Guy MatteoniBorn: November 8th, 1945, Marseilles (France)
At eleven years old, Guy went to the lycée and took up studying piano and solfège at Marseilles’ Regional Conservatory simultaneously. Guy: “I stayed at the conservatory until I passed my piano exams in 1961. As a regular student, I was quite ambitious and I even embarked on studying law. By that time, however, I was so absorbed by my activities in music, that I left university after just one year. Some years before, when I was still in secondary school and the Beatles appeared on the music scene, I had gotten interested in pop music and formed little pop bands with my classmates. One thing led to another, and by the time I was a student, I earned quite some money by playing the piano in pop bands and small entertainment orchestras which performed in the Marseilles area. All the while, my love for jazz persevered. In 1961, I attended a concert of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and found myself being lured into a jam session with some of the musicians from his band right after the show. What an unforgettable experience!”
Matteoni gave up his law studies when one of the bands he was in, Les Cinq Gentlemen, was signed by the Barclay record company. The quintet with Corsican lead vocalist Jean Fredenucci played a mixture of covers and own repertoire. Matteoni: “We formed Les Cinq Gentlemen in 1964. All five of us were fond of the music of the Zombies, the Rolling Stones, the Animals… in short, British pop groups. I was the band’s organ player and wrote the lion’s share of the arrangements. Initially, we just played covers, but we gradually started inserting our own compositions into our concerts. After we had been signed by Barclay and had had a considerable hit in France with ‘Dis-nous Dylan’ in 1966, an example of what I would call French psychedelic pop, we started receiving invitations to play at concerts all over the country. Quite often, we were the support act for bigger artists, while also nightclubs called upon us frequently. We had a great time together, but we did not make that much money and it dawned to me quite soon that we were not going to be as big as the Beatles! In my spare time, I started studying arranging and harmony by studying textbooks. By way of practice, I wrote out arrangements by listening to pop records. I had not taken any harmony courses during my conservatory days. Deep down, I knew I wanted to be a studio arranger – this was my ambition cachée! Even back then, I could not imagine anything being more wonderful than writing an orchestral arrangement and having it recorded by a studio orchestra.”
The episode of Les Cinq Gentlemen was cut short when Guy was drafted into the army for sixteen obligatory months of military service (1967-’68), which he spent in Radolfzell, West Germany. There, he formed and led the regiment’s entertainment band and played jazz with a local German group. “When I got back to Marseilles in May ’68”, he continues, “I put up a band of four musicians, with which I performed in clubs and bars. We played the flavour of the day, Otis Redding and things like that. One year later, in 1969, the general manager of Le Vamping, which was one of Marseilles’ two main cabarets, approached me wondering if I was interested to form an entertainment orchestra for his club. A stroke of luck… imagine, even Paul Mauriat had once been the musical director of this particular cabaret! I expanded my band to eight elements. The three years at Le Vamping were interesting, because I got the opportunity to accompany popular artists who performed in our club, such as Michel Sardou and Claude François. What was even better: I got to write the arrangements for their shows… very instructive, given my hidden ambition, of course! Simultaneously, I got involved in Edmond Tauber’s jazz big band, which comprised the best brass players of the French Riviera. Apart from playing the piano, I got to write some of the arrangements for this ensemble as well – my first scores for a genuine orchestra. This band was really good… we even did a couple of concerts with Phil Woods, one of America’s best avant-garde saxophonists.”
In the last months of 1971, Guy Matteoni decided he had to leave Marseilles to realize his dreams of being an arranger. “I was already twenty-six years old”, he comments, “and I felt it was now or never. One day, I simply left for Paris without any concrete plans. I managed to find myself a place to live. But how to get into the record business? Luckily, thanks to my work with Les Cinq Gentlemen, I knew some people here and there. I wrote a letter to one of them, film composer Michel Magne, who had once invited our band to perform on two private soirées. The next day, Michel telephoned me and invited me to become his assistant. It was the best thing that could have happened to me. Michel owned a fabulous castle on the western fringes of Paris, Hérouville, in which he had installed a record studio for his film projects. The castle was popular with foreign artists and big names such as Elton John, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie all came to Hérouville to record their albums. I was given a room in the chateau to live in and worked for Michel for the next two odd years. He was very generous and allowed me to write things on my own fairly soon. I was very sad when Michel ended his life in 1984, because I owe much of my career to him. Together with François Rauber and Georges Delerue, I would say he is the arranger who influenced me most profoundly.”
