Saturday 3 May 1986


The following article is an overview of the career of British pianist, clarinettist, composer, and arranger Colin Frechter. The main source of information are two interviews with Mr Frechter, conducted by Bas Tukker in May 2021. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Colin Frechter's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2021

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

Born: August 2nd, 1938, Barnet, England (United Kingdom)
Nationality: British

British pianist, clarinettist, composer, and arranger Colin Frechter took part in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor on one occasion, taking the honours for Portugal in 1986, accompanying Dora for her performance of ‘Não sejas mau p’ra mim’. In the 1970s, however, he had already been involved in two United Kingdom entries as an arranger, writing the scores to the winning ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ for Brotherhood of Man (1976) as well as to Co-Co’s ‘The Bad Old Days’ (1978).


Colin Michael Frechter was born in 1938 in Barnet, North London. His father, born in Poland, was of German Jewish extraction. “Dad was born about eight miles out of Warsaw. When he was seven years old, he went off to Vienna in Austria to be looked after by an uncle who didn’t really want him. The uncle made ladies’ handbags. Later my father and his two brothers went to Paris, where they opened a handbag business. In 1929, dad emigrated to England with 12 pounds 10 shillings in his pocket plus a small bag of tools. In London, he met his wife to be. He opened up his own handbag factory in Shoreditch (in London – BT) and was quite successful until the mid-1950s. Then, the man who used to make the metal frames for the bags got into financial trouble. This was right at a time when dad was expected to deliver a huge order to Harrods. Because the frames weren’t there, he couldn’t meet his obligations. That was practically the end of his firm. In retrospect, father led a sad life. He always drew a veil over his family in Poland. In fact, I didn’t find out he was Jewish until I was about eighteen. I wasn’t brought up in the Jewish tradition at all.”

“Neither of my parents showed any inclination towards music, but my grandmother owned a piano. As a three-year-old, I tinkered about on it and that was how it all began. A few years later, I was sent to a teacher, a dear old lady called Mrs Hill, who taught me the very basics. Looking back, I was a bit too adventurous for her… I wanted to run before I could walk. Having taken lessons with her for some two years, I gave up, but I took up the piano again when I went to boarding school in Elstree. The second teacher I went to no doubt was a clever musician, but sadly someone without the patience needed when working with children. The man couldn’t teach a chicken to lay an egg. Whenever I made a mistake, he rapped me across the knuckles with the ruler, so I stopped again after a very short time.”

“Instead, I took up playing the clarinet. I was keen to get into the school orchestra, as I wasn’t good enough as a piano player. When I found out they were looking for a clarinettist, I gave it my best shot. The regular music teacher was a good man and I liked his lessons. Mind you, I must have been a pretty bad clarinet player at the time, but I was admitted into the orchestra. Apart from that, I formed a little Dixieland band with four of my classmates. I was as green as everybody else and our repertoire consisted of no more than a couple of tunes. We had managed to lay our hands on some sheet music. Already at that stage, my ears were quicker than my sight. I learnt to play mostly by ear and only read out of necessity. We had to make it up as we went along. Very primitively, I also began to write some bits of music myself.”

“Coming out of school, I had no real conception of what I wanted to do. In 1957, I was called up for conscription – and somehow dreaming of being a pilot, I went to the Royal Air Force’s recruitment office. When I was tested for eyesight, they found that I was colour deficient, which meant my application was turned down. Now what could I do? At the time, I was a shop assistant at Harrods. One of my colleagues suggested going to the RAF’s music school at Uxbridge to audition as a clarinet player, so that’s where I went."

Aerial view of Singapore in the late 1950s

"At the audition, they judged that I wasn’t good enough for the National Service, which was two years – but if I agreed to stay an extra year to receive a musician’s training, I was allowed to sign on… so I had scraped in! Apart from studying the clarinet itself, I also received a wide range of general music theory subjects. I still remember being asked at the end of the year, at the final examination, to write eight bars of ‘Oranges and Lemons’. Again, because my ears have always been quick, I could do that in a matter of seconds – whereas other people wouldn’t know where to begin. I passed the exams, which were done at the level of the Royal Academy of Music.”

“After that, I was given the choice where I wanted to go – I could stay on a base in England or go abroad to either West Germany, Cyprus, or Singapore. I reckoned that the chances of me getting to Eastern Asia later in life were very slim, so I signed up to go to Singapore. For two-and-a-half years, I played in the No. 2 Regional Band based on the RAF’s Air Base in Changi. We played military band music, not just in Singapore; we also went out to do concerts in Hong Kong, India, Ceylon, and Borneo. Furthermore, we also had several little jazz bands. Back then, life in Singapore was a bit primitive. There weren’t any skyscrapers yet. The town itself was still rather modest and most of the locals were living in kampongs in little straw huts. Even though it was very hot all year through, nobody had ever heard of using sun lotion. We were just issued with salt tablets and malaria pills which we never took. We slept on straw mattresses. At times, we grumbled about circumstances, but we got on with it. We knew that we were out there as a resident military band, while the real forces had to go out and clear Malaya of terrorists. These guys had it much worse than us!”

“When I was released from RAF service in 1961, it was really difficult to get myself motivated to do anything. For four years, I had lived under a regime of everything being done for you. You can’t get the sack, you can’t starve, you get clothes to wear – it’s all done for you. I would have loved to go to the Royal Academy of Music, but the option was never there for me. My parents were quite poor. Still, I realised that being a musician was the only thing I could be any good at. My mother wanted me to be a quantity surveyor, which was the very last thing I wanted. She was pulling one way and I was pulling another. I first got a job in a furniture shop and then in a record shop – and finally, after my mother phoned up on my behalf, I was invited for a job interview at a London music publishing company called Francis, Day & Hunter. I told the boss that I could write music, which apparently was enough to earn a small contract.”

“One of the first things I was asked to do at Francis, Day & Hunter was writing down a tune written by a songwriter who had just been signed by the company, Jerry Lordan. It was called ‘Wonderful Land’ and I didn’t think much of it to be honest, but my job was simply making sure that it was written down as sheet music for their files. The next thing I knew The Shadows had recorded it and it was a huge hit. In the following years, I mainly worked as a song plugger. I had to go around to bandleaders to persuade them to buy the tunes that we published. Occasionally, I was asked to make demos of new songs for the company. I used to record those demos in the Regent Sound Studio, a small studio in Denmark Street. Taking around those recordings, we tried to sell the songs to artists and their managers. Given that I am quite a shy person by nature, I was more comfortable with making those demos than being a salesman. Those bandleaders didn’t really want to see us. To them, we were a nuisance.”

