Yvon RiolandBorn: August 2nd, 1936, Tours (France)
“In Tours itself, however”, Rioland continues, “there were lots of dance orchestras which performed in bars and clubs. In ’54, I was asked to replace the guitarist in one of those bands who had to leave to perform his military service. I realized this was a good opportunity to earn some money. I bought myself a guitar and listened to the records which were popular in those days. That way, I managed to master this instrument fairly soon. I played in that orchestra for some two years. Upon that, I joined another group of musicians from Tours who were contracted to entertain the guests on the cruise ship ‘Bretagne’ which sailed the Mediterranean. It was a huge adventure! Leaving from Marseilles, we found ourselves on Corsica, Sardinia, in Greece, Turkey, crossing onto the Black Sea, visiting Batum, Odessa, and Yalta in the Soviet Union. They had not seen French people there in decades! We did this trip twice in two years.”
Upon his return in Tours (1957), Rioland founded an entertainment band of his own. Rioland: “In the 1950s, when France was still a full member of NATO, American army units were stationed all over the country. Very often, evenings of entertainment, so-called bals américaines, were organized for the troops. There was ample opportunity for musicians to find work at such soirées. I formed a group of five musicians, two of them being French and the two others Americans. Friends in Switzerland regularly sent me new records from the USA; this enabled us to play the latest hits from America. We were regularly invited to entertain the Americans in the Chinon Castle, which is in the immediate vicinity of Tours. We worked a minimum of five evenings a week, performing in soldiers’ clubs and officers’ messes in the Touraine region and beyond. On one occasion, we even received an invitation to play at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe, which was in the Palace of Versailles at that time. In those days, my ambition was to be a jazz violinist. I had already started playing jazz during my days at the conservatory, but it was not until I founded my orchestra that I had the opportunity to prove myself at the violin, rather than at the guitar only.”
In the summer months of 1958, Rioland was called up for military service himself. “It seemed to go on forever”, he recalls. “These were the days of the war in Algeria and, several times, General de Gaulle extended the duration of conscription, as a result of which I served for thirty full months and was released in November 1960 only. I was lucky not to have to serve in Africa myself. I spent my days decoding transmissions for the air force, first in Bordeaux and later in my native Tours. As a matter of course, I also became a member of the Air Force Orchestra – a fully-fledged professional orchestra. With me playing the guitar and violin, I was useless when we went on parade, which happened very often – but that problem was solved by giving me the cymbals!”
After his release in late 1960, Rioland played the guitar in night club orchestras in places across France, such as Mulhouse, Angoulême, and Lyon. In 1961, by coincidence, he found himself in Marseilles, where he was offered the job of guitarist in the Marc Taynor Orchestra. Taynor was an orchestra leader of some reputation, performing with his musicians at bals populaires and with singing artists alike. “Working with Taynor meant I could earn seven times more than I had done so far with any other orchestra. We played every night of the week. Later that year, Taynor’s orchestra was contracted to accompany the popular TV show ‘Le petit train’ – my debut on television. These programmes were recorded in Paris… Taynor also took me to the Paris recording studios – a big honour indeed, because he usually hired other musicians than his own when making studio recordings. It was my ambition to settle in Paris once and for all, realizing that much work could be found there. Nevertheless, I stayed with Taynor’s band until 1963, travelling from Marseilles to Paris and back regularly.”
In 1963 and 1964, Rioland was the guitar player in the orchestra of the renowned Olympia Music Hall in Paris. Conducted by its maestro Daniel Janin, Rioland worked with the fine fleur of entertainment music from France and beyond, including Edith Piaf & Théo Sarapo, Jacques Brel, Sylvie Vartan, Johnny Hallyday, the Everly Brothers, and even The Beatles. One year prior to joining Janin’s orchestra in l’Olympia, Rioland became involved in an interesting studio project. Yvon Rioland explains: “In Paris, I met a guitarist called Jean-Claude Olivier. We became good friends. Jean-Claude wanted to form a guitar group, recreating the beat sound of the Shadows from England and the Ventures from America. Jean-Claude Olivier himself was to be the solo guitarist, with Marcel Bourdon playing the rhythm guitar, and Jean-Marie Hauser – another close acquaintance of mine – taking care of the drums. For the fourth and last spot, they were looking for a bass guitarist and Jean-Claude wondered if I was interested. Although I had never played the bass guitar before, I wanted to give it a try and joined the group. We called ourselves Les Fingers. Our records sold very well and we also did some touring across France.”
