Saturday, 5 May 1990


The following article is an overview of the career of Croatian trumpet player and conductor Stanko Selak. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Selak, conducted by Bas Tukker in December 2010. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Stanko Selak's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2010

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

Born: May 29th, 1928, Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes)
Died: February 27th, 2015, Zagreb (Croatia)
Nationality: Croatian


Officially, the musical director of the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb was Igor Kuljerić. Kuljerić, however, who was a classical conductor, chose Stanko Selak as his ‘assistant’, which in practice meant bringing together the musicians to form a suitable orchestra as well as rehearsing all entries. During the live broadcast, Selak conducted the Cypriot entry ‘Milas poli’, since the delegation from Cyprus was the only one not to have brought a guest conductor along to Zagreb.


Professor Stanislav ‘Stanko’ Selak, the 5th child of a former Austro-Hungarian army officer, was born in Sarajevo, but grew up in Rijeka and, from his 7th year onwards, in Zagreb, where he finished grammar school in 1947. As a young boy, he was taught the piano by his half-sister Eleonore; however, it was not until a couple of years later that his fascination for music really awoke when, upon the end of World War II, he had the opportunity to listen to American jazz music for the first time in his life. He immediately bought himself a trumpet and taught himself the basic principles.

Selak quickly became involved in the Zagreb music scene, playing the trumpet in Miljenko Prohaska’s Big Band as well as writing some arrangements for it. “But I discovered that writing was not my passion,” Selak comments, “I was not the kind of person to sit at home at my desk in my pyjamas, penning those arrangements. My ambition was to be on stage dressed in smoking. That was the life for me!” 

In the late 1940s, Selak was the conductor of his own variety orchestra, which he led for two years and with which he accompanied many show artists from Yugoslavia and abroad. Gradually, however, both jazz music and variety entertainment were suppressed by the communists and Selak was forced to disband his ensemble. Meanwhile, he had entered the Zagreb Conservatoire, where he studied the trumpet as well as the piano, harmony, counterpoint, and musical form, graduating in 1954. Some years later, he continued his studies with Professor Franz Dengler at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, where he obtained his diploma in 1959.

Selak performed with a self-formed band in Vienna (1959) and Hamburg (1961). Playing the double-bass is Miljenko Prohaska

In 1955-56, Stanko Selak worked in a professional classical orchestra for the first time, playing the principal trumpet in the RTV Zagreb Chamber Orchestra of resident conductor Antonio Janigro. Belgian maestro Vanray Mortell took Selak and the orchestra with him on a 2-month-tour across Europe. After a short spell with the Symphony Orchestra of Yugoslavian Radio (1956), Selak was engaged as the solo trumpeter with the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra. With this classical ensemble, led by Milan Horvat, Selak played in countless concerts and made several recordings for Philips Records; with the Zagreb Symphony Orchestra and pianist Stjepan Radić, Selak recorded the Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra by Dimitri Shostakovich. During those years, Selak worked with such acclaimed maestros as Lovro von Matačić, Carlo Cechi, Kirill Kondrashin, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, and Claudio Abbado.

In 1966, Stanko Selak decided to leave the Zagreb Philharmonic. Why did he do so? “As a musician, I have always thought of myself as a hermaphrodite,” Selak jests, “because during my career I have never been able to make a choice between classical music on the one hand and jazz and entertainment music on the other. You can say that these two sides were continually fighting a battle in me. So that is why I told Milan Horvat that I had enough of classical music for the moment, having played the whole oeuvre of Tchaikovsky and Brahms at least ten times. I wanted to have a go at jazz again. He shook his head, but he knew he could not stop me. Upon that, I moved to Munich to join the Hugo Strasser Band.”

This was by no means the first time Selak travelled to West Germany. In the early 1950s, just after his variety orchestra had been banned by Yugoslavian authorities, he was granted permission to leave the country with a newly formed band, with which he played in bars in Düsseldorf and Hamburg. Afterwards, Selak worked as an instrumentalist in the ensemble of Austrian violinist Willy Horn – mainly for American soldiers based in West Germany – as well as in the Joe Wick Orchestra, which had an engagement in the Haus Vaterland theatre in Hamburg at that time. Later onwards in the 1950s and early 1960s, Selak regularly returned to West Germany for freelance work and performed with various orchestra leaders, including Lutz Dietmar and Max Greger. In 1959, Selak formed a band – including Miljenko Prohaska on the double-bass – with which he replaced Johannes Fehring’s orchestra in Vienna’s Volksgarten for one month, while he took the same ensemble to Hamburg in 1961 for a one-month-engagement in Tanzpalladium Lido.

Performing for SDR Television, Stuttgart, West Germany (1960s)

Between 1966 and 1968, Selak was the principal trumpeter in Hugo Strasser’s band, which played dance music in various hotels and bars in Munich. Strasser introduced him to the world of studio recording and it was not long before Selak was signed by the Electrola label; Electrola released his solo instrumental recordings, including the album ‘Sonne über Dalmatien’ and the singles ‘Monte Rosa’ and ‘The End of a Wonderful Day’ – the latter composed by Selak himself in collaboration with Hugo Strasser. With Ray Anthony, Heinz Schachtner, and Milo Pavlović, Selak formed the studio quartet The Golden Trumpets, of which several albums were successfully marketed in West Germany and beyond; recordings featuring Selak were also sold in the USA and Japan. Moreover, he was a session musician for Esther & Abi Ofarim on multiple occasions and went on a two-month-tour with Vicky Leandros. Selak returned to Zagreb in 1968.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Stanko Selak developed a wide range of activities in Yugoslavia. With the same orchestra he had taken to Austria and West Germany in 1959 and 1961, he recorded a string of big band titles for RTV Belgrade. From 1961 onwards, he was involved as a performer in virtually every edition of the Music Biennale Zagreb, an international festival for contemporary classical music. For RTV Zagreb, Selak and pianist Vladimir Krpan recorded the piece ‘Sonata for trumpet and piano’, which composer Stjepan Šulek had written with Selak’s abilities as a trumpet player in mind. In 1971, Yugoslavian national radio awarded Selak with the prize for best solo recording for his interpretation of Igor Kuljerić’s new composition ‘Figurazioni con tromba’; that year, this concerto, in which Selak played four different brass instruments, was performed live on two occasions: first with the RTV Zagreb Symphony Orchestra and later with the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1971, Stanko Selak, who had been invited by Quincy Jones to perform with his jazz orchestra in Rome a couple of years earlier, formed a progressive jazz ensemble. In the field of light entertainment music, he often worked as a trumpeter and conductor in studio sessions, recording albums with the likes of Mišo Kovač and Ivo Robić. The 1979 album ‘YU Disco Expres’ by pianist and keyboard-player Igor Šavin and the Stanko Selak Orchestra is one of the most interesting examples of experimental pop music in former Yugoslavia. Selak was the musical director of the 1971 Zagrebfest of Popular Music and three consecutive editions of the Festival Melodije Istre i Kvarnera in Opatija (1972, 1973, and 1974).

Conducting at the Zagrebfest, a Croatian song contest, in 1971

The most important feature of the latter part of Stanko Selak’s professional career is constituted by his activities as a trumpet teacher at various conservatories and music schools. Between 1962 and 1966, he was an honorary teacher at the Ljubljana Music and Ballet Conservatoire. Amongst his students there was Anton Grčar, who took over Selak’s position at this academy in ’66. Grčar and Selak later performed together on stage, playing Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto for Two Trumpets’. In 1968, upon his return from West Germany, Selak started his long association with the Zagreb Academy of Music, initially as a lecturer, but subsequently as a professor. At the academy, Selak introduced brass choir as a compulsory subject; in 1972, he formed the Stanko Selak Big Band, consisting of his own students. Many of his graduates found their way into Yugoslavia’s top classical orchestras. His reputation extended beyond the borders of Yugoslavia, being invited by Professor Roger Delmotte to be a jury member in the International Toulon Trumpet Competition on two occasions (1976, 1981). Selak’s tenure at the academy ended after 25 years, when he was pensioned off in 1993.

Between 1985 and 1987, Selak worked as an honorary professor at the Sarajevo Music Academy. Moreover, in 1985 and 1986, he was invited to lecture at the Cologne University of Music, West Germany’s largest conservatory. This led to a permanent appointment as a professor; Selak taught classical trumpet as well as instrumental pedagogy in Cologne between 1987 and 1994.

Stanko Selak was the artistic director of the annual summer music festival held on the island of Vis between 1985 and 1991, organizing ten concerts of classical, jazz, and popular music each year. After Croatia’s independence, Selak became the conductor of the Brass Ensemble of the Croatian Army Symphony Wind Orchestra. Having previously been responsible for writing the trumpet course for the newly founded Zagreb Jazz Institute, Selak published a textbook on brass instruments methodology in 2011, which was immediately included in the curriculum of the conservatories in Zagreb and Ljubljana. In that same year, he was awarded with the Town of Vis Prize in recognition of his indefatigability in promoting cultural life on the Dalmatian island.

Stanko Selak passed away in Zagreb in 2015 at the age of 86.

At the conservatoire in Cologne, teaching his student Thorsten Benkenstein (c. 1993)


In the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest, oddly, the Cypriot entry 'Milas poli' was conducted by a Yugoslavian conductor - none other than Stanko Selak. As it turns out, Selak, who was not officially the musical director of the show, took on exactly that job at the request of the man who bore the title officially, classical conductor Igor Kuljerić.

