Saturday 15 May 1993

BERT CANDRIES (English version)

The following article is an overview of the career of Belgian guitarist, bass player, arranger, and producer Bert Candries. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Candries, conducted by Bas Tukker in Wezemaal, Belgium, January 2024. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Bert Candries’ Eurovision involvement (part 4).

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

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2024

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

Born: April 6th, 1961, Anderlecht, Brussels (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian


Bert Candries took part as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion, in 1993, leading the orchestra in Millstreet, Ireland, for the Belgian entry ‘Iemand als jij’, performed on the night by Barbara Dex.


Bert Candries was born into a Dutch-speaking family in Anderlecht, on the southwestern outskirts of Brussels. He grew up with his grandparents. “That was because my father died very young. He was a professional soldier, working as a pilot with the Air Force, but while on a mission in Congo to evacuate Belgian colonists after independence, he contracted some tropical disease, from which he died. My mother then moved in with her parents with me and my two brothers. No-one in our family played music. At one point, when I was eight years old, I came over to a school friend’s to play. He had an older brother who looked like a hippie. He played us LPs by Jimi Hendrix. Now you have to imagine, this happened in 1969, the year of Woodstock! I immediately loved that guitar. From then on I listened to music on the radio. The fascination was there from the start.”

“Not much later it became known that a music school would be opened in Anderlecht. At school, pupils were asked if they were interested; and I was the first to raise his hand! So I went to the music school with my mum to register. You first had to do a year of music theory, but I was also given the opportunity to start playing the guitar straight away. Of course, having Jimi Hendrix in the back of my mind, I thought, ‘This is going to be great!’, but I was in for a disappointment. A classical guitar was put in my hands. The thing was way too big for me to handle; my chin barely reached the top, so I couldn’t even see the strings. In one word, a disaster – and then I had to repeat the same boring exercises over and over. In those early years, it was a real struggle, but I persevered, because I soon met a guy at the Chiro (Catholic youth movement – BT) who was playing real chords and songs. Wow, that was cool! I wanted to learn to do that too; and so he taught me. Over time, things became more interesting at the music school as well. There was a rather progressive teacher who brought very different music; Brazilian pieces and also complicated things, a bit tending towards avant-garde. This helped me to gradually improve my technique.”

Bert as a young adolescent playing the electric guitar (c. 1974)

“At that time, other young guys at Chiro and friends from Anderlecht and the surrounding municipalities were playing music as well. We put together all kinds of groups. Not that any of it was very good, but we were having fun. We performed together for our Chiro friends or in the local parish hall. In fact, our Chiro leader had a van with which he transported our equipment. My mother would also lend a helping hand by dropping me off at gigs. Meanwhile, I had also bought myself an electric guitar. In an advertising brochure of Concordia Mail, a mail order company, which mainly offered detergents and ironing boards, I had discovered an electric guitar! It wasn’t a very good brand, but that’s what made it affordable to me. With my savings, some 2,000 francs, I ordered that guitar as well as an amplifier. I still remember the moment when that big cardboard box was delivered to our house. Fantastic! From then on, I only used that guitar.”

“In the meantime, I studied electronics at a technical school, although the curriculum hardly interested me. I did it to please my mother, who was adamant that I learn a trade, a real trade. That’s why I chose electronics, because I imagined it would allow me to repair my amplifier if it broke down. It wasn’t long before I hated going to that school. The teacher of my main subject, electronics, wasn’t really a nice person... I knew I wasn’t going to last another four years with such a wimp! My motivation dropped to zero. During exams, I copied the answers from friends, real dare-devils who opened their textbooks for me under the table. I got caught during a chemistry exam. I had to do the exam again after the summer holidays. Moreover, by way of punishment, I was given extra assignments which I had to complete before the resit. Then there was an incident: Elvis died! (in 1977 – BT) As it happened, my chemistry teacher turned out to be an incredible Elvis fan. When I arrived for the re-examination, he sat there, crying. ‘Leave me alone,’ he said. ‘Just give me your assignments, I’ll not be examining you – you’re through.’ Can you imagine? Saved by Elvis!”

“When I was eighteen and obtained my electrician’s diploma, I was still playing in various bands. Thanks to the music school lessons, I had more technique than many others and music was my passion. Brussels is a city really bustling with music; you could hear music from all over the world. There were groups and little orchestras playing on every street corner. I liked everything and wanted to learn to play all those styles… and I really wanted to make a career out of it! In the meantime, I had discovered that there was a jazz and pop conservatoire in the Netherlands, but my mother hadn’t changed her mind, ‘My boy, listen, you’ll lose three years of your life and you still won’t have learned a trade!’ She wanted nothing of it.”

Bert (left) on stage with his Chiro band being the support act for Johan Verminnen, December 1976; next to him another future music professional, Willy Heroes, who went on to work extensively with legendary Belgian rock singer Arno

“After I had graduated, she had secretly got in touch with an alderman of the municipality of Anderlecht she was friends with. He arranged for me to do an internship at the municipal public works. On my first day, I ended up on the street in Koekelberg, where they put a shovel in my hand to dig a hole. To make matters worse, I turned out to be assigned to the gas works and not to electricity! So I found myself digging holes for a few months. A small, slender boy with long hair between all those checkered workmen! I didn’t want to keep on doing that. Then they decided to put me in that company’s post office; I had to stick envelopes for another month or two – and then I finally got to electricity... as it turned out, this involved having to climb into high-voltage cabins. That was very dangerous! I refused to do that. Then I told my mum that I was going to stop. ‘Listen, I'm going to be a musician. I'm going to prove to you that I mean it, because I’ll give you all my unemployment allowance money, but I want to get into music no matter what.’

“In no time, I ended up in a little Cajun group. I played there for next to nothing, but it was something. Then there was also a more jazz-tinged band with which we tried to match Weather Report. Of course, we didn’t even get close to reaching that level, but one day, one of the group members asked me if I could help his brother learn to play the bass. Now I had held a bass guitar in my hands before, but that was it. So I took the boy to a music store to get him a bass – but once we got there, I decided to buy one myself as well. Following that, we met almost every day for at least a year. In that period, I was actually learning more for myself than for him. I heard things on the radio; I distinctly remember a song by Level 42; and then I would pick out the bass lines by ear. By myself, I discovered what technique the bassist of that band had used and then taught it to that other guy. That’s how I got started. I soon found a group where they were looking for a bass player. I enjoyed playing both, guitar and bass.”

“At that time, Leo Caerts Snr. owned a recording studio in Huizingen, just outside Brussels. With one of the groups I played in at the time, we went there to record at night, just for the fun of it. It was much cheaper to rent that studio at night than during daytime. It was my first time in the studio and I thought it was pretty impressive; headphones, that mixing console – yes, I felt like a kid in a candy store! A little later, the brother-in-law of Leo Junior, Leo Caerts’ son who was a friend of mine, asked me to play the bass on a song that he wanted to record in the same studio. That song wasn’t anything special, but in that session I did meet Stoy Stoffelen, the drummer of Raymond van het Groenewoud (one of Flanders’ most popular singers – BT). He was enthusiastic when he heard me play and invited me to join a cover group which included other professional guys; Eric Melaerts, among others. I thought, ‘Wow, if I have to play with them, I’d better make sure I know my stuff well!’ In spite of my fears, it went well; and, in fact, this was a valuable first experience in the world of professional music.”

Bert (far right) with Bruxellois jazz fusion band Mysterious Travellers - the other band members being (from left) Jean-Philippe Komac, Christian Mertens, Jean-Louis Kempeneer, Peter Van Puyvelde, and Bart Quartier (1980)

“Those first experiences in that studio in Huizingen gave me loads of motivation. I wanted to learn about recording techniques and making arrangements. Writing and recording songs; that’s what I wanted to do. Spending a considerable sum of money, I bought myself a four-track cassette recorder and, a little bit later on, a small synthesiser as well. At home, I started making demos of music that I put together myself using my guitar and that synthesiser. In the beginning, the results were horrific, but sometimes I would be rather satisfied as well.”

