Saturday 30 April 1994

HARRY VAN HOOF (English version)

The following article is an overview of the career of Dutch pianist, arranger, and conductor Harry van Hoof. The main source of information are two interviews with Mr Van Hoof, conducted by Bas Tukker – the first in Eindhoven, August 2012, and a second conversation in March 2023. This article is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Harry van Hoof's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

Een iets uitgebreidere, Nederlandse versie van dit artikel is beschikbaar via deze link.

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2012 & 2023

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

Born: March 16th, 1943, Hilversum (Netherlands)
Died: June 1st, 2024, Eindhoven (Netherlands)
Nationality: Dutch

With no fewer than fifteen Eurovision participations between 1972 and 1994, Harry van Hoof is the third-most experienced conductor in the history of the contest, only preceded by Noel Kelehan and Ossi Runne (25 and 22 participations respectively). Van Hoof succeeded Dolf van der Linden as the Netherlands' regular Eurovision conductor in the 1970s, leading the orchestra for the 1975 Eurovision winner ‘Ding-A-dong’, performed by Teach-In. After an absence of several years, he returned to the festival in the mid-1980s, remaining the Netherlands' annual choice until 1994.


Although both his parents originated from the southern provinces of the Netherlands, Harry van Hoof was born in Hilversum. During the war years, his father Henri van Hoof (1914-92) worked as a playwright at the German-controlled Netherlands’ radio service.

“My father studied literature,” Harry explains. “As a young man, he won the World Title of Eloquence. Before World War II, there were debating clubs all over the Netherlands, with competitions being organised between the various provinces. At those events, two boys were head and shoulders above all others; my father and Godfried Bomans (later to become one of the country’s most popular authors – BT) – and my dad was chosen to showcase his skills in English in the United States, where those world championships were held in 1931. There were 21 countries competing for the prize; and my father won! He was awarded a huge trophy as well as a scholarship, allowing him to stay in the USA for one more year to study at the George Washington University. Later on, the Vatican also bestowed a papal distinction upon him. All of this happened when he was very young. In America, he had a horse to his disposal as well as a black servant. When he came back to the Netherlands, he had become a little spoilt. After finishing his studies, he became a journalist – and just before the outbreak of war, he signed a contract with AVRO Radio. During the war, he made a wrong choice. He was part of a group of intellectuals in the world of theatre who joined the National-Socialist Party – and he stayed on at the broadcasting service for far too long. Mind you, nobody ever lost his life because of what he did – and afterwards, when he heard about what the Germans had actually done, he loathed their crimes, but it was too little too late.”

“When the country was liberated, he went through a very difficult time. He was convicted, serving a five-year sentence, which meant that I didn’t get to know my father until I was seven years old. When he was released from prison, our family moved away from Hilversum. He found work at an advertising agency in Eindhoven, my mother’s home city. Later on, he switched to a job in Amsterdam, but my parents always stayed in Eindhoven. Many people in Eindhoven were aware that my dad had been a collaborator. My brother Frans, who is only two years older than I am, had a hard time; he was called names in the street. Strikingly, I experienced nothing of the sort, ever, in my young years. An age difference of two years is no mean thing when you’re young, you know! I only have the best of memories of my father. He was a good bloke – really the best father imaginable.”

Harry as a schoolboy (1950)

“When I was in primary school, I had the good fortune of being in the class of Mr Smits, who played opera fragments on a harmonium during music lessons, meanwhile telling us about the storylines. One time, he played ten of those extracts, giving us the assignment to write down the titles – and I remembered all ten titles! That man actually made me realise that I wanted to play music. On the radio, I loved listening to Pierre Palla’s organ play. As a game, I pretended to play an organ myself, putting my fingers on the spines of the books which my parents had collected on a shelf. When they asked me what I was doing, I explained that I was playing the piano. That’s when they noticed that I was really passionate about music. My mother bought me a small accordion, just to see if I had any talent. When it turned out that I made good progress, she sold a set of bedroom furniture in order to assemble the money required for a second-hand, cross-strung piano – a French one which was terribly off-key. Initially, I was sent to piano lessons with a private teacher, but later I continued my studies at Eindhoven’s music school. My dream was to be a concert pianist.”

“In regular school, I wasn’t that ambitious. I was good at languages, but I often dozed off during lessons. I knew early on that I wanted to go to the music academy. Many of my free hours were spent in the street. In those days, there was an unused plot of construction site with a wooden shed in the middle. That shed was the realm of a young man two years older than me, who played the guitar. He was friends with my brother Frans. When I joined Frans in that shed for the first time, I had a short look at that young man. Given that I was only interested in classical music at the time, you’ll understand that I didn’t think much of the music he was playing on his guitar – and I told him so! “Oh really?”, he said, and then he slapped me in the face – just like that. This guy was none other than Peter Koelewijn! I ran off to my mother, crying – and she was beside herself with anger, running down the street immediately to give Peter’s mother a piece of her mind."

"Actually, Peter only lived a couple of streets away, in a bit of a scruffy neighbourhood which was a no-go area for us. The children living there thought the area where we lived was hopelessly posh! Even so, against all odds, Peter and I became the best of friends. His parents ran a fishmonger’s shop. It wasn’t long before Peter and I were standing in a market stall together, cleaning one bucket of herring after the other. For an afternoon’s work, my reward was exactly one guilder! Peter and I were together all the time. Of course, it was music which created the bond between the two of us.”

“Peter’s dream was to start a rock ‘n’ roll band. He adored Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. I hated that type of music, but on the other hand it seemed like an interesting adventure. Peter formed a quintet, with himself playing the guitar and singing lead vocals. I was at the piano. We called ourselves Peter en Zijn Rockets (Peter & His Rockets – BT). At the outset, we only played covers of rock songs from America, but before long, Peter and I were working on our own songs, recording our ideas on an old tape recorder. This was rock ‘n’ roll, but sung in Dutch! This was in 1958, when I was only 15 years old – too young to perform in public. In our early days, when we were booked in bars in Eindhoven, my main fear was being caught by the local Vice Squad. Police officers regularly raided cafés to check if there were any boys and girls together in the toilets. If they had asked me for my identification, they would have sent me home for being too young. Each time a police raid started, I looked for cover under the piano – only to emerge after they had left.”

Harry with Peter Koelewijn (c. 1960)

“In the meantime, I studied on resiliently, because my heart still wasn’t in rock music. To tell you the truth, I thought Elvis Presley was a bit of a poseur. So when my brother joined Peter to play football in the street, I stayed inside to study the piano. In these matters, I’ve always been disciplined. Duty comes first; it’s simply part of my character. In 1959, upon graduating from secondary school, I passed the entrance exam at Brabants Conservatorium, the music academy in Tilburg.”

“All of this didn’t mean that I quit Peter & Zijn Rockets. In 1959, we took part in a local music contest in Eindhoven, finishing in second place behind Anneke Grönloh. From that moment on, we were top of the bill in the wider Eindhoven region. We were even booked across the border in Belgium. Jack Bulterman, an arranger and talent scout, came down to Eindhoven to listen to us. As it turned out, Bulterman hated our performance – and right he was, because our style was loud, awful, and off-key! A wrong note here or there wasn’t what kept us awake at night. When you listen to early releases by The Rolling Stones, you’ll find they were technically very imperfect as well. Back then, creating the right atmosphere was more important than technical perfection.”

“Even though Bulterman didn’t like what he heard, we were given the opportunity to record an EP on the EMI-Bovema label. Their studios were in Heemstede – so the five of us got on a train with our instruments and everything. Taking the train from Eindhoven to Heemstede involves several interchanges, which wasn’t easy given how much equipment we had had to take with us. Incredibly, we had only rehearsed three songs – and our debut EP of course had to include four titles, two on each side!"

"When we boarded, Peter shouted, “I’ve got something new here”. This new song he had written was entitled ‘Kom van dat dak af’. It was little more than a rough sketch. In that compartment, which was mercifully closed off to other passengers, the five of us rehearsed the song, each finding our own part as we went along. Arriving in Heemstede, we were rather intimidated coming into the studio with all those microphones sticking out – we were just a bunch of five guys who hardly knew how to play. We didn’t rate our own repertoire at all. After we had recorded the first three titles, the engineer shouted, “Hurry up boys, you only have 15 minutes left!” We then recorded ‘Kom van dat dak af’ in one take! We didn’t believe in the potential of that song, but then a DJ came along who adopted it in his radio show. In no time at all, we had a huge hit. Everyone in the country (and even beyond, with covers being recorded by Egon Kjerrman in Swedish and by Oliver Twist in German – BT) sang that one line. We didn’t know what happened to us!” 

Peter & Zijn Rockets with another popular group, The Blue Diamonds, on the road to a gig in Brussels; Harry can be seen stretching out his arms on top of the old Austin, which took the group across the Netherlands and Belgium in those years (1960)

“As a result of this success, we were booked across the country. You may think our record company would have invested to give us a support team, but there was nothing of the sort. No manager, no make-up… just an old Austin with a roof rack on it, on which we stacked all our equipment. All five of us travelled in that same car, but only Peter himself and our drummer had a driving licence. We made things up as we went along. Peter often asked me to tune his guitar, because he didn’t have a clue how to do so himself. We used an old radio as an amplifier. It was all very crude and basic, but we were enjoying ourselves – what would you think, five adolescent guys in a car away on a trip to some faraway outpost tucked away in the province, staying in hotels together; we had a ball… and don’t forget that the stages we were playing on were surrounded by beautiful young girls night after night. We could pick them out as we pleased. Could you think of a better way to have a good time as a 17-year-old? Of course, I enjoyed performing as well, specifically when we were playing the more subtle songs in our repertoire. Once it was back to rock ‘n’ roll, I just played along with the others and pretended to absolutely love it. No, I certainly wasn’t in it for the money, because everything we earned went straight to our parents when we came home.”

“On Monday morning, it was back to the music academy, where I showed up with cracked cuticles due to the rock ‘n’ roll piano style I had copied from Jerry Lee Lewis. My teachers would look at my hands disdainfully, commenting, “Well, you gave it your all again this weekend, didn’t you?” But when they found out I played all of my parts entirely by heart, they fell silent in disbelief. They simply couldn’t understand it. My fellow students were the same… all of them were excellent sight-readers, but improvising a blues change or any chord progression was something they weren’t able to do. This was a major disappointment to me. Improvisation is what music is all about – I mean, Mozart was a great improviser! Creativity is at the bottom of all good music.”

“The only teacher who never chided me for working in light-entertainment music was Jan van Dijk, a bearded man who taught us composition and orchestration. He wrote dodecaphonic music himself, really complicated stuff which I thought was completely inaccessible, but his lessons were fine. He often taught me privately as well, giving me an assignment to write an orchestration to Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures of an Exhibition’ – so turning a piano score into a full-range orchestral piece. I’ve always had lots of fantasy in music, and I knew what to do with the strings right away – adding an extra octave for flute and French horn. Van Dijk was impressed by what I came up with. He noticed I had a talent. “That’s the direction you should take, my lad!”, he commented. That was a key moment for me. When reflecting on my years at the academy, Van Dijk really was the only teacher who was helpful in my development as a musician.”

“In 1962, I had to interrupt my studies to perform my military service. I was posted at a British army base in Mönchengladbach, working as an interpreter. My boss was Major Thomas, a wonderful character who called me ‘The Dutch Elvis Presley’. Time and again, he allowed me to go on leave during weekdays whenever Peter & Zijn Rockets had a gig somewhere in the Netherlands. Peter came down to the gate to collect me – and duly brought me back to the camp afterwards, where I was greeted with a smile by Major Thomas who was happy to have his ‘Dutch Elvis Presley’ back at the office.”

With Peter Koelewijn, closely studying the sheet music of the latest rock hit from Italy, Adriano Celentano's '24 mila baci' (1961)

“All along, I knew we couldn’t go on playing rock ‘n’ roll forever. Little by little, Peter and I became a bit exasperated with the other guys. While the two of us were keen to improve our level of play, the others lacked the motivation to rehearse, which held the sound of our band back. This urge to always look for the best sound possible was something that was with me even in those very early days. Simply looking for nice riffs and fill-ins to create a sound which was just a tad more refined and interesting. I was the only group member to read music, but Peter was a creative soul as well, always bursting with new ideas. Unfortunately the three others weren’t made of the same stuff as we were.”

“During my military service, I met a girl singer who was four years younger than me. Before long, we started dating. Her name was Trea van der Schoot, but her stage name was Trea Dobbs. By the standards of those days, she had a great voice with a remarkable range. After winning a talent show in 1963, she became much in demand for gigs across the country – and I played the piano for her, accompanying her in theatres, but mainly at smaller corporate events. We were mostly booked as part of a cast of several artists. One of the other artists we regularly met was Willeke Alberti. One night, she asked me to replace her regular pianist, which was a good learning experience. Meanwhile, I had taken the decision to leave the music academy. To my mind, I had picked up enough theoretical background to progress in popular music. By that time, I knew my childhood dream of becoming a classical pianist would remain unfulfilled. Around that same time, I also quit Peter & Zijn Rockets. It was time to take the next step.”

“In those years, one thing led to the other – and it was a gradual thing, in which the decisions I took were mostly subconscious. From Peter & Zijn Rockets to piano accompanist; and the logical next step was the recording studio. Some aspiring girl duo from Breda were signed for a single release at Phonogram; and I was asked to write them a small arrangement. I don’t even remember the song – some little ditty sung in Dutch. I added some trumpets in the background, nothing special really. It was just one of many freelance commissions. When it was released, Gerrit den Braber, one of Phonogram’s artistic directors, heard it, wondering who had done that brass arrangement. For some reason, Gerrit felt this 21-year-old brat had some talent in him. Thanks to his intervention, Phonogram offered me a contract as a regular arranger for their artists.”

“Making my mark in this new field was a little easier than you might imagine. The thing was… all regular studio arrangers at the time were old men, far older than me. Guys like Bert Paige, Jack Bulterman, Ger van Leeuwen, and Ger Daalhuisen. Most of them didn’t really have an inkling of what contemporary music sounded like – how to write a guitar arrangement, for example. If they wrote for guitar, the chords they chose were in the style of the 1930s big bands. This gave their song arrangements a rather old-fashioned sound. With Peter & Zijn Rockets, I had been given an insight in what the sound of a pop guitar should be. For my studio recordings, I made a point of working with younger guitarists able to convey this fresh approach. I knew two guys in The Hague, Hans and his brother Jan Vermeulen, who were really good. The only problem was they didn’t read music, so I had to rehearse the guitar parts with them before going into the studio. That was hard work, and it involved a lot of travelling from Eindhoven to The Hague, but my efforts paid off, because the sound they gave me was wonderful.”