In spite of the success of Les Fingers, Rioland left the group in 1964. “In the meantime”, he explains, “I had become heavily involved in studio sessions in Paris as a bass player. It was thanks to Marc Taynor, Daniel Janin’s orchestra in L’Olympia, and of course Les Fingers that my name as an able musician was established. Studio sessions paid better than working in a regular orchestra. I was part of a new generation of musicians slowly taking over the recording studios in Paris. We replaced men who usually could not read notes. Usually, arrangers had to simplify music notation to enable them to play the scores. When more and more musicians with a conservatory education like me appeared on the scene, this amounted to a revolution! For the older guys, it was a catastrophe… faced with the threat of losing their work, they nicknamed those upstarts arriving from all corners of provincial France the sharks.”
For the remainder of the 1960s and most of the 1970s, Yvon Rioland was one of France’s most sought-after studio musicians, working with the most important Parisian arrangers of the day and playing the music for all big shots in French show business. “I cannot begin to tell you for how many artists I played the bass guitar on their albums”, he comments. “On a regular day, I spent three sessions of three hours each in the studio: one in the morning, a second in the afternoon, and the last one in the early evening hours… all in all, hundreds of sessions a year. Initially, I played the guitar and the bass guitar, but gradually it was the bass guitar that arrangers invited me for. In a short time, I had become quite proficient at playing the bass, being able to play the four-string and the six-string version and having no trouble whatsoever in sight-reading scores which had become more and more complicated over the years. Arrangers usually invited the same musicians over and over again, when they found them reliable and capable… and, without wanting to brag, I was on top in the Parisian recording business as a bass guitarist – together with Francis Darizcuren, who is of the same generation as me and had the same kind of classical background. After a couple of years, I had managed to build up some authority in this microcosm of the recording studios, which enabled me to suggest friends and young musicians to the studio arrangers. Jean Musy and Tony Rallo were amongst the guys I managed to introduce into the studio world.”
“With studio work available in abundance”, Rioland continues, “there was little time left for making tours. On many occasions, artists for whom I played in the studio, asked me to join them on stage while they were touring in France or abroad. Apart from the summer months, when there was not that much session work going on, I usually refused: I simply could not afford to leave the studio for too long, as it would not be easy to win back my place once it had been taken by another musician. Nevertheless, I sometimes did some short tour projects. A breath of fresh air now and then was nice, after all! In 1967 and 1968, I worked with Mireille Mathieu as a violinist and bass guitarist during the summer months. In ’69, I accompanied Gilbert Bécaud in Paris and Brussels. His orchestra was conducted by Raymond Bernard. When Gilbert asked me to stay in his orchestra for the remainder of his six-month-tour, I had to turn the offer down… Sometimes, artists found it hard to accept my priority was in the recording studio. Still in the 1960s, I also did concerts with Claude Bolling, Leny Escudero, and Tom Jones. Beside my work in the studio and on stage, I also regularly appeared in TV shows, working with Raymond Lefèvre and many other orchestra leaders.”
One of the longest collaborations in Rioland’s career was with that most acclaimed of all French performing artists, Charles Aznavour. Rioland: “In 1969, Aznavour insisted that I joined his orchestra. I accepted and was able to take many of my friends from the recording studio with me, such as drummer Jean-Marie Hauser. I more or less formed the orchestra for Charles. I stayed with him much longer than I had planned initially, even going on world tours taking us all the way to Australia, Brazil, and the United States. In America, we travelled across the continent, performing for one week in each of the major cities. We were received at the White House by President Nixon, whilst Brazilian football legend Pelé was our host for three days on his private island. Working with Aznavour was magical… he sang in four different languages and he bonded with audiences wherever he went. Sometimes, he came back to sing ten or fifteen encores on one night! Thanks to Charles, I came to countries I would never have visited otherwise and met many interesting people.”
