Norbert DaumBorn: September 6th, 1948, Braunau am Inn (Austria)
In 1965, the Daum family moved from Vienna to Hagen in North-Rhine Westphalia, West Germany, where Norbert’s father became the managing director of the European branch of an American company. By then, Norbert’s musical interest had firmly moved from classical music to pop: “I had first been confronted with the light entertainment genre back in Vienna. As a young teenager, I was invited by some guy who played in a jazz band to attend a rehearsal in a cellar. These were the early 1960s and they also played beat music – covers of English and American hit songs. To me, this was a revolution... my ears were tingling with this new sound! My parents listened to classical music only and the Piarists’ Gymnasium in Vienna was a very conservative school, a cocoon which protected us from modernity. After this first encounter with beat music, I was hooked. By the time we moved to Hagen, I was seventeen and determined to be a rock ‘n’ roll musician. My parents were extremely supportive, even when I decided to quit school one year before the final exams. To me, every hour at school was an hour of wasted time. I never seriously considered going to university anyway.”
Almost immediately upon his arrival in Hagen, Daum became the lead guitarist and band leader of the Substitutes, a rock band which mainly played covers of popular hits and with which he stayed for six years (1965-’71). Daum: “The Substitutes was a band of four musicians and a female lead vocalist. The core of the band consisted of me and some school friends. North-Rhine Westphalia had a bristling pop scene at that time and even in little Hagen, there were several more bands like us. There were beat festivals and smaller stages in cafés, nightclubs, youth centres, and even schools… We did not really have a hard time making good money. Once I had left school, I rented an apartment of my own in Hagen. Though my parents offered me financial support, I declined this, as I felt, being a professional musician now, I should be able to make ends meet by myself. We never made any records – we were simply copycats and, to me, it was a valuable part of the process of becoming the musician I have become. I was one of only two band members able to read music and I took care of most of the arrangements, though this simply constituted telling each musician what to do in a particular song – we did not write anything down. Looking back on my Hagen years, I can only say I enjoyed every minute!”
Meanwhile, Norbert, keen to develop his technical and theoretical skills as a musician, studied composition, music theory, and piano with Fritz Emonts, the headmaster of Hagen’s Youth Music School. “Prof. Emonts was a concert pianist”, Daum comments. “His daughter was my girlfriend for many years. He was a classical musician who preferred ignoring modern developments. To him, even Sibelius was unacceptable. In 1967, when ‘Whiter shade of pale’ by Procol Harum was a big hit, I played it on the piano for him, trying to explain how much it resembled Bach, but he could not bring himself to taking this kind of music seriously. In spite of all of this, we always were on excellent terms and he was a great teacher. At his request, I became a guitar teacher at his music school, and later also at the Volkshochschule in Hohenlimburg close to Hagen. I simply threw all old textbooks out of the window and taught my students how to play ‘A hard day’s night’… that was the way to spark their enthusiasm! I was interested in all pop music, ranging from the Beatles to Mamas & Papas, and Blood Sweat & Tears. Like all people in my vicinity, there was one genre we despised above all: the German Schlager!”
In 1971, Daum moved to Munich, where he worked as the assistant of freelance arranger and composer Gert Wilden for four years (1971-’75). “Already during my Substitutes years in Hagen, I felt the urge to write my own compositions, but our band played covers only. I felt the need to change my ways, to break free from the Hagen nucleus, to go where the world was happening… I had friends in Munich and my parents had moved to Bavaria shortly before. That made Munich the obvious choice. I moved into a co-op with some friends. By now, I knew I wanted to be a pop composer and arranger… I had always been interested in arrangements and sound production. Thanks to a friend of my parents, I was brought to the attention of Gert Wilden, who worked as an arranger for countless recording artists and television productions. I spent as much time in his studio as I possibly could, doing anything that Wilden wanted me to – mainly copying his arrangements for all different instruments. That was a tough job and I was nearly always the last person still at work… but this was the best school possible for me!”