Harry with his fiancée Trea Dobbs in 1964

“Later on, when Hans and Jan Vermeulen started enjoying success with their band Sandy Coast, they were no longer available as session musicians. I had to look for a different solution – and I found two young brothers from Hilversum, Jan and Hans Hollestelle, who had hardly ever performed on stage, but both were excellent musicians – and as it turned out, they even read music sheets! I told them that I would give them a job as session musicians. They looked at me in disbelief – but I did, giving them a call the next time I needed guitarists for my session. Those guys went on to have wonderful careers in their own right; Jan in the Metropole Orchestra, and Hans was one of our best session players and arrangers for many years.”

As an arranger, Harry van Hoof knew how to create a contemporary studio sound. From the mid-1960s onwards, he helped to create many hit records, making songs like ‘Sophietje’ for Johnny Lion and ‘Ben ik te min’ for Armand irresistible to a new generation of record buyers.

“And you know what?”, Van Hoof laughs. “At the time, I wasn’t really taking notice if a song I had worked on did well in the charts. My job was the musical equivalent of assembly line work. You had to work on one title after the other; there was hardly time to pause and reflect. Some years later, there was a song I had hardly given any thought, ‘I’ll Never Drink Again’ by Alexander Curly – and next thing I knew somebody told me it was topping the charts. It may sound a little blasé, but at some point you stop being surprised when things like that happen.”

“Gradually I was given opportunities to write for larger orchestral set-ups which included strings. As a 24-year-old, I stood up in front of a group of very experienced string players from the Metropole Orchestra. They were old hands in the studio business and were asked for all sessions which required strings, so they didn’t have to try and please this new kid on the block – and they tested me a little. On the advice of Jan van Dijk, my old teacher, I took some conducting lessons in Maastricht with André Rieu Snr., who was chief conductor of the Limburg Symphony Orchestra. Furthermore, when visiting classical concerts, I paid close attention to the technique used by the conductors. A non-classical conductor with an interesting technique was Dolf van der Linden, who was chief of the Metropole Orchestra. With his own particular way of counting beat, he always managed to get the best out of his orchestra. Together, they were a well-oiled machine.”

Conducting a session in Hilversum's Phonogram Studios (c. 1965)

“Someone else who was really important in my formative years was Bert Paige. More than other arrangers of his generation, Albert moved with the times. He was open to all types of music. When I didn’t know what to do with an arrangement, his door was always open for advice. Both of us worked at Phonogram and we were in touch regularly. He lived in a small terrace house in Hilversum with his wife and his mother-in-law. He did his arranging work in a tiny room upstairs. “Albert, how would you solve this problem?”, I would ask him. “Well, son,” he replied – and then he sat back to patiently answer all of my questions. Bert was a great arranger, perhaps the best we’ve ever had in this country. If he had been born in America, his name would still be on everybody’s lips. That man wrote so fast… he did three scores for the Metropole Orchestra in one day! In his little room, there was a buffet piano, but most of his work he did by heart, using only his imagination. By character, he was a little too amiable to be successful as a conductor, but his arrangements were second to none. The charts he wrote for Boudewijn de Groot’s early albums still sound fresh and modern today. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that I learnt more from Bert Paige than in three years at the music academy. I really owe that man a lot.”

“Beside the work in the record studio, there were many radio orchestras in Hilversum. Trea often performed with the VARA Dance Orchestra, led by Charlie Nederpelt. We were regularly invited over to Charlie’s place – and at some point, he asked me, “Couldn’t you write some pieces for my orchestra?” Now, that was at the very beginning of my arranging career; and I had never tried my hand at writing big band music. In fact, I knew next to nothing about the range of brass instruments. When those guys played my arrangement in rehearsals, they nearly fell off their chairs! I had written trumpet parts which were far too high. Charlie said, “Well, if I were you, I would write those parts a little lower next time around.” That was something which only happened to me once – a learning experience. Step by step, I learnt about the range of all music instruments.”

“Not long after, I wrote my first chart for the Metropole Orchestra – I don’t remember exactly what type of arrangement it was… possibly something for a Eurovision pre-selection. In those days, Dolf van der Linden still conducted that programme himself. I was extremely nervous. Before the rehearsal got underway, I came in to bring my score to Dolf, but then I escaped into the studio’s restrooms. I couldn’t bear attending the rehearsal myself. When I emerged from the toilets, Dolf stepped up to me and said, “Young lad, you did a really good job!” Dolf had a reputation of not being flush with compliments, so that felt like a moment of triumph for me personally. After that, I wrote arrangements for the orchestra regularly, but I never became closely acquainted with Dolf van der Linden. He was a rather distant man. I used to meet many of his musicians in a café in Hilversum, having a beer and a chat together, but Dolf was never seen there. He simply wasn’t the person to sit down leisurely in a pub.”

In the late 1960s, more or less giving up his piano accompanist gigs as the arranging work became his primary source of income, Harry van Hoof mainly teamed up with younger producers, like Hans van Hemert and his old friend Peter Koelewijn. For Koelewijn, who had disbanded his rock group to focus on songwriting for others, Van Hoof arranged some big hits, notably ‘I Won’t Stand Between Them’, which was recorded by Bonnie St. Claire. With Van Hemert, Van Hoof worked on studio productions with Brass United, Sandra & Andres, Mouth & MacNeal, and many others. 

In his office in Meerkerk (1972)

“When I started working at Phonogram, Hans van Hemert was already there. In those early days with the company, I did more than just arranging; part of my working week was spent at a desk in the sales department in Amsterdam. That was a good way of getting to know the business. You had to make sure record stores were provided with enough copies of the latest single releases. At the desk in front of me was Hans van Hemert. He was a couple of years younger than me, but he was calling the tune all the time. I thought he was a prick, and an arrogant one at that! It wasn’t long, though, before I discovered that it was just a way of veiling his insecurities. When Hans started doing producing work, it turned out the two of us formed an excellent team.”

“Just like Peter Koelewijn, Hans didn’t read music, but he was always bursting with new songwriting ideas. His way of explaining those ideas was very weird. Sitting in front of me, he would say, “Now listen”, and then he made some outlandish sound. He wanted me to find out what instrument it was. Hans didn’t have a clue. Most of the time, I got around to discovering what type of sound he was looking for pretty fast – and that’s why he loved working with me. Usually working from a demo tape done by Hans, I turned his blueprints into full-fledged compositions with an intro, an outro, harmonies, modulation… you name it. For most of those songs, I signed my name as co-composer, which I thought was only fair, given that I had to add so many elements. The final result bore as much my stamp as his.”

“Our biggest hit was ‘How Do You Do’, which we wrote for Mouth & MacNeal. That record was a worldwide success. Hans and I were always looking to blow up the contrast between Willem’s and Sjoukje’s voices – hers was frail, his was very coarse. For ‘How Do You Do’, I came up with the idea of adding a brass band behind Willem’s singing parts, while writing a classically oriented string arrangement for the lines sung by Sjoukje. Don’t forget how great a job my old friend Hans Hollestelle did on the guitar! Our stroke of luck came along when a TV director, Bob Rooyens, heard the song and had a great idea to visualise the music. He devised a psychedelic video clip which gave the song an extra dimension. It even caught on in the United States. The single sold incredibly well in America.”

“Hans and I did more than just that type of very commercial music. We also teamed up for an album with Brass United, a group of guys from Groningen’s Conservatoire Orchestra. It involved rewriting pieces of classical music with contemporary, pop-oriented arrangements, with all due respect for the original. The LP was called ‘Classics In Brass’ – and I absolutely adored it. In 1971, it won an Edison Award (the Netherlands’ equivalent of a Grammy – BT). I’m still really proud of that album. In those Phonogram years, there were no boundaries. Large orchestras, eight French horns – I always got anything I asked for. It was a fantastic opportunity to turn the theoretical knowledge I had acquired into practice.”

The Golden Harp prize being awarded to Mouth & MacNeal, their producer Hans van Hemert (far left) and Harry van Hoof (1972)

“Given what types of guys we were, it was inevitable that Hans and I would clash at some point. We were together in the studio on a daily basis. In 1973, we were invited over to London to receive an ASCAP Award, an important American music prize which was bestowed upon us because of the success of ‘How Do You Do’. Travelling to England together, we were picked up from the airport by a cab which took us to downtown London, where we were entertained by ASCAP for five full days. It was a wonderful experience; winning those medals, we both felt on top of the world! Back at Schiphol Airport, we both went home – that is, Hans told me he was on his way home. But when I sat down on the sofa later that night, switching on my TV set, Hans was in a talk show. “I was invited to London, where I received this award.” Not a word about me – now didn’t we win that accolade together? Beside myself with anger, I called him. “Hans, where’s your agenda?”, I told him bluntly. “Cross out all our appointments. I’m no longer in. Find yourself somebody else.” In a way, ‘How Do You Do’ was the highlight as well as the swansong of the working partnership between him and me.”

“A couple of days later, I was in a jazz club in Eindhoven, sitting at the bar with a beer. There, I met my old friend Piet Souer. Piet was a couple of years younger than I, but I knew him well – Eindhoven’s music scene was rather small, you know! Some years previously, Piet had won fame by accompanying Lenny Kuhr on the guitar during her winning Eurovision performance. When I asked him how things were going, he told me he had just been refused by the music academy. His career planning was in shatters. I knew Piet was talented, so I told him, “Now, here’s Hans van Hemert’s telephone number. You can take over a lot of my arranging work. Just try it, perhaps this is something you’d like to do for a living.” That’s how Piet’s arranging career in Hilversum got underway. He and Hans were a team for many years, producing records with Mouth & MacNeal, Conquistador, and Luv’.”

“Actually, the estrangement between Hans van Hemert and me didn't last that long. We made up pretty quickly. When we meet now, Hans and I just laugh about what happened. This was a case of two very young and very vain guys – yes, Hans was vain, but so was I. If I hadn't been, I wouldn't have made an issue of it. But when you win an ASCAP Award, you want people out there to know about it, right? I do anyway! Be that as it may, when I now look back on my collaboration with Hans, I mainly remember how much fun we had together. The two of us formed a fantastic team.”

“One of the reasons why I threw those Hans van Hemert commissions overboard without thinking too long about it was that I had found another line of work. I was beginning to do very well as a TV conductor at the time. I had plenty of TV gigs. Around 1970, I did a lot of work behind the scenes at NCRV (one of the public broadcasters in the Netherlands – BT) – writing arrangements and stuff. A producer with whom I was used to working at the time was Toon Gispen. One day, he told me they were going to do a series of concerts with gospel music in the Jaarbeurs Convention Centre in Utrecht, aimed at a young audience. It was called Palaver. Toon said, “That's perfectly up your alley. Just put together an orchestra and go do it!” That was the first big television project, for which I was in charge of the orchestra, writing the arrangements and conducting the whole thing. Of course, I still had a lot to learn… but I like to think that I’ve always been a quick learner! After Palaver, Toon and I also joined forces on a talent show hosted by Louis Neefs, ‘Haal het doek maar op’. For that programme, I conducted the orchestra as well.”

Rehearsing a TV show, 'TROS Bingo', recorded at the Turfschip Event Hall in Breda (1973)

“Other television commissions came along fairly quickly. The Eurovision Song Contest was just one of them. In those years I worked for all public broadcasters. TV producers chose the conductor they preferred to work with. I was well-positioned in the market, but there were other young guys like Tony Nolte and Rogier van Otterloo as well. Producers knew the three of us would put together orchestras with somewhat younger musicians than the old guard of the Metropole Orchestra. I used to work with a freelance group of strings from Belgium, while the horns and rhythm section were Dutch. When Rogier formed an orchestra, he often worked with the same guys. The pond we were fishing in wasn't that big actually. With Rogier, I already got on pretty well at the time. At one point he said to me, "You’re getting more TV work than me. That’s not fair; after all, I'm older than you!" It was true; Rogier was one year my senior. It was no more than a joke, because there was more than enough work for both of us. We had little reason to complain.”

“As a TV conductor, you have to have the guts to stand your ground when a director makes your musicians wait endlessly, while work on the set is still ongoing. In such a situation, I once approached a director and told him, “Look, either we're going to play now or we're off. So tell me what your plans are.” So you need to have a little flair. I was young then, but pretty confident. You also have to be strict with musicians from time to time. Occasionally, taking unpopular measures is unavoidable. An orchestra is like a football team. If there is one player who makes a hash of it, others will follow suit. Once, during a live broadcast, there was one guy in the orchestra who had apparently had a break which was too long. He was drunk – completely incompetent. Coincidentally, the start of the show was him playing a solo part. I looked at him and waited, but he wasn’t able to produce one single note. Then, you have to be able to improvise on the spot. I quickly pointed at someone else to take care of that part. Of course, I immediately kicked that guy out. It was the end of his career. That's harsh, but if I hadn't done that, the reputation of the orchestra as a whole would have suffered."

“In 1974, the opportunity came along to work on the Grand Gala du Disque as well as the UNICEF Gala with my freelance orchestra. That was really something, two high-profile TV shows! For that UNICEF programme, Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn were booked, among others. The Grand Gala included stars like Tom Jones, Charles Aznavour and Stéphane Grappelli… and everything was done completely live! Of course, lots of arrangements have to be written for such galas; and the preparation time was quite short. As far as I could, I wrote them myself, but I also had to give bits and pieces away to colleagues. First of all, of course, I thought of my mentor Bert Paige. Nobody was more reliable than him. Getting that whole pack of arrangements on your desk on time is only part one of the job. The next step for me was to rummage through them until I had a perfect grasp. That was quite something, because that Grand Gala started at 10pm and ran until 2am! That programme was a real highlight for me.”

In the second half of the 1970s, Harry van Hoof continued being involved as an arranger in many chart successes in the Netherlands, but he was also given the opportunity to work on a number of instrumental albums. For the first of these, 'Strings By Candlelight' (1976), he teamed up with his old friend Piet Souer.

