Saturday 31 March 1979

FRANCIS BAY (English version)

The following article is an overview of the career of Belgian trombonist, clarinettist, arranger, band leader, and conductor Francis Bay (pseudonym of Frans Bayezt). Many sources of information were used, including an interview by Bas Tukker with Mr Bayezt's son, Leo, in March 2020; all source material has been listed at the bottom of the article (cp. 'Sources & links'). The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Francis Bay's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

Een Nederlandse, iets uitgebreide versie van dit artikel is ook beschikbaar op deze website via deze link.

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2020


  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Francis Bay
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links


Born: December 27th, 1914, Kleine Gammel, Rijkevorsel (Belgium)
Died: April 24th, 2005, Bonheiden (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian


Francis Bay, who worked as a conductor for the Belgium’s Dutch-speaking broadcaster NIR-BRT for a quarter of a decade, led the Eurovision orchestra for a total of nine Belgian Eurovision entries between 1959 and 1979, working with performers such as Bob Benny, Jacques Raymond, Louis Neefs, and Ann Christy.


In December 1914, several months into the First World War, Frans Bayezt was born at his uncle’s farmstead near Rijkevorsel; his parents lived in Mechlin (Mechelen), but they had fled to the countryside when the Germans bombardment of their town began. The family returned to Mechlin in the course of the following months. Frans’ father Jan Bayezt, who was a clerk at the Belgian State Railways, dedicated all his spare hours to music, being the conductor of his neighbourhood’s concert band, Sinte-Cecilia. Naturally, Jan Bayezt was his son’s first music teacher, introducing him to the basics of music theory as well as to several instruments. Having started out on the clarinet when he was seven years old, young Frans learnt to play all brass instruments, whilst also mastering the flute and the guitar.
Years later, Francis Bay looked back with a smile on his first performance as a clarinet player in his father’s concert band. ‘Franske’ was only seven years old at the time. “It was exceedingly hot that day. Because I was thirsty as a desert camel, I had greedily downed two beers towards the end of the night. You know what happened? When I bent over to store away my clarinet, I didn’t manage to grab the box – in fact, I missed it by twenty centimetres and landed on the floor. Now, my mother and older sister had come along to look after me. When they saw what happened, mom was beyond indignant. “This should never happen again,” she exclaimed, by which she implied that I would not be allowed to perform for a considerable time. Of course, I continued performing nonetheless, but… it never happened again! I have never had a drop of beer or wine or any alcohol since. It simply doesn’t occur to me to have a drink.”
Later on, young Frans became his father’s assistant, teaching music to aspiring band members. Allegedly, though definite proof is lacking, he even conducted an orchestra himself at the age of eight. As a teenager, Frans, who was by no means an excellent pupil at regular school, studied music for up to ten hours a day. Until his seventeenth, he studied the clarinet and the trombone at Mechlin’s City Music Conservatoire, winning first prizes at his clarinet and sight-reading exams. He never seems to have considered another professional career than music. While his lessons at the academy were purely classical in outlook, the young student earned some money by playing in local ballroom orchestras. Meanwhile, his love for the clarinet was starting to be overshadowed by a maniacal passion for his other study object, the trombone. “I was simply in love with the trombone,” Bay recalled. “When I went to sleep, I put the trombone under my bed. I wanted to start every day by playing a little tune. Needless to say, the other members of my family weren’t that happy with this habit. Still, for years on end, ‘I slept with the trombone’ in order to get started practicing each morning as early as possible.”

‘Franske’ as a five-year-old boy (1920)
In 1932, breaking off his lessons at the music academy, Frans Bayezt joined the band of Carlos and André Roose, which played jazz at the Embassy, a dance hall in the heart of Brussels. Of course, Frans had gained a wealth of experience in light-entertainment music thanks to his years of playing in Mechlin’s ballroom circuit, but he found that Dixieland and swing were quite something different. The Roose brothers gave their young recruit a particularly hard time, hurling abuse at him in rehearsals. They recommended buying some American gramophone records. “I spent my last penny on them,” he admitted. “Gradually, I brought together a collection of records by Don Redman, Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Louis Armstrong, The Dorsey Brothers, Fletcher Henderson, in short: all important jazz musicians of the day. And I studied! Let me certify you that I taught myself to play jazz by listening to those gramophone records.”
Due to a combination of talent and unbridled energy, the young and aspiring musician Frans Bayezt – somewhere in the course of the 1930s he decides to adopt the English-sounding pseudonym Francis Bay – managed to build a reputation in Belgium’s live circuit, working across the country with several entertainment orchestras. With the Lionel’s Club Orchestra, he performed on nationwide radio regularly. Settling down in Liège, near the border with the Netherlands, Bay also got involved in the Dutch live circuit. Finally, in 1937, he joined Paul Godwin’s Jazz Symphonians, a high-profile light-entertainment orchestra based in the Netherlands, simply “because there was more money to be made”. For ten years, Francis Bay worked and lived in the Netherlands, taking his wife Liza and their first child, Georges, to Amsterdam. There, in between performances with Paul Godwin’s orchestra, he followed private lessons with violinist and music pedagogue Oscar Back. Probably, Bay, who had already taken up writing arrangements whilst being a member of the Lionel’s Club Orchestra, was keen to broaden his knowledge in music theory.

With Godwin, Francis Bay toured the Netherlands and Belgium, but the orchestra was also contracted for performances in Switzerland and Sweden. At some point, Bay started writing his share of the band’s arrangements as well. Furthermore, Godwin appointed young Bay as his repetiteur. The Jazz Symphonians didn’t just perform in the band circuit, but were also contracted for radio performances in Hilversum and Brussels alike. Beside his activities as a performing musician, Bay also founded a music publishing company, The Francis Bay Edition. Later on, he started a new label, Wings Music Corporation (WMC), working with a business partner, Dutchman Joop de Leur. From that moment on, Francis Bay released all his arrangements, not only for Godwin, but increasingly for other orchestras as well, under the flag of WMC.

Francis Bay (third from right) performing with the Lionel's Club Orchestra at dance hall 'Abbey', Liège

In 1939, when the Netherlands mobilised its army, some members of Paul Godwin’s Jazz Symphonians were called up to serve. Thereupon, Godwin dissolved his orchestra. Most of the other musicians, including Bay himself, switched to a new formation, Boyd Bachmann’s Show Orchestra. Bachmann, who was originally from Denmark and had actually tipped Paul Godwin off about Francis Bay back in 1937, originally was a drummer, but he won fame and popularity in the Netherlands as a comedian. Though nominally the bandleader, Bachmann lacked the background to provide the repertoire for his orchestra. For the arrangements, he relied heavily on Francis Bay. Especially after the German invasion of the Netherlands, when audiences were looking for light-hearted entertainment to forget about day-to-day life for a while, Bachmann’s orchestra met with considerable success. Their mix of happy singalong, operetta fragments, jazz – which was frowned upon by the Germans, though secretly allowed as long as the English term itself was omitted –, and Bachmann’s cabaret acts touched a sensitive chord with audiences throughout the country. In September 1941, Bachmann and his musicians also signed a contract with German-controlled Dutch radio in Hilversum for a daily entertainment show.
In the latter stages of 1942, Francis Bay left the Bachmann band and accepted the post of second conductor of the Tuschinsky Theatre Orchestra in Amsterdam. He also played in Ernst van ‘t Hoff’s radio orchestra before joining the Dick Willebrandts Dance Orchestra in the spring of 1943. This sixteen-piece big band included some of the Netherlands’ best jazz musicians; Pi Scheffer and Cees Verschoor were among them. Far from being a show orchestra like the Bachmann band had been, Willebrandts’ ensemble specialised in slick, well-crafted arrangements. From the outset, the orchestra meets with an excellent reception from audiences and reviewers alike.
Officials at the radio service were quick to recognise the value of such a superb group of musicians, signing the orchestra to record music to be used in German propaganda broadcasts of the so-called Deutsche Europasender (D.E.S.) in Hamburg. In D.E.S. programmes, intended for audiences in Britain, fresh big band sounds were interspersed with hard-hitting German war propaganda. As the Germans wanted their broadcasts to be as credible as possible, they were looking for a truly Anglo-Saxon music sound; Willebrandts’ arrangers, Pi Scheffer and Francis Bay, received permission to listen to BBC broadcasts to copy the arrangements. Working on D.E.S. broadcasts was an attractive proposition: apart from the particularly high earnings (up to 600 guilders a month), musicians taking part were exempted from forced labour in Germany. Willebrandts and his orchestra were not alone in accepting the offer; Ernst van ‘t Hoff’s band and Theo Uden Masman’s Ramblers also worked for the D.E.S. After war’s end, while the respective orchestra’s musicians went unpunished, the three bandleaders were tried and banned from their profession for several months, a relatively light sentence.

Boyd Bachmann’s Show Orchestra, with Francis Bay seated directly to the bandleader’s left

The extent to which the musicians were left in the dark about the goal of their recordings, can be perceived by reading an interview with one of Francis Bay’s fellow-bandmembers, saxophonist Cees Verschoor, “We just went to the KRO Studios (in Hilversum – BT) to record some music – and we recorded quite a lot. We were just keen to play a some tunes. We were off the street, doing no harm to anybody. By that time, in Holland, only songs in the Dutch language were allowed, whereas for that station (D.E.S. – BT) we were supposed to play jazz. We were given explicit permission to do so.” It was not until after the war, when being interrogated about the D.E.S. affair, that Verschoor understood what had happened: “They played us these propaganda broadcasts, allowing us to discover what they had done with our music. Just an example: we played a tune called ‘Between the devil and the deep blue sea’, upon which jibes and abuse were hurled at American soldiers by Lord Haw Haw, a dirty little fellow. Yes, we had been explained beforehand that they intended to use our music to thwart the BBC, but I’d never expected it to take that form.”
Unlike Verschoor, Francis Bay – like so many of his generation – was rather reluctant to speak about the years of German occupation. In fact, Bay’s youngest son, Leo (born in 1950), does not remember his father told him anything more than that he had ‘worked’, “He never spoke about the famine in Amsterdam in the last stages of the war. I think I must have come across a magazine in which I read something about how he undertook the journey from Amsterdam to Hilversum and back using a bicycle with wooden tyres, carrying the trombone on his back. My mother sometimes provided me with little glimpses of what their life must have been like back then – about how she was scared to bits when the police called at their house at Mauritsstraat in Amsterdam. She even claimed they wore Gestapo badges. As she told me, the house was packed with Jews who had found shelter there – perhaps some of my father’s colleagues, perhaps others, I don’t know. Later on, I read how Dick Willebrandts had offered financial support as well as shelter to at least two Jewish families too. My point is the following; my father, Willebrandts, and all the others… they weren’t pro-German, let alone anti-Jewish, but they had a family to support. In that situation, when a lucrative offer comes along to write arrangements and play beautiful jazz music in radio broadcasts, there wouldn’t be that many who would turn it down.”
In 1944, travelling by train from Belgium back to Amsterdam, Francis Bay narrowly survived an Allied air bombardment; one of his colleagues, trumpet player Wim van Trijffel, was killed in the onslaught. As circumstances were worsening ever further, Dick Willebrandts’ big band continued playing until the fall of 1944, when radio broadcasts from Hilversum were becoming few and far between – whereupon the orchestra was disbanded.

