Harry van Hoof

Born: March 16th, 1943, Hilversum (Netherlands)
Nationality: Dutch

Eurovision record
With no fewer than fifteen Eurovision participations between 1972 and 1994, Harry van Hoof is the fifth-most experienced conductor in the history of the contest, only preceded by Noel Kelehan (who conducted 29 songs), Franck Pourcel (23 songs), Ossi Runne (22 songs), and fellow-Dutchman Dolf van der Linden (18 songs). He conducted the winning entry ‘Ding-a-dong’, performed by Teach-In in Stockholm (1975). Harry van Hoof arranged three of the songs he conducted in the festival himself: ‘Als het om de liefde gaat’ (1972), ‘De oude muzikant’ (1973), and ‘The party is over’ (1976).

Rehearsing with the Metropole Orchestra for the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest, The Hague

Harry van Hoof was born in Hilversum, where his father Henri worked as Head of the Radio Drama Department at public broadcaster AVRO. Due to Henri van Hoof’s collaboration with the German oppressor, he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment upon war’s end. When father Van Hoof was released, the family moved to the birthplace of Harry’s mother, Eindhoven (1950), where Henri van Hoof found work at an advertising agency. “My father was one of an intellectual group of actors and writers who chose the wrong side in the war”, Harry comments. “He did not commit any crimes, but because of his radio work, his name was familiar to many, causing a heavy sentence. This led to the strange situation that I only got to consciously know my father when I was seven years old. Contrary to my elder brother Frans, I never felt uncomfortable about my father’s past. My childhood years were quite carefree.”

When did music enter young Harry’s life? “I used to love listening to Pierre Palla playing the organ on AVRO radio. When I was about eight years old, I was lucky enough to have a teacher at elementary school, Mr. Smits, whose passion it was to play opera fragments whilst telling us about the plots. He really awakened the beast in me! I came home, telling my parents: I want to play music! First, they bought me an accordion, later onwards a second-hand French piano. To afford it, they had to sell part of our furniture. Initially, I was taught by a private teacher, Ton Donkers. Later onwards, I attended the piano lessons of Mr. Gruijthuijsen at Eindhoven’s Music School for many years. From day one, I was quite ambitious, trying to write melodies which I proudly presented to my piano teachers. This meant there was not much time left for playing football or other activities a young boy usually engages in: the piano was my passion. At secondary school, I was quite good at learning languages, but there was not a doubt in my mind: I wanted to go to conservatory.”

Harry graduated from high school at sixteen in 1959. His career as a musician had already started one year prior to his graduation, when Harry became one of the founding members of teenage rock group Peter & His Rockets. Playing the piano, Harry remained in Peter Koelewijn’s formation for six years (1958-’64). Peter & His Rockets were one of the Netherlands’ first genuine rock ‘n’ roll bands, composing their own material and scoring a monster hit in the Netherlands and Belgium with the boogie-woogie ‘Kom van dat dak af’ (1959). How did Harry, a fifteen year old teenager who only listened to classical music, get involved in Koelewijn’s group?

Harry recalls: “During my high school days, my parents moved to Tuindorp, a residential part of Eindhoven. Bordering it was a street called Heezerweg, but we were not allowed to socialize with children living there; the Heezerweg was quite a rough part of town! Behind our house, there was an undeveloped building site. There, in a wooden shed, I first met Peter, my older brother’s friend, whose parents owned a fish shop at the Heezerweg. In the shed, Peter was playing the guitar and I told him I thought what he played was rubbish. Peter’s immediately reacted by violently slapping me in the face! That was our first encounter, but it was not long before we had become the best of friends on account of our mutual passion for music. Peter, who was two years my senior, wanted to found a rock band, an idea that did not appeal to me. To me, American rock ‘n’ roll sounded awfully uncultivated. Nonetheless, when Peter persisted in his plans, I decided to join him, drawn by the adventure. Imagine, when we had just started out and were playing in a bar in Eindhoven, all of a sudden, the police vice squad entered the premises. I hid under the piano until the officers had left again, as I was only fifteen at that time – too young to be allowed to work!”

Harry van Hoof (to the right) with Peter Koelewijn in the early days of Peter & His Rockets, c1959

“Helped by a tape recorder”, Harry continues, “Peter and I worked on our musical ideas. In ’59, our band was discovered by arranger and talent scout Jack Bulterman, who had heard about this teenage band which was so popular in Eindhoven and the surrounding villages. Subsequently, we were given the opportunity by Holland’s branch of EMI to record four of our songs on an EP. We made the journey to the studio in Heemstede by train, loading all our instruments. There was one slight problem: we only had three original songs! On the train, Peter told us he had an idea for a fourth song, ‘Kom van dat dak af’. As we were in a closed-off compartment, we were able to rehearse this new song, each on our own instruments. In the studio, though intimidated by all these sophisticated recording devices, we recorded our four songs. Though ‘Kom van dat dak af’ was originally intended to be no more than a track to fill the EP, it was picked up soon by a radio DJ and, before we knew it, it was a huge hit!”

“As a result, we were booked across the Netherlands and Flanders”, Harry adds. “The five of us roamed the country in an old Austin, putting all our equipment on the roof. Admittedly, technically speaking, the way we played was awful… loud and off key, but we were more worried about creating the right atmosphere – just like the Rolling Stones in their early years. Too much perfectionism would have killed our creativity. We did not have a make-up artist or a manager. We made heaps of money without understanding why; being minors, we were not allowed to keep it anyway, instead dutifully handing it to our parents. All the while, I hated the music we played, but on stage I was able to pretend enthusiasm convincingly. We had enormous fun, laughing our heads off at each other’s jokes and chasing the girls. After a while, however, Peter felt we were in a dead-end street, as our three companions did not improve their play – no wonder, as we never rehearsed. Of the first line-up of Peter & His Rockets, Peter and I were the only ones who became professional musicians. I left the band in 1964.”

Peter & His Rockets during a live performance, from left to right: Claus Buchholz, Peter Koelewijn, Charles Jansen, and Harry van Hoof (c1962)

From 1959 to 1962, at the Brabant Conservatory in Tilburg, Harry van Hoof studied the piano, while also being taught counterpoint, composition, harmony, and orchestration. Harry has mixed recollections of his days at the music academy: “My teacher in composition and orchestration, Jan van Dijk, was a great character who sported a huge beard… he regularly taught me privately, as well. When he had given me the assignment to write an orchestration to Mussorgsky’s piano piece ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, I gave it my best shot, using all my fantasy and creativity. When Van Dijk saw the result, he made it clear it was really good: “That is the direction you should take, boy!” Admittedly, though, I was not very impressed by the other teachers… they despised the fact that I was in a rock ‘n’ roll band. When I returned to the academy on Monday morning after a weekend of playing with Peter & His Rockets, my cuticles were blue, because I had been raking my hands up and down the piano for hours on end. “I take it you had a hard weekend?”, my piano teacher asked sarcastically, but it was my turn to despise him when I improvised on a classical piece at the piano. Astonished, he admitted he would not be able to do that. This discovery was a huge letdown for me… I mean, improvisation is the heart and soul of music – Mozart was a great improviser too – but the only thing my teacher could do was reading music properly. In ’62, I broke off my studies because I had to perform my military service. I served as a translator in the British army at NATO HQ in Mönchengladbach. Luckily, Major Thomas, who coined me ‘The Dutch Elvis Presley’, permitted me to leave whenever I had a gig with Peter and the band. Upon leaving the army in ’64, I found finding work as a professional musician so easily, that I never considered going back to conservatory. Moreover, I had picked up all the theoretical background I needed.”