“Some time during the fall of 1989, my good friend Igor Kuljerić paid me a visit," Stanko Selak recalls. "He told me he had just been named artistic director of the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb. "And I would like you to be the host conductor of the show, who, on my behalf, will be responsible for the quality of the orchestra," he said. I thought that was strange – I mean, because he was the artistic director, it was his duty to form an orchestra and conduct it. However, he was a strictly classical conductor; apparently, he thought it was best to choose someone with experience in light entertainment music to be the host conductor. So, officially, Igor was the artistic director and musical director of the contest, while I was merely his assistant. In reality, however, he never conducted anything at all – not even the intro music. During the rehearsals, he sometimes dropped in, only to leave again 5 or 10 minutes later."

"Nevertheless, I had no problems whatsoever to be the assistant of Igor Kuljerić; he was a great musician, a genius! Why he was chosen to be the musical director of the contest in the first place? I am not sure, but I think it was a decision of the General Director of RTV Zagreb. Of course, this was a very important communist party official without any knowledge of music. This fellow must have thought Igor Kuljerić, who was widely known as one of Croatia’s finest modern composers and conductors, was the man for the job.”

In 1989, Yugoslavia had won the Eurovision Song Contest in Lausanne with Croatian group Riva and the song ‘Rock me’. Subsequently, it was decided upon to organize the 1990 festival in the Vatroslav Lisinski Hall in Zagreb, Croatia. In hindsight, 1990 was the last year before hostilities started which sounded the death knell for Yugoslavia; as the situation was already quite tense at that time, it came as no surprise that the festival was organized completely by RTV Zagreb, with no role whatsoever for any broadcaster from the other republics constituting Yugoslavia – least of all RTV Belgrade.

The Eurovision orchestra in Zagreb rehearsing the Portuguese entry, 'Há sempre alguém' by Nucha

The first thing Stanko Selak had to do after having accepted Kuljerić’s proposal, was finding the right musicians to form the Eurovision orchestra. “Without a carte blanche to choose whoever I wanted, I would never have accepted the job anyway,” Selak comments. “I exactly knew which musicians I wanted for the orchestra. The string section consisted of the best elements of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the entire Zagreb Chamber Instrumental Ensemble, including its concertmaster, Tonko Ninić. Almost all musicians were from Zagreb, but there were three exceptions. My former student, the great Anton Grčar, became the solo trumpet-player of my orchestra. Because I myself had to conduct and hence was not able to play the principal trumpet at the same time, I invited Thomas Vogel, a musician from West Germany whom I knew from my work at the Cologne Music Academy. He was what I like to call a high-blower trumpet-player – and a very good one too! Lastly, the drummer was also from Germany; a great professional who later worked at the Starlight Express in Bochum. The result was a fantastic grand orchestra of which I was extremely proud!”

“In the week before the guest conductors and the artists arrived, I prepared all 22 items with the orchestra. When the conductor from Vienna, Herr Oesterreicher, had rehearsed the Austrian entry for the first time, he was so satisfied, that he came up to me and said, "Stanko, you have prepared our score so thoroughly, that my job is simply to count the orchestra in – there is no need to give any further instructions." It goes without saying that I was thrilled by these kind words!”

Although Stanko Selak was proud of his orchestra, there was one musician who turned out to be below par, “The score of the Israeli entry included a bongo part. So I needed a bongo player for this one song. The only person I could find was one Željko Požarić; I did not really want him, but I thought it would not be a problem because he only had to play in this one song. This guy came to the first rehearsals wearing white gloves; "Um Gottes Willen," I thought, "that is not looking good!" On top of that, his performance was simply unsatisfactory. After that rehearsal, my German percussionist came up to me and told me that he would catch the first plane back to Germany if I did not give that bongo player his marching orders immediately! And that is exactly what I did: I sent this Požarić away. When the Israeli guest conductor (Rami Levin - BT) arrived, I told him about the problem. But he told me not to worry, "No problem, I will make a telephone-call to Tel Aviv to get a first-class bongo player from Israel." And that is exactly what happened! A musician from Israel was especially flown in to play this bongo part. Ha ha, yes, those were the good old days of Eurovision!”

One day before the actual live broadcast, it was time for the usual dress rehearsal. This final walkthrough nearly became the scene of an unprecedented strike of all guest conductors. Selak has vivid memories of what happened. 

Unaware of the mayhem awaiting them during the live broadcast, the Spanish duo Azúcar Moreno during rehearsals in Zagreb

“One hour before the dress rehearsal was due to begin, one of the conductors – I do not remember who it was (other sources suggest that it might have been Ireland’s Noel Kelehan - BT) – came up to me, telling me that they had just heard that the director of the contest had decided to leave out the usual moment at the beginning of each song when the country’s conductor was introduced to the television audience. I had not been told anything about that! Can you imagine? This television director, who was so arrogant that he did not even say hello to me or to the guys in my orchestra – the finest musicians in Croatia! – when walking by, said it was not possible to introduce the conductors, because he needed that time to show picture postcards of the city of Zagreb. Keine Minute für die Dirigenten! Without any respect for those fine conductors who had travelled to Zagreb from all over Europe to accompany the singers, he wanted to abolish this tradition of many decades!"

"There was not a moment of hesitation in me and the only thing on my mind was getting this ridiculous decision undone! I rushed to the first telephone I could find and immediately called the General Director of RTV Zagreb, explaining the situation to him. He immediately agreed with me and promised to solve the problem. Two minutes later, the director returned to tell me that the conductors would be shown on screen after all! Of course, the General Director had just told him bluntly that his ideas about the conductors were unacceptable! Looking back on this unbelievable situation now, you can say that this was the beginning of the end for the orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest. These TV people could not care less about musicians and conductors.”

In most editions of the Eurovision Song Contest, the musical director conducted the host country’s entry, but this was not the case in 1990. For the Yugoslavian song, Tajči’s ‘Hajde da ludujemo’, the orchestra was not placed under the direction of Stanko Selak, but of Stjepan Mihaljinec. 

Selak did not take this as an offence, “When it came about that I was going to be the musical director of the contest, a minor revolution broke out in Zagreb’s light entertainment scene. Other conductors – think of musicians such as Nikica Kalogjera – were slightly upset they had been overlooked. That might have been the reason why I was not allowed to conduct this song. But it was a rather logical decision too, because Stjepan Mihaljinec was involved with the singers and the composer of the item. Mihaljinec has always been a good friend of mine and he was a fine pianist and arranger; so I did not feel hurt for a moment about this.”

Yugoslavia were represented in Zagreb by Tajči

In spite of this, Stanko Selak was given the opportunity to conduct an entry in the actual live broadcast of the contest after all: the up-tempo ‘Milas poli’, sung by Anastazio, that year’s Cypriot entry, which finished fourteenth. Strangely, some of the commentators – at least two, UK’s Terry Wogan and the usually very well-informed Willem van Beusekom from the Netherlands – announced that the song’s composer, John Vickers, was going to conduct the orchestra for Cyprus. Vickers, a British citizen living in Cyprus, was very surprised when he heard about the mistake which had been made by the commentators.

“I do not know why Terry Wogan and the Dutch commentator thought that I was conducting the orchestra," Vickers comments.  "Probably the TV people in Zagreb simply gave them wrong information. I have to say that my mother, who was watching the show in England, was horrified when Wogan announced me and Mr Selak was shown counting in the orchestra. "That is not our John!," was heard halfway down the street where she lives! I only discovered that Wogan had said this when I was told by the family."

"In truth, there was never any question of me doing the orchestra," Vicktesr continues. "First of all, I could never have done it myself as I am not a trained musician, just a self-taught songwriter and guitarist. Secondly, in those days a backing track was allowed but any instruments on it had to be represented on stage. This meant that, as well as doing the backing vocals, I was obliged to pretend to be playing electronic drums! As a result of this we had to find someone to conduct the orchestra. I do not think we knew anyone in Cyprus who could do this – there was not even a professional state orchestra here on the island at that time – and since everyone had the option to use the resident conductor, this seemed like the best option for us.”

“As for Mr Selak,” Vickers concludes, “I only met him for the first time when our first rehearsal was about to begin. I was very anxious about how the song would sound with an orchestra. After all, we had recorded the song with a very professional producer in Munich, Christian Leibl, who had used synthesisers and modern recording equipment. I was thrilled by Leibl’s version and was worried if the same result could be achieved with an orchestra. However, when I heard the orchestration played by Mr Selak and his men for the first time, I relaxed, because they did a great job with the song. This allowed me to concentrate on the backing vocals. Mr Selak was very polite and friendly to me and. Afterwards, I thanked him for his good work.”

Cypriot entrant Anastazio (third from right) with his backing group in Zagreb, with composer John Vickers in the yellow T-shirt

Stanko Selak does not remember much about the one Eurovision entry he conducted. “I was simply told that Cyprus was the only delegation without a conductor and that I therefore had to conduct their entry. The composer was a friendly guy, really pleasant. His song was not amongst the strongest compositions in the festival. To be fair, though, there were many good songs in 1990. The winning song from Italy, ‘Insieme’, was brilliant! I had helped the Italian singer Toto Cutugno by finding suitable background singers for him. From Slovenia, I engaged this quintet of singers, Pepel & Kri (this group took part in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest for Yugoslavia - BT). During the rehearsals, there was much talk of this song in the corridors; many people felt its message of a united Europe was some sort of message for the times ahead - although, at that time, nobody knew the word ‘globalisation’ yet! It did not come as a surprise to me when so many juries voted for it.”

