Frank Fievez

Born: March 7th, 1942, Wihéries (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian

Eurovision record
Franz ‘Frank’ Fievez was involved in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion, in 1992, when he conducted Belgium’s entry ‘Nous on veut des violons’. In Morgane’s interpretation, this song, composed by Claude Barzotti, finished twentieth amongst twenty-three competitors.

Biography
Though neither of Franz Fievez’ parents were musicians – his father was a barber and café owner – they decided to name him after some of the most prolific classical composers: Franz Liszt, Franz Léhar, and Franz Schubert. Franz was born in the third year of German occupation of Belgium in a tiny village in Hainaut, just off the French border. “Perhaps they had a career as a musician in mind for me”, Fievez laughs, “though, in reality, I rather doubt it. Much later, when I started performing with Adamo and Claude Barzotti, these singers much preferred to call me Frank rather than Franz, as they thought this was a better stage name. Going back to my youth years… my father was a good amateur accordionist and I started playing that instrument when I was three years old! Still without any knowledge of notes or solfège, I played by ear. As my parents thought I did amazingly well on that instrument, after one year, they took me to Brussels to participate in a youth accordion competition, where I competed as a four-year-old amongst much older rivals and won first prize!”

The prodigal child and his accordion, c1947

“One or two years later”, Fievez continues, “my grandparents bought me an upright piano and I started taking lessons with a local teacher, Madame Hanot Dutat. I stayed with her for some ten years and she deserves credit for succeeding adding the necessary background, including music theory, to my given musical talents. I owe her much respect. Without the classical basis she gave me, I would never have become a professional in jazz and light-entertainment music. At secondary school, I played the piano in a school band. Rock ‘n’ roll was the sound of the day and I liked listening to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. Simultaneously, however, I developed a predilection for jazz music… Louis Armstrong was a favourite, but I was especially fascinated by the inimitable style of piano play of Erroll Garner. Meanwhile, I did well at school. I spent most of my youth at my grandparents’, as my mom and dad were worried I would not be able to focus properly on my studies living above my father’s café. After obtaining my diploma, I studied chemistry at the Université Libre in Brussels. Though I played in a ballroom orchestra with fellow students, I did not feel quite at ease at this academy. After one year, in 1960, I quit university and embarked on studies to obtain a teacher’s degree. After some years, I was qualified to teach geography, physics, and chemistry at a secondary level.”

Between 1964 and 1968, Fievez worked as a teacher at the Secondary Technical School in Hornu. Meanwhile, he earned some extra money in the local music circuit. Fievez: “In 1963, I joined a group called Les Guitares Phantomes, in which, as can be derived from the name, the piano served merely as an accompanying instrument. After about one year, I was hired by the Albert Langue Orchestra, an orchestra of semi-professionals from the Mons region which specialized in Dixieland music. As an adolescent, I had regularly attended concerts of Langue and his band, and they were one of the main reasons why I became so fond of Dixieland in the first place – this is still the genre I prefer at heart. I played with Langue for four years, until 1968. We did not earn fortunes, but it was interesting nonetheless! Though music always was close to my heart, I was happy to work as a teacher. In 1966, I went on a three-day-trip to Paris with a group of colleagues and students. I organized tickets for a concert in the Olympia Concert Hall organized by Radio Europe 1 in which, amongst others, Nino Ferrer and Hugues Aufray participated. It was a memorable night. One of my colleagues tapped me on the shoulder, asking me what my emotions were. “Well”, I said, “it would be a dream to be a performer in this hall myself one day!” Little was I to know that, thanks to Adamo, this dream would come true within two years!”

Fievez (second from right, with moustache) having fun with Salvatore Adamo and the other members of Adamo’s accompanying band during a tour in Japan (1975)