From the early 1960s onwards, Harry van Hoof was a much sought-after piano accompanist for pop singers in live gigs, mainly at corporate soirées and in theatres. Harry: “I played the piano on stage for young and coming singers… Annelies de Graaf, Trea Dobbs, and Willeke Alberti, for example. When I started working in the freelance circuit, I was still a member of the Rockets, but, gradually, I worked for others more and more. Especially Trea, who I later was married to for seven years, was extremely successful at that time… she had an incredible vocal range, whilst, behind her, I looked every inch a gentleman, wearing a smoking. Sometimes, some other singer turned up and I had to improvise my way through accompanying him or her as well. One thing led to another; I joined Cees Schrama’s radio band Casey & The Pressure Group. Some years before, in ’64, I had been given my first opportunity in the studio, when I accompanied two girl-singers from Breda at the piano and the producer wondered if I could add a tiny brass arrangement to the song. This recording was heard by producer Gerrit den Braber, who believed in my talent and contracted me as staff arranger for record company Phonogram in 1965.”

With his girlfriend (later first wife) Trea Dobbs, October 1964

In the following years, Harry van Hoof was involved in arranging many major hit successes in the Netherlands and Flanders, including ‘Sophietje’ for Johnny Lion (1965), ‘Dans je de hele nacht met mij’ for Karin Kent (1966), ‘Ben ik te min’ for Armand (1966), ‘I won’t stand between them’ for Bonnie St. Claire (1970), and ‘Mijn gebed’ for D.C. Lewis (1970), while he also teamed up with the likes of Henk Elsink, Stella Bos, and Bob Bouber. “To be quite honest”, Harry explains, “at that time, I did not think these hit successes were all that special. To me, it was a job and I arranged dozens of songs a month. After a while, you get used to some of your work being picked up by the audience. My trademark were the modernizing guitar parts. I called upon young session players, mainly the Vermeulen and Hollestelle brothers, who were able to put my ideas about the guitar sound into practice. When I needed advice, I turned to Bert Paige, one of the few arrangers of the older generation who had been able to adapt to the new times. Bert, an extremely helpful guy, was too modest to be a good orchestra leader, but his arrangements were second to none – in fact, I think he taught me more about music than all my teachers in conservatory put together. In those years, inspiration for arrangements often came to me while driving. At such an instant, I would stop the car to make a note of the idea. Back home, I used to work up those ideas to fully-fledged arrangements at the dead of night, seated at the piano.”

“To refine my conducting style”, Harry continues, “I took some private lessons with André Rieu, chief of the Limburg Symphonic Orchestra and father of the violinist of the same name who won world fame much later. It was my former composition teacher Jan van Dijk who had suggested Rieu Sr. to me. I felt I needed some more technique, as I had also started trying my hand at string arrangements and, for studio recordings, the violinists required someone to guide them properly. In concerts, I paid attention to classical conductors, closely following their technique. Another inspiration was the Metropole Orchestra’s conductor Dolf van der Linden, who had his very own way of leading his men. In the next few years, band leaders in Hilversum, such as Charlie Nederpelt and Dolf van der Linden, started inviting me to write some arrangements for their orchestras. In the beginning, when writing for Charlie’s VARA Dance Orchestra, I tended to write for brass in a register which was too high. When the guys tried to play it, they nearly fell off their chairs! Together with Bert Paige, Charlie helped me mastering the different groups of instruments of an orchestra.”

Conducting one of his first record arrangements in Hilversum’s Phonogram Studio, 1964

In the 1970s, Harry van Hoof was the Netherlands’ most successful record arranger of pop projects by far. Amongst the artists he worked with are Louis Neefs, Golden Earring, Willeke Alberti, Saskia & Serge, Ciska Peters, Sandra Reemer, Robert Long, Bolland & Bolland, Polle Eduard, Don Mercedes, Corry Konings, Shirley Zwerus, and even Vera Lynn. His arrangements include an incredible amount of hit records, such as ‘Pappie loop toch niet zo snel’ for Herman van Keeken (1971), ‘I’ll never drink again’ for Alexander Curly (1972), ‘Het werd zomer’ for Rob de Nijs (1976), ‘KL 204’ for his old friend Peter Koelewijn (1977), and ‘Laat me’ for Ramses Shaffy (1978). In ’75, Koelewijn and Van Hoof teamed up to compose the club anthem of Peter’s favourite football team EVV Eindhoven. For Van Hoof, there was also worldwide commercial success with composer/producer Hans van Hemert and the duo Mouth & MacNeal (Willem Duyn & Sjoukje van ‘t Spijker). Van Hoof co-composed and arranged most of their hit material, most notably ‘How do you do’ (1971). The song charted in Europe and the United States, moreover earning Van Hoof and Van Hemert the Conamus Export Award in the Netherlands in ’72 and an ASCAP Award in America in ’73.

“Hans van Hemert and I knew each other from way back in the mid-1960s”, Harry comments. “When he became a record producer, he asked me to arrange many of his songs. Hans was not an educated musician and his compositions were usually no more than blueprints. He recorded a demo, which he brought to me. Hans liked working with me, because I was quick in understanding his ideas. It was only in my hands that his creations became songs with an intro, a finale, harmonies, and modulations. This was the case with ‘How do you do’ as well. I came up with the plan to back up Willem’s parts of the song with a brass band and Sjoukje’s with a classically sounding string group. Therefore, I demanded from Hans that I would be credited not only as the arranger, but as co-composer as well; though it never was my ambition to make my mark as a songwriter, it would have been unjust if my name would not have been mentioned. Because of the vocal and instrumental contrasts in ‘How do you do’, it was a song which could easily be visualised by TV directors, which, to my mind, explains part of the enormous international success of it.”

With Mouth & MacNeal at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton

Amongst Van Hoof’s more adventurous studio productions of those years is no doubt the album ‘Classics in Brass’ with the brass group of the Groningen Conservatory, Brass United, which earned him an Edison Award (1971). In the second half of the 1970s, he arranged and recorded a number of bestselling easy listening albums teaming up with other artists, the first one being ‘Strings by Candlelight’ with guitarist Piet Souer in ’76. “This was an idea of one of the managers at Phonogram Records”, Harry comments, “and a sound idea it was – we earned a gold record with it. The record company now wanted me to come up with a second album with romantic strings. They gave me carte blanche in finding some other artist as my partner. Originally, I wanted Oscar Peterson, but when this idea proved to be over-ambitious, my thoughts went back to a television gig I had done with a Romanian pan flute virtuoso called Gheorge Zamfir. I went to Paris to try and convince Zamfir to do a record with me. Gheorghe turned out to have a quite impossible character, but when we started improvising together – Gheorghe with the pan flute and I at the piano – it was clear from the beginning that, in music, we matched perfectly. Our album ‘Music by candlelight’ sold millions of copies all over the world in ’78 and ’79. The combination of Gheorghe’s pan flute and the musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra I recorded the orchestrations with, proved pure magic.”

“Subsequently”, Harry adds, “we recorded several more albums with Zamfir as well as another easy-listening project called ‘Together’ with the Anita Kerr Singers and pianist Pieter van Vollenhoven, a member of the Netherlands’ royal family. I owe much of my success to some excellent record producers, most notably Will Hoebee; thanks to them, I was able to put all my creativity and theoretical knowledge to use in the studio… big orchestras, eight horns, six saxophones – you name it: nothing was impossible! Will and I made a great team. Working days for us, studio musicians, were long and exhausting, but we were young and ambitious… so we could take it!”

