Saturday 18 May 1996


Born: April 21st, 1963 (Czechoslovakia)
Nationality: Slovak

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


Juraj Burian has played the guitar since he was ten and was a member of Peter Breiner’s jazz-rock band Klobása (1984-85) and the VV Systém Jazz Orchestra. From 1987 to 1991, he studied the guitar at Bratislava’s Conservatory, upon which he left for the United States to follow courses at the renowned Berklee College of Music (1992-95). Burian was a member of Scat and formed a guitar trio with Anton Jaro and Matúš Jakabčic. On several occasions, he performed at the Bratislava Jazz Days and the Slovak Jazz Festival. In the early 1990s, he regularly wrote arrangements for Vladimír Valovič’s Radio Bratislava Big Band. In 1998, he founded the Juraj Burian Band.


In 1996, Juraj Burian composed, arranged, and conducted the Slovakian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Kým nás máš’ (lyrics: Jozef Urban). The sophisticated ballad was performed by Marcel Palonder and reached an eighteenth place.


Country – Slovakia
Song title – "Kým nás máš"
Rendition – Marcel Palonder
Lyrics – Jozef Urban
Composition – Juraj Burian
Studio arrangement – Juraj Burian
Live orchestration – Juraj Burian
Conductor – Juraj Burian
Score audio semi-final – 17th place (36 votes)
Score final – 18th place (19 votes)


The following article is an overview of the career of Icelandic guitarist, songwriter, and arranger Ólafur Gaukur. The main source of information is an interview done with Ólafur Gaukur's widow, Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir, conducted by Bas Tukker in Reykjavík, July 2012. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Ólafur Gaukur's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2012

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

Born: August 11th, 1930, Reykjavík (Iceland)
Died: June 12th, 2011, Reykjavík (Iceland)
Nationality: Icelandic


Guitarist, songwriter, and arranger Ólafur Gaukur (full name: Ólafur Gaukur Þórhallsson), co-wrote, orchestrated, and conducted the 1996 Icelandic entry ‘Sjúbídú’, performed by his daughter Anna Mjöll Ólafsdóttir. In that year’s Eurovision Song Contest, held in Oslo, this quirky jazz song picked up 51 votes, finishing in a mid-table position on the scoreboard.


Ólafur Gaukur Þórhallsson was the oldest son of Þórhallur Þorgilsson (1903-1958), who studied Romanesque languages in Madrid, Grenoble, and the Sorbonne University in Paris, and his wife Bergþóra Einarsdóttir. Upon his return in Iceland (1929), Þórhallur worked as a translator and private teacher until becoming the Head Librarian of Iceland’s National Library in 1943. It was not Ólafur’s father, but his cousin who awakened his interest in music. Ólafur Gaukur distinctly remembered this moment in a 1996 interview.

“My dad, who on account of his studies knew a lot of people from Europe, hosted a German friend who stayed at our home for a couple of weeks. This was some years before the war broke out. When he asked my father how he could pay him back for the hospitality, my dad said he would like to have a violin. We never knew why – perhaps because this German didn't know the difference, perhaps because a violin was too expensive – but the parcel which arrived from Germany did not contain a violin, but a guitar. Quite disappointed, dad decided the guitar could be of no other use than wall decoration. Nobody touched the thing for years, until one day – I must have been 12 or 13 – I was alone at home, ill; and an older cousin, who was a student, came to visit for lunch. He grabbed this guitar from the wall, tuned it, and taught me two grips. When he had left, I kept practicing and found out about the third grip myself. I was hooked from that moment onwards!”

When his parents noticed that young Ólafur Gaukur was caught by the music virus, they allowed him to follow guitar lessons privately with Sigurð Briem, while he also took some piano courses and had a go at the trumbone somewhat later. In the course of the Second World War, young Ólaf and his school friends became interested in jazz music, which was brought to their attention by the occupying American army on so-called V-Records, morale boosting records sponsored by US government for the use of US military personnel overseas. 

Ólafur Gaukur (far left) in the Gunnar Ormslev Quintet (1946) with Guðmundur Steingrímsson (drums), Eyþór Þorláksson (double-bass), band leader Gunnar Ormslev (sax), and Steinþór Steingrímsson (piano)

Steinþór ‘Steini’ Steingrímsson, pianist and Ólaf’s lifelong friend from elementary school onwards, explains, “There was hardly any jazz on local radio and there were no jazz records available apart from these American V-discs. To us, it was very inspirational to get to know the American jazz giants. Gaukur’s first inspiration was guitarist Charlie Christian, but he also liked Benny Goodman, Svend Asmussen, Count Basie… and of course Django Reinhardt from Belgium."

"Inspired by the music of a local bandleader by the name of Aage Lorange, Gaukur and I formed a jazz trio when the war was over, with Ólaf on the guitar, me at the piano, and Árni Elfar playing the clarinet. Ólaf was 15, I was only one year older! In the spring of 1946, we started playing professionally in saloons and bars around Reykjavík and we continued to do so for two years. We preferred playing jazz, but in fact we played anything; waltzes, tangos, and also straightforward dinner or cocktail music. There was plenty of work around the town. All of us worked for other bands and ensembles as well. We didn't think about becoming famous; we just went for it, enjoying ourselves by playing music.”

It was not long before others recognized the talents of the young guitarist. In 1946, Ólafur Gaukur was invited by saxophonist Gunnar Ormslev to join his quintet. In the following years, he also occasionally teamed up with the KK Sextet, the most renowned dance and jazz band of the country. In 1948, with Kristján Magnússon (piano) and Hallur Simonarsson (double-bass), he formed the King Cole Trio, while also becoming the guitarist in the dance orchestra of Austrian maestro Carl Billich at Hotel Borg. At Billich’s request, Ólafur Gaukur, who later used to say that he regretted he had not become a pianist – probably because it would have allowed him to focus on arranging earlier in his career – also started arranging pieces for the orchestra. All the while, he was still in high school. 

When, in early 1948, the headmaster discovered an ad in a local newspaper in which his pupil was advertised as a fine jazz musician, he threatened to have him sent away if he did not quit his music activities. Gaukur, though realising jazz music was not approved of by the older generation, ignored the anger of the headmaster and stubbornly played on, until his father, who wanted his son to become a doctor, had had enough and sent his son to faraway Akureyri in Northern Iceland to finish his high school education as an extracurricular student. Young Ólafur graduated with flying colours in June 1949.

Gaukur (far right) with American vocal group Delta Rhythm Boys in Reykjavík’s Austurbæjarbíó Theatre (1956)

Upon his return in Reykjavík, Ólafur Gaukur enrolled at university to start his medicine studies. Meanwhile engaged to be married with the first baby underway, working as a musician was imperative to earn some badly needed money. Between 1949 and 1952, he played in several bands, including those of Björn R. Einarsson, Steinþór Steingrímsson, and the renowned KK Sextet. This last-mentioned band was regularly invited to perform in the wildly popular Mjólkurstöðin dance hall. During the summer season, Ólafur Gaukur did tours across Iceland with cabaret artists. In 1952, he quit university, deciding it was impossible to combine his studies with being a professional musician. Furthermore, one year earlier, he had started working as a journalist at the Tíminn newspaper, staying on for several years.

Leaving the KK Sextet, he brought the trio of his high school days back together. With it, he did stage performances with the most popular light entertainment artists of the country, perhaps most notably Adda Örnólfs, Ólafur Briem, Öskubuskur, Sigrún Jónsdóttir, and crooner Haukur Morthens. In 1956, the trio accompanied the American vocal group Delta Rhythm Boys for one week in Reykjavík’s Austurbæjarbíó Theatre. 

Between 1952 and 1966, Ólafur Gaukur – in the Icelandic live music industry of those days in which music groups were formed and disbanded all the time, and in which musicians left a band to join another after only a couple of months – continued working with many different bands and dance orchestras, such as the Björn R. Einarsson Band, which played at Hotel Borg, the Leik-Trio, and, once again, the KK Sextet. Groups like these did not only perform in dance halls and saloons in Reykjavík, but did summer tours around Iceland, performed for the American soldiers based in Keflavík, and played live on the radio. Most of these formations played the flavour of the day, meaning that, from the late 1950s onwards, Ólafur Gaukur’s focus inevitably moved from his beloved jazz music to light entertainment and rock ‘n’ roll. For most of the bands he played in the 1950s and early 1960s, he penned the bulk of the arrangements.

Performing a cabaret act with one of the other members of the KK Sextett, Jón Sigurðsson (Reykjavík, 1957)

While, in the 1950s, Ólafur Gaukur, was recognized as Iceland’s best jazz guitarist by a mile, he also established himself as an arranger and studio musician in the country’s fledgling recording business. It was not long before he led most of the recording sessions himself, working with light entertainment artists. In 1957, he co-composed and arranged ‘Ljúfa vina’, recorded as a duet by Ragnar Bjarnason and Sigrún Jónsdóttir backed up by the KK Sextet; it was a major hit success and was chosen as the best pop song of the year by the Association of Icelandic Composers. 

In 1962, Ólafur Gaukur – who in his younger years had been inspired by Charlie Christian’s records to use the guitar not only as a rhythm instrument, but for solos as well – was responsible for the all important guitar solos in Ellý Vilhjálms’ hit ‘Vegir liggja til allra átta’. It is often considered the first true pop guitar solo ever invented by an Icelander.