By the time Frank Fievez became Salvatore Adamo’s pianist in 1968, the Belgian chansonnier of Sicilian descent was already a big international record star with hits such as ‘Vous permettez, monsieur?’, ‘Dolce Paola’, and ‘Tombe la neige’. “In the later summer of ‘68”, Fievez comments, “the pianist of Adamo’s accompanying band, Gilles Maréchal, died in a traffic accident. As I was a close friend of Adamo’s drummer, Jean-Francis Vandriessche, I joined him at Maréchal’s funeral. A couple of hours later, I received a telephone call from Salvatore Adamo. He explained Vandriessche had suggested me as a suitable replacement for Maréchal and he asked me to come to his offices in Jemappes at once. Having arrived there, I found Adamo and his musicians in the rehearsing room. The atmosphere was tense, which is quite understandable given they had just buried their friend and colleague. I shook hands with Adamo and the others. Then, Adamo asked me to sit at the Hammond organ. Rightaway, without any time for preparation, the drummer gave the tempo and, hop, c’était parti… we played two titles, ‘Le néon’ and ‘Valse d’été’. After the second song, Adamo invited me to his bureau, offering me a contract of indefinite duration! I did not accept right away, instead asking some days for reflection. Would I give up my secure teaching job for taking this leap into the dark? My wife was great… she said she would support my decision whatever! After some nights without sleep, I decided to pursue my dream and called Adamo to tell him I would accept. This is how my career as music professional started. On October 28th of 1968, in the Théâtre du Gymnase in Marseilles, I did my first gig with Adamo. A vivid memory! In November and December, we played a series of concerts of five weeks in l’Olympia, Paris.”

Frank Fievez worked with Adamo in the studio as well as on stage for nearly twenty-five years (1968-’92). In those years, he wrote nearly all band arrangements for Adamo’s live gigs. With Adamo, Fievez toured in Western and Eastern Europe, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Japan, and even New Caledonia in the Pacific. Fievez: “Especially in Japan, Adamo was extremely popular. With Adamo, I visited Japan eighteen times! In France, of course, we must have performed in nearly every town. Adamo was an avid performer who had to be dragged off the stage… he loved the audience and they loved him. The secret of his success? He is a bonhomme commanding each and everyone’s respect by virtue of his voice, gentleness, modesty, and charisma. He has always enjoyed a good press… nobody has ever had anything negative to say about him as an artist or as a person. Mind you, in rehearsals, he could be severe and demanding… it was not unusual for him to continue rehearsing with us until fifteen minutes before the start of a performance. He often performed new chansons which we had rehearsed just once or twice… that could be nerve-racking for us, his musicians! He was our patron, but a good patron and a wonderful artist to work with. The two of us always enjoyed an excellent working relationship.”

Fievez (standing, third from left, with glasses) with Adamo and Adamo’s drummer Jean-Francis Vandriessche (far right) posing with a group of Japanese fans (c1981)

Apart from the live arrangements, Adamo trusted Fievez with some studio orchestrations to his songs as well, though not too many. Fievez made an indelible mark, however, by writing the string and brass orchestration to one of Adamo’s biggest hit successes, ‘C’est ma vie’ (1975). “Most of the times”, Fievez explains, “Adamo’s French record company pushed its favourite arrangers on him. Most of them were fantastic musicians. Alain Goraguer, most notably, was an inspiration to me; his string arrangements were second to none… not even mentioning his great sense of humour. And who was I… just un petit Belge, the little Belgian! Nonetheless, I contributed in many studio sessions, though my name was not always mentioned. For the song ‘Petit bonheur’, for example, Adamo worked on the arrangement with us, his regular musicians. He sang the chorus to us, upon which I responded with suiting piano accompaniment… and the others followed suit. That is how many of Adamo’s songs were arranged. We collaborated on ‘C’est ma vie’ in a similar way, but, when we were satisfied with the rhythm parts, Salvatore said to me: “… and now you will write some strings and brass to this tune!” I cannot hide my pride when talking about this song… it was a huge hit in many countries and Adamo still has to sing it at every live performance!”

Partly thanks to his involvement with Adamo, Frank Fievez became much sought-after by others in the music industry as well, amongst other things for sessions in the record studios in Brussels. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was the regular pianist in studio sessions with producer and arranger Pino Marchese, whilst his services were also often called upon by Willy Albimoor and Roland Verlooven. Moreover, Parisian orchestrators such as Jean Musy and Alain Goraguer regularly came to Belgium to record their scores, working with Belgian session players such as Fievez. As such, he collaborated as a pianist and keyboard player on productions with the likes of Jean-Claude Pascal, Patrick Hernandez, Claude Barzotti, Will Tura, Nana Mouskouri, Anthony Quinn, and Shirley Bassey. Apart from his abilities as a pianist, Fievez occasionally took up his old accordion, recording several albums and singles with compositions by himself and others which were released in Belgium and France, including ‘Musette en fête’ (1974) and ‘Festival d’accordéon’ (1978). Fievez: “Most of those albums were released on the Vogue label and did reasonably well here in Belgium. Later onwards, in the mid-1980s, I did an accordion performance on RTL Television, which was followed by an album release ‘Accordeon TV party’, of which I am extremely proud. The title track was a composition by myself in Latino style. That album did well in France, too.”

