Curt-Eric Holmquist

Born: June 20th, 1948, Gothenburg (Sweden)
Nationality: Swedish

Eurovision record
With no fewer than six participations in the Eurovision Song Contest between 1984 and 1997, Curt-Eric Holmquist is amongst the more experienced conductors in the history of the event. In 1984, he was a part of the winning Swedish team surrounding The Herreys and their song ‘Diggi-loo diggi-ley’. One year later, when the festival was held in Gothenburg, Holmquist was the musical director of the show; on that occasion, he did not also lead the orchestra for the Swedish entry, but for the Belgian song as well, bringing his total of conducted entries in the contest up to seven. Moreover, he conducted the orchestra in six editions of the Melodifestival, the Swedish Eurovision selection programme, between 1984 and 2000.

Biography
Curt-Eric Holmquist was raised the only child in a working-class family in the Masthugget quarter, Gothenburg. Both of his parents played an instrument in their free hours. “My parents introduced me to music. When I was seven years old, I took up an interest in my cousin’s piano, trying to get some music out of it. My father and mother decided to allow me to study the piano with a private teacher. Because we could not afford to buy a piano, they rented one! After having taken courses with an old lady for four years, I decided to quit, as the lessons were so dull. I was interested in more than just classical music, listening to the records of Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller. By the age of 13, I played the double-bass in a little folk group which I formed with my friends. Later on in my secondary school days, I played the Hammond organ in Sir Zepfields, which was a more pop-orientated band. We played two times a week anywhere in Gothenburg where youth gathered. In 1965, I joined a dance band called Five Spots. The Five Spots were later renamed the Curt Haagers Orchestra – ‘Curt’ being my name, while ‘Haagers’ was a mix of the surnames of the other band members. We played dance music, but we were more internationally minded than most bands on the circuit in Sweden. We were influenced by Kurt Edelhagen and the other big orchestras on the European continent, whilst we also played famous pop tunes. Being with Curt Haagers was a really good education: I learnt to play a huge number of songs and tunes by heart. Later onwards, when I worked in the TV business, this gave me a huge advantage over many of my colleagues. I simply had this huge standard repertoire of music of all genres to my disposal!”

Holmquist (in the middle, with glasses) as an eighteen-year-old with the Curt Haagers Orchestra and singer Else-Marie (1966)

Quite opposite to many musicians of his generation, Holmquist was not convinced from his childhood onwards that he wanted a career in music. In 1969, he left the Curt Haagers Orchestra. Holmquist: “Frankly, I was tired of the big Hammond organ. My ambition was to study at university and have a regular career. Therefore, I got into the University of Gothenburg to study macroeconomics. It did not take me very long, however, to find out that this choice of mine had been a mistake. In 1970, I left the academy and decided to give it a try at the conservatory after all. I have been into the music and entertainment business ever since. In spite of that, one thing has never changed: my life has always been about more than just music. I still love playing, but when I leave the stage, I do other things, such as spending time with my family, driving my motor boat, or simply reading a good book. There are twenty-four hours in a day and playing the piano two hours a day is quite enough. Practicing for hours on end day after day is one of the most boring things imaginable.”

From 1970 onwards, Holmquist studied the piano, arranging, and conducting at the Music Conservatory of Gothenburg, graduating in 1975 with a diploma allowing him to work as a qualified piano teacher. Holmquist: “I chose to get my degree as a piano teacher, because problems with my voice disqualified me from studying for music teacher – singing was part of that exam and I was lousy at that! My exam comprised a wide range of subjects, including orchestral and choral arranging, harmony, composing, and conducting. My piano professor at the conservatory taught me a nice balance of play. To be fair, though, by the time I did my exam, I really did not need that degree anymore… during my years at the conservatory, I developed all my contacts in the entertainment business. In 1971, thanks to a friend who was the band leader in a radio programme produced in Gothenburg, I made my debut as a Kapellmeister on radio. That same year, I started being involved as a pianist in theatre productions as well. In ’75, I appeared on television for the first time. True – I never wanted to be a piano teacher, but the conservatory gave me a fine theoretical fundament which has helped me throughout my career.”

