Saturday 25 March 1972


The following article is an overview of the career of British composer, arranger, and conductor Richard Hill. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Hill, conducted by Bas Tukker in Hallow, Worcestershire, March 2017. The article is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Richard Hill's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2017

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

Born: August 22nd, 1942, Renfrew, Scotland (United Kingdom)
Nationality: British


Richard Hill is one of several British studio arrangers in Eurovision history called upon by another country’s broadcaster to conduct their festival entry. In 1972, the Portuguese Eurovision selection show was won by ‘A festa da vida’, a composition by José Calvário performed by Carlos Mendes. Having written the orchestration to the song, Richard Hill conducted the item in the pre-selection in Lisbon as well as in that year’s festival final, held in Edinburgh. In the international field, this Portuguese entry managed a seventh place.


Richard Vincent Hill was born during World War II in Renfrew, a town just west of Glasgow, where his father worked as a businessman. Though born in Scotland, Hill does not consider himself Scottish. 

“My father and mother both originated from England. When I was four or five years old, our family moved back south of the border, first to Manchester and later to London, where I grew up. Before the war, my father had been a playwright, working at Leeds Playhouse. Due to a leg injury, he didn't see any fighting during the war, joining the Home Guard instead. In London, after the war, he worked as a credit controller… which he didn't really like, but that is what he did to make a living."

"I think of myself as a Londoner, absolutely. Our house was in Mitcham, South London. I attended Mitcham County Grammar School for Boys. There were plenty of opportunities to play music and the school’s piano teacher was really good. With some friends, I formed a little jazz band in which I played the cello. Believe it or not, I managed to break the cello during a performance. The school were brilliant about it, though, and bought a double-bass as a replacement… I could not break that!”

Young Richard as a pupil at the Greenwood Road Primary School, Mitcham-London (1948)

Although he enjoyed playing, it was not on Richard’s mind to pursue a career as a musician yet. “The main passion during my teenage years was rugby. I also was pretty good at athletics and cricket, but in those days you could not do any of that professionally. I considered going to university to study volcanology, but bearing in mind that I was awful at science, that would have been a disaster."

"Who knows what I would have been if I had not passed a junk shop one day? That was where I saw an old trombone. I was seventeen years old and had one year of grammar school to go. That trombone saved my life. I could play the thing right away… the first tune that came out was ‘You Are My Sunshine’. I decided to take lessons; my teacher was Victor Saywell, a euphonium player with the Scots Guards. He taught me the trombone, but he taught me to play it almost as a euphonium, which is a very agile instrument, so I got really quick at it! By the time I graduated from school in 1960, I knew I wanted to try in music, and, though my parents were not really keen, I decided to apply for a scholarship at the Royal College of Music.”

With just eleven months of practice on the trombone, Richard did an audition at the renowned London conservatoire. “Among other things, the test consisted of playing the whole of Rimski-Korsakov’s 'Concerto for Trombone' and some of the Bach 'Unaccompanied Cello Suites' as well. At the end, the jurors asked how long I had been playing. When I told them that it had been no longer than eleven months, I saw some jaws drop. One week later, I received a letter saying I had won a scholarship. I was delighted, but things nearly ended in disaster. Just after the audition, I played in a county trial rugby match. Somebody put in a straight-arm tackle at me, splitting my lip and breaking some teeth… and in a few weeks I had to go to the Royal College of Music! It was troublesome and some dental work had to be done, but luckily it turned out not to have ruined my embouchure.”

Richard was a student at the Royal College of Music (RCM) for three years (1960-63), studying the trombone with Morris Smith; other teachers of his included Millicent Silver (piano, harpsichord), Philip Cannon (composition), and the renowned Sir Adrian Boult (conducting), under whom Hill became Principal Trombone in the RCM Symphony Orchestra. When asked about the most influential of his teachers, Hill does not hesitate for one moment. 