One of the most memorable moments in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest was when a technical failure occurred at the start of the first song of the 1990 festival, Spain’s ‘Bandido’. Due to a mistake in the control-room, the Spanish conductor Eduardo Leiva was not able to hear the clicks which preceded the backing track that was used alongside the live orchestra. Hence, he could not count the orchestra in at the right moment. In despair, singing duo Azúcar Moreno left the stage. The song was restarted and, the second time around, everything went well. 

Stanko Selak was backstage while all of this happened. Understandably, being responsible for the music part of the show, he did not feel very happy. “My goodness, I was half dead – it was a catastrophe and the adrenaline was rushing through my veins. Someone must have switched off the sound. At that time, there was talk that it was a conscious sabotage, but I never believed that. It was simply a hideous technical mistake. Luckily, the Spanish song did well in the voting, because it was a strong piece of music which deserved a good score.”

There was another minor incident during the Netherlands’ entry, Maywood’s ‘Ik wil alles met je delen’: the trumpet solo during the bridge of the song could not by heard by TV viewers. For Stanko Selak, this was a very tragic moment.

Anton Grčar experiencing a tragic moment, playing the solo in the 1990 Netherlands entry just after having lost the microphone in his piccolo trumpet

“It was a solo for a piccolo trumpet player. This baroque-sounding trumpet solo was a very good idea; mind you, the piccolo trumpet features in some of the best Beatles’ songs as well! While I was preparing the arrangements and read the score of the Netherlands’ entry, I realised that there was only one man who was capable of playing this solo to perfection; Anton Grčar, my former student, who played in the Ljubljana Philharmonic."

"I suggested to Toni that he should stand up while playing this solo, so that the audience could see him. He immediately liked the idea and so, during the live broadcast, he rose from his chair. At that very moment, however, he stepped on the cable which was linked to a small microphone that had been attached to the bell of his trumpet. As a result, the microphone was flung from his instrument and his beautiful solo could only be heard by the audience present in the theatre, not by TV viewers. Anton himself was very depressed about it. This solo was the reason I had invited him to be in the Eurovision orchestra in the first place! The guy is a virtuoso who won second prize in the important trumpet competition in Genève; in short, one of the best classical musicians around. It was most unfortunate that this had to happen to him.”

In spite of these incidents, Stanko Selak enjoys looking back on his Eurovision involvement. “Oh yes, it was certainly one of the highlights in my career. I had a fantastic orchestra at my disposal with hand-picked music professionals. And what is more; it was not very often that I was given the opportunity to work as a conductor in a live concert. You have to realise that my passion was never composing or arranging – it was being on stage, performing for an audience! I think that, having said that, there is no need to explain any further why I thoroughly enjoyed working on the Eurovision Song Contest!”


Trumpet player Thomas Vogel from Germany was one of the foreign musicians flown in to play in the 1990 Eurovision orchestra compiled by Selak, “Professionally, I only worked with Stanko once, when he asked me to join the orchestra for the Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb. I knew him from my time as a student in Cologne. I studied jazz trumpet there, and although Stanko taught classical trumpet only, we became good friends. Being the great storyteller that he is, he shared many of his experiences and memories with us, the students of the academy. I have wonderful memories of him from our time in Cologne.” (2011)


Country – Cyprus
Song title – “Milas poli”
Rendition – Anastazio (Charis Anastasiou) 
Lyrics – Charis Anastasiou
Composition – John Vickers
Studio arrangement – John Vickers / Christian Leibl
Live orchestration – Christian Leibl
Conductor – Stanko Selak (assistant-MD)
Score – 14th place (36 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Stanko Selak, December 2010
  • An interview with Stanko Selak in Croatian by Ivica Župan was published in WAM (= Webzine about Audio and Music) no. 13 (2002). This article also offers a short career overview of Selak
  • Many thanks to John Vickers (composer of the Cypriot entry in 1990) for his valuable additional comments, and to Thomas Vogel for sharing his memories about Stanko Selak with us
  • Several pieces of Igor Šavin’s album ‘YU Disco Expres’ (with Stanko Selak’s orchestra) can be found on YouTube, including the spectacular piece ‘Alfa’
  • Photos courtesy of Stanko Selak & Ferry van der Zant


Born: December 30th, 1960, Milan (Italy)
Nationality: Italian

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview


Gianni Madonini played keyboards on Adriano Celentano’s 1987 album ‘Pubblica ottusità’. As an arranger, he mainly worked with Toto Cutugno in the late 1980s and early 1990s; this includes songs written by Cutugno for Fiordaliso and Sandro Giacobbe. Madonini is also credited for his orchestrations for Beata, Stephany, Gigi Sabani, and Den Harrow. He conducted Toto Cutugno’s ‘Gli amori’ in the 1990 San Remo Festival; this song finished second.


Because the winners of the 1990 San Remo Festival, the group Pooh, did not feel like representing Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest of that same year, number two Toto Cutugno was invited by Italian television to write a song. He came up with ‘Insieme 1992’, a melodious mid-tempo song with lyrics about European unification. Gianni Madonini arranged the music and conducted the orchestra for this Italian entry in Zagreb. Toto Cutugno won the contest – the second Italian victory after Gigliola Cinquetti’s ‘Non ho l’età’ in 1964.


Country – Italy
Song title – "Insieme 1992"
Rendition – Toto Cutugno 
Lyrics – Salvatore "Toto" Cutugno
Composition – Salvatore "Toto" Cutugno
Studio arrangement – Gianni Madonini
Live orchestration – Gianni Madonini
Conductor – Gianni Madonini
Score – 1st place (149 votes)


Born: December 1st, 1935, Zagreb, Croatia (Yugoslavia)
Died: February 13th, 2014, Zagreb (Croatia)
Nationality: Croatian 

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview


Pianist, composer, and arranger Stjepan Mihaljinec graduated from the Zagreb Music Academy in 1963. For years, he worked for RTV Zagreb, writing music for television and radio programmes. He composed over 200 songs, interpreted by artists such as Ivo Robić, Vice Vukov, Mišo Kovač, and Đani Maršan. As an arranger, he also worked with Krunoslav Slabinac. He conducted in many editions of the Split Festival, performing with international guest artists including Domenico Modugno, Sergio Endrigo, and Johnny Logan.


Stjepan Mihaljinec conducted many songs in the Yugoslavian and Croatian Eurovision preselections, the last time being in 2001. As a conductor, he represented Yugoslavia in the international festival once, in 1990, with ‘Hajde da ludujemo’. The entry was composed by Zrinko Tutić, arranged by Nikša Bratoš but orchestrated by Mihaljinec, and performed by the group Tajči. In the festival in Zagreb, this song finished in 7th place.


Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Hajde da ludujemo”
Rendition – Tajči (Tatjana Matejaš)
Lyrics – Zrinko Tutić / Alka Vuica
Composition – Zrinko Tutić
Studio arrangement – Nikša Bratoš
Live orchestration – Stjepan Mihaljinec
Conductor – Stjepan Mihaljinec
Score – 7th place (81 votes)


Born: April 12th, 1944, Walburg, Hessisch Lichtenau (Germany)
Died: August 21st, 1997, Munich (Germany)
Nationality: German

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview


Rainer Pietsch was born the son of a tenor and a music teacher. He learnt to play the bass, the guitar, the piano, the organ. In the 1960s, he was a member of various pop bands in Cologne; The Black Föös (Plack-Fizzles), The Band Beat Stones, and The Singing End. He made tours with renowned bands such as The Who, Herman’s Hermits, and The Fortunes. In 1969, Pietsch began working as a producer for bands such as Triumvirat and The Lords. 

Later, he moved to Munich, where he became one of West Germany’s most sought-after studio arrangers and was contracted by the music production company of Ralph Siegel. In Munich, Pietsch worked as a producer and arranger for Michael Holm, Wind, Amanda Lear (‘Follow Me’), ELO, Queen, Patty Pravo, Peter Alexander, Nicole, and many more. Among the most successful songs he wrote himself are ‘Nur ein Kuss, Maddalena’ for Michael Holm and ‘C’est la vie’ for Karel Gott. All in all, in his relatively short life, Pietsch composed more than 500 songs and wrote over 2000 arrangements.


Rainer Pietsch took part in the Eurovision Song Contest for West Germany three times, the first occasion being in 1975 with a song he had written himself: ‘Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein’; Joy Fleming only managed to score a meagre 17th place with it in the international final in Stockholm, but the song became an evergreen in Germany and beyond. In Stockholm, Pietsch conducted his song in a most spectacular fashion. 

In 1985 and 1990, Pietsch wrote the orchestrations to the songs ‘Für alle’ (composed by Hanne Haller and performed by Wind) and ‘Frei zu leben’ (composed by Ralph Siegel and performed by Chris Kempers & Daniel Kovac) and conducted the orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest, with a second and a ninth place as respective results.

As the creator of the arrangement or part of the arrangement, Pietsch also had a hand in the 1986 and 1988 West German entries, 'Über die Brücke geh'n' and 'Lied für einen Freund', but the orchestras in the international final for these songs were conducted by Hans Blum and Michael Thatcher respectively.