Slightly atypical for an instrumentalist and arranger, Ólafur Gaukur produced far more song lyrics than compositions. His second wife Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir, when asked about this, says, “Though he regularly composed songs, Ólafur often said that he could impossibly top all the good songs that had been written all over the world. Writing lyrics came naturally to him. He wrote hundreds of lyrics, and for everyone. In the 1960s, he specialized in writing Icelandic lyrics to foreign hit successes. When he was working on lyrics, he used his old typewriter like a hammer – it could be heard from the street!” 

Ólafur Gaukur wrote Icelandic words to a Danish song of the Four Jacks, ‘O Marie, jeg vil hjem til dig’ (1960), which became an instant hit for the KK Sextet in Iceland. A couple of years later, he turned Gigliola Cinquetti’s 1964 Eurovision winner ‘Non ho l’età’ into ‘Heyr mína bæn’ for Ellý Vilhjálms. He also wrote for the likes of Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson, Haukur Morthens, Ragnar Bjarnason, and many more. Meanwhile, Gaukur showed his versatility by writing song lyrics for rock group Hljómar as well. His songs ‘Bláu augun þín’ and ‘Fyrsti kossinn’ (1964), ‘Þú og ég’, and ‘Syngdu’ (both from 1967), are still among the best-liked pieces of Hljómar’s repertoire.

During the recordings of one of the ‘Hér Gala Gaukar’ TV shows, 1968

Hljómar's guitarist Gunnar Þórðarson has good memories of the band's teaming up with Ólafur Gaukur. “As a musician and specifically as an arranger, Ólafur Gaukur was in a league of his own in his days. The arrangements he wrote for his own sextet could always be pointed out easily, with the saxophone and guitar playing in unison. It was the owner of our record label who recommended asking him to write lyrics for us. Although at first sight it might seem an odd combination to have a jazz musician writing lyrics for a rock group such as ours, there was nothing uncomfortable about it. Ólafur Gaukur was a very nice man, who had an open eye and ear to our music.”

During his short spell in the Leik Trio, Ólafur Gaukur met Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir, who was Iceland’s contestant in Miss Universe 1960. Professionally, she was an air hostess, but the Leik Trio’s bass player Kristinn Vilhelmsson invited her to give singing with the group a try. Ólafur Gaukur and Svanhildur left the band in the spring of 1960. The couple got married in 1963; three years later, in 1966, they formed a band, the Sextett Ólafs Gauks & Svanhildur, with Ólafur Gaukur naturally playing the guitar, writing the arrangements, and leading the band, and Svanhildur providing the lead vocals. The band, which changed personnel regularly and had well-known musicians as its members – the likes of Björn Einarsson, Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson, and Pálmi Gunnarsson –, was extremely successful, with hits such as ‘Segðu ekki nei’ (1967) and ‘Þú ert minn súkkulaðiís’ (1971), the latter song being a cover of Clodagh Rodgers’ UK Eurovision entry ‘Jack In The Box’ with Icelandic lyrics by Ólafur Gaukur himself.

While the band played in Reykjavík’s most popular places on a daytime basis, the Lido (1966-68), Þórscafé (1968), and Hotel Borg (1968-75), it performed in extensive summer tours across Iceland. 

“For several years, we did these cross-country tours in the summer months, performing our own shows and playing in dance halls," Svanhildur comments. "We usually had a tough schedule with long trips and stage shows for several days in a row. We bought a big car with the letters ‘Húllumhæ’ – the name of our show – painted on the sides, so from a distance it was very clear that the Ólafur Gaukur Sextet was in town! Ólaf, recognising the success of the band domestically, wanted to try his luck abroad and thus we played in Hanover and Dortmund in West Germany in August and September 1969."

Ólafur Gaukur on tour with his band in West Germany, 1969. Standing, from left to right: Carl Möller, Páll Valgeirsson, Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson, Andrés Ingólfsson, and Ólafur Gaukur. Seated in front of them: Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir

"In Germany, we received several offers from other countries... the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Canary Islands, and even Rhodesia, but by that time some of the band members badly wanted to return to Iceland and, moreover, I was pregnant with our second child, Anna Mjöll… the first one being a son, Andri Gaukur Ólafsson, who works as a surgeon in New Hampshire nowadays. So home we went! Later on, we went on several short trips abroad at the invitation of the Icelandic Associations in England, Norway, and the USA. In the 1970s, we continued to be much in demand in Iceland. We played popular songs, many of those covers from abroad with Ólaf’s lyrics. Of course, jazz was the music of his heart, but he didn't have any inhibitions about playing pop – and, luckily, our band enjoyed great popularity.”

Apart from their performances in Reykjavík and across the country as well as recording several albums, in 1967, the group was invited to create a programme for television, just one year after the national radio station of RÚV had started its TV broadcasts. Ólafur Gaukur created an entertainment show, Hér Gala Gaukar, which contained sketches as well as the band’s most popular songs and ran for four consecutive seasons (1967-71). 

“Somebody from RÚV saw us playing in Lido,” Svanhildur recalls, “and invited us to try television. Ólafur wrote all the shows from beginning to the very end; the storyline, almost all of the songs, and naturally, the lyrics. This programme was a successful platform for the sextet, allowing us to play our repertoire for a nationwide audience.”

Ólafur Gaukur never entirely trusted being able to make a living as a performing artist alone. In 1965, with his colleague Björn Einarsson, he started a gardening company, while also publishing a short-lived teenage magazine with Þorsteinn Eggertsson. He continued writing arrangements for other artists, mainly at the request of Svavar Gests and his record company SG Hljómplötur. He hosted a radio talk show, Vikan framundan, in 1976. Picking up his old job of newspaper journalist after nearly twenty years, he became a member of the editorial office of the daily VR blaðið in 1982, where he stayed on for some twenty more years.

With daughter Anna (c. 1980)

Ólafur Gaukur worked as a private guitar teacher since the late 1950s and even developed an innovative guitar course on audio cassettes, allowing pupils to learn to play by using letters rather than music notes, in 1961. In 1975, however, the decision was taken to try to make these music lessons the main source of income for the family, as Svanhildur explains.

“Of course we had been working at Hotel Borg for seven years, but now we felt we had to sit down and think about the next steps in our life. Even though we had been lucky so far, we realised the time had come for a change. So it seemed to be a great idea to make use of Ólaf’s unique guitar skills and his popularity in this country, and start a new guitar school – especially since there was no such school in Iceland at that time. That is the way the Gítarskoli Ólafs Gauks saw the daylight in 1975! We began with absolutely nothing, but the school got off to a flying start. I can still see myself sitting on the floor answering one telephone call after the other. We rented a place in the city-centre for our school, but there weren't enough guitars available, as we could hardly handle the stream of students eager to start. Since 1975, the concept has basically remained unchanged; we teach any student, from absolute beginners to the pre-conservatory level. Ólaf loved to teach... he was a teacher at heart, an idealist!” 

In 1976, Ólaf published a textbook for his students, ‘Leikur ad læra a gitar’, which is still the basic study book used by the school’s students. As the guitar school kept on expanding, it had to move several times during its existence, until finally settling down in a house in Síðumúli Street in Reykjavík, where it is still operated.

While Ólafur and Svanhildur changed the name of their sextet to the Hljómsveit Ólafs Gauks (Ólafur Gaukur Band) in the late 1970s and continued performing using that name on special occasions into the 1990s, Ólafur Gaukur himself took an unusual decision. 

At Restaurant Naust in Reykjavík, January 1986

“Until he reached the age of fifty, odd as it may sound, Gaukur never really accepted he was a musician," Svanhildur laughs. "He was always going to be something else – he worked as a journalist while teaching and playing – but as he was doing so well in music, he just kept going. In 1980, however, he finally accepted the fact that he was a musician; or rather - at last, he realised he was a musician, no matter if he wanted to be one or not. To expand his knowledge, he decided to study music. It was a friend of his, Steve Mosco, who taught music at the respected Cal Art School in Valencia Ca., close to Los Angeles, who gave him the idea to go to the Grove School of Music in L.A. For eight years, our family more or less moved to California, occasionally returning to Reykjavík. It was an adventure!”

From 1980 to 1984, Ólafur Gaukur studied composing and arranging at the Dick Grove School of Music, where he also took conducting courses and worked with Henri Mancini as one of his teachers. Subsequently, he enrolled on a new study, film music, at the same institute; his second graduation followed in 1988 – and with flying colours. A couple of years later, in 1994, he shortly returned to America, on a short course of guitar playing at Hollywood’s Guitar Institute to brush up his playing skills; at the end of the programme there, he was offered the post of guitar teacher at the Musicians’ Institute in Hollywood, but, having his own school in Reykjavík to attend to, he decided to turn down the offer. 

During his student years, Ólafur Gaukur regularly arranged and produced studio work for the Icelandic market. For Svanhildur and daughter Anna Mjöll, he composed and arranged a Christmas album a CD with children’s songs. In 1989, Ólafur Gaukur was commissioned to arrange the track ‘Tidal Wave’ on the album ‘Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week’ of Björk’s band Sugarcubes. A couple of years earlier, he had arranged his first pieces for the RÚV Big Band.

It took a couple of years before Gaukur was handed the opportunity to put his academic knowledge about scoring film music into practice. 

Guiding one of the students of the Gítarskoli Ólafs Gauks (1980s)

Commenting on this in a 1996 interview, Gaukur explained, “When I went abroad to study film music, I realised that I probably wouldn't receive the commission of composing an Icelandic soundtrack, because, in this country, people aren't keen to let someone step forward. They're always afraid that he might eclipse them. I had almost accepted this as a fact, when, two years ago, a young man who produced a music video called me to ask if I was interested to compose the music to it. One thing led to another, and then another film maker called me who was working on a full-fledged film, Benjamín dúfa. That was my first real soundtrack.” 