During his student days, playing the violin (early 1970s)

In the 1970s and 1980s, Curt-Eric Holmquist was involved in countless theatre productions. From 1971 onwards, he played the piano at the Gothenburg City Theatre, while he also worked on nightclub shows. Between 1973 and 1985, he was the musical director of the immensely popular ‘Hagges Revy’, the revue of entertainer Hagge Geigert, appearing in two-hundred shows annually in the Liseberg Amusement Park’s theatre in Gothenburg. Still in the 1970s, Holmquist also worked as a record producer and arranger in the recording studio. “I had a friend who owned a studio here in Gothenburg”, Holmquist explains. “He asked me for some productions. Most of the artists and groups recording there were semi professional and they could not afford a producer and a technician at the same time. That is why I soon found myself doing everything myself: producing, looking after the sound, and occasionally also doing some arranging. This kind of work never became my main source of income, though.” Holmquist produced recordings by dance bands such as Strax, Pelle’s, and Hjärter Fem, while he also worked with Stefan Ljungqvist and the comedians of Galenskaperna. For Birgitta Sundström, he composed several songs, of which ‘En sang om kärlek’ became a top ten hit success in 1978.

Holmquist: “All of this was freelance work and, apart from theatre and the recording studio, radio and TV performances became more and more important for me in the course of the 1970s. Radio transmissions included summer entertainment shows from the Liseberg Amusement Park which were broadcast in Sweden and Norway alike. As for television, initially, this went on behind the scenes: I worked as a pianist, doing rehearsals for amusement shows. In ’75, Hagge Geigert, with whom I had been working for a couple of years already on stage performances in Gothenburg, got his own talk show on nationwide Swedish television. For about ten years, he hosted five to ten programmes annually, receiving all major Swedish actors, singers, politicians, and other celebrities. I was his musical director, leading a small band which played the intro tune and accompanied the singers. As Hagge’s talk show was hugely popular, it gave me some exposure as well, helping me to become an established name in the world of television.”

Band leader of Hagges Revy, 1978

In the 1980s and 1990s, TV work was Holmquist’s main source of income. He composed the signature music to many programmes, including the famous whistling tune to ‘Polisen som vägrade svara’ (1982). Moreover, he was the band leader in the late night show of Fredrik Belfrage (1982-’85); later on, Holmquist became the musical director and co-host of the morning show ‘Gomorron Sverige’ for eleven years, working with presenters Fredrik Belfrage (1985-’89) and Jan Jingryd (1990-’96) on 350 editions of this long-running programme. With producer Steen Priwin, Holmquist worked on many editions of the Melodifestival, the Swedish Eurovision selection, as well as on the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest final, held in Gothenburg. In 1990, he was the band leader of ‘Krogsväng’, a jazz music show with presenter and singer Svante Thuresson.

One of the highlights in Holmquist’s professional career came in 1995, when he co-produced the opening ceremony of the Light Athletics World Championships, held in Gothenburg’s Nya Ullevi Stadium. “That was a fabulous project!”, Holmquist exclaims. “We started preparing two years in advance, knowing we had to invent the wheel ourselves – there were no handbooks on how to organize something like that. On previous occasions, such a ceremony had taken over two hours, while we knew in advance that we were not given more than a mere thirty minutes of time for over two thousand athletes to enter the arena. We decided to go for a medley of Pippi Longstocking songs in new, Latin arrangements; tunes that people from all over the world gathering in the stadium could sing along to in their respective languages. On the night, it was nerve-racking – but when the last delegation of athletes was in and had marched its way past the spectators, we realized we had done it in time: 29 minutes and 30 seconds! The day after, we received ample praise from the Swedish newspapers. When I have a bad day, there are always those articles to make me feel better…!”

Performing on stage in Hagges Revy, early 1980s

In 1999, Holmquist decided to choose a completely new career path by becoming Head of Entertainment at Gothenburg’s Liseberg, Scandinavia’s biggest amusement park. Why did he give up his existence of freelance work? Holmquist: “In the two decades before, I had mainly worked for TV. In the 1990s, however, the number of live entertainment programmes decreased. Productions were centralized in Stockholm, minimizing the opportunity to make programmes here in Gothenburg. Moreover, the generation of people with whom I had worked disappeared from the scene. Producer Steen Priwin, for example, died in 1995. A younger generation took over with other views on producing television programmes. Modernization was necessary and many of the changes brought about in those years were for the better – but for me personally, the virtual disappearance of live music from the TV screens meant that it was better to move on to surroundings where I felt more comfortable.”

