Dick BakkerBorn: May 23rd, 1947, Blaricum (Netherlands)
“By then”, Bakker continues, “I was fully aware that I wanted to make a living out of music. From my twelfth year onwards, I was taught the piano privately by a teacher of Hilversum’s conservatory. Whilst still in high school, I had already started following theory classes there as well. In ’63, I joined a band called Fancy Five, in which I took care of the Neon Vox organ. I was one of the first in Holland to play this novel instrument. We played instrumentals in the style of the Tornados and recorded a single, ‘Timbuktu’, with producer Ted Powder on the Phonogram label. In ’64, I toured West Germany with some other bands and was asked to play the organ in Don Mercedes’ accompanying group. We were one of the support acts when the Beatles gave their only-ever performance in Holland, in Blokker. In ’65, I played the organ on Don Mercedes’ hit recording ‘Zo maar een soldaat’.”
Between 1963 and 1967, Dick Bakker studied composition and arranging at the Hilversum Conservatory. “I had no ambition of becoming a concert pianist or something the like”, Bakker explains his choice. “What was more, I was not really interested in being a pianist in bands either. Even at that young age, the production process behind the scenes was what fascinated me. I have always had a penchant for recording technique. This had begun at the tender age of eight, when I had been given a film projector, with which I learnt myself making films with dubbed sound. At conservatory, I was looking for the theoretical background to be able to write and arrange music properly. To be honest, studying never was my first priority. First, there were the bands I was performing with, whilst, from ’65 onwards, I worked as a studio engineer. It was all extremely hectic with different activities going on at the same time. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I never took the time to graduate from conservatory.”
In 1965, Bakker was hired as a sound engineer at the Soundpush Recording Studio, based in Dick’s hometown of Blaricum. Bakker: “At Soundpush, the music to successful Dutch TV programmes such as Hadimassa, the Mounties Show, and the Rudi Carrell Show as well as many pop productions were recorded. When I landed the job at Soundpush, initially on a freelance basis, I was just eighteen years of age and armed with a lot of ambition and no knowledge of the available techniques. Admittedly, in those years, the sound technique used was quite rudimentary. The recordings were made on one or two tracks only, of course with monaural sound. The sound technician could not do much more than varying in register, high or low, and volume, loud or soft. We were all pioneers learning by trial and error – and I was an avid learner. I was thoroughly motivated to help the artists and producers getting a recording which was as good as possible. Once and again, I travelled to England with some of my colleagues to find inspiration and new ideas with our colleagues there. Before I knew it, I was absorbed by my work behind the scenes. As a professional, I never played the piano again in my life.”
Not surprisingly, it was not long before the young conservatory student was asked to write some additional arrangements. Bakker: “Sometime in the winter of ’67-’68, when Eddy Ouwens and his group the Eddysons were recording ‘Ups and downs’, someone said: “This song would benefit from the addition of some strings”. As a student, I had never been trained to write for orchestras. At the conservatory, music theory was what we focused on. Nevertheless, boldly, I wrote a tiny score and the Eddysons had a minor hit with that particular record!” In the following years, besides his technician’s work, Dick Bakker wrote several arrangements to records which did well in the charts, including, most notably, ‘Mighty Joe’ by Shocking Blue, ‘Ma belle amie’ by Tee Set, and ‘Can I get there by candlelight’ by David McWilliams (all from 1969). He also was involved in writing music for television programmes recorded at the Soundpush Studios.
After seven years at Soundpush, Dick Bakker became the managing director of Dureco’s studio in Weesp in 1972. “Dureco was one of Holland’s main record companies”, Bakker comments. “Dureco did not have a studio of their own and wondered if I was interested to help them out… and I decided to take the leap. The studio itself still had to be built at that point. There I was, just twenty-five years old! By then, I was convinced that I had all the technical abilities to succeed, but how would we fare commercially? Fortunately, some of the pop artists from my Soundpush years followed me to the Dureco studios, including Shocking Blue and the George Baker Selection. I was ambitious to do well and relished to the challenge of managing this new studio as well as continuing my work as a technician, arranger, and later also conductor and producer. Admittedly, I put almost all of my energy in my work in those years. I was married with three children, but there were weeks when I hardly saw my family.”
At Dureco, Bakker worked with an endless string of pop artists as a technician and arranger, including the likes of Euson, Rudi Carrell, Conny Vandenbos, Gerard Cox, Kamahl, Bolland & Bolland, and The Shoes. Amongst his arrangements were national and international hit successes such as ‘Swimming into deep water’ by Don Rosenbaum (1972), ‘If you hold my hand’ by Donna Hightower (1973), ‘The letter’ by Bojoura (1973), ‘100 years’ by Joey Dyser (1975), and, most notably, ‘Paloma blanca’ by the George Baker Selection (1975).
Bakker comments: “I had known George Baker – Hans Bouwens in real life – for some years already, being the sound engineer at Soundpush when he recorded ‘Little green bag’ there. In the 1970s, I must have written some one hundred fifty arrangements to songs of his, many of which were instant chart hits. Hans and I were a good team. Usually, when he had an idea for a song, we recorded a demo, with just Hans accompanying himself on the guitar. From that moment, it was up to me to come up with an orchestration. In the beginning, I once made the mistake of wanting to write an intricate arrangement with broad harmonies to one of Hans’ straightforward pop creations. It was obvious that Hans felt I had killed his intentions. It taught me a valuable lesson: an arranger has to be subservient to the composer’s or the artists’ intentions. Always! From that moment, I have ventured to write instrumentations by imagining how the songwriter I worked with would write them, if he had had the ability to do so. Elements added by the arranger are not supposed to fill in empty spaces – a common mistake amongst arrangers – but to act as a suitable frame to a painting. The fills and riffs in ‘Paloma blanca’, for example, were my invention. It made the song more memorable and therefore commercially even stronger than it would have been without. Judging by the fact that all cover versions of ‘Paloma blanca’ have retained those fills, these have become an integral part of the composition itself… a suitable addition to the melody.”