Signing an exclusivity contract for record company Phonogram under the watchful eye of managing director Willem Barends (1975)

“That was a very nice album, with Piet playing the guitar and me backing him up with a large orchestra. It probably was the first time I did a recording project in London’s CTS Studios. If I’m not mistaken, Dick Bakker once told me about that studio. He was really excited about it, “If you have the chance, you should give it a try”… which I did for those sessions for ‘Strings by Candlelight’. The studio was right next to Wembley Stadium. When I arrived, there was a wonderful group of musicians waiting for me, including members of the London Symphony Orchestra. I noticed soon enough that those guys didn’t need one single bit of instruction. I had twelve arrangements with me. The usual first step is rehearsing them one by one, but when I saw what great people were sitting in front of me, I said, "Let's take it and not rehearse it!" Well, they were on the edge of their seat, as you can imagine. As I expected, they did a great job – and indeed everything was done in one take. From that moment on, I was a regular customer at CTS. In the next 15 or so years, I did album projects with soloists as well as recording music tapes for TV shows.”

“After that album with Piet had sold well, Phonogram asked me with whom I would like to make a new record in that same vein, with romantic strings. I didn't have to think long about that. Oscar Peterson! Yes, I was aiming a bit high, but why not? Then, the record company tried to get in touch with Peterson's management, but it didn't work out. So I had to come up with another idea. Then I remembered a TV programme which I had done a few months earlier with a pan flute player from Romania. That wonderful pan flute sound had haunted me ever since. The man was called Gheorghe Zamfir."

"We found out that he was under contract with Phonogram’s branch in France. So I got myself into the car and drove to Paris. I met Zamfir for a dinner, but he only had eyes for a German girlfriend he had with him. The man more or less ignored me. Not a promising start! The next morning, we had a second meeting at Phonogram’s office. I said, "Let's just sit down and make some music together." He took his pan flute, I sat down at the piano, and we started improvising… and you know what? On a music level, we clicked from the start. This was how our association began – and it culminated in three albums which have enjoyed worldwide success. Especially the first one, 'Music By Candlelight', was a real million seller.”

“If you ask me about the reasons why ‘Music By Candlelight’ was such a success, I would say it’s a combination of the enchanting sound of that pan flute with the London Symphony Orchestra. Of course, we recorded this album at CTS Studios as well. The acoustics are so great there. In addition, credits have to be given to Phonogram and its sister companies abroad. With some good marketing, they managed to sell the album even in the farthest outposts of the planet. Just imagine; a few years later, I was on holiday in South Africa with my girlfriend Els. I had met Els after my marriage with Trea had broken down. We were in a very remote place in the dunes, sitting in a restaurant. One of the songs on that first album with Zamfir was a composition written by me called 'Elsha' – named after Els, of course. And in that restaurant, we suddenly heard that song! It was a beautiful moment. When the waiter came to our table, I pretended not to know the music, asking him, “What music are you playing?” He told us they played that record every night. At my request, he got me the album sleeve from behind the bar. I pointed to my picture on the front and asked, "Do you know who this man is?" He looked at me and – well, I thought that boy was going to pass out on the spot!”

“All those instrumental records were projects for which I teamed up with producer Will Hoebee. After Zamfir, we also made a nice album with Pieter van Vollenhoven at the piano and the Anita Kerr Singers ('Together' from 1979 – BT). That was a clever idea Will came up with. With a member of the royal family like Pieter van Vollenhoven on board, we were assured to get the publicity we needed to raise the sales. This was yet another gold record; one of many in those years.”

“Thinking back to what my working days were like in the 1960s and 1970s, I sometimes wonder how I managed. Every day, I got up early in the morning to go to the studio. There was quite a lot of drinking and pot-smoking going on among musicians of my generation. I never did that – apart from one time in my very early days, but I got so sick that I never touched it again. I liked having a little drink every now and then. Monday was our regular night out. That was when many people from the recording business got together in a pub in Hilversum. That was great fun; and it was an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas with your colleagues.”
“Of course, not all music I worked on appealed to me personally, but because there was so much work available, I could pick the projects I liked. For example; I hated writing jingles. Once, some guy from an advertising agency said, “I want you to write a piece of music in which you can almost literally taste the spaghetti.” I can assure you, clients came up with the most disgusting proposals. Things like that could get me really angry. I just turned down working on bullshit like that. As you’ll understand, I did very little work in the advertising business. On the other hand, there were plenty of smaller projects in between that were somewhat less commercial than your run-of-the-mill pop record. That album with Brass United was a good example. A classical cross-over project, but tastefully done. Such projects were the icing on the cake, the things that got me really excited.”

In 1980, when Dolf van der Linden retired, his successor as chief conductor of the Metropole Orkest was Rogier van Otterloo. Although Harry van Hoof had regularly worked with the orchestra as a guest conductor in the years prior to Van der Linden's departure, he explained that he was never interested in taking over that job.

With producer Will Hoebee (left) and Pieter van Vollenhoven (1979)

“On several occasions, there were suggestions from broadcasting officials about joining the public broadcaster as a regular employee, but I never wanted that type of job. Once you were a regular, you were no longer allowed to take on commercial gigs – and as you know, I earned a good living working as a record arranger. Working at the broadcasting company would have sounded the death-knell of my freelance career. In any case, I didn't conduct the Metropole Orchestra very often in Dolf's years. I worked with them for the National Song Contest and there may have been a few other programmes, but otherwise I mainly conducted my own freelance orchestra.”

“When Rogier took over, the situation changed. It wasn’t long before he asked me to replace him in a Sunday radio programme which he didn’t like – initially, just for one show, but at one point he called me and said, “You can have the gig every Sunday from now on!” Subsequently, I was asked to become permanent guest conductor with the orchestra. A schedule was made up, in which I was included for a fixed number of weeks every year.”

“In my very early days with the Metropole Orchestra, I got to work with the old guard, the guys who had founded the orchestra with Dolf – those two master violinists; Benny Behr, Sem Nijveen… they were fantastic people. Of course I had known them for years, working with them on an almost daily basis in the recording studio. In part, I owe my development as a conductor to those guys. One day, I sat with Benny backstage, having a cup of coffee. Now you should know that I am actually left-handed; and in those early years I also used to indicate the beat left-handedly. Benny told me in that unmistakably Jewish accent of his, "Harry, worldwide, there may be one or two conductors who also hold the baton in their left hand, but I’m telling you – you’d better use your right hand from now on. It makes life easier for yourself as well as for us!” These fellows knew their trade, but they hadn’t become blasé at all. There may have been one or two sourpusses in the orchestra, but generally speaking I had a good time with them. Some of the old guard were excellent soloists. Jan Oosthof, the first trumpet player; Piet Noordijk, who was a genius on the saxophone – and let’s not forget to mention Dick Schallies, the pianist. A wonderful musician!”

Although, in the studio business, the times had changed by the start of the 1980s, with electronic instruments taking the place of large studio orchestras, Harry van Hoof continued being in demand as an arranger and conductor in that field. In those years, he worked on cross-over projects with pianist Laurens van Rooijen and future world-star violinist and conductor Jaap van Zweden, while also enjoying commercial success with popular singers like Benny Neyman and André van Duin.

During an orchestral rehearsal, early 1980s

“In those years, I also regularly did concert series with all kinds of artists. At some point, I received an offer to do a tour with André Hazes (legendary and immensely popular Schlager singer in the Netherlands – BT) and a freelance orchestra. I agreed, on the condition that André would also sing the blues in those shows. "I'll do that for you," he promised, the result being that we ended up doing fantastic blues jams on stage every night – and the orchestra went berserk on those 16-bar runs. I let them go on and on! Audiences went wild. That blues bit made the whole concert series worth the while for me. It was only then that I really noticed how good a singer André actually was, in spite of his monumental stage fright. One night, in Rotterdam, he was shivering all over his body before going on stage. He was really suffering, sweating all over. I was already on stage with the orchestra, waiting for him to come on; but then, he grabbed that mic and stepped into the light – and all those nerves were gone. It was endearing to witness how Hazes' songs were appreciated by audiences. People adored him. There is no reason to look down with contempt on that type of music.”

“Even when studio work dried up towards the end of the 1980s, I was never short of work. Around that time, more and more theatre assignments came my way. My old friend, producer Joop van den Ende, staged several musical comedies, which I loved working on. It started in an odd way. One day, I was having a chat with him at some reception. Casually, I said, “Don’t you think it would be nice to do a musical production together – just as a one-off?” Guess what, next day he called me from New York. As it turned out, he obtained the performing rights for My Fair Lady. That show had already been staged in the Netherlands 30 years before, with Dolf van der Linden being the musical director. Now I was commissioned to modernise those arrangements. I really enjoyed doing that.”

“After My Fair Lady, I worked on several more musicals with Joop – Anatevka, West Side Story, and a few more. The approach was always the same. Until the day of the premiere, I worked with the orchestra every day, rehearsing the entire show. Once the performances got underway, I handed over the conducting job to my assistant, but a few times a month I would come back to conduct a performance. Musicians didn’t know in advance when I would show up. That was just to avoid them slacking a bit – slowing down the tempo in the harder parts of the show. Going into the orchestra pit, I gave them a hard time. Afterwards, you would hear them saying, "Goodness, this was too much!" “Yes, guys”, I told them, “but it was one hell of a show!”

“Meanwhile, there was a major problem at the Metropole Orchestra in Hilversum, because Rogier van Otterloo had fallen seriously ill; and at some point (in January 1988 – BT), he died. That was a terrible time. About a year before, to my astonishment, he had shown up at the wedding party I had thrown when I married Els. Rogier was already looking very emaciated – at death’s door, so to speak. I really appreciated this token of his friendship. When he died, it came as a blow to me personally. I had always been good friends with Rogier. I regularly visited him in that large shed in the back garden of his house in Tienhoven. That shed was his studio. We spent long hours together, playing the piano or just talking about music – and having a glass of gin. Just two musicians hanging out together and having a good time. Others may feel that Rogier was arrogant, but they may have said the same about me. He was a true friend and a consummate professional.”

Mentoring young conductor Hardy Mertens during a rehearsal with the Philips Harmony Band in Eindhoven (1992)

“When the question arose who would succeed him, the management already knew that I wasn’t interested. Finding a good solution took a very long time. In that interim period I worked with the orchestra a lot, along with Jerry van Rooyen. The more pop-oriented programmes like Eurovision were usually done by me. One of the public broadcasters regularly asked us to work on gospel shows with a sugary repertoire – songs from The Sound Of Music, things like that. I noticed that many musicians in the orchestra were very disdainful of that type of repertoire. There was no complete dedication. I got pretty angry about that. “Now listen”, I said, “I know for a fact that some producers no longer want to work with you lot. You seem to forget that you are here to serve the customer! You are running the risk of making yourselves redundant.” That was the lesson a freelancer could teach them. The mentality of the musicians was not always what it should have been in that period.”

“In the end, Dick Bakker accepted the offer to take over the position of artistic director and chief conductor (in 1991-92 – BT). I had known Dick for years, from his early days as a sound engineer in Blaricum’s Soundpush Studio the 1960s. He was at the mixing table, while I was conducting the orchestra. From then on, we had always had a good working relationship. I was very surprised when he accepted the job at the Metropole Orchestra, because he had never actually performed with them. Once when we spoke about it, I asked him why. They must have asked him at some point to conduct a programme here or there. “No,” he said, “That has never been an ambition of mine.” Like me, Dick had a great business as a freelancer, but somehow he must have changed his mind.”

“Some time in 1990, I was approached by Philips. The company was about to celebrate its centenary and they were wondering if I could help put together a show to mark the occasion. That gave me an idea. I was involved in this type of corporate event regularly, but my role had always been limited to the music. There was also a director, a set designer, and others – and I just thought, “I'm going to take charge now! I'll organise that show myself.” Working with my wife Els, I put together an open-air concert with a symphony orchestra and Nana Mouskouri as the main guest. That was the start of the production company which we started, Van Hoof & Van Hoof Produkties.”

“In hindsight, the Philips commission came along at a good time. In the late 1980s, studio work dried up. There was still quite a lot to do with the Metropole Orchestra, but after Dick Bakker took over, that line of work decreased as well. By the mid-1990s, I hardly ever came to Hilversum. In addition to those musicals with Joop van den Ende, I did write the music for a TV film, Ivanhood, and I was the conductor of a freelance orchestra at a symphony concert with BZN, but all of this had actually become side-line jobs. Business with Van Hoof Produkties went extremely well. In and around Eindhoven, we soon enjoyed a good reputation as event organisers, but commissions also came in from other parts of the country. The way we worked always remained the same; Els was in charge of the organisational part, while I took care of the artistic side.”

Conducting an operetta concert with singers Henk Poort and Marjon Lambriks (1993)

“Apart from my own company, I was the chairman of an open-air concert venue in Eindhoven for many years. Every summer, a programme had to be put together – and we lured the biggest stars to Eindhoven, the likes of Marco Borsato and André Rieu. That was a lot of fun to do. I was also on the supervisory board of Eindhoven’s main theatre, Muziekcentrum Frits Philips. I held out for seven years, but this commission involved attending an awful lot of meetings. Most of the time, the conversation was about money and money alone. Not my cup of tea! I was happy to hand that baton on to someone else.”

“In 2012, Els and I handed over our event agency to two young guys who had already been working for us for some time. It wasn’t easy letting go of it. To me, music is like breathing. You don't stop doing that, it's in your blood, but you have to make sure you hand over to the younger generation in time. Fortunately, I could do some charity work here and there, but the main thing for me was to continue arranging. I mainly wrote arrangements for concert bands. Make no mistake, that's a hell of a job! I rewrote all songs in My Fair Lady for wind band. That was a lot of work, but very nice to do. I have been pretty busy with those kinds of assignments since my retirement.”

“Looking back, I’m very satisfied with everything that came my way. That ASCAP Award with Hans van Hemert, a Conamus oeuvre prize – I can't help being proud. Maybe those LPs with Gheorghe Zamfir stand out as my main achievement. Commercially, they were huge successes, but on an artistic level it was very satisfying to work with such an incredible instrumentalist as well. A few years ago I met him again, in Maastricht, where he did a guest performance with André Rieu's orchestra. It was a very nice moment to have a chat with him again after all those years.”

“Throughout my career, I’ve done my best to take on as much work as possible. As an arranger, I’ve been given the opportunity to use my greatest talent; looking for the colour in music, working on orchestral scores. I wasn’t made for a songwriting career like Hans van Hemert. In many cases, a songwriter is little more than a butcher's boy riding his bicycle and whistling a tune – and then asking his arranger, “Now you do the rest.” This means an entire orchestral build-up has to be thought out. You have to write an intro, you determine which instruments you want to use – I would call that type of work composing. Believe me, composing and arranging are really each other’s brother and sister. Arranging is mainly a matter of ideas and courage. You should never be afraid of incurring the anger of the musicians in your orchestra who say, "One madman can write more than ten wise men can play." As an arranger you are constantly looking for underlying lines in music. Man, I’ve always loved doing that! Arranging and working with orchestras have always been my passion and my life.”