Holmquist was Head of Entertainment at Liseberg between 1999 and 2011. This involved producing and buying all entertainment in the park, most importantly the daily performances for the three outdoor stages; these included all kinds of music, ranging from the typically Swedish dance band genre to classical music concerts. He also produced the ‘Green Rabbit’ children’s shows, for which he composed all music, as well as theatre performances and the so-called ‘moving entertainment’, such as street parades. Apart from his work behind the scenes, Holmquist was involved in many stage performances as a pianist and musical director himself. Holmquist about his time in Liseberg: “We produced so many different things over the years. On the main stage, we hosted celebrated international artists such as Bryan Ferry and Ringo Starr, while there is practically not a single Swedish pop or rock act of any importance which has not performed in Liseberg. Throughout the year, my department consisted of twenty-two people working full-time on the park entertainment; during the summer season, with all its outdoor performances, the number increased to one hundred and twenty.”

On stage at Liseberg, c2005

The Swedish public knows Holmquist best for being the band leader for Lotta Engberg in her series of summer shows ‘Lotta på Liseberg’ (Lotta in Liseberg), which has been running every summer from 2004 onwards. Since 2009, annually, a series of twelve concerts of this show has been broadcast on nationwide Swedish television, attracting an average audience of approximately one million viewers. Even after Holmquist retired from his daytime job at Liseberg in March 2011, he has refused to say goodbye to the annual sing-along extravaganza with Engberg: “For Lotta’s shows, I play the piano, leading an eight-piece band with three backing singers. Lotta and I like working with each other very much. It all began when I asked her to host a sing-along concert with different artists celebrating eighty years of Liseberg. It was an immediate success. Lotta is not only a good singer, but an entertainer with a big heart, too. The audience immediately recognizes her sincerity and loves her for that. While I had a feeling that, after twelve inspirational years as Head of Entertainment at Liseberg, my job there was done, these concerts with Lotta were simply too much fun to give up!”

With Lotta Engberg on stage, ‘Lotta på Liseberg’, summer 2010

Curt-Eric Holmquist in the Eurovision Song Contest
In the early 1980s, the orchestra of the Melodifestival, the Swedish Eurovision selection programme – no matter if it was held in Stockholm or Gothenburg – was usually conducted by Anders Berglund. It was the entertainment producer at Gothenburg’s TV station, Steen Priwin, who was unhappy with this. “Steen thought it was lousy that Gothenburg could not come up with a band leader who was up to the standards”, Holmquist recalls. “I had worked with Steen on several different productions in the early 1980s and, in retrospect, he was constantly testing me with new challenges, trying to find out if I was good enough. Of course, I had studied conducting during my time at the conservatory and, although I have always considered myself as more of a pianist than a conductor, I know the way – as long as you do not ask me to conduct a classical music concert, because that is a totally different profession, giving a seventy-piece orchestra an idea of what you have in mind. Being a Kapellmeister, however, leading a band accompanying pop singers or a theatrical performance, does not pose any problems to me. Apparently, Steen Priwin was satisfied by my skills and he asked me to be the musical director of the 1984 Melodifestival, which was held in the Liseberg Concert Hall in Gothenburg. I remember phoning Anders Berglund for advice – after all, his experience could be relied on and he was very helpful indeed. I really liked the opportunity to work on a show with such a large audience in Sweden and I wanted to do the best I could. On the other hand, for me it was never about glamour and meeting all the stars… the Melodifestival was still a job – a very nice job, but my goal was simply to perform well and making sure the artists were satisfied.”

Little did Curt-Eric Holmquist know that the first year he was going to be involved in the Eurovision Song Contest would immediately bring Sweden victory with the three brothers Herreys and the up-tempo song ‘Diggi-loo diggi-ley’, composed by Torgny Söderberg. In an early stage of preparations of the Swedish selection, however, the conductor had to fight really hard to make sure Söderberg’s composition was included in the ten songs competing in the national final. Holmquist: “Steen Priwin asked me to be the president of the committee choosing the ten most suitable songs from about 1,500 compositions which had been submitted. Half of the jury consisted of music professionals; the other half was simply a cross-section of Swedish music lovers. The going got tough when, after having filtered out the obviously unsuitable material, we were in the process of selecting the final ten. I was one of only two jurors who thought ‘Diggi-loo diggi-ley’ should be voted in. The two of us thought the others had gone mad for ignoring the only song with the potential of doing well in the charts. It was such a catchy melody! If I had followed the rules of democracy, we would have lost out to the others, but I decided to make it a game of give and take… I allowed the other jurors to have some songs of their preference in on the condition that they gave up their opposition to ‘Diggi-loo diggi-ley’.”