Dick Willebrandts’ Dance Orchestra (1943)
After the liberation of the northern half of the Netherlands in May 1945, with jazz musicians suddenly being in high demand, Francis Bay played in several dance orchestras in Belgium and Holland, including the Blue Stars and the Ramblers, whilst writing arrangements for many other ensembles. He also applied for a position in the newly founded light-entertainment orchestra of Dutch radio, Dolf van der Linden’s Metropole Orchestra, but somehow, nothing came of it. Instead, in the summer of 1946, with his former colleague Boyd Bachmann, he became joint-bandleader of a new, fourteen-piece dance orchestra, for which Bay picked the repertoire and wrote all arrangements. Having crisscrossed the Netherlands, the band travelled to France, Switzerland, Italy, and Denmark for new performances. In the summer of 1947, the orchestra went on a three-month tour across open-air theatres in Sweden.
At some point, however – perhaps inevitably so, given their different personalities and professional approaches –, the frivolous Bachmann and his introverted Flemish colleague no longer saw eye to eye. In September 1947, after their orchestra had arrived in Ghent, Bay walked out after a hefty discussion with Bachmann; most probably, the argument was about money. According to Francis Bay, though, his health was posing him problems as well. With his wife, who had never really been happy living in the Netherlands, he decided to give up his house in Amsterdam, moving in with his parents in Mechlin. 
“Utterly overstrained, I had no other option but to come back to Belgium. Doctors told me that, given my weak constitution, I had better give up any further ambitions as a professional musician. I couldn’t cope with the situation. Especially when I heard music on the radio, I could barely control my emotions.” Bay even referred to his doctors’ judgment as a “death sentence”, underlining how deeply depressed he must have felt. To make ends meet, Frans and his wife opened a small children’s clothing store in Mechlin, but their enterprise was not particularly successful; after just half a year, it went into administration.
At around the same time, Bay was approached by two amateur musicians from Mechlin, who asked him if he were interested to form a combo. In spite of his health issues, Bay decided to once again try his luck in music. In fact, it was all he ever wanted. “I’d rather die young with music than living a long life without it,” as he once explained, rather melodramatically, why he decided to give it a go. Given his experience, it was only natural that Francis Bay himself became the central figure of the new combo bearing his name: in it, he played the clarinet, alto saxophone, trombone, took care of the vocals, whilst penning all arrangements as well. For two years, Bay’s quintet played all Saturdays and Sundays at Café Royal in downtown Mechlin. At some point, they were joined by a young girl singer, Jo Leemans. In 1949, the combo were invited to perform for the radio microphones of the NIR (Nationaal Instituut voor de Radio-omroep)
, Belgium’s national broadcaster for the Dutch-speaking half of the country, helping to raise Francis Bay’s profile in his mother country, where he was not a household name yet due to his long stay in the Netherlands. Because two performances a week were not enough to support a family, Bay once more took up penning arrangements for several Dutch radio orchestras.

Performing a vocal solo, surrounded by the members of his combo at the ‘Nouveau Gaity’ cabaret club in Brussels: early 1950s
In 1951, Bay and his band were given the opportunity to go professional, being employed at Dancing Claridge in Brussels – and in the following years in several other Brussels’ palais as well, most notably the Nouveau Gaity, where the combo (meanwhile consisting of six, and later eight, musicians) played from 1952 to 1955. At Nouveau Gaity, a cabaret club, versatility was called for, as the combo was expected to provide the guests with an attractive mix of jazz, Latin, and popular local tunes, whilst they were also required to accompany theatrical performances. In those years, performances by Bay’s combo were regularly broadcast by the INR (Institut National de Radiodiffusion), the francophone equivalent of NIR radio. By virtue of his growing reputation in Belgium, Francis Bay became ever more sought-after as a replacement musician in radio orchestras, amongst which those of Ernst van ‘t Hoff and Léo Souris, whilst his arrangements were played by the classically oriented Omroeporkest (Broadcasting Orchestra) of conductor Jef Verelst at NIR, and by the INR big band. This ensemble, founded in 1952, was led by Henri Segers. On the Flemish side of broadcasting house in Brussels, there was no sufficient support for the idea of founding a light-entertainment orchestra yet.
All of that changed in 1955. The organisational committee of a new song festival, the so-called Festival Internazionale della Canzone, to be held in Venice, sent invitations to broadcasters across Europe, asking them to submit a full music programme, to be performed live in Venice. The Flemish NIR decided to take part, but due to the lack of a suitable orchestra, improvisation was required. Bob Boon, the radio producer at NIR who was given responsibility for Belgium’s festival entry, asked Francis Bay to work with him on this one-off project. Boon had met Bay some years previously when visiting a show at the Nouveau Gaity in Brussels; from that moment on, Boon had regularly commissioned him to write arrangements for the radio programme Omroep-Ommeganck, hosted by Boon himself. Together, Boon and Boy formed an orchestra comprised of all musicians of Bay’s combo and a string group with players from INR’s Orchestre-Radio and Jef Verelst’s Omroeporkest.
Although Francis Bay took care of all orchestrations for the Belgian programme in Venice, the honour of conducting the Benero’s – the rather prosaic name given to the Belgian orchestra – in Venice went to Jef Verelst. Instead, Bay had to content himself with playing the baritone saxophone in the orchestra. Not just the fact that Bay was not an NIR employee yet played a role in this decision, as another radio producer, Jan Schoukens, recalls, “In a way, Jef Verelst and the other classical conductors working at the radio never took Francis Bay completely seriously. To their mind, he lacked the background to be a proper conductor. Fernand Terby, who later succeeded Verelst and, technically speaking, was a superb conductor, looked down on him as well. Even later on, Bay and his colleagues of the classical orchestras never developed a cordial working relationship.”

Francis Bay with NIR producer Bob Boon (c. 1958)
In Venice, the Belgian team failed to reach the final of the competition. To Bob Boon, it was obvious that the Benero’s had been lacking coherence to compete with their international rivals. Therefore, he submitted a request to NIR’s management to allow the budget to put together a regular radio big band – a luxury NIR had not had since the pre-war years. In the end, the broadcaster’s director-general personally approved the proposal. 

After due consideration, Boon picked Francis Bay to lead the band. Together, they hand-picked fourteen of Flanders’ best freelance musicians, including the likes of trumpet player Charlie Knegtel, guitarist Gaston Nuyts, and saxophonist Guy Dossche – one of several musicians in the new orchestra who had also been in Francis Bay’s combo at Nouveau Gaity. Also included was one of the trombonists of Henri Segers’ jazz orchestra, Frans Van Dyck; in fact, Van Dyck had been Bay’s main rival for the job of chief conductor of the new orchestra, but helped by the fact that he was less ambitious on a personal level than Bay, he proved a loyal member of the band. Beside Francis Bay, there were at least five other band members who were talented arrangers in their own right, allowing him to share the burden of writing suitable repertoire. Initially, there were no regular vocalists, though this void was filled soon enough by another old acquaintance, Jo Leemans. In January 1956, the NIR-Amusementsorkest (NIR Entertainment Orchestra) made its debut on nationwide radio. The conductor and his musicians were signed for four radio broadcasts per week.
In July 1956, the NIR took part in the second edition of the Venice Song Festival. Similar to the year before, the big band was extended with a classical string group – and, again, doubtlessly with even more chagrin than in 1955, Francis Bay, who had written the arrangements working with Gaston Nuyts, had to give precedence to Jef Verelst as the orchestra’s conductor; this time around, he was one of three trombonists in the setup. In Venice, the Belgian orchestra had to take on tough opposition. The other participants were Kurt Edelhagen’s orchestra for West Germany (with violinist Helmut Zacharias in their ranks), Jos Cleber’s radio orchestra De Zaaiers on behalf of the Netherlands, Radio Vienna’s Orchestra led by Carl de Groof, and the Italian radio orchestra, conducted by the renowned film composer Armando Trovajoli. Each orchestra was supposed to provide one evening of live entertainment. The best two orchestras were admitted to the final, held on St Mark’s Square.
“When we heard the names of our rivals, we couldn’t help feeling intimidated,” Bay later told an interviewer. “Kurt Edelhagen, Trovajoli, Helmut Zacharias, De Zaaiers… but we really gave it our all.” This time around, the Belgian team made a good impression in Italy. “Our team included the famous black female vocalist Freddy Marshall,” Bay explained to another journalist. “We performed our now famous trumpet fugue, but it wasn’t until our drummer Armand Vandewalle played a masterly, seventeen-minute-long solo, that the auditorium rose to its feet as one man in sheer enthusiasm.” The Belgian entry made it to the final, in which it had to take on Kurt Edelhagen. In the end, both first prizes were awarded to NIR’s programme: the Golden Gondola for best production and the Silver Lion for best song in the competition.

