Régis DupréBorn: January 15th, 1950, Paris (France)
During his years at secondary school, Régis taught himself to play the guitar, flute, and piano. With some friends, he formed an amateur band. For two years, he studied graphic arts (1968-1970); meanwhile, he played gypsy-style jazz music in bistros and bars across Paris with one of his fellow-students, the later reputed guitarist Marc Fosset, during the evening hours. Although lacking formal music education, Régis decided to break off his studies in 1970 to pursue a career as a professional musician. He played the guitar in night clubs, hotels, and restaurants as well as on cruise ships and in the bands of chanson artists such as Pascal Danel, Michel Mallory, and Nancy Holloway. Fairly soon, he managed to find work as a session musician for studio recordings as well. Learning to play in all styles imaginable, Régis describes this period as his ‘formal education’. In 1976, his career came into a new phase, when Toni Carlson, better known as Maâni, invited him to write the arrangements to his Afro-style disco single ‘So so so di bi una’.
How did Régis Dupré, who never attended conservatory courses, learn to write arrangements? “It all got started during the gigs I did with artists such as Nancy Holloway”, he explains. “Usually, there was just a small accompanying band with a pianist, a bass player, a percussionist, and myself at the guitar… and most of the times it was an utter mess! There were no scores written out and there was no harmony whatsoever in the way the band played the tunes. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is messy situations. Therefore, at a given moment, I took up a pencil and a piece of paper to write out the parts for the different instruments… which resulted in a much better performance, making all of us very happy. So those were my first arrangements, just for rhythm section. At the same time, my work as a guitarist in the recording studio gave me the opportunity to listen to what well-known arrangers such as Hervé Roy came up with, because, in those days, the rhythm track and orchestration were usually recorded during the same session. I was fascinated and absorbed everything… the sound of the strings and the brass and the arranger conducting the session. Something else which proved very important, were the conversations I had with some of my colleagues in the studio, asking them to explain certain musical choices they had made. I was like a sponge!”
His collaboration with Maâni brought Régis in contact with producer Michel Elmosnino, who contracted him as an arranger for the Polydor record company. Régis specialized in the popular disco genre, recording with many different studio formations, such as Les Patapops and Milkways. Using his pseudonym Red Upsiger, he arranged and conducted the single ‘King kong’ with the Century Orchestra in 1976. Moreover, he penned the arrangements to the Bande à Basile albums ‘Le cirque Basile’ (1978) and ‘Le marchand de sable’ (1979). Other artists he worked with during the second half of the 1970s, include Michel Giliberti, Patricia Ferrari, and Bruno Grimaldi. In 1979, Régis co-wrote the arrangements for Marie Myriam’s album ‘Le coeur somnambule’. Meanwhile, he occasionally joined the accompanying band of the successful comedian and singer Thierry Le Luron.
In 1979, French pianist Richard Clayderman, who had won world fame with his international hit ‘Ballade pour Adeline’ three years before, invited Régis Dupré to become the arranger and conductor for his live concerts. How did this come about? “I already knew Richard Clayderman from the time when he still worked using his genuine name, Philippe Pagès”, Régis comments. “He played the synthesizer on many of my earliest arrangements, including ‘So so so di bi una’. We were buddies! When he had this huge success with ‘Ballade pour Adeline’ and the follow-up albums in the years after, his production team, led by Paul de Senneville and Olivier Toussaint, suggested to him that he should also start performing his melodies on stage. Clayderman agreed and formed a band with his friends from the Thierry Le Luron orchestra… and he wanted me to be his musical director. For Richard’s concerts, we worked with many different orchestras. My job was to write the arrangements for these orchestras and rehearse with them. We could not use the studio arrangements, because it would have been far too boring for a live concert to play all tunes in the same style. More variation was required, with arrangements in different musical genres, ranging from jazz to funk. Moreover, I always had to adapt the orchestrations to the orchestra available in a particular concert. Sometimes, there were just strings, while, on other occasions, we worked with a fully-fledged symphonic strength. Copying the parts for the different musical instruments in those various orchestral constructions was a work of Sisyphus!”
For fourteen years (1979-1993), Régis Dupré toured the world with Richard Clayderman, playing the keyboards on stage and conducting the orchestra accompanying the pianist in no fewer than thirty-eight (!) different countries, including many European states, the Far East (Japan, South Korea, China, etc.), Australia and New Zealand, the United States, and most of Latin America. He performed on stage in illustrious venues, such as London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Carnegie Hall in New York, the Sydney Opera House, the Roman theatre of Caesarea (Israel), and of course Salle Pleyel and the Olympia in Paris.
Régis: “Not only musically, but also psychologically, it was very interesting to work with all of those orchestras over the world. A conductor has to adapt to different mindsets, different languages, and different cultures. It is an illusion to think that it is possible to approach musicians from China in the same way as Mexicans; the respective ways of thinking could hardly be further apart and, as a conductor, you have to take that into account. I often arrived at a concert venue a couple of days before the show, not only to rehearse the music with the local orchestra, but also to build up a good working relationship with the musicians in it. Especially classical musicians tended to have reservations about playing light entertainment music, because they felt it was below their standards. I tried to show them that, in order to play this type of music well, perhaps even more energy was required than for classical concerts. I cannot say it was an easy job and some of the orchestras I had to work with were awful, but it was fascinating to always try to win the confidence and respect of a group of musicians you had never previously worked with. What was more, I had always dreamt of performing on stage for large audiences. With Richard Clayderman, this dream of being a veritable homme de spectacle came true!”