Flanked by pianist Pieter van Vollenhoven (to the right) and producer Will Hoebee, 1979

Meanwhile, Harry van Hoof had become a familiar face for Dutch television viewers, conducting freelance orchestras in a wide range of entertainment shows for different public broadcasting services. He made his debut as the arranger and conductor of the 1970 edition of ‘Palaver’, a religious youth festival held in the Jaarbeurs Convention Centre in Utrecht, recorded by NCRV television. New TV arranging and conducting commissions followed, including countless gala shows, notably a gala celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the AVRO broadcasting service (1973) and two editions of Miss Holland (1974-’75), but also ‘Haal het doek maar op’ (a talent show), ‘Op losse groeven’ (an entertainment music show), and a series with comedian André van Duin. In 1974, Van Hoof conducted the prestigious award show Grand Gala du Disque, accompanying the likes of Stephane Grappelli, Tom Jones, and Charles Aznavour, while he also led the orchestra in the UNICEF Gala, hosted by Audrey Hepburn, that same year. Moreover, he composed theme tunes and background music for various radio and TV programmes. In the 1980s, he was the musical director of several editions of the Holland Casino Scheveningen Song Festival, conducting the Metropole Orchestra, with which he regularly worked on other TV, radio, and studio projects as a guest conductor as well.

Internationally, Harry van Hoof led the orchestra for the Dutch entry to the 1973 Tokyo Music Festival in Japan, Sandra & Andres with ‘Land of gold’. Nine years later, he arranged and conducted Sheeba’s ‘Don’t know how’, the Netherlands’ contribution to the World Popular Music Festival, also held in Tokyo. In ’76, Van Hoof arranged and conducted ‘Mrs. Lonely’, with which Sandra Reemer represented the Netherlands in the Mallorca Song Festival, while he also appeared as a conductor in international music festivals in Sopot, Split, and Knokke. At the 1975 and 1976 editions of the International Show Trophy Festival in Ostende, Belgium, Harry was one of the jurors. In 1974, he did a two-month-tour in Japan and the USA with the Three Degrees as their musical director.

Conducting a festival orchestra, c1975

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Harry van Hoof continued to be much in demand as a studio arranger, working with the likes of Nico Haak, Conny Vandenbos, Robert Paul, Gerard Cox, Will Tura, and Corry Brokken. He recorded instrumental albums with violinist Jaap van Zweden, flute player Berdien Stenberg, and pianists Laurens van Rooyen, Nicos Ignatiadis, and Louis van Dijk. He scored major hits with Benny Neyman (‘Waarom fluister ik je naam nog?’ / 1985), Frank Ashton (‘Remember the good times’ / 1986), and Paul de Leeuw (‘Vlieg met me mee’ / 1991). Moreover, Van Hoof was responsible for arranging countless single records and albums of the immensely popular comedian André van Duin. In 1989, Harry van Hoof was awarded with the Conamus Golden Harp for his entire studio oeuvre.

Harry van Hoof conducted several film soundtracks, including ‘Brandende liefde’ (1981) and ‘Eline Vere’ (TV, 1991); moreover, he composed the music to the children’s TV series ‘Ivanhoe’ (1992). In theatre, he was the musical director of ‘Kijktaarna’, a programme by the comedy duo Adèle Bloemendaal & Leen Jongewaard (1972), while, later onwards, he wrote the arrangements to several of Jos Brink’s stage shows. In the 1990s, Van Hoof re-arranged the music to a number of musical comedies for the Dutch audience, including ‘My fair lady’ (1994-’95), ‘West Side Story’ (1996-’98), and Anatevka (1998-’99). “These musicals were interesting projects to work on”, Van Hoof recalls. “The original arrangements for the Dutch stage version of ‘My fair lady’ had been penned by Dolf van der Linden in 1960 and it was up to me to remove the dust and make the music sound fresh again – a real challenge. The next thing was to get the theatre orchestra to play it to perfection. I did all rehearsals, but lacked the time to conduct the show while it toured the country. I was replaced by an assistant, but once a month – the musicians were not told in advance exactly when – I turned up for a one-off performance to get the orchestra back on its toes again.” Apart from his work on musicals, Van Hoof conducted orchestras in stage shows and theatre concerts with a host of Dutch artists. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was involved in conducting all of Lee Towers’ concerts in the huge Ahoy’ Hall in Rotterdam. Moreover, he worked on live performances with André Hazes and BZN.

Close-up, 1994

In Eindhoven, Harry van Hoof has played an important role in cultural life. He was a member of the supervisory board of the Frits Philips Music Centre for seven years. From 1990 onwards, he has been the president of the board of the foundation ‘Wim van Doorne Muziekkiosk’, which organizes summer festivals in Eindhoven. In 1991, Van Hoof founded his own production company, with which he specialized in organizing corporate entertainment and other private events. As such, he worked for multinationals such as Philips and VDL. In 1995, Van Hoof Productions was responsible for the celebrations in Eindhoven surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation from German occupation, ‘Thank You Night of Music’.

Harry: “Our first gig was organizing the centenary celebrations of Philips in Eindhoven. Initially, I was approached by them to contact some artists on their behalf, but my next thought was – why not organize the event as a whole? I realized they got in touch with me because of my connections… and rightly so! We organized an open-air concert in a park close to Eindhoven’s town-centre with a symphony orchestra and a host of vocalists, including Nana Mouskouri. That was the beginning of our production company. It was a good move at the right moment, because due to developments in the music business worldwide in the 1990s, work for me as a studio arranger dried up virtually completely. In our firm, my wife Els took over PR quite soon, enabling me to focus on the artistic part of the organisation. We never had to worry about work, having some major companies amongst our most faithful customers. In 2012, we sold Van Hoof Productions to two of the guys who worked for us, but I have continued working for them on a freelance basis since.”

At his house in Eindhoven, August 2012

Harry van Hoof in the Eurovision Song Contest
In the world of Eurovision, there are few musicians who can rival Harry van Hoof’s record. He participated in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor fifteen times between 1972 and 1994, making him the fifth-most-experienced orchestra leader in the history of the festival. In 1975, he was the conductor of the Netherlands’ delegation which won the festival in Stockholm with Teach-In’s ‘Ding-a-dong’. In all Eurovision editions in which Van Hoof was involved, he was the musical director of the Netherlands’ pre-selection as well, conducting the Metropole Orchestra, though on one occasion (1986), the orchestrations were not played live on stage, instead having been pre-recorded on tape.

Until the moment Van Hoof became the regular conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest for the Netherlands in 1972, the job had usually been performed by Dolf van der Linden, chief conductor of the Metropole Orchestra, the public broadcaster’s light entertainment orchestra, between 1945 and 1980. Why was he substituted for Van Hoof in 1972? Strangely, in the run-up to the 1972 National Song Contest in the Netherlands, Van der Linden had been involved as a member of the committee selecting the songs to be admitted to the pre-selection. Nothing pointed to him being replaced. It turns out both the entourage of Sandra & Andres, the duo which performed all songs in that year’s pre-selection, and the television production team were involved in the coup.

During rehearsals of the 1972 National Song Contest at the Carré Theatre, Amsterdam

Nico Spring in ‘t Veld, who was the manager of Sandra & Andres at that time, recalls: “In the Netherlands, Dolf van der Linden was the godfather of the Eurovision Song Contest. It was not that we believed he was a bad musician, but we preferred working with our own arranger – Harry! I do not know whether record company Phonogram or Sandra & Andres themselves uttered our wishes to the broadcaster, but the message was clear: either we are going with Harry or we are not going at all.” Hans van Hemert, songwriter and producer of the 1972 Dutch entry, ‘Als het om de liefde gaat’, adds: “I was the one who specifically wanted Harry for the job. At that time, I was very successful, penning one hit song after the other… and, therefore, when I was asked to do Eurovision, I felt I could make some firm demands to the broadcaster. One of those demands was certainly that I wanted the guy who arranged all of the song material for Sandra & Andres to conduct the orchestra for them as well… and that was Harry. With all due respect to Dolf van der Linden, but he was not a man who was up to date, musically speaking… and Harry was. So I pressed ahead on that point and got my way.”

