Saturday 3 May 1986


The following article is an overview of the career of British horn player, arranger, and conductor Martyn Ford. The main source of information are four interviews with Mr Ford, conducted by Bas Tukker in 2006 and 2023. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Martyn Ford's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2006 & 2023

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

Born: April 28th, 1944, Rugby, England (United Kingdom)
Nationality: British


As an arranger and conductor, Martyn Ford took part in the Eurovision Song Contest twice, leading the orchestra for two Cypriot entries in the 1980s. In 1982, he conducted the orchestra for Cyprus’ second-ever entry, ‘Mono i agapi’, performed by Anna Vissi. Four years later, in Bergen, he was back as the MD for Elpida, who represented the Mediterranean island with ‘Tora zo’.


Martyn Ford was born in Rugby, but grew up in London and Cheltenham. His father was an engineer working for the Thorn Electrical Company. 

“He was part of the team who invented the fluorescent light bulb,” Martyn comments. “As a boy, he had been taught to play the piano, but he wasn’t as good at it as my grandfather; somehow you often find that the musical gene jumps one generation. Instead, dad sang in a local opera company, but more importantly he loved listening to classical music. I must have been about six years old when he put on a 78 rpm record of the overture of Rossini’s ‘Thieving Magpie’. That piece really caught my ear – I thought it was exciting.”

“One or two years later, my older brother took me to Kenwood, an open-air venue in Hampstead Heath in North London, for a classical concert. The orchestra played Handel’s ‘Water Music’ – and at some point, I asked him, “What’s making this amazing sound?” He explained to me that those instruments are called French horns. I just said, “I want to play one of them!” From that moment on, I pestered my parents, going on and on about how much I wanted to take horn lessons. In the end, they agreed, provided I passed my 11+ exams, which determined if you were eligible to go to grammar school – and so I studied, passed the exams, and started taking music lessons. In the youth orchestra in Cheltenham, I sat alongside a boy my age called David Cripps. He later became the principal horn in the London Symphony Orchestra!”

“When I was an early adolescent, I discovered rock music. First there was skiffle with Lonnie Donegan who had a string of hits in the UK in the 1950s – and then came Elvis Presley and the early English rock stars like Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard. In my lunchbreak at school in Beckenham, I put every penny I had in the jukebox to hear ‘Peter Gunn’ by Duane Eddy. When I moved to Cheltenham, we were forming all kinds of rock groups ourselves. I became the lead singer of The Storms, who later took on the new name of Martyn Ford & The Storms!"

Martyn Ford (far left) as the frontman of teenage band The Storms in Cheltenham (1960)

"It started out in the usual manner – we were all keen to impress girls, and it worked! We played for money and we did a lot of gigs – hunt balls and holiday camps… we even did a rock version of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ once at a Christian rally which was attended by Princess Margaret! It was very early days and it was probably very awful. The invitation came from the local vicar, who then went on to become the Bishop of Liverpool. He later invited us for a concert in Liverpool Cathedral, which was a very big deal. We must have been the first rock group to perform in a church! In those days, rock bands were touring the UK, performing in local venues. In Cheltenham, the local cinema had a proscenium which allowed for concerts to be held. In the early days of The Stones and The Beatles, they performed at that venue – and we were chosen to be the support group for both of them. Quite a memory!”

“So those two things, singing in a band and playing the French horn in local symphony orchestras, went on in parallel, until I made it known to my parents that I wanted to pursue a career in pop music. They were fed up with me doing gigs and going out with girls. They wanted me to go to university. That’s why they sent me to boarding school for two years. My best marks were in zoology and botany – and I always took a keen interest in entomology. In the end, I chose to study zoology in Oxford, but I was really unhappy there. At heart, I’ve never been much of an academic. By now, I was in my early twenties, and I still wasn’t sure what to do with my life. I left Oxford and worked at the Natural History Museum in London for three years; but in reality, from that moment onward, music was my life. I played horn in amateur orchestras every evening, and even at work during coffee breaks. Finally, in 1968, when I was already 24, I made the great leap of faith and applied for the Royal Academy of Music – and was accepted. I studied French horn for four years and graduated in 1972.”

“When I had been at the Academy for only about a year, I was beginning to receive some first invitations to play horn on recording sessions that were taking place in London. One of the first ones I was in was with Sir George Martin conducting ‘The Long and Winding Road’ for The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ album! As time went on, those studio commissions became more regular, as Ifor James, who was my horn teacher, started booking me for sessions as well. There I was, 27 years old, sitting between all those fantastic session musicians; it was very exciting. When you are a student, the word ‘sessions’ sounds like ‘Hollywood’! We played absolutely everything; advertisement jingles, but also the session for ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ by The Hollies. Also as a student, I played in the pit orchestra for ‘Showboat’, which featured Cleo Laine, and also for the original West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar. There, I first met Yvonne Elliman, who played Mary Magdalene, and one of my colleagues in the orchestra was a 14-year-old Simon Phillips, who has been the greatest drummer in the world for the last 40-odd years. Playing horn in the pit earned me 20 quid a night, which in the 1970s was good money.”

Martyn lying down on the roof of the Natural History Museum in London with colleagues Tim Dackus, John Osborne, and Julian Brightman (c. 1967)

“I guess you could say the attitude towards pop music at the academy was pretty positive. The barriers between classical and rock music were breaking down by then. When ‘Abbey Road’ came out, a friend and I went out to buy a copy and went into the academy library to listen to it all day. Most students were aware of what was going on in the rock scene. I was no exception. I enjoyed listening to the orchestrations done by Peter Knight for the Moody Blues’ album ‘Days Of Future Passed’, which included ‘Nights In White Satin’. Knight was perhaps the first to break the mould of what I would term ‘Mickey Mouse’ arrangements – the type of light-music arrangements done by Norrie Paramor for Cliff Richard and Cilla Black. Parallel with Knight, George Martin did a similar job with his charts for The Beatles. The orchestra on ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and ‘Abbey Road’ was doing stuff that had never been done before.”

“The genuine revolution, however, was brought about by Paul Buckmaster. I clearly remember the day when I was shopping for a pair of jeans in the centre of London. Going into a basement store, I heard a record being played in a music shop. I stopped in my tracks. These were rock tracks with orchestrations that I’d never heard before. It was Elton John’s 1970 album, arranged by Buckmaster. That was a milestone in rock music. There were amazing harmonies. The string section sounded punchy and dynamic. It was completely unexpected – uncharted territory. Paul completely changed the game for everyone. Suddenly, all rock bands wanted to use orchestrations; Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, everyone. It was Paul who started the trend.”