Part of the Swedish delegation to the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest in their Luxembourg hotel, with Holmquist in the box, two of the brothers Herrey, Torgny Söderberg (composer of Diggi-loo diggi-ley) at the piano, and (holding her neck) Lotta Engberg-Pedersen, who was one of the backing singers. Holmquist about his strange pose: “Do not ask me why I was sitting in that baby box. Maybe I was a little drunk!”

“I compiled the band for the Melodifestival myself”, Holmquist continues. “It was a rhythm group with a brass section added to it. I asked Per Lindvall to be the drummer… he is a very gifted musician, but a social guy as well, spreading joy and laughter amongst the other members of the band. He really was the engine of the orchestra. To my mind, the drummer has the central position in any band or pop music orchestra. An orchestra without a tight drummer does not command the respect of composers and arrangers. Really, Per was the only option! In later years, when I did the Melodifestival, I introduced new guitarists, keyboardists, saxophonists, and so on… but I never substituted Per. He was simply indispensable.”

After the Herreys and ‘Diggi-loo diggi-ley’ had won the Melodifestival, Holmquist accompanied them to Luxembourg, where that year’s international Eurovision final was held. “My job there was not that difficult”, Holmquist recalls. “The arrangement was not changed substantially compared to the Swedish selection – it was just expanded with strings. Anders Engberg, a big-time record producer, had written this orchestration and it was simply perfect. The Swedish delegation had a great time in Luxembourg. We even went down to the football stadium there to cheer the national team of Norway to victory in a match against Luxembourg. As for the orchestra, it mainly consisted of studio musicians from Munich and Paris. It lacked the cohesiveness and power to really convince, but it was not that bad! The rehearsals went smoothly – but rehearsals for the Eurovision Song Contests were always the same: everyone is always in a hurry. There was never time for more than a couple of remarks here and there.”


Holmquist’s debut as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest could not have been more successful, leading the orchestra in The Herreys’ victorious performance with ‘Diggi-loo diggi-ley’ (1984)

“Actually, the orchestra members in Luxembourg had a little bet going on amongst each other”, Holmquist continues, “and they told me that Sweden was the number one in their poll. I thought that was proof that we would not win: after all, the audience usually does not go for the type of music that professionals think is good. At the same time, it was nice that those guys told me in advance they were convinced of our song. It certainly gave me some extra confidence going on stage. Although I am not a competitor at all, when it became clear we had a chance of winning the contest, I got extremely nervous. All of a sudden, it dawned to me that I was a representative of my country and that this was actually quite important. It was great to win it in the end!”

As a result of Sweden’s win in Luxembourg, the honour of hosting the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest now befell to the Scandinavian country. Holmquist: “Our producer Steen Priwin was adamant that the event be brought to Gothenburg, but there were several other cities in Sweden which came up with a bid. Steen would have gone mad if it had not been given to Gothenburg! After all, it was the Gothenburg branch of Swedish television which had produced the selection programme which had eventually resulted in a Swedish Eurovision victory. Probably in an effort to counter the effects of the huge sums of money which had to be invested in the Eurovision Song Contest itself, the national final of 1985 did not have a live orchestra. It was held in Malmö and I went down there to see it, but I was not involved in it at all. Meanwhile, the production team in Gothenburg had started its preparations for the international final. Steen Priwin produced it and I became the chief conductor. Being offered the job was an honour and I was eager to do well! I brought together an orchestra with strings and reeds from the Gothenburg Symphonic. I specifically wanted an impressive brass section which would be able to recreate the ‘fat’ sound of a genuine big band. I was really satisfied by the sound of this wonderful orchestra. The musicians who I asked were extremely thankful to me, as they received a fee for each country in which the programme was transmitted… they ended up earning 30,000 to 35,000 Swedish crowns each. That amounted to a year’s salary for some of the guys!”