Richard as a 15-year-old playing bass in the Modern Dance Quintet (1957)

“That would have to be Adrian Boult. Above all others, this man still affects me and my attitude to music! First and foremost, he was a magnificent conductor. His minimalistic technique, based on the baton rather than big arm gestures, goes back to the days of Holst and Elgar, who, incidentally, were both trombone players at the RCM. Apart from that, he was the ultimate gentleman… a man from a different era."

"I remember one time, when I played in an orchestra which he conducted. During the concert, in which we played Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, I made a terrible mistake. Towards the end of the piece, there is a big pause in which the entire orchestra stops playing, but I misread my part and, being a bar out, I played out ever so loudly. Obviously, I was embarrassed; after the performance, I went out of my way to apologize to Sir Adrian, but he replied, “Never mind, Hill… if you are going to do it, do it nice and loud”. So there you are; this man was the complete opposite of the authoritarian school of conductors – no ‘screaming skull’, no Georg Solti. As a student, I had no idea yet that I would be doing a great deal of conducting during my career; also in that respect, Boult influenced me in a profound way. His handbook on conducting certainly was an invaluable help to me later on.”

During his student days, Richard Hill enthusiastically immersed himself in freelance work, playing the trombone as a deputy in several classical orchestras, including the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Besides, being interested in other styles of music as well, he regularly played in jazz clubs and even formed a rock band, The Voomins. With their ‘March of the Voomins’, the group had a modest radio hit.  

“We were a mad lot, but our Voomins project was actually quite successful. We were an instrumental band. I simply played the trombone. Our style hovered between blues and rock ‘n’ roll. A lot of our stuff was taken up by big band programmes which were broadcast on radio around lunchtime. One of the big national papers, the Daily Mail, wrote a feature article about us, including some big pictures. This did not go unnoticed at the RCM. I got summoned to appear before the director and he really told me off. These were the days when they would not even admit guitar lessons being taught at the academy. I also remember Malcolm Sargent, a replacement conducting teacher, who came waltzing up to me and another trombone player, who were practicing some of our jazz tunes during the interval of a rehearsal. We were due to play in a jazz club that night. “What are you doing playing like that?”, he shouted, “This will ruin your tone!” That, in a nutshell, was the attitude to jazz, rock, and pop at the academy in the early 1960s.”

Richard (left) practicing at the Royal College of Music with fellow trombone student John Simcock (c. 1961)

In 1963, Richard Hill decided to leave the conservatoire, though he had been offered an extra year’s scholarship to obtain his diploma. His teachers were dismayed. On Richard’s last report in July 1963, Morris Smith wrote about his student’s progress on the trombone, “Excellent results in every way on his instrument; I feel he has all the ability to be an outstanding instrumentalist. Always plays with a sensitive musical feeling.” And Phillip Cannon about his talents in music theory, “A very lively mind with an original approach. A most sensitive and promising musician in every way.” 

“My teachers would have liked me to stay," Richard comments, "but, not unlike Captain Kirk in Star Trek, I wanted to be captain of my own spaceship. I kind of felt locked in at the academy. Instead of one more year of theory, I wanted to leap into the big wide world. As a freelance musician, I was already making a decent living. All kinds of things were happening in London. My best week would be playing at the Royal Opera House one night, going to a club the next evening with a jazz band; and a studio session playing some rock ‘n’ roll tracks in between! In music, I am an omnivore. As I liked doing many different things, it was not an option for me to join a classical orchestra as a regular player. I would have got jumpy about playing the same concerts year after year.”

Amongst many other gigs, Richard played the trombone in the orchestra which accompanied the Duke Ellington version of the Shakespeare play Timon Of Athens, which ran for several weeks at the 1964 Chichester Festival Theatre. 

“That was a great experience. The orchestra was conducted by Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s band arranger. It was interesting to be so close to someone from the world of jazz for whom I had great admiration… I think Ellington’s version of the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ is a good as Tchaikovsky’s original, I really do! Jazz music has always been an inspiration to me. That is why I joined up with Dave Keir’s Jazz Band for a while in that period."