Ólafur Gaukur’s music to Benjamín dúfa (1995) was nominated at the Berlin Film Festival. Apart from composing many jingles and music to TV series and TV films, he wrote two more soundtracks; Perlur og svín (1997), including the title track interpreted by Emiliana Torrini, and Myrkrahöfðingjann (1999). 

“His film music was well received in Iceland," Svanhildur comments, "but the market here was too small and he never composed another soundtrack after 1999. He would have loved to have written more, because creating atmospheres was really what he liked best and it allowed him to show his technical abilities as a musician to the full.”

In the new century, Ólafur Gaukur kept on working on the occasional recording project with pop vocalists such as Friðrik Ómar and Guðrún Gunnarsdóttir. In 2002, he finally released an album with the music of his heart, ‘2 Jazzgítarar’, for which he teamed up with fellow Icelandic jazz pioneer and guitar legend Jón Páll Bjarnason. That same year, Ólafur Gaukur conducted the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in a concert celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Beatles’ album ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’, for which he teamed up with producer Jón Ólafsson

As a student in Los Angeles, conducting a big band

When asked about the Sgt. Pepper's project, Ólafsson explains, "It wasn't the first time I worked with Ólafur Gaukur. Some years before, I had invited him to arrange some tracks for Emiliana Torrini, woodwinds and strings. Especially his string arrangements are charming and second to none. For the Sgt. Pepper’s concert, he with conducted the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, accompanying me and a band of rock musicians. He really enjoyed conducting that gig! It felt great working with one of the legends of Icelandic music. I have the utmost respect for him.”

For his daughter Anna Mjöll, who had meanwhile moved to the USA's West Coast to embark on a career as a jazz singer, Ólafur Gaukur produced, arranged, and conducted two albums, ‘Shadow of Your Smile’ (2009) and ‘Christmas Jazzmaz’ (2010).

In the last years of his life, Ólafur Gaukur received several accolades. In 2006, he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Icelandic Association of Authors, Composers, and Music Publishers. Two years later, he became an honorary member of this society, while he was also knighted in the Order of the Falcon by Iceland's President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. In 2009, Gaukur's fellow-guitarists handed him the symbolic ‘Golden Guitar Plectrum’.

Ólafur Gaukur, who continued teaching at his own guitar school until the last, succumbed to an incurable disease in the summer of 2011.

Being accorded the honorary membership of the Icelandic Association of Authors, Composers, and Music Publishers - Ólafur Gaukur flanked by guitarist, songwriter, and producer Gunnar Þórðarson and lyricist Ólafur Haukur Símonarson (2008) 


Ólafur Gaukur may only have conducted one entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, but his indirect involvement in the event dates back to the days far before Iceland even considered participating in the competition, writing Icelandic lyrics to two Eurovision classics. He turned Gigliola Cinquetti’s 1964 Eurovision winner ‘Non ho l’età’ into ‘Heyr mína bæn’ for Ellý Vilhjálms. Later, he wrote ‘Þú ert minn súkkulaðiís’ to the music of ‘Jack In The Box’, the 1971 UK entry. In the Icelandic version, it was recorded by Ólafur Gaukur’s wife Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir backed up by the Ólafur Gaukur Sextet.

Ólafur Gaukur’s daughter Anna Mjöll, born in 1970, started her singing career under the watchful eye of her parents and took part in several competitions in the first years of the 1990s, winning the Landslagið Song Festival, a televised song contest in Iceland, in 1991 with ‘Ég aldrei þorði’. In 1993, she came second in the Icelandic Eurovision pre-selection with ‘Eins og skot’. One year later she again participated in the same competition, this time with ‘Stopp’ (arranged by Jon Kjell Seljeseth). Her father was involved in both songs, as Anna recalls.

“Opposite to the song with which I won Landslagið, for which I wrote music and lyrics all by myself, ‘Eins og skot’ was completely written by my dad. Still, he insisted on putting my name on it as the songwriter, so I wouldn't look like all the other female singers out there (who needed others to write them a song - BT). For ‘Stopp’, I had the idea for the title and the theme of the song, composing the melody myself; dad wrote the lyrics, but he didn't want his name on this song either – because he always wanted to give everything to me... but also because he believed this song wasn't good enough.”

In 1996, Anna Mjöll received an invitation from RÚV to represent Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest without a prior pre-selection to be held in Reykjavík. Having accepted the opportunity to finally climb the Eurovision stage, Anna now again turned to her father.

Anna Mjöll in 1996. Photo taken from the official press kit of the Icelandic delegation at the contest in Oslo

“Anna and Ólaf always were a good team," Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir, Gaukur's wife and Anna's mother, comments. "They were very much alike, not only in music – she got the jazz-mania from him –, but character-wise, as well. Anna was determined to do this Eurovision project with her father and with nobody else.” 

“At the time when I was telephoned by RÚV, I was in Los Angeles," Anna adds. "The next thing I did was calling my dad asking for his help. I came up with the name of the song, ‘Sjúbídú’, because I felt we needed a catchword to make up for Icelandic not really being on a level playing field with the big beautiful languages out there that everyone understands, such as English, French, and Spanish; everybody, however, knows the international language of music: ‘Shoobe-doo’! I explained my dad I wanted the lyrics to state that the whole world sings ‘Shoobe-doo’, just like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Elvis Presley. I composed the melody for the chorus – and that is all I did, because dad took care of the rest, including the original idea that ‘Shoobe-doo’ is being sung from Skagaströnd to Timbuktu. In a few days, he had finished the lyrics as well as the rest of the melody. In the course of these couple of days, we were on the phone constantly. Our mutual phone bills must have been pretty impressive that month."

"When the time came to write the arrangement, it was only natural my dad would take care of that as well; I mean, he had graduated from the Dick Grove School of Music in L.A. specialising in arranging for big bands and orchestras. We agreed we wanted the song to swing; given the contents of the lyrics, it had to swing! So that's what he did, writing this swinging big band arrangement.”

With the Eurovision finals in Oslo only a couple of weeks away, Ólafur Gaukur was interviewed by an Icelandic daily. Asked about the reputation of the contest, he made an interesting comparison. “At the time when I was a young man and came into the music industry, jazz music was pretty much looked down upon in the same way as Eurovision is nowadays. Some people thought of it as evil, trying to demonstrate that they themselves were on a higher cultural level. However, back then just as nowadays, there is always this silent majority of people which values good music no matter where it comes from. The waltzes by Johann Strauss were also despised by so many, but they are still popular nowadays with a large audience. Good popular songs have always been a valid product and they always will be.”

Anna at the Icelandic delegation's press conference in Oslo

Given the strong ties between Anna Mjöll and Ólafur Gaukur as well as the fact that he had written the arrangement, it was a natural thing that he himself would conduct the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. 

“Being the professional and the perfectionist that he was," Svanhildur thinks, "deep down, he might have been a little nervous about conducting the Eurovision orchestra live on television for millions of viewers, but he was determined to do so himself. He had invested a lot of time and money on his music studies in America in the 1980s. Now being a trained conductor, he wasn't going to let anyone take this away from him. Moreover, Anna was determined to have her father up on the stage with her. She wouldn't have accepted going with anyone else.”

In Oslo, ‘Sjúbídú’ was well received by the Norwegian orchestra musicians. Thinking back of the rehearsals, Anna smiles and says, “The orchestra was so happy with the arrangement that a couple of its players came to my dad to thank him for bringing a ‘real’ arrangement to the competition. In a field of competitors in which more and more of the music was computer-programmed, they had enormous fun playing our big-band oriented song. The orchestra members recognised they had a real pro in the room. They didn't hesitate to show their appreciation for him. It felt so warm and good to have my dad taking care of the band for my performance. Thank God there was still an orchestra in Eurovision at that time to play it; that's what made it fun! The rehearsals went smoothly; on the night of the concert, when the song was played by that amazing orchestra in Oslo which knew how to play a swinging arrangement in a swinging way... and when I saw the audience swinging out there, I knew we had succeeded!”

The Oslo experience really turned into an all-family affair. When the Head of Delegation of RÚV was unavailable, this task revolved upon Anna’s mother Svanhildur. 

Anna Mjöll on the Eurovision stage in Oslo Spektrum with her four American backing vocalists

“My mom took over PR and she did a brilliant job," Anna recalls. "For the remainder of the week in Oslo, I just saw glimpses of her here and there, because she was literally running all the time, keeping the international press happy. She was amazing and they all loved her.” 

When asked about her unexpected role in Oslo, Svanhildur adds, “Yes, I probably was the busiest of the family… I lost several kilos that week. We were too busy to hook up with other artists present in the contest, though I remember Jasmine from Finland. I liked her song! Later, I played it in my radio show in Iceland. It was so exciting to be able to participate in the Eurovision adventure – and Eurovision was something which was really big back then.”

Backed up by her quartet of American backing singers – Rick Palombi, Ross Bolton, Daniel O’Brien, and Michael Maher – Anna Mjöll managed to pick up fifty-one points and finished thirteenth amongst twenty-three participating acts. 

“Like my father, I was looking forward to the experience," Anna concludes. "He found it humbling and considered it a great honour to get to write an arrangement for one of Europe’s finest orchestras and then conduct it live on television for 125 million viewers. It was an exhilarating experience which made him extremely happy - and made me extremely proud. Oh yes, he was nervous… I remember watching him in the mirror as I was putting on my make-up before the show – he was pacing back and forth, saying, “This is crazy and I'm never going to do this again!” Then, after the voting was over, he looked at me and said, “This was fun… we should do this again sometime!”

