Francis Goya

Born: May 16th, 1946, Liège (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian

Eurovision record
Belgian guitar virtuoso Francis Goya (pseudonym of François Weyer) was commissioned by Luxembourg’s broadcaster RTL to produce and conduct their entries to the 1991 and 1993 editions of the Eurovision Song Contest: ‘Un baiser volé’ by Sarah Bray and ‘Donne-moi une chance’ by Modern Times (Simone Weis & Jimmy Martin); the latter was Luxembourg’s last-ever contribution to the festival.

Biography
François Edouard Weyer was born in Liège in 1946, but spent most of his youth in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, a leafy suburb of Brussels. His mother was a classical ballet dancer, whilst his father earned his life as a tailor. “A real old-fashioned tailor,” as Francis recalls, “sitting on a table in cross-legged position. His father, my grandfather, was a professional violinist with a conservatory diploma – and certainly a part of his talent was passed onto my dad, who was a good pianist, but merely as a hobby. Occasionally, he invented little melodies, which he liked to play for us or for friends who paid him a visit. Of course, my father was keen for me to learn music as well. When I was ten years old, he bought me an accordion and sent me to a music teacher – but I thoroughly hated his lessons; it was all much too theoretical for my taste. I wasn’t interested in solfege and sight-reading. It was an unhappy and short episode.”

After having given up on music for some time, young Francis tried again when he was twelve – this time picking another instrument, the electric guitar, under the guidance of a different teacher: “I discovered that one of my father’s friends was an amateur guitarist. This guy agreed to teach me. His starting point was jazz music – and he didn’t spare me, teaching me the hardest chords right from the start. I even cried, because guitar strings used to be much thicker and harder to play than nowadays. He didn’t make my life easy, but I was eager to learn. Within a couple of months, I was able to play ‘Blue moon’ and other tunes which were popular in the radio. After one year, my teacher told me he had taught me everything he knew – and that was the end of my music education! Yes, I suppose you can say that I am an autodidact.”

From that moment on, Francis had a burning ambition to become a music professional. In high school, he formed Les Jivaros, a rock group – including his own brother on drums – modelled on the band members’ favourite band, The Shadows. Not keen to pursue further regular education, Francis did odd jobs (“dropping off cars at the airport, that type of thing”) after leaving secondary school, whilst playing music at the weekends. After Les Jivaros, he joined Les Caraïbes, a cover orchestra led by Patrick Ruymen. In 1965, with Ruymen, he formed a rock group, Liberty Six, with Lou Depryck as their lead singer. One year later, the band took part in a prestigious contest for Belgian amateur rock groups, the Concours Micro d’Or.

Young Francis (left) in his school band, Les Jivaros

“… and believe it or not, we won!”, Francis laughs. “One of the jury members was Francis Bay, the conductor of the BRT Big Band. Apart from work of their own choice, all bands participating in the competition had to interpret an obligatory piece, which had been composed by Bay himself. At the time, I was experimenting with instrumentation. I wrote an arrangement to Bay’s piece, and I think that pushed us over the line. Francis Bay was really impressed by our version. In fact, he even offered me a position in his television orchestra! When I protested that I didn’t read music, he said that this wasn’t a problem – “We will teach you soon enough, my boy!” Still, I refused. I didn’t want to be in a grand orchestra; I preferred playing in a group with friends, having a good time. Make no mistake, we were making some decent money in nightclubs in Brussels, playing covers of the Rolling Stones, Small Faces, The Kinks… and winning the Micro d’Or won us another 250,000 Belgian francs; not bad! I was having fun and didn’t see why I should give all of that up.”

One year later, Francis had reason to regret his decision, as Liberty Six broke up – and he had to start all over again. Although he joined another amateur band, Kleptomania, a psychedelic rock group led by Dany Lademacher, Francis was not happy with their style of music, which was too hard for his taste. In 1969, thoroughly depressed, he was about to give up his music ambitions – and sell his guitar to focus on his daytime job once and for all.

“By that time, I was married and we had our first baby, Valérie. How could I justify being away each and every weekend with some amateur band? One night, I went to a local festival in Woluwe where some pro groups were performing: the Wallace Collection and the JJ Band. The JJ Band was a soul group comprised of American, English, and Belgian musicians. I was a fan of their music. Coming home, I was feeling utterly depressed. How could I ever attain their level of professionalism? That Monday, I went to a Brussels’ music shop to sell my guitar. The owner declared me mad. He said he knew a group which was looking for a guitarist, a professional group: the JJ Band! He gave me a phone number, wishing me luck on the way out. As I was too intimidated to grab the phone, I waited for over a week. In the end, my wife persuaded me to give it a go. I spoke to their sax player Ralph Benatar – and though he was only two years older than me, I called him monsieur; I was very intimidated! He invited me over to have a chat and, incredibly, they hired me! Before I knew it, I was away to Greece, where we were the regular band in an Athens discotheque for three months… well, in the end we were sent away after one month only, as the patron admitted he would go broke if he had our band any longer; no wonder, as we must have been expensive for him – nine musicians with three go-go girls, twelve people in all! It was a scary moment, because I had given up my daytime job, but we found replacement gigs in Belgium soon enough.”