Country – West Germany
Song title – “Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein / Bridge Of Love”
Rendition – Joy Fleming
German lyrics – Michael Holm
English lyrics – Fred Jay
Composition – Rainer Pietsch
Studio arrangement – Rainer Pietsch
Live orchestration – Rainer Pietsch
Conductor – Rainer Pietsch
Score – 17th place (15 votes)

Country – West Germany
Song title – “Für alle”
Rendition – Wind (Alexander Heiler / Rainer Höglmeier / Willy Jakob / Sami Kalifa / Christiane von Kutzschenbach / Petra Scheeser)
Lyrics – Hanne Haller
Composition – Hanne Haller
Studio arrangement – Rainer Pietsch
Live orchestration – Rainer Pietsch
Conductor – Rainer Pietsch
Score – 2nd place (105 votes)

Country – West Germany
Song title – "Über die Brücke geh’n"
Rendition – Ingrid Peters
Lyrics – Hans Blum
Composition – Hans Blum
Studio arrangement – Rainer Pietsch
Live orchestration – Rainer Pietsch
Conductor – Hans Blum
Score – 8th place (62 votes)

Country – West Germany
Song title – “Lied für einen Freund”
Rendition – Maxi & Chris Garden
Lyrics – Bernd Meinunger
Composition – Ralph Siegel
Studio arrangement – Rainer Pietsch / Hermann Weindorf / László Bencker
Live orchestration – Michael Thatcher
Conductor – Michael Thatcher
Score – 14th place (48 votes)

Country – West Germany
Song title – “Frei zu leben”
Rendition – Chris Kempers / Daniel Kovac
Lyrics – Michael Kunze
Composition – Ralph Siegel
Studio arrangement – Ralph Siegel
Live orchestration – Rainer Pietsch
Conductor – Rainer Pietsch
Score – 9th place (60 votes)


Born: May 1st, 1950, Budapest (Hungary)
Nationality: Hungarian / Swiss

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview


Pianist, arranger, composer, and producer Bela Balint received a classical conservatory education. As an arranger, he worked with Udo Jürgens and Ute Lemper. He was a member of the Pepe Lienhard Orchestra from 1984 to 1989. He arranged and composed for the Paul Kuhn Big Band and many other ensembles in (West) Germany and Switzerland. Moreover, he composes music to TV and radio commercials and, occasionally, motion pictures. Since 2002, he has taught jazz piano and arranging at his private music school.

Bela Balint arranged the Swiss entry in 1986, ‘Pas pour moi’, composed and conducted by Atilla Şereftuğ and sung by Daniela Simons; this song came second. Two years later, Balint was again involved in writing the orchestration to a song by Şereftuğ, ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’; this was the Swiss entry in the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin and was sung by Céline Dion. With it, Dion won the competition; again, it was AtillaŞereftuğ to conduct the orchestra. Balint himself stood in front of an orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion, in 1990 in Zagreb, with singer / violinist Egon Egemann and his ‘Musik klingt in die Welt hinaus’; this Swiss entry finished 11th.


Country – Switzerland
Song title – "Pas pour moi"
Rendition – Daniela Simons
Lyrics – Nella Martinetti
Composition – Atilla Şereftuğ
Studio arrangement – Bela Balint
Live orchestration – Bela Balint
Conductor – Atilla Şereftuğ
Score – 2nd place (140 votes)

Country – Switzerland
Song title – "Ne partez pas sans moi"
Rendition – Celine Dion
Lyrics – Nella Martinetti
Composition – Atilla Şereftuğ
Studio arrangement – D.W. Richards (Donald Häfliger) / Atilla Şereftuğ
Live orchestration – Bela Balint / Atilla Şereftuğ
Conductor – Atilla Şereftuğ
Score – 1st place (137 votes)

Country – Switzerland
Song title – "Musik klingt in die Welt hinaus"
Rendition – Egon Egemann
Lyrics – Cornelia Lackner
Composition – Cornelia Lackner
Studio arrangement – Bela Balint
Live orchestration – Bela Balint
Conductor – Bela Balint
Score – 11th place (51 votes)


Born: July 22nd, 1956, Tel Aviv (Israel)
Nationality: Israeli

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview


Jazz pianist, arranger, and producer Rami Levin studied at the Rubin Academy of Music, Tel Aviv, and the Berklee College of Music, Boston Mass. He composed music for television programmes and was the musical director of several festivals in Israel. He leads his own sextet of musicians. Levin has been a teacher of piano, ensembles, arranging, ear training, and harmony at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon (Tel Aviv); moreover, he leads the piano department.


Rami Levin arranged and conducted the Israeli entry in the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Zagreb: ‘Shara barechovot’, performed by Rita. It is an atypical Israeli entry – no up-tempo song, but a dramatic ballad. Written by Tzurya Lahav and Rita's then-husband Rami Kleinstein, the song was much underestimated by the European juries, who condemned it to an 18th position.


Country – Israel
Song title – “Shara barechovot”
Rendition – Rita Yahan Farouz
Lyrics – Tzurya Lahav
Composition – Rami Kleinstein
Studio arrangement – Rami Levin
Live orchestration – Rami Levin
Conductor – Rami Levin
Score – 18th place (16 votes)


Born: August 24th, 1924, Bolton, England (United Kingdom)
Died: October 4th, 1990, London, England (United Kingdom)
Nationality: British

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview


As a boy, Alyn Ainsworth proved his talent as a singer; when his voice broke, he learnt to play the guitar and played in dance bands. He was an instrumentalist as well as an arranger for the orchestras of Oscar Rabin and Geraldo, before becoming the staff arranger for the BBC Northern Variety Orchestra. Later, Ainsworth became the ensemble’s conductor. In 1960, Ainsworth left the BBC and was signed up by Granada TV as the presenter of Spot The Tune. As a freelance musician, Ainsworth frequently conducted TV shows for the BBC and ITV. Moreover, he worked as a studio arranger, orchestrating songs for Vince Hill and Kathy Kirby; he wrote the arrangement to Shirley Bassey’s hit record ‘Big Spender’ in 1967. Ainsworth released several instrumental recordings, amongst which ‘The Entertainer’ in 1976.


Alyn Ainsworth was the musical director of A Song For Europe, the UK Eurovision heats, in 1975, 1976, 1978, and 1979 and – with the exception of the last-mentioned year – accompanied the winners of these competitions to the Eurovision Song Contest: ‘Let Me Be The One’ by The Shadows (1975), Eurovision winner ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ by Brotherhood of Man (1976), and ‘The Bad Old Days’ by CoCo (1978). In 1979, Ken Jones replaced Ainsworth for the international final. In 1977, when the contest was held in London and both the preselection and the contest itself were supervised by BBC’s own musical director, Ronnie Hazlehurst, Alyn Ainsworth helped out the Belgian delegation by conducting ‘A Million In 1, 2, 3’ for Dream Express, which came seventh. In 1990, only a couple of months before he passed away, Ainsworth returned to the contest, conducting the UK entry ‘Give A Little Love Back To The World’, composed by Paul Curtis and sung by Emma.


Country – United Kingdom
Song title – "Let Me Be The One"
Rendition – The Shadows (= Brian Bennett / John Farrar / Hank B. Marvin / Bruce Welch)
Lyrics – Paul Curtis
Composition – Paul Curtis
Studio arrangement – John Fiddy / The Shadows
Live orchestration – John Fiddy
Conductor – Alyn Ainsworth
Score – 2nd place (138 votes)

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 – Belgium
Song title – "A Million In One, Two, Three"
Rendition – Dream Express (= Bianca Maessen / Patricia Maessen / Stella Maessen / Luc Smets)
Lyrics – Luc Smets
Composition – Luc Smets
Studio arrangement – Luc Smets
Live orchestration – Luc Smets
Conductor – Alyn Ainsworth
Score – 7th place (69 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 - United Kingdom
Song title - "Give A Little Love Back To The World"
Rendition - Emma Booth
Lyrics - Paul Curtis
Composition - Paul Curtis
Record arrangement - Paul Curtis / Stewart Mackintosh
Live orchestration - Stewart Mackintosh
Conductor - Alyn Ainsworth
Score - 6th place (87 votes)


Born: March 31st, 1954, Aubenas (France)
Nationality: French

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview


Since the second half of the 1970s, Thierry Durbet has been an arranger for many different French artists, including Gilbert Bécaud, Jeane Manson, Patricia Kaas, Stephanie, Dave, and Dionne Warwick. Towards the end of the 1980s, he made a couple of albums with François Feldman. Playing the piano, keyboards, or synthesizer, he accompanied Patrick Bruel, Bruno Grimaldi, Jean-Jacques Goldman, and Ofra Haza during recording sessions. In the 1980s, Durbet released a couple of albums with instrumentals in the electro pop genre, always in collaboration with Laurent Thierry-Mieg; they came up with a track called ‘Baby Rock’ which knew some success. Durbet also composed jingles (most importantly that of CNN’s sports magazine) and music for advertisements. As an arranger and composer, he was involved in writing film soundtracks, including L’homme au chapeau de soie (1983).


Thierry Durbet arranged and conducted the 1990 Luxembourg entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Quand je te rêve’, a powerful pop ballad written by Jean-Charles France and Thierry Délianis and sung by a young singer from Southern France, Céline Carzo. The juries slightly underestimated both singer and song; Luxembourg finished thirteenth.