One of Frank Fievez’ solo records as an accordionist

As so many of his fellow piano players in the recording studio, it was not long before Fievez was invited to write arrangements as well. “As a matter of fact”, he recalls, “my studio arranging career took a very inauspicious start. One day in 1969, when I had only been a professional for several months, I was telephoned by Jean Musy from Paris. I had met him at a session in Brussels. He informed me that he had been invited to record an album with actress Jeanne Moreau, but that he was unable to accept due to other obligations. He wondered if I was interested to step in… well, of course I was! He passed me Jeanne Moreau’s telephone number and I called her… I was extremely nervous; she was a big cinema star back then! It turned out she had little time to record the album… in between two film productions in which she was involved. In the weeks during which she was available, I was due to go on tour with Adamo in Québec. As there was no workable solution, I had to turn down this prime opportunity to work as an arranger in Paris. Depressingly, a couple of days after my conversation with Moreau, Adamo’s tour to Canada was cancelled. What a missed opportunity! A couple of years later, Claude Barzotti, who was not only a singer in his own right, but a record producer for Belgian artists as well, gave me the opportunity and, this time, I grabbed it with both hands. I had studied some textbooks on arranging. Moreover, after having worked with, and observed, some of the best French orchestrators - Alain Goraguer, Jean Musy, Jean-Claude Petit, and Jean-Claude Vannier, most notably - I had ample inspiration to write proper orchestrations. They also gave me an idea on how to conduct an orchestra; even later onwards, I never took any conducting lessons; it came naturally to me.”

For some twenty years, from his debut as a studio arranger in 1972 onwards, Frank Fievez regularly worked in this capacity for the likes of Franck Michael, Alex Busanel, Doudoul, Frédéric François, Maria Miel, Philip Gersande, Martine Laurent, Gerri Lacosta, Christian Rineldi, and of course Adamo. With Bernard Estardy and Roland Verlooven, Fievez took care of Claude Barzotti’s immensely successful album ‘Souvent je pense à vous madame’ (1983), whilst he also took care of the arrangements for the maxi single ‘The must of the 50’s’ by Anni Anderson & Maurice Dean (1987). Apart from his steady flow of orchestrations, Frank Fievez also occasionally tried his hand at composing pop songs. In the 1970s, two of his creations were recorded as flipsides on single releases by Marc Farell and Jean-Pierre Auda. In the early 1990s, he helped fledgling artist Morgane (Ingrid Simonis) on her way with his compositions ‘Un amour aussi grand’ and ‘Je vous aime’. He also wrote several songs with Claude Barzotti, including Barzotti’s major hit ‘Aime moi’ (1990).

Fievez (with glasses, left) with Anthony Quinn (far right) and Quinn’s son Francesco following a recording session with Anthony Quinn in Brussels (1981)

In the 1970s, Frank Fievez was regularly invited by RTB, the Francophone public broadcaster in Belgium, to form orchestras to accompany show programmes. Amongst other things, Fievez conducted his own orchestra, which included Bruno Castellucci on drums and Pino Marchese on bass guitar, for a gala broadcast from the seaside resort of Knokke as well as for a series of music programmes broadcast from the RTB studios in Brussels featuring some major Francophone record stars. Moreover, Fievez was occasionally invited to perform on TV as an accordion soloist. In the 1980s, he composed a series of jingles for RTBF radio.

As a piano accompanist, apart from his long-standing involvement with Adamo, Fievez performed on stage with many major Belgian record stars, such as Frédéric François, Claude Barzotti, Will Tura, Paul Louka, Jacques Hustin, and Alain Delorme. Apart from that, he regularly joined small jazz formations for low profile performances, whilst he played the piano in the Belgian production of the musical comedy ‘Attention: fragile’ in the National Theatre in Brussels (1981). Fievez: “For the concerts with Will Tura, which took place in the Forest National Concert Hall in Brussels, the conductor of our orchestra was Willy Albimoor, who was a fantastic arranger. Honestly speaking, I have always preferred performing on stage to studio work, which usually involves huge time pressure. In a live show, you can feel and hear the reactions of the audience right away, something which I enjoyed thoroughly.”