Guitarist in the Liberty Six band, mid-1960s

In fact, before the year was out, Francis was doing studio work as well: “Most of the JJ Band guys were sought-after session musicians – and they took me with them. The first couple of recordings were a bit awkward. There I was in a huge studio, finding myself surrounded by a grand orchestra with string and brass players… and I didn’t know how to read the score! Fortunately, there was another guitarist beside me with lots of experience. His name was Burt Blanca. While the conductor was discussing some last details with the brass section before the recording began, Burt played me the score; and, as I was used to playing by heart, I survived the session without too much trouble. The following years were extremely important for my development as a musician. In the studio, I first tried my hand at the steel-string guitar and the classical guitar, teaching myself all sorts of tricks which I put to use later on. On the other hand, there was Ralph Benatar of the JJ Band. He took all the time in the world to discuss all aspects of music theory which I was interested in, teaching me the basics of instrumentation – remember the JJ Band had a brass section, allowing me to try my hand at writing arrangements. It was then that I finally learnt to read music. Thanks to Ralph, the doors to a huge universe of music were opened to me.”

As the JJ Band’s rhythm section was much sought-after for recording sessions, they were also often called upon to accompany foreign artists on their Belgian tours; as such, Francis accompanied the likes of Barry White, Demis Roussos, The Three Degrees, and Vicky Leandros on stage. Meanwhile, the JJ Band also made a serious attempt at an international breakthrough, recording an album for the CBS label at London’s Chapell Studio; their producer was Brian Bennett, the drummer of The Shadows. The band had caught the attention of a British manager while playing at a discotheque called ‘Number One’ in the Flemish seaside resort of Knokke.

“That was in the summer of 1970. The dance hall was in the basement of Knokke’s Casino, where the famous Knokke Song Festival was taking place. The festival lasted one entire week, and, every night, after the contest was over, artists from all competing countries flocked to the Number One to unwind. Even Julio Iglesias was there as one of Spain’s representatives. It was there that this manager discovered us. Before we knew what was happening, we were offered a record deal at CBS. For the album, we recorded a mix of our own material and songs suggested by Brian Bennett. The record company really believed in us; they even put up posters of our band in London’s Underground. We were sent on a tour across the UK, from Southampton to Newcastle! The record sales weren’t going through the roof, but still, CBS were happy and wanted to do a second LP. Unfortunately, this new album never happened, as this same manager who had discovered us in Knokke had run off with our entire budget. We never saw our money back… The band soldiered on for a few more years, touring in England and even in Sweden, before finally disbanding in 1973 or 1974. By that time, however, session work in Brussels had become my main source of income.”

Francis (standing, far left) with the JJ Band (1971)

Throughout the 1970s, Francis composed material for other artists, including Flemish singers Joe Harris and Ann Christy. In 1974, he landed himself a deal with EMI Belgium, recording several singles as a solo singer, using the nom-de-plume of François Sorel. Meanwhile, he also tried his hand at writing instrumental pieces. One of his creations was ‘Nostalgia’ – inspired by a melody which Francis’ father used to play on the piano.

“When I composed ‘Nostalgia’, the initial idea wasn’t even to make a record; I simply wanted to surprise my father. I added a chorus to his melody line which I remembered from my childhood days. After having recorded it in my home studio, I called my father to let him hear it. That was an emotional moment; it brought tears to his eyes. Later, I offered the piece to Guy Lukowski, a guitarist who I worked with regularly, but he turned it down.”

“One day, I met Bart van de Laar, a young Dutchman who worked as an employee at Roland Kluger’s World Music Publishing in Brussels – and Bart had just broken away from Kluger, founding his own company, Decibel. Bart was interested in my work. As he was listening to some of my demos, at one point he asked me to rewind the magnetic tape. The piece he wanted to listen to for a second time was ‘Nostalgia’! He was the first to sense the potential of the melody – and, in fact, he wanted to record a single. Because I was under contract as François Sorel with EMI, and Bart wanted to release ‘Nostalgia’ at Polydor, he came up with a new pseudonym for me, Francis Goya. It was all a bit cheeky. I did a new recording of the piece at Studio Madeleine in Brussels, where the session musicians and sound engineer poked fun of it. They believed it was terribly old-fashioned, a Spanish guitar and mandolins, but I told them curtly I wasn’t interested in their opinion. Later, when ‘Nostalgia’ was a hit, sleeves of my records were everywhere on the walls of that same studio!”

Close-up, mid-1970s

… and ‘Nostalgia’ was a hit – a huge hit, in fact, not only in Belgium, but in many European countries as well as in South Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia. In Finland alone, not the biggest of markets, over 100,000 copies were sold in 1975. Francis was rewarded with gold and platinum records from across the globe.