Richard (with trombone, middle) and his rock band The Voomins featuring in a music magazine (c. 1964)

"I also remember something else happening to me around the same time which was straight out of a movie. I sat at Marylebone Station in London, waiting for the train to take me home after an evening of work. It was around midnight. Suddenly, three coloured gentlemen leapt up who immediately noted my instrument case. “Hey man, playing trombone? We are the trombone section of the Count Basie Band!” So there we were, chatting for three quarters of an hour in the middle of the night about the differences between classical and jazz technique, about how they went to listen to classical orchestras to listen and learn. It was one of those episodes in your life that you never forget. It was fantastic. That was how inspirational London could be for a young musician in the 1960s.”

During his student days, Richard had become involved in renaissance brass music through the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, of which he was a founder member. In 1965, the eight-element-group released an album, ‘Royal Brass Music’. 

“It is a type of music which is seldom performed,” Richard explains. “That was the first reason why I was interested. The project got started in an unusual way. David Biddulph was a retired Royal Navy Lieutenant-commander. After his son, who was a trombone player, had been tragically killed in a motorcycle accident, David taught himself to play the instrument by way of honouring his lost child. He put up a notice in the Royal College of Music to find people who wanted to practice trombone quartets with him. John Simcock, Peter Harvey, and myself thought it was worth the while giving it a go."

"We found that Biddulph was a keen player – not a good sight-reader, but someone who did well as long as he learnt his part. His main talent, though, was presentation. So from the first time we played for an audience, he introduced the pieces we were playing and everybody loved the way he did that. That's how the Gabrieli Brass Ensemble was launched. Our first album came about by accident. With some of my fellow players, I was working as a session musician in the Pye Studio; while waiting for the recording to begin, we started playing some early music. The engineer, Bob Auger, was fascinated. This led straight to our first album, produced by Bob for Pye Records, which included music composed by King James I. It was even released in the US on the Nonesuch label. We were more successful with the Gabrieli than we could ever have imagined at the outset. It became a kind of livelihood thing.”

In 1965, Richard made a surprising career move; he signed as an artist & repertoire manager and studio arranger with Polydor Records, which was at that time a new record company in the UK, owned by Deutsche Grammophon. 

When asked about this turn of his career, Hill explains, “During the sessions of ‘Royal Brass Music’, again in Pye Studios, I had written a little instrumental pop piece, ‘Angel cake’. We made a recording of it, but just for fun – to have a short break from the baroque music we were working on. I never thought anymore about it, but the demo found its way to the desk of Ronald Rennie, managing director at Polydor Records. While off on tour with the Gabrieli in Cornwall, I got a phone call from him. “I like your single… now would you be interested in a job?” “What do you mean?” “Well, as an A&R man!” I did not even know what A&R meant, but I said yes and came to his office for a chat. We got on very well. So there I was all of a sudden with a fulltime job at Polydor!"

"I must say Ronald Rennie came along at the right time. It was a lot of fun touring, but I do not think I could have been a freelance player for much longer. After all, where did it lead? For me, Polydor meant a steady job and a way of getting into the studio world. The first session I did with Polydor was the first time I sat in a control room. I heard this great big sound coming out in stereo. It turned me onto recording, and it is something I have loved doing ever since. Polydor was a small company. Our offices were in Barrett Street above a shop; there were just seven or eight people working there. One of them was the personal assistant to the Head of A&R; her name was Liz. We fell in love and got married later on. One of the nicest things about Polydor was the artistic freedom. I could do pretty much whatever I liked, be it in classical or in pop music.”

At Polydor, Hill immersed himself in arranging work for, amongst many other artists, Roy Hudd, Jack Hammer, Bill Oddie, Ottilie Patterson, and fledgling Dutch band The Golden Earrings. Moreover, he also orchestrated songs for several French-market artists, including Johnny Hallyday. 

Conducting a session of the ‘Canterbury Pilgrims’ concept album: Pye Studios, London (1967)

“The Hallyday album in 1965 must have been my first-ever arranging commission. At the time, there was a musicians’ strike in France and all artists came over here to record their work. I had never written an arrangement, so it was a real baptism of fire – but it turned out well. Shortly after I was asked to do an album with Jack Hammer; he was the composer of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ and really great fun to hang around with. It must have been the first occasion where I could prove myself as a producer in my own right. As Polydor did not have studios of their own, I recorded most of the stuff I did at Pye Studios, which became a second home for me."