With Magne, Matteoni worked on several film scores, such as ‘Don Juan ou si Don Juan était une femme’ with Brigitte Bardot and ‘Moi y'en a vouloir des sous’ by director Jean Yanne, both from 1973. Thanks to Magne, Matteoni got to know some of Paris’ important producers, most notably Bernard Saint-Paul. Saint-Paul asked him to arrange many of his studio projects, amongst others with crooner Robert Carpentier, whilst he allowed the young arranger a record of his own as well, simply called ‘Marseille’ (1975). Matteoni: “Bernard put a lot of confidence in me and, almost from the beginning, encouraged me to work on projects of my own. In ’73, I released an instrumental single called ‘Pianissimo’. Bernard was fond of my voice and he often asked me to do background vocals in studio sessions. In ’74, I released my first single as a solo singer and one year later, the concept album ‘Marseille’ saw the daylight. I wrote all music, lyrics, and arrangements for that record. The lyrics are about the Marseilles of my young years. A single from this album, ‘Rue Saint-Ferréol’, was a modest hit success. That album was my baby and I was very grateful to Bernard for giving me the opportunity to create it.”
In 1973, Matteoni got in touch with singer-songwriter Gérard Lenorman and his producer Jean-Jacques Souplet. With some short interruptions, Guy continued working with Lenorman for the next thirty years, writing loads of record arrangements for him, including some of his biggest hits, such as ‘La ballade des gens heureux’ (1975), ‘Voici les clés’ (1976), and ‘Si j’étais président’ (1980). Moreover, he composed Lenorman’s success song ‘Soldats ne tirez pas’ (1974) and was his musical director in countless stage shows across France and beyond. “Gérard heard one of my orchestrations for Robert Carpentier”, Guy recalls, “and he liked what he heard! He asked Souplet to contact me and that is how our collaboration got started. Gérard had already had some hits, but his major record successes were with me! Gérard is an excellent singer and performer. He has always succeeded in moving his audiences with beautiful melodies and poignant lyrics. He asked a lot of himself and the people around him, including me… but we got along extremely well. In the 1970s and 1980s, I must have written some one hundred arrangements for his records. Later onwards, I continued working with him on stage, for the last time in 2004.”
Working with Saint-Paul, Souplet, and other producers, Guy Matteoni quickly became one of Paris’ most sought-after freelance record arrangers. In the 1970s, he penned scores for the likes of Charles Trenet, Adamo, Francis Cabrel, Jeane Manson, Hervé Vilard, Nicole Croisille, David Alexandre Winter, Michel Sardou, Marie Myriam, Gérard Palaprat, Nicole Rieu, Claude François, and international stars such as Gigliola Cinquetti (Italy), Petula Clark (Britain), and Ajda Pekkan (Turkey). Moreover, he was involved in writing the arrangements to all hit successes of Dave, most notably ‘Trop beau’, ‘Vanina’, ‘Dansez maintenant’, and ‘Du côté de chez Swan’ (all from 1974-’75), as well as to François Valery’s ‘La loi d’amour’ (1978) and Daniel Guichard’s ‘Je viens pas te parler d’amour’ (1979).
When asked about the secret of an effective hit arrangement, Matteoni says: “Each arranger has his own methods and tricks. In the old days, these used to be referred to as ‘gimmicks’, whilst nowadays one mostly speaks of ‘hooks’… these are elements in the instrumentation that listeners easily remember. In its most basic form, the recurring guitar riffs in ‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones are a prime example of such a hook. Such repeated sound effects can help bringing about chart success for a song. Among the ‘don’ts’ for an arranger, I would say the main one is following one’s own musical preferences too heavily, thereby forgetting what a particular vocalist needs in a particular song. One runs the risk of ruining the artistic value of the song by ignoring the artist. My favourite record project? I would have to go for ‘Je t’écris’, an album for Eric Charden from 1980. It contained the single ‘L’été s’ra chaud’, a disco track, which I co-composed with Eric. Moreover, I arranged all songs included on it. Eric allowed me to voice my ideas about the project and almost all of these ideas were honoured. I was and still am proud of the result.”