“It must have been 1971 when I met a chap called Ulrich Berstein. We got talking and found that we liked the same music; Bruckner, Mahler, and Richard Strauss… the neoromantic composers. Ulrich was an aspiring conductor. At some point, I said, “I’ll put together an orchestra for you. Let’s put on a concert.” It was just one of those whimsical things you do when you are young. I had no fear – and so I hired the Royal Albert Hall for 360 pounds and put together an orchestra of the best students of the four main music colleges in London. By that time, I had been playing in amateur orchestras and studio sessions – and I knew exactly who I wanted for the gig. I paid them ten pounds each. Of course I was in it as well. The standard of musicianship in this scratch orchestra was very high indeed. Many of the players went on to play in the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the London Symphony Orchestra, and others. Unfortunately the audience in the Royal Albert Hall was no more than some 100 people… but the concert itself was amazing! We played brilliantly. It also had quite a good write-up in the Daily Telegraph.”

Conducting a Barclay James Harvest concert at the Tower of London (1971)

“Originally, it was just planned as a one-off concert, but my second bassoonist happened to be good friends with Robert Godfrey, who was the arranger and conductor for a rock band called Barclay James Harvest. As it happened, they wanted to go on the road for a concert tour with an orchestra – and Robin suggested contacting me. “Here you have an amazing orchestra with young musicians who would probably enjoy playing rock music.” So Godfrey asked me if we were interested to go on tour – well, of course we were. That was really exciting; taking this young orchestra and visiting all the main rock venues in the UK. 

“Robert Godfrey conducted that first tour, but he really was a terrible conductor. He was a hysterical, highly strung, unpleasant man who didn’t know how to deal with orchestral musicians. At one point, he fell out with us and stomped out. Then BJH asked if I could take over; and I said, “I’ll conduct this lot; that’s what I’m used to doing.” In reality I had never conducted before. At the Academy, I hadn’t been allowed to study conducting because I didn’t play the piano, but I had been playing for great conductors like Colin Davis and Neville Marriner – and in concerts I had closely watched Bernstein, Giulini, and all the other great conductors of that generation. I knew what was required of a conductor. All the rest is confidence and self-belief. It takes a lot of bottle to stand up in front of a professional orchestra."

"Somehow, conducting came naturally to me. In a short time, I developed a conducting technique which was clear and concise – and which worked. Pop music is mostly about beating time anyway; it usually doesn’t breathe – it's just a steady pulse. Ballads sometimes have a bit of rubato, where you have to speed up and slow down the orchestra. Also bear in mind that I had only gone to the academy when I was 24. Most of the others were five or six years younger than me. Being a little more mature, I had just that bit more authority which made up for my total lack of experience. I was in the right place at the right time with an amazing amount of talent around me.”

Conducting the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra for Barclay James Harvest's South African tour (September 1972)

“Conducting the orchestra, I did the remainder of the first concert tour – and then we did a second one the following year. This second tour took us abroad; in South Africa, I got to conduct the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra of the SABC; and in Berne, Switzerland, we performed at the Good News Festival in a football stadium packed with 80,000 people – a number dwarfed by another concert we did in England for an estimated 250,000 at the Weeley Festival. We also did an open-air concert at the Tower of London. In advance, we were told expressly to finish the concert before 9pm so as not to interfere with the Ceremony of the Keys, but we just overran the time limit while we were on the last number which was the big climax of the gig. They simply turned the power off! As you can imagine, the audience of 20,000 people weren’t very happy, but that didn’t take away the thrill of performing in that location.”

“Now, all of this was going on in 1972, when I was still studying at the academy. In between all the touring, I also continued working as a session player. I remember being in the studio orchestra when the arrangement to ‘Without You’ by Harry Nilsson was recorded; another fantastic score written by Paul Buckmaster. With all the work that I did, I was earning a decent living. Among my fellow-students and professors, rumours were going around, because “Martyn Ford was turning up at the academy driving a Bentley – wearing a fur coat and being incredibly ostentatious.” Some genuinely thought that I was selling drugs or doing porn movies; “Whatever he’s doing, it must be illegal!” The glamour of it all, I absolutely loved it. Also on stage, I wore different clothes all the time, conducting the orchestra in an orange tank top at the Tower of London – and then at another gig looking vaguely smart! This surely was an exciting time.”

“In 1972, I moved into a flat in the West End of London. Above me lived a Canadian disc jockey, Dave Cash. He introduced me to a lot of people in the music business. One day, a guy called Danny Sims came along. He was the manager of an American singer who I had never heard of, Johnny Nash. Now, Dave wanted to help me and said, “Danny, I want you to meet Martyn Ford. He’s the new kid on the block and he does excellent arrangements!” Danny asked, “Oh, do you write arrangements?” Of course I said yes, but in fact I didn’t at the time. It was something I was aspiring to do! Danny then played me a cassette of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. It was just a rough mix, but you could tell straightaway that it was going to be a huge hit. He then said, “I want a synth arrangement for the middle bridge and the end.” So I wrote a chart; it didn’t take me that long, because this song really arranged itself. Of course I wasn’t a piano player, but in the 1970s synthesisers were monophonic – and even I could play one thing at a time with one finger. I called on Francis Monkman to come to the studio. He programmed the Moog for me and helped me with some bits. It cost us a full day’s work to record eight tracks – a slow process of endless overdubbing. I put in a bill to CBS Records for 35 pounds and the Head of A&R called me up, because he felt it was a bit steep! So I knocked a fiver off and charged them 30 pounds… That record went to number 1 in the United States and was a worldwide success – and the first big hit I was involved in.”

Conducting his orchestra for a Barclay James Harvest concert in London's Rainbow Theatre (1972)

“Following that Johnny Nash track, I did string arrangements for The Sutherland Brothers. Theoretically I wasn’t really well prepared, because I had only had very basic harmony lessons at the academy, which I didn’t really understand and enjoy… but my ears told me what to write. I made it up as I went along. The inspiration came from the classical composers who I admired; and of course from Paul Buckmaster, who had taught all of us how to use the strings as a rhythm section rather than simply as a ‘sweetener’. I was very lucky to kickstart my career as a studio arranger with ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. By now any ambition that I might have had to be a horn player in a symphony orchestra had evaporated. Honestly speaking, I don’t think I would have reached the top of the pole as an instrumentalist. I was a good horn player, but not a great one. I might have got myself a third or fourth horn job in a provincial orchestra, but I don’t think I would have been happy with that kind of life in the long run.”

“Coming back from that Barclay James Harvest tour, people started asking me if they could book my orchestra for studio sessions. Producers and arrangers wanted to work with this young orchestra. Most session players in London were in their fifties and sixties and didn’t really get rock music. They were just in it for the money. We were younger, much younger! We were an overnight success and caused a major explosion, an upset! I founded my own company called Mountain Fjord; and I became the fixer for my own orchestra, which was booked by arrangers to record their work. Initially, I was in it myself as a horn player, but very often the arranger then would ask me to do the conducting for him, because a lot of arrangers can be wonderful arrangers, but they couldn’t conduct a bus! They weren’t confident conducting an orchestra, they didn’t like doing that… and were happy to leave it to me while they went into the control room to listen to the result.”