As an A&R man, Hill stumbled upon Fab Cab, an a cappella group comprised of Cambridge University students, led by Marcus Bicknell. In 1967, he renamed the group The Gentle Power of Song and recorded an album with them, called ‘Circus’. 

“When I first heard them, I thought about how great it would be to let them sing in the style of the Beach Boys. Ronald Rennie liked the idea – we were given a generous budget and so we went into the studio. I did two LPs with them; ‘Circus’ was in pop style and the second one, released one year later, a Christmas album called 'Peace' with religious songs in baroque style. Of course, though we sold quite a lot of records, projects like these were no million sellers, but to be honest – I was not in it to be in the charts."

"The only real hit in these years which I remember being involved in was ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ (by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity: 1968 – BT). Bob Dylan had written a song for Julie and had recorded it as a demo. Julie and Brian were actually produced by Giorgio Gomelsky, but Giorgio asked me to be at the studio recording with him. Gomelsky was a great guy, but this particular session was an outright disaster. The band and Giorgio were trying to play the song in a hundred different ways – and none of them worked. All I did was keep on saying, “Look, why don’t you record it the way Bob Dylan had sung it on the demo. Just simple, straight – copy that, and you'll be all right.” Finally, they did just that… and it did work, but by then it must have been three o’clock in the morning. Liz and I went home being fed up with how they could not see how simple it was.”

The Israeli single release of ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity (1968); Richard Hill co-produced the studio session for this record with Giorgio Gomelsky

Meanwhile, Richard also accepted the occasional freelance orchestrating job; amongst other commissions, he worked for BBC’s Top of the Pops, writing arrangements to tunes sung by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. Due to his extensive studio work, there was less and less time to join up with the Gabrieli Brass Ensemble. 

“My fascination for renaissance and baroque music was still there, though. That's why I suggested to Ronald Rennie to do a concept album about Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, a book which I had really enjoyed reading at school. Why not adapt the work and write music to it; a narrated prologue and descriptions of the different characters, all with music behind? I was sure the Gabrieli’s trademark brass sound would be ideally suited to recreate a Medieval feel. Again, Rennie said, “Just go and do it!”, and that's what I did."

"As a rookie, I had not done too much composing and arranging yet. Therefore, I asked John Hawkins, an experienced journeyman arranger who had helped me out brilliantly on the Jack Hammer album; and good fun to be with. Together, we conceived the music and arrangements based on my initial idea. We got Professor Nevill Coghill from Oxford University on board to adapt Chaucer’s words to fit into our concept, and Martin Starkie as the narrator. All music was played by the Gabrieli and the result pleased us all. The album was released in 1967. It did well and was even nominated for a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album, only to be beaten by the recorded speeches of the late President Kennedy!”

One thing led to another – and eventually it was decided to make an attempt at turning the concept album into a musical stage version. Once again, Richard teamed up with John Hawkins to rewrite the music. All in all, the musical consisted of nineteen songs. 

“From the outset, we decided to divide the writing work evenly between the two of us. So each of us came up with a set of songs. The arrangements were also split up. All of that had to fit a certain sound which I had in mind, which was the Gabrieli Brass Ensemble with a rock rhythm section, without any strings. Again, I wanted to convey a Medieval atmosphere. Nevill Coghill was really quite unsure about how to turn Chaucer into pop songs, but it worked out fine – John and I just let the music flow from his lyrics.”

Richard (left) with Martin Starkie working on the score of the musical version of ‘Canterbury Tales’ (1968)

For the stage version of Canterbury Tales, which premiered in the Phoenix Theatre on London’s West End in March 1968, Vlado Habunek and Martin Starkie took care of the directing job. The main actors were Wilfred Brambell, Hugh Manning, and Pamela Charles.