Because Daum wanted to broaden his outlook on music still further, he continued his studies in Munich. Elli Walschus taught him the piano, even convincing him to play Schubert in a private concert for some friends. Thanks to Walschus, he also got in touch with Theo Möhrens, a theatre composer and conductor. “I studied composition, arranging, and conducting with him”, Norbert explains. “In view of my ambitions, he realized I was not looking for the wherewithal to conduct symphony orchestras; instead, he taught me the basic techniques necessary to lead studio orchestras. Later onwards in my career, I have conducted symphony orchestras in cross-over projects and I developed my conducting skills somewhat, but I never cherished the ambition to become a classical conductor. Why conduct a Mozart symphony which has been performed already on 10,000 previous occasions, hoping to find something new in between the notes? I have to be modest in this respect… I admire musicians who have put in three or four years of studies in conducting and conducting alone, but I lacked and still lack the inspiration to live in old music day in day out. I have always wanted to create music that was zeitgemäß, contemporary. My main source of inspiration is Quincy Jones, though you cannot always use elements from his big band orchestrations in German pop arrangements…”
It was in 1975, during a session with Gert Wilden, that Norbert Daum met Ralph Siegel. Siegel, three years his senior, was already established as a composer and producer in Munich at that time. “As usual, I was in the back of the studio, and Ralph saw me and asked: “What are you doing here?” I answered that my ambition was to be a composer and arranger. He invited me over to his own studios in Munich’s Waldfriedhofstraße. Almost immediately, Ralph asked me to take over one or two songs from another of his arrangers who had fallen ill. It was a cover of some South-African song and he wanted me to exactly copy the arrangement of the original. Nonetheless, without consulting him, I added some strings… this fascinated him! It was the start of our collaboration. From that moment on, I became one of his main studio arrangers and was to continue working with him for the next ten odd years. Ralph is an excellent producer and a tough business man aiming at being successful in German Schlager pop, but he is a creative soul at the same time, a prolific composer who managed to write an incredible amount of songs, which were recorded in two different studios simultaneously by different arrangers. Moreover, Ralph is very loyal to the people around him. I value him very highly indeed.”
Norbert Daum estimates that some ninety per cent of the productions he worked on between 1975 and 1985 were commissions given to him by Siegel, while he also worked with Werner Schüler, the producer of Jürgen Drews, and started doing some productions of his own in the early 1980s, most importantly with Costa Cordalis. In these years, he also wrote studio arrangements for the likes of Rex Gildo, Roy Black, Vicky Leandros, Peggy March, Peter Alexander, Roberto Blanco, Ingrid Peters, Chris Roberts, Karel Gott, and Mireille Mathieu. He penned the scores to countless hit successes, including ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld (Let your love flow)’ by Jürgen Drews (1976), ‘Abschied ist ein bißchen wie Sterben’ by Katja Ebstein (1979), and Siegel’s Eurovision compositions ‘Dschinghis Khan’ by the Dschinghis Khan Group from 1979 and ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’ by Nicole, which won the contest in 1982.
“This was an extremely successful decade”, Norbert comments. “On average, I wrote three hundred studio arrangements a year. Usually, I worked for one and a half day and then slept a couple of hours only to continue working for another day and a half. I skipped many nights and took no more than two short holiday periods in those ten years! It was inspirational to be given the opportunity to work with big orchestras. Moreover, Ralph made sure he always had the most modern synthesizers in this studio, allowing me to experiment with new sounds. I never regretted the fact that the beat man in me had transformed into a Schlager arranger. Instead of being a purist, I was happy to create new music… and some things were really very beautiful, such as some of my arrangements for Peter Alexander. Especially his songs ‘Paß gut auf dich auf mein Kind’ and ‘Die Bäume in unserem Schulhof’ spring to mind; for the last-mentioned piece, which is about an older man who visits the school he spent his childhood days in, I wrote a string intro which tries to recreate the dream-like atmosphere of the lyrics… just to show you how much of my creativity I could put into a song. To my mind, all music is interesting, ranging from heavy metal to folk, and from madrigals to techno. My favourite genre? To me, the most fascinating music is always the music I am working on at that particular moment. Each genre has an appeal of its own.”
Apart from countless studio scores, Norbert Daum penned arrangements for live shows by Rex Gildo, Peter Alexander, Jürgen Marcus, Chris Roberts, and Jürgen Drews. Moreover, with his friend and colleague Wolfgang Rödelberger, Daum arranged the music to Ralph Siegel’s musical comedy for children, ‘Winnetou’ (1982). In the 1970s, he made his conducting debut on stage with three Ralph Siegel compositions which participated in the International Song Festival of Majorca (Spain), performed by Anne Karin (representing West Germany, 1976), Best Wishes (Luxembourg, 1977), and Etta Cameron (USA, 1978) respectively.
Because he was so much in demand as an arranger, Daum hardly had time left to come up with compositions of his own; compared to the over 3,000 arrangements he wrote in his career, a number of 350 self-penned songs might seem no more than a detail. Nonetheless, Daum’s compositions were recorded by the likes of Karel Gott, Costa Cordalis, and The Hornettes, and later onwards also by Margot Eskens, Tommy Steiner, and Australian rock singer Lisa Lagoda. In 1981, a song Daum had originally written for Costa Cordalis, ‘Am Tag als die Sonne nicht mehr kam’, was translated in Dutch and became a huge hit success for Flemish singer John Terra in Belgium and the Netherlands: ‘De dag dat het zonlicht niet meer scheen’. “I am proud of that song”, Daum smiles. “It was such a surprise to discover how well it did in Belgium. I do not regret the fact that I did not compose more material. My father was once offered a job at NASA in America, but he turned it down… if he had accepted, I would have grown up in the USA. Things go the way they go. I was hired by Siegel as an arranger, we had a lot of success, and that is why I became known as an arranger. I am very thankful for that!”