The winning Belgian orchestra at the 1956 Venice Song Festival, conducted by Jef Verelst; Francis Bay is seated in the middle row, second from right, playing the trombone
Barely 175 days after the foundation of the NIR Entertainment Orchestra, Francis Bay had managed to make his mark as the leader of one of the best big bands in Europe. In Belgian newspapers – especially north of the language-border –, ample acknowledgement was given to the orchestra’s triumph, which was largely attributed to Bay. At a single stroke, he was a household name. “At the NIR, musically speaking, the main short-term ambition had been to do well in Venice,” Bay’s son Leo explains, “and that’s why they had employed my father. Fortunately for him, he was successful almost immediately. As a result, the radio broadcasts of his orchestra became immensely popular. Not much later, they started performing on TV as well. In fact, if I remember correctly, the orchestra earned the right to work for television thanks to their victory in Italy. No doubt, that Golden Gondola was one of the highlights in my father’s life. He didn’t have pictures showing him with the trophy on his desk, because he wasn’t the kind of person to show off in that way; no, all of his shelves were packed with sheet music. At home, he seldom spoke about his work, but Venice was a subject which recurred regularly. He was proud of having won international recognition.”
In 1957, at the third Venice Song Festival, NIR decided to send just Francis Bay’s big band, without additional strings – and, finally, Bay was allowed to conduct his own musicians. This time around, Belgium won the Silver Lion for the best song, but the production prize was awarded to the Dutch entry, performed by De Zaaiers.
Almost from the outset, the NIR Entertainment Orchestra (renamed BRT Entertainment Orchestra in 1960) earned itself a faithful band of followers and fans, while the homogeneous sound of the brass section won the respect and praise of music professionals. Francis Bay felt his main task was to make sure his orchestra excelled in all popular genres, without particularly specialising in one or the other. “Orchestras like Mantovani and Helmut Zacharias have their own sound, their own timbre,” as the bandleader once explained. “They can afford to live off one recognisable type of sound. Being a radio orchestra, however, we cannot indulge in such a thing. Our job is to play entertainment music in its broadest meaning. (…) I make a point of adjusting our style to the taste of our audience, which mainly comes down to picking the correct repertoire.”
Being a perfectionist from head to toe, Francis Bay wanted unwavering commitment from his instrumentalists as well. Once, Bay asked his saxophonist Guy Dossche to play the bass clarinet, although he had never tried his hand at that instrument before. His approach was as simple as it was straightforward: he put the clarinet in Dossche’s hands and told him to play – and not without success, as, some years later, Guy Dossche successfully applied for the position of clarinettist in a classical orchestra. Frans Van Dyck recalled how one of the band’s clarinettists once claimed the part written for him was not playable: “Francis didn’t beat about the bush and said, “Pass me that clarinet, I’ll show you,” and played the part without hesitation or even the slightest mistake, upon which he gave back the instrument without saying anything further.” According to Van Dyck, the musicians looked up to Francis Bay, not in the least because he had played in so many different entertainment orchestras in the Netherlands. “Francis was a very strict, demanding, but ultimately fair bandleader who commanded lots of respect. To me, playing the trombone in his orchestra felt as an exam every day. He wasn’t an easy person, but he could be friendly at times, too.”
The NIR Entertainment Orchestra with Jo Leemans embracing Francis Bay; to Leemans’ left, standing: star trombone player Frans Van Dyck
“My men know that I am not the easiest of characters – and that I ask a lot of them,” Bay himself admitted. Many musicians liked working with him, but not all. Bay did not get along well with his guitarist Gaston Nuyts, who left the orchestra in 1957. For several years, Nuyts was a television conductor for the BRT himself – and Francis Bay was utterly dismayed at having to put up with this new ‘rival’. Meanwhile, Nuyts’ place in the orchestra was taken by Freddy Sunder. Apart from being a guitarist, Sunder was an excellent singer with several rock-‘n’-roll hits under his belt. To Bay, however, reputations counted for nothing – and he made an attempt to impress his new recruit from his first day with the orchestra.
“Francis put me on trial that day," Freddy Sunder recalls. "Later, I was told he had the same habit with all new musicians. When I had taken my seat in the orchestra, with my score in front of me, Francis approached me and said, “Mr Sunder, can I call you Freddy? After all, we’re colleagues now, aren’t we? Please give me your guitar and I’ll show you how to play your part.” Now you have to know that Francis was a brilliant musician who didn’t just play the trombone and was able to conduct an orchestra, but he was an adept clarinet player, guitarist, and vocalist as well. He played on my guitar, but his style was really old-fashioned – the way guitarists used to play before World War II. When he was done, I gave him the best possible answer – even Francis himself later admitted as much, “Mr Bay, can I call you Francis? After all, we’re colleagues now, aren’t we? Damn, Francis, please don’t tell me you want me to play cowboy guitar for you?” In the following weeks and months, we developed an excellent working relationship!”
With the new singer/guitarist in their ranks, Francis Bay’s orchestra experienced a golden year in 1958, when the World Expo was held in Brussels. For six months, guests from all over the world were in awe of lavishly decorated pavilions from 44 participating countries. At ‘Expo 58’, several combos and orchestras were invited, but the most prestigious performances – most of them held in the USA’s pavilion – were taken care of by Belgium’s two radio big bands: Henri Segers’ ensemble on behalf of the INR and Francis Bay’s Entertainment Orchestra for the NIR.

Bay (to the right) with his orchestra’s two star singers, Freddy Sunder and Jo Leemans
“All kinds of radio and television broadcasts were organised at the World Fair,” as Francis’ son Leo explains, “and my father’s orchestra was the Flemish broadcaster’s showpiece. The Expo gave Belgium an opportunity to show itself to the world. Almost daily, music concerts were held at the American Theatre and the Ancienne Belgique. This was the time my father’s orchestra really blossomed. Day in, day out, they could prove their mettle to large audiences. On the downside, my father always considered the presence of Henri Segers’ orchestra a threat. Segers and my father couldn’t stand one another. The rivalry was there right from the outset. When Frans Van Dyck was lured away to Segers’ band by offering him a much improved contract (in 1958 – BT), my father was beside himself with anger. Here were two orchestras which were different, yet broadly played the same type of music. Two years after the Expo, at the wedding party of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola, both were invited too, playing concerts simultaneously in two adjoining auditoriums.”
In the years following the Brussels World Fair, the American Theatre remained in use regularly as the stage for many TV broadcasts. In 1959 and 1960, the popular show De schlagertrommel was recorded there, with Bay and his orchestra providing the accompaniment. Other television programmes in these early years included Alles of niets, Pro en contra, and, of course, the Flemish Eurovision Song Contest pre-selections, which, in the early 1960s, were transformed into a song festival in itself, called Canzonissima, which ran for weeks on end. Everything Francis Bay touched in those years, seemed to turn to gold; even world-famous international soloists like Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Bécaud, and Caterina Valente accepted invitations to perform with Bay’s orchestra on Belgian TV.
Although under contract with the NIR, Bay and his men were given the opportunity to benefit from their nationwide popularity by performing freelance across Belgium regularly. Often, they were invited to play in dance halls and at high-brow cocktail parties. In weekends, the orchestra made a habit of travelling to some late-night performance somewhere in Belgium after having done a live TV or radio show in Brussels first. All musicians and their technician got on a bus, but Bay never travelled with them. Leo Bayezt recalls, “Prior to 1960, my dad didn’t own a car. Until that time, he travelled with his female star vocalist, Jo Leemans. Jo owned a small Volkswagen Beetle. As you might expect, there was gossip going on in the orchestra about my dad and Jo, but the truth of the matter was that he preferred travelling in a private car.”

Interviewed by radio reporter Jeanne Sneyers at the Teenage Festival in Steenokkerzeel (1962)

Once, this led to an odd situation, when the orchestra appeared at their appointment for a dance hall event in Leuze-en-Hainaut, while Bay himself made the mistake of driving to a tiny village 75 miles further east also called Leuze. According to Jo Leemans, Bay, who was deeply religious from his childhood onwards, had the habit of making short stops in tiny villages to pray in a quiet church while on his way to a performance, “While I hung out with friends in a café, Francis sought support from God.”
Whilst enjoying considerable success in Belgium, Francis Bay managed to sell his music across the borders as well. In 1957, the bandleader signed a deal with American record label Omega for six LP albums. Omega’s managing director, Dave Hubert, was looking for the best possible European orchestra to record covers of popular jazz and Latin repertoire. After having sent requests to various Western European radio orchestras to submit demo material, he had these judged by a panel of experts. To them, the NIR Entertainment Orchestra stood out. Subsequently, Bay and his band recorded several albums for the American market, of which ‘The Bay Big Band’s Latin Beat’ was most successful. On this 1958 release, the orchestra recorded Latin pieces made famous by Perez Prado and others. One of the songs on the album, ‘Patricia’, climbed the charts in America and Europe, even in Japan and Australia. “Your version is better than mine,” Prado allegedly admitted in a letter to him.
That same year, in between obligations at Expo 58 and regular radio and TV broadcasts, Bay’s orchestra recorded 22 (!) more albums for Omega, including ‘Kentonality’, ‘Swinging Sweet Trumpet’, and ‘The Bay Big Band Plays Duke Ellington’. Although all material consisted of covers of the UK’s and USA’s most reputed jazz orchestras, reviewers in the United States recognised a distinct, very contemporary Bay touch. According to one American journalist, Bay was “the leader of one of the wildest big band ensembles of the space age pop era.”

About the single record ‘Eso es el amor / Manhattan Spiritual’, an English newspaper claimed that “this is one of those rare discs in which real talent and fine performance are combined with two extremely good songs. Neither could be called a ‘B’ side. ‘Eso es el amor’ has already been recorded by several other Cha Cha orchestras – and well, too – but none has impressed me more favourably. The song is designed to be presented in two alternating tempos: the first slow, leisurely; the second fast and enthusiastic. As the earlier treatments went through this formula, though, it tended to lose impact. Francis Bay, however, effectively adds a third, swinging tempo which avoids tediousness. He also adds a fascinating touch in clever use of the drummer’s top hat. A very fine performance.”
In spite of Francis Bay’s success as a recording artist, Dave Hubert’s Omega label had to cease all activities in 1961. Subsequently, Bay signed new record deals with Philips and New York-based company Premier Albums Inc. His albums were marketed worldwide in first half of the 1960s. Surprisingly, perhaps, Bay’s big band never did an international tour in those years. Even an invitation to perform in the immensely popular Ed Sullivan Show in New York was turned down. Sometimes, tight recording schedules for radio and television simply did not allow extensive travelling, but there was another reason behind Bay’s reluctance to go abroad as well. Asked by a journalist about his popularity among record buyers in France, he related, “My sound was well-liked over there, but people presumed Francis Bay was a Latin American. When I was invited to do a show at the Olympia in Paris, I turned it down, though with a heavy heart. Naturally, those Parisians were expecting a bunch of South Americans – and we would have disappointed them with our pale, white faces. Well, and then our record sales might have plummeted!”
In the second half of the 1960s, when music tastes changed, interest in Bay’s polished jazz and Latin sounds slowly dwindled. Instead, he focused on his radio and television work. On TV, his orchestra was part of the game show De muziekkampioen, which ran for nine years (1959-68). Usually, Bay wrote all arrangements himself – dozens a week. He was a diligent worker who spent most of his time at home at the piano, writing scores for his own orchestra, but for others in Belgium and Holland too. “Music is my profession,” he once declared, “I am a workman who writes arrangements on demand. When I am told afterwards that the orchestra sounded fine or that the singer we accompanied was really happy with the arrangements, there’s no happier person on the planet than me.” Apart from arrangements written for live orchestras, Bay also composed signature tunes, children’s songs, as well as music used to accompany films, documentaries, and TV series – including one sequel of the popular American series Lassie.