“An early example was ‘Angie’ by The Rolling Stones (in 1973 – BT). That track was arranged by a very eccentric, but very talented musician called Nick Harrison. Nick was not a good conductor and asked me to take over. He brought the arrangement and we recorded it. Mick Jagger was there as well – he was very professional and knew what he wanted; a guy with a great pair of ears. I conducted it, the orchestra played it, we all went home… and that record went to number 1 in America and the UK the same week. It was an amazing highlight to have a hand in a massive hit with a band that I had gone to see as a schoolboy in Cheltenham ten years before.”

The track 'Let Your Body Go Downtown', written by Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran, was a minor chart success for the Martyn Ford Orchestra in 1977

“The following year, the same thing happened with Led Zeppelin. Their bass player John Paul Jones rang me up to book a 30-piece orchestra. The session was in Olympic Studios. As the contractor, I turned up to make sure that the orchestra was there, but then John said, “Well, now that you’re here, you might as well conduct it for me.” We recorded it and I remember thinking, “That’s rather good.” I was just paid a fee for my orchestra and the conducting job, went home, and forgot all about it – and then it turned out the song was ‘Kashmir’, which is still one of Led Zeppelin’s most famous tracks of all time.”

“It all happened so quickly! I was a new kid on the block, with a wonderful product, this bright young orchestra. The older guard of session musicians felt very threatened. I once heard a story about Tony Hall, who was the manager of The Real Thing and Paul Buckmaster, walking into a studio with the old-school musicians and saying, “This just isn’t good enough… I wish I had booked Martyn Ford’s players.” As you can imagine, they went ballistic! They referred to us as schoolboys with satchels, but at the same time we knew they just lacked our rhythmic feel. Our approach was different and it worked. Within two years my orchestra was completely monopolising the orchestral sessions in London.”

“Until the mid-1980s, I had a constant nucleus of players, who had been there from that very first concert in the Royal Albert Hall. Another thing why my orchestra stood out… some 30 to 40 percent of the players were women. Now, you have to realise that there were no women in the London Symphony Orchestra at the time. The only time they got a woman was when they couldn’t get a male harpist. In the session business the situation was not that much different. It was silly. Having women in your orchestra isn’t a distraction at all; quite the opposite, it has a positive effect! Orchestral musicians are competitive. You want to be the best player. You don’t want to sit next to a woman and play badly, do you? I always picked my people solely on ability and talent, not on their sex or age. If they were beautiful young women, that was fine. I also booked my horn professor, Ifor James, who was much older than me, to play in sessions, the only reason being simply that he was one of the best horn players in the world.”

With Paul Buckmaster (left) and French producer André Djaoui recording the album 'Family Of Love', which featured Demis Roussos and Jeane Manson (1977)

“In the 1970s, a group of some twenty arrangers insisted on using my orchestra for their recording sessions – one of them being Paul Buckmaster, which was great because he was my inspiration to become an arranger. Like a lot of geniuses, Paul was very flawed. He couldn’t meet deadlines and could be very unprofessional, but my god, when he got it right, he was just the best! Paul and I became friends. We were part of a group of musicians who got together in London at somebody’s flat to listen to music, talk about the projects we were working on, and get absolutely wrecked. Apart from Paul, there was Peter Robertson, Johnny Gustafsson and his girlfriend Ann Odell, who also wrote arrangements, Tony Warmsley, and some others. It’s fair to say that our lifestyle wasn’t the healthiest; lots of drugs, but on the other hand it was inspirational to have this group of great people to hang out with day in and day out.”

“After two or three years, I could see clearly where my career was going – and where I wanted it to go. I did less and less horn playing, until that stopped completely, and more and more conducting and also arranging. Sometimes I had to turn down commissions because I wouldn’t have been able to get it done in time. One time I was given a call by Elton John’s producer Gus Dudgeon. “I need a string arrangement done by Saturday. It’s for a new artist. Can you do that for me?” I said that I was sorry, but I didn’t have the time; so I told him about this good friend of mine, Bruce Baxter, who was a very competent arranger… and then later I found out that the song was ‘Fool If You Think It’s Over’, Chris Rea’s first hit. Bruce went on to arrange all of Chris Rea’s stuff for the rest of his career. It was a quick lesson that you should never say ‘no’. I should have accepted the work and then paid Bruce to do it for me. I missed out on some very successful and lucrative recordings.”

Nonetheless, Martyn Ford had a hand in an incredible amount of 1970s hits, conducting the studio sessions for ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed (1972), ‘Grand Hotel’ by Procol Harum (1973), ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty, ‘With A Little Luck’ for Wings (both 1978), ‘No More Fear Of Flying’ by Gary Brooker, and ‘Stay With Me 'til Dawn’ by Judie Tzuke (both 1979). Moreover, he penned the arrangements to tracks by Yvonne Elliman, Lynsey de Paul, and Jeane Manson – including Jeane’s number 1 hit in France, ‘Un enfant est né’ (1977). He also worked with Bryan Ferry and Elton John.

Martyn seated at the piano "looking like a twat", as he puts it, for a promotional photo marking the launch of his company Mountain Fjord Ltd. in 1978. To Martyn's left are Sandie Shaw and her personal assistant, who shared the company's offices at Mortimer Street in London; to his right are his American financial director Jeffrey Levinson and his personal assistant - and later fellow director - Jane Dadswell

“For Bryan Ferry’s first solo album, his management team used me as a fixer, working with my orchestra. Then for the follow-up record, ‘Another Time, Another Place’, I did the brass arrangements and all the conducting. After those sessions, Bryan realised I had a talent to conduct, and so he asked me and the orchestra to go on tour with him – the first tour he did after going solo following his spell with Roxy Music. He took us on the road, touring all the big venues in the UK. We couldn’t quite believe it. We were living a dream. After that I did the brass arrangements for Bryan’s third album, ‘Let’s Stick Together’ – and, even now, that song is one of my top-ten earners in terms of radio play.”

“One day in 1976, I had a phone call from the two chief executives at Mountain Records, who invited me to come to their office. In the past few years, I had done loads of arrangements for the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Nazareth, who were both under contract with their company. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, one of these executives asked, “Oh Martyn, would you like to make an album of your own?” It just came like a bolt out of the blue. Well, of course the answer was ‘yes’. They gave me a budget and basically said, “Go off and do what you want!” That would never happen now, but in those days that’s how the recording business worked. I didn’t know what to do really. In the end I decided to disco up a few numbers and see what happened. I chose disco because I like dance music, but the main reason was that disco records were selling well in those days. The album was called ‘Smoovin’ and it was recorded with my own orchestra. One track on it was written by me and it’s called ‘Horny’ – a totally insane track, partly written in 7/8 which is an unusual rhythm… but honestly speaking I wasn’t born a songwriter. What’s the point in trying when you’ve got Lennon/McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Simon? Let them get on with it. I was always happy to be the middle man, the arranger and conductor.”