 “… and the whole thing ran for five-and-a-half years,” Richard laughs. “We never expected that, because, unlike Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, Canterbury Tales was never a play which was going to produce a hit song. What it succeeded in, though, was bringing the fourteenth century to life. There was this Medieval book which was on every English literature curriculum, and our theatre production managed to take it out of the classroom. The purpose was in part educational and many schools came with their pupils to watch the musical. Many American tourists came to attend performances as well. For the Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, it meant having a steady job for years on end. The conducting job was divided amongst several people. John Hawkins and I shared it for the first six months, and then there were one or two others. It would have been impossible to have one person conduct the same pieces over 2,000 times.”

Incredibly, between 1968 and 1973, ‘Canterbury Tales’ was performed 2,080 times in the West End. In 1969, the play was also staged at Broadway. In New York, however, the musical did not nearly do as well as in England, being performed 121 times over the course of three months. However it did enjoy two very successful US tours. Later, the play was successfully produced in many other countries, most notably South-Africa, Australia, and West-Germany. Hill was involved in most of these productions as a conductor. After the end of the UK production, the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble went on an international tour which brought them to the United States and many European countries. Moreover, they recorded several more albums, co-conceived, produced, and arranged by Richard Hill, such as ‘The Four Elements’ (1970) and ‘Band Of Gold’ (1971).

In 1971, Richard left Polydor, joining ATV Music as a writer, arranger, and conductor. ATV Music was the music publishing arm of Associated Television, an independent UK broadcaster specializing in variety and light entertainment. He stayed with the company until its demise in 1982, upon which he joined one of its successors, TVS (Television South) for some more years. In the course of the 1970s and early 1980s, he composed the music to such TV films as To Kill A Clown and Baffled!, as well as the trilogy Clayhanger and further drama series including Will Shakespeare and Sounding Brass.

On the set of ATV drama series ‘Will Shakespeare’ – Globe Theatre, London (1978)

“After six years at Polydor, it was perhaps simply time to move on. Geoff Heath, the director at ATV, was a former school classmate of mine and he invited me to join them. Working at ATV gave me the opportunity to explore a different corner of the music business; I wrote dozens of theme tunes and got access to all these films and drama series."

"As the composer of the music for a film or series, I was always booked as a music advisor as well, which meant I went on location and helped to sort out props for any instrument. In the case of ‘Sounding brass’, I taught the actors how to mime playing their instruments properly. Brian Glover was the actor who played the role of the brass band’s conductor. In the film, he had to conduct Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’. On the location where that scene was recorded, there were all these huge, half-open concrete pipes. This gave me the opportunity to hide from the cameras inside one of those pipes whilst conducting the ‘1812 Overture’ to the recording to which the band of actors were miming their performance. All Brian had to do, was following my gestures. It must have been an hilarious sight to see this mad bloke with a baton conducting Tchaikovsky in a concrete pipe, but Brian’s performance in the film worked out well – and that was the main thing!"

"Having said that, you can get fed up with writing drama series music… and after some ten years, I did. You are not making any decisions on your own, instead having to make yourself subservient to the wishes of the director or production team.”

Though under contract with ATV and later TVS, Richard Hill also worked as a composer in his own right. As such, he released several solo albums, the first one being ‘Toad Of Toad Hall’, a short audio drama put to music, in 1969; nine years later, he came up with ‘Chanctonbury Ring’, which was in the prog rock genre. Moreover, Hill composed quite a lot of so-called library music, recorded music available to customers for use in film, advertisements, or other media. Away from that, he continued being in regular demand for studio work as an arranger and producer, teaming up with the likes of John Cleese, Don Lusher, Elkie Brooks, Dana, Bill Oddie, and Duncan McKay. He penned the Sarah Brightman disco single ‘The adventures of the Love Crusader’ and took care of the choral arrangement on Paul McCartney’s 1983 number-one-hit success ‘Pipes Of Peace’. 

Conducting the Großes Rundfunk-Orchester Berlin for a performance with the Chris Barber Jazz Band in East Berlin's Palace of the Republic (1986)

“That was with the Choir of Pestalozzi International Children’s Village. I did an album with the children of Pestalozzi called ‘Songs of joy’, which got on television and did quite well. Paul McCartney heard it and was keen to do a single with them. As for Sarah Brightman; well, to be honest, I fabricated that song for the money. It made the charts, but I got so bloody bored by it.”