In 1985, Norbert Daum decided to found a production company of his own, simply named ND Productions. Three years later, he founded Apolleon Editions, enabling him to publish his own studio productions. Daum: “I felt I had turned into some sort of Schreibmachine, an arranging robot. Therefore, I wanted to get away from Ralph’s productions for a while, taking a little break and focussing on my own projects instead. I had built myself a home studio, allowing me to work in all quiet. Though I continued working for Ralph and Werner Schüler now and then, I wanted to explore other corners of the music industry as well and trying to market productions of my own, the first one being ‘New Opera Wave’ in 1985. I had the idea of adding a pop flavour to the toccata from Monteverdi’s opera ‘L’Orfeo’ and other arias. This was the first album I released under my own name.”
In the following years, Daum came up with several more crossover albums involving classical music reworked to be accessible to a wider audience, most prominently ‘The Sounds of Christmas’ (1986) and ‘Classics on the Beach’ (1987). Meanwhile, he was still very much in demand for pop arrangements. Most of the artists he worked with were now produced by him as well, including Andrew White, Tommy Steiner, and Lisa Lagoda. In 1985, Daum arranged and produced ‘Desirée’, the last major hit success for French superstar Gilbert Bécaud (lyrics by Jean Frankfurter). “That was by no means an easy assignment”, Norbert laughs. “I was not an experienced producer yet and Bécaud brought along his lawyer to the studio… I had never come across a situation like this, but I was told Gilbert always went about that way. It was publisher Hans Beierlein who contacted me about this project on behalf of Bécaud. Bécaud wanted to have his song produced in German style and thought I was the most suitable man for the job. Though he had intended the song to be a sing-along, he fell back into the traditional chanson approach when we recorded the song in Munich. I tried to convince him that, for this song, he needed to follow the beat, but he disdained my suggestions, claiming that he had been in the business for decades and did not need my instructions. When, however, I threatened to go home, he became very friendly and sang it the way I wanted him to. The song was a huge hit in Germany and in France as well.”
Over the years, some special projects came Norbert’s way. In 1988, he was invited to arrange and conduct a 120 man strong orchestra for a one-off performance by Leslie Mándoki and his band (including László Bencker on keyboards) at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Though not a regular in the film industry, Daum arranged the music to the 1990 box success ‘Go Trabi go’. Moreover, he was involved in composing and arranging music for TV programmes, including the successful ZDF series ‘Ein Fall für Zwei’ (1989), while he arranged and conducted the Bavarian Radio Orchestra for the 1998 ARD Sports Gala and the Guinness Show of Records in that same year. He also made his mark as a composer of some radio and television adverts, including TV spots for the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in the campaign which eventually saw its candidate Gerhard Schröder winning the chancellorship in 1998. In 2003, he wrote the music to an educational CD teaching elementary school pupils the basics of the English language.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Norbert Daum continued teaming up as a freelance arranger and producer with recording artists from many different genres, ranging from Volkstümliche Musik, i.e. German-language folk, to crossover projects with classical singers. Amongst many others, Daum worked with Max Greger, the Original Naabtal Duo, the Bellamy Brothers, Margot Eskens, Nicole, and Chris Norman. In 1998, he arranged the first of several gold albums for Die Jungen Tenöre, a trio of classically schooled male singers specializing in crossover repertoire. In 1999, Daum wrote the string arrangements to Laura Schneider’s hit single ‘Immer wieder’. He recorded several albums with Angela Wiedl, of which ‘Zwischen Himmel und Erde’ (2009) went platinum. Between 1998 and 2005, he arranged the music to no fewer than five albums of singer-songwriter Hanne Haller (1950-2005). After her death, Daum went through her archives looking for demos with unpublished material, which resulted in a posthumously released album ‘Die unvollendeten Lieder’ (2008).
Since the second half of the 1980s, Norbert Daum’s trademark has become his crossover projects with the Munich Philharmonic and several other classical orchestras, earning him the epithet ‘Karajan of Pop Music’. In 2002, he recorded the album ‘Verwandlungen’ with tenor Ricardo De Loro, whilst he arranged a 2004 release of sixteen choral songs with the Choir of Bavarian Radio. From 2006 onwards, he has worked on several projects with Ralph Siegel’s wife, soprano Kriemhild Jahn, including, most notably, ‘Mozart-Premiere’, a live concert in Munich with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra featuring the best-known melodies from Mozart’s work in re-arranged vocal versions.