Country – Luxembourg
Song title – "Quand je te rêve"
Rendition – Céline Carzo
Lyrics – Thierry Délianis
Composition – Jean-Charles France
Studio arrangement – Thierry Durbet
Live orchestration – Thierry Durbet
Conductor – Thierry Durbet
Score – 13th place (38 votes)


The following article is an overview of the career of Belgian instrumentalist, composer, and producer Rony Brack. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Brack, conducted by Bas Tukker in February 2019. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Rony Brack's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2019

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


Born: June 23rd, 1956, Wilrijk, Antwerp (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian


Rony Brack produced, arranged, and conducted the 1990 Belgian Eurovision entry ‘Macédomienne’ by Philippe Lafontaine. At the international festival final held in Zagreb, the song finished twelfth amongst twenty-two competing countries. This was not Brack’s only involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest, though; eight years before, in 1982, Brack was responsible for the original English-language lyrics – the song was later translated into French to comply with festival rules – of that year’s Belgian entry, ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’, performed by Stella Maessen.


Rony Brack was born and raised in Antwerp. He grew up just yards away from the Beerschot football stadium – and, in fact, he played for Beerschot as a youth player. His parents were keen amateur musicians and actors who had their own cabaret act. 

“Mom was a very good singer,” Rony adds, “and my father also produced radio plays, but they never felt confident about going pro – and so he was an employee for most of his working life. At home, there was a piano; as a child I was having a go at it from time to time. At some point, I started taking lessons from an old woman in our neighbourhood. I don’t even remember if it was my choice or if my parents took the decision on my behalf. I must have been seven or eight years old at the time."

"These piano lessons lasted well into my high school years… we are talking about the 1960s here; and of course it was inevitable that I discovered rock music! I fell in love with it instantly. Suddenly, studying classical piano felt weird; as if I was doing something belonging to another era. When I was fourteen, my dad gave me an old acoustic guitar. I taught myself the chords quite rapidly. By the time another guy at school suggested forming a blues band, I was thoroughly fed up with piano studies and quit. For two years, I stuck to playing the guitar only. We called our band Krypton – and later renamed it Cynical. It was just a hobby thing; we played for our classmates and in some local cafés.”

Keen to improve the sound of his high school band, Rony was about to purchase a new electric guitar. After attending a performance of Belgian band Placebo at Antwerp’s Jazz Middelheim summer festival, however, he changed his mind.

In a rehearsal, playing an Oberheim OBX synthesizer (1981)

“Marc Moulin, who was in Placebo at that time, had a small electric piano. I was at the festival with one of my pals from our little blues band. He immediately suggested buying such a piano instead of a guitar. It was a good idea, because no other of our rival bands included a pianist… and that is basically why I became a piano player again. Honestly, it was a good thing; I was a mediocre guitarist and rather more apt at playing the piano after all these years of classical studies. Besides, the sound of our band improved markedly thanks to that electric piano."

"After a while, I swapped this very small piano for a real Fender Rhodes. Meanwhile, I was keenly looking for inspiration in records of Chick Corea and Soft Machine. Surprisingly, given that we never were anything more than a local Antwerp band, we even made it to nationwide television; it was a live show broadcast from the American Theatre in Brussels. Some TV producer must have felt like showcasing young Belgian talent. How he found out about us is beyond my knowledge. One of the other acts in that programme was George Benson. He was very friendly and, during rehearsals, he even sat down next to me at the piano, playing a couple of bars – just for fun.”

After obtaining his secondary school diploma in 1974, Cynical broke up as group members went their different ways. Rony took up studying psychology at Brussels’ Vrije Universiteit, but after a year, he decided to stop in favour of trying to make a living as a musician. “While going to college in Brussels, I played with a band called The O’Kays, which was based at the OK Club, a discotheque in Antwerp. At some point, Fred Bekky (pseudonym of Fred Beeckmans – BT), who had recently disbanded his group, The Pebbles, had a conversation with one of the owners of the club, telling him about his plans to form a new band for which he was looking for a pianist. The manager suggested my name to Fred – and after hearing me play for a bit, he effectively offered me the job. I figured that this was a risk that was worthy taking... an opportunity to see if I could actually be a music professional. If it wouldn’t work after two or three years, I could always go back to university.”

Bekky’s group project, with himself, Sofie Verbruggen and Bob ‘Bobott’ Baelemans up front, was called Trinity; with Dutch producer Hans van Hemert behind them, they released several single records in the disco genre, of which ‘002.345.709 (That’s My Number)’ was a top-ten chart success in Belgium as well as the Netherlands in 1976. 

“I was not involved in that recording. It was done in Hilversum. I was one of the background musicians who accompanied Bob, Fred and Sofie on their live shows across Flanders and the Netherlands. Initially, we mainly played cover tunes to make up for the lack of original songs, but week after week, the covers were replaced by Bob’s and Fred’s compositions. For me, Trinity was a learning project. I was in my early twenties and finding out day by day how things were done. While being in Trinity, Fred and Bob were also producing other Belgian artists. Whenever they were in the studio, I was hanging around, watching how they went about. Once, I substituted for a Dutch session keyboard player who was pretty popular at that time due to his specific style of playing. Having heard him at work several times, I played the piano part exactly the way he would have. Fred said he was rather impressed with the job I had done. Experiences like this made me realise that I wanted to get into the studio business. I preferred it way over touring and doing live gigs, where you would be playing the same songs night after night – whereas in the studio, new music is being created every day.”

The Pebbles Reunion Tour band (1981), a veritable all-star ensemble of Belgian pop music; top row, from left to right - Tony Gyselinck, Rony Brack, Fred ‘Bekky’ Beeckmans, Bob ‘Bobott’ Baelemans; bottom row, from left to right: Ronny Sigo, Luc Smets

For the time being, though, opportunities to prove his worth as a session player in commercial recording projects were few and far between. Whilst performing with Trinity, Rony got the opportunity to record demos in a small studio in Sint-Niklaas with top session players Evert Verhees (bass) and Willy Heynen (guitar).

“With these two guys, I greatly expanded my knowledge. We played some pretty advanced stuff, involving complicated jazz harmonies. I found I could keep up with them. With the Sint-Niklaas session group, I also went to the London Music Fair where we played a couple of demonstrations.”

“At a given point, Willy Heynen, who wrote a lot of arrangements for Etienne Verschueren’s BRT Jazz Orchestra and the TV Orchestra of Francis Bay, asked me to become his copyist. That was a generous offer, given that I had no experience in that field whatsoever. Willy sent me his arrangements, which I copied over to individual partitions for each instrument. Mostly, I did this writing overnight – and in the morning, I dropped the partitions off at Willy’s. Heynen got me in touch with Freddy Sunder, another experienced arranger for radio and television – and I started doing the same job for Freddy. Usually, when bringing them the partitions, I stuck around for a bit. Willy and Freddy gave me lots of pointers… textbooks about harmony and tonal music, for example. I spent hours and hours with them, picking their brains about any given type of music. Both of them were seasoned musicians who knew their trade. Freddy Sunder was a very nice bloke. He liked his alcohol quite well… and so did I at that time. Sometimes, we spent hours and hours with a bottle of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes on the table, talking about music or life in general."

"I continued working for Freddy and Willy for some three years. Copying their arrangements never really progressed into writing arrangements for the BRT orchestras myself. All the same, though, Sunder and Heynen are among a variety of musicians from different corners of the industry who helped me obtaining the information I needed to become an all-round music professional.”

Of course, Rony’s parents were not overjoyed about their son’s decision to quit his university studies in favour of the vagabond life of a musician. 

Rony (left) with Luc Smets in one of the gigs of the Pebbles Reunion Tour (1981)

“They felt tours and studio sessions were no career... and who could blame them? My dad wasn’t a fan of modern pop music either, so it was hard for me to convince him to come to any of my concerts. One day, however, Evert Verhees needed me and Walter Mets to back up Toots Thielemans with him for a set of five songs in an open-air concert. Now, you have to know that my father played the harmonica; and Toots was his big idol. So I told dad that he really had to attend this show I was playing in, claiming that I was sure he would like it, of course without telling him about Toots. I still remember how his jaw dropped in amazement when Toots walked onto the stage. Afterwards, I guided him into the dressing room where he got to meet Toots, who congratulated him on having such a talented son. From that moment on, my father was completely at peace with my career choice. After all, what could go wrong after Toots Thielemans had assured him I was going to make it?!”

Meanwhile, after an unsuccessful bid to win the Belgian pre-selection for the Eurovision Song Contest (1977), disco group Trinity soldiered on for one more year before Fred Bekky and Bob Baelemans finally decided to disband in 1978. Not long afterwards, Antwerp-based impresario Hans Kusters signed Fred Beeckmans (Bekky) as well as Rony Brack as backing musicians for a tour with Dutch troubadour Boudewijn de Groot. Brack was also responsible for the Fender Rhodes parts on De Groot’s 1980 album ‘Van een afstand’, which was recorded in Hilversum’s Wisseloord Studios.

“It was one of the first times I got to work with top level session players. After the album release, we did a tour across the Netherlands and Belgium, which lasted for about a year. Working with Boudewijn was good fun. He was rather detached, but generally speaking a very laid back type of guy; I have nothing but good to say about him. Being on stage with him was a completely different experience than I had become accustomed to with Trinity, who were performing in discotheques with people standing up, laughing, dancing, talking; with Boudewijn, we played in theatres, with people sitting down and listening, being very quiet – which suited me rather better. One of the other players in Boudewijn’s band was Henny Vrienten, who managed to annoy all the rest of us at every soundcheck by playing the weirdest of reggae bass lines. He was always going on about how he wanted to play reggae music – and none of us took him seriously at the time, but it was not long before Henny’s own band Doe Maar became really popular with songs in that genre!”