Over the years, Richard Hill had come to prefer working as a ‘backroom boy’ in the studio to performing on stage, but he made an exception for the Amazing Catsfield Steamers, a Sussex-based folk group in which he played the trombone for some years. In 1983, he was the producer of their album ‘United friends’. Also in the 1980s, Hill did countless stage performances in the UK, but mainly abroad with the Chris Barber Jazz Band and various symphony orchestras around Europe. 

“Chris is an old friend of mine. Though he's much older than me, it was our mutual love for the trombone and jazz music which created a strong bond between the two of us. As a classically trained musician, I could teach him certain tricks on the trombone. Over the years, we had always stayed in touch. At some point, Chris wanted to try his hand at symphonic jazz, having his band accompanied by an orchestra – and that is where I came in. I wrote orchestrations of a wide range of jazz standards. Going on tour, we worked with local symphony orchestras, which I conducted. We performed in many cities all over Europe, including behind the Berlin Wall in East Germany. Thanks to my involvement in recording library music, I had become quite an experienced conductor… though all of this ultimately goes back to Adrian Boult, of course. I have always found it particularly enjoyable to conduct orchestras, as it gives you the opportunity as a conductor to make the orchestra give something more than just the score itself. Chris and I did a lot of concerts for quite some years.”

From the early 1990s onwards, Richard Hill has firmly focused attention on his own compositions once again. After having worked in light entertainment music for most of his career, he has now retraced his classical origins by writing several contemporary classical pieces, notably the music drama The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (1994) and the orchestral ballet suite Images From Kubla Khan (1998), both based on the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

‘Images from Kubla Khan’ studio session with voice-over Ben Kingsley (1998)

“Originally, Images had been written specifically for East Germany’s Radio Orchestra, who I had got to know thanks to the Chris Barber concert tours in the 1980s. They were particularly keen to have music specifically written for them. The inspiration for Images was Rimski-Korsakov’s ‘Sheherazade’, so, though it qualifies as modern music, it is in no way avant-garde in its approach. We recorded it in 1989, but it was not until much later that the piece was released. As for The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, thanks to Oxford University, who scraped together a budget, we were given the opportunity to perform it at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994. The music worked out really well and it got terrific reviews.”

Among Hill’s more recent projects are ‘Baroque sounds’, in which he plays baroque music on a synthesiser, a ‘Concerto for Trumpet’, and a dramatized oratorio based on the life of St Wulstan of Worcester. 

“I've never stopped writing music, especially music to poetry, creating musical soundscapes. For the Wulstan project, I worked with research assistance from tutors at Cambridge University. With classical music, it is impossible to reach the mass audiences in the way that pop productions or my musical Canterbury Tales have, but maybe I am not much of a careerist. After Canterbury Tales, I suppose I could have gone on making a living from theatre music, but I never gave it a thought. There was always a next project in another genre waiting for me somewhere. There are so many different things in music I like doing.” 

Or, as Richard put down his creed in a 1983 interview with the Hastings Observer, “I do not like specialising. I do so many bits and pieces [that] I lay myself open to being called a jack of all trades and a master of none. But I don't see why you cannot be a jack of all trades and a master of all.”

Close-up, March 2017


Along with the likes of Colin Frechter and Martyn Ford, Richard Hill is amongst the British musicians who took part in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor for another country than the United Kingdom. In Richard Hill’s case, the country was Portugal, which in the 1970s regularly invited foreign arrangers to take part in their national selection programme, the so-called Festival RTP da Canção. Among others, Augusto Algueró from neighbouring Spain arranged Tonicha’s 1971 Eurovision entry ‘Menina’, while Algueró’s compatriot Rafael Ibarbia even conducted one of the entries in the 1974 Portuguese heats. 