“But it all started in Holland,” he stresses. “At the time, a train had been hijacked by Moluccan terrorists (the so-called first Dutch train hostage crisis, near the village of Wijster – BT). The country was in uproar and it took two weeks before the passengers were liberated. To alleviate the stress their listeners must have felt, Dutch national radio played my song each hour, again and again… a soothing, romantic melody. What happened after that was incredible. The single climbed the charts in country after country. Somehow, the melody and the sound of the guitar struck a chord in the hearts of people everywhere.”

“Suddenly, I found myself being on a world tour to cash in on the success of the single. At the airport in South Africa, I was received by hoards of journalists, who wanted me to do a press conference, though I hardly spoke a word of English at the time! As I was a very shy young man, it wasn’t always easy. There was nobody there to help me out; Bart van de Laar didn’t join me until later onwards. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say that ‘Nostalgia’ was a commercial choice… and for Bart, it must have been, but it most certainly wasn’t for me! I liked soul and rock, as long as it wasn’t too heavy, but this soft, romantic style which echoed my father’s piano playing was what I really liked. I had found my preferred style of music! After ‘Nostalgia’, the inspiration never stopped – one melody after the other flowed from my pen.”

Having created his ‘Goya Sound’ – romantic guitar melodies played with mandolin chords, Francis recorded many more singles, but, after a while, focused on releasing LPs with a mix of his own compositions and covers instead. Over the next twenty years, he recorded over fifty solo albums.

“At the outset, we were looking to release more of my own material, but it was impossible to copy the success of ‘Nostalgia’. Thereupon, we started making albums with instrumental covers of French hit songs for the French market, German songs for the German market, etc. These albums were heavily promoted in television commercials; record sales went through the roof! In West Germany alone, we sold hundreds of thousands of albums. In Finland, Bart van de Laar and I worked with a local producer, Osmo Ruuskanen. For some reason, the Fins love my music. Until the mid-1980s, we recorded an album for the Finnish market every year.”

As one of the very few Western artists, Francis Goya enjoyed success in the Soviet Union as well. In 1980, he went to Moscow, recording the album ‘Francis Goya v Moskve’, which was re-released several times. In all, some ten million copies were sold.

“It was Osmo Ruuskanen who told me that my albums were being copied illegally in Russia… and how people there loved my music. Osmo managed to contact Melodia, Russia’s record company, arranging a flat fee for us to do an album in Moscow, relinquishing our right to receiving royalties from record sales – which probably wasn’t a very wise thing to do. It was a huge undertaking. We recorded a set of popular Russian melodies, done with the Bolshoi Orchestra, local balalaika players and a choir of fifty singers. The recording took place in a chapel. I was lucky that my genre of music was uncontroversial. Not many recording artists from the West were allowed to sell their material in the USSR. Why were my albums so popular? Well, you have to bear in mind that the guitar isn’t part of Russia’s musical heritage. People were fascinated to hear their own, beloved folk melodies being played by this novel, romantic-sounding instrument. Unfortunately, back then, we weren’t allowed to do concerts in Russia – yet! After we had recorded the album, we simply took our money and flew back home.”

Meanwhile, Bart van de Laar, who had sold his Decibel publishing company, worked as a producer with Dutch record label CNR – and Francis Goya followed him. From 1977 onwards, beside his solo career, Francis formed a production duo with Van de Laar, mainly recording with Flemish and Dutch artists in the schlager genre. For Lenny Kuhr, they produced three highly successful albums as well as the single ‘Visite’, which she sang with French boy choir Les Poppys – an evergreen in the Netherlands. Moreover, Francis discovered another Dutch vocalist, Benny Neyman, who went on to have a successful solo career.

“In a radio programme in the Netherlands on which I performed, I met this young guy from Maastricht, Benny. I liked his voice and told Bart about him. Subsequently, we recorded an album with him in Brussels, mainly consisting of translations of French repertoire, which Benny was really good at. As for Lenny, she was picked up by Bart. I have seldom met a more friendly, down-to-earth person than her. Her voice is instantly recognisable; in short, a girl with personality. Her recordings with Les Poppys took place in Paris. We mainly did schlager material with Lenny, which she couldn’t identify with after a while – perfectly understandable, as she was more into poetry and chanson.”

For four years, Francis and Bart van de Laar were an inseparable team. “Bart’s main talent was seeing the potential of an artist or song when nobody else did. He wasn’t a musician, but he had the flair and good ideas. He came up with fledgling new artists, while forking out budgets for our projects from nowhere. He was a very friendly guy, always smiling, who time and again managed to convince people and gather them around him. To be fair, Bart wasn’t a producer in the musical sense of the word. I did that part of the job for him: booking a studio, finding session musicians, commissioning arrangements, and overseeing the recordings. Bart showed up in the studio now and then, but that was it.”