Fred Oster was the TV producer who was responsible for organizing the 1972 National Song Contest. Forty years after the event, in 2012, Oster told us: “In the end, the decision was ours, not that of the artists, the producer, or the record company. Nonetheless, it had been obvious to me for a time that young artists were somewhat reluctant to work with Dolf and his orchestra. In a way, he had become slightly old-fashioned. I decided to keep the Metropole Orchestra on board for the contest, but choose a younger musician to conduct it. Tonny Eyk and Harry van Hoof were the most obvious candidates. In my function as director and producer of various show programmes at AVRO TV, I had good experiences with both of them – and finally I went for Harry. When he had accepted, I had the unpleasant responsibility to tell Dolf that we did not need him any longer. Obviously, Dolf was not very happy to be told about this, but he did not make the impression of being angry. I think he realized the time had come for others. Later onwards, I experienced the same… I hosted quiz shows and, at one point, I was told I was not needed anymore. I was too old and it was high time others were given an opportunity instead of me. There are always other people to tell you this, because, obviously, you never think you are too old… but things like this happen all the time, everywhere, all around the world.”

Having a chat with one of the players of the BBC Radio Orchestra: rehearsal of 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, Edinburgh

Though Oster said he kept on speaking terms with Van der Linden afterwards, the old maestro himself, who declined joining the Dutch delegation in Edinburgh as an advisor, later expressed his dissatisfaction about what had happened in ’72. According to him, he had not been informed about the broadcaster’s decision at all. In a 1985 radio interview, Van der Linden commented: “I cannot say I had sleepless nights about it, because over the years the festival had developed in a direction which was not entirely to my personal liking; to my mind, the quality of the songs had decreased. As a result, I did not feel involved as much as in the early years. What really annoyed me, though, was the way in which the decision came about. Never in my life was I ditched in such an inelegant way. I learnt of it by reading my morning newspaper, without having been informed by a telephone call from NOS or a note – nothing!” Dolf’s daughter Anneke added in a 2009 interview with us: “He genuinely felt hurt. In a way, the Eurovision Song Contest had been his child in the 1950s. Now, this child was brutally wrested from his hands.”

All the while, Harry van Hoof was blissfully unaware of what was going on behind the scenes: “I was on the road with Fred Oster to some television gig, when all of a sudden he asked me: “Har, what would you say if I asked you to succeed Dolf van der Linden as the Eurovision conductor for the Netherlands?” My initial reaction was: “Oh come on, next joke please”, but Fred persevered, adding: “If you say yes, you will be doing this for the next twenty-five years!” “That is a deal!”, I replied. So that is how it all started. Little did I know that Fred was quite close to the right amount of years of my Eurovision involvement! I never asked why they wanted me instead of Dolf. I presumed they were looking for some younger person for the job… and I was quite sought-after at that time, so to speak.”

Waiting to count in the orchestra at one of the rehearsals of the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, Edinburgh

In all fifteen Eurovision editions he was involved in between 1972 and 1994, Harry was the musical director and conductor of the Netherlands’ selection programme as well. “Most aspects of the job were great, but the tough bit was judging all songs which had been submitted. We needed to go through all submissions and select eight or ten for the National Song Contest. I had to attend all meetings concerning this selection process, going through loads of humbug… it is barely imaginable what some people think is suitable – on one occasion, somebody even submitted a new national anthem for the province of Groningen! Awful stuff – it took us days to work our way through all of this. Upon this, it was up to me to decide which arrangers were going to work on which songs. The most pleasant bit of the whole thing was working with the Metropole Orchestra, a top-notch group of players… and then there was this competition element, with different artists vying against each other… I quite enjoyed that. For fun, I used to try to annoy them by telling all of them individually I believed they were going to win. When they found out in a mutual conversation I had told the same to all the others, they came back to me, slightly indignant – but my facial expression told them I had just been taking the Mickey out of them!”

When Harry van Hoof made his debut as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest, he was barely twenty-nine years old. In ’72, the Netherlands were represented by Sandra & Andres (Sandra Reemer & Dries Holten) with a merry sing-a-long tune, ‘Als het om de liefde gaat’, composed by Hans van Hemert, a producer with whom Van Hoof worked closely at that time. Harry himself was responsible for the arrangement. In the contest’s final held in Edinburgh, Sandra & Andres finished in a fourth place. “As it was my first involvement”, Harry recalls, “I did not really know what to expect. I was struck by the professionalism of the English organisation. It was obvious they had thoroughly prepared the show into detail. Over the years, I became a true Anglophile… contrary to Southern Europeans, the English and Irish are simply so steady and reliable! At the same time, they always managed to create a great atmosphere. I still remember the floor manager, who, after the dress-rehearsal, climbed the conductor’s stage in front of the orchestra, counting the players in and simultaneously bursting into singing: ‘Thanks for the memory’. The guys in the orchestra and all co-workers sang along with him. It was his way of thanking all people in the organisation – and what a classy way it was! A couple of days before, that same floor manager had screamed to me towards the end of our first rehearsal: “Speed it up, Harry!” Initially, I did not know what he was going on about – it was the first, but not the last, time in my Eurovision career I was confronted with the iron rule that no song was allowed to exceed the limit of three minutes. I slightly abridged the orchestration to avoid further difficulties. During the voting, at one point, it looked as if we were about to win it and the singing duo and I were taken to a separate room to prepare for the victory ceremony… but we were overtaken by Vicky Leandros, with whom I did a wonderful studio production some years later.”

Harry van Hoof making his debut as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest with Sandra & Andres and ‘Als het om de liefde gaat’ (Edinburgh, 1972)

Harry van Hoof’s debut as a conductor in the contest did not go unnoticed in Dutch press. Following in Dolf van der Linden’s footsteps was considered an ambitious undertaking. After one of the rehearsals, Van Hoof was interviewed by a journalist of De Volkskrant. Explaining that he had had to find a solution for the absence of a bassoon player in the BBC orchestra, which required an adaptation of the original arrangement, Van Hoof added: “Though it is true the British orchestra received our score some time ago, allowing it to prepare it properly, the atmosphere of a song cannot be put into music notes… bringing across the feeling of a piece of music is one of the essential parts of my conducting job.” Asked about the slightly one-dimensional Dutch entry, he stated confidently: “Why should commercial thinking not be allowed in a song festival? Come on, we are living in tough and commercial times! Everyone present here will admit to aiming for a hit. When you recognize that as a fact – which I do – you might as well participate with a song which has all the ingredients of a chart success. I am happy that our entry fits this criterion and I am convinced we will do well in the voting.”

Next year, in 1973, male soloist Ben Cramer was selected to represent the Netherlands with a song by Pierre Kartner, ‘De oude muzikant’. For the second year in a row, Harry van Hoof wrote the arrangement himself. In the festival final, held in Luxembourg, this somewhat indigestible Schlager failed to impress the international juries, finishing fourteenth. “Everything that went well for me the year before”, Harry laughs, “now went completely wrong! It was a little waltz ditty and I had perhaps slightly over-arranged it. From the first rehearsal, Ben Cramer, who is a nice chap in real life, behaved as if he was the biggest star of the festival… shouting at the technicians that the sound was useless and that the lighting had to be changed. He really gave them a bad time! In an aside, I tried to convince Ben that he achieved nothing by going on like this. After all, these were only the rehearsals – how could we expect every aspect of our performance being perfect from scratch? Unfortunately, Ben persevered in cursing each and everyone he met. In the TV concert, the orchestra played our entry awfully… I have sometimes thought the players did it on purpose because they disliked Ben so much. You cannot expect to be treated well by others if you misbehave in such a horrible fashion yourself.”