When the Boudewijn de Groot concert series ended, Brack embarked on a short Pebbles reunion tour with Fred Bekky, Bob Baelemans and Luc Smets (1981). While this tour was not particularly successful commercially, it was important in another way, as it was the first time Rony Brack played the synthesiser. 

“The tour was sponsored by British Music Store, who had given us one of the first polyphonic synthesisers, an Oberheim OBX. Luc Smets was at a loss at how the bloody thing worked! He preferred sticking to just playing the piano, passing the synthesiser on to me. I tried the manual – but it turned out to be completely useless. Books – not available. As it turned out, Ghent’s University had an electronic music department, so in utter desperation I called them, but their scientists were mainly interested in creating ambient noise, not in music. So what could I do? Well, I just spent hours and hours, trying to do something with it… and after some trial and error, I quite got the hang of it!”

At the piano, mid-1980s

According to Brack, his mastering of the synthesiser was the key moment in his career as a musician. Virtually overnight, he became one of the most sought-after session players in Belgium. 

“Back then, one of the most prolific music producers in Flanders was Roland Verlooven. I had done the odd studio session with him before as a pianist or Fender Rhodes player. After he had seen what I did on the Pebbles tour, he booked me on a studio session to do a synth part. I cannot for the world remember for which artist it was, but Roland was very happy with it – and then this new local synthesiser player became the talk of the town. From that day on, I was immersed in sessions in all the main recording studios in Brussels twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Remember, I was the only person available… with the exception of Dan Lacksman of Telex, who was a great synthesizer programmer and sound engineer, but he needed a pianist to play. Once producers found out I was more than just a programmer and that I could actually play the synths, they hired me to do the programming as well as the playing. For some time, in the early 1980s, I must have played on ninety percent of the music productions in Belgium that involved any kind of electronic stuff. I owe Roland Verlooven a big ‘thank you’ for taking the gamble and giving me the opportunity. He was a wonderful man and a great friend.”

In the course of the 1980s, Rony Brack played synthesiser in studio productions with countless Belgian artists from all corners of the popular music business, including the likes of Urbanus, Will Tura, Henri Seroka, Plastic Bertrand, Jeff Reynaerts and Clouseau. In 1983, Brack discovered Dutch singer-songwriter Hans de Booij, with whom he recorded his successful debut album.

“That Hans de Booij album was virtually a one man band; there is a saxophonist playing on one or two tracks, but everything else – piano, synthesizer, bass, rhythm box, arrangements, production… the whole thing was done by me, as there was no budget to hire others to do it. These were demo recordings, with which we hoped to convince publisher Hans Kusters to give us the chance to do the album in one of the regular studios; without my knowledge, however, Kusters released the demos – and then sales went through the roof. Unfortunately, there were some discussions about rights and money afterwards, but in spite of that, I had proved I could be more than a session musician; if need be, in cases when there was no top-notch producer like Roland Verlooven, Pino Marchese, or Lou Deprijck at hand, I could help out as a producer whilst playing keyboards and synths at the same time. In the second half of the 1980s, I did more and more producing work, though often without being credited accordingly. The job involved hiring the right session musicians, writing little arrangements here and there and leading sessions. It was never my ambition to be a producer, but circumstances sometimes made it inevitable that I was one.”

In 1985, Rony got to work with harmonica genius Toots Thielemans for the second time, as he was commissioned by producers Bruno Castellucci and Evert Verhees to take care of the synthesizer parts of Toots’ album release ‘Your Precious Love’. 

“Evert and Bruno wanted to create a more modern sound for Toots, something in line with what Quincy Jones was doing in the US. I brought in the electronic stuff they were looking for. It was a good album – and working with Toots always was a highlight. He was one of the nicest persons imaginable. It didn’t matter to him if your status in the industry was high or low; he simply respected every musician. Moreover, he was very humble as well. During the recording of ‘Your Precious Love’, Toots explained to us that he needed a couple of days off because he had a gig in London. These were the early days of satellite television, and I remember watching a Billy Joel concert, broadcast live from Wembley Stadium – and out walks Toots, playing along to just one song. When he came back to Brussels, we asked, “Is that what you call a gig?” But Toots just shrugged and said he was quite happy about it. In spite of being one of the world’s greatest musicians, he had no qualms about playing the second fiddle to others.”

Rony producing Toots Thielemans’ overdubs for the 1993 album ‘Reckless Valentine’ by Canadian singer-songwriter Marc Jordan

Towards the end of the 1980s, Rony Brack got involved in a new type of Belgian underground music, ‘new beat’ – nowadays recognised as one of the precursors of techno. He was the producer of house act Big Tony and released several records under the pseudonym B-Art, including a cover version of Adriano Celentano’s ‘Prisencolinensinainciusol’. Rony hit his stride when he composed and recorded the 1988 world-wide hit song ‘Drop the Deal’ under the new artist name Code 61.

“Essentially, ‘Drop the deal’ is a compilation of sound samples with additional vocals done by me. The entire instrumentation was mine as well. Initially, I was quite happy that the new beat thing came along. The genre offered the possibility to come up with something original. By this time, cheaper synthesizers with pre-sets had appeared on the scene. After a while, everyone used these pre-made sounds, the result being that, for some years, many European pop music recordings sounded alike. It took the art away from synthesis. With new beat, I was looking to get away from that. On the downside, the genre was marketed by finding a bunch of good-looking guys to perform the playbacks in video clips and TV appearances; it didn’t take long before I got tired of this fake stuff, all the more so when those involved wanted more and more money, more than I would agree to. It was disappointing, but all things have to come to an end at some point.”

In the following seven years (1989-96), Brack mainly worked for the French-speaking market. He produced Pierre Rapsat’s album ‘J’ouvre les yeux’ (1989) whilst also teaming up with Philippe Lafontaine, Alain Souchon and Maurane. Furthermore, he performed in stage shows across France with singer Gilbert Montagné. Meanwhile, Rony had met his future wife, Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter Toni Kasza. Having come to Europe to attempt a breakthrough, she was picked up by Belgian producers, who were looking to have her compositions recorded by others – but who eventually gave her the opportunity to record a solo album. 

“I met Toni in Brussels. We were good friends for about a year and a half before we became more than friends. Unfortunately, while working on her album, the guys of the production company got in financial trouble – and the album was cancelled. As a favour, I was given the original tapes of the material that had already been recorded. As it happened, with a good friend of mine, saxophonist Pietro Lacirignola, I had just opened a little studio in Brussels, Music Lab. There, we finished her CD, ‘Broken hearts and promises’, which was released on Sony Records.”

By the mid-1990s, Toni and Rony were living together with two sons – and Toni was working extensively as a backing singer in Brussels’ recording studios. Rony sold his part of the Music Lab studio to Pietro Lacirignola to focus on production work, but, as he puts it, “I got more and more tired of the local music business. Belgian productions were done in small studios with minimal budgets. My job was being a producer, but many artists were convinced they could manage their albums without me. I had no dreams anymore – and I wasn’t even forty yet, so I needed to change."

With his girlfriend (and future wife) Toni Kasza (Eurovision 1990 - Zagreb)

"Because I was working with some of the biggest artists in France, I could have gone to Paris, but in the end we chose Los Angeles. I had already visited the States several times and even did some studio work there with producer Greg Penny, who was a great friend. I had come to appreciate American mentality. In Belgium, when making a record, people were always asking me to create a certain sound they had heard on an album from England or America. When that happened, I was always wondering why you would want to do something that already exists. In the US, something new is always appreciated. Besides, Americans are optimistic. They believe in what they do and simply hope it works – and I like that approach. I was looking forward to try my hand at making a living as a musician in the USA.”

Finally, in 1996, Rony Brack and his family took the leap, settling down in LA. Thanks to the royalties of his hit composition ‘Drop the Deal’, Rony had ample time to look for work. In the following four years, he mainly teamed up with two friends in the record business, Greg Penny (connected to KD Lang, Elton John, etc.) and engineer Lee DeCarlo (John Lennon, Aerosmith, The Eagles). Thanks to DeCarlo, Brack was involved in recording the album ‘Stronger than Death’ with heavy metal guitarist Zakk Wylde. Moreover, he was a producer for demo recordings with young artists eager to obtain a record deal. After a couple of years, however, Rony began to think of a new career change. 

“Lee DeCarlo, who had been my big supporter in the record business, was about to retire… and I wasn’t really enamoured with being a babysitter of alcoholic rock ‘n’ roll artists any longer. There was a lot of drugs and alcohol involved – and at some point I found myself driving home an inebriated artist who had started throwing microphones at a colleague during a nightly recording session. It was ridiculous. At that point, I thought to myself, “There have got to be nicer ways to make a living than with these kind of guys”.”

“As it happened, once in a while, I was playing recreational football with a bunch of European guys. Luck had it that one of them, Mike Young, a Welshman, was a cartoon film maker. Once he found out I was a musician, he told me he had just begun working on a children’s animation series for TV, Horrible Histories… and he was looking for someone to compose the music to it. Of course I took the job. Unfortunately, it stopped after the 2002 season, but by that time, I had met some other people along the soccer fields where my kids were playing. They were preparing a series of short documentaries for TNN television about people who became famous overnight; it was called Fame For 15. As all of these stories were so different, they required different types of music. I could insert tango music when the subject was an Argentine plumber, and a drama score when the story turned sad – it was all over the place: bouzoukis, African stuff, you name it. This job suited me down to the ground! I had never really thought of myself as a composer before, but it turned out I really liked writing music to images.”