“Being a good producer is something I learnt by working as a session musician for many years. You need to know which studios and sound engineers to pick, you need a good ear, and lots of patience… and perhaps the main thing: you have to get on well with all people you work with, being able to work as a team. It is no good sealing yourself off from others, because it will get you nowhere. I was having a really good time, engaging in all kinds of work simultaneously: recording my own work, producing records for others, playing jazz with friends in my free time – unfortunately, most of the money I should have made as a recording artist and producer disappeared… Bart took more than his fair share, but even more was squirreled away by record companies and publishers. I should have paid more attention, but, essentially, I was always in the business to have a good time rather than to make profit.”

In the summer of 1981, after a petty conflict, Francis Goya decided to break away from his partnership with Bart van de Laar. Mere months later, Van de Laar was assassinated in his Hilversum villa in a murder case which has never been solved. Shortly after the murder, which was heavily publicised in the Netherlands, Francis himself was pointed at as a suspect. Months before Van de Laar’s violent death, Goya had done an interview with a Dutch boulevard magazine in which he had complained about his colleague’s handling of financial affairs.

“I told that journalist that Bart is a very nice fellow, but someone with the eyes of the devil in him when there’s talk of money. Money had driven him mad. After Bart had been killed, a photo of me was put on the front page of that same magazine… and it was the image of a murderer, a real tête de turc with my head shrouded in dark shadows and my beard turned black. You know what the caption was? “Francis Goya says Bart van der Laar was the devil incarnate”! Someone claimed to have spotted a car with a Belgian number plate in the street of Bart’s house on the morning he was murdered; in reality, I was at work in a studio in Brussels that day. I had an alibi and I would never even consider taking somebody’s life, but it was an insalubrious affaire nonetheless. There must have been powers at work who had an interest in putting the blame on me. I went to Bart’s funeral, but stayed away from his entourage. I don’t regret that interview, because Bart had nearly bankrupted me at the time, but that journalist… fortunately, I never met him again. Reading the article back, you have a sense that he knew what was going to happen.”

For the remainder of the 1980s, Francis Goya continued working as a freelance producer, releasing records with schlager artists in the Netherlands and Belgium. In 1985, he had a chart success with singer Franky Paolo and his disco track ‘Que pasa? Mañana’, which sold very well in Belgium, France, and South Africa. As a solo artist, Francis struck up a partnership with Dutch producer Ruud Jacobs and arranger Harry van Hoof. With them, he released duo albums with pianist Laurens van Rooyen and Latin singer Carmina Cabrera.

Asked about Ruud Jacobs, Francis’ face lights up. “What a great guy he was! Such a gentleman. He was an excellent musician in his own right and someone who respected others and their views. Among other recording projects, he produced my solo album ‘Rendez-vous’, which ranks amongst my best work. Ruud also called on me to take care of guitar solos in studio sessions for him. In 1990, I had written a piece called ‘Bahia lady’, which I felt would be suitable for a Spanish-language singer. Via a friend, I found Carmina Cabrera, a girl from Bolivia who performed as a singer in restaurants in Brussels. She turned out to be extremely talented. After we did a demo, we sent it to Phonogram, who decided it was worth doing a full album – and of course Ruud Jacobs produced it. In total, we recorded three Goya & Cabrera CDs. For the first, Ruud was awarded with an Edison Award in the Netherlands.”

Having shunned touring for many years, Francis Goya did some minor theatre concerts in the Netherlands from the second half of the 1980s onwards. Furthermore, in the 1990s, he was a producer for the likes of Scott Fitzgerald, Willy Sommers, and – renewing their partnership of old – Benny Neyman. In 2000, Goya recorded another duo album, this time teaming up with Richard Clayderman. Around the turn of the century, however, Francis took the radical decision to stop working as a producer and fully focus on his solo career. In a break with the past, he began doing lavish international concert tours.

“By that time, I had frankly had my fill of producing records for others. Meanwhile, I was over fifty; and I felt I had a right to spend more time on my own projects. Having turned down many offers from Finland and the former Soviet countries, in 1999 I finally accepted a plea from an Estonian impresario to do a solo guitar concert in Tallinn… and it turned out I really liked it! Subsequently, there were performances in Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland. Especially in Russia, audiences were very enthusiastic, frenetically applauding every song. It wasn’t until then that I fully appreciated what the 1980 Moscow LP had meant to people. The older generation told me how they had loved my record – and some confessed they took up learning to play the guitar themselves, even to the point of later teaching their children the instrument as well. Incredible how much impact one music album can have! For these concerts, we brought – and still bring! – our own arrangements, working with local classical musicians. Later on, we also did a concert in China. One way or another, Russian and Asian audiences are more fond of instrumental music than Western Europeans nowadays. To this day, every concert in Russia sells out to the last seat.”

Recording the guitar solos for Anneke Grönloh’s album ‘Gevoelens’ (1997) / photo courtesy of Anneke Grönloh Producties

In 2006, Francis Goya made headlines in Belgium, when it turned out a sample of his guitar composition ‘Faded lady’ had been reworked by US hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes in his song ‘New York shit’, which sold over two million copies worldwide. It was the first time a Belgian songwriter reached first place in the American charts since Sœur Sourire in 1963. Regrettably, though, until this day Francis Goya has not been credited for his part in the success. “He took eight bars from the intro,” Francis explains, “but he never asked for my permission. And it wasn’t just Busta Rhymes… after ‘New York shit’, the song was covered by rappers everywhere, turning it into ‘Miami shit’, ‘London shit’, ‘Moscow shit’, ‘Tokyo shit’, etcetera. Fourteen years later, I haven’t received a single penny of any of those releases. Of course, being number one in America is something I am proud of, but it is sad that it had to come about in such a fashion.”