In 1972, upon being approached by the Portuguese broadcaster RTP or a local record publisher for reasons which will probably forever remain lost in the clouded annals of Eurovision history, ATV Music, the UK publishing company to which Richard Hill was signed as a writer and conductor at the time, acquired the publishing rights to two entries for the Portuguese Eurovision selection show.

Digging deep into his memory, Richard Hill explains, “Len Beadle was the general manager of ATV Music at the time. He told me about these people from Portugal who were looking for arrangers and conductors for their Eurovision entries. “Would you fancy a few days in Lisbon to do the gig?”, Len asked. Well, yes, all right, why not? Len did one of the other entries (‘Cidade alheia’ performed by Duarte Mendes, for which Pedro Osório is credited as the arranger – BT), while I took care of ‘A festa da vida’. I do not remember a briefing for the orchestration with José Calvário, the composer, but there must have been a demo of some sort, recorded in Portugal, from which I did the proper arrangement. In those days, it was not unusual to be given commissions to do arrangements for recording projects directly from demos without meeting the composer or artist until the studio date.”

“Len and I turned up in Lisbon for the national selection television show as conductors; and ‘A festa da vida’ won it (by a landslide – BT). I didn't experience any problems in communicating with the Portuguese orchestra musicians. Using gestures and the odd bit of Italian, which is the language of music signs, did the trick. Later on, when I performed in East Germany and Bulgaria with Chris Barber, I did the same; conducting a rehearsal, basically, amounts to using the universal language of music, which any classical musician speaks."

"My memories of Lisbon? Well, it was actually little more than hotel room, rehearsal, hotel room, rehearsal, concert. I remember going for a short walk in the old town. It was obvious that Portugal was a poor country in those days. I happened to walk past a shop where coffins were sold – and the spooky thing was that most of these coffins were little ones. The death rate among children in Portugal must have been really high back then.”

Carlos Mendes congratulated on his first prize in the 1972 Festival RTP da Canção by the previous year's winner, Tonicha. The duo are flanked by composer José Calvário (left) and lyricist José Niza

As the arranger and conductor of the winning entry in the Festival da Canção, Richard Hill was a member of the Portuguese delegation to the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Edinburgh, Scotland. His wife Liz was there to accompany him. Did it feel strange doing Eurovision on home soil as the conductor for Portugal? 

“No, not really… I guess I had the attitude of a footballer; wherever you are signed as a player, you're paid to do your thing. Having said that, the whole of the Portuguese delegation treated us with great courtesy throughout the experience. José Calvário was the opposite of a rock ‘n’ roll icon; a polite guy who seemed well-educated and extremely professional – a delight to work with. Carlos Mendes was a nice guy too. I don't remember a language problem, so I guess both José and Carlos spoke English. The atmosphere was really good and there were no hiccups in rehearsals.”

Strikingly, Carlos Mendes was backed up by a choir of three girls in Edinburgh, although there had been only two in the heats in Lisbon. 

“It is unlikely that I wrote the background parts in Lisbon, simply because I would never write for only two singers. I prefer three, as it gives me a stronger timbre when in unison and more options when in harmony. This leads me to think that José must have written the vocal arrangements for the version we did in Lisbon, whilst I wrote new parts for the Eurovision final, possibly working together with José. I suspect the singers on stage behind Carlos in Edinburgh were local Scottish girls, but it is all very long ago… so I cannot be sure”.

Thinking back of his Eurovision experience, Richard recalls a witty moment which occurred during the last run-through of the contest. “I was in the front row of the auditorium watching what was going on on stage. While Malcolm Lockyer (the musical director of that year’s contest – BT) conducted the intro music with the orchestra in the pit, Moira Shearer, who was booked as the host of the evening, came waltzing onto the front of the podium, staring down at Malcolm who went on and on conducting away while she was becoming slightly impatient. After some time, he noticed her and, loud enough for us to hear, he simply said, “Oh, hello, Moira!” He was obviously supposed to know she was there, but apparently he was having a hazy moment.”