Father and daughter: Ólafur Gaukur with Anna Mjöll (c. 2008)


Pianist and painter Steinþór ‘Steini’ Steingrímsson was one year older than Ólafur Gaukur and his lifelong friend. “We were in several swing bands together, including the Gunnar Ormslev Band, but I quit in the course of the 1950s, while Ólaf continued. As a musician, he was a natural talent, who picked up playing the guitar in a matter of no time; he stepped into the music business as if he had never done anything else but playing. His improvisations were marvellous! It wasn't very usual for a guitarist to write arrangements, but at this, too, Ólaf was gifted by nature, it seemed. He read some arranging books and just started writing those scores as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Of course, the arrangements for these trios and quintets with only rhythm instruments were quite basic and he got much better at it over the years, but it was remarkable that such a young guy managed to create a personal tone in his arrangements from the outset. Even after coming back from L.A., he always kept this personal touch. I could immediately distinguish a composition or arrangement written by him; the personality shining through was just so clear! Ólaf was quite a shy person, always a little locked within himself, and certainly not everyone’s friend, but those who really got to know him valued him as a very giving person. He was a very polite and nice guy and a remarkable musician.” (2012)

Jon Kjell Seljeseth worked with Ólafur Gaukur as a studio musician in the 1980s and 1990s, amongst others on two of his film scores. “It was always a pleasure working with Ólafur. He was a very likeable person with a great sense of humour. It was not least due to his character that I was always keen on teaming up with him. Having his diplomas for composing and arranging in the pocket, his arrangements were always written out to perfection. Having played thousands of notes from scores written by Ólafur Gaukur, I cannot remember one error – not a single note wrong; the level of his professionalism was simply extraordinary.” (2012)


Country – Iceland
Song title – "Sjúbidú"
Rendition – Anna Mjöll
Lyrics – Ólafur Gaukur Þórhalsson / Anna Mjöll Ólafsdottír
Composition – Ólafur Gaukur Þórhalsson / Anna Mjöll Ólafsdottír
Studio arrangement – Ólafur Gaukur Þórhalsson
Live orchestration – Ólafur Gaukur Þórhalsson
Conductor – Ólafur Gaukur Þórhalsson
Score audio semi-final – 10th place (59 votes)
Score final – 13th place (51 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Ólafur Gaukur’s widow Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir in Reykjavík, July 2012
  • Many thanks to Ólafur Gaukur’s long-time friend and colleague Steinþór Steingrímsson (1929-), to his daughter Anna Mjöll Ólafsdóttir as well as to Gunnar Þórðarson, Jon Kjell Seljeseth, and Jón Ólafsson for sharing their memories of Ólafur Gaukur with us (2012)
  • In 2010, Sena Records released an excellent CD with a cross-section of the oeuvre of Ólafur Gaukur; the album contains a booklet with an extensive career overview written by Jónatan Garðarsson (in Icelandic)
  • An interview with Ólafur Gaukur in an Icelandic daily, Sunnudagsblað, April 28th, 1996: “Synd að ég skyldi ekki verða píanisti”
  • A book about Iceland’s involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest: Gylfi Garðarsson, “Gleðibankabókin”, ed. NótuÚtgáfan: Reykjavík, 2011
  • Photos courtesy of Svanhildur Jakobsdóttir, Anna Mjöll Ólafsdóttir, and Ferry van der Zant; a special word of thanks to Kristján Ottó Andrésson for his assistance


Born: March 7th, 1945, Lier (Belgium)
Died: August 20th, 2013, Lier (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian

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


For many years, Bob Porter was a member of Etienne Verschueren’s BRT Jazz Orchestra, the radio orchestra of the Flemish public broadcaster. A genuine multi-instrumentalist, he alternatively played the flute, piano, Rhodes piano, synthesizer, and vibraphone in this orchestra, as well as penning many arrangements. Sometimes, he played in the BRT Big Band (the TV orchestra) as a pianist as well. In 1987, when Verschueren was forced to lay down his conductor’s baton due to health problems, Porter was chosen as his successor. He led the Jazz Orchestra until it was disbanded by the broadcaster in 1991 (along with Freddy Sunder’s BRT Big Band). 

Bob Porter was a member of the Belgian team which participated in the 1981 Nordring Festival. From the 1990s onwards, Porter has worked as a freelance arranger, writing for Flemish artists such as Günther Neefs and Bart Peeters.


In 1996, the BRT commissioned Bob Porter to form an orchestra with which the finalists of De Gouden Zeemeermin, the Belgian pre-selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, could be accompanied. Porter conducted all songs in this final, won by Lisa Del Bo and her staunchly up-tempo effort ‘Liefde is een kaartspel’ (composed by John Terra and arranged by Giuseppe Marchese). In the international final in Oslo, the orchestra was placed under the direction of Bob Porter for this Belgian entry.


Country – Belgium
Song title – “Liefde is een kaartspel”
Rendition – Lisa Del Bo
Lyrics – Siirak Brogden / Daniël Ditmar
Composition – John Terra
Studio arrangement – Giuseppe 'Pino' Marchese
Live orchestration – Giuseppe 'Pino' Marchese
Conductor – Bob Porter
Score audio semi-final – 12th place (45 votes)
Score – 16th place (22 votes)


Born: March 19th, 1937, Ljubljana, Slovenia (Yugoslavia)
Died: June 11th, 1998, Ljubljana (Slovenia)
Nationality: Slovene

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


Jože Privšek proved his talent as a pianist and vibraphone player from a very early age onwards, founding his own five-man jazz orchestra, ‘Ansambel Jožeta Privška’. In 1961, when he was only twenty-four, he took over the baton of the Plesni Orkestar Radio Ljubljana (the dance orchestra of the Slovenian broadcaster) from Bojan Adamič.

Under the leadership of Privšek, this band, which was later renamed Ljubljana Radio and Television Big Band, became an internationally much-acclaimed ensemble, performing abroad and winning the prize of the Deutsche Phono Akademie in 1978 for best recording of the year, beating the orchestras of world stars Max Greger and James Last. During his time as the musical director of the big band, Privšek wrote more than 4000 arrangements for it. Under his aegis, talented jazz musicians, including Emil Spruk, Petar Ugrin, and Ladislav Rebrek, got the opportunity to excel as soloists with the orchestra. Upon his retirement in 1992, Privšek was succeeded by Lojze Krajnčan.

In the 1960s, Jože Privšek was one of the most sought-after composers and arrangers in the light entertainment business of his country. Songs of his, interpreted by artists such as Betty Jurković, Alenka Pinterič, and Berta Ambroz, participated in the countless music festivals in the former Yugoslavia, including Opatija and Slovenska Popevka. Other artistst with whom Privšek worked in the recording studio during the 1960s and 1970s, include Edvin Fliser, Neca Falk, Oto Pestner, and Majda Sepe. Moreover, his big band was called upon regularly to record orchestrations for other artists, including the 1966, 1970 and 1971 Yugoslavia Eurovision entries sung by Berta Ambroz, Eva Sršen, and Krunoslav Slabinac.


Among all conductors of the Eurovision Song Contest, Jože Privšek has perhaps the most peculiar record. In 1961 and 1962, when he was in his early twenties, he was composer, arranger, and conductor of the very first Yugoslavian entries to the festival, ‘Neke davne zvezde’ and ‘Ne pali svetla u sumrak’, sung by Ljiljana Petrović and Lola Novaković respectively, and both musically quite original tunes. 

More than thirty years later, in 1993, he returned to the competition as the conductor and arranger of the very first entry of Slovenia as an independent state, ‘Tih deževen dan’, which, in the rendition of the 1 X Band, scored badly, but has a very distinctive and pleasant jazzy arrangement to it. Until his untimely death in 1998, Privšek orchestrated and conducted two more Slovenian Eurovision entries, the beautiful ‘Prisluhni mi’ in 1995 and, one year later, ‘Dan najlepših sanj’.


Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Neke davne zvezde”
Rendition – Ljiljana Petrović
Lyrics – Miroslav Antić
Composition – Jože Privšek
Studio arrangement – Jože Privšek
(Plesni Orkestar RTV Ljubljana conducted by Jože Privšek)
Live orchestration – Jože Privšek
Conductor – Jože Privšek
Score – 8th place (9 votes)

Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Ne pali svetla u sumrak”
Rendition – Lola Novaković
Lyrics – Dragutin Britvić
Composition – Jože Privšek
Studio arrangement – Jože Privšek
Live orchestration – Jože Privšek
Conductor – Jože Privšek
Score – 4th place (10 votes)

Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Brez besed”
Rendition – Berta Ambrož
Lyrics – Elza Budau
Composition – Mojmir Sepe
Studio arrangement – Mojmir Sepe
(Ansambel Jožeta Privška conducted by Jože Privšek)
Live orchestration – Mojmir Sepe
Conductor – Mojmir Sepe
Score – 7th place (9 votes)

Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Pridi, dala ti bom cvet”
Rendition – Eva Sršen
Lyrics – Dušan Velkaverh
Composition – Mojmir Sepe
Studio arrangement – Mojmir Sepe
(studio orchestra conducted by Jože Privšek)
Live orchestration – Mojmir Sepe
Conductor – Mojmir Sepe
Score – 11th place (4 votes)

Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Tvoj dječak je tužan”
Rendition – Krunoslav 'Kićo' Slabinac
Lyrics – Zvonimir Golob
Composition – Ivica Krajač
Studio arrangement – Ivan Kelemen
(Revijski Orkester RTV Ljubljana conducted by Jože Privšek)
Live orchestration – Ivan Kelemen
Conductor – Miljenko Prohaska
Score – 14th place (68 votes)

Country – Slovenia
Song title – “Tih deževen dan”
Rendition – 1 X Band (Cole Moretti / Andrej Bedjanić / Tomaž Kosec feat. Urška Gestrin / Sandra Zupanc / Barbara Šinigoj)
Lyrics – Tomaž Kosec
Composition – Cole Moretti
Studio arrangement – Jože Privšek
(Festival Orchestra RTV Slovenia conducted by Petar Ugrin)
Live orchestration – Jože Privšek
Conductor semi-final – Petar Ugrin
Conductor final – Jože Privšek
Score semi-final – 1st place (54 votes)
Score final – 23rd place (9 votes)

Country – Slovenia
Song title – “Prisluhni mi”
Rendition – Darja Švajger
Lyrics – Primož Peterca
Composition – Sašo Fajon / Primož Peterca
Studio arrangement – Jože Privšek
Live orchestration – Jože Privšek
Conductor – Jože Privšek
Score – 7th place (84 votes)

Country – Slovenia
Song title – “Dan najlepših sanj”
Rendition – Regina
Lyrics – Aleksander Kogoj
Composition – Aleksander Kogoj
Studio arrangement – Jože Privšek
Live orchestration – Jože Privšek
Conductor – Jože Privšek
Score audio semi-final – 19th place (30 votes)
Score – 21st place (16 votes)


The following article is an overview of the career of Irish pianist and arranger Fiachra Trench. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Trench, conducted by Bas Tukker in May 2019. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Fiachra Trench's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2019

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

Born: September 7th, 1941, Dublin (Ireland)
Nationality: Irish


Irish arranger Fiachra Trench orchestrated France’s only-ever Eurovision entry performed in the Breton language, ‘Diwanit bugale’ by Dan Ar Braz & L’Héritage des Celtes. Trench also was the musical director for their performance of the song in the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest final, held in Oslo.


Though born in Dublin, Fiachra Trench grew up in Drogheda, Co. Louth, where his father was general manager of an oatmeal mill; his mother was a landscape painter, a graphic designer and an art teacher. Both of Fiachra’s parents were keen amateur musicians.

“They used to play piano duets,” Trench recalls. “Four hand piano arrangements, mostly light classical pieces. My mother was my first piano teacher; the first non-classical tune she taught me was ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’ – and I have been corrupt ever since! After the initial, gentle coaching from my parents, I was sent to a piano teacher whose approach was rather dull and theoretical, without any encouragement to improvise and play by ear. Fortunately I survived that. At the age of twelve, I went to boarding school in Waterford. There, I had a wonderful music teacher who revived my enthusiasm for music. Though classical music must have been his main interest, he was genuinely interested in the music his pupils listened to. One time, he asked me what rock-'n'-roll was all about. We’re talking about the days when ‘Rock Around The Clock’ by Bill Haley & The Comets was the new craze. I was lucky to meet such an open-minded mentor. In my adolescent years, I also discovered jazz, starting with Louis Armstrong… and that evolved into Dave Brubeck, whom I absolutely loved.”

During his secondary school years in Waterford, Fiachra proved himself a bright pupil, doing well in all regular subjects. All the while, he continued studying the piano and music theory, while having his first attempts at composition as well. 

“I would say fledgling attempts,” he adds, laughing. “In spite of that, I wanted to carry on in music, which is why, upon graduation, I decided to go to the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. That was in 1959. Probably also because my parents didn’t think music was a proper career, in parallel I studied science at Trinity College in Dublin. As I was interested in agriculture, I wanted to specialise in organic chemistry leading to a job in agrochemicals, something which I am completely opposed to nowadays. Meanwhile, I played in Trinity College’s very own dance band, Group Two. Outside of Trinity, I was involved in all kinds of jazz groups in Dublin, playing everything ranging from Dixieland to bebop. It was the source of some wonderment to my chemistry professor that I was able to get through and finish my honours degree.”

Fiachra as an 11-year-old (1952)

At the Royal Irish Academy, Fiachra Trench studied under the aegis of two reputed professors: organ with George Hewson and composition with Archibald J. Potter. “Bizarrely, 30 years before I did, my mother studied the organ with Hewson as well. No, studying music was by no means a side show – first and foremost it was a source of huge enjoyment. All the while, I was playing freelance gigs in parallel with my studies. In the late summer of 1962, I was the pianist and musical director for a sketch show by the Dublin University Players, which played at the fringe of the Wexford Opera Festival. That went into the first week when I should have been back at Trinity. Needless to say, the Head of Chemistry wasn’t exactly thrilled. Still in 1962, I wrote an orchestral piece and submitted it to Feis Ceoil, a competitive festival of classical music – and I won first prize."

"By the time I obtained my degree at Trinity and my diploma at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 1963, it was fairly clear that I was going to work in music rather than in chemistry, but in retrospect I am grateful to my parents for their encouragement not to give up on my chemistry studies, because on the back of my Irish undergraduate science degree I got into graduate school of music in the United States! I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship.”

For three years, Fiachra Trench lived in America, studying music – first at the University of Georgia, based in Athens, Ga. (1963-1964), and continuing at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio (1964-1966), where his tuition fees were paid for by his role as a graduate assistant, teaching keyboard harmony. In Cincinnati, he gained his Master of Music degree. 

“This 3-year spell in America was fascinating, not least because Georgia and Ohio are completely different places. At that time, I thought I was going to be a long-haired composer of concert music, which was an unrealistic ambition to begin with. As a student in Cincinnati, I earned some extra money by playing the piano in the Playboy Club as well as organ in a Methodist church. That was a pretty interesting double, I must say, and quite a tough one as well – my Saturday gig at the club usually finished in the early hours of the morning, and I was expected for Sunday service at ten o’clock. It was a case of living on the edge, but I got by. In your early twenties, you don’t give much mind to not getting enough sleep!”

At the piano, 1961

Looking back now, knowing that he later worked as a record arranger for most of his working life, how much of the formal background he acquired in music at university did he need to be successful as an arranger? 

“I could probably have had the same career as an arranger without the formal education. Anyone who aspires to being an arranger needs a talent for music – by whatever means, you have to learn the nuts and bolts of it. Others followed a different route, but they all had to nurture their knowledge of music theory in one way or the other. There are some wonderful books on arranging – Nelson Riddle wrote one, as did Don Sebesky. Those would have been bibles for talented musicians who didn’t go to university, but wanted to extend their formal knowledge – and some of these guys became excellent arrangers; Noel Kelehan, for example - but all roads lead to Rome, I suppose. A musician I later worked with in London claimed he had obtained a degree at the British Rail School of Music. What he meant was that he read scores by classical composers while travelling on the train from home to work every day – which can be another form of ‘teach yourself’, by closely studying the orchestration of a complicated classical piece. If I could have done the same following that route, I don’t know; probably, yes. I for one consider myself very privileged to have my formal education, as I thoroughly enjoyed going to university. But I would never deride the British Rail School of Music!”

In 1966, straight after his last oral exam in Cincinnati, Fiachra went straight off to a job, going on a nine-month tour as the pianist (and later bass guitarist) of a dance band which played at US Air Force bases in West Germany and Italy. 

“By that time, I was married. Earlier that year, my first child was born. Those nine months on the road provided me with the income I needed to support my family. After all, you can’t live on fresh air. It was a lovely time, as my wife and child were with me all the time. The tour included three months at the NATO base in Naples, which I remember as one of the dirtiest and xenophobic cities I have been to – but it was a wonderful place at the same time. For more than half of that spell, our band played in the open air, looking out on the Bay of Naples, with Capri and Ischia in sight. We played the tunes of the day and some jazz, but we also accompanied visiting cabaret artists. After the tour was over, we came back to Ireland briefly for just a few months. I did a little bit of gigging in Dublin, but I had come to realise that I didn’t want to live the life of a musician on the road, having to play the same music every night.”

In 1967, Fiachra Trench won a scholarship awarded by Ireland’s Arts Council to study for one year at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After this year, he decided to stay in England, doing freelance work in hotels, dance palaces and cabaret clubs. 

Fiachra Trench’s 1970 solo release ‘Organ Time’

“That provided an income, but for quite a while, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. By that time, I had given up my dream of being a composer of serious music. While playing in a cabaret club down in Devon in 1969, suddenly there was this light-bulb moment: I could be an arranger! I came back to London and found myself playing on a demo session for a music publisher. At this session, Deke Arlon, the CEO of the publishing company of CBS happened to come along – and he asked me to do some arrangements for him. It was astonishing that I didn’t have to prove myself first to reach my goal. I had thought I would be a copyist for other arrangers, slowly working my way into the business, but along comes Deke and there I was, creating arrangements, directing orchestras and earning more money than I had ever made in my life. The songwriter I wrote these first arrangements for, Perry Ford, has long since disappeared off the radar, but I had a foot in the door.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, beside writing arrangements, Trench composed a considerable number of jingles and melodies for adverts while he also played as a session pianist for other arrangers. In 1970, he released a solo album with dance tunes, Organ Time. As an arranger, he worked for a wide range of artists, from pop singer Clodagh Rodgers to jazz saxophonist Kathy Stobart and progressive rock band If, for whom he produced the album Waterfall, released in 1972. Moreover, Trench worked with iconic Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, writing string and oboe parts to the track ‘A Song For While I’m Away’ (1973). He went on to write further arrangements for Thin Lizzy albums, culminating with Phil Lynott’s two solo LPs.