In 2008, Francis and his family left Belgium, settling down in Marrakech, Morocco, instead. They stayed there for nine years. “We had spent two holidays in Morocco and we liked the atmosphere and the climate. Most people speak French, which is a plus as well. In the end, we took the decision to move. I wanted to enjoy the sunshine and find some relaxation in between my concert tours, but things turned out rather differently. My daughter began a music school in Marrakech, but at some point, she wanted to give up and I jumped in. Quite unexpectedly, I really took to teaching! Thinking back to how I had hated studying music theory as a child, I made practice the focal point of my lessons. Children want to play. They have to enjoy studying on that guitar; they have to be keen to make progress. Once they had managed to learn a couple of tunes, I put in a little solfege. Most of my students were beginners, but some of them were very talented. The school did rather well, and I employed other teachers, but one of the problems was that all parents wanted me to teach their child. It was hard work, I can tell you!”

In 2017, Francis and his wife packed their bags again, moving to their current home in Marbella, Spain. Continuing his concert series, Francis toured Russia, Ukraine, and Israel in 2018. Even after all these years, he still loves playing the guitar, affectionately referring to it as his second wife. “But my wife doesn’t agree,” he laughs. “She feels the guitar is my first wife, and she comes second! I still practice my guitar playing on a daily basis. This can go on for hours on end, sometimes to my wife’s chagrin; sometimes, she feels she deserves some attention too! No, just joking. Yes, I am very happy with the life I have had. Though I had some bad luck here and there, generally speaking, I have been blessed with good fortune. I mean, what would have become of me if I hadn’t been a music professional? A lorry driver, probably! Who knows…?!”

On a charity visit in the Moroccan countryside, 2012

Francis Goya in the Eurovision Song Contest
Francis Goya made his debut as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Luxembourg in 1991, but it was not his first involvement in the festival. In 1981, producer duo Bart van der Laar and Francis Goya were the driving forces behind Linda Williams, a girl who unexpectedly won the ticket to represent the Netherlands at that year’s international final in Dublin. The song with which Linda defeated her rivals in the Nationaal Songfestival, entitled ‘Het is een wonder’, penned by Cees de Wit and Bart van de Laar, had an unusually schlager feel to it – unusual, that is, in Eurovision terms. It was the only one of ten songs in competition to be performed without an orchestral arrangement; instead, Linda was accompanied on stage by a backing group, including Francis Goya himself on guitar.

“It was at Bart’s suggestion that I was in the backing band,” Francis recalls. “Audiences in the Netherlands were familiar with my name thanks to my solo records, which sold extremely well at that time – and he felt my presence on stage could generate some extra points. In Dublin, a string arrangement was added to the song (arranged by John Sluszny and conducted by Rogier van Otterloo), but the rest of the music was on a backing tape. My job was quite simple; I had to mime the guitar on stage. Not much concentration was required – I relaxed and was in awe of the way the Irish had organised the festival. I had never been in Eurovision before and it was quite a spectacle to behold. Aside from the rehearsals, there wasn’t that much to do, and my most vivid memory is playing hours and hours of tennis on a court in the heart of Dublin with an English friend who I happened to meet there. Given her lack of experience, Linda could be forgiven for suffering from stage fright, but she was an excellent singer and gave a good performance. We came ninth; not a bad result, not bad at all!”

Linda Williams during her performance in the 1981 Netherlands’ Eurovision selection programme, held in Rotterdam; only Francis Goya’s guitar – and not his face – can be seen behind her

In a funny coincidence, Francis Goya, who is Belgian by nationality, represented the Netherlands as well as Luxembourg in the Eurovision Song Contest, but never got to defend his own country’s colours on the festival stage. It was not that he never tried; in 1986, he was co-composer and producer of one of the entries in the Belgian pre-selection, ‘Toi’ by Michel Almann; the piece was arranged by Pino Marchese. “We were confident Michel could win,” Francis comments. “Here was a guy with good looks and a style of singing resembling Johnny Hallyday and Michel Sardou. In fact, a video clip had been prepared, there was a full album of him ready to be released, and we had booked a series of promotional concerts in France. But then, when we came to rehearsals, we heard Sandra Kim and ‘J’aime la vie’. I instantly realised there was no hope. Our song was good, but we submitted it in the wrong year. In Eurovision, you need that little bit of luck to progress – and we didn’t have it. Adding insult to injury, Michel had a car accident shortly afterwards, which resulted in the cancellation of his concert tour. Effectively, it was the end of his career.”