“In general”, Daum comments, “I prefer working in the studio to doing live gigs, as it is impossible to recreate the technical perfection of a studio session on stage, but this was one special concert! It was a huge task recreating these instrumental pieces to suit Kriemhild’s fantastic soprano voice. This allowed me to immerse myself in these classical scores and it made me realize once more what a genius Mozart really was… so much subtlety and variedness! The rehearsing schedule with the Czech musicians was extremely tight, but they rose to the challenge and did an excellent job on the night. These crossover projects are interesting, as they offer me the opportunity to work with orchestras in an era in which budgets are limited and synthetic instruments are used to replace real orchestral arrangements. I am one of the few people left in the pop business who know how to work with a proper orchestra and I hope more of these commissions will come my way in the years to come. Apart from that, I hope to make another gold record. I am happy with the career I have had… I would not have liked working in Kleinkunst, as it is simply zu klein, too small. I have always loved big emotions and big arrangements… in other words: rock ‘n’ roll!”
Norbert Daum in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1975, Daum teamed up with fellow-guitarist Horst Hornung to form the duo Die Jokers, one of fifteen acts to be admitted to the West German Eurovision selection show held in Frankfurt. Daum and Hornung interpreted the song ‘San Francisco Symphony’, an early Eurovision attempt by Ralph Siegel with lyrics by Werner Schüler. Norbert himself wrote the arrangement to the song, which finished twelfth, far behind winner Joy Fleming. “This duo was formed just for Eurovision”, Daum recalls. “Ralph wanted me to be a performer in this project, but I did not feel comfortable doing it. Already at that time, my ambition was composing and arranging. There was a creepy little bloke acting as our manager. The song… I did not like it. Special clothing to fit the performance was made for us. When you watch it back now, you get the impression it is a parody. We were given an awful time by the press… no, this was not the best experience – gräßlich!”
One year later, in 1976, it was the first time an arrangement by Norbert Daum was used for an international Eurovision performance, although he did not get to conduct it himself. After the Les Humphries Singers had finished second in the West German selection programme with ‘Sing, sang, song’, another Ralph Siegel composition, they were still awarded the tickets to the contest’s international final in The Hague, because Tony Marshall’s winning ‘Der Star’ was disqualified. Daum’s orchestration to ‘Sing, sang, song’, which finished near the bottom of the scoreboard and constituted the demise of the vocal group, was conducted by Les Humphries himself. Norbert: “Ralph asked me to take care of this score, including the vocal arrangements, which were quite complicated. It was the first and only time I wrote an arrangement for two lead vocals with piano accompaniment. There were four backing vocals. All voices intermingled in an extraordinary way. Before I actually wrote it, I asked the group’s publisher if it was all right to have such an idiosyncratic arrangement for that song. I never gave any thought about actually getting to conduct the song in the Eurovision Song Contest. Les Humphries probably wanted to conduct it himself… and why not?”
In the following decade, Norbert Daum was involved as an arranger in West Germany’s Eurovision pre-selection almost every year, most of the times with songs composed by Ralph Siegel. The best-known amongst these which did not progress to the international contest are perhaps ‘Pan’ by Costa Cordalis (1980), ‘Peter Pan’ by Paola Del Medico (1982), and ‘Tingel Tangel Mann’ by Harmony Four (1984). Though there sometimes was a live orchestra present in these shows, Daum never conducted his own arrangements. In the early 1980s, SWR Big Band’s leader Dieter Reith led the orchestra for all competitors. For the international festival, Reith was usually replaced by the arranger of the winning piece. Meanwhile, Daum had been given some conducting experience by Ralph Siegel, who allowed him to lead the orchestra in the 1976, 1977, and 1978 editions of the Festival de Majorca, for which Siegel submitted compositions. “The way I see it”, Daum reflects, “Ralph more or less tested my skills as a conductor on stage with these three participations in Majorca. He prepared me for Eurovision, so to speak. It was quite an experience… there were more countries participating in Majorca than in Eurovision at that time – Eastern-European states as well as some countries from Latin America. The 1976 Majorca Festival was the first time I conducted an orchestra on stage.”
In 1979, Daum made his conducting debut in the Eurovision Song Contest, arranging the first of a series of Eurovision entries for Ralph Siegel. West Germany was represented by the group Dschinghis Khan and an extremely catchy disco song bearing the same name. This entry, the first of Siegel’s Eurovision compositions for which he teamed up with lyricist Bernd Meinunger, finished fourth amongst nineteen competing countries in Jerusalem (Israel) and achieved considerable international hit success. Norbert: “The group members were cast by Ralph. One of them was Louis Potgieter, a South African who was a dancer at the Gärtnerplatz Theatre in Munich. Lots of work went into the costumes and the choreography… the group practiced for weeks on end! It was the first time such a spectacular masquerade was put on the Eurovision stage and it certainly drew a lot of attention. The song itself was a Superidee… that chorus going ‘Hu-ha Dschinghis Khan’ was catchy and commercially well thought-out. The song and the stage presentation put together were some sort of milestone in Eurovision. We brought modernity into the contest.”