At home, checking some of the Omega albums in his record collection (1961)
With his orchestra, Francis Bay also regularly performed in the Netherlands. They did a series of several jazz programmes for Dutch TV and accompanied three editions of the Grand Gala du Disque, the prestigious annual award show organised by the Netherlands’ gramophone companies. Besides, Bay and his men were happy to accompany international artists touring Europe. In 1964, they were on stage at Amsterdam’s Carré Theatre, backing up Sammy Davis Jr. for two concerts. “One time, my father was even offered the opportunity to accompany Duke Ellington when he performed in the Netherlands,” Leo Bayezt adds, “but the BRT (as the NIR were called from 1960 onwards – BT) didn’t allow him to accept. The request from Holland came rather late – schedules for radio and TV recordings in Belgium had already been fixed. Therefore, he had to turn down performing with Ellington. As you may understand, my dad was rather frustrated about that.”
In the early 1960s, Francis Bay had to deal with several setbacks. In 1961, Jo Leemans, with whom he had shared the good and bad times for twelve years, decided to leave the orchestra to build a solo career. Bay never forgave her that choice. “It all felt so strange,” Leemans recalls. “I worked with the orchestra for ten years, but decided to go, because I wanted to do more television. He was livid because he felt I had betrayed the band.” Leemans was replaced by a young singer from Antwerp, Chris Ellis, but she never really caught the audience’s imagination the way Leemans had done. Not long after, the core of the Entertainment Orchestra - guitarist Freddy Sunder, bass player Clem De Meyer, and percussionist Armand Vandewalle - committed, what was perceived by Bay, as betrayal
by forming their own jazz trio, The Clouds, meaning that replacement musicians had to be found for multiple radio shows each month.
Worse than all that, in 1961, Paul Van Dessel, a broadcasting official who had worked for television up until that time, changed to BRT Radio. Somehow, Van Dessel and Bay failed to develop a good working relationship. Quite the opposite, in order to attack Bay’s position, Van Dessel resolved to create a large radio orchestra modelled on the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands, with large string and brass sections. This Variety Orchestra, later renamed Festival Orchestra, saw the daylight in 1963; Van Dessel named Fernand Terby chief conductor of this huge (eighty piece!) entertainment ensemble. Moreover, when Henri Segers’ jazz orchestra at the French-speaking broadcaster was dissolved in 1965, Van Dessel signed most of Segers’ musicians as well as the best players from Francis Bay’s big band to form a new BRT Jazz Orchestra, led by Segers’ saxophonist Etienne Verschueren. Radio producer Jan Schoukens explains, “Van Dessel claimed Verschueren, who was a jazz man from head to toe, was more contemporary in his approach than Bay. Having formed these two radio orchestras, he had succeeded in depriving Francis Bay of all his radio work.”

Although robbed of his big band, Francis Bay did not have to fear for his job altogether. He was commissioned by BRT Television to form a new orchestra, intended to be used for TV broadcasts exclusively. This big band consisted of the musicians from Segers’ band who had not been picked for Etienne Verschueren’s jazz orchestra, supplemented by experienced freelance players. Contrary to their radio colleagues, however, the members of this BRT Television Orchestra were not signed permanently, but were given a yearly contract instead – and the same applied to Francis Bay himself, who was powerless to change the situation. Having lost the opportunity to make jazz programmes for BRT radio, he was unhappy about the limited amount of artistic freedom left to him. “I do my job the way a servant in a company does,” he wryly commented. Jan Schoukens, “He never spoke up, but it was obvious that he was deeply frustrated. After what had happened, he hardly had any friends left at the BRT. He was respected for his musicianship and professionality, but that was it, really.”
Having lost his work at BRT radio, Francis Bay focused on his freelance commissions with redoubled energy. Apart from his instrumental albums which were released internationally, he also accepted studio jobs for recording projects intended for the Flemish market – initially working for the Philips label, but later signing a new deal with Arcade. Amongst other projects, he wrote arrangements for repertoire recorded by Will Ferdy, Rocco Granata, and Marc Dex, while he conducted the orchestra for Will Tura’s first full album. Moreover, Bay composed some songs for Johan Stollz and Marva.
Apart from the Canzonissima Song Festival which has already been mentioned in the above, Francis Bay and his orchestra provided the backup for much more TV entertainment, such as the talent show Ontdek de ster (1965-75) and the live music programme Binnen en buiten (1967-74). Furthermore, from 1959 onwards, there was the annual ‘European Cup
for Vocal Recitation’, an ambitious song festival organised every summer in the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke – and better known simply as the Knokke Festival. After their successes in Venice, the Flemish broadcaster was keen to organise an international song festival of their own. The Knokke Festival was a competition between teams of singers from six to nine competing countries. Because ‘Knokke’ never reached the status of the Eurovision Song Contest, artists were less daunted by the prospect of a participation – and that must be the main reason why seasoned vocalists such as Jacques Brel, Jean Ferrat, and Engelbert Humperdinck graced the stage of Knokke’s Casino to have their work judged in the framework of a competition.
With renowned British bandleader Edmundo Ross (1967)
Each year, all competing entries were accompanied by Francis Bay’s big band, along with fifteen string players, hand-picked by Bay himself from the broadcaster’s radio orchestras. Prior to the start of the rehearsals, the conductor usually put up his caravan near Knokke’s coastline. For him, there was not much opportunity to join his wife and youngest son on the beach, though, because he faced the daunting task of rehearsing some seventy different arrangements with his musicians in one week; apart from the songs taking part in the festival itself, the orchestra also had to perform at galas with various international guest artists, held each evening after the official part of the competition. Moreover, because the arrangements submitted by record companies regularly were of such a low quality, Bay often had to start writing the scores from scratch – and sometimes, there was not even a score to begin with, and he had to create an arrangement by simply listening to single recordings.
When, in rehearsals at Knokke, Francis Bay felt one of the international artists was fooling around, he was not afraid to speak out. Bay’s son Leo recalls how Austria’s Udo Jürgens was given a piece of his father’s mind at the 1963 Knokke Festival. “Usually, my mother and I didn’t attend rehearsals, but somehow, one afternoon, I dropped in at the casino and took a seat in the auditorium. In the rehearsal which was going on, Udo Jürgens was seated at a grand piano. While he was singing his song, my father suddenly made a gesture to the orchestra, indicating the musicians to stop. Jürgens was obviously surprised and looked aside to my father. I don’t remember which language dad used, but he curtly told him not to bother coming back until he knew his part. He probably didn’t play his piano part in the correct tempo. Jürgens was obviously embarrassed and left the stage. I sat still in my chair, because I rather liked the spectacle which was unfolding before my eyes. After a considerable time lapse, the rehearsal got underway again after Jürgens had returned. This anecdote gives a pretty clear insight into my father’s character. He didn’t respect artists and musicians as human beings, but as music professionals – and their performance had to be correct. To him, reputations didn’t count; he felt that, in music, everyone was equal.”
After a successful period in the mid-1960s, interest in the Knokke Festival petered out in the early 1970s. After a gala edition in 1974, the BRT decided to discontinue organising the festival. In the 1980s, the competition was given a short-lived revival under the new name ‘Knokke Cup’, but, by that time, Francis Bay had already ceded his place to others.

Rehearsing with Dutch singer Liesbeth List
In the 1970s, the last decade of his professional career, Francis Bay continued working as a composer and arranger. Until his retirement, he wrote arrangements on demand for Dutch show programmes such as the BB-Kwis and the Willem Ruis Show. In Belgium, he had a close working relationship with composer Pieter Verlinden (1934-2002). They teamed up to compose the music to the TV drama De vorstinnen van Brugge (1972). Furthermore, as an arranger and conductor, Bay recorded several of Verlinden’s soundtracks for television films, such as Het huis der onbekenden (1974) and De komst van Joachim Stiller (1976). On an international level, Francis Bay represented Belgium as the conductor of BRT Radio’s entries to the 1976 and 1979 editions of the annual Nordring Festival.
Thanks to his frequent performances as a musical director for television shows such as Met de muziek mee, a co-production with Dutch television, and all kinds of song contests, Francis Bay earned himself the soubriquet of ‘most famous spine in Flanders’. By this time, however, fame and glory were not what Bay, who had been extremely ambitious at the start of his career for the broadcasting service, was after. As he explained in an interview, he preferred working anonymously. “I always ask the producer to show me on screen as little as possible. A conductor’s role is to direct his musicians, not to take centre-stage in his own one-man show. Working for large audiences amounts to hypnotising a thousand-headed dragon. That’s why musicians need to feel who’s leading them – you cannot lose control. When I see happy people at the end of a broadcast, nobody’s feeling better than me. To see an enthusiastic audience, smiling artists, and satisfied musicians and technicians feels overwhelmingly satisfactory. People are paying us their licence-fee, and the only way to pay them back is by bringing them well-worked TV programmes.”
Until his last day at the BRT, Francis Bay remained the same, perfectionist music professional, imposing high standards on himself and others alike. Producer Jan Schoukens recalls how he worked with Bay in 1979. “Shortly before he retired, I commissioned him to lead the big band for a programme called De tijd van toen. A concert was held in Brussels in honour of the city’s millennium celebration. Working with Francis, I found out once again how good he was at his job. One of the guest performers was Georges Guétary, a French operetta-style singer who had gotten too big for his boots after having been given a role alongside Gene Kelly in the film An American in Paris. In fact, he was our programme’s main guest, but he had come to Belgium with a music score which was truly awful, containing dozens of mistakes. At that point, Bay showed himself in his best light by confronting him with the score and telling him that he refused to conduct those arrangements. He felt it was below his dignity – and how right he was! Being the producer, I supported him whole-heartedly. In the end, Guétary had no other option but to bring in his arranger from Paris to assist Francis Bay in correcting the score.”

Writing an arrangement (c. 1979)

His retirement was a subject which Francis Bay refused to discuss with anyone. He did not feel tired and washed-out at all. Unexpectedly, the BRT gave him a one-year extension of his contract, because the management had failed to appoint a successor in time, but when he was 66, Bay was finally given his marching orders. The conductor was beside himself, as son Leo well remembers. “He simply couldn’t accept it. Creativity and age are two worlds apart. When an artist, let’s say Picasso, turns 65, you cannot tell him, “Now, please put away your brushes and stop painting.” Classical conductors never retire when they turn 65 either… my father would have wanted to choose the right time to go himself, but unfortunately he wasn’t given the opportunity.”

On January 1st, 1981, Freddy Sunder took over as the conductor of BRT’s Television Orchestra. Unwisely, the broadcaster’s management decided to organise a farewell party in honour of Francis Bay. Apparently, one underestimated how hurt he really felt. “At the reception organised by the BRT, he threw the cake on the floor,” as Sunder recalled. “Then, he angrily left the building. He never spoke to anybody from that day onwards. It was so typical of him!” Perhaps, Bay would have preferred slipping away silently without anyone noticing, just as he had done after every television show in which he was involved. He was not keen on receiving homages. “I don’t want any interviews, I detest royal medals – or any medals, for that matter –, and a grand finale is not for me either. I’ve lived for music and for my orchestra. I want to die for it as well and make music until my last day,” as he put it around the time of his retirement. “If they were so keen to honour me, they should have done it much earlier, but then they obviously had more important things on their mind.”
In the last 24 years of his long life, Bay shunned the spotlight. Living in his cottage in the woods near Keerbergen, he spent his days happily working in the garden – and, in general, enjoying a simple life devoid of luxury. Colleagues who tried to stay in touch with him were shown the door. In 2003, when he was invited to appear as a guest of honour in a large television gala organised to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of television in Belgium, he turned it down. In 2005, aged 90, Frans Bayezt passed away in Bonheiden’s municipal hospital.