In 1964, Colin Frechter was commissioned to make a solo record, ‘For Addicts Only’, containing alternative arrangements of eleven well-known TV theme tunes. To Colin, this album with the so-called Colin Frechter Orchestra was some sort of a breakthrough. “It was the first time I got to conduct a larger group of studio musicians, a big band. During my years in the Air Force, I had written some arrangements for the military band and had had a couple of opportunities to conduct them as well. Obviously, session musicians weren’t aware of my background. They put silly questions to me to see if I knew what I was doing. In the beginning, it was tricky, but after two or three sessions I started feeling more secure. All my life, I have been quite good at making things up as you go along. I didn’t do all arrangements myself, sharing the work with Gerry Shury, who I had met at Francis, Day & Hunter. He was a brilliant arranger and we became mates. One of the pieces I wrote was an arrangement of ‘Coronation Street’ which was totally different to the theme used on television. The album wasn’t terribly well made, but it worked.”

“Following that album, some producers asked me to write arrangements for them. One of the first was Bob Barratt. That fellow was to become a friend for decades. When I first met him, he was a producer at EMI, working alongside the likes of Norman Newell and Norrie Paramor. Bob Barratt produced Vince Hill, a well-known crooner, and he asked me to write an arrangement for Vince. I was nervous to say the least, because it involved writing for a full orchestra, including a string group which I had never done before. Asking some advice on how best to approach a string score, I sat down and did it… and it worked out alright. Again, it was almost trial and error. I am grateful to Bob for giving me the opportunity. He also wanted me to do some songwriting with him in those early days, but I’ve never become much of a songwriter. Generally I was better at writing arrangements, helping out others who didn’t know how to write music.”

“That same year, I wrote the arrangement to a single by Michael Chaplin produced by Larry Page. Larry, who had been The Kinks’ producer, told me he was in the process of setting up his own record company, Page One Records. “Do you fancy being my musical director?”, he asked. Well, that wasn’t a bad title, so I decided to go with him. I signed a contract earning me £22 a week. Larry rented a floor of a building in new Oxford Street. In the beginning, it was Larry, me, and a phone. There wasn’t even a desk. Larry didn’t have any artists yet. It was all very fledgling."

"The first bands he signed included a group from Birmingham who we all thought were quite promising, but who never managed a breakthrough – and a rather primitive rock group, The Troggs. Subsequently, Larry and I went to New York where we met Chip Taylor, a professional songwriter. Larry told him about The Troggs. “Goodness knows what we’re going to do with them. Can you write them something?” The next thing we know, Chip sent a demo over to London with a funny whistle noise on it. All knowledgeable, I said, “Oh, that’s an ocarina!” Of course it wasn’t… it was a New York sound engineer blowing into his hands. Anyway, the song was called ‘Wild Thing’ and we decided to do a session of it.”

“About half an hour before the session, Larry said, “Well if you think it’s an ocarina, you’d better go and find one!” Where on earth do you find an ocarina in London in 1966? So there I was, trailing up down Charing Cross Road, afraid I would be late for the session. I rushed into a little music shop, asking the blue-haired lady behind the counter for an ocarina. To my surprise, she had one. I got back into the studio just in time to lay down the basic track. It was hard work because The Troggs weren’t very refined musicians. I did the keyboards and backing vocals. Then Larry Page said, “Alright, clever Dick, now that you’ve found an ocarina, you’d better play it as well.” Being a clarinet player, I had some idea of what I was supposed to do with it. An ocarina is a Swiss vessel flute. I knew that I’d only get one shot at this. On the way down the stairs into the studio, I worked out four notes which I knew were safe to play. If I made a mistake, it would all have been a waste of money. After I had played that ocarina solo, Larry said, “Yeah, that’ll have to do.” That was the end of that… and then the song was a huge international hit. Larry didn’t credit me. The song was released as a Larry Page production. He just paid me for the session. In fact, for playing that ocarina solo on a worldwide hit I was paid exactly £8.”

“The Troggs were fine. They became my mates and I worked with them for three or four more years. The year after ‘Wild Thing’, I recorded another of their big hits, ‘Love Is All Around’. As the song didn’t have a fade-out, I felt it needed some strings as a cover-up. Larry Page said he couldn’t afford more than a four-piece string section. I wrote a small arrangement and it turned out to sound quite nice. I knew the track had something special to it, so I wasn’t surprised when it was a hit (and the song was an international chart success again nearly three decades later in an arrangement Fiachra Trench did for Wet Wet Wet – BT). It was all very nice, but after a while I became a bit disappointed that Larry didn’t want me to be recognised for my work. I don’t really seek fame and fortune, but I do get upset if people try to use me for their own benefit. My name never appeared on any record sleeve. Working with Larry became more and more difficult after I mentioned that I wasn’t happy with the situation.”

One day, while I was still working for Larry Page, a young man burst into my office who introduced himself as Reg Dwight. He was a young and aspiring singer, but he complained that nobody was interested in his music. He sat down and played a tune at my piano – and then he cried his eyes out. As it turned out, he was signed to Dick James, who was Larry Page’s business partner. I tried to cheer him up a bit. I felt for him. I went down to Dick James to ask him if I could take Reg into the studio to record some material, but Dick refused. I didn’t know at the time that Dick was in the process of falling out with Larry – and of course he didn’t feel like doing a favour to Larry’s musical director. Some time later, Dick teamed him up with another arranger, Paul Buckmaster… and I’m almost sure that the song Reg played me on the piano in my office was ‘Border Song’. Helped along by Buckmaster, he had his breakthrough as Elton John. Before that, I had the opportunity to do another song with Reg, ‘Nina’, a psychedelic tune which really didn’t suit him. It wasn’t a bad song, but the sound mix was so appalling that in the end it wasn’t even released. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to work with Elton again.”

“Finally I decided that I could take no more working with Larry Page and I left. Going freelance was a bit scary. I didn’t know whether I would succeed. I couldn’t rely too much on studio work as a musician, because I wasn’t known as a session piano player. I virtually only played the piano in my own sessions. I did play the piano in several good dance bands at the time, doing odd gigs. It was nice to do on the side, because I was a jazz guy and it gave me the opportunity to play the music I liked myself once in a while. In the background, jazz was always there as an inspiration.”

