NHL British Championships and Festival, in Solihull (near Birmingham, UK). Having spent a few days in London first, the group travelled to the center of England, to arrive at the B&B of Michael Jackson (that was his real name…) Then the next day to Solihull, for a bass harmonica workshop, judging during the competitions, and playing a concert at the evening gala concert.

In the same month, the first IHO festival took place: Harmonica Happening Helmond Holland. Next to playing as a quartet, an ad-hoc group was formed together with harmonica trio Blue Sharp from Rotterdam. Initially intended to be a seven-piece group, it was named Septime. But one of the Blue Sharp players quit, and it became a six-piece group: FATA MORGANA together with Herman van der Knaap and Richard Minderman. Before the group actually went on stage, nobody knew who Septime was. Yet there were rumors that “…this was a very talented group…”. (??) November 12, FATA MORGANA played its last concert with Arnoud on chords. The biggest part of the recordings for the second cassette-tape happened in December in Rob’s home, enabling Arnoud to participate. In the meantime, Lex had started practicing.

He had hardly started practicing, but on January 20, Lex already played a few pieces at a concert in Rotterdam. He spend a lot of time and effort, and it didn’t take the group long to be fully operational again. After some 200 hours of studio work, the cassette-tape Four Brothers was ready. It was presented at the RMC (Rotterdam Harmonica Club) annual party in Rhoon at April 1st.

In May, FATA MORGANA participated at the accordion- & harmonica festival in Innsbruck, Austria. In order to avoid unnecessary pressure for Lex, the group didn’t play in the competition. The pressure was programmed for October: FATA MORGANA had to defend its world title at the harmonica world championships in Trossingen. The quartet performance in the group competition was fine: playing their own arrangements of Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto and Michel Fugain’s Un Type Normal, FATA MORGANA left the other six group behind them and won first prize again.

The best part of the festival turned out to be an informal get-together (not part of the official program) with Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats, the Adler Trio, Pete Pedersen, the Picca Trio and the Blizza Harmonica Gang.