Apart from his work for other artists, Matteoni continued releasing the odd instrumental solo project, including an album called ‘America’ (1978) and the 1981 single ‘Un piano sous la pluie’. He arranged the music to several television programmes, most notably the signature tunes of cartoon series ‘San ku kai’ (1976) and ‘Albator, le corsaire de l’espace’ (1978), both compositions by Eric Charden. In spite of his ties with Michel Magne in the early 1970s, Matteoni never really made his mark in the world of film music, signing for the arrangements to just a handful of titles, including ‘Vive la vie!’ and ‘Gwendoline’ (both 1984). “I cannot really say I regret the fact that no breakthrough in the film business happened”, he comments. “I never looked for such a breakthrough, mainly because the work itself and the film business as a whole did not really appeal to me. Moreover, in those years, I had more than enough work in pop music.”
In the period 1980-1989, Guy Matteoni continued working in the record studios in Paris, writing arrangements for artists such as François Valéry, Marcel Amont, La Bande à Basile, C. Jérôme, Dalida, Plastic Bertrand, Richard Anthony, Isabelle Aubret, Mireille Mathieu, Guy Mardel, Pierre Bachelet, and Annie Cordy. In this decade, he was co-responsible for several new hits, including ‘Elle’ by Didier Barbelivien (1980), ‘D’amour ou d’amitié’ by Céline Dion (1982), and ‘Et toute la ville en parle’ by Michèle Torr (1987). For Céline Dion, he also penned the score to ‘Tellement j’ai d’amour pour toi’, with which she represented France at the 1982 World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo and came third.
Slowly, however, Matteoni started withdrawing from the Parisian metier, desiring to return to Southern France. In 1986, together with sound engineer Claude Mainguy, he founded a record studio in Bouc-Bel-Air, close to Aix-en-Provence. “The reason is quite simple”, Matteoni explains. “I had had enough of Paris, j’en avais marre! In the 1970s, when you worked in the studio business, living in Paris was a first requirement. The 1980s, however, were the days of the synthesizers, the TGV, and improving air connections in France! In ’86, I came back to the Riviera and put up this new studio, whilst continuing my work in Paris with Pierre Bachelet and others… Je me baladais entre les deux, I travelled to Paris and back again. Mainguy and I had a huge success in 1988 with our studio project Debut de Soirée and the dance hit ‘Nuit de folie’. We were a good team… we got along well and were both quite all-round as songwriters, producers, and engineers. After the Debut de Soirée episode, we recorded several other things in our studio, including Nathalie Pâque’s single ‘Bébé bambou’ in 1990. In the 90s, however, the music industry rapidly changed… rap and boy bands were not exactly my cup of tea and arrangers were less and less in demand. Therefore, I progressively focused on other activities.”
The main of these activities for Matteoni was doubtlessly constituted by live performances. As a pianist and musical director, he had been working with some of France’s best-loved singers from the 1970s onwards, and he continued accompanying Pierre Bachelet and Gérard Lenorman until well into the first decade of the new millennium. Others Matteoni worked with on live gigs include Dave, Alain Souchon, and Michèle Torr. “I love being on stage”, Guy explains. “Travelling around is one thing, but performing with a group of musicians to entertain an audience which is right in front of you is something I adore. Especially with Gérard Lenorman and Bachelet, I did countless tours. Simultaneously, there were always other projects which came along, such as arranging the musical comedy ‘Les enfants du soleil’ in 2004. That project, written by Didier Barbelivien and Cyril Assous, took me some nine months of work in a studio in Paris. I also arranged Didier’s solo album ‘Envoie les clowns’ in 2005. Another interesting commission was Julio Iglesias’ 2007 album ‘Quelque chose de France’, for which I wrote part of the orchestrations.”