Frans Bayezt and his wife Liza at their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1984

Ever since the Eurovision Song Contest started, Belgium’s entries have been picked in turn by the Francophone INR and the Dutch-speaking NIR, called RTB(F) and BRT respectively from 1960 onwards. In 1957, when the festival was held for the second time, the Flemish were allowed a first go – and the NIR chose popular country singer Bobbejaan Schoepen. Schoepen performed three candidate songs in the programme ‘De TV maakt muziek’. As all music was pre-recorded, there was no orchestra involved, but Francis Bay – who was an employee at the broadcasting service after having been appointed conductor of the NIR Entertainment Orchestra in January 1956 – was part of the selection committee which had whittled down all submitted material to just three potential Eurovision entries. This kind of committee work could be hard at times, because, as Bay once revealed, most of the compositions sent to the broadcasting service for consideration were very weak and, one time, he even had to judge a song which had not been written on music sheet, but on a piece of toilet paper…
The 1957 solo pre-selection with Bobbejaan Schoepen was won by ‘Straatdeuntje’, a composition by Harry Frékin. At the international Eurovision final in Frankfurt, however, Schoepen was not accompanied by Francis Bay to conduct the orchestra for him. In West Germany, Schoepen finished joint-eighth in a field of artists from ten competing countries. In spite of his absence, Bay turned out to have some detailed recollections of the Frankfurt festival when asked about the event years later. “Bob finished near the bottom… and he felt horrible about it for the next two years. He had left for Frankfurt as the great Bobbejaan, the celebrated local hero. On stage with his hands in his pockets, Bob whistled away his tune, but his success was limited. I had expected little more. Foreign audiences aren’t craving for our Flemish whistlers and yodellers. I didn’t come along to that first Eurovision myself – the NIR’s entertainment branch didn’t have the resources to fund their conductor’s travel expenses – fortunately, in this case, because I’ve never been very keen to be a member of a losing team.”
Bay may not have been part of NIR’s small delegation in Frankfurt, but his role in the festival was significant. Back in Brussels, he was a member of the Belgian jury. “He greatly admired the Italian entry, even though it wasn’t a song suited for an international competition, as well as the UK song which was so typically English”, according to a journalist who visited Francis Bay a couple of weeks after the contest. In 1957, each juror was allowed a vote for just one country; because the Belgian jury on the night awarded one vote to ‘Corde della mia chitarra’, the interesting, but rather complicated Italian entry, and a point to ‘All’ as well, performed by the classically trained English singer Patricia Bredin, there’s no way of finding out which of the two songs Francis Bay voted for in the end. Awarding five of their ten point to Dutch singer Corry Brokken and ‘Net als toen’, the Belgian jurors played an important part in giving the Netherlands its first Eurovision victory. Although she had not been Bay’s personal favourite, the winning artist from north of the border, who had a record deal with Antwerp-based label Ronnex at the time, was invited to perform with the NIR Entertainment Orchestra mere months after her Eurovision success.

Francis Bay conducting the orchestra in Cannes for Bob Benny’s first Eurovision participation (1959)
After their modest first attempt, the NIR came up with a more ambitious pre-selection two years later, involving eighteen songs, presented in two heats, both accompanied by Francis Bay’s orchestra. Subsequently, the two semi-final winners, Jo Leemans with ‘Levenssymfonie’ and Bob Benny with ‘Hou toch van mij’, competed head to head for one ticket to the international final in Cannes. As a publicity stunt, West German band leader Kurt Edelhagen, who, in the past, had praised the quality of Bay’s big band, was invited to conduct the orchestra for this Belgian final. In the end, the jury picked Bob Benny as their winner. This time, there was a budget to send a Belgian conductor along with the soloist – and, of course, this conductor was Francis Bay.
Although Bob Benny obtained a respectable sixth position in Cannes, still the best result ever by a Flemish candidate in the Eurovision Song Contest, Bay did not have particularly fond memories of his first taste of the festival. To his mind, Benny deserved a better result; and Italy’s Domenico Modugno should have been awarded first prize with his ‘Piove’, which was already an international hit success by the time Eurovision was held. “And that was the reason why everyone voted against the song,” Bay stated in an interview, sixteen years later. “Time and again, the best songs in Eurovision have been ignored by the juries. If I’m not mistaken, the Netherlands were the winners on the night with ‘Een beetje’ by Teddy Scholten, which received nine votes from France. Lots of votes all at once. Modugno wasn’t given one single French point, and you know why? Because the Italians had given none to France either! After their win, the Dutch misbehaved in a preposterous manner, as if they were the kings of Europe. Lying down in their seats, they took on an air of debonair, ordering bottles of champaign, while Bob could hardly cope containing his disappointment.”
As it turns out, Francis Bay’s recollections were not entirely accurate, because France actually awarded three votes to Italy, and the Italians gave one point to France, while the winning entry from the Netherlands received four votes from France and seven from Italy. Be that as it may, it is obvious that Bay took the Eurovision Song Contest very seriously indeed. “For Eurovision, I completely ignore my own musical preferences,” he once said, and: “When it comes to Eurovision, I’m the humble servant of the soloists.” As a conductor, Francis Bay wanted to play his part to obtain the best possible result for his country. Whenever the voting turned into a disappointment, he felt frustrated.

Preparing the 1961 Eurovision Song Contest, Francis Bay flanked by composer Hans Flower (left) and Bob Benny
In 1961, the story was broadly the same. Again, Bob Benny won the Belgian selection programme, singing ‘September, gouden roos’, a solemn ballad composed by Hans Flower which seemed tailor-made for the impressive vocal range of the Antwerp singer. As two years previously, the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Cannes. The Belgian delegation travelled to Southern France per aeroplane. Bay recalled, “On the plane, Bob wanted me to hold his hand as he was so scared. During our stay, I had to make sure he remained sober all the time. If he had had one whiskey, he would have been done for. From the first until the last minute, I stayed by his side to encourage him, but it turned into a new let-down for Bob, even though his entry wasn’t that bad. But then, we have always been stupid enough to vote for the Netherlands, while the Dutch never give us points in return. We’re too honest… and, to me, this is a typical Belgian trait.”
Once more, Bay’s memory leaves something to be desired, because, in 1961, the Belgian jury gave as many points to the Netherlands’ entry as vice versa; none. ‘September, gouden roos’ finished joint-last, having received one little point from Luxembourg. Francis Bay felt humiliated. After a victory for France in 1960 with Jacqueline Boyer, the festival was won by a French artist for the second year running, although Jean-Claude Pascal competed on behalf of Luxembourg. Bay was annoyed about an emerging block of Francophone countries voting for each other’s songs. Immediately after the voting in Cannes, he suggested creating a Scandinavian-Dutch-Belgian block in retaliation in order to stand any chance of obtaining a satisfactory result: “We’ll have to form an alliance of our own.” Again, he complained about the Dutch jury, “Two years ago, Teddy Scholten received five votes from us and we received none from the Netherlands. This is the last time we voted for you!” Did Bay balance his numbers correctly this time around? Not surprisingly, the answer is in the negative; in fact, in 1959, three Belgian votes were awarded to the Dutch entry, and the Netherlands actually gave one vote to Belgium. For the record…
In fact, the NIR/BRT found out the hard way how extremely difficult it was for a small music market such as Flanders, with a comparatively low number of vocalists good enough for the international stage, to compete against countries with a much larger music industry and with record companies working with larger budgets to promote their songs and artists. In spite of all that, the BRT never lost heart – quite the opposite, as, for the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest, the broadcaster organised a new pre-selection, called ‘Canzonissima’, which already got underway in the fall of 1962. Dozens of songs took part, interpreted by twelve artists, including Jo Leemans, Chris Ellis, and Freddy Sunder, who all owed a large part of their fame to their role as vocalists with Bay’s Entertainment Orchestra. Francis Bay and his big band, extended with a group of string players chosen from the broadcasting service’s classical orchestras, accompanied all shows from the first heat until the final.

Bay in the recording studio with singer Jacques Raymond (centre) and the arranger of the latter’s Eurovision entry ‘Waarom’, Nico Gomez (left)

The winner of this first edition of Canzonissima was ‘Waarom’, a pleasant melody ideally suited for young crooner Jacques Raymond. For the third time in succession, the music to the Flemish Eurovision entry was penned by Hans Flower. In 1963, the Eurovision final was held in the BBC Television Centre in London – and, by now, it was a matter of course that Francis Bay would conduct the Belgian entry.

Although Jacques Raymond regularly worked with Bay after ‘London’, the two never developed more than a correct rapport. “Character-wise, I am a timid, shy person,” Raymond explains, “while Francis, on the other hand, was rather distant and inaccessible. We both were professionals in our own way. I think he always was consciously looking for seclusion. Beyond the rehearsals, we were never together, but I must say that he was the perfect conductor for me in London. Musically speaking, he was solid as can be and, when standing in front of the orchestra, he had the authority required to lead a group of musicians, which, of course, was beneficial. I’m proud to have worked with him, for he was the leader of what was then one of Europe’s best orchestras. The role he played in the first stages of my career shouldn’t be underestimated.”
In spite of high expectations on the home front, Jacques Raymond’s score in London was rather modest with just four votes from Austria and a tenth place. “Jacques has a good voice,” Francis Bay once said, “but it was a pity that he had to sing in Dutch. Being a crooner, he would have been able to ‘swallow’ certain words and sounds if he had been allowed to use the English language – in Dutch, it’s impossible to do that. The orchestra in London was really very good; they were all older guys, but disciplined and extremely well attuned to one another.”
In 1965, the artist who had finished in second place in Canzonissima two years previously, Lize Marke, was given a solo pre-selection with six songs, the winner of which would be the Belgian entry at the Eurovision Song Contest, to be held in Naples. To the surprise of many, Francis Bay was not involved as a musical director this year. For the pre-selection show, the BRT had commissioned Gaston Nuyts to conduct his Light-Symphonic Orchestra, an extensive name for what was little more than Bay’s big band with a large additional string section. According to a Belgian newspaper article in Francis Bay’s archives, Bay had fallen from grace with BRT’s management. What had happened? It turns out he had penned the arrangement to one of the competing entries, ‘Regenlied’; and according to some sources, Bay and his orchestra had already performed an instrumental version of the melody in a TV show prior to the Eurovision pre-selection. Possibly, this breach of rules was the reason why he was excluded from further involvement. “This will allow Francis to avoid bringing home what will potentially be a last place,” the far-sighted journalist added.