In 1991, Luxembourg’s broadcaster RTL, for the second time in three years, took the decision to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest with a song written by a Luxembourgish songwriter and interpreted by a Luxembourgish artist. In an internal selection, ‘Un baiser volé’ was chosen, composed by Patrick Hippert and interpreted by twenty-four-year-old Sarah Bray (in real life: Mick Wersant), both of whom were bank employees by profession. Subsequently, looking for an arranger and producer, RTL turned to Brussels-based Francis Goya. Goya and RTL’s Head of Entertainment knew each other from the annual Midem music fair in Cannes.

“I was not involved in the songwriting process,” Francis comments, “but RTL wanted me to take care of the studio recording – and they expressly stated that it was part of the deal that I should conduct the Eurovision orchestra as well. They felt a well-known face could enhance their chances. I was surprised to be asked. I had conducted in studio sessions, but never on stage; but then, hey, why would I turn down doing Eurovision? It was an interesting opportunity; and RTL paid me extremely well for it. And so I played the conductor for them, ha-ha! I have no problem whatsoever saying it as it is – that is what I did, because I don’t pretend that I am remotely qualified to conduct an orchestra.”

Preparing the studio recording of ‘Un baiser volé’ with Sarah Bray (Mick Wersant)

“Admittedly, the song wasn’t strong enough to make an impact on an international stage. That was a feeling I had from the very beginning. The starting point was a demo which Patrick Hippert had done with Sarah Bray in his home studio. I had never met Patrick previously; later, we got to know each other better and wrote quite a lot of library music together. I remember he was worried about someone else doing the production for his Eurovision song. It was his baby and he didn’t want us to make too many modifications. A typical Luxembourger, he was rather distant and serious – different from the average Belgian, who is more open and relaxed in the presence of others. For the studio recording, I wrote an arrangement with Bernard Wrincq, a young multi-instrumentalist with whom I have continued to work; nowadays, for my concerts in Russia, he is the pianist and musical director. He could just as easily have conducted the orchestra as me, but he was quite young at the time – and RTL wanted me to do it anyway.”

The record version of ‘Un baiser volé’ was done entirely with electronic instruments; for Eurovision, it had to be reworked into an orchestral score. Though Francis knew how to write for strings and brass, he felt he needed someone with more experience. “To tell you the truth,” he admits, “I was very nervous about having to conduct the Eurovision orchestra! The last thing I was looking forward to was having to correct all kinds of mistakes in the arrangement during rehearsals. Therefore, I asked some colleagues who would be best suited to take the burden of writing the orchestration off my shoulders. One thing was obvious: I wanted someone from the Netherlands. Frankly, based on my experience in the business, I’d rather trust a Dutchman than a Belgian, especially when it comes to orchestras. Someone suggested the name of Dick Bakker. I could also have gone for Harry van Hoof, who I’d worked with previously on my album ‘Rendez-vous’. Both of them are musicians who were able to write beautiful and modern orchestral arrangements. I didn’t know Dick personally, but his reputation was excellent. I explained him I wanted to count in the orchestra without worrying about the score… and, of course, Dick delivered!”

In 1991, following Italy’s win in the previous year, the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. Luxembourg’s entry was played entirely live, with four backing singers as well as a girl from Luxembourg playing the piano on stage. In spite of the orchestration being flawless, there were some problems to address during the first rehearsal, as Francis recalls.

Sarah Bray in Rome, 1991

“We didn’t have a backing track; our pianist played the opening bars solo, after which the orchestra had to follow suit. To my dismay, the drummer in the orchestra was being a bit of a clown. He didn’t watch the tempo I had indicated and played his part much too fast. He didn’t seem to care, which I can understand; this was an orchestra of musicians who were working on a programme they didn’t really like. Moreover, when they see a guy like me, they know I’m not a real conductor; I’m not naïve! So instead of arrogantly correcting the drummer from where I was stood in front of the orchestra, “Hey, you, what do you think you’re doing?”, I took him aside for a moment, explaining to him in English that it was important to watch the tempo I indicated to him. I was lucky to have some experience in the music business… with less diplomacy, I would have risked being sabotaged by this guy for the remainder of the rehearsals, and, who knows, for the concert itself as well. Once that issue was out of the way, my nerves subsided. After a good general rehearsal, I was sure we were safe; and during the live broadcast, I wasn’t feeling tense at all.”

“In between rehearsals, we had enough time to do some sightseeing. Rome is a wonderful city. Our hotel was situated not too far from the Colosseum. We also visited the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. We were a happy bunch. Bernard Wrincq and his wife Carenne were with us; they were in the backing choir. One of the other backing singers had fallen ill, we had to replace him at short notice. Patrick Alessi, a Flemish bloke who did lots of studio work in Brussels, helped out. The vocals were spot on in rehearsals and on the night as well. There was nothing much else to worry about. Apart from the problem with the drummer, we had no issues with the Italian organisers. They did a fine job.”