“Those first recordings in Leo Caerts’ studio in 1982 were partly made possible by a guy I had met who wrote lyrics, Frank Laus – and, not much later, it turned out he was looking for a girl singer for one of his projects. To help him, I had an ad placed in a Brussels magazine, which attracted a number of girls. One of them was Portuguese; she called herself Gaëll. Michèle Azevedo was her real name. Frank and I made a song for her, ‘Femme fatale’. Eventually, the demo of that song ended up with Lou Deprijck (one of the most important producers in Belgium at the time – BT), who decided to do a real recording of it. I was present at the session in the RKM Studio, but I had to keep my mouth shut. I was too young to have a say, you know! All the famous session players were there to record that track. Kevin Mulligan, Rony Brack, Jean Pierre Onraedt, Pino Marchese... The single flopped, but Lou wanted to give Gaëll another chance.”

“For her next single, for which I had again written the music, he asked me to play the guitar parts. I arrived at the studio shivering with nerves, but… everyone had to go home, because Lou turned out to be away on a fishing trip in Africa. Yes really! ‘Il est allé à la pêche en Afrique.’ A few weeks later, the recording finally took place. There I was, standing among all those seasoned musicians. On the first take I was so nervous that I began to speed up my guitar playing. Then Kevin Mulligan put me at ease a bit and that’s how I scraped through eventually. I was very fortunate to find myself among such friendly people; not all studio musicians were like that, you know! Kevin’s advice and encouragement in particular gave me a push in the right direction. Then I told myself that from now on I would practise at home until I could play everything with perfect timing. Sadly, things never really worked out for Gaëll. The songs for her were written in the style of Lio (Belgian pop singer who had a hit across the continent with ‘Amoureux solitaires’ in 1981 – BT), really not bad, but according to Lou Deprijck they were just not commercial enough to be really successful.”

On stage with the François Glorieux Brass and Percussion Orchestra (1983)

“Gradually, I was booked more and more regularly as a session player for sessions organised by producers like Lou Deprijck and Roland Kluger. In the meantime, I performed with various groups; The Charms, a Chilean folk band called Machitún, and Polizei, a funky-ish pop group with an extensive brass section and a singer who was a bit like Frank Zappa, performing all kinds of antics on stage. With Polizei, we were particularly successful in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, I also worked as a bass player in various orchestras, such as the François Glorieux Brass and Percussion Orchestra and Sergio Popovski’s ballroom orchestra, with Liliane Saint-Pierre as backing singer and Freddy Sunder on guitar. Those performances involved playing for five hours straight in all styles imaginable, ranging from ‘La bamba’ to waltzes and whatnot. That was really hard work and not something which I particularly enjoyed, but I had to make ends meet somehow.”

“One day, sometime in the mid-1980s, I received a telephone call from Francis Goya, whom I had already met in the studio. ‘Wouldn’t you like to go on a tour to Algeria with Demis Roussos?’ Apparently Demis Roussos had asked Francis and Sergio Popovski to go to North Africa for a tour – and they were looking for a bass player. For me, this was a good opportunity to say goodbye to François Glorieux, who paid terribly poorly. For Demis, that tour was a comeback after he had undergone weight loss treatment. However, this had also changed his voice. It could not reach that high anymore and so all the musicians had to adjust their scores by hand. In Algeria, we played a series of concerts in large auditoriums which were absolutely packed. In the front rows, there were girls wearing headscarves shrieking at the stage in sheer enthusiasm as Demis walked on. That tour was well organised and Demis turned out to be a very correct, super sweet person; not a hint of arrogance. It was little more than a short episode. Upon our return to Belgium, I sat down with Demis and Francis to discuss recording an LP, but unfortunately nothing came of it.”

“In the studio, I played everything – from things that never saw the light of day to hugely successful albums with Viktor Lazlo and Jo Lemaire. Around 1986, I wrote my first arrangements. There was an Antwerp pop-funk band, Catalog of Cool. I performed with them occasionally. When that group was going to make a record, they asked for Polizei’s horn players. I then wrote those parts. Back home, I had often experimented with writing for strings and wind instruments on my small synthesiser. Gradually, these attempts became more successful, especially after I had stumbled upon the standard work ‘Modern Arranging Technique’ by Gordon Delamont. Furthermore, my spell as a bass player with Brasil Tropical was educational as well. This was a Brazilian show orchestra performing in Brussels. The trumpet player of that band made great wind arrangements including those typical accents which only Brazilians know how to write. Really cool! You could recognise the Brazilian style not just in my arrangements, but in the songs I wrote during that period as well.”

Johan Verminnen (middle of the picture) flanked (from left) by his arranger & keyboard player Tars Lootens, flautist Johan Vandendriessche, drummer Walter Mets, and bassist/guitarist Bert Candries (1990)

“In the mid-1980s, I was asked to play in the backing band of the Baccara Cup (or Baccarabeker in Dutch – BT), an annual song contest held in the casino in Middelkerke, a seaside resort. It was set up as a multi-day talent show in which each province of Flanders came up with a team of young artists. I got into it, because I knew a number of other members in the backing band, including Eric Melaerts and pianist Tars Lootens. Both of them had been in Johan Verminnen’s band (Johan Verminnen being one of Flanders’ main singer-songwriters – BT).”

“The Baccara Cup was a great experience, because it involved playing all types of music. On the other hand, it was hugely intensive to work on; there were dozens of scores which had to be rehearsed, written by different arrangers; Bob Porter, Luc Smets, myself, and a number of others. I can assure you those were lengthy rehearsals! At the end of the evening, we used to drink a glass of champagne while trying our luck at the roulette table in the casino. This is a form of conviviality which is really important to me. We were exchanging jokes constantly and having a great time. The funny thing was the Baccara Cup also helped my mother to finally have peace with my choice for a career in music. The programme was shown on TV every evening – and it wasn’t until seeing me on television that she actually believed you could earn a decent living as a musician.”

“After my first Baccara Cup, Tars Lootens asked me to join Johan Verminnen’s band. Tars was Johan’s band leader. I had already met Johan several times over the past few years. In the Baccara Cup, in which he was the team leader for the province of Brabant, he had commissioned me to make the arrangements for his team. The first song I recorded with Johan was a piece he had written for his newborn daughter, ‘Paulien’ (in 1988 – BT). I didn’t just play bass on it, but also cavaquinho, a Brazilian miniature guitar. From the start, there was a click between Johan and me. Like me, he was fascinated by Latin American music. He was open to the ideas I came up with. We were complementary, so to speak.”

“When Tars began to give priority to his solo career in the early 1990s, Johan asked me to take over as band leader and arranger. I have been responsible for his arrangements since the album ‘Zeven levens’ (in 1992 – BT). Johan is not a trained musician, but he had good ideas for songs – and sometimes he comes up with lyrics and a melody, but usually there are just lyrics; and then he would say to me, ‘You have a go at it!’ I often managed to give it a musical twist which was different than he had had in mind, but he was always open to that. It was gratifying to notice his enthusiasm when I showed him an idea for a melody line or an arrangement. Johan has a broad view of music and likes many different styles, not just Latin American! Other artists would not have easily given their band leader such freedom.”

“Sometimes Johan came up with ideas, to which my first reaction was, ‘This is something I can’t help you with!’ In 2001, he wanted to do a big band record. I had never made that type of arrangement before, but at that point Johan convinced me instead of the other way around. Eventually, I started studying big band scoring and, teaming up with Leo Caerts Jnr., I just wrote them! In fact, I must say that record turned out really nicely.”

“If I had to mention a difference between Johan and me, it would be our preferences when it comes to performing. I like festival stages, but Johan prefers to perform in smaller venues, theatres, where people come to listen closely to every word he sings. In spite of that, we have really enjoyed the humour and conviviality during those performances over the years – and not just the concerts, but also their aftermath! After a concert, Johan loved going to a café together to raise a glass. Late in the evening, you could see him climb on the table to sing his hit song ‘Rue des Bouchers’. Yes, those were cool times.”