Rehearsing for the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest in London – Francis Bay conducting the BBC’s orchestra under the watchful eye of Belgium’s representative Jacques Raymond (back to the camera)
All this is no more than a hypothesis, based on hearsay and gossip. The truth of the matter is that Francis Bay had made a lot of enemies at the BRT by the mid-1960s. Although, after years of wrangling, he managed to hold on to his position as the conductor for television entertainment, a conflict with managing director Paul van Dessel had led to his becoming persona non grata on radio. In 2010, we did an interview with Gaston Nuyts, asking him why he was brought in by the broadcaster as a one-time replacement, but Nuyts could hardly bear hearing the name of Francis Bay, let alone explain what went on behind the scenes in 1965. Clearly, even after all those years, the matter was still a sensitive one. The two musicians never had a good professional relationship. Nuyts, who had been the guitarist in Francis Bay’s radio orchestra for one year before leaving in 1957, did a lot of television work as a musical director – and as such, Bay considered him as a rival for his position as the BRT’s number one conductor for light-entertainment programmes. Though he wanted to leave the subject alone, Nuyts did reveal in the interview that, once in Naples as the conductor for the Belgian entry, he had been given a hard time by some members of the Belgian delegation – BRT employees and journalists – who were closer to Francis Bay than to him. According to Nuyts, these delegates did everything they could to discredit him in the eyes of the Belgian public.
To cut a long story short, Lize Marke did not manage to obtain one single vote in Naples with her song ‘Als het weer lente is’. Even ten years later, when being asked about the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest, Francis Bay could not refrain from gloating about what had happened. “I stayed home that year. Gaston Nuyts conducted the orchestra instead of me. It didn’t do him any good, because Belgium finished at or near the bottom of the scoreboard. But then, what does it tell us? Belgium once finished second with a Walloon song called ‘Un peu de poivre, un peu de sel’. If you listened to it now, even the Lollipops wouldn’t dream of putting such drivel on their repertoire.” Once more, Bay proved to be not very good at remembering the correct numbers, because the Walloon song he was referring to, interpreted by Tonia at the 1966 Eurovision Song Contest in Luxembourg, came fourth.
In 1967, the ‘Canzonissima’ concept of four years before was dusted off to determine that year’s Belgian Eurovision entry. In the American Theatre in Brussels, an interminable sequence of heats was organised to determine which songs would compete on the final night. After his mysterious absence in 1965, Francis Bay was back as musical director. The seven songs which made it to the final were performed twice: before the candidates were given the opportunity to sing their entries, instrumental arrangements of all compositions were played by Bay and his Television Orchestra.

Louis Neefs on the Eurovision stage in Vienna's Hofburg with Francis Bay conducting the orchestra in the background

In the end, the ticket to the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna was easily won by ‘Ik heb zorgen’, an accessible melody composed by the TV orchestra’s pianist, Paul Quintens. It was interpreted by Louis Neefs. Given that Neefs undeniably was a performer with an international flair about him, the Belgian press and public were expecting a good result in the international competition. Of course, Neefs was joined by Francis Bay who conducted the orchestra for him. ‘Ik heb zorgen’ finished in seventh place, not bad, but Bay had hoped for more: “Louis is such a strange fellow! To my mind, he suffers from a minority complex. He’s never satisfied and believes everyone is after his virginity [?] constantly. ‘Ik heb zorgen’ should have been performed much more relaxed, much smoother. Louis’ rendition in Vienna was too slow, too passive.”

In view of Canzonissima’s popularity with television audiences, the competition was organised in 1968 as well, even though there was no Eurovision ticket to be won that year. As usual, Francis Bay and his orchestra did not miss a beat. When, the year after, a Flemish Eurovision candidate had to be picked, the BRT decided to play it safe and approach Louis Neefs. In the selection programme, he performed six songs, from which another of Paul Quintens’ compositions was chosen, ‘Jennifer Jennings’. The melodious song seemed to fit Neefs like a glove. Francis Bay was excited as well. At Brussels’ airport, prior to leaving to the Eurovision Song Contest final in Madrid, he was interviewed by BRT Television. “We’ve always been having such overblown expectations, but this time I’m confident we’ll finish among the first five. Admittedly, I haven’t heard all other competing songs yet, but what I’ve heard so far is so tame, so old-fashioned and irrelevant, that I believe our song – and I’m only speaking about the rhythm now, because foreigners cannot understand the lyrics anyway – could be successful. If I may put it that way, the song has a truly ‘young’ rhythm!”
Asked about his experiences in Madrid some years later, Francis Bay remembered the Eurovision week not because the Spanish orchestra was giving him a hard time – unfortunately, Bay never explained how he went about rehearsing with an orchestra abroad –, but because he was awoken in the dead of night by a telephone call from BRT Head of Entertainment, Herman Verelst, who was getting desperate, as Louis Neefs seemed about to succumb to the stresses of the international competition. In the end, according to Bay’s harsh judgment, the singer killed the ‘young rhythm’. It was the same old story all over again. Louis wanted to turn ‘Jennifer Jennings’ into a slow song. Perhaps, he’s simply unable to sing a happy, upbeat tune. It doesn’t fit his character.” Listening to Francis Bay, one might think that something terrible had gone wrong in Madrid, whereas, in truth, Louis Neefs finished in a respectable seventh position again.

Louis Neefs backstage at the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna with Francis Bay at his side
In 1970, it was up to the French-speaking RTB to pick Belgium’s Eurovision entry, but, even so, Francis Bay played a part in the pre-selection, albeit a minor one. For the first time – maybe after having witnessed the success of Canzonissima north of the language border –, the RTB had taken the step to organise a series of pre-selection heats, rather than just one programme. For one of the ten broadcasts, when Jack Say, conductor of RTB’s Television Orchestra, was unable to attend, he had himself replaced by Francis Bay. With the amiable Say, Bay enjoyed a much better working relationship than with his predecessor, Henri Segers. “Francis and I helped one another, whenever the need arose," Say recalls. "I replaced him on multiple occasions when he was ill. I particularly remember a show with Louis Neefs and his younger sister Connie, ‘Zus en zo’. Francis was an excellent musician, but very distant on a personal level. Even so, he gave me a lot of respect. Insofar as there was mutual contact, it was fraternal and without hidden agendas.”
The following year, it was the BRT’s turn again to choose a Eurovision song. For the fourth and last time, the broadcaster organised a pre-selection following the Canzonissima recipe. Once more, Francis Bay was the conductor for all heats. Surprisingly, Bay had an iron in the fire as well, having co-composed one of the songs in the final. This proves that BRT regulations regarding their musical director were less strict than in other countries with a regular conductor for the Eurovision Song Contest, such as Ossi Runne in Finland or Dolf van der Linden in the Netherlands. To guarantee their impartiality, these two were barred from being involved in the pre-selection show even as an arranger. Bay, on the other hand, regularly wrote arrangements for one or several competing songs. His participation as a composer in 1971, however, with the song ‘Tamboerke’ for Micha Marah, was a one-off affair.
Asked about her participation in Canzonissima 1971, Micha Marah reveals that Bay may have been credited as a composer, but in fact was ‘only’ the arranger of ‘Tamboerke’. “It wasn’t unusual for the arranger of a song to sign his name as co-composer. This was a copyright issue. In those days, there were no ancillary rights for the arrangement yet, which meant the arranger often was sadly underappreciated, financially speaking. This song was actually composed by Rudy Witt, but Francis was given permission by my manager and producer to add his name to Rudy’s.”

Lily Castel and Jacques Raymond rehearsing at the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin

Doubtlessly to Bay’s great satisfaction, ‘Tamboerke’ was a chart success, but it did not come close to winning Canzonissima. The majority of jurors preferred yet another song by Paul Quintens, ‘Goeiemorgen, morgen’, performed by the engaged couple Nicole Josy and Hugo Sigal. They won the right to represent Belgium at the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, but had to be replaced at short notice when Nicole fell victim to jaundice. Pressed by BRT officials, Jacques Raymond and Lily Castel agreed to take the honours instead.
To Francis Bay, all of this came as a complete surprise. “I was caught completely unawares. I was waiting on the airport to travel to Dublin when suddenly Jacques and Lily showed up instead of Nicole and Hugo! That same night, having arrived in Dublin, we locked ourselves in in our hotel room to rehearse the item. The Irish audience in the concert hall gave Jacques and Lily a standing ovation, not for the song, but because people knew how they had stepped in to solve other people’s problems. I don’t think Nicole and Hugo would have obtained a better result, as I feel Jacques Raymond and Lily Castel really did an excellent job.”
Among eighteen competing acts, Lily and Jacques finished in a joint-fourteenth position. Contrary to the duo he accompanied, Francis Bay himself did obtain a prize, albeit an unofficial one: the members of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra held a vote to determine which of the international conductors taking part they liked best – and this symbolic award was won by Francis Bay. Probably, the fact that Bay had had to rush through the scores for all members of the orchestra to adapt them to the vocal range of Lily Castel and Jacques Raymond played a part in the Irish musicians’ choice.
Two years on, Nicole and Hugo were given a new opportunity to do Eurovision, winning the national selection, as they did, with the upbeat tune ‘Baby Baby’. At the international Eurovision final in Luxembourg, they defended the Belgian colours with Francis Bay as their conductor. “Francis was a great chap, but by no means easy to work with!”, Hugo, the male half of the duo, recalls. “At times, he could be grumpy. Among artists, he had a reputation for being very thorough in his way of working; I’ve not met many people who were meticulous like he was. Before taking part in the Eurovision heats in Belgium, I had already worked with him several times as a dancer and vocalist. Francis’ perfectionism often made him nervous. My impression always was he wanted to hide his insecurity by acting the very strict conductor. On the other hand, he was open-minded to all genres of music, also the more modern styles, which was a big plus. I looked up to him, as he was an excellent musician. Nicole and I never had an issue with him, because we were always making sure to be well prepared. He appreciated our professionalism, even though he was a conductor who spoke very little with performers – I’ve been told he only spoke up when they were doing really badly, which fortunately never happened to us. Maybe he just wasn’t interested in what went on behind his back on stage. Still, thinking back of rehearsals in Luxembourg, I remember him standing in front of the orchestra with a smile on his face.”