Though almost completely absorbed by his arranging and recording job, Bakker sometimes composed songs himself as well, amongst which, most notably, the international bestsellers ‘Ding-a-dong’ by Teach-In (Eurovision winner in 1975) and ‘I remember Elvis Presley’ by Danny Mirror (1977). In 1974, at the request of Dureco, Bakker released ‘Dick Bakker dirigeert’, an LP with his own instrumental versions of Dutch chart hits; this album, which went gold, was the first of a string of instrumental releases by the so-called Dick Bakker Orchestra. Amidst all commercial music recorded under Dick’s auspices, he worked with several easy listening and jazz artists as well, including Joop Stokkermans, Thijs van Leer, Pim Jacobs, Rita Reys, and Rogier van Otterloo.
Prompted by the changes in the music business towards the end of the 1970s, Dick started pondering a career switch. “Gradually, the big studio orchestras were replaced by electronic devices such as synthesizers and drum machines”, Bakker explains. “Many artists were no longer looking for orchestral arrangements. At the same time, I was determined to continue working with orchestras. Thanks to my connection with Rogier van Otterloo, I often had the opportunity to work in studios in London. Most of Rogier’s compositions were recorded there. Rogier relied on me for the technical supervision of his productions. Amongst other things, I recorded and mixed most of his Introspection records, as well as mixing his music to the film ‘Soldier of Orange’. Meanwhile, I found out that quality of the session musicians in England was far superior to the standards we were used to in the Netherlands. I decided I wanted to try to make a living out of working with English studio musicians. To that end, in 1977, I began a production company, Topesa, specializing in audiovisuals and advertising music, with all recordings taking place in London. From ’77 onwards, I stopped my arranging and technician’s work for Dureco. I continued being the managing director of the studio for some years, though, until my own production company became too big to continue doing both jobs simultaneously. In 1984, I withdrew from Dureco altogether.”
Between 1977 and 1992, Bakker, leading his Topesa company, focused on orchestral productions for major companies in Europe and beyond. “The lion’s share of my work”, Bakker explains, “consisted of composing, arranging, and recording music for corporate presentations and advertisements for multinationals such as Philips, KLM, Heineken, and all major American tobacco companies. Within a couple of years, the concept turned out to be hugely successful. Though I never moved to England myself, I recorded all material in London, working with top musicians from classical orchestras, such as the London Philharmonic and the Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields. Writing music for advertisements requires being able to create an atmosphere in a very short piece of music. Usually, I started by making a draft, which I then worked up to a full composition. Nowadays, computers would have made my job much less laborious, but in the 1980s there was no other option but grabbing a music sheet and a pencil and writing everything out note by note. Especially the arranging part was time-consuming and a race against the clock. I learnt being quite good at time management… an absolute requirement, given the fact that I was involved in some one-hundred productions a year! Even when on holiday with family, I often used the early morning hours to write orchestrations. Towards the end of the 80s, I occasionally hired arrangers, simply because I lacked the time to write all material myself.”
“Subsequently, in the studio in London”, Bakker continues, “all music had to be recorded in sessions of a limited amount of time. I became quite effective at preparing. I checked all scores, wanting to avoid having to correct a mistake in the sheet music during the recording itself. For me, while conducting these sessions, it was important to keep an eye on the clock constantly. Though I had been taught the basic techniques at conservatory, I was not a trained conductor. Since the late 1960s, I had written arrangements, usually conducting them in the studio myself. In the beginning, I had been given some instructions, but the core of conducting comes down to a certain amount of talent and charisma… the charisma required to keep the attention of a group of musicians in a studio ready to record a piece of music.”
Besides his advertisement productions, Bakker continued writing instrumental arrangements to international pop hits, which, in the 1980s, were released as a series of albums, ‘Silence in Romance’, intended for the American market and of which over one million copies were sold. Occasionally, he also composed and arranged songs for Dutch pop and jazz artists such as Willeke Alberti, Jan Vayne, Toots Thielemans, Chris Hinze, and Pieter van Vollenhoven. In 1978, Bakker’s arrangement to cabaret singer Wim Hogenkamp’s song ‘Afscheid’ was awarded with the Louis Davids Prize. In 1989, he teamed up with jazz pianist Louis van Dijk, arranging and conducting the album ‘Musica di gloria’, which earned the duo an Edison Award.