Harry van Hoof passed away in his adopted home city of Eindhoven in 2024, aged 81.

Harry at a party in 2022 with singers Ronnie Tober (middle) and Rob de Nijs


On 27th January 1972, most Dutch newspapers published a short article taken from the country’s largest press agency, “The singing duo Sandra & Andres have broken a tradition; instead of Dolf van der Linden with his Metropole Orchestra, a freelance orchestra led by conductor Harry van Hoof will provide the accompaniment during the 17th National Song Contest in Amsterdam on February 16th. It is expected that Van Hoof will also lead the orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest in Edinburgh. Dolf van der Linden will probably accompany the Netherlands’ team to Scotland as a musical advisor.”

As it happened, Van der Linden had also skipped the Nationaal Songfestival (National Song Contest), as the Netherlands’ Eurovision pre-selection was usually referred to, three years previously, in 1969, because that year’s Eurovision final was to be held in Madrid. As the conductor of the Metropole Orchestra made it known that he refused to work in Spain, led by the near-fascist dictator Franco, he was replaced by Frans de Kok, an experienced radio and TV conductor. De Kok put together a freelance orchestra for the occasion and also accompanied the Netherlands’ Eurovision candidate Lenny Kuhr for her winning performance of ‘De troubadour’ in Spain. However, in the following year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Van der Linden was back. Therefore, his replacement by Van Hoof in 1972 came as a surprise, partly because the old maestro had been part of the selection committee which judged the songs submitted for the competition. The decision was taken to invite Sandra & Andres, the star duo of record company Philips, to sing three songs in a solo pre-selection. In this selection programme, the downright commercial up-tempo song ‘Als het om de liefde gaat’, written by Hans van Hemert, emerged as the winning entry.

Harry van Hoof himself was not involved in the replacement of Dolf van der Linden, so we contacted several other music professionals involved in the decision. Hans van Hemert, who was not just the songwriter of Sandra & Andres’ entry, but their producer as well, has vivid recollections of what happened.

“Given that Sandra & Andres were booked to sing all entries in the competition, I thought it was perfectly logical that we would have our arranger conducting the orchestra. That man was Harry van Hoof. Harry had proven his worth as someone able to write very good arrangements for our type of songs – that is; pop songs. He was a contemporary pop musician; something which couldn’t be said about Dolf, with all due respect. At the time, I was involved in writing many chart successes, which gave me the confidence to stand up for my wishes. Don’t get me wrong, I looked up immensely to Dolf van der Linden and we weren’t afraid that we would get in trouble if he had conducted the orchestra for us, but I felt Harry deserved my loyalty. That's what I told Fred Oster. Fred then made sure my wishes were pushed ahead with, I suppose.”

At the time, Fred Oster was the producer of the National Song Contest. When asked about the matter, Oster largely confirms Van Hemert’s story. “It was a complaint which was heard more often in those years; young artists didn’t like working with Dolf van der Linden and his Metropole Orchestra. Dolf was no longer in touch with the new generation of artists and pop music. He had become a bit old-fashioned and the same could certainly be said of the percussion group of his orchestra. Before being approached by Hans van Hemert, I had already been toying with the idea of substituting Dolf for the Eurovision job, replacing him with Tony Eyk or Harry van Hoof. I had worked with Harry before and I knew he could be relied on. So when Sandra & Andres' entourage knocked on my door, I took the leap and asked Harry. I’d like to stress that this was my decision and definitely not the record company's. This also meant that I had to speak with Dolf. Of course, it was hard for him having to come to terms with making way for someone else after so many years. I can imagine he was unhappy. After all, he had been involved in the contest for so long.”

A moment of relaxation during rehearsals of the 1972 National Song Contest, held in Amsterdam's Carré Theatre

Van der Linden himself claimed to have learnt of the news in his morning newspaper. When asked about the matter in a radio interview 13 years later, he claimed he hadn’t lost any sleep over it. “In those last few years, I didn’t feel much rapport with the type of songs that were being played in the contest. The music took a completely different direction. As you are aware, the repertoire I had developed with my orchestra over the years was varied and wide-ranging. This meant that I felt less at ease at the Eurovision Song Contest in those last years I was involved in it. So I didn't mind that much [about being replaced]… it was just that the way in which it ended was not so elegant. In fact, never in my life have I been kicked out in such an inelegant fashion!”

Dolf's eldest daughter Anneke knows for a fact that her father had actually been much angrier about the matter than he was willing to admit in public. “It was all very painful for him. You could say that, in a way, the Eurovision Song Contest was his baby. He had helped build up the festival in the Netherlands. Now, this child was brutally wrested from his hands.”

“I had the impression that Dolf saw the writing on the wall,” Fred Oster reacts, “but I could be wrong about that. When I spoke to him, he didn't get angry. I always stayed on speaking terms with him. Later on, I interviewed him in a radio broadcast and that went well… but let’s face it, it had to be done – everything must pass eventually. Years later I had the same experience as a quiz master. I was considered too old to host a TV show; I had to make way for a younger generation. Personally, you never know when your time is up. There are always others around you who take the decision on your behalf. Trust me, you can't turn back the hands of time, that's just the way it is.”

“I remember the moment Fred Oster asked me very well,” Harry van Hoof says, when asked about his Eurovision debut. “We were on the road together, on our way to Brussels – I have no idea what kind of appointment took us there. “Hey 'Har'”, Fred said, “if I asked you to succeed Dolf van der Linden in the Eurovision Song Contest, what would you say?” At first I thought he was kidding, so I said, "Don't be silly man!" But as it turned out, Fred was dead serious, "If you say 'yes', this job is yours for the next 25 years." At that point, I was convinced and so I accepted. Fred just said, “Well, that’s settled then”, and that was the end of it. That is how I became the Netherlands’ conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest.”

Having a short conversation with one of the musicians of the BBC Radio Orchestra during rehearsals of the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest in Edinburgh 

“Fred never explained to me why they wanted to get rid of Dolf van der Linden. I didn't ask him about it either. I don't remember whether it was Fred or Warry van Kampen, who was Head of Entertainment at the broadcasting service, but one of them told me that Dolf had agreed on having me conduct the orchestra instead of him. They were probably looking for a fresh face… and I was much in demand as a TV conductor at the time. Being honest, I think Dolf had become a bit old-fashioned too. The approach to popular music had changed. Just as an analogy, let’s say the Netherlands select a hip-hop artist as our representative in the contest now – well, do you think they would ask me to work with him? Of course they wouldn’t, because I don’t like that type of music at all. Along that same line, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dolf lacked rapport with the pop songs which were popular at that time. As a matter of fact, I have a distinct feeling that the repertoire of Sandra & Andres wasn’t his cup of tea.”

When asked to reflect on his decision now, Fred Oster doesn’t hesitate a moment. “Of course it was the correct thing to do! Harry was very serious about that Eurovision job. Furthermore, I noticed that he treated the artists in a different way than Dolf. Dolf was a fatherly figure, while Harry was someone from the same generation as the people on stage; simply a youngster, just like they were. Lastly, he knew the world of pop music well through his work for the record companies. Harry was an excellent music professional who knew what was required of him in any job you asked of him.”

In press reports, Warry van Kampen was quoted as saying that Dolf van der Linden had been offered the opportunity to come along to the international festival final in Edinburgh to be the musical supervisor for the Netherlands’ delegation. Whether Van der Linden took the decision by himself or whether the decision was made on his behalf by broadcasting authorities can no longer be determined – but it is clear that the old conductor stayed at home and refused to have any involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest in later years.

For the 1972 National Song Contest, a completely new format had been developed. There was to be no traditional studio production, but a show programme in circus style recorded in Carré, the best-known theatre in Amsterdam. In addition, the Metropole Orchestra did not provide the musical accompaniment, being replaced with a freelance ensemble consisting of a rhythm group and a big band – and without strings. The musicians in it were much younger than the members of the Metropole Orchestra, almost all of whom were in their fifties and sixties at the time.

"Speed it up, Harry!" Harry van Hoof at his Eurovision debut in Edinburgh

“In those days, I was used to working with a freelance orchestra on all kinds of television programmes,” Van Hoof explains. “These were mostly guys I knew from the recording studio. To be honest, I can't remember much about that National Song Contest in Carré… just that it was always a pleasure working with Sandra Reemer. She really was the apple of my eye. Such a sweet girl! Later, she told me how she had been humiliated by Dries (Dries Holten, the real name of Andres – BT). He behaved well as long as Hans van Hemert and I were around, but he could be most unpleasant to her when they were on the road together to do a gig here or there. Somehow, there is an unwritten law about singing duos, which is that they never seem to last very long. The story of Mouth & MacNeal is very similar.”

“I was very young and didn’t really know what to expect when I joined the Dutch delegation which travelled to Edinburgh. The year before, I had already conducted the Netherlands’ entry by Bonnie St. Claire at the Yamaha Song Festival in Tokyo and that had gone well… so I wasn’t completely untested on an international level. There was a slight problem that needed to be solved during the rehearsals. I had to adjust a detail in the orchestration for our entry. In the record arrangement, I had used a bassoon, but, as we found out, there was no bassoon player in the BBC orchestra. We then took the decision to have that part played by a bass clarinet – and I changed one or two other things as well to make up for it. TV audiences will hardly have taken notice, but it had taken some thinking on my part to solve the problem.”

“At that festival in Scotland, I was struck by the professionalism of those Brits; very steady British craftsmanship of which I became a huge fan over the years. Also when working with English musicians in the recording studio, they always did a solid job. In Edinburgh, the organisation as a whole was top-notch – and there was also a distinct personal touch. After the dress rehearsal, the floor manager came on and stood up in front of the orchestra. Then he counted them in, one-two-three, upon which he burst out singing ‘Thanks For The Memory’, with all those cables equipment still around his neck – and that whole orchestra backing him up. It was his way of expressing his gratitude to everyone involved in the production. I thought that was incredibly classy of him!”

“I had already had some interaction with the same floor manager during rehearsals. When we played the song with the orchestra for the first time, he told me, "Speed it up, Harry!" When I asked him what this was all about, he explained that the song was five or ten seconds longer than the three minutes allowed. Don't forget I was there for the first time! I must have known that there was a time limit of three minutes, but I was surprised that they actually clocked the time. In those days, everything was done completely live. There was no backing track indicating the correct rhythm. So I just had to conduct the song a little faster! In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise. With the pace I had initially had in my head, our song sounded a bit mellow and laid-back, but when I had to speed it up, it suddenly became very lively and cheerful. All thanks to this floor manager! It's a nice anecdote to tell you now, but it was pretty terrifying at the time. We ran the risk of being disqualified, you know – and it would have been my fault!”

Van Hoof at the 1973 National Song Contest in Theatre Carré with (from left) songwriter Pierre Kartner, vocalist Ben Cramer, and Rob Aardse, Head of A&R at record company Dureco

“We did very well in the early stages of the voting. It actually looked like we could actually win it! That same floor manager took Sandra, Andres, and myself into a separate room, but in the end we had to settle for fourth place, which of course was a great result. The festival was won by Vicky Leandros – and I actually did a very nice studio production with her not so much later. The song was called 'Auntie', also written by Hans van Hemert; and it did rather well in the international charts.”

The following year, the Netherlands’ broadcaster NOS organised its National Song Contest in an almost identical fashion as in 1972; a circus show was held in Carré featuring one single candidate – the chosen artist being Ben Cramer, who performed four titles, accompanied by a freelance orchestra conducted by Harry van Hoof. The winning song was ‘De oude muzikant’, penned by Pierre Kartner. However, the similarities with Edinburgh end here, because the result achieved in the international final in Luxembourg was not even nearly as good as the fourth place of 1972. Ben Cramer had to settle for a position near the bottom of the scoreboard. 

“We didn’t do quite as well as in Edinburgh, did we?”, Harry van Hoof says with a smile. “The song could be described as a little waltz, but I didn’t think it was a very good piece of music. Like the year before, the arrangement was mine. In retrospect, maybe I should have written a more low-profile score. It was all a bit too much. We travelled to Luxembourg by car. I made the trip with Fred Oster. From the moment we arrived, things went wrong. Ben Cramer can be a very nice guy if he wants to, but he always makes sure his entrance doesn’t go unnoticed – and people like him for it, or they hate him; there really isn’t a middle ground. In Luxembourg, he quickly made enemies with the technical staff. From scratch, he started cursing and ranting at them. He shouted that the sound wasn’t good, adding that it had to be put right immediately. Apparently he thought he was the big star at that contest who could get away with such behaviour.”

“This was only my second Eurovision participation and I didn’t really know what to do. I tried to talk to Ben, “Behave yourself, man! These are only rehearsals – the sound doesn’t have to be spot on straightaway.” But he was beyond reasoning and we would all be made to feel the consequences. We were treated very coldly by the organisation. In the broadcast, the sound mix for our song was atrocious and the orchestra played badly. They might have done it on purpose – just to teach us a lesson, “Who do you think you are?” Really, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Harry van Hoof conducting the Eurovision orchestra in Luxembourg (with Jean Roderes clearly discernible at the piano) for Ben Cramer's performance of 'De oude muzikant' (1973)

In 1974, Harry van Hoof accompanied the National Song Contest with an orchestra formed by himself again, but, on this occasion, a budget had been made available to add a string section to the set-up. At the Jaarbeurs Auditorium in Utrecht, the immensely popular vocal duo Mouth & MacNeal (Willem Duyn & Sjoukje van 't Spijker) presented three songs. The entry which won the voting hands-down was a painstakingly simple sing-along ditty, 'Ik zie een ster', yet again written by Hans van Hemert, who was the duo’s producer. For the international final in Brighton, the song was performed in English as ‘I See A Star’, finishing in third place, behind ABBA and Gigliola Cinquetti. Although the arrangement was written by Piet Souer, Van Hoof was booked by NOS TV to conduct the orchestra. Those involved might have been excused for considering the situation a little painful, given that Hans van Hemert and Harry van Hoof had fallen out with each other one year previously.