“Even so, I’ve always preferred working behind the scenes, in the studio. As I found out soon after leaving Larry Page, I had built up enough of a name in the record industry to manage on my own. People in the business knew my name. From the start, the phone kept ringing and ringing. I wrote arrangements for Les Reed. John Coleman used to phone me up from time to time if he was doing a film score and couldn’t manage the arrangements on his own. I also did quite a lot of arrangements for television shows – I remember one time when I helped Del Newman out by sharing the arrangements for a BBC show starring Neil Sedaka. Alan Parsons asked me to write the string arrangements to Nazareth’s debut album. Importantly, I also became closely involved in working with Tony Hiller, who produced Brotherhood of Man and Guys ‘n’ Dolls. I was very lucky, large thanks to songs like ‘Love Is All Around’. The Troggs paved the way for me. Throughout the 1970s, I never had to worry about having enough work.”

Colin in 1973

In 1972-73, Colin Frechter briefly joined the vocal group Blackwater Junction, a project set up by his friend and producer John Goodison. Goodison was one of the original members of Brotherhood of Man – and co-wrote their hit ‘United We Stand’ with Tony Hiller. Goodison also asked Colin to write the music arrangements for the eight-piece group.

“John had this idea of putting together a big vocal group, consisting of eight singers. Four of us also played. It was really the most incredible band. Unfortunately having an eight-piece band is quite an expensive proposition. We had to work on shoestring budgets all the time. I joined because I was mates with John. I was the only one that read any music, which meant that a lot of coordination came down on my shoulders. It was a good education for me. I went on tour with them for a while, playing in nightclubs across the UK. Going away from London meant that I couldn’t work in the studio for large parts of the year. This cost me a lot of money, while I was living in cheap guesthouses on the road with Blackwater Junction. At some point I told myself that this couldn’t go on… so I left, which didn’t go down very well. It was a pity. I was involved in recording one or two albums with them as well. Unfortunately, there were no funds to work with a large session orchestra. To my mind, the band could have enjoyed more success if we had sweetened it up a bit.”

In 1974, Colin wrote the arrangement to ‘Born With A Smile On My Face’ for Stephanie De Sykes, which climbed to Number 2 in the UK singles charts. 

“For that song, I had no more than an hour-and-a-half to do the arrangement! I literally threw it together, copied all parts out myself, and rushed to the studio. After four minutes the session was over. It was very stressful. Quite often, things that were really successful didn’t carry a lot of weight for me, while stuff that you spent hours and hours on have gone largely unnoticed. I once sat up the whole night writing a Sacha Distel medley for London Weekend Television. Every couple of hours, I woke up my wife who took bits of score around to the copyist. At 10am he delivered the written-out parts to my door. The man looked so ill – it was as if I was staring Death into the face. With those parts, I drove down to the studio at Wembley, where I gave them to LWT’s musical director Harry Rabinowitz. He played it through and said, “That’ll do”… and that was it. Thank you very much, goodbye! All that work for a five-minute medley which was played just once. Occasionally you wondered if it was worth all the trouble.”

“I knew producer Phil Wainman through Johnny Goodison. Somehow Phil got hold of the Bay City Rollers, who had fallen out with their producers Phil Coulter and Bill Martin. Phil and Bill didn’t think the group members were good enough to play in their own recordings and asked session musicians to do the job instead. The boys weren’t happy being just figureheads. They wanted to write and play their own music. When they asked Phil Wainman to be their producer, Phil realised he needed someone to pull them along in the studio – and he thought of me. The Rollers weren’t the greatest players and needed nursing. I had to write down chords and ended up playing the piano in many of the sessions. I wrote the arrangement to their big hit ‘Bye Bye Baby’, but that was a done job. There was no real room for strings or brass in it and it was a matter of getting the boys to play the rhythm parts correctly. In total, we did three albums with the Bay City Rollers which all sold extremely well. Still I felt for the guys. They were so young at the time, but being teenybopper idols wasn’t all sunshine and roses. They were virtually locked in and couldn’t go anywhere without being chased around by screaming girls. In a way, they were victims of their own success.”

In 1976, Colin Frechter was commissioned to compose the music to Peter Collinson’s thriller The Sell Out. It was to remain Colin’s only involvement as a film composer. 

“Peter offered me work on his next film, but sadly he died shortly afterwards. The Sell Out was a spy film filmed in Israel with Oliver Reed and Richard Widmark. Peter asked me to do a poppy soundtrack with some additional orchestral elements. I was called upon quite late – in fact, I had eleven days to write the entire soundtrack. I had never had any expectations of writing film music and it suddenly came upon me. It was tough work. If I had had a bit more time, perhaps I could have done a better job, although I was quite happy with the result. I also arranged the music and conducted the sessions. Everything was recorded in five sessions! In spite of the tight schedule I enjoyed the experience a lot. It was something completely different than what I was used to working on pop music.”

In the second half of the 1970s, Frechter continued being much in demand as a studio arranger in various genres, writing scores for Helen Shapiro, Cilla Black, Max Boyce, Taxi, and many others. In fact, he found himself so overburdened with work that he had to turn down many commissions – even from some of the very biggest names in the business.

“Three times in my life, I have had to turn down Paul McCartney! I knew him and Linda. They were both quite friendly, but because of him being who he is, his office would call me up at the very last minute. “Can you do three arrangements for Monday?” They thought I had nothing else to do. On all three occasions, I was already working on other scores which I couldn’t have finished on time if I had taken on Paul’s work as well. That happened in the Wings era… roundabout the time that ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ came out."

"I can’t say that I regret it too much. I was happy to be so sought after. I was in my room writing arrangements all week. I didn’t need too many other outlets… I went out to do the odd gig now and then and every week I met my best pal, Clem Cattini, to play golf. Clem was the greatest drummer in London. He did all my sessions. We were so close that we were referred to as The Terrible Twins for a while. Clem was about my only real friend in the business. As a musical director, you’re between the devil and the deep blue sea. You’re working with the orchestra on one side and a producer on the other. Musicians tend to keep their distance from arrangers and producers, but Clem was the exception to the rule.”

“In the early 1980s, session work started to wear off. The music industry was changing. There was very little I could do about it. I saw the first synthesisers and Linn drum machines appearing on the scene. Bearing in mind my background as a keyboard player, I was interested in the new sounds a synthesiser produced, but record companies had other ideas. “Oh, this is great, now we don’t need session musicians. They cost too much money and they answer back!” Synths and drum machines became the accepted sound. It was cumbersome and there was overkill, but sadly the public have become so used to them that many prefer them to real strings and percussion – or more likely they don’t hear the difference. To this day, however, you still cannot reproduce a live musician. Recordings are missing out on the emotions which only real human beings can bring about.”