Due to an unexpected turn of faith, in 1990, Bakker got involved in working with the Metropole Orchestra, the light entertainment orchestra of the Netherlands’ public broadcasters. Its chief conductor, Dick’s friend Rogier van Otterloo, having succumbed to an incurable disease in early ’88, the ensemble had been without an artistic leader for two years already. “In spite of my ties with Rogier”, Dick explains, “I was not familiar with the Metropole Orchestra. In the 1980s, I wrote some arrangements for Eurovision songs which were played in the national final, but that was it! I was so immersed in my London business that there was no question of doing more. In 1990, however, the orchestra was preparing a concert with jazz singer Wim Koopmans, following Wim’s new album for which I had penned all arrangements. During rehearsals, Jerry van Rooyen, who conducted most of the Metropole’s gigs since Rogier’s death, fell ill. One of the orchestra’s musicians gave me a call, asking if I could take over the rehearsals for that day – which I did. Jerry had recovered by the time of the concert, which he duly conducted. Because Jerry’s ambition only lay in jazz music and he expressed no interest in other genres, he never was a serious option to become Rogier’s successor. Later that same year, apparently exhorted by some of the musicians who had liked working with me during that one day of rehearsing, I was approached by the Netherlands’ Broadcasting Foundation (NOS) and its Music Center (MCO) as well as by a close friend of mine, jazz pianist Pim Jacobs. They all wanted me to take over the orchestra. Initially, I did not feel like accepting, as my production company flourished as never before.”
“However, I changed my mind”, Dick continues, “when it was made clear to me that, if I did not accept, the orchestra would be disbanded. At that point, I thought of those major names of the past: Dolf van der Linden, the founder of the orchestra, and Rogier van Otterloo. Was there a way to save their life’s work? I decided to say yes, on the condition that I was given carte blanche as artistic director. That was in 1991. For me, it was obvious that there would be no future for the orchestra if it did not broaden its scope from just doing some entertainment music, jazz, operetta, and film scores. My goal was to create an orchestra which would also be able to play all modern styles, ranging from heavy metal and rap, to funk, as well as folk music, cabaret, and symphonic jazz. When I took over as artistic director in ’91, the first thing I had to do was professionalizing the ensemble. I got rid of the freelance musicians who played in the orchestra on an on-and-off basis, bringing in some twenty-five young and bright talents and creating a group of fifty-two professionals who were at our disposal for one hundred percent. I also initiated the building of a new studio.”
Bakker: “Initially, I had hoped to be able to keep on working in London by just working as the Metropole Orchestra’s director and leaving it up to others to do most of the conducting, but that proved an unworkable situation. Therefore, in 1992, I finally became chief conductor as well. I gathered a group of people around me whom I trusted, such as executive manager Fred Dekker, guest conductors Vince Mendoza and Jan Stulen, and a pool of arrangers who wrote material for the orchestra, giving me more time to manage the orchestra and focus on producing and conducting. At my prompting, we started producing our own programmes instead of waiting until one of the broadcasters came to us with proposals. That proved hugely successful, resulting in numerous TV appearances with the band.”
In the first half of the 1990s, Bakker and his orchestra surprised audiences in the Netherlands and abroad by showcasing the ensemble’s new versatility. Between 1993 and 1996, in a series of concerts, ‘With a little help from my friends’, staged in Amsterdam’s pop auditorium Paradiso, Bakker conducted his Metropole Orchestra accompanying pop, punk, and metal bands such as De Dijk, Golden Earring, Rowwen Hèze, Claw Boys Claw, The Gathering, and Gorefest. In September 1995, Bakker and the orchestra travelled to Athens, giving a breathtaking concert of film music and works of Mikis Theodorakis in the Odeion of Herodes Atticus at the foot of the Acropolis.
“Those were two marvellous projects”, Bakker revels. “Those Paradiso concerts were considered a bridge too far by some of the musicians in my orchestra, but we went for it and received praise from the young acts we were accompanying. The concert in Athens was preceded by a tour on the island of Crete in 1994 with a programme of Demis Roussos’ songs. People there reacted enthusiastically, telling us we should try doing a show in Athens. That is how it all started. Preparing the show in Athens in ’95 cost me lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Shortly before the concert, it turned out there were budgetary problems and we nearly had to cancel the whole thing as a result. Luckily, a solution was found. Theodorakis’ music, with its complicated rhythms and changing metres, proved a tough nut to crack, but we were rewarded by a sell-out crowd and a fantastic concert with two bouzouki players and Greece’s top vocalist George Dalaras – everything in the presence of the maestro Mikis Theodorakis himself. For me, this was an unforgettable experience and probably my favourite Metropole Orchestra gig.”
Between 1991 and 2005, Bakker conducted the Metropole Orchestra for numerous radio and television shows with nationally acclaimed artists such as Boudewijn de Groot, Freek de Jonge, Marco Borsato, and Stef Bos as well as with international stars, including the likes of Cliff Richard, Cleo Laine, Andrea Bocelli, Céline Dion, Laura Pausini, Patrick Bruel, Joe Cocker, and Gino Vannelli. He conducted the music to numerous successful Dutch film productions, including ‘The Discovery of Heaven’ (2001) and the Oscar winning ‘Antonia’s Line’ (1996). In 1995, Bakker was awarded with a Golden Harp by Dutch music promotion foundation Conamus in recognition of his contribution to Dutch popular music; two years later, the Dutch Union of Musicians and Artists (NTB) conferred a Golden Nutcracker upon him, whilst the Metropole Orchestra won an Honorary Silver Reiss Microphone for its radio and TV work (1998).
Thwarted by serious back problems, which no longer enabled him to conduct in an upright position, Bakker finally decided to relinquish his post as the Metropole Orchestra’s chief conductor and artistic director in 2005. “At that time”, Bakker adds, “there were also some reorganisations going on behind the scenes of the orchestra, involving budget cuts which I felt were unacceptable. This made it easier to hand over the baton to my successor Vince Mendoza. After fifteen years, it was good to have someone else with fresh new ideas in charge anyway. I look back with immense joy on my years with the Metropole Orchestra. The projects I worked on have enabled me to immensely broaden my musical perspective, getting to know genres I previously knew nothing about… complex jazz and avant-garde concerts with Terry Bozzio and Steve Vai, death metal and hip-hop, traditional Greek music, a concert with Frank Zappa’s compositions – and much more!”