“It was not as bad as you might think,” Van Hoof explains. “Hans and I remained on speaking terms, but I had just had enough of Hans taking all the credit in the media for our mutual successes with Mouth & MacNeal. I then passed Hans’ telephone number on to Piet Souer, a guy from Eindhoven who I knew well – and that’s how the two of them started working together. When Mouth & MacNeal were asked to participate in Eurovision, NOS wanted me to conduct the pre-selection as well as the international final – and Hans never made an issue of that.”

“The contest was held in Brighton that year, but I almost had to miss it. Some time before the festival was due, I was given the opportunity to conduct the UNICEF Gala, which was to be held in The Hague on the day before the Eurovision final. Some world stars were booked for that gala; Audrey Hepburn, Peter Ustinov, and even Danny Kaye. So then I called our delegation leader Warry van Kampen, “Warry, I have some bad news for you; I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel doing the Eurovision Song Contest this year. Working with Danny Kaye is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I don’t want to miss it!” Warry wasn’t amused, because I had already promised to do Eurovision. He took it very badly, “I want nothing of it. You’ll have to solve that problem yourself.” I just said, “Yes, Warry, I understand how you’re feeling, but I'm really not going to skip that UNICEF Gala.”

“Well, then he said, “Tell me, where is this gala of yours due to be held? In The Hague? Ok, we’ll think of something.” Do you know what they did? They booked flights for me, taking me from Brighton to the Netherlands and back three times in one week. Three times! As far as I remember, one time, I travelled by train from Brighton to Gatwick Airport, and from there on to the Netherlands, but Warry also booked a helicopter for me. This chopper took me directly from the beach of Brighton to Scheveningen (the seaside district of The Hague – BT). All of this allowed me to do all the rehearsals with my own orchestra for that gala in The Hague as well as the live broadcast on Friday. In Brighton, I had to ask Ronnie Hazlehurst (BBC conductor and MD of Eurovision 1974 – BT) to replace me in one of the rehearsals. Ronnie was a pleasant fellow, every inch a gentleman; being a fine professional, he was happy to step in for that rehearsal. The musicians in the orchestra probably didn't even notice that someone else was standing up front. They just kept on playing.”

On the balcony of Brighton's Grand Hotel, from left to right - Hans van Hemert, an anonymous lady (possibly involved in the local organisation of the contest), Piet Souer, Harry van Hoof, and Fred Oster (Eurovision 1974) 

“My schedule that week almost killed me, as you can imagine! But then again, I was young – young and ambitious! I think back to that UNICEF Gala as a highlight in my career. It was really great to be able to work with those greats; and everything done live on television! I wouldn't have wanted to miss it for the world. Mouth & MacNeal and their entourage didn't make a fuss about it at all, but NOS’s production team was very pissed off. There were no consequences for my position in television, but the situation was rather tricky. At one point, I thought they wouldn't accept it. But hey, we came in third. All’s well that ends well!”

Given that an English conductor took over a rehearsal without further ado – and without a damaging impact on the sound – raises the question to what extent it was necessary for each country to have its own MD conducting the Eurovision orchestra.

“Of course you could have used one conductor to lead the orchestra for all the songs,” Van Hoof responds. “Anyone could have done that. I also conducted all music in big television galas like UNICEF and the Grand Gala du Disque, but in Eurovision it was an attractive element to have all those different conductors instead of having to watch that same person’s back all night. Moreover, each composer was happy to have a conductor by his side with whom he was in personal touch. This allowed him to act swiftly when some small musical detail required attention. Songwriters know what the sound of their work should be like. A music director who has to conduct 17 or 18 songs wouldn’t have been able to take care of all those individual wishes. If Ronnie Hazlehurst had done the whole contest, the sound of the show would have borne an unmistakable Hazlehurst mark – and this wouldn’t have been a desirable situation.”

“Also personally, I thought it was nice to have all those different conductors. At such a contest, it was worth the while attending the rehearsals of other nations. It was interesting to see how your colleagues approached the orchestra, with the additional element of wanting to know who your main rivals for victory were. From 1974, I specifically remember ABBA’s conductor wearing that bicorne Napoleon hat (Sven-Olof Walldoff – BT). Of course, this was most unusual. By the way, that man couldn't conduct at all! His way of beating time gave him away. In ABBA’s case, it didn't matter all that much, because there was a rhythm track indicating the beat. There was a new rule (introduced in 1973 – BT) which allowed the use of such a track. We had also prepared one for Mouth & MacNeal. So there you are, even if you put on a funny hat, nothing could go wrong; the orchestra has been thoroughly rehearsed and there is a fixed tempo.”

“Most conductors taking part in the contest were able musicians – which should come as no surprise; I mean, why else would they have been asked to do the job? Yet, every year you could bet your bottom dollar that there were one or two guys who didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Usually they were songwriters who had a deal with their country’s TV station that they would conduct the song themselves. The most commonly made mistake was what I would call 'over-conducting'; counting the beat using all kinds of wild gestures. In doing so, they are bound to cause confusion with the orchestra musicians. Once the orchestra catches the correct rhythm, there is no point in pretending that you’re conducting a symphony by Wagner or Mahler. Just make sure that the singers are happy; make some subtle gestures with your left hand to indicate small details here and there… and please keep a low profile! That’s the main thing actually.”

The conductor of Mouth & MacNeal at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton

“Finishing third was a good result, but of course it was a foregone conclusion that ABBA would win. Those girls wearing tight suits were simply irresistible. I thought they were brilliant. The sound created by ABBA was completely different from what had come before them in the Eurovision Song Contest. They really succeeded in taking the festival in a different direction. Basically, 'Waterloo' was a very simple song, but the arrangement was so aggressive and contemporary! Just simple, recognisable chords which aren’t too pretentious. Of course, in Eurovision you have to think in a commercial way, but that doesn't mean it has to be vulgar. You must come up with a sound which is appealing to wider audiences. This was the case with 'Waterloo'. To my mind, the arrangement made that song a hit. I know what I’m speaking of; I did it regularly back then – writing an arrangement which really lifts someone else’s creation to a different level.”

“There was something else which struck me in Brighton. Until Saturday afternoon, a few hours before the festival, we were still sitting at the bar with those ABBA girls, just having a chat – and making music with the guys… but from the moment they won it, I've never been able to speak to them again; not even when I was on the same TV show as they were, which happened once. They were completely fenced off by their management. That's the other side of the coin, I'd say. From that victory in Brighton onwards, other people ran their lives.”

For the 1975 National Song Contest, also held in Utrecht, Harry van Hoof again conducted his freelance orchestra. The pop band Teach-In walked away winning the ticket to the international final with ‘Dinge-dong’, composed and arranged by Dick Bakker. The song was reworked with English lyrics for the Eurovision final, which was held in Stockholm. Between 1973 and 1976, the rule stipulating that each country had to sing in one of the national languages was temporarily relaxed. Mouth & MacNeal had taken advantage of the opportunity, and rather successfully so. Teach-In managed to do even better, handing the Netherlands its fourth Eurovision win. Van Hoof vividly remembers that week in Sweden.

“On the plane taking us to Stockholm, Dick Bakker and I had promised each other that we would jump into the hotel’s swimming pool if we were to win the contest. I always had a good working relationship with Dick. In the case of ‘Ding-a-dong’, he had made a wise decision by putting together a backing track including the rhythm parts of the arrangement. We had played the song completely live in Utrecht, but in an international final, when the stakes are high, it’s just preferable to avoid taking risks. The success of this kind of up-tempo music completely depends on the rhythm. It must sound firm; and you couldn’t tell in advance if this Swedish orchestra was up to standard. I don't remember when, but at one of my Eurovisions, the drummer in the orchestra was replaced for the live broadcast by someone else. When I inquired what had happened, I learned that the first drummer had been booked on two gigs for the same night – so he had gone away that night, leaving his replacement to do the Eurovision job. Things like that shouldn’t happen, but some guys really have no inhibitions when it comes to earning money.”

Conducting the Eurovision orchestra in Stockholm (1975)

“In addition to that, Teach-In were a pop group in which each of the guys played their own instrument. The backing track rule came with a stipulation stating that all music included on the track should be visualised on stage. So the guys weren’t playing live, but because they were on stage pretending to play their instruments, they still looked like the band they really were. So using the backing track was a very natural decision.”

“On the night of the broadcast, I took a taxi to the concert hall, sharing it with Willem Duys and Fred Oster (Duys being the commentator and Oster the producer of the Dutch delegation – BT), but the cab driver misunderstood us. We ended up in a completely different part of Stockholm. At one point Willem said, “Where are you actually taking us?” When it turned out that he was driving to the wrong place, Willem got very angry and shouted, “No, man, that’s not where we want to go at all. Drive to that auditorium, and as fast as you can!” We arrived just before the broadcast started… and, remember, we had to perform first. So I had to rush into the dressing room as fast as I could. I put on a white suit, which I often wore in those years. Wearing white was kind of fashionable at the time. Sometimes TV directors asked me to put on clothing in a certain striking colour, but I readily admit that it also was a lot of fun to stand up in front of that Eurovision orchestra in such a striking suit.”

“During the voting, I was the first of the Dutch team to take notice when we couldn’t be caught up by any of the other countries. Even though the arrangement wasn’t mine, I still felt involved. The reason for participating in Eurovision is because you want to win it, don’t you? I wouldn’t say it was a moment of personal triumph, but I was happy to have contributed to the success as the team’s conductor. Honestly, I hadn’t been expecting us to come first. During that taxi ride on the way to the hall, the driver asked us if we thought we stood a chance. I can still hear myself saying, “We are the first country to perform, so we can never win it. By the time the voting starts, people in Europe will long have forgotten about our song.” Well, let’s say that was a tiny bit of a misjudgement on my part!”

“After we won, we did all kinds of silly things. Of course, I jumped into the hotel pool with Dick and a few others, still wearing a tuxedo. I had also promised that I would climb on the roof of the hotel – and I did that as well. We were completely unhinged. The members of Teach-In were actually much calmer than we were! I don't think they were feeling that nervous during their performance. By the way, they were very grateful to me. They were very nice people to hang around with; generally speaking, I get along well with this brand of very down-to-earth guys.”

Getting Teach-In's lead singer Getty Kaspers onto the dance floor at the party thrown in Stockholm in celebration of the Netherlands' fourth Eurovision win (1975)

“Looking back, I thought Teach-In's victory was well-deserved; really a typical Eurovision song – very cheerful, but don't forget that the close-harmony singing of the group was very good too. That little bell at the end also played its part, I suppose. Writing a Eurovision winner doesn’t mean you simply have to follow a pattern. If such a concept existed, I would write one or two of those songs today. No, you need a complete package to make a song hit the right chord. At that time, we had the advantage of being allowed to sing in English, a rule that was abolished later onwards – unfortunately so, I would say. The Dutch language with all its guttural sounds is simply very unattractive to listen to for people who are not familiar with it. It wasn’t just the Dutch, but the Scandinavians as well who suffered in the voting due to that strict language rule.”

Teach-In’s victory meant that the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest would be held in the Netherlands. The winner of the Dutch preliminaries, accompanied by Harry van Hoof with a freelance orchestra for the fifth time running, was the song 'The Party Is Over', written by Hans van Hemert. It was interpreted by Sandra Reemer, who, after taking part in the festival with Andres in 1972, now got the opportunity to represent her country as a soloist. Harry van Hoof conducted as well as arranged this entry.

“By that time, Hans and I had long made up. I really liked this song. When he asked me to write the arrangement, he told me to allow myself to be inspired by Mary Hopkin's ‘Those Were The Days’ – he wanted the sound to be similar to that. I did that, but I also gave the song my own twist, adding that typically Slavic violin (played by the concertmaster of the Metropole Orkest, Ernő Oláh, in the record version as well as in the international final – BT). The overall look of the performance was very nice, first and foremost because Sandra did a great job on the vocals.”

Although the Metropole Orchestra had not been involved in the National Song Contest since 1972, the broadcasting orchestra was now booked to provide the accompaniment in the international final in The Hague. Given that chief conductor Dolf van der Linden no longer wanted to be involved in the contest after being replaced, he put forward Jan Stulen as a replacement – Stulen, who had taken over the conductorship of the Promenade Orchestra just one year previously. The Promenade Orchestra, specialising in light classical repertoire, was one of the classical orchestras of the Netherlands’ broadcasting service. The Eurovision Song Contest was a true baptism of fire for Stulen, who had never worked in light music before. With Stulen leading the orchestra for the interval music in his capacity as music director, the Netherlands’ entry was conducted, as usual, by Harry van Hoof.

Sandra Reemer celebrating her win at the 1976 National Song Contest with her arranger and conductor Harry van Hoof

“Look, Jan was permanently employed by the broadcaster,” explains Van Hoof, “and I was a freelancer, so that must have been the reason they asked him to be the MD of the Eurovision Song Contest. They didn’t have to pay him a fee. No, I didn't feel passed over – absolutely not! At the time, I never really gave it a thought why Jan had been picked. In the following years, I got to value him as an excellent colleague. When I conducted a concert with the Metropole Orchestra, he sometimes sat in the back of the hall during rehearsals to give me suggestions to get the sound balance right. Jan was very versatile. As a conductor, years later, he was also involved in a TV programme in which he got to work with aspiring classical musicians and vocalists. He was the perfect guy for that job; friendly and patient. It’s such a pity Jan died so young. He was a really nice fellow.”

“That week in The Hague, I was really only there to work with Sandra. She was on her own – which is a completely different situation than performing with a band like Teach-In. Female solo singers tended to come looking for their conductor for support; and I played my part wonderfully by telling her that everything would work out fine. With Sandra, we finished in a mid-table position, which I thought was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps, as a Eurovision song, ‘The Party Is Over’ was a bit too subtle. Your performance has to convince an audience which is as wide-ranging as possible – not just the happy few. In that respect, ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ was the correct winner.”

Apart from that one song by Sandra Reemer in the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest, it took until the spring of 1977 for Harry van Hoof to be given the opportunity to do a full show with the Metropole Orchestra for the first time – that show being that year’s National Song Contest, which, after being produced by Fred Oster for several years, now ended up being taken care of by Jan Leijendekker and Wim Smit. This production team went for the Metropole Orchestra, but with Harry van Hoof as its conductor. The winning song in this remarkably strong pre-selection was ‘De mallemolen’, performed by Heddy Lester. Gerard Stellaard was responsible for the arrangement of this chanson-type entry, written by Wim Hogenkamp and Heddy's brother Frank Affolter. In the Eurovision Song Contest in London, 'De mallemolen' finished in an inconspicuous twelfth place.