“That first album didn’t really do well, but I was given a new opportunity the following year. As the precursor of a second album, a single was released co-written by Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran. Lynsey and Mike were great friends of mine. When I asked them, they had just come second in Eurovision with ‘Rock Bottom’. The track was called ‘Let Your Body Go Downtown’ and it just crawled into the bottom of the UK charts – and Mountain Records then decided not to release the second album, because the single didn’t take off enough. Looking back, I guess I’m a bit frustrated that my solo career didn’t take off – it would have been nice to be a superstar and a millionaire, which I’m not; but on the other hand, all the nerds who read the small print on the albums know who I am; and those solo releases were all real music, with real people getting together in the studio to record. I enjoyed every bit of that.”

Conducting the Black Dyke Mills Band in a studio session for the album 'Back to the Egg' by Paul McCartney & Wings (1979)

“I also worked with Lynsey outside of the recording studio, conducting a show with her at the London Palladium, featuring as guests Marti Caine, Mike Reid, and even Sacha Distel. It was a full week of performances – and the London Palladium, which holds over 2,000, was sold out every night. The pit orchestra was wonderful and that was a great experience. Because I loved conducting so much, I also accepted offers now and again to work with amateur musical productions across the country as their professional MD. Make no mistake, that was bloody hard work – a three-hour-show. It’s like playing a Mahler symphony! But it was very rewarding, because in the pit you get a camaraderie one can’t get anywhere else. Things are going on in there which the audience never gets to see. I loved it, but this was always a bit on the side of the studio work.”

“Another artist I was lucky enough to work with was Paul McCartney with his band Wings. Early on in my studio career, my orchestra played on the record of ‘Live And Let Die’, but the most I did for Paul was towards the end of the 1970s, conducting the single release of ‘With A Little Luck’ – and later on, also writing a brass arrangement for the ‘Back To The Egg’ album. For one of the tracks, Paul wanted to use a brass band. Now, Paul is one of the greatest singer-songwriters the world has ever known, but he doesn’t read music. This made it hard for him to express himself in musical terms. He explained to me what he had in mind and I wrote what I thought he wanted. An additional problem was that I’d never written for a brass band before, but your job as an arranger is to produce to the best of your ability what the artist needs. Most of the time, I got it right – and also in this case, Paul seemed to be happy, although listening to those arrangements now I find them pretty awful… even if we worked with Black Dyke, arguably the most famous brass band in the world! That’s what happens in the business; some of the things I wrote that I thought were absolute crap, were very successful, while some other things I’m really proud of weren’t even released. You don’t have any control over it, you just put the same amount of love and energy in every project.”

Moving on into the early 1980s, Martyn Ford worked as an arranger and conductor on recordings with the likes of Kate Bush, Annifrid Lyngstad, Julio Iglesias, Elton John, Cliff Richard, and Style Council. A somewhat surprising name in this list is Matt Monro, a crooner who had his heyday in the 1960s.

“Matt’s producer, John Burgess, asked me to arrange an album for him – and one of the songs he wanted to do was ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, originally recorded by Harry Belafonte. Now, this commission came along just at the time that reggae was really taking off. Bob Marley and The Police were happening. Going home I imagined ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ with a reggae feel to it – and everybody was reggaefying everything! John wasn’t too sure if it was a good idea, but we had a go nonetheless, recording a rhythm track for Matt with some strings and brass. Then Matt came into the studio and, well, of course he couldn’t sing it. He just couldn’t handle syncopation at all! So that got thrown away and we did a straight version. That same Christmas, have a guess who was at number 1 in the charts? ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ by Boney M! Possibly Matt missed out on a big hit, but this was a good arrangement written for the wrong artist. I probably should have known better.”

Paul McCartney during the sessions of his 'Back to the Egg' album in Abbey Road Studios, flanked by Michael Anthrobus, resident conductor of the Black Dyke Mills Band (left) and Martyn Ford (1979)

“I first met Phil Collins when he was recording his first solo album, ‘Face Value’, for which I conducted the strings (in 1981 – BT). Phil was a wonderful guy; very easy-going and relaxed. He and I became very close friends. We saw each other nearly every day for weeks and months on end. The following year, he asked if I would arrange his second album, ‘Hello! I Must Be Going’. For that album, Phil wanted to do a cover of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ by The Supremes as a homage to Motown; as a hats-off to the era of Sam & Dave and Diana Ross. So I said, “That’s got to have strings on it.” When Phil said that the original didn’t, I just replied, “Well, yeah, but it should have – and it needs to be a reference to this time, so those strings should be a bit Motown-esque and in the style of Norrie Paramor’s arrangements for Cliff Richard’s early recordings!” From that moment, Phil called me ‘Norrie’; if you look at the credits of the album, there’s a credit reading Martyn ‘Norrie’ Ford. It was totally in the spirit in which we did the recording; it was all a bit tongue-in-cheek and never meant to be a serious orchestral thing.”

“After we had recorded all the tracks, I forgot about it for about a month – and suddenly I got a phone call about 10pm. It was Phil; he was in the process of mixing the album and he said, “Can you come up to the studio? I just don’t know what to do with the strings.” In the previous album, his producer Arif Mardin had been involved in the mixing. This time, it was me who was asked to get the sound balance right. It struck me how anxious Phil was to get it done quickly. He kept saying, “Oh yeah, that’s fine! Let’s move on.” I wanted every bar to be perfect, so I insisted on spending another half an hour on the mix. So, character-wise, Phil was a bit impatient, but that’s a minor criticism.”

“He then went over to New York and played the album to Ahmet Ertegun, the head of CBS – and Ertegun was blown away by ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. He thought it was amazing. Phil said, “No! That was just done as a bit of fun… as an afterthought,” but Ertegun insisting on having that as the first single. Coincidentally, Terry Wogan started his talk show on BBC1 in 1982; and about three months before it went out for the first time, he had booked Phil Collins for the first show. We performed ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ live with the rhythm section, some strings from my orchestra, and two backing singers – and on that day, the song went to number 1 in the USA and the UK. That was great for us; and a wonderful coup for Terry Wogan.”