Celebrating the victory of ‘De oude muzikant’ in the 1973 National Song Contest in Amsterdam, from left to right: songwriter Pierre Kartner; vocalist Ben Cramer; Rob Aardse, artistic director of record company Dureco; and arranger/conductor Harry van Hoof

In 1974, the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Brighton, England, where the duo Mouth & MacNeal, who had enjoyed worldwide hit success three years previously with a song co-composed by Harry van Hoof, ‘How do you do’, participated on behalf of the Netherlands. Their entry ‘I see a star’, another bumpy sing-a-long composed by Hans van Hemert (arrangement: Piet Souer), came third behind ABBA and Gigliola Cinquetti. At the end of one week of Eurovision, Van Hoof was exhausted.

“I had two assignments in that same week”, Harry explains. “There was the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton and the UNICEF Gala in The Hague. As this gala was a prestigious gig, I did not want to give it up. Therefore, well in advance of our trip to Brighton, I told our delegation leader Warry van Kampen that I was very sorry, but that I was unable to conduct Mouth & MacNeal in the contest. Warry protested, claiming I had been hired to do the pre-selection as well as the international contest. “You got yourself in trouble and now it is time to find a solution by yourself as well!”, he exclaimed. My solution was to fly from London Gatwick to Schiphol and back three times to be able to take care of the preparations for both shows. In my absence, one of the rehearsals in Brighton was done by the English musical director, Ronnie Hazlehurst – a professional guy and every inch a gentleman! Ronnie took over from me gladly and our singers and the orchestra musicians probably did not even notice there was someone else conducting them! At the end of the week, on Friday, I was in The Hague, conducting the UNICEF Gala, while the next evening, I led the orchestra for Mouth & MacNeal in Brighton. Warry van Kampen and the other delegation members of the Netherlands’ broadcasting service were not amused, but what was there to complain? We came third – it was a great result!”

Van Hoof conducting the orchestra for ‘I see a star’, the song with which Mouth & MacNeal represented the Netherlands at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton

The 1974 Eurovision Song Contest will forever be remembered as the occasion when Swedish’ quartet ABBA shook the European music business by storming to victory with ‘Waterloo’. “In spite of my killing schedule”, Van Hoof recalls, “I attended some of the other countries’ rehearsals, including those of Sweden. To me, it was obvious that ABBA were going to win. They were totally different from all the others. The song stood out, though the composition in itself was excruciatingly simplistic. It was the aggressively sounding arrangement which made it modern. ‘Waterloo’ is an excellent example of a song which was taken to a different level by virtue of its arrangement. ABBA managed to be extremely commercial without becoming tasteless – that was their secret. Of course, those two girls wearing tight suits were great too! The Swedes were unorthodox in their approach… I was astonished when I discovered my Swedish conducing colleague (Sven-Olof Walldoff) wore Napoleon’s bicorn hat for the live broadcast. In rehearsals, the guy proved he knew next to nothing about conducting, but this hat was such a fun idea! ABBA managed to change the musical flavour of the festival for the years to come. The four group members were stars overnight. Only hours before the live show, we had been at the hotel bar with them, chatting and jamming. From the moment they won the contest, however, I never managed to get even close to them again. Though, in the following years, we were in the same TV programmes on some occasions, they were completely protected from the outside world. ABBA had become stars all over the world, but their lives were determined by the people around them. That is the downside of success!”

In 1975, Harry van Hoof was the conductor of Teach-In’s ‘Ding-a-dong’, which won the international festival final held in Stockholm. The up-tempo song composed and arranged by Dick Bakker stormed to victory, picking up 152 points. Harry van Hoof especially remembers the hectic moments before going on stage: “Together with producer Fred Oster and commentator Willem Duys, I took a taxi from the hotel to the concert hall. I said to them: “We do not stand a chance of winning this – we have been drawn first and, by the time the jurors have to vote, they have long forgotten about us!” Well – how wrong can a man be? Meanwhile, the taxi driver took far too long to get us to the hall. It turned out he had misunderstood us, taking us in a totally wrong direction. Willem was the first to find out and he belted out some curses, telling the poor man to get us to the Eurovision venue right away. Can you imagine? We were due to open the show and I was nearly late to conduct the orchestra!”

Harry van Hoof leading the orchestra for the winning performance of Dick Bakker’s composition ‘Ding-a-dong’ in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm

“A couple of days before the contest”, Van Hoof continues, “I had promised Dick Bakker I would jump into our hotel’s swimming pool wearing my smoking in case we would win the competition… and I kept my promise! Back in the hotel, we had a ball, even climbing the roof. Back in Holland, we discovered the weirdest photos of our celebrations had found their way to newspapers and magazines. At Schiphol Airport, we were given a heroes’ welcome. It was a nice feeling having played my own little role helping our representatives winning the contest, but I did not think of myself as a winner – Teach-In and Dick Bakker were the real winners. All the same, they showed their gratefulness to me abundantly. Teach-In was a group of very level-headed persons with a good sense of humour. I thought they thoroughly deserved their victory; ‘Ding-a-dong’ was a striking song in 100% Eurovision style.”

“The early 1970s were a time when there were loads of creative people in the music industry in Holland”, Van Hoof continues, “which explains for part of the success many of our entries in Eurovision in those days. There was an amount of fresh ideas and inventiveness which seemed to be lacking later. In the case of ‘Ding-a-dong’, Dick Bakker had made a wise decision by pre-recording the rhythm section… the drums and guitars were visualised by the guys of Teach-In on stage anyway. He preferred playing safe, as he could not be sure in advance if the rhythm players of the Swedish Eurovision orchestra were good enough. It gave the members of our singing group some security, helping them pulling off a confident live performance. Perhaps ‘Ding-a-dong’ came close to the ideal festival song in the 1970s, but, realistically speaking, there is no concept for a Eurovision winner. If there was one, I would immediately compose one or two of them – no, seriously, I have never had the ambition to participate as a composer. In the Eurovision Song Contest, so many different people and cultures play a part in the voting that the outcome is totally unpredictable. Also bear in mind that Teach-In had the advantage of being allowed to perform their entry in English, which would not have been possible under the Eurovision rules of the 1980s or 1990s! The Dutch language with its many guttural consonants lacks the pleasant sound of English, French, or Spanish. Like the Scandinavians, we had a hard time of overcoming that problem in Eurovision for many years.”

Celebrating Teach-In’s Eurovision victory in Stockholm with the band’s lead singer, Getty Kaspers

Thanks to Teach-In’s victory in Stockholm, the Netherlands’ broadcasting service NOS won the right of organizing the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest. Somewhat surprisingly, chief conductor of the festival held in The Hague was classically trained Jan Stulen, though contemporary newspaper articles state that, if one of the guest conductors would have had to be replaced – something which did not happen – this job would have befallen to Harry van Hoof. Moreover, it was not Stulen, but Van Hoof who conducted the Netherlands’ entry, Sandra Reemer’s ‘The party is over’ (yet another creation by Hans van Hemert). Incidentally, it was the last time Van Hoof wrote the arrangement to a Dutch entry himself.