Since 2005, Dick Bakker has kept on working in the world of music. With his son Tom, an accomplished composer and arranger in his own right, he penned a musical comedy, ‘Wat zien ik’, which premiered in 2006 and won a Rembrandt Award for best original Dutch musical production of the year. Moreover, Bakker was a member of the artistic commission of Laren’s Singer Theatre between 1995 and 2012, whilst he still is a board member of the Laren Jazz Foundation, organizing an annual concert. He conducted the Metropole Orchestra for two studio albums with American guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, both of which were nominated for a Grammy Award. Besides, Bakker also conducted the studio sessions with members of the Brussels Symphony Orchestra for the first two albums of pop quintet LA The Voices (2010-’11), which sold platinum and gold respectively. Most notably, however, Bakker has not severed the ties with ‘his’ Metropole Orchestra altogether, serving the orchestra as an artistic producer for certain projects.
“After I had resigned”, Bakker explains, “it turned out the orchestra was short of producers. I have agreed to do a limited number of productions a year, hand-picking the projects I like working on. Leading a production involves programming shows, picking repertoire, selecting the arrangers, making rehearsing schedules… in short, everything I used to do as a chief conductor except for the conducting bit. I have been involved in major TV productions and galas as well as the children’s show ‘Magische Muziekfabriek’.” In 2013, Bakker was the artistic producer of a mega show with the Metropole Orchestra and a host of Dutch popular singers in the Ahoy Concert Hall in Rotterdam celebrating the accession to the throne of King Willem Alexander.
In 2006, Bakker was named an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau in recognition of his contribution to Dutch popular music. One year later, at the annual North Sea Jazz Festival, he was honoured with the annual Paul Acket Award.
Dick Bakker in the Eurovision Song Contest
Why did Dick Bakker, who was almost completely absorbed by his arranging and recording work in those years, want to compete in the 1975 Netherlands’ Eurovision selection as a songwriter anyway? Bakker: “At that time, I was the managing director of the Dureco Record Studio and Teach-In were one of countless acts who recorded their material there. Many of their songs were arranged by me as well. Eddy Ouwens was their producer. I knew him from way back in the 1960s, when he was the front singer of his own pop band. As a producer, Eddy worked in my studio regularly. Either Eddy or some of the members of Teach-In told me they were looking for a good song to participate in the Eurovision heats here in Holland and wondered if I could come up with something suitable. Though it was interpreted by two other singers in the pre-selection, Albert West and Debbie, ‘Ding-a-dong’ was written with Teach-In in the back of my mind. It was not a particular ambition of mine to do Eurovision, but, hey, why not? Within ten minutes, I wrote a melody. The original title was ‘I’m the clown’. I wanted to recreate the atmosphere of a circus show.”
“However”, Bakker continues, “when it turned out another song which had been selected to compete in the National Song Contest contained lyrics with the same subject, I decided we needed something different. Therefore, I turned to Will Luikinga asking him to write lyrics containing catchwords and sounds which could easily be remembered and picked up by the audience. A couple of years before, The Sweet had had a hit song, ‘Poppa Joe’, of which the lyrics worked the same way: ‘Poppa rumbo rumbo - hey Poppa Joe coconut’. At my advice, Will took his inspiration from that particular song. The title itself, ‘Ding-a-dong’, was an imitation of the sound produced by church bells, which are referred to in the Dutch version of the lyrics. Though producer Eddy Ouwens was officially mentioned as co-lyricist, Luikinga wrote them all by himself… Recognizing the potential of ‘Ding-a-dong’, Eddy wanted to be credited as a songwriter at all cost. First, he had asked me to be credited as co-composer, but when I refused him, he turned to Will, who succumbed. When we had finished the demo, I submitted it to Dureco – a logical choice, as I managed their record studio! To my surprise, they declined releasing it. Shortly after, music publisher Willem van Kooten was immediately blown away when he heard the song. That is why it was released on his label.”
What are Bakker’s memories of winning the Dutch pre-selection? “To be quite honest with you”, he admits, “I hardly remember a thing. It was on the twenty-fifth of February and it was the day my youngest daughter was born. The day was chaotic and there was just enough time to rush from the nursery to Utrecht to attend the dress rehearsal. To me personally, the victory of ‘Ding-a-dong’ was no more than a sideshow. Next morning, countless friends and acquaintances from the music business from across the Netherlands telephoned to congratulate me… not because of our baby, but on my winning song. For my wife, this was a bittersweet experience, because, for a moment, our child seemed less important than the song. Now that we had been selected to go to Stockholm, however, we were determined to do everything within our possibilities to do well. When lacking the confidence you can actually win a competition, you might as well not take part at all. In generating publicity, there is nobody who beats Eddy Ouwens, who, even on the plane to Stockholm, handed all other passengers a brochure about Teach-In”
Although Bakker himself was responsible for the arrangement, ‘Ding-a-dong’ was conducted by Harry van Hoof, who had been the musical director of the National Song Contest in the Netherlands and was the Dutch broadcaster’s regular Eurovision conductor in those days. Nonetheless, Bakker was closely involved in Teach-In’s preparations: “We felt we had a major problem… we had been drawn first. No country performing first had ever won the festival! All of this meant we were always first to rehearse as well. In all rehearsals, I noticed the sound for ‘Ding-a-dong’ was awful. The sound technicians needed time to get their equipment right and they more or less perused our rehearsing time to do that. Being a sound freak by profession, I thought the situation was unacceptable. We made our complaints heard to the entire organisation, even to the big boss – the producer of the show. I suggested to him allowing Teach-In to perform the song fifteen minutes before the start of the live broadcast on Saturday evening to get the audience in the concert hall in the mood and to give the sound technicians the opportunity to adjust their equipment correctly. Though, initially, there was not much enthusiasm with the Swedish organisation for our demand, in the end it was honoured. An additional advantage was that Teach-In’s members were not nervous anymore when they performed the song live on TV… after all, it was their second rendition of the song within half an hour. Their performance was very confident.”