In 2006, Matteoni embarked on an unprecedented series of eight consecutive tours with ‘Age Tendre’, a show with popular artists from the 1960s and 1970s and live accompaniment. Between 2006 and 2014, Matteoni was the musical director of hundreds of concerts across France and Belgium. Matteoni: “’Age Tendre’ is the brainchild of Michel Algay, Gérard Lenorman’s producer. He asked me somewhere in 2005 if I thought it an interesting idea. We started out in 2006 without knowing if the formula would catch on with the public. The first three months were hard, but then the audiences started growing bigger and bigger. Can you imagine: eight tours consisting of sixty to seventy concerts a year? We were joined by many singers, including, amongst many others, Marie Myriam, Demis Rousso, Gilles Dreu, and Rika Zaraï. I worked with an orchestra of twelve elements and a group of backing singers. In the sixth and seventh season, we were backed up by a fantastic symphonic orchestra from Hungary. Meanwhile, Michel has come up with a new concept, ‘Sacrée soirée’, with artists from the 1980s and 1990s. The first tour will take off in 2014 and I will be the musical director once again.”
From 2008 onwards, Guy Matteoni has been the deputy mayor of Marignane, whilst being responsible for all cultural activities in that town to the west of Marseilles as well. Matteoni about this striking career move: “In 2008, Eric le Dissès was elected mayor of Marignane. Being a friend to my wife, he decided to ask me for the job of cultural chargé d’affaires. I accepted on the condition that I could remain unaffiliated to any political party. My responsibilities extend to all music, dance, and theatre schools as well as all museums and cinemas in Marignane. Moreover, I have supervised the organisation of several open air concerts. In 2014, new elections will take place and we shall see what the political future brings.”
Guy Matteoni in the Eurovision Song Contest
Apart from the three songs he conducted himself, Matteoni wrote two more scores for which the orchestra was placed under the baton of another maestro, Portugal’s ‘Dai-li-dou’ by Gemini (1978) and ‘Vivre’, with which Guy Bonnet represented France in Eurovision 1983. The conducting honours for these entries were taken by Thilo Krassman and François Rauber respectively. “As for that Portuguese song, I hardly remember a thing about it. It must have been the group’s record company which commissioned me to write that orchestration. Quite understandably, the Portuguese preferred a conductor from Portugal to lead the Eurovision orchestra instead of me. I was equally happy to leave the conducting of ‘Vivre’ to François Rauber in 1983. I had written that score, but was unable to accompany Guy to Munich, as I was on tour with Pierre Bachelet. François, who had been the musical director of the French selection show, was a more than worthy replacement. I had the utmost respect for him as a person and as a professional and it was an honour to work with him on an album by Jacques Debroncquard, an excellent singer in the style of Jacques Brel. Though I naturally knew Guy Bonnet, as we were both from the south of France, this Eurovision project must have been about our only collaboration. ‘Vivre’ was a standard Eurovision song, nothing more and nothing less.”
Matteoni’s first Eurovision performance was in 1979, when France was represented by Anne-Marie David, who had won the festival for Luxembourg six years previously. Her 1979 song, ‘Je suis l’enfant-soleil’, was penned by the experienced songwriting team of Eddy Marnay and Hubert Giraud. Matteoni wrote the arrangement, which he conducted himself in the international festival final in Jerusalem, where France came third behind Israel and Spain. “I was contacted by Claude Pascal to arrange Anne-Marie’s song”, Guy recalls. “Claude was the editor of this record. Writing the score was made easier due to the fact that composer Hubert Giraud, a great musician for whom I arranged quite many songs over the years, knew well what he wanted it to sound like. He came up with the rhythm, for example. So when the song came my way, the main construction work, so to speak, had been done already. The result was a ballad tailor-made for a competition such as the Eurovision Song Contest.”