“Jerusalem was my first Grand Prix and possibly also the best experience for me personally”, Daum revels. “It was obvious the Israelis loved music. The orchestra there was superb. The music which was played at the beginning of the programme and during the interval between the songs and the voting was fantastic. The orchestra musicians did not have any inhibitions about playing pop music. They even specifically asked me if they could keep my arrangement for their own use. There was no issue with us Germans coming to Israel, quite the opposite – our song was a big hit in Israel. When we went on an excursion to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem’s city centre, you could hear the people in the street whispering to one another behind our backs: “Look, Dschinghis Khan, Dschinghis Khan!”. Another highlight that week was a reception at the West German embassy, which was then led by Klaus Schütz, a former mayor of West-Berlin. Last but not least, I could not help being impressed by all those beautiful women at this festival… I liked Elpida, the singer from Greece, but especially hostess Yardena Arazi. If you thought she looked nice on camera, I can assure you she was even ten times better in real life. I really fell in love with her!”
For his first Eurovision experience, Norbert Daum put on the white suit which became his trademark in the contest, with a red scarf. His conducting style can be described as flamboyant, twice indicating the string part at the end of the chorus waving his left hand far above his head. Daum: “Honestly, I made the same gesture when we recorded the song in the studio back in Munich. There was no element of wanting to take centre stage… those strings had to sound as if they came out of the blue and I wanted to stress that by making this gesture. Bringing the emotion across to the musicians is the main task of a conductor… and, in conducting, that is what the left hand is for! Subtle gestures often do not work in such cases. Orchestral musicians look at their score with one eye and at the conductor with the other… the conductor is there to help them putting the right vibrations into their performance – and psychology plays a much bigger part in this than conducting technique. The white suit and the scarf, on the other hand, were a case of show business. They were highly fashionable at that time… and I think such outfits are part of the game. People like being entertained!”
Daum continues: “The Israeli stage crew gave me a peculiar instruction before I went on stage. They asked me to take as long as I could, as a lot of time was needed to clear up the stage for Dschinghis Khan (the Swiss act which had performed before Dschinghis Khan had an enormous amount of props on stage which needed to be cleared away, BT). Therefore, I slowly walked to the conductor’s platform, shaking hands with the concertmaster and making a typical Austrian bow, which involves moving the entire upper part of the body forward to receive the applause of the audience. Perhaps it looked as if I wanted to draw attention to myself as long as possible, but, as you see, there was another reason! Before our performance, I was slightly nervous, but, as always, once on stage, the nerves subsided and I simply did the job. Why worry about millions of people watching? Das ist mir egal!”
Like all other delegates to the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest, Daum mentions the amount of security in place in Israel to prevent terrorists from endangering the participants’ lives: “Everywhere in the streets of Jerusalem, safety officers conducted checks on people. In our hotel, we were told never to leave our luggage unattended and to report each piece of baggage which had been left alone. In another hotel, where Yehudi Menuhin stayed, a bomb exploded – luckily without hurting anyone. On the roof of the concert hall where the contest took place, anti-missile defence was put in place. On the bus back to the airport the day after the contest, something happened… an explosion! After a week full of security checks, we had all become slightly over-sensitive and it is fair to say that this bus full of Eurovision delegates panicked. It turned out, though, that the only thing which had happened was that one of the tyres had burst! The truth was that the Israelis had taken extremely good care of us all week – we could not have been in safer hands.”
Looking back on the 1979 contest, was Dschinghis Khan’s fourth place reason for happiness or disappointment? “Well, Ralph Siegel always wants to be number one”, Daum laughs, “so there is no doubt that he would have been disappointed! But later on, even he must have been happy because of the commercial success of the song in Germany and abroad. Later that same year, ‘Moskau’ was another big hit in many countries. Dschinghis Khan fared extremely well…in Russia, they performed for some 10,000 people! Only Leslie Mándoki, who left the group after a couple of years to go solo, did not want to be associated with this Eurovision participation any longer. He had an interesting solo career, but there is no reason why he should look back on the Dschinghis Khan episode in negative terms. Just think of the bad films many actors played in before they reached star status. You have to make money; that is the way it is! To me personally, ‘Dschinghis Khan’ was a milestone. From the contest in Jerusalem onwards, I had the reputation of being a good arranger. I had been involved in many hit records before, but, now, for the first time, people saw my face. It helped advancing my career in the business greatly.”