It is worth noting that, in the early 1970s, the job of a London-based arranger was markedly different from his counterpart on the continent. In the recording studios of Paris, Munich and Milan, the arranger usually had a free hand, writing the parts for all instruments, not only string and brass, but the rhythm section as well, whilst also overseeing the recording of the vocals; whereas, at that time, in the United Kingdom there were many bands and singer-songwriters who, working with their respective producers, created their own vocal and rhythm tracks.

“So, usually, the melody and rhythm were there,” Trench explains, “and my job was to work the orchestra around that; my role could be described as adding sweetening, if you like. Prior to writing an arrangement, I would meet with the artists and producer to talk about the material they wanted recorded. In this meeting, I asked them what they wanted to do with their song, where they thought a string or brass line would fit in well; and then I went back home, sitting with my cassette recorder and writing a score based on the existing track, hoping I would come up with something they liked. Fortunately, in my 25 years of being an arranger in London, it happened to me only once that a band rejected a score I had written – but once in 25 years isn’t very often, I would say! The amount of confidence put in me was huge; and I am happy to say that there have been very few tracks that I haven’t managed to put something extra into; and indeed very few artists who haven’t been anything but a pleasure to work with.”

Single release of ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by The Boomtown Rats (1979)

By the mid-1970s, Fiachra Trench had become an established name in London’s studio world, working with soloists like Petula Clark, Tom Jones and Michel Polnareff, as well as groups such as Birmingham-based hard rock band City Boy. As a producer, he oversaw the recordings of several albums by jazz pianist/composer Mike Westbrook. In 1976, Fiachra even got to work on a demo of a song written by Paul McCartney for a film – which eventually was not used.

“Frankly, in those years, there was never an issue in finding arranging work – and hence there was not much elbowing going on between arrangers. There were times when I had too much on my plate and passed it to somebody else; and other arrangers have reciprocated. I remember doing some arrangements for an album which Del Newman produced for a Dutch singer called Liesbeth List; and Del lacked the time to take care of all the arrangements himself. I was more than happy to help, because he was one of the colleagues I admired most. He could write for strings like nobody else."

"Others I admired were Johnny Spence and Johnny Arthey, whom I also worked for as a session pianist. These guys were good colleagues; not really friends, no - the music business is a world in which one has a few close friends, but many acquaintances. As a musical director during a studio session in London, I could be looking at a string orchestra of 26 players, knowing every one of those faces – but there were very few with whom I had any sort of social contact. In an ad-hoc orchestra, it is always going to be like that.”

In 1979, Bob Geldof’s punk band Boomtown Rats released their third studio album, The Fine Art Of Surfacing. Of the ten tracks on this LP, just one included a string arrangement – in fact the first-ever Boomtown Rats song which included strings, ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’. It turned into a huge chart success and has become the group’s best-remembered song by far. The striking string arrangement was written by Fiachra Trench. 

Filling the glasses on his wedding day (1983)

“That was a major arranging job which was given to me by the Boomtown Rats’ producer, Phil Wainman. For the arrangement, I didn’t really look for an elaborate countermelody, but took the elements which already were in the rhythm track. From the band only Johnny Fingers was there when we started the recording session. After having done the string part, we added some handclaps. At that point, Bob Geldof showed up and had a listen – he looked singularly unimpressed. To him, it must have seemed so alien to have a sizable string section playing on his track. He even thought about rejecting it, but thankfully he didn’t. All in all, the result undoubtedly was atypical in their genre; and I suspect that was one of the reasons why it stood out.”

In the early 1980s, Fiachra Trench continued to be involved in recording projects for domestic and continental markets alike. In 1981, commissioned by Spanish producer Oscar Gomez, he provided arrangements for an LP by close-harmony group Mocedades, which included their immense chart success ‘Desde que tú te has ido’. One year later, he worked with Thin Lizzy’s front man Phil Lynott on his first solo album – and its best-remembered track, 'Old Town', for which he came up with the memorable piccolo trumpet solo.

“I don’t remember if it was my idea or Phil’s to use the trumpet. The influence came from ‘Penny Lane’ by the Beatles with its striking trumpet solo. 'Old Town' is a fascinating song. At the time he wrote it, Phil must have been listening to American Songbook repertoire; the chords in the chorus of 'Old Town' betray the influence. Many years later, The Corrs did a new version for their MTV Unplugged concert, for which I also wrote the arrangements – and we kept it virtually unchanged, except that the key had to be changed to accommodate Andrea Corr’s voice. By coincidence, the trumpet player who was booked in the orchestra, turned out to know the solo by heart, as he had played it many times in the showbands (Irish cover bands touring the dance hall circuit – BT). He already had it up his sleeve, so to speak, which was neat. After having adapted to the key change, he played it very beautifully.”

Though he was freelance and worked for many different producers and record companies, Fiachra teamed up with DJ, songwriter and producer Ian Levine for eleven years (1976-87). Levine penned and produced disco tracks and later became one of the standard bearers of Hi-NRG, which is considered to be a precursor of house and techno music. Initially working with Levine as an arranger, Trench later became his co-writer and co-producer.

Close-up (1989)

“Together, we wrote hundreds of songs; and every one of them was recorded. Typically, Ian wrote the lyrics for a verse and a chorus – and I worked my way around it. In 1984 we had a major hit with ‘High Energy’ for Evelyn Thomas; it took us no more than 20 minutes to write. That is the nature of popular music, you know; it’s somewhat ephemeral. 35 years on, I still receive a trickle of royalties from that one tune. The track largely consists of samples with the live elements being the vocals and my playing some lines on keyboards."

"It was a sign of the times, because the business underwent profound changes in those years. By the early 80s, orchestras had virtually disappeared from the studios, replaced as they were by computer programming. As a consequence, I struggled somewhat to find enough arranging jobs. To make up for that, I did some session work as a keyboards/piano player – and I even MD’ed a couple of theatre shows and played in the orchestra accompanying one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals in London's West End, not because that type of job suited me very well… but it provided me with a steady income for some time.”

In terms of arranging work, the second part of the 1980s proved a more fruitful period for Trench, teaming up, as he did, with some high-profile names in the business. He wrote string arrangements for albums by Joan Armatrading and Irish folk-punk band The Pogues. For the latter, he was responsible for penning the orchestral score to ‘Fairytale Of New York’, which the band recorded with singer Kirsty MacColl – and was a huge international hit. Fiachra’s most durable working relationship originating from the 1980s, however, proved to be with Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. In 1987, he was commissioned to write the string arrangements for Morrison’s album Poetic Champions Compose; two years later, he also scored Avalon Sunset which includes the romantic evergreen ‘Have I Told You Lately’. Since then, Van Morrison has worked with no other string arranger – and Trench has taken care of more than 50 arrangements for Morrison across 11 albums.

“There is no artist for whom I have done more arrangements than for Van. When he was looking for a string arranger, apparently my name was mentioned to him. I got a call to meet him in his apartment in Notting Hill. He sat me down and started playing the mixes of tracks that he had been working on. After a while, I asked, “Yeah, but why am I here?” “Well,” he said, “you do arrangements, don’t you?” So that’s how it began – very low key. Over the years, Van has put an enormous amount of trust in me. Often, when working on a new album, he sends me rough mixes of all songs and invites me to suggest which tracks might be enhanced with strings or brass. Van says very little about my work with him, but in one interview he has said he finds me very empathetic to what he’s doing – which is actually what an arranger should be doing: following the artist and the song itself, adding some simple and effective colours to it. My work with Van is a prime example of working within the track, in an organic way.”

Fiachra (left) in the recording studio with Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady (2000)

In 1991, after 24 years of living in the UK, Fiachra Trench decided to move back to his native Ireland. “I turned 50 that year. My second wife, Carmel McCreagh, whom I first met in London in 1973, is from Ireland as well. We both had quite a strong feeling about moving back, also because we thought it would be good for our two sons, who were then aged five and three. So we left London behind, settling down in County Wicklow, to the south of Dublin. Initially, I was still working in London quite often, so I got to know all the air crew on Aer Lingus and other airline services really well. Latterly, however, I have done most of my work over here in Ireland – and I can’t say I miss England that much. I had the wonderful experience of working with studio orchestras in London for more than 20 years, but I have since then spent a considerable amount of years of recording with Irish-based freelance players and symphony orchestras, which has been equally enjoyable.”

Fiachra Trench’s moving to Ireland did not impede producers and artists from finding him for their recording projects. Among countless other credits, he wrote string arrangements for ‘Love Is All Around’ by Wet Wet Wet (1994), Kate Bush’s rendition of ‘Mná na h’Éireann’ (1996) and ‘There You’ll Be’ by Faith Hill (2001). Wet Wet Wet’s version of ‘Love Is All Around’, a cover of a song originally recorded by the Troggs, remains one of the biggest selling songs of all time, with nearly two million copies in the UK alone. 

“At some point, Wet Wet Wet were approached by the producer of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral and he invited them to do a cover of one of three suggested songs, to be included in the film soundtrack. They picked ‘Love Is All Around’ and, my goodness, did they make the right choice. We recorded it in Dublin with a string section – well, and the rest is history. After 15 weeks at number one in the UK charts, Wet Wet Wet themselves engineered that the song came off the top, because people were beginning to be fed up with hearing it. Around that time, I met one of the fiddle players who took part in the session and before I could even say hello to him, he exclaimed, “If I hear that f***ing song one more time…”, simply because it was played on the radio all day long; there was no escaping it. It was lovely to work with The Wets – and I did a fair number of arrangements for them. After the group split up, I also wrote scores for several of Marti’s solo albums.”