After Horrible Histories and Fame For 15, both of which occurred in 2000-02, one thing led to another. Rony was signed by Warner Bros Productions to write theme tunes and cues to their productions for several television stations, which he has been doing ever since. His compositions have been used for a wide range of programmes, including daily talk shows, such as the Tyra Banks Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, to infotainment programmes including, amongst many others, Judge Mathis and Crime Watch Daily. He has also contributed cues to long-running gossip shows Extra (on NBC) and TMZ (FOX).

During a soundcheck (2013)

“Warner Bros has what could be called a private music library. Editors can choose what kind of music to put in a particular sequel of a daily show or a documentary. There is a pool of about a dozen of writers available for some 25 shows – and we each write in the style that we are most familiar with. There is a guy who is very good at hip-hop, someone else is a little bit better at blues – and my talent seems to be the dramatic stuff… so if there are casualties to be shown on screen, that is good for me! For a daily show, there are usually six or seven composers involved. There is not much competition between us, because there is plenty of work. Working for Warner has allowed me to broaden my outlook on music. An example? Well, some years ago, I was commissioned to create a trailer with a really bombastic orchestral sound. Of course, in Belgium, I had written simple string arrangements, but writing trailer music is in a completely different league. I immersed myself in textbooks about orchestration – which took me straight to classical music, a genre which hitherto had never really interested me much. Once I had listened to a bit of Tchaikovsky, I really got into his music. It is wonderful how you can draw your inspiration from some guy who wrote his music over one-hundred years ago.”

Away from television music, Brack co-composed the music to several films – but mainly as a ghost-writer for others. In 2017, he wrote the entire score to Pure Bodies, a French-Belgian short film, which received several prizes and was featured in the 2018 Palm Springs International Shortfest. Of late, he has become involved in writing music for Oculus, a Virtual Reality (VR) production company. 

“I am always keen to try my hand at new things; and this was something I had never done before. Nowadays, more and more cinemas include a VR room, which allows playing movies where the scene is all around you – as if you are walking in the Grand Canyon, for example. Now, as a composer, you are supposed to write music that fits all time frames that people need to cross the valley or do anything else in any particular experience. The music has to be built up in different layers; nothing like those repetitive loops which people hated so much in old computer games! The most famous of the VR experiences I did is Space Ride, which was distributed to cinemas across the world. In Space Ride, a pilot flies his plane into outer space… and it is so realistic that some people in the audience actually threw up when the plane was upside down. These VR things make a nice change from my TV work.”

After so many years in the United States, does Rony Brack never miss Belgium? “Well, actually, not really. What I do miss is a Belgium that is no longer there. I look back fondly on the fifteen years in which I had the opportunity to work with great artists, but that time doesn’t exist anymore – most studios are out of business and the people I loved working with have moved on as well. It is fair to say that I have become accustomed to living in America. Yes, I am rooted in L.A.. For a start, the weather here is much better than in Europe! Most importantly, though, after all these years, I am still happy being able to make a living as a composer here.”

In 2022, Rony and his wife moved from Los Angeles to the far other end of the United States to settle down in the peaceful forests of Maine. 

Rony (second from left) at a reception in Los Angeles with bandleader/producer Quincy Jones, Marvin Hamlisch’s widow Terre Blair and pianist Kevin Cole (2018)


As a conductor, Rony Brack made just one appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest, which was with Philippe Lafontaine in 1990, but he was involved in the competition in other guises way before that. In 1977, he was part of disco group Trinity, which came second in the Belgian Eurovision pre-selection with ‘Drop Drop Drop’. Though Rony was present at the live broadcast in Brussels’ American Theatre, his role on the night was limited as he was not on stage with Trinity’s main three group members (Sofie Verbruggen, Bob Baelemans and Fred Bekky) who sang along to a backing track.

Five years later, Brack was credited as one of four songwriters for ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’, Belgium’s entry to the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest in Harrogate. Strikingly, though the song represented the French-speaking broadcasting service RTBF, singer Stella Maessen, who had grown up in the Netherlands, had never performed in French before – and she had to learn to sing the words to her Eurovision song phonetically. The music to ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’ were by Fred Bekky and Bob Baelemans, whilst the lyrics were attributed to Rony Brack and Jo May (Joseph Mayer). In reality, Rony wrote the original English-language lyrics (‘If You Do Like My Music’), which were then translated into French by Jo May to comply with Eurovision rules.

Asked about the 1982 Belgian entry, which landed a more than respectable fourth place at the international festival final in Harrogate, Rony admits, “I don’t remember that much. After Trinity split up, I continued working with Fred Bekky as a session player. Back then, I wrote and co-wrote some English song lyrics from time to time. My English has always been pretty good, so whenever I came across some awful lyrics during a studio session, I corrected them to avoid horrible mistakes being recorded. Whenever I wasn’t entirely sure if a certain line was correct, I called one of my American friends living in Belgium. I was always wondering why people were spending all their time and energy to have their baby record released and paying so little attention to the lyrics. It isn’t more complicated than a phone call."

"As for ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’, I don’t think I did anything more than write those English lyrics; everything else that came after – submitting it for the Belgian finals, translating it into French or recording the studio version – was done by others. I wasn’t in the Belgian delegation for Eurovision Song Contest. Of course, I was happy for Fred Bekky. He is one of the most influential people in my career, a friendly guy and a good musician.”

As one of Belgium’s most sought-after session players in the 1980s, it comes as no surprise that Rony Brack was involved in recording the studio version of several Belgian pre-selection efforts – as well as the odd international entry. Most notably, in 1984, he played synthesizer on the record version of that year’s Belgian Eurovision song ‘Avanti la vie’ by Jacques Zegers.

The songwriting team behind 'Si tu aimes ma musique'; top row, from left - Fred Bekky, Bobott (Bob Baelemans); below them, from left - Rony Brack, Jo May

Towards the end of the 1980s, beside his work as a synthesiser player, Rony Brack did more and more production work for Belgian and French artists; Philippe Lafontaine was one. 

“Lafontaine was a very good singer-songwriter who had to wait many years before finally managing his breakthrough with ‘Cœur de loup’, his hit in 1989. Before that, he didn’t have a budget to his disposal, but he still asked all the good session players to help him; I played on many of his records as well. Sometimes, he paid us a little bit and sometimes he didn’t… but we all liked his music and hoped he would be a star. He wrote ‘Cœur de loup’ in one day. We were already in the process of recording his new album, but he needed one extra song – and he came up with that. We were in a real hurry. Everything had to be done in one afternoon session. When I came into the studio, it turned out all instruments were out of sync – and had to be put right. We just did one take. It was a case of a last minute demo becoming a big hit.”

Philippe Lafontaine’s chart success with ‘Cœur de loup’ must have played a role in RTBF’s decision to ask him to represent Belgium in the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb without having to go through any form of pre-selection process. Having been given carte blanche, Lafontaine chose to sing ‘Macédomienne’ (My Macedonian girl), an ode to his wife who originated from Macedonia, one of the states of Yugoslavia – poignantly enough the country where the international festival final was due to be held. As Lafontaine was adamant not to make profit from the love for his wife, he decided not to release the song; thus, only a minimal number of promo singles was printed.

As the song’s producer, Rony Brack was not overjoyed about Lafontaine’s decision. “Philippe was claiming he didn’t want to make money in his wife’s name. At the time, I told him he was a madman. “I just produced a record for you and you don’t want to sell it?” We would certainly have made some money out of it, even if it had sold only a couple of thousand copies. As far as I could make out, this whole trick of destroying the original record after five-hundred copies had been printed was 90% a commercial trick and 10% the love of his wife. I quite liked ‘Macédomienne’, though admittedly Philippe composed songs that inspired me more. We did the recording at Dan Lacksman’s studio in Brussels. I played virtually every note of it on synthesiser. It’s basically completely programmed, except for the guitar part, which was played by Eric Melaerts. The very low background vocals were all mine as well.”

“I agreed with Lafontaine to produce his song on one condition; I wanted to conduct it in the Eurovision Song Contest. Philippe was completely ok with that. I wrote a string arrangement, done with synths for the studio version, but which were going to be done live in Zagreb. As I was no expert of working with real orchestras, I called upon Gyuri Spies to orchestrate my arrangement. I wanted to avoid going to Zagreb to find out during rehearsals that I had made some silly mistake… writing the cello parts an octave too low or too high, something like that. Gyuri was a professional orchestrator who wrote my lines in the right height with the right intonations." 

"The arrangement did not include any brass. There were just the strings, whilst all rhythm instruments were included on the backing track. As I had done the backing vocals on the record, Philippe and I for a while considered having me sing and conduct at the same time in Zagreb, but in the end we agreed that this was too risky and stressful – and therefore they hired an extra backing singer, Eric Chale. This would allow me to focus on the orchestra. The rest of the backing group consisted of Philippe’s regular studio musicians. Understandably, he relied on the people who had helped him doing his previous records. They could look forward to a week of relaxation as they didn’t have to think of anything more than pretending to play the parts which were on the backing track.”

Rony and Philippe Lafontaine being quizzed by BRT journalist André Vermeulen at the presentation party of ‘Macédomienne’ in Brussels

For Rony Brack, who was not an experienced conductor at all, standing in front of the Eurovision orchestra was quite a prospect. “Yes, I was excited. It was an experience I was very interested in, though I never aspired at being a conductor in the true sense of the word. Conducting classical orchestras is an art form of its own… and something I would make a mess of in the first sixteen bars. But there was no reason to be nervous; I would be working with a click track and there was only the string section to take care of. The main thing would be to count in the orchestra correctly. After that, you could stand on your head and the string players would have finished playing such a simple arrangement without much problem anyway! It was more an honour thing than real conducting. Nevertheless, in the build-up to the contest, I read articles about the basics of conducting and bought a textbook about it. I also asked one or two colleagues from the business with more experience than me for a word of advice – simply to make sure I would not make a mess of the one-two-three-four at the beginning!”