“Frustratingly, on the single release of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, I didn’t get a credit. Phil was genuinely upset about that and was really cross with the record company. As a way of making it up to me, he insisted that the next single which came out, ‘Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away’, was credited as Phil Collins & The Martyn Ford Orchestra’. It wasn’t a big hit, but it was still a nice gesture. Things like this happened to me too often. When ‘Angie’ came out, it just said, "Thanks to Nick and Martin"… now the general public aren’t going to know who Martyn and Nick are – and they even spelled Martyn the wrong way. ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ is another example of a record on which I wasn’t credited. Johnny Nash then made sure that I got lots of credits on the album sleeve, but a credit on a single that sold 7 million copies was worth a lot more than the album which was forgotten about in a matter of months.”

“I continued working with Phil for some more years. One of the things I did was conducting the orchestra for his single ‘One More Night’ (in 1985 – BT). Then, in 1986, some very unfortunate things happened in my life – in fact, that year, I lost everything. By that time, there were three members of my company, Mountain Fjord; first, there was the woman who had started off as my secretary; and we employed a guy from New York to look after all the finances. He paid the musicians and dealt with the taxes – that sort of thing. However, our relationship with him gradually soured. In the end, he just went back to America never to be seen again – and taking all the money out of the company with him. The Musicians’ Union then went after me, as I was the figurehead of the company. Everybody knew that Mountain Fjord was Martyn Ford. They didn’t know this American guy. They said, “Until this money gets paid to the musicians, you can’t work anymore.” And it was quite a lot of money. In those days, the unions were more powerful. I was no longer an officially recognised contractor, so I couldn’t fix any more sessions. That was the end of my orchestra.” 

“That same year, I also got divorced. This meant that I lost half of my personal possessions on top of all my company money. I was in a no-win situation. The following ten years were really rough. I was unemployed and very poor. Fortunately some friends in Leicester helped me out by allowing me to move in with them when things were very bad. I did get some work; I was the brass tutor of the Nottingham Youth Orchestra and I got a job in a local college as a Music Development Officer. I also did the pre-concert talks with the conductors and soloists of the professional symphony orchestras who came up to play in the main concert hall in Derby. That paid a bit, but these were basically just little jobs here and there and I was just scraping a living. Mind you, my story isn’t unique; far from it. In fact, the music business is full of stories like this.”

Backstage with Deep Purple's Roger Glover (2003)

“Some of the money was never paid; and in the end, the Musicians’ Union more or less gave up. Apart from that, due to changes in the law, the Union could no longer stop me working. Gradually, I picked myself up. I formed an orchestra in the Midlands and had some gigs with them. I stopped taking drugs which probably helped; and I got married again. All I can say is that I just pulled my finger out and made the best of it that I could, which I have done ever since. Of course, I never got back to the pinnacle of success that I had in the 1970s and 1980s, but the business has changed anyway – synthesisers and home studios are the norm now.”

“Because of my reputation from the old days, I did start getting some more interesting work again. One of the members of my orchestra in the early days was a viola player called Levine Andrade, who later founded the Arditti Quartet – and he became the top jingle fixer in London, which I had been in the 1970s. In those days, he used to work for me all the time. When I was getting myself back together, he remembered me… payback time! Levine worked with a fantastic studio orchestra, the London Telefilmonic. Most of the stuff they recorded were adverts. Levine wanted me to conduct those sessions for him; and I worked for him for over a decade, recording jingles and scores for film and television. The musicians in the London Telefilmonic Orchestra were really great. Conducting such an orchestra is like driving a Rolls Royce. A lot of the musicians had previously been in my orchestra.”

“In 2004, I received a phone call from Pye Hastings, the lead singer of a prog-rock band called Caravan. Back in the 1970s, I worked with them, doing all their arrangements and a live theatre album with my orchestra, which charted. I hadn’t heard from them in years when Pye rang me up. He told me about their upcoming North American tour. One of their stops was at the Quebec International Summer Music Festival. He said, “Hi Martyn, we were wondering if you still have any of the orchestral arrangements you did for us… because in Quebec there is the opportunity to work with players from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra!” So I went up into my loft and opened the cardboard boxes with hundreds of scores from the 1970s and 1980s. On top of the very first box, I found half a dozen scores for Caravan – and in fact I managed to find everything they were looking for. “Well,” Pye said when I called him back, “if you’ve got those scores, you might as well come over and conduct them for us!” So they flew me out to Canada. The gig was on the Plains of Abraham, a huge open field, with an audience of some 60,000 to 80,000. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra is up there with the great orchestras in the world – and the players were brilliant to work with. It was a thrill doing that concert.”

Conducting a session at Smecky Music Studios in Prague with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (2014)

“I also did some theatre work, but another thing which became important in the 2000s were brass bands. I still play the French horn, so I understand brass playing – and I told myself it was about time to try and get a job with some bands. Quite rapidly, there were several bands who were interested in working with me. One was in Leicester, where I lived, the Leicester Foresters; and two others in Stamford and in Shirley, both about an hour’s drive away. I found I loved the work. All those brass bands are very much part of tightly-knit communities – all of them started off associated with either mines or heavy industry. I love working within those communities. You also get a different enthusiasm from amateur musicians. Make no mistake; the standard of brass playing in the UK is amazing. Some of those bands are really good. Nearly every principal trumpet player in the main symphony orchestras in this country come from a brass band background.”

“In 2010, I moved to Wales, where I’ve continued doing this work until the present day. The house I bought is in the county of Gwent, not far from Cardiff. Some of the best brass bands in the world are here. I worked with the Parc & Dare Brass Band and the City of Cardiff Brass. I must have done some 15 to 20 brass bands now. There were multiple reasons for my move to Wales. Having lived in Leicester for 20 years, I wanted to move to a place close to the coast, yet surrounded by beautiful countryside, which is great because I breed dogs as a hobby – and there is plenty of room in Wales to roam around with them. Although living in Wales, I can get to London by train in two hours; and Cardiff and Bristol are close by, two cities with a vibrant music culture.”

“Now, my brother Colin was the chairman of a company called Peel Partnership, who specialise in cruise ship entertainment. One of the things they do are theatre productions. On modern cruise ships, there are theatres which are like the West End. They put on a different musical every night, but there’s no orchestra playing live; instead, they work with a backing track. Through my brother, they contacted me, asking me to arrange and record those backing tracks with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. This commission occurred just when my work with the London Telefilmonic started to dry up – and I was happy to accept. The orchestra in Prague is great; they’re a specialised session orchestra and 90 percent as good as the London Symphony Orchestra; and they’re about a quarter of the price – great value for money! I did a couple of cruise ship shows with them and they went really well, so I was asked back to conduct a couple more. Following that, via my record label, I was contacted by a composer of library music from Australia, who wanted me to record an album of his new work in Prague. So lots of work I did in recent years was in the Czech Republic.”