Television gig with Johan Verminnen, early 1990s

“With Johan I also wrote songs for others. Lyrics came to him easily. Sometimes he would come up with something really good in half an hour. He usually signed those songs using a pseudonym, which might have been because he was ashamed for some of the artists he wrote for. Together, we came up with songs for the likes of Connie Neefs (Louis Neefs’ younger sister – BT), Bart Kaëll, and several others – dozens of pieces really, but unfortunately there was never a real hit.”

“The first half of the 1990s was a good time. There was still plenty of session work for me as a guitarist and bassist; and thanks to my involvement with Johan Verminnen, other artists were also keen to work with me. As such, I had the opportunity to arrange and produce several albums with Bart Van den Bossche and Bart Kaëll. I had got in touch with him through Roland Verlooven. Besides the fact that I thought Roland Verlooven was a cool and witty guy, he was also a really effective producer with a nose for hit potential. It was no coincidence he had such tremendous success with the likes of Willy Sommers and Clouseau. As a session player, I often worked on Roland’s productions. At one point he said, ‘I wrote a song for Bart Kaëll... couldn’t you produce it, because I think you’re good at that!’ Roland knew my work for Johan Verminnen – and he had started to take life a little more easily by then. That’s how I became Bart Kaëll’s producer for several albums – a really great job, because he was one of Flanders’ most successful schlager singers.”

“In 1994, I moved from Grimbergen on the outskirts of Brussels to Wezemaal. My then girlfriend Heidi Boumans came from Genk in Limburg – as we wanted to move in together, we took a look at the map of Belgium and found that Wezemaal was exactly halfway between Grimbergen and Genk. An acquaintance drew our attention to a house; the house where I’m still living today. I built my own recording studio in that house in 1994. I was so obsessed with studio technology that I wanted to have a studio of my own to put my acquired knowledge into practice. I had been experimenting with sound since my early days, when I only had a cassette recorder. Now I imagined how nice it would be to have all equipment at hand. From now on, I could work at my leisure, without anyone bothering me. I never had to start looking for clients, because I was already working with Johan Verminnen, Bart Van den Bossche, and Bart Kaëll. From then on, all those productions were recorded in my studio.”

Bert (on the right) on a tour in Togo, West Africa, with Johan Verminnen (middle) and keyboard player and friend Leo Caerts Jnr. (November 1996)

“In the early 1990s, working with a group of freelance musicians, I did a tour across Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya for the airline company Sabena, who had booked us to play at chic receptions. I also saw local musicians at work there... just to give you an example; in Burundi there were a hundred percussionists playing for us in an open field, fantastic. My love for foreign music was already there, because I had been in touch with South Americans and Africans since my early days as a musician in Brussels, but that trip to Africa deepened that passion. In my head, I was a benefactor, aiming at giving a stage to such musicians. In 1997, with a budget I had managed to bring together thanks to my recording studio, I founded Etna, a label for world music.”

“In the following years, I worked with artists from Senegal, Togo, Paraguay, but my benefactor work didn’t last very long. For some of those musicians, I was the white, rich man who was willing to finance them no matter what. After a performance by Johan Verminnen in Bruges, I was approached by a young kora player (the kora being an African string instrument – BT). The guy turned out to be from Ivory Coast; his name was N’Faly Kouyaté. When I heard him play, I immediately noticed how talented he was. I decided to record an album with him – but while I had in mind to work with N’Faly alone, he gradually started bringing more and more friends to the studio... other musicians and backing singers – and I had to pay for all of them! To make matters worse, that CD was never released. N’Faly later had an impressive career, even having the opportunity to play with Peter Gabriel, but after that episode with him I decided that I had had enough. My love for world music is undiminished and I still like doing individual projects in that area, but no longer on a structural basis. After all, I’m not God!”

“I also did a lot of television work in the 1990s and 2000s. At the time, there were all kinds of programmes including live music; shows like De Muziekkwis and Het Swingpaleis. Make no mistake, that was hard work! For De Muziekkwis, we sometimes recorded five programmes on one day – which amounted to hundreds of fragments of songs that we had to play for the candidates. My pianist colleague Leo Caerts Jnr. had the toughest job, as he had to program all those sounds on his synthesiser, but it wasn’t always easy for me either. These were the years of Oasis and all those other heavy guitar groups; and playing in that style requires thorough preparation. We didn’t work with written arrangements; there were only four of us – drums, guitar, keyboard and bass – and we put those pieces together in rehearsal. TV was an important part of my working schedule for quite some years, but at a certain point I had had enough. In the TV studio, image always takes precedence over sound. As a musician, you were regularly made to feel redundant by the production team. It is no coincidence that pre-recorded music is preferred almost universally nowadays.”

Bert in his home studio in Wezemaal working with Ivorian kora player N'Faly Kouyaté (c. 1998)

“Sometime around the turn of the century, I got to work with Francis Goya again after many years. Francis had been booked for a guitar performance in St. Petersburg and his regular bassist was unable to come along. For me it was a nice one-off gig, so when Francis called, I immediately said yes. When arriving at the airport, I immediately noticed how famous Francis is in Russia. Instead of thoroughly examining our suitcases, the customs officers asked him for an autograph. Our concert took place in a wonderful old opera hall. That theatre was packed. As musicians, we had tended to look down on Francis’ music in the past; we used to talk about him as the Richard Clayderman of the guitar, but when he started playing his first notes there in St. Petersburg, I saw how the women in the front row immediately started to cry. It was incredible how the audience was captivated by his guitar playing. Yes, Francis really had a lot of fans there.”

“Around that time I also was a part-time music teacher at a school in Wemmel, while I also regularly worked as a bassist and guitarist in all kinds of theatre productions. In the recording studio, in addition to my work for Johan Verminnen, I became involved in a new group – in fact a group I had formed myself, Ardei. At that time, I was experimenting with a drum machine I had bought, producing all kinds of folk-tinged sounds. Then I thought how nice it would be to add vocals to those melodies. That’s why I asked three backing singers from a cover band from Leuven to help me. I occasionally played with that group. These three girls came down to Wezemaal to sing the parts. It turned out so well that we decided to continue and make an album. The girls also wrote songs themselves – often in the dialect of their hometown of Aalst. At the time, there was another Flemish all-female folk group, Laïs, and inevitably we were compared to them, but our approach was markedly different, as we didn’t stick to pure folk, adding elements of pop and electronics into the mix.”

“Following our first CD, we were invited for quite a lot of theatre performances across Flanders, but unfortunately the second album drew less attention. Our publisher had done far too little in terms of promotion. As a result, I had to call all the theatre venues myself to ask them to book us. That burden became too heavy, especially when my ex-wife Heidi passed away in 2012. We had been separated for over ten years, but she still was the mother of my children. This blow made me decide to quit Ardei – and that was the end of the group. It’s a shame it had to end this way, because if we met each other again now, I’m sure we would all agree immediately that we should make a new start.”

Rehearsing with Francis Goya's band for a one-off theatre concert in St. Petersburg, Russia (2006)

“From that time on, I have given more and more priority to my own music. In 2004, I had thought out a lounge project that I called Bassclubbin’ – simply because I thought it would be good fun to work on. For this project, I had a weird idea – I wanted to use a talk box, in the same way as Peter Frampton did in his hit ‘Show Me The Way’. He let the sound of his guitar amplifier pass through a tube into his mouth… but I wanted to use the same technique while playing a bass guitar. As far as I know, no-one had ever tried that before. It produces a striking sound. A little later, I started a similar small project involving quiet instrumental guitar sounds with Zen images projected on a screen behind me. At some point, I was invited to give concerts with my music in small venues for an audience of no more than thirty. Instrumental music is a nice challenge – something that allows me to break away from my work in the background for Johan and others. I need the freedom to work on my own music every now and then. Thanks to my studio, I have the opportunity to do so and I enjoy it a lot.”