'The Terrible Twins’, Colin Frechter (left) and Clem Cattini, in 2003

In the late 1970s, Colin Frechter became involved in working with Irish crooner Val Doonican, who had his own weekly BBC television show. Frechter wrote arrangements for five of Doonican’s albums and accompanied him on stage across the UK and Ireland. “Val was a very affable guy who could handle crooner repertoire as well as more folksy things. By the time I started working with him, he was pretty exhausted of his TV show, which he did for twenty years. It was an old-style music programme which required new orchestrations week in, week out. I got to write a few of them, although not too many, because Ronnie Hazlehurst – or Hazle Ronniehurst, as he was called by some – had his own team of arrangers lined up. Ronnie was efficient as a musical director, but he was very clannish, usually preferring to work with his own people. When Val stopped at the BBC, he had more opportunity to go on tour. Initially, I wasn’t in his band, but after having substituted for his pianist Roger Richards for six weeks when Roger was in hospital, Val wanted me to stay on as a synth player. In all, I worked with Val for eleven consecutive years.”

With fewer and fewer commissions for pop and rock sessions available, Colin Frechter diversified his activities, writing library music as well as music for television. He was the MD of ITV children’s show Minipops (1983), while also composing the music to cartoon series The Shoe People (ITV: 1987-92) and Barney (BBC: 1988-89). Furthermore, between 1977 and 1996, he regularly arranged and conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) in the studio, recording instrumental music albums ranging from Broadway hits to classic film music.

“In the 1970s, I got to know Dave Miller, an American producer who had his fill of messing around with pop groups. He owned a firm in Germany, Miller Internationale Schalplatten. For most of the recordings I did for Dave, we used sections of the LPO, but sometimes I got to conduct the orchestra as a whole. One time, we were due to record a cover version of a piece of film music. Dave promised to send me a tape so that I didn’t have to face the orchestra unprepared… but I never got it and the first time I saw the arrangement was when the orchestra was already in the studio waiting to play! The score didn’t contain any instructions, no tempos, nothing. It was just notes. I said to the orchestra, “Listen, I’ve never seen this music before and nor have you. We’re all in the same boat. It looks as if it’s a march, so we’ll play it as a march. Rightly or wrongly, just bear with me.” It was probably the best thing I could have said, because suddenly the musicians felt for me. We played it and it turned out to be the march from Star Wars! I was a bit intimidated, but I just got on with the job by appearing to be capable!”

“In the 1980s and 1990s I did quite a lot of library music with my old pal Bob Barratt. After Bob asked me to write arrangements for Vince Hill and Deke Arlon in the 1960s, we continued being in touch. We did the King’s Singers and Max Boyce. The amazing thing about Bob was that he was one of the few producers who never tried to rip you off. He was dead-honest. Thanks to the library music projects I did with Bob, I earned myself a bit of a pension. We worked for some of the biggest stock libraries; the Standard Music Library and Carlin Production Music. I enjoyed working on those library albums an awful lot. In pop music, you were required to be current and keep up with the latest craze, but as a library composer you could forget about all that. You were writing instrumental pieces. Bob and I did several albums, my favourite being ‘Palm Court Trio’ (released in 1989 – BT). We put the thing together from start to finish without being at the mercy of lousy sound engineers or executives looking over your shoulder. It was nicely done, played beautifully by musicians who knew their job.”

Colin (far left) conducting the Burtle Silver Band on the Glastonbury Festival stage (2015)

In 1993, Frechter was commissioned to write an arrangement for a TV show with the hugely popular boyband Take That. “When Take That were preparing that programme, they made it known that they wanted to do their hit single ‘Pray’ completely live. A big orchestra was invited, conducted by Mike Reed, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical director at the time. I was asked to do the arrangement via the husband of a friend of mine who worked for Take That. They sent me a breakdown of all the synth tracks of the studio recording, which I had to translate into an orchestra. I did the whole orchestration complete with the drum machine part. I took it down to Thames Television, where I met the guys. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. Honestly, the orchestra sounded better than the record. In that same show, Cliff Richard also appeared, but he performed to a backing track. Compared to Take That, his performance sounded cold and mechanical. To their credit, Take That sang extremely well. It was gratifying that Mike Reed complimented me on the arrangement afterwards, but it ended there and then. It was a one-off.”

More or less withdrawing from the recording business around the turn of the century, Colin Frechter was the resident pianist in various dance halls in and around London, while he also worked as a keyboard player in several pantomimes. From 2004 to 2007, he lived and worked in Antas on the Spanish Costa Blanca. 

“I got in touch with a friend with whom I was in the RAF all those years ago. It seemed an appealing idea; enjoy the sunshine and perhaps do some work. At that stage, I wasn’t chasing a career and I got my pensions and royalties. Once I had moved there, I did some gigs now and then, but all on an amateur scale. It was good while it lasted, but also because I didn’t speak the language I couldn’t imagine living in Spain for the rest of my life. In Spain, I met an English lady from Somerset; we hit it off and I decided to move in with her in the West Country. Sadly, she passed away a couple of years later, but I still live in that part of England. I don’t miss the chaos of London at all. Life is more quiet here and I like that.”

“Back in England, I played keyboards in some more pantomimes. Also, I was invited to conduct a brass band, the Burtle Silver Band. I met a local hairdresser who told me he played in the band – and that they were looking for a conductor. They auditioned me and I got the job. It was nice to retrace my roots, having started out as a brass player in the RAF. You had to get used to the fact that you were working with amateurs who couldn’t play just any arrangement you wrote for them, but once they got the hang of it, they were alright. When I started, it was pretty much chaos, but they came a long way."

"In 2015, we had the honour to perform at the Glastonbury Festival on Sunday morning. Michael Eavis, who is ‘Mr Glastonbury’, heard us at the unveiling of a war memorial and asked us to play at his festival. We were the first brass band for a long time to do Glastonbury. It was quite an occasion. As usual in Glastonbury, there was pouring rain. When we started at 9am, there were about 20 people, but by the time we finished, there were about 400. Everybody seemed quite happy. One year later, because of health issues, I had to step down. I like to think I laid the groundwork for my successor, who has done a great job with them.”

“I am 83 years old now and I have no ambitions. For a little six-piece band in Weston-super-Mare, I write some arrangements now and then, but that’s it. I am retired and I’m happy to take it easy. The last real studio work I did was back in 2010 when Tony Hiller invited me to write the arrangements for an album with Mitch Winehouse, a pub singer who was Amy Winehouse’s father. As so often before, I was at the mercy of recording engineers and producers. When I heard the tracks, I wasn’t overawed by how wonderful they sounded. Even though I have no desire to make my mark again, I’m happy with some of my achievements… the music I wrote for Bob Barratt, conducting the London Philharmonic. I’m not very proud of the way I handled my business, though. It’s embarrassing how much money I lost over the years. If I had to do my career over again, I would get myself an accountant to protect myself from thieves. For large swathes of my life I was too busy to chase the money that others owed me. I should have been a bit tougher at times.”