“As for Anne-Marie David, I had worked with her before, composing her song ‘Trop’, which even was a modest hit success a couple of years prior to the Jerusalem festival. In spite of that, in Jerusalem, I hung out more with the representatives of France 2, the television company, than with either the songwriting team or with Anne-Marie herself. We were in the same hotel, but that was about it… there was much more mutual sympathy between the artist and me in the two other contests I was involved in later onwards. In Jerusalem, it was nice to meet some other French musicians, such as Hervé Roy who conducted Jeane Manson’s song for Luxembourg. Laurent Vaguener was Monaco’s representative; we met him and his conductor Gérard Salesses on our flight from Paris to Israel. Of course, Hervé and Gérard were familiar faces from the Parisian record studios. I sympathised a lot with the Israeli singers, who eventually won the contest with ‘Hallelujah’. Accidentally, I met Gali Atari and her producer (this must have been Shlomo Zach, BT) some time afterwards in a record studio in London, which was pleasant.”
What were the rehearsals like? Matteoni: “First and foremost, it was special to work in Jerusalem. I had never been there before and I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere. Conducting the orchestra in these circumstances gave me goosebumps. The conducting itself did not make me especially nervous. I never became a trained conductor in the classical sense, but I had acquired the basic techniques in the recording studio in the preceding years. One cannot make some random movements and expect an orchestra to perform well – especially the string players with their classical education will not like that and will begin gossiping about you behind your back – but it is not the most difficult thing imaginable. I have never encountered any problems, either in the studio or on stage. Throughout the years, I have always had a good working relationship with the musicians in the orchestras I worked with. Generally speaking, in my three Eurovisions, I never had any problems or hiccups with the orchestra in rehearsals or during the concert itself.”
Guy Matteoni has one particular memory of the week in Israel. “One day, I went on an excursion to Masada and the Dead Sea with some members of the French delegation. We left early in the morning, knowing we had to be back late in the afternoon for a rehearsal with Anne-Marie and the orchestra. We were accompanied by a guide and had a magnificent day out. We travelled back through the occupied West Bank territories, but had forgotten about all road blocks where Israeli soldiers were checking on everyone passing by! It took us far longer to get back to Jerusalem than we had anticipated… and to cut a long story short, I was late for the rehearsal. We were not that much late – ten or fifteen minutes – and therefore the organisation turned a blind eye and let us go ahead. Because there was no time to change, I conducted the orchestra dressed in shorts… and with the skin of my face red and burning! Afterwards, I was told we were lucky – the EBU could have disqualified our song because of our making a mess of the rehearsing schedule. Anne-Marie, who was totally determined to win the competition, was beside herself with anger… how could I have let her wait? Her anger became even more impressive during the voting when it transpired France would not win. While the votes were coming in, she was tense to the point of emotional breakdown.”
Nine years later, in 1988, Matteoni appeared on the Eurovision stage as a conductor for the second time. Gérard Lenorman, forty-three years old at that time, represented France with a song he had written himself in collaboration with Claude Lemesle: ‘Chanteur de charme’. Quite naturally, Lenorman turned to Matteoni, with whom he had worked uninterruptedly for fifteen years, to write the arrangement and conduct the festival orchestra in Dublin, Ireland. In spite of a magnificent orchestration and Lenorman’s convincing performance, ‘Chanteur de charme’ failed to impress the international juries, finishing in a disappointing tenth position with 64 votes.
“Gérard did not want to sing the song himself”, Matteoni recalls. “He had submitted it to the selection board of French television with the intention of giving it to another performer. The committee then contacted him with a simple message: we will not choose your song for the contest, unless you perform it yourself. Gérard must have felt a little apprehensive about doing Eurovision, but in the end he agreed. We were left with very little time… Gérard came down to my studio in Bouc-Bel-Air, where we recorded a very basic version of the song with just synthetic instruments. Upon that, I had a couple of weeks to work that initial version up to a live orchestration suitable for the Eurovision orchestra in Ireland. I really like this particular orchestration and the Irish musicians played it excellently.”
The members of the French delegation in Dublin were given little opportunity to move around freely during their spare hours. Matteoni: “We were told we were one of three delegations seriously threatened by terrorist groups. The other two countries were Israel and West Germany. This is all that was told to us by Irish police; we were not given any details. The organisation did not take this information lightly and attached a security officer to each and every member of our delegation. This bodyguard was at your side from the moment you left your hotel room at the beginning of the day to the time when you returned there in the evening. The situation made all of us a little nervous. During our free time, we tried to escape our guards, but to no avail. One day, Gérard and I made a stroll in the centre of Dublin. Some Irish youths wanted to have a chat with us, but they were immediately sent away by our guards. As you can imagine, I did not get to see much of Dublin that week… which was a pity, because it is such a pleasant town!”