Conducting the Cathays Brass Band at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, where the band won first prize in the Instrumental Ensemble Competition (June 2017)

“In 2018, a wonderful opportunity came along to work with some friends from the old days. Judie Tzuke is a wonderful singer who had a hit in the 1970s with ‘Stay With Me ‘til Dawn’, which I conducted. That year, Judie recorded a new album called ‘Woman To Woman’, on which she worked with two other female singers, Beverley Craven and Julia Fordham. After the album release, they did a UK tour; and the girls wanted to have an orchestra to back them up! So I contracted an orchestra, inviting some of the original members of the Martyn Ford Orchestra to join… so there were Levine Andrade, Richard Studt, and Lennie Mackenzie; Richard and Lennie had both gone on to play with the London Symphony Orchestra – and these guys came to play on this pop gig for me for pennies; just for the fun of doing it. As you can imagine, we had a great time together.”

“Very recently, I was approached to do a rock classics tour in Europe later this year (in 2023 – BT). So exciting things are still happening and I’m pleased that the phone still rings, because I love to work. That’s what makes me breathe and get up in the morning; knowing that I’m going to conduct somewhere. It’s almost impossible to explain the attraction of conducting. It’s the best seat in the house, isn’t it? A concert may sound great in the auditorium, but it sounds even better where the bloke who stands in the middle is. I also get tremendous job satisfaction from trying to communicate with an audience what the composer wants… well, it’s not a job, it’s a vocation. It’s just something I realised I wanted to do at some point while I was studying at the academy; and I had the balls to try and do it.” 

“I’m only one of two graduates of the Royal Academy who built a career as a professional conductor without earning a degree in orchestra direction. Do you know who the other is? That’s Simon Rattle, and he became the resident conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra! I’m very proud of that. When I hear some of the records I worked on still being played on the radio, that gives me a great feeling too. I once spoke to Hans Zimmer, who is one of the world’s leading film composers nowadays; he told me that the arrangements I did for Caravan in the 1970s inspired him to write film music. I couldn’t think of a better compliment really. Thank you, Hans!”

In a concert with the Brunel Sinfonia in Bristol (2022)


In 1982, when Martyn Ford’s reputation as a studio arranger and conductor was second to none, he was approached to arrange and record the song which represented Cyprus in that year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Harrogate. It was only the second time the Mediterranean island submitted an entry for the competition, although their singer, Anna Vissi, had taken part in 1980 on behalf of Greece. The song chosen by Cypriot broadcaster CyBC was ‘Mono i agapi’, a ballad co-written by Nicos Carvelas and Anna Vissi herself. In Harrogate, Vissi landed a respectable fifth place in the voting.

“One day, I was contacted by Hugh Attwooll, who was the International A&R Manager for the CBS record company. He told me about this singer called Anna Vissi, a girl who was under contract with CBS’s branch in Cyprus or Greece at the time; and that she had been picked to do Eurovision. Now, her management or her record company were looking for an English producer. I had already had a good working relationship with Hugh for some time and he gave me a lot of work – and Hugh must have recommended them to hire me. It was as simple as that.”

“I can’t remember, but I must have written the arrangement after receiving a demo from Cyprus. It was obvious that the song had potential; it was sweet, catchy, hooky – very sing-a-longable. Now I suppose it sounds like an old-fashioned ballad, but it’s still nice. That type of song could have charted in Britain at the time if it had been done by a UK singer. I was given complete free range to do what I wanted. The first thing I did was booking the best rhythm section I could get; Mike Moran, Barry de Souza, Ray Russell, and probably Dave Winter on bass. In the studio I gave them a chord sheet and we recorded the rhythm track. That’s how it was done in those days. You expected the musicians to improvise around a chord sheet, bouncing off each other’s ideas and each other’s playing. There was no written-out rhythm arrangement. As for ‘Mono i agapi’, I particularly remember liking Ray Russell’s guitar lines very much. They were his invention. Because I was so happy with Ray’s solo phrases, I wrote them out exactly for the guitarist in the orchestra in Harrogate. I wanted to make sure that we would have the same sound as on the record.”

“After producing the rhythm track, I wrote a string arrangement, which I recorded separately with my own orchestra. Anna came over from Cyprus and we recorded the song in Greek and in English. Although I can’t be sure after all those years, I think it’s true that Attwooll also asked me to conduct the song in Eurovision. It was never mentioned that they’d replace me with a Cypriot or a Greek conductor. Among professionals in the business in the UK, the reputation of the competition was much better than it is now, although it was always regarded as a sort of poppy light end of pop music. People might have made the odd little joke about it, but nothing offensive and I didn’t feel that taking part was going to harm my career in any way. I was happy to take the job, because I thought the song was promising; and also because I had found during the recording sessions that Anna was an excellent singer.”

Single release of 'Mono i agapi' in its English-language version, 'Love Is a Lonely Weekend'

“The week in Harrogate was very nice – although for me, being English, it would have been even nicer going abroad. One evening, all the delegations were invited to a banquet in Castle Howard – the location used for the TV series Brideshead Revisited. I had a girlfriend with me at the time, but it didn’t escape my attention that there were loads of beautiful women in the competition; mainly dancers, but I must not forget that girl representing Spain (Lucia – BT). When I saw her walking by backstage, my tongue was on my knees, I can assure you. Perhaps she couldn’t really sing, but that didn’t matter. She looked absolutely gorgeous and her song was interesting and innovative, with influences from flamenco music which I adore. Anna Vissi wasn’t too bad either, but I never got a look-in. She and her manager (her future husband Nicos Carvelas – BT) were clearly a bit of an item. She mainly kept to herself and I basically only saw her during rehearsals. In spite of that, I only have positive recollections of her. She was a very musical person; and very friendly too.”

“When I mounted the conductor’s platform for the first rehearsal, I recognised some guys I knew from the recording studios in London. It was nice to see a couple of smiling faces; among them was Levine Andrade, the principal viola player in my orchestra. They were no more than a handful, though, because most of the guys were friends of the BBC’s music director Ronnie Hazlehurst and a bit older than me. I never got to know Hazlehurst well; in fact I don’t think I ever met him apart from that Eurovision gig in Harrogate. He might have been a bit old-school, but he was very efficient and wrote a lot of accessible and really excellent TV music.”

“For the contest, I had adapted the orchestration a bit. For the studio version, we didn’t have the budget to add a brass part, but in Harrogate I had a full orchestra at my disposal. So I added a bit of brass towards the end of the song – not for any other reason than that we might just as well use them while they were there. I only have positive things to say about the orchestra; the rehearsals were smooth, but what else could you expect with such wonderful professionals? Still, I would have preferred working with the rhythm section I had used for the studio recording, simply because those guys were the best around. Although there was nothing wrong in Harrogate, I think the studio version sounds even better.” 