In the mid-1970s, Yvon Rioland the studio musician became Rioland the arranger: he was asked by record producers, who knew of his classical background, to write scores. Initially for artists such as Jean-Claude Daigle and Colin Verdier from the Polydor label, but fairly soon almost exclusively for the AZ record company which was run by Jean Albertini. “Playing the bass in studio sessions remained my main source of income even then”, Rioland explains, “but these arrangements were interesting to work on! Jean Albertini asked me for his label. It was a huge experiment, because I had never before written arrangements for any record, but Jean trusted me and I gradually got the hang of it.” Very often in collaboration with Michel Ganot, Rioland penned the arrangements to songs such as ‘Cette fille c’était moi’ (1975) and ‘Emmène-moi danser ce soir’ (1978) by Michèle Torr, ‘Hop là dites moi’ (1975), ‘Quand tu danses’ (1976), and ‘Les mamans’ (1979) by C. Jerôme, and ‘Pas de slow pour moi’ (1979) by Jean-François Maurice – Jean-François Maurice being the stage name of none other than Jean Albertini himself.
Rioland: “I particularly liked teaming up with C. Jerôme, because he was such a friendly guy. AZ was a relatively small label, for which a tight group of people wrote and produced virtually all material: beside Jean Albertini there were Paul de Senneville, who owned a record studio, and Olivier Toussaint. Jean allowed me to co-compose songs which were used as B-tracks on single releases, which, financially speaking, was quite interesting. I introduced musicians to Jean and Disques AZ who later had an impressive career, such as Richard Clayderman and Nicolas de Angelis. Although most of my scores were written for AZ, I always remained a freelancer, allowing me to also do the arrangements for singers such as Christine and Bernard Bozec, who were under contract with other record companies.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the record business changed dramatically, with less and less room for arrangers and studio orchestras. “After some years, there was hardly any studio work left”, Rioland recalls. “With my old friend Jean-Marie Hauser, I tried to adapt to what was en vogue at that time by recording some instrumental disco material, but this did not really catch on. Therefore, I gradually moved toward the stage once more… In the aftermath of Michèle Torr’s Eurovision participation in 1977, I was the conductor of her concerts in L’Olympia – for me, one of the highlights in my career. After that, I also conducted the orchestra in Olympia for the stage shows of Michel Delpech, with whom I had toured in the early 1970s when he still worked with another arranger and conductor, Roland Vincent. In the 1970s and 1980s, I worked with the Canadian singer-songwriter Jean-Pierre Ferland for some time, both in the studio and on stage. My main artistic alliance, however, was with Serge Reggiani. I was Serge’s bass player for some thirty years – until he died in 2004. I had a very good working relationship with Serge and his conductor Raymond Bernard. Until the very end, Reggiani was a very insecure man who needed to be reassured time after time. Behind all the pain he felt, however, he really was un grand monsieur.”
Serge Reggiani’s death heralded the end of Rioland’s career as a musician on stage. He has continued to work behind the scenes, however, mainly with film composer Alexandre Desplat, who wrote the soundtracks to the Harry Potter movies. Initially penning some of the arrangements to Desplat’s work, Rioland switched to copying the scores for him and helping him registering his music at the French Association of Authors, Composers, and Publishers (SACEM) later onwards.
Yvon Rioland in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1977, Monaco was represented by Michèle Torr with a subtle chanson composed by Paul de Senneville and Olivier Toussaint with lyrics by Jean Albertini, entitled ‘Une petite française’. For the orchestration, Yvon Rioland collaborated with Michel Ganot, who had worked for AZ for several years already and was responsible for the arrangement of C. Jerôme’s signature hit ‘C’est moi’ (1974).
Rioland: “Monaco always had itself represented by record companies from Paris. There was no selection programme in Monte Carlo and we did not have to present our song there. One day, Jean Albertini simply told me AZ had been commissioned to produce the Monegasque entry. As I wrote a lot of arrangements for AZ in those days and for Michèle Torr in particular, I was the natural choice to do the orchestration for ‘Une petite française’ as well. I wrote the rhythm and brass elements of the arrangements, while Michel Ganot took care of the strings. I had invited Michel to work on the song myself… just at that time, Jean Albertini, for one reason or another, wanted to stop working with Michel, but I thought that was unfair and offered him to share this commission. This decision was mine to take and Jean Albertini could not do anything about it, but Jean was adamant that, whatever happened, Michel would not be the conductor of the song in the Eurovision Song Contest. Jean wanted me to do that job. He told Michel: ‘If Yvon does not want to do it, we will ask somebody else – as long as it is not you!’ Initially, Michel was quite angry with me, because he would have loved to do Eurovision… but in the end, he had to accept the facts. I for one was very keen to conduct the Eurovision orchestra, so I had no reason to turn the offer down!”