The year after, in 1980, Norbert Daum was once more involved in the Eurovision Song Contest as an arranger and conductor, this time for Luxembourg. A Ralph Siegel composition, ‘Papa pingouin’, was chosen internally by RTL television to represent the Grand-Duchy in the international festival final in The Hague. In those years, Siegel had close ties with Luxembourg’s broadcaster, for whom he had already written a song for the Majorca Festival some years before. As West Germany’s pre-selection was won by another of his creations, Katja Ebstein’s ‘Theater’, Siegel had two chances of winning the contest. ‘Theater’ came closest, finishing second, whilst ‘Papa pingouin’, performed by the young Parisian twin duo Sophie & Magaly, had to settle for ninth place. Strikingly, Siegel chose two different arrangers: Daum for Luxembourg and Wolfgang Rödelberger for West Germany.
“In Ralph’s studio in Munich”, Daum explains, “there was work enough for several arrangers. Wolfgang and I were good colleagues and real friends. How Ralph decided which of his arrangers was given which song? Maybe, he thought that the style of the song ‘Theater’ was well-suited to Rödelberger, because he had written music for theatre plays before… and ‘Papa pingouin’, which was more modern and up-tempo, was more up my alley. I do not even know if he ever consciously gave it a thought. The most important factor in those years always was: who was available at a given time? In Eurovision, Ralph was loyal to his arrangers… whoever had orchestrated a song that was picked, also got to conduct it in the international contest.”
In The Hague, Siegel again took care of the visual aspect of the performance, bringing on stage a backing singer dressed up as a penguin. Norbert: “Sophie and Magaly were good natured girls. The rehearsals went well; there were no problems at all. As usual for the Grand Prix, it was up to me to closely look at the last details concerning the music. After all, by the time the guest conductors came in for the first rehearsals, the orchestra had well prepared all scores… but how could you expect them to have taken care of every nuance of each song? It was up to the guest conductor to make sure the music was played to perfection and with enthusiasm. The most important thing was to get the sound right. This was before the days of information technology and there was just one orchestral rehearsal to get it the way we wanted it. What followed were a single rehearsal with the performing artist and then the dress rehearsal. So little time! The engineers responsible for the sound of the contest were usually the most stressed persons in the hall. They had to adapt to nineteen or twenty different performances. No wonder the sound mix often was the weakest point of such a Eurovision broadcast. Nowadays, computer technology would allow for a much better result, sound-wise.”
Daum continues: “During the voting in The Hague, it took some time before our song started picking up some decent points. The ninth position in the final score was somewhat underwhelming, but the song was extremely successful in France and Germany – even more so than ‘Theater’, which had nearly won the festival! ‘Le papa pingouin’ was ein tolles Lied, a great song. Some years ago, it was re-issued in a dance version and again climbed the charts in both countries!”
In 1982, West Germany and Ralph Siegel finally picked up their first Eurovision victory with ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’, a hymn to peace with lyrics by Bernd Meinunger. The performing artist was a seventeen year old girl from Sarrebruck, Nicole Hohloch. ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’ won by a landslide, picking up 61 more points than the entry which finished second. Norbert Daum arranged and conducted the song, but does he remember the first preparatory stages of this Eurovision success? “In Ralph’s office, there was a piano and I remember Ralph, Bernd, and me brainstorming about a stage performance fitting this particular song. Ralph suggested having an angel of peace hanging above the stage. I quite liked the idea, but Bernd exclaimed: “Come on, Ralph, that would be too much!” An angel of peace, an innocent young girl, a white guitar… those were all Ralph’s ideas. He is very good at thinking of such visual aspects. He specifically wrote ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’ for Eurovision, and probably with Nicole in mind – he had already recorded an album with her the year before which sold well in Germany.”
As the arranger, what did Norbert Daum contribute to this song? “Ralph’s ideas about the orchestration were quite concrete. In his demos, he usually added Nebenlinien, extra melody lines, and ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’ was no exception. Based on this demo, we exchanged ideas. I added the Mozart-like sound, especially in the string part of the last chorus… this added some dignity to the song. In my arrangements of Schlager music, I have always tried to bring in some subtlety and preventing songs in that genre from sounding too vulgar and cheap. These strings lifted the song to a different level… at least, that is what I tried!”
After winning the West German pre-selection, ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’ was the outspoken favourite to win the international contest, held in Harrogate (England). Whilst this may have made some members of the West German delegation nervous, Norbert Daum did not feel the pressure: “The rehearsals were easy… once again, this was an orchestra with guys with the right attitude to this kind of music. I remember being left with a lot of time on my hands. With my girlfriend, I decided to rent a car to explore the countryside around Harrogate. On our way to some beautiful ancient castle, I nearly had an accident because I forgot to keep the left! The people in Harrogate were very friendly. Their cuisine raised some eyebrows, though. I immediately rejected the traditional cooked breakfast. The fish and chips were awful too! Eventually, we found our way to an Indian restaurant which was more to our liking.”