Carlos Mendes enjoying a moment of relaxation in the press room of Edinburgh's Usher Hall - Eurovision 1972

In the Eurovision Song Contest final in Edinburgh, Carlos Mendes and ‘A festa da vida’ did quite well, landing a seventh position – the best result Portugal had ever managed at the festival. 

“The performance was alright. When watching it on YouTube now, the only thing wrong with it is the sound; the three backing girls are too loud in the mix. The song itself was passionate and it has something quirky about it. It is in D-minor and its tempo doubles when the chorus starts. There are some hints of Portuguese folk music and it is certainly better than the usual Europop which has so often been performed on a Eurovision stage.”

"I don't recall much else of the contest - not even the winning song, though the name Vicky Leandros does ring a bell. All I can recall is making sure I remembered everything I needed to focus on to give my best performance with the orchestra.  In this regard it was similar to the attitude I was trained to adopt at the Royal College of Music, which served me well as a player on scary gigs like those at the Royal Opera House, the Philharmonia, conducting behind the Berlin Wall, and so on. Likewise, I don’t remember much of the aftermath of the show.  I’m sure I would have greeted Carlos and José and congratulated them on what I thought was an excellent performance of a really good song, but the details of an after-show party have escaped my memory. Who knows, maybe there’s a reason!"

The 1972 contest was to remain Richard Hill’s only-ever Eurovision involvement. “I could have tried, but I didn't have any ambition to make my mark as a songwriter or pose in front of a television orchestra and an audience. I was quite happy composing music for drama series and films back then."

"At ATV music, every year, they would announce that it was Eurovision time again, inviting their writers to submit songs for the competition. I never got into doing that, though I remember recording a couple of demos for Stephanie De Sykes, who was really keen to take part. Along with Madeline Bell, Steph was one of the most sought-after session singers of the day. Whatever became of her songs, I wasn't involved in writing the orchestrations later on."

Single release of ‘A festa da vida’ with a dedication by Richard Hill

"Perhaps over 40 years after the Eurovision Song Contest, when we had a reunion with the Gentle Power of Song group, who were all University of Cambridge alumni, Marcus Bignall got up and said, "Now you conducted Eurovision didn’t you?" They all start taking the mickey out of me. They're all academics, you know. It was all very good-natured; nothing mean about it, but I suppose you're aware what the general attitude towards Eurovision is in the UK."

"It was alright, because I'm not ashamed of having done Eurovision, especially because the song was good. I like that song. It's a bit deeper than your average Eurovision entry; but the contest in Edinburgh was just one gig; a one-off, so not very relevant for my CV. It would have been relevant if I had always wanted to be a conductor of television orchestras... which was not the case."

"I don’t watch Eurovision these days, except for clips which appear on TV as promotions before, and reviews after the event.  From those, it seems to me that a fundamental change has taken place in the contest.  Given my background, I like to believe that the first Eurovision Song Contest was perhaps Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’, with that wonderful prize song. From there we have come a long way, from modern populist theatrical dance drama to simply the judgement of the quality of a song – and of course, political issues now seem to be involved, which is a concern."

"The ditching of the orchestra was perhaps inevitable, as popular musical language has changed so much from the traditional presentation of a piece, to a broader overall hi-tech concept of entertainment, with all that entails in sound and light.  In that sense, and within this new genre, I’m sure Eurovision does indeed have a future. I suppose its popularity simply depends on how many multitudes watch it, and that seems to be secure for now.  The skill of orchestration is a casualty, but an inevitable one, I feel."

In recognition of his work on the 1972 Eurovision entry, Richard Hill received quite an original present from Portugal's broadcaster RTP - an ashtray bearing their logo


So far, we have not gathered memories of other artists about working with Richard Hill.


Country – Portugal
Song title – "A festa da vida"
Rendition – Carlos Mendes
Lyrics – José Niza
Composition – José Calvário
Studio arrangement – José Calvário / Richard Hill
Live orchestration – José Calvário / Richard Hill
Conductor – Richard Hill
Score – 7th place (90 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Richard Hill in Hallow, Worcestershire, March 2017
  • All photos courtesy of Richard & Liz Hill, except for 2017 close-up taken by Bas Tukker

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