“After all these years, I’m still Johan Verminnen’s musical partner. We’re a team that has endured for 35 years! Together, we have now recorded almost twenty albums. The number of live gigs has decreased somewhat in the last few years; after all, we’re both getting a little older. There’s no longer the urge to be on stage 150 times a year. The secret of our long-term collaboration perhaps lies in the fact that we hardly see each other away from our professional life. I’ve always been happy to keep music and my private life apart. Going about it that way, you’re bound to last longer professionally, as you’re better able to accept each other’s quirks.”

“In 2019, with money from my mother’s inheritance, I bought myself a house in Dunet, a hamlet in the Berry region, in the heart of France. We had discovered that part of the world through friends, who had invited us to join them there. Spending several holidays there in the following years, we gradually built up a circle of acquaintances. I thought it would be nice to have my own jump-off base in that region. Helped by the circumstance that house prices are hallucinatingly low in that part of France, I became the owner of an old farmstead surrounded by thirty acres of land. My dream was to build a studio there with money from my musician’s pension. The renovation works only got underway two years later, as Corona came to say hello first. The studio is now finished. These days, you’ve got to be crazy to start a studio, especially in France, where there is a serious economic crisis and music budgets are tight. I’m hoping to rent the studio to bands who want to spend a week together in seclusion to write and record music. There’s room to house about twelve people.”

On stage with Johan Verminnen (2017)

“In January 2024, I had my first customers – a French band of six. That was really exciting, because some of those guys had never been inside a studio before. There I was, sitting among all those young guys as an elderly uncle giving them tips and tricks as if I were their producer. Those sessions turned out great. It was a band from the region – and I hope word of mouth will now work wonders for me. It will take time to build up a reputation. If I could work in that studio for about five to seven weeks a year in the future, I would be very happy. I don’t need the money, but it would be nice if it works. We’ll see. Who knows, it might be my last sign of life in music terms!”

“The great thing about this phase of my life is that I only have to work on projects of my own choice. The times of playing in ball orchestras to earn a living are over. I only  work on nice things with nice people. For example, last year I performed with Soetkin Baptist, a folk singer, and also with the group STI.LL, who have a repertoire of hauntingly beautiful songs and poetry; both are really cool to do. And last November (2023 – BT), I picked up my Zen project with a set of ten covers of heavy metal songs, but done in Zen style, very quietly on the acoustic guitar. It’s nice to let people hear that those songs still hold up even when stripped of loud guitars and amplifiers.”

“Of course, I still have ambitions – the first springing to mind is that I’d love to learn to play the drums really well... or play a bass guitar duet with Tal Wilkenfeld, a great young female bassist who has already shared the stage with Jeff Beck, Sting, and Herbie Hancock. Even so, I’m very happy with what I have been able to do in music. I ended up in the business at a good time, when there was still plenty of studio work and music was considered a real profession. Furthermore, I consider myself privileged to have been given the opportunity to play such a wide range of styles. I would have been bored working in just one genre. My quest is too great! I will most certainly continue to work in music until my dying day. It’s something that will always be part of me. Music didn’t make me rich, but I was very lucky with everything that came my way.”

Bert in his new Studio La Grange in Dunet, France, surrounded by the members of French band A'Mandoné (2024)


In 1993, 31-year-old Bert Candries was the bandleader of the final of the Belgian preliminary round of the Eurovision Song Contest. This final with a live orchestra, broadcast from the Knokke Casino, was preceded by four preliminary rounds, in which all performances were done with full backing tracks. A total of twelve songs, three from each preliminary round, proceeded to the final battle. The eventual winner of Eurosong, as the preliminaries organised by Flemish public broadcaster BRT were called, was Barbara Dex with the ballad ‘Iemand als jij’, a composition by Marc Vliegen with lyrics by Tobana – the pseudonym used by Barbara’s father Marc Dex. After Freddy Sunder’s BRT Big Band, which had usually accompanied the Flemish Eurovision preliminaries, had been disbanded in 1991, the BRT had to work with a freelance orchestra and a freelance bandleader. How did Bert Candries, by then a seasoned studio musician, producer and bandleader, but without a reputation as a conductor, come into the picture for this job?

“The BRT had appointed Johan Van den Eede as director and producer for the Eurosong project,” Bert explains. “I knew him from my involvement in the Baccara Cup, for which he had been the TV director at the last edition in 1989. There I was part of the accompanying band which was led by Eric Melaerts, but, rather than Eric, I was usually the intermediary between my fellow musicians and Johan. Johan liked me. Presumably that is why Johan Van den Eede, when he landed the Eurosong job in 1993, thought of me to lead the orchestra. One day he called me and asked, ‘Wouldn't you like to do that?’ Of course, it was a nice commission. It wasn’t the very first time that I was asked to be bandleader for such a TV job. One year previously, I had already led a combo of musicians at De Nacht van de Film, a show programme that was broadcast live from the Ghent Film Festival.”

“From my childhood days onwards, my interest in music had been very broad, so I had always followed the Eurovision Song Contest too. In the old days, there used to be so many more good songs which took part. I still think ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA is a fantastic song – and I also remember Vicky Leandros, who gave a really good performance. I often supported the underdogs, entries from Portugal or Greece who didn’t score many points but were musically interesting and performed in the native language... but the most fascinating element of the whole event to me was always the orchestra. Every year without fail, the orchestras accompanying the participants were really good.”

Barbara Dex at the 1993 Belgian Eurovision pre-selections in Knokke

“My only involvement with Eurosong prior to 1993 had been a few years earlier, when I arranged a song co-written by Johan Verminnen, ‘Ik kies voor de nacht’. It was performed by Angie Dylan (in the 1989 Belgian pre-selection – BT). As it happened, in 1993, I also took part as a composer with a song I wrote for Gene Summer, ‘In jouw handen’, again with lyrics by Johan. At the time, I sometimes played in Gene Summer’s orchestra. In retrospect, I’m not happy with that song at all. It’s way too complicated; all those tempo changes… as if it had been written for Toto instead of Gene Summer. I had tailored it to Gene’s large vocal range, but it was obvious he wasn’t comfortable with it. The jury was correct not to admit that song to the final. I don’t think Gene himself was too unhappy about the result. As far as I know, Eurovision never was his ambition. It was just a vague attempt at something – none of us ever thought we were going to win.”

“My Eurosong assignment in 1993 was limited to the orchestra alone. I wasn’t part of the selection committee which chose the songs. I was allowed to hand-pick the musicians, but I was told beforehand by the BRT that the budget was limited. There was only money for about 22 musicians. I knew most of the string players from a tour we had done shortly before, on the occasion of Johan Verminnen’s 25th anniversary as a stage artist. The wind players were guys with whom I had also worked regularly on stage with Johan or in the studio.”

“The orchestra rehearsals didn’t take place in Knokke, but in the BRT Studios in Brussels. The BRT made very little effort for the orchestra. Nothing had been organised for the musicians, not even lunch. When I complained, I was told there was no budget for that. I was unhappy about that. I decided to pay for 25 sandwiches out of my own pocket. With my girlfriend Heidi, who was one of the backing singers, I went out to collect them. That wasn’t the end of our misery, because once the rehearsals in Knokke were about to get underway, I had to beg Johan Van den Eede to provide a hotel for me and my fellow musicians. There were several days of rehearsals – and they got underway at 9am. How could you expect musicians who live all over the country to drive back and forth to the coast using their own transport for days on end? In the end, Johan was convinced and found accommodation for us – not a hotel in Knokke itself, which would have been very expensive, but a more basic hostel in nearby Heist-aan-Zee.”