How does Daum explain the enormous success of ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’? “Already during our preparations, it was obvious to me that the message of the song fitted in well with the times. Anti-nuclear arms protests were held everywhere in Europe. During that Eurovision in Harrogate, the English people were anxiously following the news of the Falkland War. The composition, which was moderate rather than elated, reinforced the power of the lyrics. Nicole was an important factor too. Of course, she had this Gnade der Jugend… she was a young, innocent girl, who performed the song excellently. Perhaps because of her tender age, she did not feel the pressure… she simply sang. She even managed to give a flawless reprise in four different languages! When we won, we were beside ourselves with joy. It felt as a victory for the four of us: Bernd Meinunger, Ralph, Nicole, and me. Back in Germany, the whole country was proudly celebrating as if we had won some important sporting event. This Eurovision win did not really change my career the way ‘Dschinghis Khan’ had done, but, of course, it was another milestone in my career.”
For Norbert Daum, the two days following the contest were especially strenuous. “When we landed in Munich, there were celebrations in honour of us. Ralph had organised all of that. We continued partying all night. The morning after, Nicole and I were due to fly back to England – to London, this time, to perform the song on Top of the Pops. Due to the rules of the Musicians’ Union in Britain, the BBC could not use the record arrangement, but had to make a re-recording with British session musicians. That is why I had to be there. As we took a very early flight to London, I was so nervous about oversleeping that I did not sleep a single minute that night. It took ages before we were collected from Heathrow. When we arrived in the studio, it turned out Ronnie Hazlehurst had already recorded my arrangement with his musicians. The funny thing was…once this recording had been made, they swapped it and simply used our record arrangement from Munich for the TV broadcast! While TOTP was recorded, I was in the audience, dancing and having a good time!”
After a three year break, Norbert Daum made his fourth Eurovision appearance in 1985, when the festival was held in Gothenburg, as the musical director of Ralph Siegel’s creation ‘Children, Kinder, enfants’, which was performed by a sextet of vocalists from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Britain… but represented Luxembourg. This song, Siegel’s first Eurovision attempt after having won the contest with Nicole, failed to impress the international juries and finished thirteenth. “It is fair to say that this was not Ralph’s best idea”, Daum admits. “The group of singers was randomly put together… and almost the same could be said of the music and the vocals. Ralph took care of the vocal synchronisation… I just had to look after the orchestra. My best memory of Gothenburg is the afterparty, where I had a good time with the German and Austrian delegations – Gary Lux, Wind, and Rainer Pietsch. RTL, Luxembourg’s broadcaster, did not really seem to bother. Once, we had been invited to a dinner… and at the end of the evening, everyone turned out to have to pay for his own expenses!”
1985 was also the year in which Norbert Daum founded his own production company, meaning that he focussed more on his own projects and accepted fewer commissions from Ralph Siegel. It took until 1992 before he returned to the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor. He wrote the orchestration to ‘Träume sind für alle da’ (composition: Ralph Siegel / lyrics: Bernd Meinunger / record arrangement: Ralph Siegel & Andy Slavik), the group Wind’s third Eurovision participation for Germany. After having won the German pre-selection, Wind obtained a meagre 27 votes and a sixteenth position on the scoreboard in the international festival, held in Malmö that year. Why did Siegel keep on trying on the Eurovision stage, even if the results were disappointing? Norbert: “Ralph’s dream has always been writing a musical for Broadway, but his ambition… that is the Grand Prix. He wanted to be successful in Schlager and the Grand Prix was the stage on which he wanted to show his ability. In Malmö, there were no problems for me, as the orchestra played my score flawlessly. It was a pity the song did not do well, but what could I have done more?”
In 1993, Norbert Daum made his only conducting appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest in a collaboration which did not involve Siegel. The pop quintet Münchener Freiheit, with lead singer Stefan Zauner, came up with ‘Viel zu weit’, a symphonic pop song in the style of their massive 1980s hit ‘Keeping the dream alive’. Daum recreated the record instrumentation by Stefan Zauner himself into a lush string arrangement used in the live performance of the band at the Eurovision final held in the Irish backwater of Millstreet. In spite of their international reputation, Zauner and his men finished in a humiliating eighteenth position amongst twenty-five competing acts.
“It was the band’s manager Jürgen Thürnau who called me if I was interested writing that orchestration and conducting it in the contest”, Daum recalls. “Of course I accepted! That week in Ireland was thoroughly enjoyable. It was my first visit to that country and I loved the atmosphere. Our hotel in Killarney was alongside a lake. On my free afternoon, I saw a fisherman… a man with a pockmarked face and wearing an eye patch. He was about to go fishing. I asked him if he minded my joining him. He gave me an oilskin and off we went! He also showed me O’Sullivan’s Cascade at the other side of the lake, a beautiful waterfall. When we went ashore there, it felt as if I was walking into some romantic tale… this beautiful waterfall and stones overgrown by mosses… I expected Peter Pan to appear any moment!