Nicole & Hugo, Belgium’s representatives at Eurovision 1973
For years, Francis Bay had argued Belgium should try its luck at Eurovision with a rigorously up-tempo song for once; and, for that reason, he felt ‘Baby Baby’ was a good choice. “This time around, I really loved the song, which had a good beat.” In spite of Nicole and Hugo having put together an innovative stage presentation which combined singing and dancing, the festival in Luxembourg turned into a major disappointment as the Belgian entry finished seventeenth and last. Bay, commenting, “The way the song was written, Hugo had to sing in a key which was too high for his vocal abilities, while Nicole’s part was too low – the result being a seven-headed dragon, a veritable monstrosity. The sound resembled a choir of ten crows – so far out of tune – and I had to conduct all that, with the whole of Europe watching… 80 million viewers. Afterwards, I heard people speak about me as someone only able to beat time to music, but it wasn’t my fault the song didn’t suit Nicole and Hugo, was it?!”
In view of the fact that Francis Bay had not commented on the duo’s vocal performance in rehearsals, it seems the conductor was looking for a way, however far-fetched, to explain that the bad result was not his fault. The competitive side of his character could not take the humiliation of finishing last. “After the voting, Francis was gone,” according to Hugo Sigal. “In fact, we were left to our own devices by all BRT delegates in Luxembourg. There was nobody to give us a pat on the back or speak some consoling words. As for Francis, we weren’t surprised about him, because we knew him as a very distant person. In later years, when we performed in large shows across the country and on cruises, we had our own ‘chef d’orchestre’ with whom we were much closer. Of course, it was much more pleasant to have a conductor who was really involved in what you were doing on stage, but that was not what Francis was like.”
For their 1975 Eurovision pre-selection, the BRT had selected a staggering number of 70 (!) songs, subdivided among seven heats. All in all, the selection process took almost five months, from the first heat until the final. Among the songs taking part were quite a lot of ‘poppy’ songs, one stronger than the other. As the conductor of all shows, Francis Bay had his own thoughts, “Each day, I came to the American Theatre with a suitcase full of positivity, even if in my heart of hearts I was unhappy, because I have a life away from the spotlights as well… but I couldn’t allow myself to give up, even if some songs were really hopeless, because when I showed my true feelings, the orchestra started playing sluggishly within two seconds.”

“Grandfather among his remarkably young colleagues” – Francis Bay taking his bow - Eurovision 1975, Stockholm

After the smoke had cleared, however, virtually everyone agreed the best song had won, a chanson-type melody called ‘Gelukkig zijn’, interpreted by Ann Christy. Again, expectations in Flanders were sky-high; Christy even prepared a full English version of her new album, of which the Eurovision entry was the title track, as part of her record company’s plans to launch her internationally. In the Eurovision final in Stockholm, Christy performed the second half of her song in English. To reduce the cost, it was decided upon not to bring a Belgian backing choir to Sweden; instead, the Belgian delegation hired three Swedish girls to back up their soloist. 

As Dutch journalist Hans van Reijsen noticed, this Swedish choir made Francis Bay’s life in Stockholm rather complicated, “There were some more problems for Belgian conductor Francis Bay, a name not unknown to Dutch audiences. There he stood in the festival hall of the St Eriks Congress Centre, looking rather mazed. What happened? Singer Ann Christy, Belgium’s representative, is usually working with backing singers. In the pre-selection in Belgium, this job was taken care of by the originally Dutch group Hearts of Soul, nowadays performing under a new name, Dream Express. As the Flemish broadcaster felt it was too expensive to send the girls along, the decision was taken to hire a Swedish backing group, for which they share the costs with the Swiss delegation… and because Swedes don’t speak Flemish very well, Francis Bay had to teach his recruits the Flemish lyrics. It was a grinding task, which occasionally tickled our funny bone.”
In part thanks to Francis Bay’s infinite patience in rehearsals, the performance of ‘Gelukkig zijn’ in the Eurovision Song Contest was spot-on, but it was not to be. Ann Christy finished fifteenth among nineteen contestants – sometimes, the ways of international jurors are unfathomable indeed. Needless to say, nothing came of the singer’s subsequent plans for an international career.
In Stockholm, one of the international reporters had noticed that Francis Bay was by far the oldest of the conductors taking part in the contest – “a grandfather among his remarkably young colleagues”. In a way, Bay was the last of the Mohicans. In Eurovision, all other conductors who had taken part in the first editions, such as Franck Pourcel, Oeivind Bergh, and Dolf van der Linden, had already been replaced by musicians of a younger generation. 

In 1977, probably due to his age, Bay had to make way as well, though in his case the goodbye turned out not to be a farewell yet. That year, the BRT organised a pre-selection without a live orchestra present. Subsequently, when the international final in London was due, the winning group, Dream Express, picked a British maestro, Alyn Ainsworth. One of the group’s members, Stella Maessen, “Back in those days, we did all our recordings in England. Luc Smets did the arrangements and conducted the sessions with an orchestra of British musicians. Of course, Luc was a member of our group, and in Eurovision, he couldn’t conduct and perform at the same time. I was not involved in choosing a replacement for him, but I suspect our manager, Adriaan van Landschoot, in agreement with Luc, decided we would stand a better chance at Eurovision with an English conductor. By that time, Francis Bay was at a certain age… and I suspect they wanted someone who was slightly younger than him.”
In London, Dream Express, who had been the bookies’ favourites to win the competition, finished seventh with their contemporary song ‘A Million In 1, 2, 3’ – not bad, but to Luc Smets’ dismay, Alyn Ainsworth counted in the orchestra in a tempo which was just slightly too fast… so it remains an open question if choosing a ‘younger’ conductor instead of ‘good old’ Francis Bay really paid off.

Belgium’s entrants at the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest in London, Dream Express, from left to right: Stella Maessen, Luc Smets, Patricia Maessen, and Bianca Maessen
Two years on, in 1979, Bay and his Television Orchestra were back, accompanying the Eurovision pre-selection in Belgium, which, for the first time in ten years, did not take the shape of a competition between rivalling artists. Instead, the BRT had approached one vocalist, Micha Marah, to perform six songs, which, in a number of heats, were whittled down to just three for the final evening. In all heats, a public jury had awarded its highest score to ‘Comment ça va’, an upbeat track arranged in disco style, but, for the final, the jury was replaced by an expert committee, who picked a composition by Charles Dumolin, ‘Hey nana’. Many felt this song was the least suitable pick – and Micha Marah herself was one. She had already been looking forward to doing well in the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem with ‘Comment ça va’. Wouldn’t it be possible to reverse the committee’s decision? Of all people, it was Francis Bay who seemed to have found a lifeline for her. As he told Micha and her entourage, he felt there was a problem with ‘Hey nana’, as Micha Marah herself remembers.
“Francis argued the chorus of ‘Hey nana’ closely resembled an existing song. He remembered a chart success of a couple of years before, ‘Auntie’, a song written by Dutch producer Hans van Hemert on the occasion of the BBC’s fiftieth anniversary. It had been released as a single track by a group of internationally successful artists… Hildegard Knef, Demis Roussos, and Enrico Macias were among them. We knew Francis preferred ‘Comment ça va’ anyway, but that was not his point. He simply wanted to avoid disqualification in Jerusalem on grounds of plagiarism. As he had not been part of the committee which had picked the six songs for my pre-selection, he didn’t know about ‘Hey nana’ until the rehearsals got underway. Probably, like us, he didn’t expect it to be in contention for Jerusalem anyway, but once it was picked, he was the first to speak up. Francis was acting in good faith!
In close agreement with Micha Marah’s publisher Decibel, Francis Bay and BRT’s Head of Production Bob Boon decided to submit the music score of ‘Hey nana’ to the plagiarism committee of Sabam, Belgium’s Association of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers. After thorough consideration, however, the experts judged the claim of plagiarism to be unfounded. Thereupon, a new scandal blew up, because the score submitted to Sabam allegedly had not been the same as the arrangement played in the pre-selection, but it did not change the eventual outcome: Micha Marah had to perform ‘Hey nana’ in Jerusalem. For the BRT, the case was closed. When the artist intimated she was considering to boycott the song in Israel, broadcasting officials made it clear that, if she went ahead with that, she would be replaced by one of her backing vocalists. Understandably, the atmosphere among Belgian delegates in Jerusalem was not the best. In a letter which Francis Bay wrote his wife and son after having arrived in Israel, he spoke his mind about the unpleasant situation:
“Dear Mom, Dear Leo, Here we are, having arrived safely in what really is a mess. Fortunately, I was able to travel on my own. When we arrived at the hotel and reported to the organisation, it turned out Micha’s husband and someone else belonging to his organisation weren’t allowed in. The BRT had sent the Israelis a telex explaining they’re no part of our delegation! The reason given was they had taken legal action against the BRT. Curious to find out how all of this will develop. Micha was crying; in the end, I decided to steal away and visit the Old Town. What an awful situation, really awful! (…)”

Micha Marah on stage in Jerusalem (1979)

It goes without saying that Micha Marah does not have warm memories of her stay in Jerusalem, but she enjoyed a good working relationship with her musical director. “I often hear colleagues claiming how hard it was to work with Francis, but I never had any trouble with him. I knew him from the time I was sixteen, when he was the conductor for studio sessions at the company for which I recorded my first single in 1969. Of course, being so young, I was much impressed by him. In the session, he was most friendly and helpful. Back then, the vocal parts and orchestral score were recorded simultaneously, so that was rather exciting! Character-wise, Francis was distant, but always correct and very professional. He liked me and frequently invited me to perform in television shows. In Jerusalem, we weren’t close; after all, Francis was a loner. Beyond the obligatory rehearsals and the final performance, we saw nothing of him the whole week. If he did any sightseeing in Israel, it must have happened without us. He wasn’t the kind of person who felt the need to socialise with artists or fellow-musicians. His job was to perform the arrangement correctly with the local orchestra – and that’s just what he did.”
Following the endless squabbling, expectations in Belgium were correspondingly low – and rightly so, because the “happy tune with lyrics which couldn’t have been more banal” (according to the Netherlands’ commentator in Jerusalem) picked up just five votes, finishing joint-last. Micha Marah never recorded ‘Hey nana’; the only studio version was done by composer Charles Dumolin.
With a last place in Jerusalem, Francis Bay’s ‘Eurovision career’ did not end on a high note. When the BRT was due to choose its next Eurovision entry in 1981, he had already retired. For more than twenty years, he was involved in the contest, but due to the two Belgian public broadcasters’ arrangement to submit Francophone and Dutch-language entries in turn, he took part as a conductor in the international final on ‘only’ nine occasions. According to Leo Bayezt, his father always took pride in representing the Belgian colours. “When he walked onto the Eurovision stage, you could simply not fail to notice how confident and proud he was. Throughout his life, he was a proud Belgian. Furthermore, Eurovision was something which came along only every second year, which gave an extra dimension. The Eurovision Song Contest was an experience which was looked forward to immensely. His enthusiasm for the festival never dwindled as he got older. Music is still music, and my father never wanted to leave the music business, so I’m sure he did his last Eurovision with the same amount of gusto as his first.”
The Eurovision songs which Francis Bay conducted never were really successful. The best result was a sixth place in 1959, but, more often than not, the Flemish candidates finished near the bottom of the scoreboard. Bay himself felt he knew what the core of the problem was, as his son Leo recalls: “He always said Belgian composers were reluctant to take part in the national selection. They were afraid to become Europe’s laughing stock with a bad result. Freddy Sunder, for example, never submitted a song. He simply wasn’t interested.” In an interview, Francis Bay also claimed that Belgium’s most interesting artists, such as Jacques Brel and Adamo, usually preferred working abroad. Thus, the music scene in Belgium itself always remained rather provincial. But, as Bay added with a mix of acrimony and irony, “actually, the BRT are terrified at the prospect of winning Eurovision one day, because if we win, they will go bankrupt right away. Organising the Eurovision Song Contest costs a small fortune and who will pay for that in Flanders?”
Several months after the festival in Jerusalem, Micha Marah – wearing her Eurovision dress – was invited to perform with Francis Bay’s Television Orchestra at Mechlin’s City Theatre