“During the live show”, Bakker continues, “I was glued to a TV set in the lobby of the building. I did not care what the impact of our song would be on the guests in the auditorium, but what it would sound like on television. In rehearsals, I had done the same. When the voting was well underway and we were in front, I wanted to enter the hall. There was some security officer who stopped me. “Anyone can say he is a composer”, he maintained. For the second time, the producer of the show had to be called upon – this time, to convince the man that I was not up to any harm. Before I was finally allowed to get in, I was searched from head to toe, while a Sten gun was directed at me… as if I was a terrorist carrying a bomb! In the hall, I joined Will Luikinga, who could not believe what was happening and promised to eat his shoe if we would win… a promise he did not keep! After the winner’s ceremony, a party was organized by our record company CNR; the UK’s representatives, the Shadows, who had been the favourites to win the competition, joined in the celebrations there. Whilst one of them sat at the piano, they gave an impromptu performance of ‘Ding-a-dong’, which was a great way of congratulating us. ‘Couldn’t you compose a song for us?’, one of them asked me. By the way, the Shadows and Teach-In were the only two participating acts in the contest which had used backing tracks to back up the orchestral arrangement… we had taken the decision to pre-record the rhythm instruments just to avoid any hiccups. After all, there was no guarantee the rhythm section in Sweden would be up to our standards. When Teach-In and the Shadows came first and second, it felt as a justification for our decision.”
The Dutch delegation continued celebrating back at the hotel. Bakker: “All of us went downstairs and jumped into the swimming pool… fully dressed. When we came out of the water to get back to our rooms, a waiter carrying a tiny cloth followed us to dry the carpets in the corridors, for, of course, we were soaked. Next day, back at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, a huge crowd turned up to welcome us. It was only there that I realized that Eurovision was more of an artists’ festival than a song festival… the group members were taken into a room to answer press questions, while I and the two other songwriters were not taken notice of – which was kind of strange, because we were the ones to have been handed the victory medals! Afterwards, I had mine constructed into my house’s swimming pool. Unfortunately, Teach-In did not fare well after the contest. Their management made some grave mistakes, not capitalizing on the impact of such an international success; two days after their Eurovision win, they performed in a dance hall in Roelofarendsveen.”
Looking back on the festival victory, Dick says: “This Eurovision Song Contest is certainly one of the highlights of my professional career. The song itself may not sound very complicated, but it includes some intricate harmony changes… I have never managed to compose anything like this later onwards. ‘Ding-a-dong’ was a worldwide success – even in America. In France, Rika Zaraï scored a hit with her version of the song. ‘Ding-a-dong’ sold six million single records and, over the years, it has been covered over one-hundred times. Though I wrote some more hits, nothing equalled the kudos of winning the most internationally renowned televised songwriters’ competition in the world. Following our win, I received invitations from the Netherlands and abroad to write song material, but I turned down everything… I was so busy in my studio recording material with many different artists. Later in 1975, there was an even bigger international success, with George Baker’s ‘Paloma blanca’, for which I wrote the arrangement. There was hardly time to realize what an extraordinary thing had actually happened to me.”
In the following years, Dick Bakker competed several times as a composer in the National Song Contest, but ‘Toen kwam jij’ (performed by Rita Hovink, 1977), ‘Rosamunde’ (Barry Duncan, 1978), and ‘Bim bam bom’ (Harmony, 1978) were not picked to represent the Netherlands internationally. In 1978, however, he wrote the arrangement to the eventual Dutch Eurovision entry, ‘’t Is OK’, performed by Harmony (conducted by Harry van Hoof). The score contained several references to Dick’s Eurovision winner of three years before, including a bell at the end, but Harmony failed to impress the international juries and finished thirteenth. Bakker: “Harmony was a trio manufactured by my old pal Eddy Ouwens. In the run-up to the National Song Contest, we recorded several songs with them, including ‘Bim bam bom’ composed by me, and ‘’t Is OK’, which was Eddy’s composition. When ‘’t Is OK’ was chosen for the Eurovision Song Contest in Paris, I joined Eddy and the group to France to advise the delegation on sound technique. Why this song did not catch on the way ‘Ding-a-dong’ did… I do not know! When I composed ‘Ding-a-dong’, I was not aware of its potential. The biggest mystery in songwriting is always why certain creations are picked up by the general public and why others are not.”
In those years, Dick wrote more arrangements for Eurovision compositions, such as the national final entry ‘Intercity’ by Xandra (1979). In 1980, he was responsible for the all-important orchestration to Maggie MacNeal’s Eurovision classic ‘Amsterdam’, which finished fifth in the international festival final held in The Hague. “Conductor Rogier van Otterloo requested me to write the arrangement to that song”, Bakker recalls. “He gave me a demo cassette with Sjoukje (= Maggie MacNeal, BT) singing to guitar accompaniment. As it was a song about Amsterdam, I wanted to create the atmosphere of that bustling town, with sounds one is likely to hear there. Therefore, I added this barrel organ flavour to it, including some unusual tonal changes. The rehearsals in The Hague went so smoothly that I went home a couple of hours before the live broadcast. Exhausted after a week of hard work, I was already in bed, when news came through our song had received a huge number of points from the first couple of juries. As part of the winning team, I was expected to be in the concert hall… but, luckily, the alarm was false and I did not have to go through the motions of driving my way back to The Hague.”