“This was in the very early days of Frank Affolter’s career as a musician. The melody he had written was really beautiful, tailor-made for Eurovision. It was a pity we had to sing in Dutch again. That cost us some points. This was a song with rather intricate lyrics and of course nobody abroad had a clue what it was all about. I had already worked with Heddy previously at a song festival in Knokke. I spent a lot of time with her there. She was a stunning girl in those days.”

About to start a rehearsal with the Metropole Orchestra and Sandra Reemer at the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague

“At that contest in London, the TV director had determined that all conductors had to wear a white flower in the lapel of their jacket. I think it was a carnation, but I cannot be sure anymore – this is all quite long ago, you know! Well, I was fine with it, so I walked into Heddy's dressing room with that carnation on my tuxedo to wish her the best of luck. When she saw it, she started yelling at me, demanding that I take it off right away. Do you know why? Of course, Heddy was Jewish – and, as she told me, in Jewish culture, this flower brings bad luck. She believed in it wholeheartedly; in fact, she said she refused to go on stage if I didn't take it off. I was astonished at her reaction, but I just took it off. The director didn’t make a fuss about it; in fact he probably never noticed. By the way, Heddy’s performance was fine. She really nailed it.”

Although Fred Oster returned to produce the 1978 National Song Contest, he decided to retain the previous year’s formula, working with the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Harry van Hoof. The competition was won by the singing trio Harmony, brought together for the occasion by producer Eddy Ouwens, with ‘’t Is OK’, a rather one-dimensional melody, for which Dick Bakker wrote the arrangement. At the Eurovision final organised in Paris, Harmony finished in the bottom half of the scoreboard. The rehearsals of the Netherlands’ singing group were marred by problems. After the first run through of the music with the orchestra, the decision was taken to leave out the rhythm track which had been prepared, given the French sound engineers found themselves unable to create a decent sound mix of the orchestra and the backing track. Instead, the percussion parts were played by the drummer in the local orchestra.

“That was a common problem at the time,” Van Hoof comments. “When listening to Harmony’s performance in Paris, the sound isn’t good – you’re absolutely right and yet… the orchestra doesn’t play a single note wrong! When I conducted the song, it felt exactly right. Sometimes, when working on TV programmes in the Netherlands in the 1970s, I was told afterwards how badly the orchestra had been sounding. This didn't mean that the musicians had played badly, but that the sound engineers weren’t able yet to create an evenly balanced, transparent sound. TV orchestras often sounded as if all parts had been carelessly thrown together.”

“I thought the song was really nice, although in some parts it was perhaps a bit too similar to ‘Ding-A-dong’. I suppose that was a case of the Dutch showing their commercial spirit – even including a little bell at the end, which was a little too obvious, I would say. Dick Bakker was very naive in thinking that audiences across Europe would be impressed by the exact same little trick which had helped us win the contest only three years previously. Besides, watching Harmony’s performance now, I can’t help noticing their amateurism. Those unsynchronised dance steps – horrible. This wasn’t about a lack of ability; things like this come down to rehearsing thoroughly. All in all, not our strongest contribution in Eurovision history, I would say!”

Orchestral rehearsals at the 1978 National Song Contest in The Hague

In 1979, Sandra Reemer and her Xandra group were picked to represent the Netherlands in the Eurovision Song Contest. Of the five songs Sandra performed in the National Song Contest, 'Colorado', written by Rob and Ferdi Bolland, received by far the most points. The up-tempo piece, arranged by Piet Souer, ended up in a somewhat disappointing twelfth place at the Eurovision Song Contest. At the international final held in Jerusalem, Harry van Hoof took part as the Netherlands’ conductor for the eighth time in succession.

“On the plane taking us to Israel, we were told that Israel and Egypt had signed a peace agreement. We celebrated the news enthusiastically! All of us felt very happy for Israel. Then, having arrived on Tel Aviv’s airport, we got into a cab. I spontaneously congratulated the driver on the peace that had now been achieved. The man’s reaction was very cynical. “This is the umpteenth time we are being fooled,” he said. In Israel, of course, they knew better. They had been under attack by their neighbours so many times. I understood his point of view, but it pretty much dampened our elation.”

“During that week in Israel, we got to see quite a lot of the country. In Eurovision, you were normally given ample free time. You were well taken care of, with an excursion programme which had usually already been prepared by the organising committee. In Jerusalem, of course, we visited the Wailing Wall – and also Golgotha. In addition, we were taken on a trip in a van across the Negev Desert to visit Masada and the Dead Sea. It was a beautiful day out, but what I remember best is being on the road and the moment my girlfriend Els threw an empty soda can into the desert. Well, we were made to know that this was all wrong! I thought the driver was going to have a heart-attack. He immediately stopped the little van and he gave Els a piece of his mind. “We don't do things like that here in Israel!” Our entire crew was very much taken aback by his reaction. Getting out of the bus, Els and I immediately picked up the can. Of course the man was right. In the Netherlands you did something like that carelessly in those days, but times have changed here as well.”

“Looking back on it, Eurovision was a one-week holiday paid for by NOS TV. You had the opportunity to visit parties which were thrown by the various countries. At the Dutch party, we always tried to bribe other delegations with free herring and orange bitters. It was always a nice occasion. The situation in Israel was a bit less relaxed than in other countries, simply because people were clearly very concerned about our safety. Armed soldiers stood on the roof of our hotel, the King David in Jerusalem. The corridors were guarded as well. At a certain point, we wanted to go outside, just for a little walk, but we were strongly advised to go back to the hotel. They realised all too well that a Eurovision Song Contest was a wonderful potential target for terrorists.”

With Sandra Reemer and TV commentator Willem Duys at Eurovision 1979 in the Israeli capital Jerusalem

“As almost always when taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest, I got to work with a great orchestra. Perhaps not all those guys spoke English, but that wasn't too much of a problem. In Eurovision, the scores were always sent ahead to allow the orchestra to rehearse them before we arrived. All that remained to be done in that final week was adding the finishing touch. The music wasn’t that complicated anyway. I participated in the Yamaha Song Festival in Tokyo twice – and I can assure you that the language barrier there was a lot wider than in Israel, but even there I never got in trouble. Most music terms are Italian and are understood all over the world; crescendo, forte, piano, and so on. You can also solve a lot of minor problems by using mimicry. Just as an example; when you pull your ear, even musicians in Tokyo understood they were playing out of tune.”

“All in all, for a conductor, the Eurovision Song Contest was an easy job, but that doesn’t mean that I never had to intervene. On several occasions, I had to change elements in the arrangement on the spot, when I felt it didn't sound right. Then you say things like, "Guys, please start the crescendo two bars earlier." The musicians then take their pencil, making a simple note in their music sheet. I also had to confront individual musicians in the Eurovision orchestra once or twice; generally, this type of problem arose with guys who played based on symbols rather than on the score. In particular, I remember moments when the bass player in the orchestra was really giving it too much. A bass shouldn’t create a domineering sound, but just play steadily – and most of all simply following the score.”

“I didn't really understand why we didn't do a little better in the voting, because we had a good song. It was a typical Bolland & Bolland creation – straightforward and commercial, the type of song of which those two guys wrote dozens. Sandra looked great and the interaction with her backing group worked well. As far as I remember, she also had a decent international hit with it.”

Having been involved as the conductor for the Netherlands in the contest annually from 1972 onwards, Harry van Hoof had to hand over the baton to Rogier van Otterloo in 1980. “That was the year Rogier succeeded Dolf van der Linden as chief conductor of the Metropole Orchestra,” Van Hoof comments. “The Eurovision job was usually linked to the Metropole. In principle, the rule was that the number 1 of that orchestra also conducted in Eurovision. The fact that I took over from Dolf van der Linden in 1972 had a different background, but of course there was no reason why Rogier, as the orchestra’s MD, would have had to cede his place to someone else just for the Eurovision Song Contest.”

Sandra Reemer in Jerusalem at her third Eurovision attempt (1979)

“Now Rogier and I were good friends, but he had sometimes made the odd joke about me conducting in the Eurovision Song Contest every year. He just thought it was an awful show. The moment it turned out that he would take over from me (with the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest due to be held in the Netherlands – BT), I gave him a dose of his own medicine. When I met him in the recording studio, I said, "After all your derogatory comments about the contest, you’re now going to conduct it yourself?” I couldn’t help laughing about the situation. "So you must have changed your mind then?" Rogier was usually sharp-tongued, but now he didn’t really know what to say. It didn’t have an impact on our relationship – far from it! This was little more than just exchanging a bit of banter.”

Already in the early 1980s, Van Otterloo showed the first signs of the serious illness that would eventually lead to his death. Due to this illness, he had to skip the Eurovision editions of 1983 and 1986. In the 1983 National Song Contest, he was replaced by Ruud Bos, who in turn ceded his place to Piet Souer in the international final. Harry van Hoof made his comeback in the National Song Contest in 1986. Conducting the Metropole Orchestra, he recorded all orchestral tapes used in the competition, from which girl group Frizzle Sizzle emerged with 'Alles heeft ritme'.

“I was the replacement conductor, sitting on the bench to take off my training suit and come on whenever they needed me. Rogier was back in 1987, but even then it was very touch-and-go, because he was so ill that he was more or less unable to stand up in front of the orchestra. He was in denial about his situation. “There's nothing wrong with me, don't worry.” He didn't want to discuss it. I was asked to remain on standby in 1987, but fortunately I didn't have to step in then – and Rogier did the job. In those years, with Rogier being away for longer spells, I was often asked to step in for him to do programmes with the Metropole Orchestra – and the contest in 1986 was just one example among many.” 

“That year’s Eurovision Song Contest took place in Bergen. I had never been to Norway before. As it turned out, Bergen was a beautiful coastal town. With our delegation, we were taken on a trip to Edvard Grieg's house, which is stuck on the side of a mountain some distance from the city. In that place, I could almost literally hear that Peer Gynt Suite playing in my head. Seeing that impressive landscape, I could imagine how he had felt the inspiration to write that beautiful music. For that reason alone, I thought it was worth coming to Norway.”

Van Hoof surrounded by the Frizzle Sizzle quartet during a party at the 1986 contest in Norway

“Those Frizzle Sizzle girls were very nervous, you know. That should have come as no surprise, because they were so young! Having said that, they sang well and the song wasn't that bad, but I wasn't surprised when it failed to make an impression. It was just too wordy. In such a competition, you shouldn’t be trying to tell a story in a song anyway, but it is even worse when you’re singing in a language that isn’t widely understood. There is no added value in that whatsoever – and in this case, those lyrics actually dragged the song down. If you still insist on writing lyrics which bear some kind of meaning, you have to work in a very melodious way; and write lyrics of which the phonetic sound is somehow attractive. A song that managed to bypass the more unappealing sounds in the Dutch language was ‘Een beetje’ by Teddy Scholten. In those lyrics (written by Willy van Hemert, the father of Hans, in 1959 – BT) you’ll find a lot of open sounds. “Een beetje, dat weet je,” and so on. It was as if the lyrics had been turned into music. That was really a very clever piece of work.”

After a long illness, Rogier van Otterloo, who had been the Metropole Orchestra’s chief for 8 years, passed away in January 1988 at the age of 46. It would take until 1991 before a permanent replacement was found in the shape of Dick Bakker. In the intervening years, the orchestra worked with various guest conductors, including interim chief Jerry van Rooyen, but also Jan Stulen, Rob Pronk, and Harry van Hoof. As a matter of course, the Eurovision Song Contest was taken over by Van Hoof again, with him being the conductor in the Dutch pre-selection, in which Gerard Joling sang all entries. The winning song was 'Shangri-la', composed by Peter de Wijn and arranged by Hans Hollestelle. At the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, Joling finished in ninth place, which was a somewhat underwhelming result given the high expectations of him and his song in the Netherlands. As Joling’s conductor, Van Hoof had his own thoughts.

“That song could have been a contender for first place, no doubt about it. During rehearsals in Ireland, we noticed that we were getting a good response from other delegations, especially because of that impressive high note sung by Gerard at the end. That was what made the song so powerful. During the week in Dublin, Gerard flew back to the Netherlands once or twice to do a couple of gigs here and there. Of course it earned him some extra money, but I don’t know if it was a wise decision on his part. Our delegation leader John Schelfhout objected, but Gerard went anyway. Whether it was because he was exhausted from all the travelling back and forth, or because he was just feeling nervous, he decided to play it safe in the live broadcast and hit that note an octave lower. So he just sang in tune with the backing choir."

"When I run into Gerard now, I still can't forgive him; I have asked him several times how he could have done that, but always in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. He is a guy with a good sense of humour. When we meet, he comes walking towards me, singing that high note. Laughingly, I say something like, “Yes, now you have the guts to sing it, you coward!” This really was a missed opportunity for the Netherlands!”

Van Hoof having a conversation with Benoît Kaufman, chief conductor of the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest in Lausanne, while Justine Pelmelay, the Netherlands' candidate, awaits the start of the orchestral rehearsals; photo taken by Rui dos Reis, pianist of the Swiss festival orchestra

“Just like their English counterparts, Irish musicians are true professionals, but with a little more phlegm woven into their character. I have always got along very well with the Irish and British, more so than with Southern Europeans. I also love their sense of humour. In Dublin, of course, I met my friend Noel Kelehan, who used to conduct the Irish entry. We hung out together at all those contests in which we took part as Eurovision regulars. We were part of a group of conductors who were there more or less year after year. There was Noel, but there were several others as well. Usually the English conductor was also with us; Ronnie Hazlehurst or Alyn Ainsworth. We would get together in the hotel bar, usually sitting at the piano, or leaning against it, with a good glass of beer or wine of course – and then we would exchange ideas; “Do you have any interesting pieces of music that I can use?”, things like that. But most of all we spoke about good music. While we were having a little drink, we liked exchanging jokes about how we were on a much higher level than all those artists taking part in the contest. That was nonsense of course, but it just goes to show how informal our conversations were. We were a nice bunch; and it almost felt like a clan or a fraternity. I was looking forward to meeting my friends every year.”

In 1989, for the first time in years, a full-fledged National Song Contest was held with different candidates and the Metropole Orchestra performing live on stage. The competition, staged in the RAI Congress Center in Amsterdam, was won by composer Jan Kisjes and his melodic ballad ‘Blijf zoals je bent’, which was performed by Justine Pelmelay. The orchestration was taken care of by Piet Souer. As a matter of course, Harry van Hoof conducted the song in Amsterdam as well as in the international final in Lausanne.