Dupré’s work for Clayderman was extremely time-consuming, with usually 250 days a year being on tour and spending most of the remainder on writing new orchestrations. An implication of this was that he had to almost completely give up working in the recording studio. Nevertheless, he did a small number of studio projects during the 1980s, including Michèle Heinberg’s album ‘A fleur de rêve’ (1981), for which he wrote all arrangements. Laurie Destal’s boogie-funk hit song ‘Frivole de nuit’ from 1982 was also arranged by him.
In 1993, when Régis stopped doing live shows with Richard Clayderman, he was invited to be the musical director of ‘C’est votre vie’ (This is your life), a popular live entertainment show on public TV channel France 2. He arranged all music for this programme and played it live with his seven-man-strong combo and three back-up vocalists. After one year of ‘C’est votre vie’ (1993-’94), Régis did two seasons of a similar show for private broadcaster TF1, ‘Pour la vie’ (1995-’97). For TF1, he composed many jingles, as well as the signature melodies for ‘Pour la vie’, ‘Two rings forever’, and ‘Spécial Sabatier’.
From 1994 onwards, Régis Dupré wrote many arrangements for his close friend Hervé Roy, who, at that time, was the musical director for Charles Aznavour’s live concerts and conducted several editions of the annual award show Les Victoires de la Musique. As a copyist, Régis wrote out scores for important French arrangers and conductors, including, again, Hervé Roy as well as Bruno Fontaine, Michel Legrand, Claude Bolling, and many more. In the recording studios, Régis led the orchestra for several successful album projects, most notably perhaps ‘Carmine meo’, the 1997 album of crossover singer Emma Shapplin, which included her international chart success ‘Spente le stelle’. Other artists for whom Régis worked in the 1990s and 2000s, include Francis Cabrel, Michel Françoise, Yves Duteil, Maurane, and Charlotte Rampling.
From the 1990s onwards, Régis Dupré has been much in demand as an arranger and conductor for film soundtracks. He arranged the music to ‘A la folie… pas du tout’ (2002), ‘La sirène rouge’ (2002), ‘Parlez-moi d’amour’ (2002), and ‘La tête de maman’ (2006). Moreover, he conducted the recording sessions of the music for a host of other movies and TV films composed by the likes of Francis Lai, Bruno Coulais, Vincent Stora, Eric Neveux, and Alice Willis, including ‘Hommes, femmes… mode d’emploi’ (1996), ‘Le comte de Monte Cristo’ (1998), ‘Balzac’ (1999), ‘Harrison’s Flowers’ (2000), ‘Le grand Charles’ (2005). Occasionally, he has also conducted studio orchestras for the recordings of radio and TV commercials.
Apart from his extensive work as a copyist, Régis has more recently started playing as an instrumentalist again. In 2009, with a couple of friends, he founded a jazz ensemble, Smooth & Groovy, with which he performs in Paris and across France; in it, Régis himself plays the flutes. He also plays for Lady Velvet, the group of his daughter Candice, who is a jazz singer.
Régis Dupré in the Eurovision Song Contest
Régis’ dream became reality in 1988, when he represented Luxembourg as a conductor in the contest held in the RDS in Dublin. The introverted ballad ‘Croire’, composed by Jacques Cardona with lyrics by Alain Garcia, was performed by a very young Lara Fabian, who finished fourth. “Georges Augier de Moussac telephoned me”, Régis recalls, “to tell me that he had written the studio arrangement for a young Belgian singer called Lara Fabian; and that she had been selected to represent Luxembourg in the Eurovision Song Contest. He wanted me to adapt the arrangement for the Eurovision orchestra and to be the conductor. At that time, I knew Georges Augier, but not very well. He was the bass player of Hugues Aufray and composed songs for Francis Cabrel and Johnny Hallyday. After the contest in Dublin, we became quite close friends. I suspect that the producer of the song, Michel Elmosnino, who was a friend of mine, or his wife Marie Myriam had advised George to pick me for the orchestration. Marie, Michel, and Georges joined me in Dublin. The two songwriters, whom I had never met before, were there too – great guys, especially Cardona, who was extremely funny. With this ‘inner circle’ of friends, we had a great week. Lara Fabian was somewhat shy and kept to herself for most of the week, preferring the company of her parents. It was obvious even then, although she was only eighteen, that she could become a great artist. At any rate, I was not surprised when she had such a successful career afterwards.”