Unsurprisingly, after his return to Ireland, Fiachra Trench worked extensively with some of the island’s most successful pop acts, such as Secret Garden, Jimmy MacCarthy, The Corrs, Brian Kennedy, Altan, and The Chieftains. With the last-mentioned folk group, he also performed on stage as a musical director in concerts in Dublin with the Orchestra of Ireland and in Palermo with the Orchestra del Teatro Massimo. For The Corrs, he orchestrated and MD’ed their MTV Unplugged concert as well as a live show with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Working on a film orchestration in Hans Zimmer’s studio (2001)

From the mid-1980s onwards, beside his activities in pop music, Trench had become involved in composing and orchestrating music scores for film and television, which became a significant part of his career for the following two decades. He wrote additional music to Florence Nightingale (1985) and Stars And Bars (1988) for composer Stanley Myers. As an orchestrator, he had a hand in block buster movies such as Die Hard (1988) and Pearl Harbor (2001) – the latter having a score written by Hans Zimmer, with whom he has worked closely for many years. 

In 2005, Fiachra’s own music to the Irish comedy The Boys and Girl from County Clare was nominated for an IFTA for best movie score. In the field of television music, he composed the music to several fiction and nonfiction series, including the much acclaimed BBC documentary series People’s Century (1995–97), which traces the history of the 20th century.

Writing for such a documentary requires a different approach from a film soundtrack, as Fiachra explains. “In documentary, it is very important not to reflect too much of the drama. For People’s Century, I remember having to write music to footage of the results of a napalm attack in Vietnam. My music for that bit was just a very quiet, low string line, which was sufficient – it would have been inappropriate to accentuate the sheer horror of the image by burying it under heavy orchestration which would have made it feel like a movie. All the drama is there before your eyes and it should not be in the music. And speaking of movies, though I am not a big fan of grandiose film scores, composing and orchestrating soundtracks does allow for a bigger palette of instruments than in a pop arrangement. Most of my pop stuff has been strings, sometimes brass, as additional elements onto an existing track, but for film music, you can write a whole piece from start to finish.”

Although having almost exclusively worked in the world of entertainment, Fiachra Trench has never lost interest in classical music, citing Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Pärt as some of his favourite composers. Following his university years, occasions to write orchestral compositions himself were few and far between. In the 1960s, he composed  'MM – A Symphonic Movement' and 'Overture For Brass And Percussion', both of which were performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. In his years in London, he wrote some library music – and after his return to Ireland, some more pieces saw the daylight, including a 'Summer Suite' for the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (1993), 'Celebration!', a suite for concert band (2005) and 'Aisling na Síochána', a composition for tin whistle, guitar, cello, harpsichord and a string ensemble (2019), commissioned by the Mermaid Arts Centre as part of a concert, The First Hundred Years, on the occasion of the centenary of the sitting of the Irish Free State’s first assembly.

Meeting up with Marti Pellow for a one-off concert with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (2012)

“The core group which played the piece is an Irish baroque quartet, Sonamus, and I added the strings around them. It was nice to note that this composition was well received by the audience and the people who commissioned it, but I guess I will never feel completely comfortable working on orchestral pieces, especially the longer ones. I am in awe of works by the great classical composers, which show an incredible skill with structure and instrumentation. Most of the orchestral pieces that I have done are much shorter; for instance, the 2019 piece for Sonamus was only about five minutes long. In all, I don’t feel particularly precious about these instrumental pieces. Others are better equipped to write such music than I am.”

In 2011, on the occasion of Fiachra’s seventieth birthday, an honorary concert was organised of his compositions and arrangements performed by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and guests including Altan, Brian Kennedy and Marti Pellow, who agreed to perform ‘Love Is All Around’ for the first time in many years. Though continuing to work as an arranger for several artists, most notably Van Morrison, nowadays Fiachra mainly works as an arranger and musical director for his wife, Carmel McCreagh, who is a professional singer in her own right. For performances in venues across Ireland, they formed the Carmel McCreagh Band – and later, when they teamed up with another solo singer, Flo McSweeney, they became Two Divas and a Piano.

“Some 10 years ago, Carmel decided she had had enough of her daytime job,” Fiachra recalls. “She decided she wanted to be a singer and make an album. We have played in clubs and theatres, with audiences ranging from 40 to 240. Carmel sings ballads, jazz standards and contemporary songs, from Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald to Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits. And we've recorded 3 albums together. Flo McSweeney is another singer with whom I've made an album – and it turns out Carmel and Flo form a wonderful duo on stage. The songs they do as Two Divas And A Piano are well rehearsed — some as solos and some as duets — but the repartee is completely spontaneous. It is gratifying to have audiences in front of you who are really there to listen to your music."

"I am happy to still be in the business. Music has been my career and it has been fun for the last 50-odd years. There is a line in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, "Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby", and I couldn’t agree more. Retirement is not an option, at least not for me!”

Fiachra MD’ing a group of string players in his home studio (2018)


In the first half of the 1990s, France regularly came up with very original entries for the Eurovision Song Contest. After the Caribbean sounds of Joelle Ursull in 1990 and Kali in 1992; and Tunisian-born Amina nearly winning the contest with her intricate, ethnically coloured ballad ‘C’est le dernier qui a parlé qui a raison’ (1991), there was new surprise when, in 1993, the French submitted an entry of which the choruses were sung in the Corsican language.

Three years later, in 1996, director Béatrice Esposito of broadcasting station France 2 felt it was time to show Europe another aspect of the country’s rich cultural heritage, as she invited Dan Ar Braz to compete in the 1996 festival in Oslo with a song entirely performed in Breton, the language of the western region of Brittany. At the time, the guitarist and singer from Quimper was enjoying success in terms of record sales and concerts with his project L'Héritage des Celtes, for which he had brought together a group of musicians from Brittany, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, all dedicated to preserving Celtic heritage; lead singers for most of the songs were Karen Matheson and Elaine Morgan, hailing from Scotland and Wales respectively. Picking Dan Ar Braz seemed a shrewd move by France 2 as Celtic music was enjoying unseen international popularity with record buyers – and moreover, the year before, Secret Garden had proved the genre could work in the Eurovision Song Contest as well, when they won the festival outright with their esoteric ‘Nocturne’.

The song chosen for the contest was ‘Diwanit bugale’ (literally translated, ‘May you blossom, oh children’). As Dan Ar Braz himself confided to us, this wonderful, tranquil melody was not written especially for the contest – in fact, it was nearly 20 years old.

The original French lyrics of 'Diwanit bugale', written by Dan Ar Braz in 1976

“I wrote it in 1976 to help the first Breton-language school, which was founded at the time here in Quimper, my home town. I composed the music and wrote lyrics in French about the hope of a renaissance of Brittany’s culture and language, which was subsequently adapted and translated into Breton by Gweltaz Ar Fur. We did not release the song at the time, which meant it was still eligible for the contest. At the time, the musical accompaniment consisted of nothing more than guitar and piano."

"The news about our Eurovision participation came through while we were in the middle of recording our new album 'Finisterres' in Dublin. We decided to temporarily break off work on this cd in order to be able to fully focus on this one song. In the studio in Dublin we used at Windmill Lane, many previous Irish Eurovision winners had been recorded – and with the same sound engineers. These guys knew which recipe to apply to a Eurovision entry. My producer Donal Lunny picked Fiachra Trench to write a string arrangement, and he did a wonderful job on that. Moreover, working with him, we found him un monsieur absolument charmant.

Asked as to why Donal Lunny picked him to pen the orchestration, Fiachra Trench explains, “I have known Donal since 1967. We had already worked together several times. When he produced Mike Scott of The Waterboys, I wrote the arrangements – but that is just an example. In the same year as the Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo, he produced a track in Gaelic with Kate Bush for which I took care of the strings. For ‘Diwanit bugale’, Donal and his assistant Calum MacColl turned to me for adding a string arrangement to the existing track that they had done with Dan and the band."

Dan Ar Braz with Elaine Morgan (left) and Karen Matheson (Quimper, 1996)

"I didn’t get to meet Dan himself until we were in Oslo, but I had previously been to see a concert of his in Paris. I was friends not only with Donal Lunny, but also with Donald Shaw who was a member of Dan’s band. This was before there was any talk of Eurovision. I had earned enough Air Miles from my trips back and forth from Dublin to London to get a free flight to Paris and meet up with my friends. For the strings to ‘Diwanit bugale’, Donal and Callum gave me carte blanche. After we recorded them in the Westland Studios, also in Dublin, they wanted an additional sustained high note in one passage, which was added from a string sample. With that last element added, the recording was complete. This version was the basis for the Eurovision performance.”

Subsequently, to Fiachra’s surprise, he was invited to be part of the French delegation for the Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo to conduct the festival orchestra for his arrangement to ‘Diwanit bugale’, thereby becoming the first-ever non-French national to conduct a French Eurovision entry – but for some reason, he was not entirely sure if he should accept.

“I hadn’t previously given a thought about going to Eurovision – and Donal only asked me after the recording had been done. By now, we were just a few weeks before the contest was due, so it was late in the day when I was asked to go to Oslo. It was an event I only knew from television – and from the stories my friend Shay Healy told about winning Eurovision with his composition ‘What’s Another Year’. My only involvement prior to Oslo was writing one arrangement for a song in the Irish heats that didn’t make it. Long story short, I didn’t know what to expect. I rang my friend Phil Coulter and quizzed him about his Eurovision experiences (which, apart from composing ‘Puppet On A String’ and ‘Congratulations’ includes conducting his wife Geraldine Branagan when she competed for Luxembourg in 1975 – BT). He encouraged me to go and was sure I would enjoy it – and so I decided to do it! I didn’t have any qualms about representing a country other than mine. I was completely comfortable with that. I mean, how many times did Noel Kelehan conduct for country other than Ireland?”