“That last note was a nightmare, wasn’t it?”, Van Hoof recalls. “This was the second time in a row that we had a problem with that final note. While Gerard held back in Dublin, Justine went for it, but her voice broke twice in that same note. She did a horrible job, which came as a surprise, because she had done wonderfully well in rehearsal. Of course this mistake of hers is the main explanation why the song failed to do well. Jury members wouldn’t have failed to take notice. It may not be very nice to say such a thing about Justine, but it all comes down to a lack of musicality. Nerves? Come on, she had plenty of time to get used to the idea in rehearsal. In a way, it was good the jurors punished her for it. Although it was rather unfortunate for her personally, everyone could see now that doing well in a song contest isn’t about a nice dress or a pretty face, but first and foremost about the music – and that is how it should be!”

“Later I heard that Willem van Beusekom (long-time Eurovision commentator for the Netherlands’ broadcaster NOS – BT) had mentioned my fiery red bow-tie in his commentary. My wife Els suggested that I should wear it for our performance. It was a thing of beauty, created by the Belgian artist Corneille. I had told Willem about it – and then he used it in his commentary, which was very nice of him. Willem and I spent years on the selection committee, assessing the songs which had been submitted for the National Song Contest. He was a gentle man, but when he thought something was unfair, he could react in a surprisingly fierce manner. It was in his character to always see the sunny side of things and he was a pleasant guy to work with. I was devastated when I heard he had passed away. Far too young!”

Festival accreditation of 'Henricus van Hoof' for the 1990 edition of the contest in Zagreb

“At that festival in Lausanne, I signed a petition filed to the European Broadcasting Union by the majority of the participating conductors, in which the EBU was urged to draw up stricter backing track rules. I've always felt there was nothing wrong with pre-recording the rhythm section, especially when a very specific sound was required. The rule that all instruments that were including on the track had to be mimicked on stage still existed, but, as the years passed, developments in recording technique meant that the old rules became a bit obsolete. It became increasingly common to pre-record entire orchestrations with synthesisers… and then there would be one or two synths on stage, which supposedly created those sounds. Meanwhile, viewers saw the full string section of the orchestra in the back watching the performance while sitting on their hands.” (in Lausanne, the most blatant examples of this practice were the entries from West Germany, Austria and Iceland, in none of which the orchestra played any part at all – BT).”

“There were excellent strings and wind players in such an orchestra. There was no need to replace them with a tape recorder when you are performing a nice ballad, was there? Those backing tracks were completely non-functional. Initially it seemed that we would get our way the following year, but in the end those stricter rules never came about. Too bad, because the Eurovision Song Contest was one of the last shows in which artists could perform live with a large orchestra. In that sense, it gave young singers the opportunity to have an important learning experience.”

In the 1990 National Song Contest, organised along the same lines as the previous year’s competition, but held in The Hague’s Congresgebouw, the Eurovision ticket went to the experienced sister duo Maywood and their ballad ‘Ik wil alles met je delen’. Although domestic expectations were high, this Netherlands’ entry finished fifteenth in the international festival in Zagreb – exactly the same score as the previous year. Harry van Hoof does not necessarily have the best memories of the festival in Zagreb.

“First of all, the behaviour of these two made it obvious that they didn’t get along very well. I don’t know what had happened, but they could be very unpleasant to each other. They were both excellent professionals, but for some reason there were issues which they couldn’t hide from the outside world. Fortunately, each of them was very friendly to me; there was no problem in that respect.”

Van Hoof (dressed all in white, far right) in front of the Yugoslavian Eurovision orchestra for the performance of Maywood (1990)

“In addition, the Yugoslavian organisation was a bit messy, if I may say so. The orchestra was okay, but I found working with those musicians not as easy as with their colleagues in England or Ireland. I’m all for a no-frills approach in music, but in Southern Europe string sections have a tendency to play with a bit of vibrato. They feel it gives the music a sound which is a bit less rigid, but to my ears it sounds like caterwauling! They are all wonderful instrumentalists, but their concept of music is not entirely in line with ours. So at one point in rehearsals I said to that Yugoslavian orchestra, “Less vibrato please!” Well, if looks could kill! In those countries, the violin is really part of the human soul! Alright, a little vibrato can be fine, but only when used proportionately. That was always a problem in those warm-blooded countries. Mind you, it didn’t get me in trouble. You just have to tell it in a way that is firm and friendly. In the end I was quite happy with the sound we got.”

“One day before the broadcast was due, there was suddenly talk that the Yugoslav TV director had taken the decision to do away with the conductor’s introduction which was customary in Eurovision. We wouldn’t be shown on screen. As it happened, when we heard about it, all conductors were sat together in the same room. Man, the news got us in the right mood. “You know what, we’ll not perform!” Come on, we didn’t come to the contest just as a dispensable quantity, did we? Our vanity deserved to be tickled too! It was all half-serious, and half in jest, but all of a sudden we felt a spirit of togetherness. Finally we had our full-fledged fraternity! Of course, Noel Kelehan was our ring leader. No one had been around in the contest longer than he had. With him up front, we approached the organisation and explained that we weren’t going to accept this. It worked, because the decision was reversed.”

“Unfortunately, something went wrong during our performance yet again. There was a piccolo trumpet solo in the instrumental bridge. I had been told beforehand that the first trumpet player in the orchestra (the Slovenian Anton 'Toni' Grčar – BT) was a celebrity in his own country. He had played the part without any problem during rehearsals, but in the show his microphone had somehow been switched off and the solo could not be heard by TV viewers (the assistant chief of the orchestra, Stanko Selak, explained to us in an interview in 2010 that when Grčar stood up to play the solo, he stepped on the thread tying the microphone to the bell of his trumpet, resulting in his sound equipment being torn loose – BT). Moreover, the director forgot to put a spotlight on him, so he could hardly be seen anyway.”

Because the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest was held on May 4th, a day of contemplation in the Netherlands since the end of World War II, the so-called ‘Remembrance of the Dead’, the NOS had no other option but to withdraw from that edition of the festival, but the Netherlands was back the following year when the festival took place in Malmö. The winner of the National Song Contest that year was composer Edwin Schimscheimer with the highly original melody 'Wijs me de weg'. The performance was taken care of by Surinamese singer Humphrey Campbell, backed up on stage by his brothers Carlo and Ben. In the international final in Malmö, this entry picked up a decent number of votes, eventually finishing in ninth position.

Humphrey Campbell and his brothers performing at Eurovision 1992 in Malmö

“In Sweden I watched those three chaps at work with respect and admiration. Their choreography was spot on, perfectly suited to the song, and they performed it incredibly well – smashing really, those beautiful, graceful movements of theirs! It looked very natural, but nobody knew how stubbornly they had been rehearsing on it. Every morning, after breakfast, they practised coordinating their vocals and moves. Humphrey put his energy into every detail. He would tell his brothers, “Pay attention, first take a breath and then make your dance move.” This is a form of professionalism that I love – and I told them so. In the evening, when we sat at the bar of the hotel, I called them ‘The Cells & Bells’… with the cells representing their brains and the bells their vocal abilities. I have seen few artists like them. Others were satisfied more quickly – and it showed in the performance on the night. Besides, all three of them were very charming fellows. Please write down that Humphrey and his brothers were really one of my favourite acts of all Eurovision in which I took part. Really top-notch!”

“Edwin Schimscheimer was seated on the edge of the podium, playing the accordion. Edwin was also someone who could be relied on to do a good job. A very nice guy – and a great arranger. When he won the national final with Humphrey, he had just been told his mother had died. That same weekend! Those were very intense moments… all kinds of different emotions coming together. After he had won, he fell into my arms, crying his heart out; the two of us just stood there for a while. Things like that create a bond, you know! Of course he played that accordion part in Malmö completely live. Edwin was a fine musician, so there weren’t any problems. My job as a conductor was to make sure that he would play in sync with the orchestra – and that worked well.”

In the following year, the Netherlands was represented by Ruth Jacott, who was Humphrey Campbell's partner at the time. With an original pop song called ‘Vrede’, composed by Jochem Fluitsma and Erik van Tijn with lyrics by Henk Westbroek, she finished in sixth place at the Eurovision Song Contest final held in Millstreet, Ireland.

“Ruth was a professional just as much as Humphrey was,” says Van Hoof. “Anybody who saw her perform in the Dutch version of the musical Cats, couldn’t help but think, “That girl should book a one-way ticket to New York.” She played her part really well, and the same was true of her Eurovision performance. Every tiny detail had been given careful thought. Rehearsing is an art of its own, building up a performance layer by layer; practise every sentence, every step, every gesture until it's absolutely perfect – with the additional quality of not allowing all that preparation to give the performance a stilted look. If you can do that, you really deserve your place up there!"

Ruth Jacott and her backing artists rehearsing their Eurovision performance in Millstreet with Harry van Hoof (far left) conducting the RTÉ Concert Orchestra

“The song itself was clever as well; meaningful lyrics with a message, even if it’s of no use internationally. The quality had to come from the music; and the harmonic build-up was interesting and had some unexpected twists. There were modulations in it, but done in a very subtle way. All in all it was a very un-Dutch song, composed with style and craftsmanship. They really deserved that high number of votes in the festival.”

The 1994 Eurovision Song Contest was also held in Ireland – not in Millstreet this time around, but in the Point Theatre in Dublin. In the Netherlands, the very popular 49-year old singer Willeke Alberti was approached to perform 8 songs in a solo pre-selection, accompanied by Harry van Hoof and the Metropole Orchestra. The jury’s choice was ‘Waar is de zon’, another Edwin Schimscheimer composition.

“A big mistake was made at the meeting of the NOS festival committee of which I was a member as well. We should have realised that Willeke is an icon in the Netherlands, but only in the Netherlands. Her voice has a fairly limited range and her age was also pretty advanced. The song which was chosen for her, suited her well, but the fact remained that we allowed her to be thrown to the lions in an arena with stunningly beautiful young songstresses from Eastern European countries who joined the festival for the first time that year. I always enjoyed working with Willeke from the start of my career onwards – and she is a wonderful person. We should have spared her this Eurovision experience.”

The reservations felt by Harry van Hoof about Willeke's Eurovision participation are not shared at all by the singer herself, as it turns out in an interview we had with her in 2013, in which she explained how happy she was that Harry van Hoof was her conductor.

Willeke Alberti and Harry van Hoof surrounded by press photographers following the 1994 National Song Contest in The Hague's Danstheater

“Harry and I go back a long time. We already worked together on stage while he was still the pianist in Peter Koelewijn’s band (in the early 1960s – BT). In those days, he regularly accompanied me at the piano. That's why it was so wonderful to have him at my side conducting the Eurovision orchestra. I don't look back on the experience with mixed feelings at all. It was wonderful that I was given the opportunity to take part in it at a time when there was a large orchestra providing the accompaniment; and especially with Harry in front of it! You shouldn't underestimate how important it is for an artist to work with a conductor who takes the time to listen to you, who soothes your worries – and that's exactly what Harry is so good at. Looking back on that National Song Contest, I still think it's one of the best things I've ever done on television. I'm looking pretty happy on that screen – and I repeat myself, one of the reasons was that I could do the show working with Harry.”

During rehearsals in Dublin, a problem arose, when it turned out that Edwin Schimscheimer’s arrangement significantly exceeded the maximum length for a song participating in the competition.

“I have no idea why we hadn't already thought about this back in the Netherlands,” Van Hoof responds when asked about it. “Perhaps, by 1994, we had hoped that there would no longer be such a fuss about such a trifling matter. But, it was true, the rule still applied that you could be disqualified if the song exceeded the three minutes by one or two seconds. Of course I had already learnt about this in 1972 when I had had to speed up the orchestra for Sandra and Andres – and, in that respect, I came full circle in Dublin. Actually, when it came to finding a solution, it wasn’t all that complicated. We just took out the orchestral intro. It was not a case of having to re-arrange the song. I just told the orchestra, "Please cross out bars 0 to 12." Still, it was childish that we were made to do this. In one of my previous festivals, I remember having a chat with some fellow-conductors and a couple of EBU officials. Along with my colleagues, I tried to convince those officials to abolish this rule. In the days of Elvis Presley, three minutes might have been enough, but nowadays some songs have more complicated structures. In such a situation, who cares if a song lasts half a minute longer?”

In Ireland, Willeke Alberti did not achieve a good score. With just 4 votes awarded by the Austrian jury, she finished in third-last position, leaving only the participants from Lithuania and Estonia behind her. “During the voting, Willeke and I were sat next to each other in the green room,” Van Hoof recalls. “Goodness gracious, it took an eternity before we picked up some votes. Time and again, the points went to other countries than ours. At one point we looked at each other and we couldn’t help laughing out loud. We already felt it coming. In that situation, it helped that Willeke was a seasoned professional. A young artist might not have been able to put things into perspective.”

Willeke Alberti rehearsing her performance of 'Waar is de zon' in Dublin

“I had been well prepared that this could happen,” the singer herself confirms. “The night before the broadcast, John de Mol Snr. (a music publisher – BT) came to have a chat with me. He was also part of our delegation in Ireland. He said, “Keep in mind that there is this possibility of finishing at the bottom of the list.” Of course I was aware of that myself, but partly because of my entourage it didn’t feel as a knock-out blow. Harry and I celebrated those four points from Austria, when they finally came in. Edwin Schimscheimer was the only one who couldn't handle it. He completely collapsed. Believe me, I’ve never had a better time in all my career than at that festival in Dublin. I wasn't thinking about winning or losing at all. I’m proud to have been able to represent my country, and with a song that I was really happy with. I’ve continued singing it and I always notice how deep an impact it has on audiences.”

The 1994 Eurovision Song Contest was the 15th edition in which Harry van Hoof was involved as conductor of the Dutch entry, but also the last. Due to Willeke Alberti's poor score, the Netherlands was one of the countries excluded from participating in the contest the following year; and in 1996, Dick Bakker took over the role as conductor of the National Song Contest – and, as a logical consequence, he also got to lead the orchestra for the Netherlands’ entry in the international final.