“I must admit, I love watching the video of the 1982 performance on YouTube now and again! There was a spotlight on me. No other conductor that year was shown on screen more often, so probably the director thought I was really good… or it was simply because I was English. When performing for an audience, I like to conduct a bit more flamboyantly than in a session – but what’s wrong with that? Remember, at that moment, you’re performing! I had never done anything which had such an impact as Eurovision. At that time, I did a lot of radio work, but hardly any television. The viewing rates don’t really matter – 10 million viewers, 500 million, or 1,000 million; the adrenaline was rushing through my veins! Everything worked out well; the way our performance was shown on screen was marvellous. I didn’t let this opportunity pass me by to wear a white suit – actually the suit that I got married in.”

“The Cypriot delegation was happy with the result. I was given compliments for the job that I did, by Anna herself, but by all the others as well. We knew it would be difficult to win the contest with a ballad, but we believed we could perhaps come near first position with a song as strong and melodic as this one; and to reach a fifth spot with a small country as Cyprus was quite an achievement, wasn’t it? I think we deserved a bit more. The winning entry; that song from Germany (Nicole with ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’ – BT), well, it was perfectly harmless, but not particularly good either. I thought our song was better, but then again… in Eurovision, the best song never wins – or hardly ever!”

"There was a spotlight on me. No other conductor that year was shown on screen more often, so probably the director thought I was really good… or it was simply because I was English." Martyn Ford conducting the orchestra behind Anna Vissi for her Eurovision performance in Harrogate (1982)

Four years after the festival in Harrogate, Martyn Ford was involved in the Eurovision Song Contest for a second time; and yet again as the music director for the Cypriot entry. The 1986 edition of the contest was held in Bergen, Norway. The competition was won by Belgium’s Sandra Kim. Cyprus was represented by Elpida, who had previously taken part for Greece in 1979. In Bergen, in spite of a spirited performance of her song ‘Tora zo’ (written by Petros Giannakis and Phivos Gavris), she finished at the bottom of the scoreboard with just four votes. 

When asked why he was commissioned to conduct the Cypriot entry for a second time, Martyn Ford is not sure. “Maybe because CyBC were looking at how successful I had been with them in 1982 and how unsuccessful they had been in the intervening years? I think they thought I had done a good job for them, so they asked me again to arrange and to conduct. I’m only guessing. So they probably thought, “Let’s get Martyn Ford on board again and see what happens.” Well, we came last, so that didn’t work, but that was their own fault! Why? Well, it all began when I was approached to come over to Nicosia to be on the panel that would pick the entry. We had the choice between a handful of songs, of which I thought there was only one which was good. It was interesting, melodically strong and very commercial, but all the other jury members went for ‘Tora zo’.”

“When I found out about this, I wondered why they had bothered flying me in from London in the first place. They asked me for my opinion, only to put it aside. Looking back on what happened, that weekend in Nicosia was a complete waste of my time, but I had a couple of nice days. Peter Giannakis, the composer of ‘Tora zo’, showed me all the sights of Nicosia. He was a Cypriot living in North London, where his father had a Greek restaurant. Peter was a great guy and I got along with him very well.”

“Although I can’t be sure, I don’t remember doing a record version in London of ‘Tora zo’. Listening to the so-called record version (which was included on a sampler album of the contest released in Norway – BT), it sounds like a demo recorded in Cyprus. The sound mix is pretty awful and the rhythm section doesn’t sound at all like the one I used to work with in London. If I did it, I will hold my hand up and say, “That was crap, Martyn.” I made a lot of bad records, you know. Nobody gets it right all the time. I think what happened is that Peter Giannakis made a demo with Elpida in Cyprus; and that Peter asked me to write an orchestration for Norway based on this demo. Given that we finished last, probably nobody bothered with producing a single with a proper studio version after the contest.”

“It was a crap song and I tried to improve it a little – but, as we like to say in England, “It’s hard to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” You know, great painters make some worthless paintings now and again, and great actors make bad films. In our business, it’s not easy to be principled. As a producer, you never know what will be successful and what won’t. You simply do it and hope it will work out well. Conducting ‘Tora zo’ was a job; and a well-paid job at that. My fee was 1,000 pounds for one week, which was a fairly large amount of money back in those years. Added to that was a free weekend in Cyprus and a one-week holiday in Norway. Who would turn down such an offer?”

Elpida rehearsing 'Tora zo' on the Eurovision stage in Bergen (1986)

“The week I had in Harrogate was fun, but my time in Bergen was even better. The organisation was slick and we were perfectly looked after. We were absolutely stuffed with seafood all week and there was a marvellous boat-trip to the fjords. In the Eurovision Song Contest, you get treated like royalty for a week – and then coming home you’re suddenly back to reality! I like the Scandinavians; their culture, their food, and their fashion. They are great people. I’ve always had good times with them. If it wasn’t for the winters, I would be tempted to live there!”

“One night, we went out for dinner – and Terry Wogan was at the table next to us in the restaurant. He recognised me and greeted me in the most gentlemanly way you could imagine. I know some people hated him for his Eurovision commentary which was always very tongue-in-cheek and a slight piss-take, but it was always done in a good spirit. He also had something funny to say about my involvement on stage for Elpida. That’s how he was; he was just fun. A lovely, charming man. I also remember meeting a colleague from the studio business in London, Colin Frechter, who was the conductor for the Portuguese entry in Bergen. He was a little bit of an old-style arranger, but an awfully nice bloke. Of course I was always punting for work, so I said to him, “When you get back to London, you should really use my orchestra.” I don’t think he ever did, but we kept in touch for a while after the contest.”

“We were working completely live. The two percussionists on stage with Elpida, who I think were also London Cypriots, were friends with Peter Giannakis; they did quite a good job. I don’t think I was aware it was allowed to work with a backing track. If we had known, we would probably have gone for that – also in Harrogate. The orchestra in Bergen was excellent. It was exciting to get to work with an orchestra which you don’t know and in which nobody knows you. It takes a bit of confidence in your own ability; and of course you should be well prepared, and then it’s not all that difficult. Listening to the orchestration now, it sounds great. It’s punchy and the orchestra are playing really well; sharp! Especially the brass playing is really good. In hindsight, knowing that we were about to come last, I would probably change a few things to try to make it a bit better, but even then, I’m perfectly happy about it – as happy as you can be about something you did 40 years ago.”
“The stand-out memory of those rehearsals in Bergen was how much effort it took to get the musicians in the orchestra to clap along to the song during the bridge. By nature Scandinavians are usually quite withdrawn, you know. They were really reluctant and determined not to do it, but I insisted – gently of course, and in a humorous way. Finally, with a couple of jokes, I succeeded in winning their sympathy; and they did it!”