Frank Fievez (on keyboards, to the left) was the musical director of Claude Barzotti’s live show in Paris’ Olympia Concert Hall (2004)

Apart from his musician’s job, Frank Fievez worked as a pedagogue for over twenty-five years, teaching jazz composition, arranging, harmony, theory, piano, and various other instruments at the Music Academies of Saint-Ghislain (1975-2002) and Baudour (1978-2002) as well as at the Conservatory of Music in Tournai (1979-1986). Fievez: “I taught all jazz disciplines, theoretical and practical subjects alike. In fact, at the request of the inspector of Belgium’s music academies, I co-created a jazz course for music academies and conservatoires, together with a group of musicians which included Bruno Castellucci, Arnould Massart, and Pierre Zurstrassen. The programme we compiled was totally independent from the traditional classical music courses. This was in 1975. Subsequently, after having passed my teacher’s exams, I was hired by the music school in Saint-Ghislain, and later onwards also in Baudour and Tournai, though I abandoned that latter job after a couple of years because I did not want to give up touring with Adamo. I thoroughly loved being a teacher, enabling me to bring across my love for jazz to a younger generation. Some of my students went on to the conservatories in Brussels and became good music professionals. I am very proud of that! I stopped working at the music schools in Saint-Ghislain and Baudour upon reaching the pensionable age of sixty.”

Though he officially withdrew from the music industry in 2002, Frank Fievez has occasionally continued helping out his son Dominique (1967-), who turned into a successful record arranger and producer in his own right, by playing the piano and accordion parts in studio sessions. “When Dominique was ten or eleven years old”, Fievez laughs, “he already came along with me to the record studio, closely observing the sound engineer. With the bass guitar as his main instrument, he followed the jazz course in Saint-Ghislain with me as his teacher, whilst, as a producer and arranger, he is as much an autodidact as I was. Of course, he is totally used to the modern way of recording instruments one by one and using computers to enhance the sound. Personally, I can be slightly nostalgic about the days when we recorded a Nana Mouskouri record with Alain Goraguer conducting a full studio orchestra. The downside was that, when one of our colleagues had made a mistake, the entire orchestra had to stay to play the piece all over again. Besides, you have to admit that, though nothing can replace a session of strings and brass, the introduction of the synthesizer has opened up huge new possibilities in terms of sound. It is foolish to think that this sound revolution can be stopped. I prefer a mix of both elements, a session with classical instruments added to computerized sounds… the richness of colour created by such a combination is often quite amazing.”

Fievez (on the keyboards, far left) with the impromptu jazz band The Dixie Stompers during an open-air concert in Houdeng-Gœgnies (c2005)

Frank Fievez in the Eurovision Song Contest
Frank Fievez participated in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor on one occasion, leading the orchestra for the Belgian entry in 1992, ‘Nous on veut des violons’, an up-tempo song composed by Claude Barzotti. Anne-Marie Gaspard’s lyrics make an unmistakable case for live music: We want violins on a pedestal. The studio arrangement to the entry was by Bernard Estardy. Fievez rewrote the studio version into a workable live orchestration. In Malmö, Sweden, where the contest was held that year, young and inexperienced vocalist Morgane (Ingrid Simonis) managed to pick up just eleven points with her rendition of the song, finishing twentieth amongst twenty-three contenders.

Fievez: “It was not until after Morgane had been selected to represent Belgium that I got involved. At that time, I was in Québec, accompanying Claude Barzotti, the composer of ‘Nous on veut des violons’, on his Canadian tour. Claude himself brought me the news that I was his first choice to conduct the song at the Eurovision Song Contest. Roger Meylemans of Morgane’s record company had agreed to my appointment, though the final confirmation came from our broadcaster RTBF. As I had such a close working relationship with Barzotti, this did not come as a total surprise, but, nevertheless, my first question to Claude was why he did not ask Bernard Estardy to do the job instead of me. After all, Bernard had written the arrangement! Claude explained me that a Belgian conductor was needed to conduct the orchestra for Belgium’s entry (apparently, RTB changed its policy from the 1970s, when Pierre Chiffre, Michel Bernholc, and Jean Musy, all from France, were allowed to conduct a Belgian Eurovision attempt, BT).”