In the early 80s, Dick Bakker wrote two songs for the National Song Contest in collaboration with lyricist Liselore Gerritsen, the first of which, ‘Een nieuw begin’ performed by Lucy Steymel (1981), objectively deserved much more than the fifth place the provincial juries awarded it with. One year later, the songwriting duo was more successful, winning the pre-selection show in the Netherlands with ‘Jij en ik’. Bill van Dijk was chosen as the most suitable vocalist to perform it. Bakker: “Just like ‘Een nieuw begin’, ‘Jij en ik’ was a song intended for the Eurovision Song Contest from the beginning. My original idea was to create a song in retro style… something in line with Gilbert O’Sullivan’s repertoire: a guy wearing an old-fashioned outfit at the piano with two girls at his side. In an arrangement by me, ‘Jij en ik’, performed by Bill van Dijk, won the national pre-selection. Bill van Dijk, however, was one of Piet Souer’s protégés. Piet was Bill’s producer, and, together with Peter Schön, he completely changed the rhythm of the song. After their makeover, the retro feel had been exchanged for a pop beat. There was no denying that it sounded more up-to-date than the original… With hindsight, however, the song was given a flavour which did not do justice to the original. An arranger can do whatever he likes, as long as he respects the composer’s ideas. That is where things went wrong with ‘Jij en ik’. In all honesty, I want to stress that I gave Piet Souer permission to go ahead with his makeover, making me jointly responsible for the debacle.”
In 1982, the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Harrogate, England. The Netherlands’ entry did not go down well at all with the international juries, picking up a mere eight points and a second-last position on the scoreboard. Bakker: “This was the fourth occasion I attended an international final, but, unlike all previous times, I had very little to do with rehearsals. After all, Piet Souer was Bill’s producer and, though he and I had worked on several projects together before, experience had taught us that we each preferred doing our own job without interference from the other… so I left most of the work up to Piet. But then again… in Eurovision, your rehearsal lasts half an hour, upon which you find yourself with leisure the rest of the day. With conductor Rogier van Otterloo and his wife also present, we enjoyed a nice couple of days off together. Of course, I was disappointed when the song did not deliver, but there was no reason for me to be extremely down-hearted. My career did not depend on that one festival entry. But still… I wish we had tried my original Gilbert O’Sullivan idea… who knows how we would have done using that concept?”
Two years later, in 1984, Bakker was once again invited to write the orchestration to the Netherlands’ entry. In Luxembourg, Maribelle performed the love ballad ‘Ik hou van jou’, composed by Richard de Bois and Peter van Asten and conducted by Rogier van Otterloo, and came thirteenth. Bakker: “On the demo cassette, I heard no more than a rather boring piece of music without any element that would grab the audience’s attention. It needed spicing up… therefore, I added this huge modulation in the middle part of the song to form a contrast with the sweet finishing notes with just the piano accompaniment. A couple of days before the live show, I travelled to Luxembourg to attend one of the rehearsals. Strikingly, ‘Ik hou van jou’ turned out to be the massive favourite with the orchestra musicians; in a bet they had organized amongst themselves, it was the runaway winner. Of course, it was one of the most orchestral songs amongst the competing entries and that might have been attractive to many of them. I am not sure if they had already seen the dress Maribelle was going to wear on the big night… Luckily, ‘Ik hou van jou’ did nicely in the charts after the festival.”
In the following years, mainly due to his extensive working activities in England, Bakker was less involved in the Netherlands’ Eurovision pre-selection, only occasionally writing the odd arrangement, such as ‘De mooiste dag’ and ‘Anne’ – two songs which participated in the 1990 selection show. In 1991, Bakker became the musical director and chief conductor of the Metropole Orchestra, the light-entertainment orchestra of the Netherlands’ public broadcaster. Usually, the orchestra’s main conductor took care of the pre-selection show and led the orchestra for the Dutch entry in the international contest, but it was not until 1996 that Dick Bakker took charge of this particular job, leaving it to Harry van Hoof in the preceding years. “In my first years at the Metropole Orchestra”, Bakker explains, “I needed time to reconstruct and rejuvenate the orchestra. This was extremely time-consuming. In those years, I lacked time to take over the National Song Contest from Harry. Taking one week off from my regular activities at the orchestra to rehearse the pre-selection was simply out of the question. For that reason, I asked him to keep doing the Eurovision job. When the orchestra had taken on the shape I had had in mind at the outset, my musicians wanted me to take charge of the National Song Contest as well. It fitted exactly into the plan to turn me into the face of the orchestra; after all, Eurovision is an event generating quite some exposure. This was in 1996.”
In 1996, Bakker conducted the Netherlands’ national final for the first time. It was won by the duo Maxine & Franklin Brown with an unpretentious up-tempo song by Piet Souer and Peter van Asten: ‘De eerste keer’. Bakker: “Though I lacked time to write orchestrations myself, I tried to be as much involved in the pre-selection as I could… I telephoned the guys who had been assigned to pen the arrangements to the different participating songs, giving them advice. Subsequently, I checked all scores, sometimes using the red pencil if there were any mistakes. There was no need to amend the arrangement to ‘De eerste keer’, because, of course, Piet Souer had written it himself – and he is a most able arranger. I felt ‘De eerste keer’ was the strongest song in the selection and a suitable choice for the Eurovision Song Contest.”