Bert Candries on an excursion as part of the Belgian delegation at Eurovision 1993 in Millstreet

“Unfortunately, one of the competing artists, Petra, performed without our orchestra. That was not her choice; her producer Adriaan van Landschoot was behind it. He thought the song should have an electronic sound... a bit disappointing. All the other songs came with an orchestral score. I did not contribute to any of the arrangements. The participants chose their own arrangers – largely experienced guys such as Roland Verlooven and Gyuri Spies. For most of the songs, the orchestra played along to a tape of pre-recorded instruments. These backing tapes were supplied in all kinds of different formats – CDs, hard drives, weird cassettes... the computer was still in its infancy then, you know! It was not easy to get all those sound carriers started. During rehearsals, there were all kinds of technical problems which took ages to be resolved. By the way, I was there as a band leader rather than as a real orchestra conductor; I gave cues to my colleagues while playing along on the bass guitar myself.”

“I remember a few of the songs; Bert Decorte with ‘Afrika’, but that wasn’t really convincing. ‘Vlinder’ by Lisa Del Bo wasn’t bad at all and Lisa was a beautiful lady, but her voice was a bit high-pitched and constricted. The best songs in the running were ‘Ik ga dood aan jou’ by Bart Herman and Barbara with ‘Iemand als jij’. These two really stood out. Bart Herman was the obvious winner, because no one knew Barbara. She was a debutante who had no idea what was happening around her. Her performance was intimate and pure. You could see her potential. Her voice was beautiful and her stage presence looked rather confident in those pre-selections. I thought it was a nice song, a good winner.”

To find out more about the history of this unexpected Eurosong winner, we also got in touch with the duo who conceived ‘Iemand als jij’, lyricist Marc Dex and composer Marc Vliegen. “At that time I wasn’t a professional musician yet,” says Vliegen. “I was 29 and had my daytime job in a wholesaler for garage doors. In my spare time, I played keyboards in a band. Our repertoire mainly consisted of covers, but we also performed some songs we wrote ourselves. Writing little melodies on my own, I recorded those as demos. Composing was something I didn’t devote too much time to back then, but it certainly was something I enjoyed doing. Not all of those compositions were suitable for our band. Reading the monthly magazine of Sabam (Belgium’s association of composers and music publishers – BT), I stumbled upon an invitation to submit compositions for Eurosong; the article included the addresses of all the record labels taking part in the competition. I then decided to submit some of my unused demos. I put those recordings on cassettes and put them in envelopes, which I sent to all the labels listed in the magazine.”

“She was perhaps the most tourist-minded of us that week in Ireland”. Bert's girl-friend Heidi Boumans, also backing singer for the Belgian entry, having a good time at a reception in Millstreet

“Marc Dex was the first to get in touch with me about the melody of ‘Iemand als jij’. There were others who called me after him about that same song, but by then I had already done a deal with Marc. I immediately agreed when he explained he wanted it for his daughter. As a singer, he had a considerable reputation in Flemish show business. He also had his own record label. Importantly, I found he was a very nice bloke from the start. We got along well.”

Why was Marc Dex actually so keen to take part in Eurosong with his 19-year-old daughter Barbara? “In the 80s and 90s, I ran a café in Kasterlee,” Dex explains. “It included a small stage, where aspiring artists could sing a tune. That’s how I discovered Margriet Hermans (who took part in the Eurosong editions of 1987 and 1989 with songs co-written by Marc Dex – BT). My daughter liked to sing by herself in her bedroom at home – and I thought she did it well, so I suggested to her that she should try performing a song on one of the open mic nights in our café too. She did and noticed that people liked her voice. This gave her the itch to try her hand at a career in music. In 1992, we released her first single, ‘Een land’. Eurovision seemed a logical next step. While looking for a song, I heard Marc Vliegen’s melody. It immediately appealed to me – exactly what I needed for Barbara; a little, simple song. That’s why I contacted him to buy his song. I then wrote accessible lyrics to the melody, nothing complicated; the words came to me rather easily. I signed the lyrics under my regular pseudonym at the time, Tobana, which is an acronym of the names of my three children: Tom, Barbara, and Nathalie.”

Composer Marc Vliegen did not know Barbara, but was quickly impressed by her. “I first met her when I came to visit Marc Dex to sign the contract with his label. By then, he had finished the lyrics. On that occasion, Barbara sang the song for us without any musical accompaniment. I was blown away, because she has an amazing voice. Whatever that girl sings, you know that she really means the words she’s singing. As young as she was, the charisma was already there. That’s something you either have or don’t have – and she had it.”

Barbara and her backing group during rehearsals in Millstreet; on the far left, completely in the dark, the silhouette of backing singer Heidi Boumans can be detected

“The great thing was that my demo recording ended up in the final studio version in its entirety. Because I had studied harmony and other theoretical subjects at Maasmechelen’s music academy, I knew how to write arrangements myself. I had a sequencer at home with an electronic drum machine and all. Except for some acoustic guitar accompaniment that was added later, all the music was played by me; drums, bass, piano, and strings. Even the electric guitar solo towards the end is not a real guitar, but a sampler. As far as I was concerned, I would like to have seen that solo being done again by a real guitarist, but Marc Dex was the producer of the track and he decided that it would be too expensive. ‘It’s OK, let’s leave it as it is,’ he said.”

In addition to ‘Iemand als jij’, Vliegen had another of his compositions picked for the pre-selection, ‘Verliefd... in love’, performed by Lilly West, a young singer from Ghent. “That was a completely different song. It was a Motown style tune, a bit like ‘You Can't Hurry Love’ by Phil Collins. It was a nice song actually, but the girl was wildly out of tune when she performed it in the pre-selection on television. Not surprisingly, it didn’t make it to the final. For ‘Iemand als jij’, on the other hand, I had allowed myself to be inspired by Alan Parsons. I was a huge fan of his work. When looking at the chord progression now, I’m struck by how much it resembles the songs written by Parsons at the time. My starting point was to go looking for beautiful harmonies in the chords. The melody itself followed later.”

The victory in Eurosong came as a complete surprise for the writing duo. “We were overwhelmed by it,” Marc Dex remembers. “There were big names in that final, Wendy Van Wanten, Bart Herman... we never imagined that we could beat them. Ultimately, it must have been the simplicity of our song that appealed to people.” Vliegen adds, “I was absolutely convinced that Bart Herman was going to win. The fact that Marc Dex had once been robbed of victory in BRT’s Canzonissima contest with his entry ‘Oh, clown’ (in 1968 – BT) may have played a part – perhaps the broadcasting authorities felt they could now make up with him through his daughter. I might be completely wrong, because more inexplicable things happen in that small microcosm called music.”

Bert (left, in orange T-shirt) about to conduct the score to 'Iemand als jij' with the orchestra of Irish host conductor Noel Kelehan (far left, wearing glasses)

Responsible for the orchestra in the preliminary round, Bert Candries was not just happy with the victory of ‘Iemand als jij’ because of the song’s musical merits. There was also another factor; he had received two special promises from Marc Dex in advance. “When accepting the job as musical director of Eurosong, I was immediately told by the BRT that no conductor would go to Ireland, where the international final would take place. ‘There’s no budget for that,’ they claimed. ‘It will have to be done by an Irish conductor or by someone else who is willing to come along at his own expense.’ Therefore, during the rehearsals in Knokke, I told all the participants, In case you win – first of all, I will come with you to Ireland, and secondly, you’ll pay for a dinner for my entire orchestra.’ Not everyone was enthusiastic about that, mind you. Some of them weren’t really fond of the idea and said things like, ‘Come on, what do you imagine?’, but Marc Dex immediately stated, ‘If Barbara wins, you are coming along as conductor and you will get your dinner.’ That dinner took place a week or so after Barbara’s win in Knokke, in a restaurant in Aarschot, where Marc had invited not just the orchestra, but a BRT delegation as well. Following that, he stuck to his word, paying for all my travelling and hotel expenses in Ireland. I thought that was really cool of him.”