Morgane performing ‘Nous on veut des violons’ in the 1992 Belgian selection programme; as there was no orchestra present, Morgane was backed up by the studio recording, which had been arranged by Bernard Estardy

“I had first met Bernard back in 1969 when we had the honour to record ‘Petit bonheur’ with Adamo in his studio in Paris. He was an adorable guy and a very good arranger and sound engineer. Claude Barzotti had a long-standing working relationship with him. In fact, when I had composed ‘Un amour aussi grand’ for Morgane and made a demo with my son Dominique, Bernard recorded the final version which was released. That was Morgane’s first hit in Belgium! I can say that I stood at the cradle of Morgane’s career. It was Anne-Marie Gaspard who had urged me to listen to this young girl from Liège… Dominique and I were immediately blown away by her vocal abilities. Therefore, I insisted that Claude Barzotti should give her an opportunity. I composed ‘Un amour aussi grand’ especially for her, hoping to force her breakthrough. Initially, Barzotti’s reaction was lukewarm, but when the song became a hit, Claude claimed he had discovered her. That was not quite correct!”

“The RTBF informed me on the exact formation of the orchestra in Sweden. Based on those details, I reworked Bernard Estardy’s studio arrangement, which had been recorded solely with synthetic elements, into a live orchestration. As you can imagine, some details had to be adapted, including the violin intro. As a whole, though, I stayed faithful to Bernard’s original ideas. I think our song was quite good. It is by no means Claude Barzotti’s best composition, but there was nothing wrong with it, and, though I was sure we would not win, I expected we would do well in the voting. We certainly deserved more than we got.”

“It was the first and only time I visited Sweden. I admit that I was nervous about working with this orchestra, of which I did not know a single musician. How would they respond to me and my instructions? Luckily, it turned out to be a very good ensemble and the communication was relatively easy. I spoke English to them and there was an interpreter on standby to explain them certain instructions in their own language. There were some little things which had to be adjusted, but these were no more than details… situations which regularly occur in a studio recording as well.”

“With hindsight, my mistake was to insist on playing the song entirely live. I was not aware that, in the Eurovision Song Contest, it was customary to work with pre-recorded tracks to go with the live orchestral accompaniment. In Malmö, I was quite dismayed to find out that only a handful of countries did not use a backing track. Spain was one of those countries and I remember their conductor (Javier Losada, BT) was unhappy about the situation as well. In the course of the week, the two of us got on well. He was a charming guy and we had a chance to have the occasional chat in between rehearsals. Perhaps we were naïve. When I now listen to the TV broadcast of the festival, the sound mix for our song is dreadful. For a start, the organ is much too loud, practically drowning the rest of the orchestra. We could have avoided this if we had chosen to pre-record the rhythm track and just work with the classical orchestra players. At that time, the guy from Spain and I felt that other countries were cheating by using backing tracks. Please let me stress that this is not the reason why we did not win… it is simply that the sound problems on the night detracted from the presentation of our song.”


Frank Fievez conducting the Swedish orchestra for Belgium’s entry in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, ‘Nous on veut des violons’ by Morgane

“Of course, Morgane was nervous as well. What else would you expect… she was just sixteen years old! In the course of the week, I tried to help by reassuring her backstage… about staying calm and collected, about performing in a natural way, about imagining that there were no audience. Given that she was so inexperienced, she did a fine job on that huge stage. In Malmö, I was soon convinced that Ireland would win the competition. During rehearsals, I witnessed Johnny Logan walking in and, though he was not the singer but just the composer of the Irish entry (‘Why me’ by Linda Martin, BT), this enormous throng of journalists around him simply created the victory. He had already won the competition twice as a singer and this created a media buzz which was simply irresistible. The voting proved me right.”

“The way the Swedes organized the competition impressed me. On all rehearsal days, the original time table was abided by… nothing had to be adapted. In my free time, I mainly was with Claude Delacroix, who was our TV commentator – later to become Head of Radio at RTBF. He was a very pleasant guy and we found time to take a boat trip to Copenhagen, where we spent a pleasant day out. As for the atmosphere after the voting, of course our delegation was disappointed, especially Claude and Morgane. However, the day after, when we went home, all seemed to have been forgotten. Luckily, the result did not do Morgane’s career much harm; she enjoyed some more successes after her Eurovision participation before giving priority to her family life. As for myself, I am proud to have taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest and to have been given the opportunity to represent my country!”

Malmö, Eurovision 1992 – a moment of relaxation for Frank Fievez (left) with Claude Delacroix, TV commentator for Belgian broadcaster RTBF

Other artists on Frank Fievez
So far, we have not gathered comments of other artists about Frank Fievez.

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Frank Fievez, October 2013.
  • All photos courtesy of Frank Fievez.

  

Songs conducted
1992: Nous on veut des violons