Holmquist conducting the introductory stages of the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest in Gothenburg, with host Lill Lindfors singing ‘My joy is building bricks of music’

The Eurovision Song Contest was staged in the huge Scandinavium Hall near the city centre of Gothenburg. In the week leading up to the broadcast, the guest conductors from all participating countries arrived. Holmquist vividly remembers the Turkish maestro Garo Mafyan walking onto the stage for the first rehearsal: “The conductor from Turkey brought me five or six gifts… when Turks go abroad meeting others, they are keen to show their respect in that way. One of the things he gave me was a pipe. I can still see myself there in front of the orchestra with this huge pipe in my hands, not really knowing how to respond properly! Just like the trio of singers representing Turkey (M.F.Ö.), he was a very nice person to work with. Technically, he was not the best conductor… in fact, you might have got the impression that the Turkish delegation had just hooked some guy on the airport to do the job! He had a great time with the orchestra, though, and all he had to do was counting the musicians in. He could not have ruined the song, even if he had wanted to, for the orchestra played it easily and it sounded well right from the beginning. I remember it quite well – it was a pleasant ethnic tune, ‘Didai didai dai’. My role during those rehearsals was to support the foreign conductors if there was any misunderstanding with the orchestra. I was there all the time to help them if need be. It was not a difficult job – I had already played all songs with the orchestra in advance of the rehearsals and there were no problems with any of the scores, all of them being accurately written. For most of the week, I was just sitting on the side of the stage. All host conductors were professionals and they did not need any assistance.”

Curt-Eric Holmquist himself conducted two entries in the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest: of course the Swedish song ‘Bra vibrationer’ by Kikki Danielsson, which finished third; but also ‘Laat me nu gaan’, which was interpreted by Linda Lepomme from Belgium. This complicated ballad by Pieter Verlinden with lyrics by Bert Vivier finished nineteenth and last amongst all competing entries. Holmquist: “Producer Steen Priwin simply told me the Belgians came to Gothenburg with a very small delegation – just a handful of people – and that they had not bothered bringing a conductor. The score was perfectly written and the string section of the orchestra did a terrific job on the execution. The rehearsals went smoothly and the lady singing it even complimented me on the band. She gave the impression of feeling very lonely. Not even the songwriting team behind her seemed to sympathize with her at all. I felt sorry for her that the song hardly received any votes.”


Curt-Eric Holmquist helping the Belgian delegation out by conducting the entry ‘Laat me nu gaan’ in the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest

“As for the television broadcast”, says Holmquist, “everybody still remembers the moment when Lill Lindfors walked onto the stage losing part of her dress. It was a gag which had been kept top secret… only four people knew what was going to happen: Lill herself of course, the mixing engineer, Steen Priwin, and I. Although Lill has had a long career, this Eurovision Song Contest was really her ‘finest hour’ – she did marvellously well, hosting the show in such a relaxed way. When the votes came in from across Europe, I was sitting on a small chair on the side of the stage with all the scores in a pack, casting aside the entries which did not have a chance of winning anymore. In the end, I was just left with the Norwegian and German orchestrations – and Norway won with Bobbysocks and ‘La det swinge’. One of the girls from Bobbysocks, Elisabeth Andreasson, is originally Swedish, hailing from Gothenburg. She has had a brilliant career since.”

Curt-Eric Holmquist’s next involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest came in 1987, when he was the musical director of the pre-selection in Gothenburg and conducted the Swedish entry in the international festival final held in Brussels, Belgium. The song’s original title was ‘Fyra Bugg och en Coca-Cola’, but as there were loud protests in Sweden about this obvious commercial, the lyrics had to be rewritten to ‘Boogaloo’. Performed by Lotta Engberg, the Swedish song finished twelfth amongst twenty-two competing countries. Holmquist: “I was in the selection committee again and we never thought any problems would arise from this title. The entry was not sponsored by Bugg, a chewing-gum brand, or Coca Cola at all – but it looked like product placement and that was thought of as unacceptable. In spite of all of this, the entire Swedish delegation, myself included, thought we might have the right song again to succeed in the contest just like in ’84… it was a happy and upbeat tune. The voting proved we had been totally wrong! At that time, Lotta Engberg was a young girl at the start of her career… little were we to know that the two of us would turn into an inseparable team in the 2000s, performing at Liseberg for year after year! In Brussels, the Belgian organization had something quite special in store for us. On one night, the Belgian music copyright organisation treated us to an evening of entertainment, which was a nice enough gesture in itself – but it turned out they had flown in mouth-organ player Toots Thielemans from Los Angeles to be our host for that evening! Thielemans extensively worked in Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s and used to be a familiar face in show business in Scandinavia. It must have cost the Belgians a fortune to bring him over just for that one night with us. Needless to say we had a brilliant time that evening, Toots being a wonderful character.”