Fiachra Trench's accreditation pass as France's conductor at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest

In Oslo, Dan Ar Braz and his two vocalists, Karen Matheson and Elaine Morgan, were accompanied on stage by Donald Shaw (keyboards) and two French instrumentalists playing the tin whistle and uilleann pipes. Back then, Eurovision rules allowed a backing track, provided that any instrument on it was mimed by performers on stage. It was up to Fiachra Trench to guide the NRK Radio Orchestra as it played live over this pre-existing track; apart from the string arrangement, the percussion part was taken care of by the orchestra.

“The rehearsals were flawless,” Fiachra recalls. “The Norwegian orchestra couldn’t have been more pleasant – just lovely. Frankly, they would probably have done a fine job even without me standing in front of them. The orchestra players were wearing headphones and played to a click track indicating the beat. In other words, the conductor was in their headphones. In such cases, you don’t need somebody up there waving his arms. Nothing can be more tedious and unnecessary than that. I did cue entries of the respective instruments and gave some dynamic indications and encouragement, but even those were probably redundant. I was the traffic cop, alerting them, "By the way, one bar, and you’re in!" That’s called musical direction, and that is how I would describe myself; an arranger and musical director. Although I am familiar with the minimum technique – how to beat 4 or 5, for example –, I wouldn’t call that proper conducting. Real conductors don’t even have to think about what their arms have to be doing. I wouldn’t want to put myself on the same level as those guys.”

When asked about his further memories of Oslo, Fiachra has nothing but praise for the Norwegian organisers of the contest, “We were all very well looked after and all the NRK staff were very pleasant to work with. The schedule of rehearsals was extremely efficient – in my room in the hotel adjoining the auditorium, I could watch the progress of rehearsals on CCTV and check when we were due down there. We rehearsed every other day; on the days off in between, we were extremely well entertained. They took us on a boat on the Oslo Fjord. The Irish delegation was on the same trip and I remember hanging out with Eimear Quinn and her backing group. We were also taken to a folk village near Oslo and, topping all that, one of our free days was Norway’s national day, so we were able to attend the procession and see the King and Queen looking on. Taking part in Eurovision certainly wasn’t ‘another day at the office’. I have never been blasé about my work and I thoroughly enjoyed the week in Norway.”

Part of the French delegation at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest enjoying one of their excursions, from left to right - director of the French delegation, an unknown delegation member, Elaine Morgan, the delegation’s Norwegian hostess, flute player Jean-Louis Henaff, bag pipe player Ronan le Bars, and Fiachra Trench

On the night of the broadcast, Fiachra Trench wore a Nehru jacket. “It was a suit with a mandarin collar,” he explains, “so I didn’t wear a bow tie. When the camera was put on me to take my bow, I just waved at the audience before turning to the orchestra. I don’t remember whether it was premeditated; it could have been my down-playing of the role of the conductor. To be honest, I wouldn’t have bothered too much if I hadn’t been shown on screen. When I came back to Dublin, my two young nieces, who were 6 and 8 years old at the time, were somewhat disappointed with me for not bowing at the camera and for not wearing a tie. Somehow, they were tantalised that I didn’t wear the uniform. The performance itself was flawless, not only on the part of the orchestra, but Dan Ar Braz and his group did a good job as well.”

Did Fiachra Trench have a feeling the French entry could do well in the contest? “Well, I remember being interviewed by a Scottish film crew who were following Karen Matheson and Donald Shaw, and saying to them that the best songs in the festival were the more ethnic ones. Apart from us, there were the Spanish, Portuguese, and Irish entries who stayed away from the Eurovision-generic clichés. But in that same interview, I noted that most of them never stand a chance. Well, I was proved wrong, because Eimear Quinn won for Ireland. In the Green Room, we were sitting right beside the Irish delegation when the results rolled in. Looking across at Brendan Graham (composer of the winning song, ‘The Voice’ – BT), he shrugged his shoulders and half-smiled at me, as if to say, “What can I do?” Well, the truth of the matter was that he had composed a beautiful, very tender piece of music.”

At the end of the evening, Fiachra Trench was the only Irishman in Oslo who had no reason to celebrate. In the voting, ‘Diwanit bugale’ picked up a meagre number of 18 points, finishing 19th in a field of 23 competing entries. Dan Ar Braz himself blamed the unpopular French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll in 1995 and 1996, which created a backlash against France in general – including some countries even imposing an embargo on French wine for a while. Fiachra, however, is not convinced events in the Pacific had any influence on the Eurovision result. 

On a boat trip on the Oslo Fjord, from left to right - Fiachra Trench, Elaine Morgan, Dan Ar Braz, Ronan le Bars, and the delegation’s Norwegian hostess

“That seems to me to be a little far-fetched, to be honest. I don’t think the fact that it was performed in Breton had anything to do with it either; had it been in French, would it have been any more attractive to the voting public? I don’t think so. My guess would be that the song was too inaccessible for Eurovision audiences. Even back in the 1990s, Eurovision had a lot to do with presentation – and some beautiful songs were overlooked. ‘Diwanit bugale’ falls in that category. It was underrated, which was all the more disappointing as, in rehearsals, the Norwegian television crew didn’t stop telling us how much they liked the song. Dan Ar Braz felt hugely crushed. I was sorry for him. He was a lovely man and we had a good laugh during the week. He and the rest of the group were a credit to work with.”

The 1996 Eurovision Song Contest and ‘Diwanit bugale’ were to remain the only collaboration of Fiachra Trench with Dan Ar Braz and l’Héritage des Celtes. On their album 'Finisterres', which was released later that year, an adapted version of the Eurovision song was included which left out the strings and replaced them with bagpipes – in keeping with the remainder of the album, which does not include any orchestral arrangements.

When asked about the album version of the song, Dan Ar Braz comments, “All along, our intention had been to record ‘Diwanit bugale’ with a bagad (a traditional Breton bagpipe band – BT). Once it was picked for the Eurovision Song Contest, it had to be adapted to fit in with the rules of the festival; we abridged it to just 3 minutes and the bagad was replaced by a string orchestra. That being said, the result was really good, but it felt as a bit of a let-down that we could only have 6 persons on stage to work with the local symphony orchestra available in Oslo. How impressive would it have been to have a bagad of 30 or 40 persons on stage as well as the Eurovision orchestra accompanying us. It would have made our message much stronger; we wanted the world to listen to Breton music."

During rehearsals in Oslo, from left - Elaine Morgan, Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw

"Even without the bagad, many people in France failed to understand how France could be represented abroad by a song performed in Breton. There were even discussions about it in parliament. I was really happy to have caused so much of a stir, at least in France. Moreover, our record sales went through the roof. When L’Héritage des Celtes was disbanded, we had sold a grand total of over 1,2 billion albums.”

Lastly, we asked Fiachra Trench – who also had a minor involvement in Ireland's 2004 entry 'If My World Stopped Turning' by Chris Doran, for which he wrote the string arrangement – about developments in the Eurovision Song Contest in the years following his sole participation. 

“It grieves me that it has more and more become about presentation, and less and less about songwriters and well-crafted songs. Previously, the Eurovision trophy was awarded to the composer, not the performer – and that’s how it should be in a competition of original songs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in awe of the presentation of the television stations who organise it, putting out all these laser lights and the like... but that and the people on stage doing things of acrobatic nature has become entirely what it’s about; the song itself takes second place.”

“Incidentally, I was thrilled when the Portuguese entry ‘Amar pelos dois’ won in 2017 – a beautiful love lament, wonderfully performed; for once, the tired Eurovision-generic mould was truly broken. And the orchestra? Well, much as I would like there to be a place for an orchestra in Eurovision, I cannot imagine what its role would be when in general the majority of songs are in dance-pop style with electronically derived backing tracks. It’s shambolic, but that’s the way the contest seems to have developed.”

Fiachra in the Nehru jacket he also wore in the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest final in Oslo; picture taken in 2013


So far, we have not gathered comments of other artists who worked with Fiachra Trench.


Country – France
Song title – "Diwanit bugale"
Rendition – Dan Ar Braz & l’Héritage des Celtes (Karen Matheson / Elaine Morgan / Donald Shaw feat. Jean-Louis Henaff & Ronan le Bars)
Lyrics – Gweltaz Ar Fur / Dan Ar Braz
Composition – Dan Ar Braz
Studio arrangement – Dan Ar Braz
Live orchestration – Fiachra Trench
Conductor – Fiachra Trench
Score audio semi-final – 11th place (55 votes)
Score – 19th place (18 votes)

2004 Istanbul
Country – Ireland
Song title – "If My World Stopped Turning"
Rendition – Chris Doran
Lyrics – Brian McFadden / Jonathan Shorten
Composition – Brian McFadden / Jonathan Shorten
Studio arrangement – Billy Farrell / Ed O'Leary / Fiachra Trench
Live orchestration – none
Conductor – none
Score – 22nd place (7 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Fiachra Trench, May 2019
  • Many thanks to Dan Ar Braz for allowing us to interview him about his memories of participating in the Eurovision Song Contest (September 2019)
  • Photos courtesy of Fiachra Trench & Dan Ar Braz