Sarah Bray rehearsing with the Eurovision orchestra, Rome (1991)

During the rendition of Luxembourg’s entry in the live broadcast, there is a moment when the electric guitar seems to cancel out the sound of the rest of the orchestra. According to common belief among Eurovision aficionados, the guitarist broke one of his strings. Francis Goya explains that this was not the case: “No, because I would have noticed right away. He did play what was in the score, but he played it way too loudly. This guitarist used a pedal – and he probably pushed it, turning up the volume of his instrument. The sound engineer immediately corrected his mistake by adjusting the sound mix. It was unfortunate, but it didn’t ruin the performance.”

In a competition with twenty-two competing countries, Luxembourg’s entry finished fourteenth, picking up twenty-nine votes. Did it come as a disappointment? Francis, smiling wryly: “To the Luxembourgish part of the delegation, it did. They really believed in their chances… ils y croyaient à mort! There was genuine excitement at our table when the voting was about to begin. After a little while, though, reality sunk in. But then, winning Eurovision is extremely difficult. It is hard to predict if a jury will fall for a song or completely ignore it. In our case, neither happened, but I never believed we could come close to winning. In that respect, I was better prepared than some of the others.”

Two years later, RTL again called upon Francis Goya to produce and conduct their entry, ‘Donne-moi une chance’, performed by Modern Times, an ad-hoc duo comprised of rock guitarist Jimmy Martin and young Simone Weis. As in 1991, the song was composed by Patrick Hippert, with Jimmy Martin as co-author. Originally, Hippert and Martin intended to have it performed by Simone alone, but because those responsible at RTL were worried about her inexperience, the piece was rewritten to be performed as a duet with Jimmy Martin. Again, the studio version was recorded in Brussels. This time, Goya did not have a role in the creation of the arrangement, which was largely done by Patrick Hippert, assisted by Bernard Wrincq who took care of the programming. Apart from doing the production, Francis played the guitar parts in the session.

In the recording studio in Brussels, from left to right: Patrick Hippert (composer-arranger), Luc Tytgat (sound engineer), Francis Goya (producer), Simone Weis (vocalist), Jimmy Martin (composer-vocalist), and Tony Kolenberg (Francis Goya’s co-producer)

“Our starting point was a rather well-worked demo, done by Patrick in his home studio. We stayed close to the original. Basically, Bernard Wrincq added string lines to it – this time, I didn’t have to turn to Dick Bakker. The orchestration was so much simpler. For the Eurovision Song Contest, we produced a backing tape, in which just the string elements were missing. These we wanted to play live at the contest. Bernard was perfectly able to write the strings by himself.”

Asked what he thinks about the song, a rock ballad, Francis does not beat about the bush: “Essentially, it was virtually the same song as ‘Un baiser volé’ two years previously! ‘Donne-moi une chance’ follows a similar pattern… the same chords and the same harmonies. Jimmy was a professional artist and Simone did not sing badly at all, but the song was a no-hoper. I often worked with Patrick Hippert and he was really good at writing library music, but he was a guy who lived in a musical universe of his own. Once, I mentioned Céline Dion to him, and he turned out never to have heard of her! When you are that secluded from developments in the music industry, it is hard to come up with something contemporary and competitive.”

The 1993 Eurovision Song Contest was held in the Green Glens Arena, an indoor hall in Millstreet, a tiny village in the southern half of Ireland. Delegations were housed in Killarney, some twenty miles down the road, being taken to the venue by buses. “Luxembourg’s delegation had a bus of its own,” Francis recalls. “It took the coach some thirty minutes to get there. In the Irish countryside, roads are narrow, but that didn’t seem to trouble our driver, who steered with extreme speed along the hedges. We were well looked after by the Irish organisation. For the introduction film, our delegation was taken to a horse racing event. One of the horses incurred a severe injury and it had to be put down on the spot; we didn’t see any of that, as a tent was put up around it first – but we were still impressed. Of course, these scenes weren’t included in the film! My best memory is of a karaoke night in a local bar, attended by many of the other participants as well. Usually, in Eurovision, the delegations didn’t mix that much. Everyone was focused on their own performance.”

Luxembourg’s representatives in the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest rehearsing their performance

“That was especially true in Millstreet, because once the rehearsal of our song was done, we were taken back to the hotel almost straightaway. Other than practising our performance, the main thing that had to be done was discussing the sound and camerawork with the director. Having said that, there was little to comment on. The sound mix was good from the start and, as we only used the string section of the orchestra, the rehearsals were easy. I found an orchestra which was well prepared. There was little more for me to do than counting in the string players. Not much to worry about!”