Holmquist conducting ‘Boogaloo’ for Lotta Engberg in the 1987 Eurovision Song Contest in Brussels

As the 1990 Melodifestival was held in Gothenburg, it was up to Curt-Eric Holmquist to be the Kapellmeister once more. In the selection, hot favourite Carola and her ‘Mitt i ett äventyr’ was surprisingly beaten by a quartet of male singers, Edin-Ådahl, who came up with ‘Som en vind’, a powerful ballad written by the same composer as ‘Boogaloo’, Mikael Wendt. Holmquist comments: “Usually, Sweden submits an up-tempo song for the Eurovision Song Contest, because experience has taught us that these have the best chance of doing well. The wonderful Johnny Logan ballads which won the festival were just the exceptions that proved the rule… but ‘Som en vind’ was too good to ignore! It was so well composed – real craftsmanship and without a doubt my favourite amongst the songs I conducted in the Eurovision Song Contest. To me, it was the correct winner of the Melodifestival, but it still came as a surprise to many – not least to the guys of Edin-Ådahl themselves.”

The 1990 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, just one year before the civil war which tore up the country was ignited. Curt-Eric Holmquist conducted ‘Som en vind’ for Edin-Ådahl, who were quite undeservedly ignored by juries across Europe, finishing sixteenth with a meagre twenty-four points. Holmquist: “Edin-Ådahl were extremely happy to be given the opportunity to perform internationally and their ambition in Zagreb was not to win the competition. For that reason, there was no real disappointment in our delegation afterwards. In retrospect, the atmosphere in Zagreb and Yugoslavia was quite tense already at that time. During our week there, we went on an excursion in the Croatian mountainside. In one village, I bought a little hat as a souvenir – a fez or something resembling it closely. On the night of the television broadcast, I thought it would be funny to wear that hat when conducting our song! But just a minute before we went on stage to perform, something in my mind told me this might be unwise… I asked one of the guys of the Yugoslavian production crew who happened to be near us if it was improper to wear such a hat. He thought it was not a good idea, because the hat was associated with the Muslim community in Yugoslavia and people could have thought I was there to make some sort of political statement. It was obvious to me immediately that it was a sensitive matter, so I took it off – a good decision, because I could have made some headlines for all the wrong reasons.”

The Yugoslavian production team wanted to skip the traditional on-screen introduction of each country’s conductor. When news of this transpired, the conductors of all countries gathered to sign a petition in protest to this. It was host conductor Stanko Selak who saved the day by protesting vehemently to the director of RTV Zagreb. The latter immediately reversed the decision. “… but it was a narrow escape”, Holmquist recalls. “To be honest, from a production point of view, I could understand why they wanted to get rid of those introductions. It was all about gaining time! In this meeting with all my colleagues from the other countries, emotions were running high, some of the conductors expressing very strong feelings indeed. We signed this petition, threatening that we would refuse to perform if Yugoslavian TV did not change its mind. Although I was not too offended myself, I agreed on principle – after all, this was a thing we were in together!”


Sweden finished sixteenth in the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Som en vind’ by Edin-Ådahl

Three years later, in 1993, Curt-Eric Holmquist was once again the musical director of the Melodifestival in Sweden, which was won by boy band Arvingarna with ‘Eloise’, an up-tempo effort penned by Eurovision veterans Lasse Holm and Gert Lengstrand. “In this programme”, Holmquist laughingly recalls, “we had a little coup in store. Only during the show itself, it was announced that the winner would not be determined by a jury vote, but by a televote, giving the opportunity to the audience at home to choose its favourite. At that time, televoting was totally new and it was some sort of experiment. The jury members all over the country who had diligently prepared their votes went mad. During the announcement, I was in the press hall; the journalists there were in uproar and started phoning frenetically. There was just one of them who remained seated really quietly and just put up his middle finger at me in jest – we had taken all of them by complete surprise! What was more, a couple of days afterwards, the news transpired that the juries would have voted another song, ‘We are all the winners’ by Nick Borgen.”