Harry adds: “On many occasions later onwards, I was simply too busy to write the arrangements of the songs which had been selected for the National Song Contest. Anyway, it did not make any difference for the zeal with which I participated in the competition. I always wanted to do the best I could – after all, representing your country involves a certain amount of noblesse oblige! ‘The party is over’ is one of my favourite Eurovision songs… when Hans van Hemert commissioned me to arrange it, he gave me instructions to listen to ‘Those were the days’, a hit success by a British singer, Mary Hopkin, of a couple of years before. That is where the Slavic violin came from, but I think I managed to give the song a distinct flavour of its own. Sandra was the perfect interpreter – and a wonderful girl to work with… she more or less relied on me for advice and support in the run-up to the competition. Contrary to those down-to-earth guys from Teach-In, she needed a fatherly figure to tell her everything would work out fine. Sometimes, that was part of my job as a conductor as well. Perhaps our song was too subtle to leave an indelible mark on the juries… the eventual winner ‘Save your kisses for me’, musically speaking, was more accessible. We were disappointed coming ninth, though, in retrospect, given how abysmally the Netherlands scored later onwards in the contest’s history, it was not a bad result.”

Van Hoof and Sandra Reemer after the latter’s winning performance at the 1976 National Song Contest

In the Eurovision Song Contest 1977, London, Heddy Lester represented the Netherlands with a melodious ballad which, in spite of its modest twelfth position in the final ranking, is still a favourite amongst many Eurovision aficionados: ‘De mallemolen’. Harry has one specific memory of the festival in London: “The festival director had made it known that all conductors were to wear a flower on their jacket lapel – possibly a dianthus, I cannot be sure. Just before our performance, I visited Heddy Lester in her dressing room, wishing her all the best. When she saw the flower on my smoking, however, she started screaming at me in the most terrible fashion. It turned out the flower I was wearing, was a symbol of misfortune in the Jewish tradition! Heddy was from a Jewish family and she was adamant that I took the flower off at once – otherwise she would refuse to perform the song, she said. Of course, I took it off; who was I to upset the soloist I was accompanying? Heddy did a good job on the song… she was an excellent singer, whom I knew from years before her Eurovision participation when I conducted her in a song festival in Belgium. ‘De mallemolen’ was a very pleasant song, written by Heddy’s younger brother. This was a typical example of an entry that would have done infinitely better if we had been allowed to perform it in English.”

In 1978, when the festival was held in Paris, Harry van Hoof led the orchestra for a trio called Harmony (Rosina Lauwaars, Donald Lieveld, and Ab van Woudenberg). The Dutch entry ‘’t Is OK’ failed to do well, coming thirteenth amongst twenty participations. “The song in itself was attractive enough”, Van Hoof comments, “but Dick Bakker’s arrangement turned it into such an obvious rip-off of ‘Ding-a-dong’ with which he had won the contest three years previously… there even was a little bell at the end of the song. It was highly naïve to believe that would work out well. To add insult to injury, the group’s performance was amateurish – the two guys made a hash of the dancing routine. They should have prepared it more thoroughly or not have done it at all!”

During rehearsals of the 1978 National Song Contest

In Jerusalem, 1979, Van Hoof made his eighth consecutive Eurovision appearance, as so often – following the fashion of the 70s – dressed all in white. Again, it was Sandra Reemer – this time calling herself Xandra – who represented the Netherlands, singing a merry rock tune, ‘Colorado’ (arrangement: Piet Souer). This Dutch entry finished twelfth. Harry: “Sandra wanted to change her image, performing with a backing band. This song composed by the Bolland brothers fitted this tougher image perfectly. Visiting Israel was a special sensation… on the plane going there, we were told the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty had been signed. We felt elated for our Israeli friends and expected the atmosphere in Tel Aviv to be likewise, but the first person we met was a taxi driver taking us to Jerusalem… and he was extremely cynical about the chances of achieving genuine peace. This encounter more or less extinguished the unreasoned enthusiasm in our delegation. In Israel, we were taken to some of the wonderful tourist attractions, such as Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall and the ruins of Masada. We were staying in the five-star King David Hotel. As usual at a Eurovision Song Contest, we were looked after excellently by the locals. For me, the festival was always a welcome holiday break. Dutch TV, which took care of all expenses, always allowed me to take my wife Els with me. Being at the contest involved visiting lots of receptions and parties organized by all participating countries, attempting to bribe the other delegates… We, the Dutch, always tried to achieve this by serving herring and orange liquor!”

In the following years (1980-’85), Harry van Hoof was not involved in the Eurovision Song Contest. “In Holland”, Harry explains, “the festival was always connected to the Metropole Orchestra, the light entertainment orchestra of the public broadcaster. Because its chief conductor, Dolf van der Linden, had fallen out of grace with the local Eurovision committee, I had been chosen to work on the contest instead of him. When Dolf was pensioned off in ’80 and replaced by Rogier van Otterloo, however, it was only natural that Rogier would also take care of the Eurovision conducting job. Ironically, Rogier, who was a good friend of mine, had always poked fun of me because I did Eurovision. He did not think much of the contest. When he took over from me, I asked him if he had changed his mind about Eurovision… and he did not really know what to say… Probably, he had been jealous of me all those years! Rogier was not the easiest of characters, but we got along extremely well. We spent hours in the old barn next to his house, which was his office, drinking gin and playing the piano. It is fair to say that he was obsessed by music, but I deeply respected him for his ability and professionalism.”

Van Hoof taking responsibility for the orchestral accompaniment to a Eurovision entry performed by Sandra Reemer for the third time: Reemer, with her group Xandra, came twelfth at the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem with ‘Colorado’

Rogier van Otterloo fought a losing battle against a fatal illness for some years, finally succumbing in January ’88. When his friend turned out to be too weak to work in early ’86, Harry replaced him in the Eurovision Song Contest. The Netherlands were represented by a quartet of four teenage girls, Frizzle Sizzle, with ‘Alles heeft ritme’. In Bergen, Norway, this entry finished thirteenth. “Those girls were extremely nervous before going on stage”, Harry recalls. “The song was quite ok, but I felt the Dutch lyrics were too intricate and complicated for an international audience. It is no use trying to tell a story which the audience will not understand anyway. In Bergen, I was delighted to be able to visit Villa Troldhaugen, Edvard Grieg’s house. With all the mountains surrounding it, I could immediately imagine Grieg composing that mystical Peer Gynt Suite… it totally suited the magnificent landscape.”

After Van Otterloo’s last participation in ’87, Harry van Hoof took over again as the Netherlands’ regular Eurovision conductor. In 1988, when the international final was held in Dublin, he conducted ‘Shangri-la’ (music and lyrics by Peter de Wijn) for singer Gerard Joling, who came ninth. Van Hoof: “That ninth place came as a slight disappointment, as I thought this was a song that could have brought us close to winning. For once, the lyrics were not pointlessly complicated. Gerard, who is a great singer, did not really behave professionally, however, overburdening his voice and physical condition by flying back to Holland for some lucrative gigs. The song culminated in a high note, which Gerard usually hit without any problem, but due to fatigue and nerves he sang it one octave lower, simply in tune with the background vocalists. He did not want to run the risk of failing on the key moment. Still today, when Gerard and I meet, I like to remind him of his cowardice… of course in jest! He usually responds by bursting into high-pitched singing for me. Dublin ’88 was a missed opportunity for us.”