“We were taken from our hotel to the concert hall in Millstreet by touring car”, Daum continues. “It was virtually impossible to get through all these narrow roads with hedges on both sides with such a large vehicle. Therefore, we were escorted by motorized policemen, who stopped all other traffic on our behalf! At the first orchestral rehearsal, I quickly discovered quite a grave technical problem: the backing tape with the synthesizers and all other rhythm instruments which we used alongside the orchestra had been recorded in 440 Hz., whilst the orchestra itself turned out to be tuned to 442 Hz.! Right at the beginning of the rehearsal, I heard something was wrong. I hurried to the Irish sound crew to tell them about the problem and then phoned my tonmeister back in Munich to prepare us a new backing tape with all instruments in the correct frequency as soon as possible. At first, all of this was terrifying to me, but I quickly realized what had to be done and our new backing tape duly arrived one or two days later. I was later thanked by Jürgen Thürnau for taking all necessary action without getting him involved.”
Daum: “Thürnau is one of the best managers in the business. Day by day, he made a schedule and he made sure all band members were given a wake-up call and knew exactly when to report at breakfast… and every five minutes one of them was late, the culprit had to pay for it with a bottle of red wine of at least fifty D-Mark. I can tell you nobody was late that week! I got along really well with Stefan Zauner, who is a Supertyp. The group was keen to participate in the contest to remind their fans in other European countries that they were still around. They were also hoping for new invitations to perform abroad. With the bad result, they probably did not succeed in that ambition, but they took it lightly. To them, it was not a tragedy.”
As Ireland won its own contest in Millstreet, the country had to stage the festival in 1994 as well. This time, Dublin’s Point Theatre was the venue and Germany was represented here by a girl trio called MeKaDo, who performed a commercially clever Siegel/Meinunger tune, ‘Wir geben ‘ne Party’. Once again, Siegel commissioned Daum to turn the record arrangement he and Andy Slavik had written into a proper live orchestration. The final result was a convincing performance and a third place behind Ireland and Poland.
“That was a good Eurovision experience”, Norbert comments, “though my best memories from Dublin are away from the contest itself. During that week, I discovered why so many talented artists are from Ireland. To the Irish, music has an incredible importance. In each bar, a band was playing. I discovered a pub where poets were declaiming their work. I felt at home there right away. One taxi driver in Dublin told me: “The Irish people love music, drinking, and jokes”…and he was right. In the hotel lobby, there was a piano, where I spent hours with colleagues from other delegations. At all those Eurovisions, I never got to know other conductors or composers really well and our conversation did not go beyond small talk, but exchanging ideas was always interesting. I also liked attending the odd rehearsal of other countries to find out how my colleagues did their job.”
Dublin 1994 was Norbert Daum’s last Eurovision participation as a conductor. Five years later, the European Broadcasting Union took the decision to do away with live orchestral accompaniment altogether and have all artists accompanied by backing tapes only. Does Daum believe this development was inevitable? “Already back in the 1980s, I thought it was no longer feasible with orchestra only and I often used backing tapes to add to the live orchestration to be able to recreate the modern synthetic sound. To work with just an orchestra had become obsolete. In a way, it was a logical step to cut down on the costs of organizing the festival by doing away with the orchestra, but it is a pity. Having an orchestra there gave the contest a certain grandezza. In an ideal world, I would favour a construction which would allow artists who want to perform live to use the orchestra, and to allow the others to work with playback tapes. It would considerably raise the budget of the contest, but who knows… history has proved us that, eventually, it repeats itself.”
Norbert Daum is one of the very few conductors who remained involved in the contest after the orchestra’s demise. Called upon by Ralph Siegel, he orchestrated several more of his Eurovision attempts, including ‘This night should never end’, with which Petra Frey finished second in the Austrian pre-selection in 2003. In the international festival, Daum’s orchestrations were heard on three more occasions: in 1999, he recorded a lush string arrangement with the Munich Symphony Orchestra to enrich the sound of ‘Reise nach Jerusalem – Kudüs’e seyahat’ by Sürpriz, another manufactured Siegel project which came quite close to winning and secured Germany a third place in that year’s contest, held in Jerusalem. In the new century, he re-worked the studio productions of two more Siegel compositions, ‘If we all give a little’ by Six4One (Switzerland 2006) and ‘Just get out of my life’ by Andrea Demirović (Montenegro 2009).
“When it comes to Eurovision”, Daum comments, “Ralph does not want to give in. He wants to win it a second time. When he is working on a new Eurovision project, he is still as passionate and nervous as he was forty years ago. For reasons which are beyond me, he was given a very bad press in Germany and Stefan Raab made fun of him. All of his songs were rejected. Therefore, he has been forced to try in other participating countries. In the rest of Europe, his reputation is far better than here, though I have noticed a certain reappraisal of him and his work in recent years. It was about time, because he did not deserve being treated so badly by the media. After all, he is our country’s most successful Eurovision composer… there is no way of denying that!”
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