The voting of the 1993 contest was a nail-biter; it was not until the last vote before Ireland managed to shed off its last rival, the United Kingdom. Malta, the last country to vote – and only because their jury could not be reached by telephone previously – gave ten votes to Luxembourg and twelve to Ireland. Therefore, Luxembourg finished with a total of… eleven points, their only other vote being awarded by Slovenia; strikingly, the year before, Luxembourg had received a mere ten points – all of these coming from Malta alone. In the early 1990s, Maltese votes were often completely different from those of the other countries’ juries. As for the ten points which Malta gave to Luxembourg in 1993, Francis Goya comments:

“I vividly remember the delegation leader from Malta: a short fat guy with a moustache and round glasses (Gaetano Abela – BT). Backstage, at some point during the evening, he approached RTL’s head of delegation and simply said: “If you give us twelve points, we will give you twelve points in return.” Our producer was a very correct guy, and, probably because he was so astonished at this proposition, he didn’t answer him at all. Away went the little fat bloke and what happened… we received ten points from Malta and they received nothing from us! So votes weren’t bought with money, but by exchanging them amongst countries… at least, that is what this Maltese guy thought. He obviously misjudged RTL’s producer, who was a typical Luxembourger: straight and painfully correct. At any rate, that is how we received our ten points – now, how bad is that? This is a true story, I can affirm you without a doubt, because I saw and heard it happening with my own ears and eyes!”

Simone Weis and Jimmy Martin on the Eurovision stage, 1993

Thanks to Malta’s lavish gift, ‘Donne-moi une chance’ did not finish last, but twentieth out of twenty-five competing songs. According to Francis Goya, in spite of the result which was markedly worse than in 1991, songwriter Patrick Hippert was feeling less dejected now. “In Rome, Patrick had fallen flat on his face – the disillusionment was intense. This time around, he knew better what to expect; and he was more realistic about his chances from the beginning. There were twenty-five songs, twenty-five performances… and in the end, there’s only one winner and lots of losers. RTL’s crew didn’t show too much disappointment. I don’t think they were in it to win. Most broadcasters participating in Eurovision prefer not to walk away with the trophy due to the costs involved in having to organise next year’s festival!”

Although nobody was aware of it on that evening in Millstreet, ‘Donne-moi une chance’ was Luxembourg’s last-ever entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. Due to many Eastern European countries applying to join the festival after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a relegation system was introduced which excluded the countries which finished 20th to 25th the year before. As a result, Luxembourg were barred from participating in the 1994 edition of the contest, but the country’s broadcaster RTL did not apply to return in 1995 – and has not shown any interest in re-joining the competition ever since.

Understandably, Francis Goya was not close enough to the fire to make any definite statement about the way RTL’s decision to withdraw came about, but his guess sounds plausible: “Luxembourg’s broadcaster insisted on participating with local artists. They no longer wanted to be represented by singers from France or Belgium. The problem, however, was that Luxembourg’s music scene is very small – too small to come up with a credible Eurovision act every year. On top of that, participating in the Eurovision Song Contest cost them a lot of money. Probably, they felt doing Eurovision was not worth spending their valuable budget on any longer.”

Not in the least looking dejected: Jimmy Martin and Simone Weis right after the end of the voting in Millstreet

When asked the question if he is proud to have participated in Eurovision, Francis replies: “I guess so, yes… the Eurovision Song Contest is a prestigious event watched all over Europe. Taking part in a festival like that is interesting, though the impact on my career was minimal. Honestly speaking, I have never been that fond of Eurovision. The majority of songs are composed specifically for the competition; and the general level is not that high. Usually, everyone is trying to come up with something that resembles the winner of the year before. That really gets on my nerves! When, a couple of years ago, this guy from Portugal (Salvador Sobral in 2017 – BT) did his performance without any of the artillery which we have become so accustomed to in Eurovision… dancers, pyrotechnics, short skirts…, it created a contrast; and I wasn’t surprised when he won.”

“Generally, though, Eurovision has become steadily more visual. Today, it’s no longer a gala… it’s a show. Back in the days of Gigliola Cinquetti, Eurovision was a real music competition; a vocalist and an orchestra without any further cinéma going on around it. Slowly, it has evolved into something which does not bear any resemblance to that. Looking back, when I took part for Luxembourg, there were some artists with a modest act around their songs, there were backing tracks and fake guitar players on stage. The audience was still seated, though, and there was an orchestra accompanying all performers. I guess the Eurovision Song Contest was in a transitional phase.”

Other artists on Francis Goya
Rony Brack worked with Francis Goya in Brussels’ recording studios in the 1970s and 1980s: “Francis isn’t only an exquisite guitar player, he marries musicianship with artistry. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he has been at the top of his field for decades: as a player, composer, producer, and as a teacher. In my days as a session player, hopping from studio to studio, and genre to genre, we would regularly cross paths. It was always a pleasure, both personally and professionally, to work with him. He's a wonderful person and a great friend." (2020)

Francis in the Irish countryside, away from the Eurovision rehearsals, enjoying his favourite pastime (1993)

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker did an interview with Francis Goya, April 2020.
  • Thanks to Rony Brack for his additional comments.
  • Photos courtesy of Francis Goya, Patrick Hippert, Ferry van der Zant, and Bart Peeters / Anneke Grönloh Producties.
  • Thanks due to Daniel Beach for proofreading the manuscript; and to Edwin van Gorp for uploading the article onto the website.

Website(s):
francisgoya.com  

  

Songs conducted
1991: Un baiser volé
1993: Donne-moi une chance