The 1977 Eurovision Song Contest was held in London’s Wembley Concert Hall. “Sure, I was exited at the prospect of conducting this BBC orchestra consisting of over fifty musicians”, Rioland admits. “I had only been writing arrangements for a couple of years and it was the first time ever I conducted an orchestra in a television broadcast. Not that I was worried at that prospect, because, as so many classical violinists, I have absolute pitch and conducting a light-entertainment orchestra is not the most difficult thing in the world anyway. Moreover, I was familiar with the parts of all musicians, as I had copied the scores for all of them while preparing this Eurovision project in Paris. The orchestra in London consisted of different generations of musicians, ranging from very young to quite old; one thing united them all, however: the commitment to give their absolute maximum for each of the participating artists. Michèle Torr was a very nice girl to work with, as I knew from previous experience. I had selected two artists accompanying her on stage, Nicolas de Angelis on guitar and Françoise Walle as a support vocalist.”
With eighteen countries participating in the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, Monaco managed to obtain 96 points and a highly respectable fourth spot. Rioland: “All of us were satisfied. Speaking for myself, I have always been a true competitor and I want to win any game or contest I participate in, but coming fourth in this international festival was simply a very good result. Being part of the festival in Wembley was a fantastic experience in general, with the English organization doing its utmost to make sure all delegations had a good time. Backstage, among all contestants, the atmosphere was very relaxed. Perhaps even more satisfying: ‘Une petite française’ did well in the charts in France and I went on to work with Michèle Torr in the immediate aftermath of the contest, conducting the orchestra for a series of concerts in the Olympia Concert Hall and even in a television show hosted by Michel Drucker.”
Because the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest had been won by Marie Myriam’s ‘L’oiseau et l’enfant’ for France, the 1978 festival was held in Paris. The venue chosen for the event was the Palais des Congrès in the western suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine. Monaco once more participated with a creation composed by Paul de Senneville and Olivier Toussaint; the title of the up-tempo effort was ‘Les jardins de Monaco’, with the lyrics by Jean Albertini and Didier Barbelivien celebrating the romantic surroundings of the parks in Monte Carlo. It was interpreted by Olivier Toussaint and Corinne Colbert, a well-known session singer from Paris who took on the stage name Caline. “It was a song in a totally different genre than ‘Une petite française’”, according to Yvon Rioland. “More commercial, for a start. As for the singers, I knew Corinne Colbert quite well from the recording studio. She sang backing vocals for numerous artists – Michel Delpech, to name just one – and she was very good at that. The song was always intended to be a boy-girl duet and therefore Olivier took care of the male part. Toussaint was simply the writing partner of De Senneville and Albertini; with De Senneville, he wrote all material for Richard Clayderman, such as ‘Ballade pour Adéline’. As far as I know, Olivier had no ambitions to be a star himself, but perhaps they could not find anyone else... It was once again Jean Albertini who asked me to arrange and conduct the song.”
With Caline and Olivier Toussaint, Monaco finished fourth for the second year in a row. Rioland: “Not bad with twenty countries competing! The contest in Paris was less glamorous for me than the one in London the year before. In England, Jean Albertini had booked rooms for the entire delegation in the Hilton; now, however, as all of us lived in Paris, we came to the rehearsals by car only to go home immediately after. As a result, we were not really able to enjoy the positive atmosphere of the manifestation. There were lots of friends conducting for other delegations: Jean Musy, Alain Goraguer, and Daniel Janin, while François Rauber, a brilliant arranger with whom I worked a lot in the 1960s, was the chief conductor… but there was not much contact between us – not as much as there would have been if we had been abroad. Nevertheless, everything went fine. I took my pianist of the recording studio, Gérard Daguerre, with me to replace the regular pianist in the orchestra while I conducted our entry. Gérard had played the piano part in the recording studio and I thought it was fair to ask him for the Eurovision concert too.”
“Participating in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor was a most pleasant experience”, Rioland concludes. “I had never even dreamt of conducting an orchestra for such a huge TV audience! On top of that, Eurovision was an opportunity to meet interesting musicians from all over Europe. The contest did not really change my career, as I kept on doing the same work as I had done before.”
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