Celebrating his eightieth birthday with his niece Elaine Paige (2018)


Long before his only stint as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest for Portugal in 1986, Colin Frechter was involved as an arranger in A Song For Europe, the United Kingdom’s pre-selection for the festival. In the 1970s, he orchestrated many songs competing for the right to represent the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 1976, he was the arranger of a certain song called ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’, performed by Brotherhood of Man. In those years, Frechter worked with Brotherhood of Man’s producer Tony Hiller; amongst other things, he wrote the arrangement to the group’s previous hit success ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Your Baby’ in 1974.

“Back then, Tony Hiller provided me with a lot of work. We were good mates. he wanted me to arrange all his productions. When he called me to do a demo of ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’, though, I wasn’t available. I was in the studio with the Bay City Rollers for six weeks to record their album. They had just had their big hit with ‘Bye Bye Baby’. At the time, the Rollers were the biggest group in the country. I couldn’t just walk out of the studio to do a demo for some song Tony wanted to submit for A Song For Europe. So I had to say, “Sorry, I can’t do it.” It happened to me quite a lot in those years. Then, one of the group members, Lee Sheriden, jumped in and did a chord chart (a basic arrangement for rhythm instruments – BT) and another one of my pals, Gerry Shury, supervised the string overdub.”

“A couple of weeks later, when I came down to London from the studio in Chipping Norton where I had been with the Rollers, news got through that ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ had been picked for the final of A Song for Europe. Working from the demo track done by Lee and Gerry, I did the arrangement for the full orchestra. The competition was held at the Royal Albert Hall. In rehearsals, Tony Hiller had a bit of a contretemps with the producer. He said, “That’s it… we’re lost now,” but it went on to win after all! If I remember correctly, I had three arrangements in A Song For Europe that year and ‘Save Your Kisses…’ came out on top.”

Brotherhood of Man on the Eurovision stage in The Hague (1976)

Colin Frechter did not get to conduct the orchestra for his arrangements. All entries in A Song For Europe were conducted by Alyn Ainsworth, an experienced musical director the BBC had booked specifically for the programme as well as the international festival final. 

“That was standard policy at the BBC in those days. They wanted one guy to do the job for them. It didn’t worry me that much. I am not a musician driven by fame and fortune. I always hoped to do a good job – that was the main thing. Alyn Ainsworth was a consummate music professional who mainly worked for London Weekend Television. Although he was freelance, he was a sort of in-house musical director for them in those years. Occasionally, when Alyn got snowed in with work for one of the many television shows he worked on, he asked me to cover him and write some arrangements. He was a pleasant man, even though I didn’t get too close to him.”

Subsequently, at the Eurovision final, held in The Hague, ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ won first prize, blowing away their European rivals with a record number of votes. 

“I didn’t travel with the group,” Frechter comments. “I probably adapted the orchestration here and there to suit the orchestra that was in place for the Eurovision Song Contest. I didn’t really have high expectations of doing well. Nobody, including Tony Hiller himself, thought it was going to be a big hit at all. To our mind, it was just a Eurovision song. With the benefit of hindsight, I would say it was a cute little song, which benefited from a charming stage performance by the group. Nobody did dance routines in those days, so that was a bit of an innovation."

"In all fairness, I don’t think my arrangement made that much of a difference. It was just a standard arrangement, efficient but nothing more. Any other of the arrangers with a bit of a reputation in London would have done a similar job on it. The strength of the song was the tune itself. It obviously helped to be enhanced by the orchestra, but that’s the word that comes to mind; ‘enhanced’, not ‘rescued’. Believe me, I’ve done enough of making silk purses out of sow’s ears to know the difference!”

After winning the festival, Brotherhood of Man had a pan-European hit with ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’; in fact, the song even topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart in the United States. Colin Frechter’s name doesn’t feature in the credits list, however; Tony Hiller is mentioned as the producer and, oddly, Lee Sheriden as the conductor. Frechter does not look back happily on this episode.

“To be honest, it made me quite angry. It wouldn’t have hurt Tony Hiller if he had given me some sort of credit. Lee Sheriden is a nice guy, but he didn’t conduct the studio recording – I did that! As I explained, he did the initial chord chart; nothing more. Lee was very keen to become the group’s arranger at the time. Tony probably wanted to do him a favour by putting his name in as the conductor, but it was a favour done on my back. Sadly, such things happened regularly in the studio business. It didn’t hurt my working relationship with Brotherhood of Man. In the following years, I wrote many more arrangements for them in the studio and for their live shows. Over the years, I regularly went with them to rehearse their stage act when they were about to go on tour. The four of them were mates for a long time.”

The winning UK team at the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest – standing, from left: Martin Lee, Tony Hiller, conductor Alyn Ainsworth, and Lee Sheriden. Seated, from left: Sandra Stevens and Nicky Stevens

Two years later, in 1978, Colin Frechter once more was the arranger for a song which represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest. This time, A Song For Europe was won by Co-Co, the group who had finished second behind Brotherhood of Man in 1976. The song which won them their ticket to the European final, ‘The Bad Old Days’, was co-written by Stephanie De Sykes and Stuart Slater. 

“I knew Stephanie quite well,” Colin explains. “She was a session singer. Some years previously, I wrote the arrangements to her solo hit ‘Born With A Smile On My Face’. In this case, however, with Co-Co, I didn’t see anything of her. How her song was picked up by Co-Co I do not know.”

“One of the singers of Co-Co was Terry Bradford. Terry was a producer in his own right who had a studio in Birmingham. Together, we regularly worked on tracks for several singers, mainly from Ireland where Terry had good connections. Dominic Kirwan is the name of an artist that springs to mind. For ‘The Bad Old Days’, he did a rhythm track, but the idea was to have a full orchestral arrangement. I went up to Birmingham and put a keyboard line on top as well as arranging bits of string and brass. Terry gave me the freedom to do pretty much as I thought right. Apart from that one Eurovision song, we did a full album for which he and I shared the production credits.”

In the Eurovision Song Contest in Paris, conducted by Alyn Ainsworth, Co-Co did not manage to capitalise on their status as pre-festival favourites, finishing a disappointing eleventh – the worst result for a British entry in the contest up to that point. Like two years previously, Colin Frechter was not part of the UK delegation.