Did Matteoni expect to win the contest with Lenorman? “With Céline Dion amongst the competitors, I was pretty sure we would not win, but I expected us to finish amongst the first five. Gérard surely wanted to win and he prepared for his performance meticulously, as always. He is such a perfectionist! He was always nervous until the moment he went on stage – that was his way. I was so disappointed for him… to my mind, he deserved more. The song was good! When I listen to it now, twenty-five years later, it still sounds fresh and modern to me – certainly when compared to ‘Je suis l’enfant-soleil’ by Anne-Marie David, which has really turned into a song of a past era. In the late 1980s, Gérard went through a difficult period in his career. His live shows still drew large audiences, but his record sales had plummeted dramatically. He must have hoped for some new energy with a good result in Dublin, but it was not to be…
One year later, in 1989, Matteoni was once again involved in the French Eurovision entry as an arranger and conductor. What was more, he had co-composed ‘J’ai volé la vie’ with G.G. Candy. After this song had been picked by French TV internally, it was performed at the international festival final in Lausanne (Switzerland) by an eleven-year-old girl from Liège, Belgium, Nathalie Pâque, who picked up 60 points and came eighth amongst twenty-two competitors. How did Matteoni get in touch with this young Belgian songstress?
“Nathalie was a discovery of editor Max Amphoux”, the conductor comments. “He introduced her to G.G. Candy and me, requesting us to write some material for her. I met Nathalie for the first time at G.G.’s place in Paris. G.G. – his real name was Roger – and his wife Vava had been in Michel Fugain’s accompanying group, Le Big Bazar, and, being a close friend of theirs, was regularly invited over to their place, just outside of Paris. On such evenings, G.G. and I often ended up at the piano, trying to create a new song. That is exactly how ‘J’ai volé la vie’ was composed, of course with Nathalie’s impressive vocal abilities in mind. Later onwards, Sylvain Lebel wrote lyrics to the melody and Max Amphoux suggested it to TV channel France 2 for the Eurovision Song Contest. That is how the song was selected. I wrote the orchestration and decided to have the rhythm elements as well as the saxophone solo pre-recorded – just to make life a little bit easier in Lausanne.”
In Lausanne, the songwriters of ‘J’ai volé la vie’ were given a hard time by the Swiss press. Matteoni: “Journalists claimed we took advantage of a child… they called it child labour. We were not expecting this negative approach. The most annoying thing was that the same question was put to us day after day. At one point, I answered that if one had taken the same attitude two-hundred years ago, there would have been no Mozart. Luckily, Nathalie herself was unstirred by all of this… she had her mum and dad to care for her and they kept her away from press attention. She did an excellent job on the song. It was amazing to see such a young girl being so confident on stage. Any artist is in need of the support of the musicians around him, but a girl like Nathalie… she simply did her thing without caring too much about what was happening around her. We were hoping for a good result for her, perhaps even a victory, but an eighth position was not all that bad. Things were complicated a bit due to Israel coming up with a child singer as well; this took away some of the uniqueness of our entry. Nonetheless, the contest in Lausanne was primarily a good experience. I had a great time with G.G. and the representatives of France 2. In spite of some follow-up singles I produced for Nathalie, she did not rise to stardom in France. Later onwards, she performed in musicals. Elle se débrouille, she is doing well!”
“Even at that time, back in the 1980s”, Matteoni concludes, “the officials of French television who were in our delegation told me: “A second place would be the best possible result!” They were not all that keen on winning because of the costs of organizing the contest the following year. I did not pay much attention to that. I simply wanted to do well… the fact that one represented France, made it all the more special. It was as if being a sportsman, defending the tricolour. Though I cannot say these three Eurovision appearances changed my career, I was happy and proud to conduct the French Eurovision entry three times. I look back on these three contests with the utmost of pleasure.”
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