“I brought in my experience from working with orchestras on the Clayderman tours, so I was not worried if I would manage to assert my authority. Nevertheless, during the first rehearsal, I was slightly unhappy about the way the orchestra played. The rhythm elements were on a pre-recorded tape, while the string and brass parts were played live by the Irish orchestra. But the musicians did not play in tune with the backing tape and it sounded pretty awful. Some even played completely out of tune. Being the perfectionist that I am, I urged them to do better and play the score correctly. Everything turned out fine in the end. I could have considered it as just another job – a routine… but that was not like me. After all, Eurovision is quite special. It is a unique opportunity to perform in front of an audience exceeding 100 million people. In other countries, appearing in the contest means instant fame – not in France, though, where the competition is not very popular. Nevertheless, Eurovision was my dream. My parents were very proud and they were glued to their television sets along with the rest of the family and acquaintances. Did I expect to win? No, certainly not… when we arrived in Dublin, we discovered that Céline Dion was representing Switzerland. She had not had her big breakthrough yet, but in France we already knew what she was capable of and I was always convinced that she would win the Eurovision Song Contest – which, in the end, she did.”
Two years later, in 1990, Régis Dupré was again invited by Georges Augier de Moussac to orchestrate and conduct a Eurovision song: ‘White and black blues’, a striking song composed by Augier himself. It had been selected to represent France in the contest to be held in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. There, it tied for second place with Ireland behind the victorious Italian Toto Cutugno. This French entry was performed by an exotic beauty from Guadeloupe, Joëlle Ursull, the first-ever black singer to represent France. The lyrics, promoting racial unity, were written by none other than pop provocateur Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991), but, as Régis recalls, the help of this legendary artist was only called upon at a very late stage: “After Augier had composed the melody, he asked Etienne Roda-Gil, a good friend of his, to write the lyrics to it. Roda-Gil was a renowned songwriter, having collaborated with Julien Clerc in the 1970s. All of a sudden, however, Roda-Gil’s wife died and, as a result of that, he had to be replaced. The production then must have come up with the idea of turning to Gainsbourg. They wanted a well-known musician associated to the project to lend credibility to it. Neither Georges Augier nor the girl who sang it was well-known, so Roda-Gil would have been a great name and Gainsbourg was even better.” The original title Gainsbourg came up with was ‘Black Lolita blues’, but at Joëlle’s request the lyrics were changed to ‘White and black blues’.
“Georges Augier had written the studio arrangement to his composition himself”, Régis adds, “and my job was once again to ‘translate’ it to a situation where it could be played by an orchestra. The musical element which gave the song its distinct character, was the dominant percussion. It would not have been possible to recreate that with the orchestra, so the percussion was pre-recorded and there were some guys with oil barrels on stage with the singer. I did not want the orchestra to overpower the backing tape and so I chose to write a very light orchestration with the string section playing their instruments in the pizzicato style, plucking the strings with their fingers, during the chorus. This choice of timbre came quite close to the record arrangement, although the sound technique in Yugoslavia was not very good and the strings could not be heard very well unfortunately.”
In Zagreb, Dupré hung out with the accordionist of the backing group, Jean-Yves Bikialo, who represented the ‘white’ element of the song. The duo did some sightseeing together. France came second, the best result for the Hexagon since Marie Myriam’s win in 1977. Régis: “Coming second with more than twenty songs competing was a pleasant result and especially Georges Augier was very happy. ‘White and black blues’ even became a hit in France, which was really quite unexpected. I thought Toto Cutugno and his fantastic backing group were the deserved winners of the festival, although we could not help feeling a bit offended by the behaviour of the Italian jury, which, I firmly believe, cheated by not giving Cutugno’s fiercest rivals, amongst which our song, any points at all.”
Régis Dupré’s third and last participation in the Eurovision Song Contest came in 1997, when he orchestrated and conducted the French entry ‘Sentiments songes’ for a 17-year-old singer, Fanny Biascamano. This typically French ballad was composed by Jean-Paul Dréau, an experienced songwriter who worked with the likes of Riccardo Cocciante and Michel Polnareff. As with Régis’ two previous Eurovision experiences, he penned the live orchestration to Georges Augier’s initial studio arrangement. In the Eurovision Song Contest final in Dublin, Fanny finished in a very respectable seventh position. Régis about ‘Sentiments songes’ and his week in Dublin: “I wrote a score which featured the piano and the string section of the orchestra. The rehearsals in Dublin were flawless – without any problems. In spite of all of this, this was the least pleasant of my three Eurovisions. Our delegation was very small and obviously little Fanny spent most time with her mother, who accompanied her. Georges Augier only came over on the day of the contest and even Jean-Paul Dréau was not there. The five young musicians who accompanied Fanny on stage were pleasant enough, but they were not even in the same hotel as me. There only was the producer of the song, Jean-Jacques Souplet.”
“It is sad that young Fanny was never heard of again after the contest”, Régis continues. “She sang well, her song was most pleasant, and the result showed that the juries appreciated her… I mean, coming seventh is quite good! The trouble began with France 2, the broadcaster. There was no promotional campaign on TV in France for Fanny in advance of the contest and in Dublin, our delegation kept a very low profile. And afterwards… well, I imagine her record company simply dropped her! Did she ever record a song or an album after the contest? I do not think so… Some time ago, I tried to find out on the Internet what has become of Fanny. I found some clips of her still performing ‘Sentiments songes’ on very small stages – galas where established artists would never want to perform. She deserves better than that!”
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