“I have no idea what went wrong. The song itself was nice enough and Co-Co were quite good singers. Terry usually did a good job on making an attractive vocal arrangement. He must have come up with the idea of that gimmick with the drummer using a loudspeaker in the chorus – it certainly wasn’t something thought up by me. Terry and the group went there being rather hopeful of doing well. They thought they stood a chance. To me, it was just a short episode. The arrangement done, you go home and leave them to it. I wasn’t too involved in what happened subsequently.”

“My overriding memory of the Eurovision job for Co-Co was that I didn’t get paid for producing their album which was released following the contest. I got the fee for my arrangements, but as a producer you were entitled to royalties. Nat Kipner was the group’s manager. He played a trick on me. When I arrived at his flat at the appointed time to sign the contract, he wasn’t there. His housekeeper told me he had gone out for the day. She told me he had taken the contract with him. I never spoke to him afterwards, but it was pretty obvious that he didn’t want me to have my share. It’s one of those instances when I should have been a bit tougher, but I guess it wasn’t in my character.”

Terry Bradford (seated) with his band Co-Co, representatives of the United Kingdom at Eurovision 1978 in Paris

Several years on, Colin Frechter was unexpectedly given an opportunity to conduct the Eurovision orchestra himself. In 1986, he was the musical director of Portugal’s delegation at the international festival final in Bergen, Norway. The Iberian country’s entry that year, the distinctly poppy ‘Não sejas mau p’ra mim’, was performed by Dora. It was not the first time Portugal turned to the UK to hire an arranger and conductor for their Eurovision entry; Richard Hill was contracted to accompany Carlos Mendes in 1972, while Mike Sergeant, a Scottish guitarist living in Portugal, took the honours in 1983. Still, the choice of Frechter, who did not have any ties with Portugal, was a striking one.

“Well, my brother-in-law at the time was Philip Love,” Colin explains. “Philip owned a studio in Chiswick, West London, called Eden Studios. Over the years, I had done quite a lot of work at Eden. We had done some of the recordings of the Bay City Rollers in there, amongst other things. Somehow, Philip had got hold of Dora. He had a demo of her Eurovision song which had been sent to him from Portugal and he asked me if I wanted to do the arrangement. I said “Yeah, why not?”, so that’s what happened. How exactly Philip got hold of the song is beyond my knowledge.”

To get more background about the matter, we contacted one of the songwriters of ‘Não sejas mau p’ra mim’, guitarist Luís Oliveira Fernandes, who kindly agreed to speak to us.

“At the time, I was just 24 years old and I was starting out as a session musician. With two others, Ze da Ponte and Guilherme Inês, I formed Namouche, a little company. We basically did advertising. It didn’t take us long to be the top guys doing jingles in Portugal. We were thriving! At that point, we received an invitation from the RTP (Portugal’s national broadcaster – BT) for the Festival da Canção. If we submitted a song, we were guaranteed a spot in the Portuguese pre-selection for Eurovision. Around the same time, we were commissioned to oversee a casting for a theatre production of a Disney show. We were supposed to discover the Portuguese Cinderella. In that casting, Dora took part. She was very young and we had never heard of her before. It was obvious that she didn’t fit the part of Cinderella, but she could sing! Guilherme, Zé, and I decided this was the voice we needed for our Eurovision song.”

“In Portugal, there was a long tradition of songwriting, especially for the festival, which we didn’t like. The three of us were interested in international pop music. We wanted to do a song which was contemporary. Now, I had come up with a chorus on my guitar and recorded it on a cassette. Guilherme and Ze thought it was cool and so we worked on the initial idea, developing the verses and an arrangement. It included a saxophone part which I wrote. It was played by Mário Gramaço, who had been in a rock band called Roquivários. By that time, we had found Dora and we were working to come up with something that was Madonna-oriented. Dora had it in her to sing that type of music. When we had done the demo, we knew we had something which was good and different. Especially the sax part was very unusual, certainly in the context of Portuguese pop music.”

Dora rehearsing her performance in Bergen – on the left, Colin Frechter can be seen conducting the Norwegian Radio Orchestra

“Now, we were very competitive. To give ourselves the best chance of winning the final in Portugal, we decided to spend some extra money to do the recording in England. Before founding Namouche with me, José da Ponte and Guilherme Inês were in Zoom, a pop band. They had recorded their material at Eden in London, where they had met Philip Love. Ze renewed his contacts with Philip and so we all went to London to do a new recording of ‘Não sejas mau p’ra mim’."

"At Eden Studios, Phil told us he had a great guy to do the arrangement and introduced us to Colin Frechter. We got along fine with Colin. He contributed to the final mix by adding synth lines which weren’t there in the original demo. Phil himself didn’t contribute too much in the production. He let us use the facilities of Eden Studios, but we didn’t pay too much attention to him. On the other hand, Colin’s help was great. After doing the recording, I went back to London once again with a Portuguese sound engineer, Jorge Barata, to do the final cut for the vinyl. The quality of the mastering in Portugal wasn’t very good back then. Upon arrival in London, we caused some alarm at the airport with this two-inch tape wrapped in aluminium foil. It took considerable time to convince security officers that we weren’t carrying a bomb!”

“Thanks to Philip Love, we got in touch with CBS London. Having listened to our recording, they thought Dora could be the next European Madonna. We did a six-month deal with them to do two more singles after the Eurovision Song Contest. This made us only more confident. We were convinced we would win the festival in Portugal. There was a risk, however, because we had to get past the national juries. We weren’t very popular with RTP officials, because our approach and Dora’s stage presentation was so different from what they were used to… but José da Ponte was a very skilled person. I don’t know exactly what he did, but he influenced some of the jury votes. In the end, we won, but it was a close call. There was only a couple of votes in it.”

“In the Portuguese final, there had been no orchestra. All songs were performed to a playback track. Now that we were going to Eurovision, we wanted to use the orchestra without losing the track we had done in London. We knew we absolutely wanted to use a backing track for our performance in the contest. In those days, sound was everything – and it was allowed to work with tracks. We didn’t want to risk working with an orchestra which couldn’t reproduce the exact sound we wanted. This was a type of song which could have worked without the orchestra, but now that we had the opportunity to use it, it would have been stupid to let it pass by. Also visually, it terms of show, it was an attractive option."

"Because José, Guilherme, and I were being a bit rebellious, we decided we wanted to hire a conductor who wasn’t Portuguese. We wanted to be different – away from the traditional Portuguese clichés. Who else to ask but Colin? We were aware of his background… that he had written the arrangement to ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ and that he wrote arrangements for the BBC. We were very honoured that he agreed to come with us to Norway. We told ourselves that we had found ourselves a conductor with a ‘pedigree’!”