“I insisted on having Bert on board as our conductor in Ireland,” Marc Dex explains. “Each country was allowed to bring its own conductor and I never considered anyone other than Bert. He had done an excellent job for our team in the pre-selection in Knokke. I already knew him by name from his work with Johan Verminnen, but the first personal contact was only at Eurosong. I got to know him better in Ireland. Simplicity is a virtue, people often say – and that certainly applies to Bert, but he is a very warm person and a great musician and arranger as well. I admire him a lot.”

In this way, Barbara Dex was spared the fate of the Belgian festival candidate Linda Lepomme eight years earlier, in 1985. She had had to perform in the international final in Gothenburg without a conductor of her own, as Flemish broadcaster BRT asked the resident conductor of the Swedish orchestra, Curt-Eric Holmquist, to take the honours. Also on this occasion, the BRT had done so with budget cuts being the main argument behind the decision.

Bert Candries (far left) conducting the RTÉ Concert Orchestra during rehearsals in Millstreet; photo taken by Heidi from her position at the back of the stage

Just like in Knokke, Barbara was accompanied on stage by a pianist and three guitarists at the international final in Ireland. The drums and strings were played by members of the orchestra. “As far as I am concerned, the arrangement could have done with some adjustments after the preliminary round,” Bert Candries feels. “Marc Vliegen had recorded it with limited resources. Having an electric guitar solo done with a synthesiser is a bit cheap, although I must say that he did a good job on it; a cool sound, very close to a real guitar. However, now that you got to work with a larger orchestra in Ireland, the orchestration could have been done in a way which was a bit more rich and pronounced. The way we did it, there was just a backing track, drums, and strings. To my ears, it could have done with a bit more power. There were conversations with Marc Dex and Marc Vliegen before leaving for Ireland, in which I probably also suggested that we adjust it a bit, but I certainly didn’t bang my fist on the table. Mind you, I was happy that I had been invited to come along anyway!”

Asked about the arrangement, composer Marc Vliegen firmly states, “No, the arrangement from the preliminary round was good as it was. The fact that there were more musicians in Ireland didn’t mean that I suddenly felt I needed to write a saxophone part or so. The only thing which could have been done differently was that backing track. We could have left that at home. The song could easily have been performed completely live by the orchestra in Ireland.”

As producer of the song, Marc Dex had the decisive say. “If we had done everything live, Barbara would have been all alone on that big stage,” he explains. “With that backing track, we could work with the guys backing her up on stage. The electric guitarist was someone who played in my own orchestra and the three others were young men from the Kempen region, where we’re from. My son played in a cover band at the time and knew those lads – and Barbara knew them as well. We hand-picked three of those guys for Eurosong. As for the arrangement, I agree with Marc Vliegen that it didn’t require adjustment. I liked it and it had done well in the pre-selection in Knokke. Why couldn’t it have worked at Eurovision too?”

“Believe it or not, the Belgian delegation was so large that it filled an entire bus”. The Belgian representatives in Millstreet in a coach on the way back from Millstreet to their hotel in Cork; among those in the picture, commentator André Vermeulen, composer Marc Vliegen, journalist Marc Coenegracht, lyricist/producer Marc Dex, and (far right, partly cropped off) Barbara with her mother

As mentioned, the 1993 International Eurovision Final took place in Ireland – not in Dublin or one of the other main cities, but at the Green Glens Arena, an event hall in Millstreet, County Cork, usually used for equestrian events. Due to a lack of hotel capacity in Millstreet itself, the delegations from the 25 participating countries were housed in hotels in Killarney and Cork. Coaches were provided to take the participants to the concert hall and back.

“Believe it or not, the Belgian delegation was so large that it filled an entire bus,” Bert Candries laughs. “They were mainly BRT employees. There was no reason whatsoever why they should be there in Ireland. Even Musti was with us – that’s what we called newsreader Rachel Frederix, because she spoke the voices in the cartoon series Musti. What was she supposed to do there? Knit a sweater? She had only come along, because she happened to be the wife of Jan Ceuleers, BRT’s General Manager. Johan Van den Eede also brought along his wife. They had all the time in the world to go for a swim in the pool of our hotel in Cork. They were just tourists, nothing more. I only saw them drinking aperitifs… and everything was paid for by the broadcasting service! Apparently, there was budget for that, while they had refused to pay for my stay! That was a bit odd, if you ask me.”

Composer Marc Vliegen also came to Ireland, taking his seat in the packed Belgian bus as well. He recalls an incident when the Belgian delegation wanted to return to the hotel after a day of rehearsals in Millstreet. “When walking out of the hall, we saw an empty bus – and we all got into that. ‘Oh, that bus is empty, let’s take that one.’ Once we were driving back to our hotel in Cork, we noticed that there were police officers driving in front of the bus and behind it as well. ‘Why are those constables accompanying us?’ We didn’t understand. Bear in mind, this was the time of the war in Yugoslavia. It turned out we had boarded the bus of the delegation from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Because of the war, the Bosnians received extensive security, much more so than other participants. Everyone knew that, except us silly Belgians! We simply ran to the first free coach we noticed.”

Marc Dex in an impromptu performance of his hit 'Oh, clown' in a pub in Cork

“My girlfriend Heidi was Barbara’s backing singer in Ireland,” Bert Candries continues. “She only had to sing one line, at the very end of the song. Her accommodation was also paid for entirely by Marc Dex. It might have been the euphoria after winning the final in Knokke, but he had simply told me, ‘Come on, let her join us too!’ Marc is a really sweet guy, you know. Heidi was perhaps the most tourist-minded of us that week in Ireland – she had no nerves whatsoever. Character-wise, she was really rock-‘n’-roll anyway… but, in any case, given there was just that one line, her life in Ireland was as easy as could be. That was another element in the arrangement that could have been given a bit more attention. Just one line for your backing singer was a bit lame.”

“During the performance, Heidi stood at the very back of the stage; or actually off-stage. Unfortunately, the one line she had to sing was slightly off-key on the night. That was really unlike her, because she had a powerful voice. She had her own pop group, To Be Louise, but also worked extensively as a backing singer in studio sessions. She was really good at what she did. Possibly she had had one drink too many before the broadcast? Possibly her monitor wasn’t quite right? At any rate, it didn’t ruin the performance.”

“It was my first time in Ireland, which turned out to be a beautiful country. The Irish gave us a very hospitable welcome. Rather than holding a speech, the mayor of Millstreet sang a song in which he welcomed us all, while his aldermen stood behind him doing the background vocals. Plenty of excursions were organised in the course of the week. One of our destinations was the Jameson distillery, where a whiskey tasting was held for us. That was a mandatory part of our stay, ha-ha! In Cork, entertainment was organised on practically every street corner. Each café in the city centre represented one of the participating countries – and there were a lot of cafés! The owners did this with complete dedication. Let’s just say that we saw more cafés than just the Belgian one!”

Barbara at a party with Icelandic representative Inga (Ingibjörg Stefánsdóttir)

“All delegations also held a party. You couldn’t go everywhere; there were too many participating countries for that. So we had to make choices. I remember that we decided to visit the Greek party, because we were looking forward to tasty Greek snacks being served. The Greek singer (Keti Garbi – BT) was a beautiful lady and really likeable; her song was great too!”

“Those parties were a great way to fraternise with other countries, because otherwise you mainly stayed with your own delegation. For example, I know that Francis Goya, Dany Caen, and Patrick Alessi, all of whom were friends of mine from Belgium, were there for Luxembourg, but I only saw them backstage during the voting; that was it. Apparently they stayed in another hotel. We also held a party to which the other participants were invited. At that Belgian reception, I did a miniconcert with Barbara’s backing musicians, playing a selection of covers with Barbara and her father as vocalists.”

“Marc Dex looked after us well that week in Ireland. One evening, he took us all out to have dinner at a restaurant. That was very nice, because we also met a bunch of musicians from the Irish orchestra there, with whom I had made friends at the first rehearsal. After several drinks, Marc put a napkin on his head and then he climbed onto the table, singing his big hit ‘Oh, clown’. All the Irish were absorbed in the atmosphere of that song and the fire put into the performance by Marc. That’s a wonderful memory!”