Again, as a proof of how special he felt the occasion of conducting the Eurovision orchestra was, Brack took a most unusual baton with him to Zagreb. 

“It was a kind of magic wand, if you like,” he laughs. “At the time, I was exploring New Age and meditation. It helped to calm me down a bit and have a nicer outlook on life. Though I did not live in the USA yet at that time, I regularly travelled over to Los Angeles with my American wife Toni… and there I discovered this whole New Age scene. People were walking around wearing crystal earrings; and across LA, there were specialised bookstores and shops which sold those cheap New Age crystals. One day, in Santa Monica, we walked by one of these stores – and all of a sudden, in one of the shop windows, I saw this wand which was full of crystals, and I said to my wife, “Look, wow, that is cool!”, and then right after, “Wait a minute, perhaps I can use that to conduct the orchestra in Zagreb”. This was only weeks before the contest was due, and I needed to buy a baton anyway as I didn’t have one. So I just bought it. I thought of it as a novelty; a way to make the experience of doing Eurovision even more memorable.”

Judging from interviews with other competitors in the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb, virtually nobody realised they were travelling to a country which was about to descend into civil war – but Brack was an exception. 

“I remember having a phone conversation with my brother-in-law, who taught political science at Indiana University, shortly before the festival. He said, “It's ok to go there now, but in six months Yugoslavia probably doesn’t exist any longer”. He saw what was coming. Once in Zagreb, I found the city really nice. Our delegation was staying in a small hotel, right in front of a park where I could jog a bit in the morning hours. The people were very friendly and I loved the food. Close to the hotel, there was a small restaurant which served a wide variety of mushroom dishes. When abroad, I always have a tendency to eat the local food instead of hotel meals – and this restaurant was excellent, so I went there a couple of times during the week.”

The ‘baton’ with which Rony Brack conducted the Eurovision orchestra in Zagreb

Armed with his crystal wand, Rony Brack climbed the conductor’s platform to do the rehearsals with the Yugoslavian orchestra. Were there any hiccups? 

“Well, the beginning was a bit of a challenge. The first time I counted them in, the musicians started playing half a second late – in other words, not in sync with the pre-recorded stuff on the backing track which came through my earphones. That’s when I found out that distance matters! The orchestra had been put up on three or four balconies. The musicians sitting on the top balcony didn’t see my hand coming down at the same time as the guys sitting right in front of me. I realised that I had to speed up a bit, and, when we tried a second time, everything was just fine. Otherwise the rehearsals were quite uneventful. After these three or four run-throughs, I knew there was nothing to be nervous about.”

During rehearsals, some of the other participating conductors noticed that hardly any camera attention was given to the orchestra, and none at all to the maestros conducting it. As it turned out during the first dress rehearsal, the local producers had decided to do away with the traditional bow allowed to each country’s conductor in advance of the song, in order to cut time. In the Eurovision Song Contest, this was an unprecedented move.

“We were told they didn’t have enough satellite time at their disposal to finish the whole show. Rather unwisely from their point of view, Yugoslavian television had put all conductors in the same backstage room together for the rehearsals. It was obvious that the majority of them were not going to put up with this. “You go conduct it yourself,” was the attitude towards the organisers. I heartily agreed. Conducting in Eurovision was an honour, so we didn’t deserve being put somewhere in the back. I have never seen a concert somewhere without the conductor being announced in some way or another. It was simply a bad idea! We decided to go on a strike. We wouldn’t do it unless they reversed their decision. I was one of the younger guys. There were others who spoke up on behalf of us, but they must have done so convincingly, because panic broke out in the production team. We were locked up in our separate room to avoid the press finding out about it. It was quite an experience! Actually, it took quite long before they got it solved – and in the end, there was some sort of a compromise. We were to be shown on screen, but the duration of the close-ups would be several seconds shorter than usual.”

Rony’s most vivid memory of this episode of all conductors of the contest being locked in one room is of Alyn Ainsworth, who led the orchestra for that year’s UK entry. 

Alyn was a guy I looked up to. Generally speaking, during the Eurovision week, I hung out a lot with conductors from other countries, exchanging anecdotes and talking about each other’s careers – some of them were guys who had never stood in front of an orchestra, but there was a bunch of seasoned musicians as well… and Alyn Ainsworth was one. I knew him by name and reputation; one of the best and most experienced conductors in the business. While we were all locked up, I found myself seated next to him. There was lots of noise in the room, people shouting and arguing – talking about going on strike. And all the while, Alyn was just sitting there, stone-faced. I introduced myself to him as the conductor for Belgium and we started a little conversation. We were both looking at the chaos around us, and at some point, he turned to me and just said, “Exciting, isn’t it?” That was his very British, very phlegmatic reaction. It was his only comment on the situation. We were all in a mess and he obviously wasn’t keen to get involved. I’ll never forget that one little sentence of his. What a musician he was! Very sad to hear he passed away so soon after the contest (in the fall of 1990 - BT).”

Rony in the striking outfit he chose for his performance as a conductor at the festival in Zagreb. On the right-hand side, wearing a black tuxedo, UK conductor Alyn Ainsworth can be detected

Surprisingly perhaps, Brack does not recall any comments by the orchestra musicians about his unusual baton. It was a part of his outfit which drew their attention.

“For the dress rehearsal and for the broadcast as well, I wore Converse shoes – these very old-fashioned basketball shoes with cloth on the sides. Mine were orange with yellow and blue. I have always been fond of striking colours. For Eurovision, I felt it was only proper to dress up in full tuxedo… but I wasn’t going to wear plain black leather shoes. I never wear black shoes! That’s why I picked my psychedelic basketball shoes instead. In the first dress rehearsal, the musicians on the front row were pointing at my shoes and smiling. These guys were sitting there all day long, and understandably, as soon as something came along which broke the mould, it gave them something to talk about. It was a bit of fun for all of us.”

In the end, Philippe Lafontaine and ‘Macédomienne’ finished twelfth in a field of 22 competing entries. “I expected him to come in higher. In fact, I was convinced he could do really well, but Eurovision voting is unpredictable. Usually, it isn’t the best song that wins, and then there’s the political voting to cope with as well. As for our entry, it proved hard to recreate to perfection the background vocals of the record version."

"Having said that, by the time of the voting virtually everybody was completely drunk. Backstage, participants from different countries were drinking champagne and whiskey at the bar. It was getting really rowdy. I suppose alcohol helped not to be disappointed. Even though I had quit drinking completely by that time, I don’t remember being overly disappointed myself either. It was simply a great experience to have been involved in the Eurovision Song Contest once in my life. It is a unique event. No other contest comes close to it in terms of media exposure. I wasn’t in it because I was proud to represent my country, because I am not a very big patriot, but obviously Eurovision is an interesting cultural phenomenon.”

In 1996, Rony emigrated to the United States, where he still lives today. Has he continued following the Eurovision Song Contest? “No, not really, except for some bits and pieces. Sometimes, I read about it on Belgian teletext and sometimes I saw snippets from the concert appearing on the Internet. There is no orchestra and all music is playback. Nowadays, most of the entries are sort of pop music leaning towards dance. There is no way to do that with a real orchestra, but you could do it live. Get a drummer, a bass player, a couple of guitar players and six or seven keyboard players, and it could work. They do it in American Idol. The guys in that band definitely are a bunch or really great musicians who can play anything. Of course, production-wise it’s easier and a lot cheaper to use backing tracks. Then, you don’t need a mixing board, 3,000 microphones and 10 km of cables. Anyway, all these dance acts are more about dancing than about the singing, so we are talking of an altogether different kind of entertainment than back in the time of the contest in Zagreb.”

Rony with Philippe Lafontaine backstage at the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb


A friend of Rony’s from the Brussels’ recording studios is guitarist and producer Francis Goya. “Rony is an excellent synths player, but a good pianist as well – someone who is well-versed in music. I remember doing a television broadcast for BRT with Luc Smets and the three Maessen sisters, back in the day when they were called Dream Express. Previously, the Maessen girls were part of the JJ Band, a soul group of which I was a member as well. The Belgian music industry was a tightly-knit world back then! If I remember correctly, Rony and I co-produced one or two studio projects together. I can only say good things about him: a very good friend and a very good musician.” (2020)


Country – Belgium
Song title – "Si tu aimes ma musique"
Rendition – Stella Maessen
Lyrics – Rony Brack / Jo May (Joseph Mayer)
Composition – Fred Bekky / Bob Baelemans "Bobott"
Studio arrangement – Fred Bekky / Luc Smets 
Live orchestration – Jack Say 
Conductor – Jack Say
Score – 4th place (96 votes)

Country – Belgium
Song title – "Macédomienne"
Rendition – Philippe Lafontaine
Lyrics – Philippe Lafontaine
Composition – Philippe Lafontaine
Studio arrangement – Rony Brack 
Live orchestration – Gyuri Spies
Conductor – Rony Brack
Score – 12th place (46 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Rony Brack, February 2019
  • Thanks to Francis Goya for his additional comments
  • All photos courtesy of Rony Brack