“Dublin ’88 was a missed opportunity for us”. Harry van Hoof conducting ‘Shangri-la’ for Gerard Joling at the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest

In Dublin, the musical directorship of the festival was taken care of by the experienced Noel Kelehan. Harry: “Meeting Noel at countless Eurovision Song Contests, I struck up a liking for the guy. The Irish mentality is somewhat similar to the English, with a pinch of phlegmatic temperament and dry humour added to it. At the contest, Noel and I liked drinking a glass or two, talking about good music or improvising at the piano in the hotel lobby or in some bar – and often leaning against the piano as the evening progressed! Usually, some conductors from other countries joined us, especially the British guys, Alyn Ainsworth or Ronnie Hazlehurst, matched our temperament well. To people around us, we must have made the impression of forming a fraternity clan, which did not take the world of Eurovision entirely seriously. Half joking, we made it clear to each other in our conversations that, musically speaking, we were on a much higher level than the participating artists – it was nonsensical, but we had fun. Most of the conductors taking part in the contest were very good at what they did. The few who were less able at the conducting job could be picked out easily at their first rehearsal by simply watching them counting in the orchestra.”

In 1989, the Eurovision final was organized in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Netherlands were represented by Justine Pelmelay, who performed a wonderful ballad composed by Jan Kisjes and arranged by Piet Souer. The song only came fifteenth, but for Van Hoof the explanation for the disappointing result is not hard to find: “It was the second year in a row that the last note cost us dearly. Justine sang badly out of tune, her voice breaking twice in the final note. She really made a mess of it! For us, it was a bitter pill to swallow, but when the vocal performance is not correct, the juries have to take this into account. The voting should not be about who wears the most impressive dress, performs the best dancing routine, or has the prettiest face, but about the composition and the vocals. Eurovision participants have got weeks or even months of time on their hands to practice and finding the right key – and as we failed at the critical moment in Switzerland, the international juries were entitled to making it clear they were not impressed.”

Van Hoof’s accreditation for the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb

In 1990, Harry van Hoof made his twelfth Eurovision appearance as a conductor, leading the orchestra for the sister duo Maywood and their ballad ‘Ik wil alles met je delen’ in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Like the previous year, the Netherlands finished in a mere fifteenth position. The all important piccolo trumpet solo, played by Anton Grčar of the Yugoslavian orchestra, could not be heard by the TV audience due to technical problems (visit the biography of that year’s assistant chief conductor Stanko Selak for more details). “The trumpeter’s microphone did not work”, Van Hoof recalls, “and when the cameras were directed his way, the technicians forgot to switch on the spotlight so the poor chap could hardly be seen anyway. It was most unfortunate, though it will forever be a mystery how many votes this really cost us. The two girls were professional enough. They really knew how to bring across a song. That festival in Yugoslavia nearly saw the sensation of a strike of all conductors… the TV director had resolved not to have the conductors introduced to the European audience. When we found out, we were indignant: “Why do they need us here anyway?” Our vanity deserved to be flattered, too! As a matter of course, we elected Noel Kelehan to be our ringleader and, threatening not to participate in the broadcast, we managed to have the decision reversed.”

How difficult was working with a foreign orchestra, such as in Yugoslavia, where a language barrier hampered communication between conductor and musicians? Van Hoof: “I twice conducted a Japanese orchestra, but even there no problems arose – the most important terminology, such as ‘crescendo’ and ‘andante’, is Italian and known to musicians everywhere… and if you are not happy with their performance during rehearsals, you can work with facial expressions. In Eurovision, I did not need to resort to doing that, however. All scores had to be submitted to the organizing broadcaster well in advance, allowing the orchestra to rehearse these even before the guest conductors arrived. It was my responsibility to make some minor adaptations here and there if need be, but as a Eurovision song is not a Mahler symphony, it was, altogether, an easy job. I must admit I usually did not like the approach of musicians in Southern Europe… instead of the Anglo-Saxon music culture to play pop music in a straight and steady way, they put in superfluous ornaments. In Mediterranean countries, on several occasions, I had to ask the string section of an orchestra to cut down on the vibrato: “Less vibrato, please!” They would look at you with an indignant face, because the violin is part of the human soul in those countries. I do not like baritone opera vocalists either whose singing technique comes closest to an average cow in a meadow. For a conductor, the important thing is to be tactful enough to tell singers or musicians what you want in a polite way.”

Harry van Hoof conducting Stanko Selak’s orchestra in the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb, in which the Netherlands were represented by Maywood and ‘Ik wil alles met je delen’

After a one-year-absence due to the Eurovision Song Contest being held on the 4th of May, when traditionally the fallen soldiers from World War II are remembered, the Netherlands returned to the festival in 1992 with ‘Wijs me de weg’, composed and arranged by Edwin Schimscheimer and performed by Humphrey Campbell, backed up by his brothers Carlo and Ben. In Malmö, Sweden, Campbell managed to finish in a respectable and well-deserved ninth position. Van Hoof: “Humphrey and his brothers were great guys… at the hotel bar in Malmö, I liked calling them the ‘Cells and Bells’, implying that they had the brains as well as great voices. Watching them rehearse was an uplifting experience… they were such perfectionists! Each step of their choreography, each breath they took was carefully discussed amongst the three of them. I never met artists who practiced which such doggedness as Humphrey and his brothers… I had the utmost respect for them.”

In ’93, Ruth Jacott, who had been one of Humphrey Campbell’s backing vocalists the year before, represented the Netherlands with ‘Vrede’, a modern up-tempo composition by Jochem Fluitsma and Eric van Tijn. In the international final in Millstreet, Ireland, Jacott managed to obtain a sixth place amongst twenty-five participating acts. “That was one of the best Eurovision songs I conducted”, Harry comments. “The lyrics were topical, though in an international competition that does not help you winning points… but especially the build-up of the song, with a succession of different harmonies and tempi, was varied and daring. It was clear the guys who composed it had given careful thought to each musical detail. Yes, the quality of that entry really was un-Dutch! Ruth proved to be almost as big a perfectionist as Humphrey had been the year before. I once watched her at work performing in the musical comedy ‘Cats’… impressive! I am sure, if she had been born in America, she would have been a star on Broadway.”

“The quality of that entry really was un-Dutch”. Harry van Hoof conducting ‘Vrede’ for Ruth Jacott in the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest

In 1994, Dublin, Harry van Hoof conducted the Dutch Eurovision entry for the fifteenth and last time. Willeke Alberti, one of the icons of the Netherlands’ popular music industry, performed the ballad ‘Waar is de zon’ (another composition by Edwin Schimscheimer), but only picked up four points and finished twenty-third, leaving only the singers from Estonia and Lithuania behind her in the final score. Van Hoof: “Our mistake during the discussions in the selection committee prior to inviting Willeke to represent us was not taking into account that she may be a star in Holland… but only in Holland. What Europe saw and heard was a lady – a very classy lady, I must say – of nearly fifty years of age with an extremely limited vocal range of not even one octave. No, the song was not the problem… the atmosphere of the song which was chosen for Willeke fitted her well. Now, in what turned out to be my last Eurovision experience, I encountered the same problem as in my first festival in ’72: the song lasted longer than three minutes! The arrangement had to be adapted quite radically – at such moments, it annoyed me how conservative the Eurovision Song Contest was… perhaps in the days of Elvis Presley, three minutes were quite enough for a popular song, but it is a mystery to me why they never relaxed that rule a bit – the build-up of our song was ruined because of the obligatory abridgement of the orchestration. During the voting, Willeke and I were sat next to each other in the greenroom… and one jury after the other gave us a big fat zero. At one point, we looked at each other and burst into uncontrolled laughter. Willeke is a great personality who luckily was able to put into perspective what happened in Ireland.”