Composer Marc Vliegen remembers another dinner with the Belgian delegation in Ireland. “On the first day we were there, Frans Frederickx, our delegation leader on behalf of the BRT, said, ‘Guys, let’s go and have a meal together!’ As it happened, that restaurant turned out to have a Belgian chef and we had a delicious meal there. When it was time to pay, Frans said, ‘Guys, this dinner is at the expense of the BRT!’ You can imagine that the next day nobody in our delegation lost sight of Frans… and there were many of us; because there was a sound engineer with us, a cameraman, a producer, and so on – and they all had taken their wives with them. The next day, we went to another restaurant together. Almost everyone ordered the most expensive thing on the menu; lobster. Sitting with my wife next to Frans, we ordered cod with mash potatoes, something really simple. When we were all about to finish our meal, Frans poked me in the side and said behind his hand, ‘Just watch, this is going to be fun.’ Then he stood up and said, ‘All drinks are on the BRT.’ So practically everyone had to take out their Visa card to pay for their lobster. It was a funny moment, to say the least.”

Bert flanked by composer Marc Vliegen at a reception in Ireland

Not taking into account his work in the recording studio, it was the first time Bert Candries stood up in front of an orchestra as a real conductor, without a guitar in his hand. “I was curious what it would be like working with the Irish orchestra. I was looking forward to those rehearsals, but with a slight touch of apprehension into the mix. Of course I’m not a real conductor; I’m a musician. In the pre-selection in Knokke, I was playing the bass guitar myself while guiding my colleagues, which is the situation I prefer. Conducting in the studio doesn’t amount to much; just placing the downbeat and giving cues, without worrying too much about making the correct hand movements.”

“It was quite an impressive moment standing in front of those Irish musicians for the first time in rehearsals. Keep in mind that we didn’t do everything live. There was a click track and, apart from the drums, the rhythm instruments were on a backing tape. All I had to do was put on headphones and count in the orchestra following the click track. If I had had to count them in myself, I might have had to take some conducting lessons to get the orchestra going. In that case I would have made sure that I knew when to raise or lower my hand. Now none of that was necessary. It was a matter of following the backing track.”

“Not everyone in the orchestra wore headphones. The drummer did, but the string players had to listen to his playing and take it from there. The drummer was playing an electronic drum and not a real drum kit. I thought that was a bit of a shame. By the way, that drummer was pretty much the oldest guy in the orchestra. Almost all the others were young people, just like me. I didn’t have to worry about the orchestra. They knew their parts well and our rehearsals actually went smoothly. There was no problem.”

Performance with Barbara, Heidi, and the backing musicians of 'Iemand als jij' at the Belgian reception in Cork

“As I mentioned, we met many of the orchestra members on the night when Marc Dex invited all of us to a restaurant in Cork. I had a chat with a group of orchestra members who were having dinner together – and after a while there was no longer any distance between them and me. ‘Barbara’s song is really beautiful,’ they said. They were very enthusiastic about our entry. Just simple folk just like us. I was flattered that, in spite of being so young and inexperienced, I was accepted by all of them without question.”

“The morning after that dinner, Belgium was the first country scheduled to rehearse. To me, it didn’t really matter; just a thirty-minute rehearsal and then go on an excursion for the remainder of the day. For the guys in the orchestra, it was not so easy; after all, they had to play all those songs. When I walked to the small conductor’s stage, all the orchestra musicians were busy reading a book or solving crosswords. In fact, about half of them must have had a hangover from the night before! For a while, I stood there thinking how best to approach this situation. I decided to put on a cheerful face, waving to everyone as friendly as I could. It worked, because all those little books were put away immediately. Instead of words, a simple hand signal and a smile did the trick! I was a musician just like them. It just proves my point that there was no distance. That was very pleasant to notice.”

How did young Barbara cope with everything going on around her during preparations in Millstreet? “You only saw Barbara during daytime,” Bert remembers. “She never came with us for dinner, perhaps to protect her voice. Her mother stayed at the hotel with her – also because she had to look after the other children, because Barbara’s younger brother and sister were also there. Ultimately, I think Barbara was the one person who least enjoyed the week in Ireland. There was pressure put on her shoulders, especially by the BRT, but her father unwittingly went along with that, simply because he was nervous. It was all a bit mismanaged by the BRT. They gave her a haircut which she wasn’t happy with. Moreover, there was constant discussion about the golden dress she was going to wear. To make matters worse, that dress got stuck in a door handle on the night of the broadcast. There was a rip in it. So her hair wasn’t good, there was a tear in that dress... can you imagine giving the best of yourself in those circumstances?”

Bert with Marc Dex

Like Bert Candries, composer Marc Vliegen kept his distance in the discussion about Barbara’s styling, but he did have his thoughts about the matter. “In retrospect, I think it was a very brave decision by Barbara to stand her ground. She had designed that dress and she was going to wear it, regardless of what her father or the BRT said. Maybe it was the wrong decision, but only those who are confident dare to make such decisions – and that’s what she did, as young as she was. I’m actually very proud of how she stood up for her convictions despite coming under fire. This showed that she had a strong personality. I had nothing to say about it, but I remember thinking, ‘Just leave that girl alone.’ Her vocal performance on the night was excellent, but you couldn’t fail to see how much pressure was on her… and it needn’t have been that way.”

Be that as it may, Barbara wasn’t the only Belgian artist taking the stage with a striking outfit that night. In the concert, conductor Bert Candries had his ponytail tied with a blue bow, while wearing a white-and-blue suit. Bert can’t help laughing when we ask him about the matter. “I normally didn’t look so smart, but Heidi thought I should be dressed for the occasion. My circle of acquaintances included a woman who was a couturier – and at Heidi’s suggestion I asked her to design me a suit. This actually cost me a lot of money – way too much, because I only wore that suit once. That light blue colour was really ugly. Awful! Suppose you wear that at a party, you would be laughed at in your face. At the time, I was happy with it, but afterwards I thought, ‘What have I done spending so much money on something so silly?’ Then, to make matters worse, Heidi came up with that blue bow. I still remember her words, ‘That’ll go well with your suit.’ Now I wouldn’t allow others to push me around like that. I was young! Afterwards, friends of mine often had a laugh when they asked me to tell the story of that suit again.”

“On the night, I wasn’t nervous. Yes, I had to conduct for millions of people, but there were not millions of people in that hall. Everything had been rehearsed thoroughly and I had complete trust in that orchestra. In fact, I couldn’t help going into the concert with a degree of expectation… because those orchestra musicians thought so highly of Barbara and our song. Eventually you start to believe in your chances, ‘Yes, it’s not that bad a song actually!’ I won’t say that I really thought we would win, but I was hoping for a place in the top five or six.”

Barbara Dex on the Eurovision stage in Millstreet

“When the voting got underway, we were all sitting backstage rubbing our hands with a big smile, curious about the points we would get. As it happened, we were sitting right next to the Irish, who started picking up one 12 points after the other. They jumped straight up every time. Marc Dex said, ‘Yes, but we are next!’ But halfway through, when we had only received 3 votes from Germany, you could already see the heads dropping a bit. And those Irish kept jumping upright, and we were always shown on camera next to them. That was a bit painful. By the way, I thought that Irish singer (Niamh Kavanagh – BT) deserved all the points she got. She wasn’t even a professional singer, because she had a daytime job at a bank, but when she started singing… I thought she was fantastic. The atmosphere backstage struck me as pleasant. You had been fraternising all week. Solidarity may be too strong a word, but you didn’t begrudge the other countries their points.”