“Back in London, where we discussed the Eurovision project with Philip Love at Eden Studios, Colin suggested working with the full orchestra. Of course he did! As a conductor, you want to do the arrangement for the orchestra as a whole, but that was not what we wanted. We wanted to have the best of both worlds, so we pushed our idea of a backing track and asked Colin to add a bit of sweetening in the background. By that time, we knew that Colin was a nice guy. While working with him in the studio, we found him open and easy-going. He must have been disappointed when we turned down his suggestions, but he didn’t show it. As he was much older than us, he must have thought we were a bit wild and crazy at times… mainly me, because I was the youngest. With Colin, we finished the backing track we were going to use in Bergen. I don’t even remember discussing the orchestral arrangement extensively with him. We were confident he would do a good job on that.”

Dora and her boyfriend being taken back to the hotel after one of the rehearsals in Bergen (1986)

When asked about the arrangement, Frechter himself readily admits that he would have preferred a more orchestral approach. “What happened was typical for the mid-1980s,” he comments. “Instead of being asked to do the arrangement as a whole, you received a demo of a rhythm track – and then it was your job to add strings and maybe even some brass in the background. In terms of production, Dora’s song was quite contemporary – more modern than the standard orchestral songs you would hear in Eurovision at the time."

"When we discussed the orchestration for the Eurovision Song Contest, Philip Love explained that the sound should be mainly about the synths and the rhythm track, just like we did in the studio version. I might have suggested writing a bigger score, but that wasn’t what they were looking for. When writing the orchestration, I didn’t change the track in any radical way. I was pretty much given a free hand and I just did what I thought was right. It’s difficult to know if adding an orchestration was necessary for this particular song. It wasn’t up to me to say that. I was asked to do the job, so I did what I thought was right and hoped that it would work.”

“The prospect of conducting the orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest wasn’t frightening. I knew how to conduct. I had been conducting orchestras in the studio since the 1960s. Although I didn’t have that much experience working as a television conductor, I had done that several times as well… notably a short series with Sacha Distel and a show with Val Doonican for RTÉ in Dublin. In a way, it was just a job, but at the same time it was a job I hadn’t expected to come my way. In the United Kingdom, guys like Alyn Ainsworth and later Ronnie Hazlehurst had that gig all tied up for themselves. There was no question of my ever conducting a UK entry, even when I was the arranger.”

After Norway’s first Eurovision win in 1985, the Scandinavian country chose to hold the following year’s festival in the Grieghallen in the coastal town of Bergen. 

“I was looking forward to seeing Bergen,” Frechter recalls. “It was a place I had never been before. I thought the city was lovely, the people were friendly, and the food was nice. This Eurovision was obviously the biggest festival I had been involved in. I had been to Knokke, and Bob Barratt and I used to go to the festival in Castlebar in Ireland. The contest there was a bit amateurish, with the greatest respect, but Bob loved to compete, mainly because it was a sort of pilgrimage the two of us undertook every year. Compared to those previous experiences, the Norwegian organisation stuck to their timetable almost to perfection. You were given clear instructions about what time you were expected to be in the auditorium. When you entered the festival hall, they checked your badges, but there was very little security otherwise. The Norwegians were pleasant. For us, there was very little to complain about during the week we were there.”

“One thing worried me though – the news about the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. It happened in the week before the contest. In Norway, we were much closer to the Soviet border than in the United Kingdom. If the wind had been blowing from east to west, it would have covered all of us in radioactive dust. We were terrified, walking down the street with our heads bowed down. At the contest, we met a journalist from Ireland who was as mad as a hatter. When she heard about what had happened in Chernobyl, she tried to hitch a lift on an American air force flight to see what was going on. “You’re crackers,” we all said, but she solemnly told us that, being a journalist, she had to go there to find out more. I don’t know if she ever got there. I never saw her again!”

Colin Frechter with Piers Ford-Crush (to his left) and Philip Love (on the right), co-owners of Eden Studios, after a reception held in Bergen’s port, Eurovision 1986

“The rehearsals with the Norwegian orchestra were fine. The sound was good. The players were really friendly and helpful. They tried hard on every single song. I don’t know quite what they felt about it all personally, but I didn’t notice anybody in the band ever commenting badly on one of the entries. You can tell if an orchestra isn’t trying, but that was not the case with them – so all credit to them for that. I attended a few other rehearsals, but not too many. You were given a time and you made sure you were there a quarter of an hour before. You sat and waited for your turn, then you do your bit with the orchestra, and you stay a quarter of an hour afterwards to say ‘thank you’ to everybody. There wasn’t much more to it. Backstage and away from the auditorium I met some of the other conductors – Noel Kelehan for Ireland. I knew him because he did the Castlebar Festival every year. He was a very skilled musician and a great bloke. I also remember hanging out with Martyn Ford (English musician who conducted Cyprus’ entry in Bergen – BT). I didn’t know him terribly well, but we made friends in Bergen. He was a nice guy.”

“I didn’t see that much of the Portuguese representatives in Bergen. They were friendly, but to be honest I don’t even know whether Dora spoke English. They tended to stick together and so did we… I was with Philip Love and my sister-in-law, who was his wife. Piers Ford-Crush, Philip’s partner in Eden Studios, was also with us. In spite of her young age, Dora seemed to cope with the pressure admirably well. She wasn’t world-beating, but she sang well and was pretty. The person who dressed her tried to make a statement. Dora got to wear a green ballet tutu with Dr. Martens boots. Everybody, myself included, wondered what they were trying to prove. In his television commentary for the BBC, Terry Wogan even mentioned it in a jocular sort of way. The song itself was a bit quirky and obviously we were hoping to win. I think it stood a chance, but I wouldn’t have put money on it.”

In spite of being one of the pre-contest favourites, ‘Não sejas mau p’ra mim’ picked up no more than 28 points, finishing fourteenth among twenty competing entries. 

“I wasn’t that disappointed,” Colin admits, “but Philip was. He felt we deserved more than we got, but it was what it was. I don’t think the Portuguese language was a problem. Personally I’d much rather hear somebody singing convincingly in his own language than badly in English. Only ABBA got away with singing English with a bad accent; they were just brilliant and thoroughly deserved to win the contest. Dora’s song was a good piece, but on a personal level I could have done with hearing a little more of the orchestra. In the final sound mix, the orchestral players were sunk so far back that you could hardly hear them. It was basically buried in the rhythm and synths of the backing track. That’s vanity coming into it, because I had done the arrangement! It wouldn’t have made much of a difference, just some strings and brass to give the orchestra something to do, but the musicians worked so hard and they deserved to be heard.”