“I knew that we weren’t going to win, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to finish last. We didn’t deserve last place; the song wasn’t good, but a little too good for that. It’s hard to explain, but when you’re working so closely on a project, there always comes a moment when you lose the ability to be an objective judge of it. You are stuck in a cocoon! You put all your love and energy into it, it’s fun to work on; and in Bergen the performance looked quite alright in the end – so I thought, “Well, this will work out fine.” And because you’re rehearsing it day after day, you wake up in the morning singing the bloody thing!”

The Norwegian Radio Orchestra during rehearsals in Bergen (Eurovision 1986)

“Sometime in between rehearsals, I walked into Elpida’s dressing room, and I saw this glittering jacket with silvery lapels hanging in her wardrobe. I liked it instantly. I asked her if I could borrow it from her and she was ok with that. You have to know that Elpida was quite a large lady, so the jacket fitted me well. In fact, I’m 1,85, but it was still on the big side for me, but I loved it. When performing, I love wearing outfits that are colourful and over the top. When I get the chance, I still do so once in a while. I wish I still had that jacket, but Elpida insisted on having it back after the show. It was all made up during the week, just like the hand-clapping. I also came up with the idea of jumping onto the stage to get the audience to clap along too. I don’t remember there was any discussion in the Cypriot group about this – I just did it. I love performing and I was simply having fun, enjoying myself.”

“I can’t remember that the feeling in our delegation was particularly depressed after the voting. Elpida didn’t seem to take it too badly. She already had a career in Greece and in Cyprus, so I don’t think this last place was the end of the world for her. To be fair to her, she had a good voice, full of character. It was a pity the same couldn’t be said about her song.”

After some research, it turns out the song which came second behind Elpida in the internal jury selection held in Nicosia to determine the Cypriot Eurovision candidate, was entitled ‘Thelo na gino star’, due to be performed by none other than… Anna Vissi. Was this the song that Martyn Ford voted for?

“It might very well have been. I’d certainly have enjoyed going to Eurovision a second time with Anna Vissi. Back then, she was a great singer. I remember watching the contest on TV years later (in 2006 – BT) and hearing Terry Wogan announce the name of Anna Vissi as the performer of Greece’s entry – but I was bitterly disappointed. I hardly recognised the woman who walked onto the stage. I couldn’t believe that she’s the same singer with whom I worked in 1982. Her performance was horrible, really horrible. The way she looked, the way she went to her knees, the wind blowing in her hair… it was completely over the top. Her song (called ‘Everything’ – BT) was actually not that bad, but she ruined it herself by putting in all this pathos. Her biggest mistake was being a star. If she had performed such a pleasant ballad in a calm way and had focused on the technical part of her performance, she would certainly have done better in the voting. Now, the only thing the audience remembered was her hysterical performance. I’m sure nobody remembered the song. Judging from the number of views her clips get on YouTube, she is still a huge star in Greece, but with the most vulgar sort of persona. She started glamourising herself, crawling around the stage with big hair and outrageous outfits… and ruining her voice; not looking at all like the demure Anna Vissi we saw in Harrogate.”

“Oh yes, I still watch Eurovision. It’s a show that is quite addictive, even if the standard of songs seems to be getting worse every year. So I enjoy it, but in a masochistic kind of way. It’s only now and then you find something that is really good. Most of it is pretty awful and some of it is absolutely appalling, so it is rather asked to be taken to bits sometimes by people like Terry Wogan and Graham Norton. Most of the winning songs only win it because of a gimmick. They are seldom songs that are innovative. Songwriters nowadays seem to find it very hard to come up with something which doesn’t sound like every other song I’ve heard in the last 50 years.”

Jumping onto the stage behind Elpida, clapping along to 'Tora zo'

“I think it made sense to have professional judges along with the popular vote. It’s a reasonable compromise. At some point, before the juries were brought back in, the voting system had become a joke. Scandinavians voting for other Scandinavians, the Baltic countries also subdividing the points among each other – really ridiculous. In that loony system, England, the country that has had the most important role in pop music with the exception of the USA, didn’t stand a chance of even coming close to the first places. If you get a bad result because you have a weak song, there’s no problem at all – but that was no longer the case.”

“Mind you, I’m not particularly good at judging what song will be a hit. The thing is… the production values nowadays are so amazing. With the back projections and light effects, you’re sometimes detracted from the quality of the song. I wish we had had those values back in the 1980s. There’s no denying that they make for great watching.”

“One of the improvements in the contest of the last twenty-odd years is the abolition of the compulsory use of the native language. If the choice of language had been free in the 1980s, I think the Cypriots would have sung in English – and who knows what might have happened in Harrogate! English is the international language of pop. That’s a fact. Non-English countries always believed that they were disadvantaged in Eurovision due to their native tongue. Some languages don’t sound well in pop music… German, for instance, is a very guttural language; the same can be said about Dutch. Songs in English simply sound more pleasant. To a lesser extent, I guess you could say the same about French and Italian.”

“It’s regrettable there’s no longer an orchestra in the set-up. I’m convinced it could still work in Eurovision nowadays. There should be an orchestra for those who want to use it. If you’re a rock band, you don’t need an orchestra and you can simply ignore it; fair enough. But if you sing a ballad, it’s so much nicer to have it played by a real orchestra. I’m quite sure there would be more than enough participants who would love working with an orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest.”

“Taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t influence my career – not in a negative way and not in a positive way. I’m happy to have taken part in it twice. With the downturn my career took after 1986, there was never a chance that I could have done it more times. If the opportunity had presented itself, I would have loved doing it again. Eurovision was a job, but it wasn’t just another job. I spent the main part of my career in recording studios. There haven’t been all that many opportunities to perform for large audiences – and Eurovision was such an opportunity. I’ve never looked down on Eurovision. I didn’t do so in the 1980s, and I still don’t do so today.”

Martyn Ford with former Eurovision participants Kirsten Siggaard and Ray Caruana at the 2017 UK Eurobash event in Manchester


So far, we have not gathered comments of other artists about Martyn Ford.


Country - Cyprus
Song title – “Mono i agapi”
Rendition – Anna Vissi
Lyrics – Nicos Carvelas / Anna Vissi
Composition – Nicos Carvelas / Anna Vissi
Studio arrangement – Martyn Ford
Live orchestration – Martyn Ford
Conductor – Martyn Ford
Score – 5th place (85 votes)

Country – Cyprus
Song title – “Tora zo”
Rendition – Elpida
Lyrics – Phivos Gavris / Peter Giannakis
Composition – Peter Giannakis
Studio arrangement (demo) – Peter Giannakis
Live orchestration – Martyn Ford
Conductor – Martyn Ford
Score – 20th place (4 votes)

  • Bas Tukker did four interviews with Martyn Ford, the first being in 2006; the three others in January 2023
  • A playlist of Martyn Ford’s music can be found by clicking this link
  • Photos courtesy of Martyn Ford and Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to Mark Coupar as well as to Martyn Ford himself for proofreading the manuscript

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