“When it was all over, Barbara was the one person in our delegation who didn’t seem downcast. I think she was happy to be rid of it. All those people hanging around her – she was so tired of it. Everyone else was very disappointed; especially Marc Dex. On the bus back to the hotel, he sat there with a gloomy look and then he suddenly turned to me, saying, ‘The show is over!’ Actually, that was quite funny, because that is a line from the lyrics of ‘Oh, clown’.”

Marc Dex admits that he was upset about ‘Iemand als jij’ finishing dead-last with just 3 votes. “Yes, I was very disillusioned for a while. After winning the pre-selection in Knokke, there was a certain euphoria, which we took with us to Ireland – only to finish at the bottom of the scoreboard. I never expected Barbara to come last. That was a bit of a downer... but we didn’t lose heart and said, ‘Barbara, we’ll just keep going and see what happens.’ In retrospect, she has more than sufficiently proven her mettle an artist.”

“When the voting got underway, we were all sitting backstage rubbing our hands with a big smile, curious about the points we would get”. Barbara (left) flanked by her father Marc, pianist Jan Moeskops, guitarists Peter Meulemans and Jimmy Van Hoppe, and conductor Bert Candries with backing singer Heidi Boumans - with an Irish hostess in the foreground

“In retrospect, Eurovision came along too early for Barbara,” Bert Candries thinks. “A few years ago, I did a gig with Johan Verminnen, in which Barbara performed two or three songs as a guest. She was just great. When she did Eurovision, she already had the voice – because I’ve never heard her sing one single note which was out of tune – but she now also has a stage presence which is impressive. Simply a great singer! Of course, it was a shame that we came last. Look, if you finish fifteenth, no-one will comment on it, but a last place… at such a moment, you can’t help thinking, ‘Is that real? Was it really that bad?’ Well, the performance itself may have been a bit stale. The boys backing up Barbara didn’t really make a connection with the audience. It was all a bit too introverted – and then Barbara herself was feeling a bit uncomfortable for the reasons we discussed earlier on. In any case, it wasn’t my fault. The orchestra had played well.”

When asked, Marc Vliegen also believes that Bert Candries was the right man to conduct the orchestra in Millstreet. “Because he had done the preliminaries in Knokke, I thought it was completely logical that he was there in Ireland. He deserved that job, no doubt about it. Of course, we all realised that we weren’t going to win, but those 3 votes came as a blow. On the bus drive back to the hotel after the broadcast, everyone had gone very quiet indeed! Fortunately, it didn’t harm Barbara’s career. She has always received a good response from her audiences when performing that song. It’s also still being played on the radio. On the other hand, I think it’s a shame that every host starts whining about Barbara’s dress when announcing the song. When I hear another of those jibes, I can’t help thinking, ‘Why don’t you comment on the music?’, because I still regularly hear from people commenting how much they love that song.”

“Audiences still ask Barbara to sing ‘Iemand als jij’ at every concert,” Marc Dex adds. “Then she makes some funny comments about the dress she wore in Ireland. That Eurovision Song Contest is a great memory for Barbara. What else can give you such an experience? It’s an impressive event. I’m very happy that we were given the opportunity to experience that. Those were unforgettable moments – also getting to perform live with such a large orchestra. Barbara still enjoys working with orchestras. She recently did a theatre tour with a symphony orchestra, which was sold out night after night. Those types of theatre concerts appeal to her the most, because people come there to really listen to what she’s singing about.”

“Halfway through the voting, when we had only received 3 votes from Germany, you could already see the heads dropping a bit” - Barbara, Bert, and Heidi backstage with Flemish journalist Annik Decorte

Despite the result, Marc Vliegen looks back on his festival participation with pride as well. “The melody of ‘Iemand als jij’ was entirely my creation; composition, arrangement, everything. I can’t help feeling proud of that. In the aftermath of the contest, I wrote a few more songs for Marc Dex, but I quickly withdrew from the world of Flemish artists. When you write for Natalia or similar artists, you kind of have to give your song away, upon which others will record it in a way which is opposite to your own ideas. I didn’t like that at all. Nowadays, I make a living from music. I’ve become a music teacher, but I also compose piano pieces under the motto Listening Wind which I share with listeners from all over the world thanks to digital platforms. Nowadays, you no longer need a record company to sell your music. Fans of my music can be found anywhere from New Zealand to Alaska. The world has become a village!”

Just like Marc Vliegen and Marc Dex, Bert Candries took part in just one Eurovision edition. After 1993, he had no involvement in the festival or the Belgian pre-selections in any way. “It was just a one-off, but I am certainly proud of it. There are not many who can say that they conducted the orchestra at the Eurovision Song Contest. It was quite an experience – basically some sort of working holiday, but a great experience nonetheless. It didn’t really change the course of my life. It might have been different if Barbara had won. In that case, I might have been asked to write another song or arrangement for her... but it didn’t turn out that way and that’s OK. For me, there was no risk that the festival would harm my career.”

In 2015, more than twenty years after the contest in Millstreet, Marc Dex contacted Bert Candries to take care of the production and arrangement of his new single, a nostalgic tune called ‘Weet je nog’. “In an indirect way, that was a commission which I think I owe to Barbara and Eurovision,” Bert Candries laughs. “We recorded that song in my studio in Wezemaal and that session was just fine.”

“I already knew that Bert was a fantastic guitarist and a very good arranger,” Marc Dex comments, “but I had never been to his studio. I had heard stories from colleagues who said that it was a nice studio. When I wanted to record that new single in 2015, Bert’s studio seemed like the perfect place to do so. The recording turned out well, in part thanks to the beautiful musical accompaniment created for it by Bert.”

When asked whether he still switches on his TV for the Eurovision Song Contest today, Bert Candries sighs. “I still watch it – or rather, parts of it, but not from beginning to end. You may hear a few good songs, but you have to look carefully. All those songs sound so similar nowadays – all done with a relentless beat and lots of synthesisers. Thirty years ago, you could hear more elements of the music culture of the participating countries. For instance, you would immediately recognise the song from Greece. Now they’re just trying to copy each other. Whether it’s Bulgaria or Estonia, everything sounds completely interchangeable. All those countries have so much more to offer in musical terms than what you hear at Eurovision! Unfortunately, commerce and marketing play a major part in this.”

“Apart from that, what you get to see now is mainly a show. Dressed-up monsters and whatnot – that’s not for me. There’s no-one who plays live. It actually has no longer anything to do with music. It would be difficult to do Eurovision with an orchestra, as it was done in the 1990s. Nowadays, almost all songs are completely electronic. In that context, you would rather have to think of an orchestra in the style of Hans Zimmer’s film music, with multiple synthesisers and powerful electronic percussion. With such an approach, it could certainly be done completely live. Orchestras aren’t old-fashioned; it’s the arrangements which are contemporary or outdated. Musicians cannot be old-fashioned, can they? Come on, when talking about music, real music, there should always be musicians involved!”

Bert with Barbara at a gig in Sint-Gillis-Waas, East Flanders (2015)


Comments about Bert Candries by Marc Dex and Marc Vliegen have been included in the above.


Country – België
Song title – “Iemand als jij”
Rendition – Barbara (Dex)
Lyrics – Marc Dex “Tobana”
Composition – Marc Vliegen
Studio arrangement – Marc Vliegen
Live orchestration – Marc Vliegen
Conductor – Bert Candries
Score – 25th place (3 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Bert Candries on two occasions; first, a long conversation taking place in Bert’s home studio in Wezemaal, January 2024; and, several weeks later, in February of the same year, a second meeting done with a video call 
  • Also in February 2024, Bas Tukker spoke to the songwriting duo behind ‘Iemand als jij’, Marc Dex and Marc Vliegen; thanks to both of them for their kind cooperation
  • An older interview with Bert (in the Dutch language, from 2021), done for the podcast series ‘Bassed in Belgium’ can be listened to via this link 
  • A small selection of music recordings and performances in which Bert Candries was involved can be listened to by following this YouTube link
  • Photos courtesy of Bert Candries & Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to Mark Coupar for proofreading the manuscript of this interview

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