Being relegated to a year of absence due to the meagre score in ’94, the Netherlands returned to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1996 – but with another conductor: Dick Bakker, the composer of festival winner ‘Ding-a-dong’ from 1975. Why was Van Hoof replaced? “In 1992, Dick had become the chief conductor of the Metropole Orchestra and, just like when Rogier van Otterloo had newly been appointed, he was the obvious first choice, as the Metropole Orchestra always accompanied the National Song Contest. I was not hurt – I cannot complain, having been involved in the contest so many times! When the orchestra was ditched from the festival a couple of years later, I lost interest in the competition. The exciting atmosphere created by a live orchestra cannot be recreated by pre-recorded music. Moreover, with an orchestra present, an arranger is needed to come up with a well thought-out orchestration. Nowadays, composers usually arrange their work themselves, using synthesizers and drum fills. To my ears, the result is often unsatisfactory… something is missing. Moreover, it seems as if all those pop productions sound exactly the same. Surprising gimmicks such as the bassoon intro of ‘Puppet on a string’… those are the kind of things only a professional arranger will come up with. With the orchestra, also the really good orchestrators vanished from the competition, which has resulted in a decrease in musical quality and creativity.”

Harry van Hoof’s last participation in the Eurovision Song Contest came in Dublin, 1994, where he conducted the RTÉ Concert Orchestra for Willeke Alberti and ‘Waar is de zon’

Other artists on Harry van Hoof
Nico Spring in ‘t Veld was the manager of several artists for whom Harry van Hoof wrote the arrangements in the 1970s: “Together with Dick Bakker, Harry was the best arranger for hit records in these days in Holland. Dick and Harry were worthy successors of Bert Paige, the greatest pop arranger of the previous decade. Harry did a wonderful job on albums by Sandra & Andres, Rob de Nijs, and Nico Haak, all of whom were my protégés. Especially the orchestrations Harry wrote for the medley LP ‘Quick quick Haak’ for Nico were top-notch! His arrangements captured the spirit of the 70s. Harry was a nice guy to work with and a craftsman who knew his job excellently.” (2012)

Songwriter and producer Hans van Hemert knew Harry van Hoof from way back in the early 1960s and worked extensively with him on several pop acts, most prominently Mouth & MacNeal, in the 1970-’72 period: “When I brought together Willem Duyn and Sjoukje van ‘t Spijker to form the Mouth & MacNeal duo in 1971, I asked Harry to write the arrangements for them. He had worked with each of them separately before… for Willem, he wrote a superb score to ‘Remember, walking in the sand’. Harry was extremely talented when it came to putting the ideas of the composer into an apt arrangement. He always asked me what I thought needed to be added to the blueprint of a certain song. His strings and brass scores to ‘How do you do’ were excellent! He certainly was a nice character to work with. I was happy to have Harry on board as the conductor for my three Eurovision songs.” (2013)

Mouth & MacNeal and their songwriters receiving the Conamus Export Award in 1972, from left to right: Hans van Hemert, Sjoukje van ‘t Spijker, Willem Duyn, and Harry van Hoof

In 1972, TV producer Fred Oster hand-picked Harry van Hoof to replace Dolf van der Linden to become the Netherlands’ regular conductor for the Eurovision Song Contest: “In the 1970s, quite contrary to Dolf, who was more the fatherly figure, Harry was a guy of the same generation as the artists – they were his peers. He knew the world of showbiz as the back of his hand, handling his job professionally. In the Eurovision Song Contest, Harry was the most conscientious conductor imaginable.” (2012)

John Gaasbeek was the bass player of 1975 Eurovision Song Contest winners Teach-In: “Harry was our conductor in the pre-selection show in Utrecht as well as in the international contest’s final in Sweden. Harry was every inch a professional, a fantastic musician – something he has proved over the years in his work with many artists. At the same, he was a very pleasant character to hang out with… he took time to listen to our wishes and kept his cool in all circumstances; this last quality endeared him to our group, as in Twente, the region where we are from, people are usually calm, collected, and down-to-earth too.” (2012)

Teach-In on stage at the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest, with Harry van Hoof (far left) conducting the orchestra

Dick Bakker composed ‘Ding-a-dong’ and was the chief conductor of the Metropole Orchestra between 1992 and 2005: “Harry is a good and esteemed colleague of mine. He wrote and conducted countless catchy studio arrangements which caught on extremely well both nationally and internationally. It was not only in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest that our paths crossed, but also later, when we collaborated on productions for the Gevleugelde Vrienden piano trio and on international publicity campaigns. Harry put lots of energy and enthusiasm into his work, the outcome always being a wonderful piece of music.” (2013)

Willeke Alberti was the Netherlands’ representative in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest: “I have known Harry since the early 1960s, when he was the pianist of Peter Koelewijn and the husband of a good colleague of mine, Trea Dobbs. In those days, he often accompanied me as a pianist on stage and I got to know him very well. Later onwards, when Harry conducted the Metropole Orchestra for me, such as in the 1994 National Song Contest, I felt most safe and secure, because I trusted him completely. Mind you, when an artist works with an orchestra, a good relationship between the conductor and the vocalist is essential. After all, working with a grand orchestra is not easy! Harry is very flexible and has a nice way of putting you at ease. He is so musical, so endowed with knowledge of every genre, and wrote so many wonderful arrangements over the years! I am happy to have done the Eurovision Song Contest when there was still an orchestra in place – and even more happy to have Harry as my musical director. In Dublin, he was a great source of support and trust.” (2013)

Posing for press photographers with Willeke Alberti immediately after the 1994 National Song Contest

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Harry van Hoof in Eindhoven (Netherlands), August 2012.
  • Article about Harry van Hoof’s involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest: “Harry van Hoof dirigeert voor 15e maal het Eurovisieorkest”. Published in Eurovision Artists 1993/’94-4 (April 1994), check www.eurovisionartists.nl for more information.
  • Several newspaper articles from Harry van Hoof’s private archives, including an interview by Hans Mattheeuwsen, published in Dutch regional newspaper De Stem, February 17th, 1995.
  • Hijlco Span and Harjo Thijs interviewed Harry van Hoof about his Eurovision involvement on Dutch nationwide radio, programme: NCRV Eurovisienacht 1995, broadcast on Radio 2, May 1st, 1995.
  • Eindhoven’s local television station 040 TV interviewed Harry van Hoof about his life and work in music for their programme ‘Een ongewoon gesprek’ (= An unusual conversation). The interview can be watched by following this link.
  • A book about the history of the Netherlands’ involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest: Ferry K. van der Zant, “Wanneer wordt het weer een beetje net als toen”, edited by Stichting Eurovision Artists, Utrecht: part 1: 2003 / part 2: 2005.
  • Harry’s brother Frans wrote a book about their youth and their father’s bitter memories of World War II: Frans van Hoof, “Dubbele tongen en giftige pennen. Het verhaal van een NSB-kind”, published by Van Reemst, Houten, 1997. A review of Frans van Hoof’s book can be found by clicking this link: nrcboeken.vorige.nrc.nl/recensie/foute-vader.
  • Many thanks to Willeke Alberti, Dick Bakker, John Gaasbeek, Hans van Hemert, Fred Oster, and Nico Spring in ‘t Veld for their additional comments about Harry van Hoof.
  • Photos: private collections Harry van Hoof and Ferry van der Zant.



Songs conducted
1972: Als het om de liefde gaat
1973: De oude muzikant
1974: I see a star
1975: Ding-a-dong
1976: The party is over
1977: De mallemolen
1978: 't Is OK
1979: Colorado
1986: Alles heeft ritme
1988: Shangri-la
1989: Blijf zoals je bent
1990: Ik wil alles met je delen
1992: Wijs me de weg
1993: Vrede
1994: Waar is de zon