In the international final in Oslo (Norway), ‘De eerste keer’ managed to obtain a more than respectable seventh spot for the Netherlands. “While preparing for Oslo”, Bakker recalls, “the two songwriters and I worked together harmoniously to make sure we would get the optimum result. Our biggest problem proved to be the Norwegian orchestra, which was quite classically oriented and initially did not manage to give our song the amount of swing it needed. It took some hours of rehearsing before we got closer to the sound we were looking for. In the end, Piet Souer, Peter van Asten and I decided it was best to simply leave out certain instruments – we believed it was better to not include certain parts than to have them played badly. All the while, I tried to inspire the orchestra musicians in the same way I used to do with my own orchestra back in Holland. Winning a spot within the first ten on the scoreboard felt as a reward. Apart from those rehearsals, that week in Oslo was relaxed. Preparing the performance of just one song was a piece of cake compared to rehearsing the music for a show with the Metropole Orchestra. Nonetheless, I considered it a privilege to conduct in a TV programme watched by millions of viewers across the continent. After one of the rehearsals, I had a thirty-minute-chat with Noel Kelehan, the conductor from Ireland; I was curious to learn about his experiences in the contest, as I was aware he had participated so many times. Towards the end of our stay in Norway, I was approached by some of the members of the Norwegian orchestra to come back to work with them as a guest on other projects, but I politely declined… the reality was that my extensive activities with the Metropole Orchestra did not allow me to accept such an offer.”
In 1997, the Netherlands were represented by a close harmony group by the name of Mrs. Einstein, which performed six songs in the pre-selection show, from which the up-tempo ‘Niemand heeft nog tijd’ (written by Ed Hooymans) emerged as the winner. Dick Bakker: “As in several other editions of the National Song Contest, I was in the selection committee which chose the most suitable songs for the national final. Unfortunately, the television audience went for ‘Niemand heeft nog tijd’. The song submitted by Hans van Hemert (‘Dat liefde zo moet zijn’, BT) was much stronger. Shortly before we left for the international final in Dublin, I heard all the other participating songs. From that moment onwards, I knew we were fighting a losing battle: I was 100% convinced that Katrina & The Waves from Britain with ‘Love shine a light’ would be the winners. At a reception organized in Ireland, they performed their song acoustically, accompanied by a single guitar… even then it stood out. Though our delegation leader Willem van Beusekom was somewhat bemused about it, I told to everyone present at that party that a UK victory was inevitable.”
Bakker’s intuition was right, as Katrina & The Waves easily beat all competition in Dublin. Mrs. Einstein, however, failed to make an impression, scoring a humbling five points and a twenty-second position on the scoreboard. “The reality was that neither our entry nor Mrs. Einstein had the international level required to do well a Eurovision Song Contest”, Bakker states. “True, the ladies of Mrs. Einstein were in a buoyant mood all week. While rehearsing and during trips which were organised for us, they entertained all delegates by polyphonically singing all other participating entries in the festival. At the same time, however, I felt they performed an act rather than being genuine and open – and they were a little too old for Eurovision, as well. We did not stand a chance. Back at Schiphol Airport, I made the mistake of telling a journalist why I felt things in Dublin had gone wrong. Saskia van Zutphen, the leader of Mrs. Einstein, did not take my words lightly. Like in Oslo, the orchestra in Dublin was not as good as what I was used to with my own Metropole Orchestra and session orchestras in London… in the course of the rehearsals, I adapted the string arrangement in a way that enabled the classically oriented Irish violinists to play along without ruining the performance.”
Quite opposite to the underwhelming national final of the year before, the 1998 National Song Contest, held in the RAI Concert Hall in Amsterdam, was a top-notch event with some excellent songs. Helped by a confident performance by Edsilia Rombley, ‘Hemel en aarde’, composed by Jochem Fluitsma and Eric van Tijn, won the ticket to the international final in Birmingham. One of the red-hot favourites to win the competition, ‘Hemel en aarde’ finished fourth. Dick Bakker conducted it in Amsterdam as well as in the international final – in what later turned out to be the last Eurovision Song Contest with live orchestral accompaniment. Bakker: “For once, the correct song won the selection show in Holland… and what a great show it was, indeed! With a live orchestra on stage and an enthusiastic auditorium, we managed to create a wonderful atmosphere. Conducting the orchestra in Birmingham felt like coming home… I knew all the guys in it from my work in the recording studios in London. They played our score without any problem and left me with very little to do except for encouraging the musicians to put in the right amount of swing! Wisely with an upbeat song, the two songwriters had decided to have the rhythm part of the arrangement on backing tracks… it avoided discussions between the orchestra and the song’s production team about the correct sound. Unfortunately, in Birmingham, hardly anybody talked about the participating songs… all press attention was directed towards Dana International, who won the festival for all the wrong reasons. In this carnival, I admired Edsilia, our young singer, for staying totally cool and collected throughout the week.”