Subsequently, Holmquist accompanied Arvingarna to Millstreet, Ireland, to conduct the Swedish entry in the international Eurovision final. ‘Eloise’ did reasonably well, finishing seventh amongst twenty-five competing songs. Holmquist: “Coming to Millstreet alone was a special experience. All delegations stayed in hotels in Cork and, each day, we were taken by coaches over these narrow roads with hedges on either side… to arrive in a little village with one main street and this fabulous arena! Getting the Eurovision Song Contest there was the personal project of the hall’s owner, who had helped Irish television financing the event on the condition it would be held in Millstreet. There, all of the guest conductors were helped on their way by that very pleasant Irish musical director Noel Kelehan… a shy, quiet guy with these big fat glasses on... His orchestra was fine! In spite of the seventh place we obtained, I could not help feeling slightly disappointed, as I thought we could have come closer to victory with Nick Borgen’s song, which won the jury vote back in Sweden. ‘We are all the winners’ had a sort of basic marching rhythm that went on and on… to my mind, it had the instant appeal to do well in Eurovision. Perhaps ‘Eloise’ was a bit too old-fashioned for 1993 – the right song at the wrong time.”


Holmquist conducting the Swedish entry ‘Eloise’ in the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest in Millstreet

It was not until four years later, in 1997, that the Swedish pre-selection was organized by TV Gothenburg once again. Several innovations were brought about in the competition that year, one of those being that full backing tracks were allowed. “In the production team”, Holmquist explains, “we felt that change was urgently needed. At that time, the Melodifestival tended to be despised by composers and producers alike. They did not feel it was an attractive showcase for their music. Therefore, we decided to give wildcards to the most successful songwriters of Sweden: Jonas Berggren of Ace of Base, Robyn Carlsson, and Wille Crafoord were among them. The songs they submitted were guaranteed a place in the final. By bringing in more variation, such as the dance music by Robyn and jazz by Wille Crafoord, we hoped to change the content of the festival, attracting new audiences. Therefore, it was a blow to us when all invited compositions were beaten by a typical up-tempo song which was the archetype of a Swedish Eurovision entry. Its composer was Stephan Berg, Carola’s composer, who loved competing in the Eurovision Song Contest. His work was always instantly recognizable: it had a strong build-up, it was powerful, and had an attractive rhythm. Apparently, we were ahead of our times with our idea to renew the contest for the Swedish market.”

Stephan Berg’s winning song was called ‘Bara hon älskar mig’, interpreted by the boy trio Blond. As a matter of course, Curt-Eric Holmquist accompanied Blond to the Eurovision final in Dublin, where Sweden got its worst result in years by finishing a mere fourteenth. Perhaps more than the trite song he conducted, it was Holmquist himself who managed to attract the attention of Europe’s television audience by conducting the orchestra in a 19th century Swedish costume. Holmquist explains why he chose this striking outfit: “In 1995, when I was involved in producing the opening ceremony of the Light Athletics World Championships in Gothenburg, we included some traditional folk dancing in it. I immediately got fond of the traditional suits of those dancers. So, when my wife and I were invited to go to a wedding a couple of months afterwards, I thought: why not try to wear something like that myself? Usually, all men wear these boring, black suits and I desperately wanted to do something completely different! An old lady made me a suit with different elements of traditional 19th century costumes of the Gothenburg area. It immediately felt right and I have worn that dress on many occasions since. I am not a nationalistic guy at all, but in that outfit, I simply feel good. Therefore, I felt I could wear it for the Eurovision Song Contest as well. When I came in Dublin, however, I found out I had forgotten to bring braces to keep up the trousers. I had to get a pair of those in a local store. There was a slight misunderstanding at the beginning, because the girl behind the counter thought I was looking for some sort of lingerie. So when I had finally managed to explain to her what I was really looking for, we both burst into laughter – and I finally got what I was looking for! Internationally, I might have looked slightly odd or even carnivalesque in that suit, but here in Sweden, you could even wear it to a funeral.”