Shortly after having joined Francis Bay’s Entertainment Orchestra, guitarist Freddy Sunder was commissioned by his conductor to write an arrangement. “The song he asked me to work on was ‘Tua’, a San Remo entry. I really did my utmost to come up with something good – and after finishing the arrangement, I wrote the full scores for all fifteen instruments. Impatiently, I waited for the next rehearsal. Francis sat down and started conducting my arrangement… but almost immediately, he covered both of his ears with his hands, screaming to me: “Good heavens, this is awful! Immediately remove all sheets from the standards and give them to me”. He then proceeded to tear them to pieces standing right in front of me. Only after I had done a fifth version of the arrangement, he was satisfied with the result! Well, I’d have gone about differently, but experiences like this are part and parcel of working in the music business.” (2009)
In 1965, when guitarist Francis Goya was just nineteen years old, he took part in the Concours Micro d’Or, a contest for Belgian amateur rock groups. One of the jurors was Francis Bay. 
… and believe it or not, we won! (…) Apart from work of their own choice, all bands participating in the competition had to interpret an obligatory piece, which had been composed by Bay himself. At the time, I was experimenting with instrumentation. I wrote an arrangement to Bay’s piece, and I think that pushed us over the line. He was really impressed by our version. In fact, he even offered me a position in his television orchestra! When I protested that I didn’t read music, he said that this wasn’t a problem – he said: “We will teach you soon enough, my boy!” Still, I refused. I didn’t want to be in a grand orchestra; I preferred playing in a group with friends, having a good time. Make no mistake, we were making some decent money in nightclubs in Brussels, playing covers of the Rolling Stones, Small Faces, The Kinks… and winning the Micro d’Or won us another 250,000 Belgian francs; not bad! I was having fun and didn’t see why I should give all of that up.” (2020)

Francis Bay (centre) as a juror at the Concours Micro d’Or, mid-1960s

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Hou toch van mij"
Rendition – Bob Benny
Lyrics – Ké Riema
Composition – Hans Flower
Studio arrangement – Frank Engelen / Glen Powell (= Félix Faecq)
Live orchestration – Frank Engelen
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 6th place (9 votes)

Country – Belgium
Song title – "September, gouden roos"
Rendition – Bob Benny
Lyrics – Wim Brabants
Composition – Hans Flower
Studio arrangement – Jan Ceulemans / Glen Powell (= Félix Faecq)
(studio orchestra conducted by Francis Bay)
Live orchestration – Jan Ceulemans
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 15th place (1 vote)

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Waarom"
Rendition – Jacques Raymond
Lyrics – Wim Brabants
Composition – Hans Flower
Studio arrangement – Nico Gomez (= Josef van het Groenewoud) / Glen Powell (= Félix Faecq)
(studio orchestra conducted by Francis Bay)
Live orchestration – Nico Gomez
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 10th place (4 votes)

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Ik heb zorgen"
Rendition – Louis Neefs
Lyrics – Philippe Van Cauwenbergh
Composition – Paul Quintens
Studio arrangement – Ludwig Pall / Jef Pauwels / Etienne Verschueren 
(studio orchestra conducted by Francis Bay)
Live orchestration – Jef Pauwels / Etienne Verschueren
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 7th place (8 votes) 

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Jennifer Jennings"
Rendition – Louis Neefs
Lyrics – Philippe Van Cauwenbergh
Composition – Paul Quintens
Studio arrangement – Marcel Picavet
(studio orchestra conducted by Francis Bay)
Live orchestration – Jef Pauwels / Marcel Picavet
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 7th place (10 votes)

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Goeie morgen, morgen"
Rendition – Lily Castel & Jacques Raymond
Lyrics – Philippe Van Cauwenbergh
Composition – Paul Quintens
Studio arrangement (Nicole & Hugo version) – Marcel Picavet 
(studio orchestra conducted by Francis Bay)
Live orchestration – Marcel Picavet
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 14th place (68 votes)

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Baby, Baby"
Rendition – Nicole & Hugo
Lyrics – Erik Marijsse
Composition – Ignace Baert
Studio arrangement – Marcel Picavet 
(studio orchestra conducted by Francis Bay)
Live orchestration – Marcel Picavet
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 17th place (58 votes)

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Gelukkig zijn / Could It Be Happiness"
Rendition – Ann Christy
Lyrics – Mary Boduin
Composition – Mary Boduin
Studio arrangement – John Sluszny
Live orchestration – John Sluszny
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 15th place (17 votes)

Song title – "Hey nana"
Rendition – Micha Marah
Lyrics – Guy Beyers
Composition – Charles Dumolin
Studio arrangement (Charles Dumolin version)Charles Blackwell
Live orchestration – Willy Heynen / Francis Bay
Conductor – Francis Bay
Score – 18th place (5 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Leo Bayezt (March 2020) / Frans Van Dyck † (2010) / Stella Maessen (March 2019) / Gaston Nuyts † (January 2010) / Hugo Sigal (March 2020) / Jan Schoukens (April 2020) / Freddy Sunder † (2009)
  • Bas Tukker exchanged emails with Marc Dex (March 2020) / Micha Marah (March 2020) / Tom van den Oetelaar (April 2020) / Jacques Raymond & Ingriani (March 2020) / Andre Vermeulen (October 2020)
  • Huib Dejonghe, “De juke-box heeft het allemaal kapot gemaakt”, in: Het Nieuwsblad, January 19th, 1980
  • Valère Depauw, “The Francis Bay Story” (article subdivided in three parts), in: Panorama, June 13-27, 1961
  • Ale van Dijk, “Engelse ploeg favoriet”, in: Het Vrije Volk, July 13th, 1968
  • Ale van Dijk, “Francis Bay wil het heel anders”, in: Het Vrije Volk, July 16th, 1968
  • Herman, “Zoeklicht op Toni Corsari & Francis Bay”, in: Trouw. Maandblad Chirojeugd, February 1962
  • George Kunz, “Dick Willebrandts en zijn Orkest, in: Delftsche Courant, May 24th, 1943
  • Ans van der Linden-Mostert, “Robert E. van der Linden, musicus. Een korte biografie ter gelegenheid van zijn tachtigste verjaardag op 19 maart 2016”, ined.: Voorst Gem. Voorst 2016
  • Bert Pasterkamp, “Jean Claude Pascal verrassende winnaar songfestival”, in: Het Vrije Volk, March 20th, 1961
  • Don Player, “Champs ‘Beatnik’ follow-up to ‘Tequila’”, in: The Record Mirror, February 28th, 1959
  • Hans van Reijsen, “Strenge bewaking deelnemers songfestival”, in: De Graafschapbode, March 21st, 1975
  • Bert Roeyen / Lieve Van de Wiele, “Te gast bij… Francis Bay: ‘Ik ben nooit tevreden over mezelf’”, in: Zie-Magazine, September 3rd, 1976
  • Karel Sender, “Stuurt de BRT het Francis Bay-orkest de laan uit?”, in: Ons Zondagsblad, October 29th, 1967
  • Maarten Stoop, “Muziek en vermaak voor ieders smaak. Een biografie van de vroege muzikale carrière van Francis Bay, 1936-1958”, master thesis, ined.: Ghent University 2014
  • Raymond Stuyk, “Francis Bay: niet de klown uithangen”, in: Zie-Magazine, August 21st, 1970
  • Nathalie Villanueva, “Floere Franske – Biografie van een trombonist en componist”, bachelor thesis, ined.: Zellik 1997
  • Bert Vuijsje, “Gewoon een schnabbel”, in: De Volkskrant, May 4th, 1985
  • Anon. (1957), “Ontmoeting met Francis Bay: leider van het NIR-amusementsorkest”, in: Ons Land, March 30th, 1957
  • Anon. (1957), “Francis Bay komt”, in: Gazet van Mechelen, November 1957
  • Anon. (1958), “Francis Bay”, in: Muziek Spiegel, May 1958
  • Anon. (1960), “Francis Bay”, in: De Ster. Soldatenblad van de Vrije Technische Scholen-Turnhout, no. 8-1, September 1960
  • Anon. (1960), “Wie is Francis Bay?”, in: Top Tunes, 1960
  • Anon. (1961), “Francis Bay – ‘Encore Tequila’ SVP”, in: Bonnes Soirées, January 11th, 1961
  • Anon. (1965), “Voorbeschouwingen bij het Eurovisie-Songfestival te Napels”, in: [Flemish daily – title unknown], March 19th, 1965
  • Anon. (1969), “Francis Bay: ‘Ontdek de Ster viel echt mee, maar er valt nóg te leren’”, in: De Standaard, November 14th, 1969
  • Anon. (1973), “Francis Bay: de rug op het tv-scherm”, in: Zie-Magazine, March 2nd, 1973
  • Anon. (1974), “Swingende Bay”, in: TV-Ekspres, November 30th, 1974
  • Anon. (1975), “Francis Bay heeft angst om het songfestival te winnen”, in: Story (Belgian edition), March 21st, 1975
  • Anon. (1979), “Wie schreef fouten in ‘Hey Nana’?”, in: Het Nieuwsblad, March 8th, 1979
  • Anon. (s.d.), “Kent u Francis Bay?”, in: Muziek, sine dato
  • Various other sources: first and foremost Francis Bay’s archives, looked after by his son Leo; there were also Frans Van Dyck’s scrapbooks as well as various online articles and outtakes of television programmes
  • Photos courtesy of Leo Bayezt and Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to the Brussels Jazz Orchestra for their help in tracking down artists and producers who worked with Francis Bay
  • Thanks to Edwin van Gorp for proofreading the manuscript

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