Dick Bakker had already been chief of the Metropole Orkest for a number of years at the time,” explains Harry van Hoof. “Progressively, he took on more and more workload himself – and one of the projects he took over was the Eurovision Song Contest. I don't know exactly how the decision came about; and it's really not that important. Everyone wanted the job, and so did Dick; and after those 15 times, I could say that I had had my fair share. Moreover, I was busy working on all kinds of projects at the time, putting together musical orchestras and building up my own production company in Eindhoven. As you’ll understand, in those circumstances, I wasn’t afraid I wouldn’t be able to fill my agenda when the Eurovision job fell away.”

“In the years in which I had the privilege of representing the Netherlands as a conductor, I’ve always taken pleasure in it. I've always liked being away for a week in another country, meeting other people, having a drink with them, and enjoying a good conversation. I’m someone who has always enjoyed the company of others – and you got to meet a lot of different people in Eurovision. Of course it wasn't that difficult to have to conduct one song, but I never saw it as a routine job. The only routine job that I know of is when my wife asks me to vacuum our living room. Eurovision was always a welcome break in my agenda, but at the same time I considered it an honour to be able to defend our national colours every time.”

The Netherlands' Eurovision entrants at Eurovision 1994 in Dublin, from left to right - backing vocalists Dian Senders, Edward Reekers, Jody Pijper, and Pim Roos, flanked by composer Edwin Schimscheimer, Willeke Alberti, and Harry van Hoof

“Before I forget, I would like to stress that one part of that Eurovision job really was hard work. I’m speaking of all those committee meetings in which we had to fight our way through 300 hopeless songs which had been submitted for the National Song Contest. I can assure you, most of them were really atrocious. Once the plight was over and our committee had settled on 10 or 12 tracks, it was my job to designate an arranger for each song. In those later years I left most of that arranging work to others. Guys like Rik Elings, Piet Souer, and Edwin Schimscheimer could be relied upon to do their job wonderfully. I was simply too busy to work on all of those charts myself, although in most years I did one or two arrangements myself. As soon as all the arrangements were in, we could start rehearsing them with the Metropole Orchestra – and that’s when the hard part was over, because working with that orchestra was always a pleasure. They were top of the bill! Furthermore, I’ve always liked working with young artists, giving them a little confidence. Lastly, the competitive element has always suited me. I do like playing a game from time to time.”

“I was often asked why I didn't try my hand at writing a Eurovision song myself. It certainly wasn’t that I felt above that, but somehow I've never been a songwriter. Still, as a conductor, and also as an arranger in the early years, I was able to make my mark. In the Eurovision Song Contest as it has evolved today, the arranger hardly plays a part, which I think is a shame. Actually, this applies to modern pop music as a whole. Composers nowadays usually write their own arrangements, but most of them do so using just a synthesiser and a few samples. When listening to the Eurovision Song Contest nowadays, you can hear that same drum fill, that same guitar lick, ten times on the same night. All of those elements have been thrown together in a mix, with the singer put on top of it. What you are listening to in the end is little more than an accumulation of sounds. That type of song isn’t memorable, the reason being that the sound has become interchangeable.”

“Additionally, it’s important to realise that writing arrangements is a profession in itself. If you insist on working with a synthesiser, that’s fine, but let a professional arranger write those synth parts; a guy who knows how to mould a songwriter’s ideas together in a frame, coming up with a nice intro and adding some imaginative elements here and there. To my ears, contemporary music has often been badly written and also poorly produced. In the days when there was still an orchestra in Eurovision, you always knew what average level of songs you could expect. Since then, I've seen it go downhill. In the past, little gimmicks which an arranger came up with made songs stand out of the crowd; simply because they knew how to work with an orchestra, giving it a different sound. Just as an example, think of the bassoon in 'Puppet On A String' by Sandie Shaw. I thought that was a stroke of genius! You can expect that kind of thing when adding an arranger to your team, someone who has made a living out of writing scores for orchestras. Listening to modern pop music, I have the impression that those songs have been put together by people without much musical background.”

“Occasionally, I do watch the Eurovision Song Contest. When I happen to be home and my children want to watch it, I’ll watch it with them, but without the enthusiasm you would expect from a former participant. Perhaps it’s just me, but all I seem to hear is noise, just noise. Uniquely, the Eurovision Song Contest is an event that was born in the days when television was still experimental, but without the live element of an orchestra, the soul is gone. The orchestra made the contest special, especially in those later years when more and more other TV programmes worked with pre-recorded music. If you were to bring back the orchestra, you would see that there would be much more excitement in and around the show… simply because an orchestra creates an atmosphere that makes people want to continue watching. Music is emotion, but emotion cannot be brought about by synthesisers.”

Close-up, 1994 National Song Contest

Being the manager of Sandra & Andres as well as Teach-In, Nico Spring in 't Veld was closely involved in the Eurovision Song Contest editions of 1972 and 1975. “Harry was a nice guy to work with; and a great arranger who knew his craft. A few years after winning the contest with Teach-In, I worked with him extensively again, when he arranged albums for Rob de Nijs and Nico Haak, both of whom were in my portfolio at the time. The album with Nico was a collection of medleys, put together most ably by Harry. Harry was really a giant in his field of work. He left his mark on the sound of Dutch music. Along with Dick Bakker, he was the man who knew how to write hit arrangements in those years. The two of them were actually the successors of Bert Paige, who was the great arranger of the 1960s. One generation succeeds the other. Harry and Dick succeeded Bert Paige in the record studio, and Harry replaced Dolf van der Linden in the Eurovision Song Contest. That's the way of the world.” (2012)

A few years Harry van Hoof’s junior, Dick Bakker entered the arranger's profession just a little later. “Harry is a fine and valued colleague. We worked together on the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest with Teach-In, but also on productions for a successful piano trio called De Gevleugelde Vrienden. Over the years, he wrote countless catchy arrangements which enjoyed national as well as international success. He always knew how to find the correct element to lift a song to another level. Harry always put all his energy into projects he worked on. With him, you were assured of wonderful music.” (2013)

Producer and songwriter Hans van Hemert worked with Harry van Hoof as his co-composer and arranger on an impressive series of hits for Mouth & MacNeal. “Harry was very easy to work with,” Van Hemert recalls. “One way or another, he always managed to turn my ideas into excellent arrangements. Harry was also involved in the first songs which I wrote for Willem Duyn and Sjoukje van 't Spijker, before they were a duo. I specifically recall how great the arrangement was for a song I wrote for Willem, ‘Remember (Walking In The Sand)’ – but, somehow, neither Sjoukje nor Willem managed success as a solo artist. Then I just thought, "Let’s try making them successful as a duo!” Of course I wanted Harry on board for those Mouth & MacNeal records as well. When I came to Harry with the idea for ‘How Do You Do’, he asked, "What do you want me to do with it?" “Well”, I said, “the contrast between that clumsy man and that fragile woman should be blown up.” He then came up with a string quartet and a fanfare; and of course that big fat electric guitar. This gives you an idea how we used to work on songs together. I came up with a blueprint and Harry perfectly knew how to give substance to it.” (2013)

Bassist John Gaasbeek was one of the members of Teach-In, the group which won Eurovision in 1975 with 'Ding-a-Dong'. “Both in Utrecht in the National Song Contest and in Stockholm, we had the privilege of working with Harry as our conductor. You don't get to know someone really well in such a short time, but I remember well that he was very amiable and, more importantly, a professional through and through. He has proven over the years that he knows his craft. He took time for us and remained friendly and calm under all circumstances – and this last quality endeared him to our group, as in Twente, the region where we are from, people are usually calm, collected, and down-to-earth too.” (2012)


Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Als het om de liefde gaat"
Rendition – Sandra & Andres (Sandra Reemer / Dries Holten)
Lyrics – Dries Holten
Composition – Hans van Hemert
Studio arrangement – Harry van Hoof
Live orchestration – Harry van Hoof
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 4th place (106 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "De oude muzikant"
Rendition – Ben Cramer
Lyrics – Pierre Kartner
Composition – Pierre Kartner
Studio arrangement – Harry van Hoof
Live orchestration – Harry van Hoof
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 14th place (69 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "I See A Star (Ik zie een ster)"
Rendition – Mouth & MacNeal (Willem Duyn / Sjoukje van 't Spijker)
Dutch lyrics – Gerrit den Braber
  English lyrics – Hans van Hemert
Composition – Hans van Hemert
Studio arrangement – Piet Souer
Live orchestration – Piet Souer
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 3rd place (15 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Ding Dinge Dong"
Rendition – Teach-In (John Gaasbeek / Getty Kaspers / Ruud Nijhuis / Koos Versteeg / Ard Weeink / Chris de Wolde)
Lyrics – Will Luikinga / Eddy Ouwens
Composition – Dick Bakker
Studio arrangement – Dick Bakker
Live orchestration – Dick Bakker
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 1st place (152 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "The Party Is Over"
Rendition – Sandra Reemer 
Lyrics – Hans van Hemert
Composition – Hans van Hemert
Studio arrangement – Harry van Hoof
Live orchestration – Harry van Hoof
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 9th place (56 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "De mallemolen"
Rendition – Heddy Lester
Lyrics – Wim Hogenkamp
Composition – Frank Affolter
Studio arrangement – Gerard Stellaard
Live orchestration – Gerard Stellaard
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 12th place (35 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "’t Is OK"
Rendition – Harmony (Rosina Lauwaars / Donald Lieveld / 
Ab van Woudenberg)
Lyrics – Toon Gispen / Dick Kooyman 
Composition – Eddy Ouwens
Studio arrangement – Dick Bakker
Live orchestration – Dick Bakker
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 13th place (37 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Colorado"
Rendition – Xandra (Sandra Reemer / Mac Sell / Paul Vink / Ton op 't Hof / Ferdy Lancée / Okkie Huijsdens)
Lyrics – Gerard Cox
Composition – Ferdi Bolland / Rob Bolland
Studio arrangement – Piet Souer
(studio orchestra conducted by Harry van Hoof)
Live orchestration – Piet Souer
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 12th place (51 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Alles heeft ritme"
Rendition – Frizzle Sizzle (Mandy Huydts / Marion Keller / Karin Vlasblom / Laura Vlasblom)
Lyrics – Peter Schön
Composition – Rob ten Bokum / Peter Schön
Studio arrangement – Hans Hollestelle / Peter Schön
Live orchestration – Hans Hollestelle
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 13th place (40 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Shangri-la"
Rendition – Gerard Joling
Lyrics – Peter de Wijn
Composition – Peter de Wijn
Studio arrangement – Hans Hollestelle
Live orchestration – Hans Hollestelle
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 9th place (70 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Blijf zoals je bent"
Rendition – Justine Pelmelay 
Lyrics – Jan Kisjes / Cees Bergman / Geertjan Hessing / 
  Aart Mol / Erwin van Prehn / Elmer Veerhoff 
Composition – Jan Kisjes
Studio arrangement – Jan Kisjes
Live orchestration – Piet Souer
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 15th place (45 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Ik wil alles met je delen"
Rendition – Maywood (Alice May / Karen Wood)
Lyrics – Alice May 
Composition – Alice May
Studio arrangement – Pim Koopman
Live orchestration – Pim Koopman
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 15th place (25 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Wijs me de weg"
Rendition – 
Humphrey Campbell
Lyrics – Edwin Schimscheimer
Composition – Edwin Schimscheimer
Studio arrangement – Edwin Schimscheimer
Live orchestration – Edwin Schimscheimer
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 9th place (67 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Vrede"
Rendition – Ruth Jacott
Lyrics – Henk Westbroek
Composition – Jochem Fluitsma / Eric van Tijn
Studio arrangement – Edwin Schimscheimer
Live orchestration – Edwin Schimscheimer
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 6th place (92 votes)

Country – Netherlands
Song title – "Waar is de zon"
Rendition – Willeke Alberti 
Lyrics – Cooth van Doesburg
Composition – Edwin Schimscheimer
Studio arrangement – Edwin Schimscheimer
Live orchestration – Edwin Schimscheimer
Conductor – Harry van Hoof
Score – 23rd place (4 votes)

  • Bas Tukker had the privilege of interviewing Harry van Hoof on two occasions, first in Eindhoven, August 2012; and a second time with additional questions by telephone, March 2023
  • Heartfelt thanks to Fred Oster, Hans van Hemert, Anneke van der Linden, Willeke Alberti, Nico Spring in ’t Veld, John Gaasbeek, and Dick Bakker for their additional comments and for sharing their experiences of working with Harry van Hoof
  • Ferry van der Zant’s standard work about the history of the Netherlands’ Eurovision pre-selections, “Wanneer wordt het weer een beetje net als toen”, ed. Stichting Eurovision Artists: Utrecht, part 1 - 2003 & part 2 – 2005
  • Radio interview with Harry van Hoof, conducted by Hijlco Span & Harjo Thijs: NCRV Eurovisienacht, Radio 2, May 1st, 1995
  • Newspaper interview with Harry van Hoof, conducted by Gerard van Putten, “Leven van Harry van Hoof gedirigeerd door muziek”, in: Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, June 19th, 1993
  • Newspaper interview with Harry van Hoof, conducted by Hans Matheeuwsen, “Van binnen ben ik een Vesuvius”, in: De Stem, February 17th, 1995 
  • Various articles written by Ale van Dijk for newspaper Het Vrije Volk: “Songfestival: een circus als nooit tevoren” (January 28th, 1972) / “Er valt geen eer meer te behalen aan Songfestival” (February 28th, 1973) / “Harry van Hoof: ‘Kameleon zijn gaat me wel goed af’” (February 26th, 1974) / “Songfestival bijna laatste praktijkschool” (March 10th, 1990) 
  • Newspaper interview with Harry van Hoof, conducted by Ale van Dijk, “Inschakeling professionals zegt niets over succes”, in: Leeuwarder Courant, March 27th, 1992
  • Ruud Gortzak, “Sandra en Andres pakken zaak commercieel aan”, in: De Volkskrant, March 23rd, 1972
  • Martin Hermens, “Bejubelde bewerking van ‘My Fair Lady’ nu op cd”, in: Limburgsch Dagblad, November 11th, 1994
  • Anon. “Harry van Hoof dirigeert voor 15e maal het Eurovisieorkest”, in: Eurovision Artists 1993-94/4 (April 1994)
  • Anon. “Sandra en Andres niet met een fagot”, in: Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, March 25th, 1972
  • Harry’s brother Frans van Hoof wrote an autobiographical book about his family, focusing on his father’s behaviour in World War II: “Dubbele tongen en giftige pennen. Het verhaal van een NSB-kind”, ed. Van Reemst: Houten, 1997
  • Photos courtesy of Harry & Els van Hoof and Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to Mark Coupar for proofreading the manuscript

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