Holmquist wearing his Swedish folk costume while conducting the 1997 Swedish entry ‘Bara hon älskar mig’ in Dublin

Although the orchestra was abolished in the international final of the Eurovision Song Contest after 1998, the Melodifestival in Sweden continued to have live music accompaniment for two more years, with Anders Berglund being the musical director in 1999 and Curt-Eric Holmquist in 2000. For Holmquist, the writing was on the wall that the days of the live orchestra in the Melodifestival were numbered: “A new generation of TV makers had entered the scene and Svante Stockselius was one of them. He produced the 2000 Melodifestival and it was obvious that he wanted to change the Eurovision Song Contest. That year, he also produced the international final which was held in Stockholm. Of course, personally, I was not so fond of his ideas of taking away the live music, but, admittedly, he did a very good job on that programme… the face of the festival as a whole was more modern than it had ever been. From a production point of view, I completely understood all of his decisions, including taking away the live orchestra. Although the orchestra was still there in the Melodifestival in 2000, we only accompanied two or three songs, including the winning ‘När vindarna viskar mitt namn’, a wonderful piece of music sung by Roger Pontare. All other entries were performed entirely with backing tracks. Even Lasse Holm, a composer who always loved the live orchestra, was overruled by his production team and went for the backing track at the last moment. I talked to all performers and composers, trying to convince them to play live. All of them knew I had a great band, but the record companies behind them would have nothing of it: they wanted the songs to sound exactly like the record version which they hoped people would buy afterwards. I encountered the same problem several times during my time as Head of Entertainment at the Liseberg Amusement Park as well… the record companies often forbade an artist to perform new song material live with our band. For me, a good song is still a good song if it sounds different from the record version, but there was no way of convincing the companies – no way at all.”

“Indeed, it was nice for the band members and me when Roger Pontare won the selection”, Holmquist continues. “His song would probably also have won without the orchestra, but our brass group gave it some extra energy. No, I did not write the orchestration to that song – over the years, I only wrote the scores to one or two songs in all the editions of the Melodifestival I was involved in. Usually, the arrangements were penned by the producers or arrangers from the record studios – simply because it was more efficient than to have it written by someone who was not involved in writing or recording the song like me. Because the lion’s share of competitors went for a backing track, my orchestra had very little to do during the rehearsals in this 2000 Melodifestival. Therefore, we decided to do the interval act live. It was a fourteen-minute-medley with the most popular Swedish Eurovision and Melodifestival hits of all years performed by a group of former participants such as Tommy Körberg and Carola. The original idea was to use a backing track for that… we thought that we would not have the time to write proper arrangements and to rehearse those thoroughly, but now we changed our minds. This interval act turned into a huge success, with the audience cheering and positive press comments all around.”


Holmquist conducting the spectacular interval act of the 2000 Swedish pre-selection show in an arrangement by his keyboard player Dan Evmark and featuring (amongst others) Carola, Tommy Körberg, and Björn Skifs

“Perhaps, that is the main reason why I would never want to be involved in Eurovision again”, Holmquist concludes. “This fantastic interval act is probably my best memory of working on the Eurovision Song Contest. It was the end of an era. Since, the contest and the music business in general have taken a different direction. Music is more complex and contains elements that are impossible to play live. I was lucky to be involved in the competition when the good vibes of a live band were still there. It is impossible to turn back the hands of time – to say no to development. Even if there would be an orchestra or some sort of live music again, I think I would not be the right person anymore to do the job… a person more involved in the new world of music would be a better choice!”

Other artists on Curt-Eric Holmquist
So far, it has not been possible to gather memories of other artists about Curt-Eric Holmquist.

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker did an interview with Curt-Eric Holmquist in Gothenburg, July 2011. Many thanks to Mr. Holmquist for providing us with a CV giving an overview of his professional activities as well.
  • The best source of information about the Melodifestival and probably the best book ever published about the Eurovision Song Contest: Leif Thorsson, “Melodifestivalen genom tiderna. Århundradets svenska uttagningar och internationella finaler”, Stockholm (ed. Premium) 1999 (first edition).
  • All photos courtesy of Curt-Eric Holmquist.

  

Songs conducted
1984: Diggi-loo diggi-ley
1985: Laat me nu gaan
1985: Bra vibrationer
1987: Boogaloo
1990: Som en vind
1993: Eloise
1997: Bara hon älskar mig

Musical director
1985: Gothenburg