When news transpired late in 1998 that there would be no orchestral accompaniment in the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem, Bakker made his disbelief about this decision known in the media. In a TV interview in March ’99, he said: “What will the next step be? An MTV kind of programme with clips instead of live performances? I think a music contest should be an exciting event in which all entries are sung and played live; it should be more than a contest in which songwriters submit their work… it should be about a performer giving his all in a live show and not just with a backing track. Without an orchestra, the contest will look kind of cheap.” Nonetheless, Bakker was once again one of the members of the committee selecting the songs for the Eurovision heats in the Netherlands. “Already in the committee, we agreed that Marlayne and ‘One good reason’ was the best choice for Jerusalem. I was positively sure we would at least get in the first five with that song – but it did not really materialize. I had high hopes that, finally, the Netherlands had found the successor of Teach-In and ‘Ding-a-dong’.”
Still in 1999, Dick Bakker was one of the driving forces behind a concert with the Metropole Orchestra and a string of former Dutch Eurovision representatives who performed their song entirely live with Bakker’s ensemble; this charity event, held in Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek for an ecstatic audience, was broadcast on nationwide television and released on CD. Meanwhile, Bakker had, for the first time since eighteen years, submitted a composition of his own for the National Song Contest: ‘Close harmony’ by a quartet called Splash. “With ‘Close harmony’, I hoped to be able to make a statement about live music”, Dick explains. “It was a song with massive orchestral accompaniment, which I had originally written at the request of the Dutch Interior Ministry for some conference. I recorded the music with session players in London. With some slight adaptations to the lyrics, it was chosen for the 2000 National Song Contest. We were the favourite to win the competition… but the four singers made a hash of their performance by singing dramatically off key. We came second behind Linda Wagenmakers’ dress. You can imagine I felt gutted, because I had high hopes of repeating my statement about live music and the need to have an orchestra in the contest on the international podium as well…”
In 2001, Bakker was involved in an initiative to get the orchestra back into the contest’s concept. He launched it in collaboration with Eurovision aficionado, journalist, and long-time TV commentator of the event, Willem van Beusekom (1947-2006). Bakker comments: “It hurt me that the EBU had decided to simply abandon the idea of a live orchestra altogether. Look, I am a realist – I understand artists and producers who, worried about the quality of an orchestra in a foreign country with which they have never previously worked, prefer pre-recorded tracks. Especially nowadays, many songs rely on sound effects and a heavy beat which cannot always be reproduced by an orchestra. In 1975, when I participated in the contest as the composer of ‘Ding-a-dong’, it was me who decided to pre-record the rhythm elements and have the string and brass elements of the Swedish orchestra play along with that. Doing so, I was sure that my song would sound well.”
“Somewhere in 2001, I talked to Willem van Beusekom”, Bakker continues. “We agreed that the Eurovision Song Contest was rapidly becoming a farcical event due to the lack of real music. At the same time, we understood worries of artists who did not want to work with a second-rate orchestra. That is why we proposed to simply ‘offer’ the Metropole Orchestra to the organizing country every year. The Metropole Orchestra is a professional orchestra which is used to working on popular music; its musicians would be able to accompany both modern and more traditional Eurovision entries to perfection. What was more, other countries could never have complained about the financial consequences of an orchestra with over fifty expensive musicians who should be paid for their job; this is because the members of the Metropole Orchestra are officially employees of the Netherlands’ national broadcaster, who have a fixed salary which does not increase with a new commission. The only thing that would have to be done, was blocking the orchestra’s other professional activities for the duration of two weeks to allow the musicians and artists to rehearse and perform all arrangements.”
At the European Broadcasting Union, however, the Dutch initiative was not greeted with enthusiasm. Bakker: “Willem brought forward our proposal in a meeting of delegation leaders. Unfortunately, most other countries wanted nothing of it. They maintained that they would have encountered difficulties in finding artists who agreed to participate in a show with a live orchestra. It is a pity my orchestra was not taken more seriously. To my mind, in the Eurovision Song Contest, it should be made compulsory to play all string and brass elements in an arrangement live with the orchestra, with an option to use a pre-recorded click track with rhythm elements… although I am convinced that the Metropole Orchestra could play most of those even better and without any problem.”
Other artists on Dick Bakker
Conductor Jan Stulen has regularly performed with the Metropole Orchestra as a guest from the 1970s onwards: “In the course of the past decades, I have come to know Dick Bakker as a most amiable and modest man. He has proved his talent in many areas of music. As a sound engineer, producer, composer, arranger, and most notably as the Metropole Orchestra’s chief conductor, Dick has played an immensely important role in Dutch popular music. His commitment to bring back live music to the Eurovision Song Contest is proof of his big musician’s heart. In several productions of the Metropole Orchestra which I conducted, I was happy to make use of Dick’s staggering knowledge of, especially, Dutch pop repertoire. I hope we will be able to enjoy his expertise for many years to come.” (2013)
Violinist Lucja Domski played in Jan Stulen’s Promenade Orchestra until joining the Metropole Orchestra in 1984, thus working with Bakker for the full fourteen years of his time as a chief conductor with the orchestra (1991-2005): “The first word that comes to mind when thinking of Dick Bakker is ‘passionate’. When Dick starts on a project, he always puts in all of his energy and enthusiasm. In the early 90s, the Metropole Orchestra did ‘With a little help from my friends’, a series of concerts with pop and underground artists in the Paradiso Concert Hall. We got to play genres of music most of us had not even ever heard of before, learning about grunting and many other things that were new to us. What energy we all got from these performances… and Dick conducted us in swinging style, as if he had never done anything else in his life! Though, once in a while, some of the orchestra musicians were sceptic about the feasibility of Dick’s adventurous projects, he always managed to succeed in the things he embarked upon. As our chief conductor, he was approachable and very nice to work with. We are happy to still have him back with us as a producer on several projects a year.” (2013)