Co-composer Luís Oliveira has his own thoughts about his song’s lack of success. “The big problem for us was that Portuguese television didn’t want to invest money. In Bergen, the girl from Belgium who won it (Sandra Kim – BT) was a star right from the moment she stepped from the plane. The Belgians worked hard to keep her in the spotlights all week. The RTP, however, were scared of winning Eurovision, because then they would have had to organise it themselves. For our television’s delegates, Eurovision amounted to little more than a couple of days of shopping with their families. We were exasperated by their amateurism. To make up for that, we invested money of our own. In Norway, we were walking around wearing training suits and T-shirts with a print reading ‘Dora I adore you’. We paid for a stylist who dressed her in those striking boots and a green skirt bought in the same second-hand shop in London where Madonna and Cyndi Lauper used to find their outfits. The way Dora looked in Eurovision was terribly criticised in Portugal, but that’s actually what we wanted to happen. Portugal was conservative. By following international trends, we were hoping to turn her into a European star. We did what we could, but without the RTP’s support we didn’t get far.”

Dora and her backing group applauded by the audience at Eurovision 1986 in Bergen; once more, Colin Frechter is just visible on the far left

After the disappointing result in Bergen, Dora didn’t succeed at the international breakthrough her three songwriters had been hoping for. 

“As I told you, we had secured a six-month deal with CBS London,” Oliveira continues. “After the contest, we recorded two follow-ups with Dora at Eden Studios, ‘Easy’ and ‘Seventeen’. The budgets were quite lavish, allowing us to work with backing vocalists who usually worked with Stock, Aitken, and Waterman. Mariam Makeba and Richard Derbyshire were two of them. We thought it was quite an achievement, but unfortunately nothing happened. One of the problems we faced was Dora herself. She had a fantastic voice, but at the same time she was essentially an amateur. Coming from a poor neighbourhood, she lacked education… in a way, we had to teach her how to behave in public; how to have a meal properly. We almost managed to get her on the Eurovision stage two years later with a great song, ‘Déjà vu’, but we were tricked out of it by Portuguese television and another songwriter, José Calvário. Still, the Dora project was great fun. Those were the days!”

Coming back to Colin Frechter’s recollections – when asked about the reactions to his Eurovision participation returning to Britain, Colin wryly comments, “Well, nothing much happened. Of course, conducting the Eurovision orchestra wasn’t a life-changing moment for me, but it was a gig with a certain amount of credibility to it – well, not in the UK. At the time, England were going through their arrogant period. The people I spoke to weren’t that complimentary. They just repeated Terry Wogan’s jokes about Dora’s looks. Wogan was wonderful at making funny gags, but due to his comments year after year, the competition lost its seriousness for the UK public. The Europeans took Eurovision much more seriously than we did. We thought it was a bit of a joke. Gradually other nations thought the British coming to Eurovision felt they had a divine right to win it. I blame Terry Wogan personally for a lot of the current situation where we are finding it very hard to pick up votes internationally year after year.”

“Nowadays there’s so much political voting going on. Cyprus voting for Greece and vice versa, that sort of thing. The notion of voting for a decent song has gone out of the window. Some crazy songs have won since the turn of the century. Given how much the contest has changed I can’t imagine an orchestra fitting into that ever again. Music has gone beyond that. The only way to do it would be to have a level playing field with everyone just using the orchestra, banning tracks altogether, but the music industry would be up in arms about that. People are just so used to synths and drum tracks nowadays; I don’t know how you could do without them."

"There is some hope, though. Nowadays (our interview with Colin was in 2021 – BT), in the UK, arrangers are getting work again. Records are becoming more sophisticated. Perhaps following the trends of American film music, producers have found a way of giving synths their place alongside strings and other classical instruments, instead of using them as a replacement. Real songwriting is making a comeback in the US and in England. In the Eurovision Song Contest, that trend isn’t visible yet; there, you mostly hear tracks which are not real songs, but just records built on top of a drum beat. Europe is trailing international trends by fifteen or twenty years. Only time will tell if Eurovision will catch up eventually.”

Picture taken from the 1986 Eurovision Song Contest official programme


Fellow arranger John Coleman is a contemporary of Colin Frechter’s. “My first involvement with Colin came when I was overburdened with arranging work one day and was in need of some help. He was highly recommended to me by one of our peers. In the following years, Colin occasionally did some arranging for me and I did some for him. I always had the impression that he was a bit further up the ladder than me. He obviously had a good reputation all around. Like me, Colin knew full well that you’re only ever as good as your last gig in the world of music. My memories of working with him as a colleague are very pleasant!” (2021)


Country – United Kingdom
Song title – "Save Your Kisses For Me"
Rendition – Brotherhood Of Man (= Martin Lee / Lee Sheriden / Nicky Stevens / Sandra Stevens)
Lyrics – Tony Hiller / Martin Lee / Lee Sheriden
Composition – Tony Hiller / Martin Lee / Lee Sheriden
Studio arrangement – Colin Frechter / Lee Sheriden
Live orchestration – Colin Frechter
Conductor – Alyn Ainsworth
Score – 1st place (164 votes)

Country – United Kingdom
Song title – "The Bad Old Days"
Rendition – Co Co (= Josie Andrews / Cheryl Baker / Terry Bradford / Charlie Brennan / Keith Haslar / Paul Rogers)
Lyrics – Stuart Slater / Stephanie de Sykes
Composition – Stuart Slater / Stephanie de Sykes
Studio arrangement – Terry Bradford / Colin Frechter
Live orchestration – Colin Frechter
Conductor – Alyn Ainsworth
Score – 11th place (61 votes)

Country – Portugal
Song title – "Não sejas mau p’ra mim"
Rendition – Dora 
Lyrics – Guilherme Inês / Luis Oliveira / José “Ze” da Ponte
Composition – Guilherme Inês / Luis Oliveira / José “Ze” da Ponte
Studio arrangement – Colin Frechter / Guilherme Inês / Luis Oliveira / José “Ze” da Ponte
Live orchestration – Colin Frechter
Conductor – Colin Frechter
Score – 14th place (28 votes)

  • Bas Tukker did an interview with Colin Frechter, subdivided into two sessions, May 2021
  • Thanks to Luís Oliveira Fernandes and John Coleman for looking back with us on their experiences of working with Colin Frechter
  • A playlist of Colin Frechter’s music can be accessed by clicking this YouTube link
  • Photos courtesy of Colin Frechter, David Barber, Bill Holland, Ferry van der Zant, and Kato Hansen
  • Thanks to James Doughty and Edwin van Gorp for proofreading the write-up


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

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2006 & 2023

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backstage with Deep Purple's Roger Glover (2003)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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