Hans Blum

Born: May 23rd, 1928, Linden, Hanover (Germany)
Nationality: German

Eurovision record
One of the most prolific German songwriters of his generation, Hans Blum, represented West-Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest as a composer and lyricist on four occasions, with ‘Paradies, wo bist du?’ by Ulla Wiesner (1965), ‘Anouschka’ by Inge Brück (1967), ‘Primaballerina’ by Siw Malmkvist (1969), and lastly, after a seventeen-year gap, ‘Über die Brücke geh’n’ by Ingrid Peters (1986). While ‘Paradies, wo bist du?’ was conducted by Alfred Hause, Blum led the Eurovision orchestra for the three last-mentioned entries himself.

Biography
Born in 1928, Hans Bernd Blum grew up in a suburb of Hanover. His father, who spoke five languages fluently, was a freelance translator and interpreter. Later on, due to lack of work in other fields, he was forced to take the job of translator at the Körting armour factory. Though his dad played a little bit of violin, young Hans did not grow up in a particularly musical household, but… he was fascinated by music nonetheless. When he was no older than four or five, one of his uncles visited with a rather special device under his arm:

“This uncle worked at the Postal Service. One day, he visited bringing an old-fashioned radio detector device, complete with a crystal, feather board, and headphones. It must have been some cast-off from his work. With this equipment, it was possible to detect radio stations; and although it wasn’t a very good one, we could now listen to the local radio station. That tinny sound, I instantly loved it! My bedroom was turned into a maze of wires… and I was always trying to put the antenna in a position which produced the best sound. As we didn’t previously have a radio, this was the first time I got in touch with music. That radio became my passion. As a child, I usually fell asleep with the headphones on. My goal was to stay awake until the midnight closing tune!”

When Hans was ten years old, his parents gave him a toy steam engine for Christmas, while his younger brother received a small diatonic button accordion. “But my brother and I agreed to swap our presents,” Blum recalls. “To my parents’ astonishment, I was able to play the accordion right away. Although I had never had any music lessons, in some miraculous way, this instrument made sense to me – it wasn’t until years later that I discovered I had perfect pitch! With my accordion, I imitated melodies I had heard on the radio. The year after, I was given a Hohner twelve-base accordion. I remember playing a short part of Mozart’s ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ while my father accompanied me on the violin. In the street, while other children were romping around, I used to take my accordion, playing a little tune – which was a major part in overcoming my inborn shyness. The best moment came when the primary teacher gave me the highest possible mark for music on my report card. Such a wonderful feeling! From that moment, I was sure I wanted to be a musician.”

Fourteen-year-old Hans as a student at Heeresmusikschule Bückeburg

All of this took place against the backdrop of Germany’s transformation into a Nazi state under NSDAP rule. Hans’ parents detested the Hitler regime, but their son did not escape being exposed to Nazi propaganda. Blum: “My introduction to primary school almost coincided with Hitler’s power grab. The headmaster, who was a staunch National Socialist, had given order to tie tape around the school premises, which read the same line all over: ‘Here we all salute the German way – Heil Hitler!’ That is how every day at school began: ‘Heil Hitler, my children’ and ‘Heil Hitler, master’, instead of simply ‘good morning’. Awful! My generation was thoroughly indoctrinated. I was forced to join the Hitler Youth. At home, I was used to listening to wonderful coffeehouse music, but suddenly, we had to sing tunes like: “We will march on even when everything around us falls into ruins / because today we are masters of Germany, but tomorrow we will rule the world”. Now isn’t that a horrible song? How one survives such treatment without going insane? Well, staying close to oneself – I think that would be the main answer to your question…”

In 1943, Hans became a student at Heeresmusikschule Bückeburg, a Wehrmacht music school thirty-five miles west of Hanover. He was admitted in spite of not having had any previous music training. “When my father took me to the admission interview, I simply showed my school report card with that high mark for music… and apparently, this was sufficient. Knowing my ambition to be musician, my father had first thought about sending me to Bückeburg when reading an advert in a local newspaper; the Heeresmusikschule was looking for candidates willing to sign up for twelve years of army service. By that stage of the war, bombs were falling on Hanover; and he reckoned I would be safer in the countryside. As I didn’t read music, the double-bass was picked for me as my main instrument; however, the curriculum also comprised learning to play the piano and the tuba. We also had music theory classes. My main teacher was Heinz Rieb, who was a double-bass player in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra. He gave me a bass which was some fifteen centimetres shorter than the regular – which worked wonderfully well for me, as I was too short to hold the neck of a normal bass without stumbling!”

With his mini double-bass, later in 1943, Hans and eleven of his fellow-students were sent on a trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to play an arrangement of Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem ‘Death and transfiguration’ on the doorstep of the famous composer’s villa. Blum: “We stood there like organ pipes, from tall to short, wearing our obligatory military uniforms, while Strauss was listening to our rendition up on his balcony. Afterwards, he came down to congratulate all of us personally. I was last in line. Looking at my short double-bass, he asked me: “Boy, tell me, what kind of an instrument is that?” As we had been taught to answer our superiors at the top of our voice, I screamed: “Kontrabass, Herr Strauss!” He stepped back for a moment, and then whispered in my ear: “Always bear in mind, my boy, the double-bass player should be the ablest player in any orchestra!” And I screamed to his face: “Jawohl, Herr Strauss!” It was a memorable occasion, but I suspect he whispered the same words in the ears of all my fellow-pupils! It might be a witty anecdote, but it took place against the backdrop of a world which seemed to be tumbling down around us. Just imagine: our train journey to Garmisch and back was under the cover of night to avoid being hit by Allied fighter bombers.”

Playing under Hitler’s watchful eye: the Heeresmusikschule’s string orchestra – with Hans (not recognisable) at one of the double-basses

Though composition was not among the subjects taught at the Heeresmusikschule, Hans wrote his first songs and song arrangements as a student: “Another pupil who was a little older than me had written a poem to his ex-girlfriend – obviously, he wanted her back. He asked me to write music to it, which I did at the piano. In my free time, I also created some first small arrangements to jazz tunes I had heard on BBC Radio! While we were home on our Christmas leave, I visited a friend whose parents owned a better radio than ours. Down we went into the cellar, where we put the transistor under a duvet to avoid being overheard. This was 1943! If anyone had reported to the authorities that we were listening to English radio, we would probably have been sentenced to death. No, we weren’t being naïve; we knew exactly what was at play! We were just eager to hear BBC London and the wonderful music they played. Decades later, I recorded a song about this experience, ‘Schräge Musik’, but it was never given any airplay due to the reference to the death penalty in the lyrics. This was almost forty years after the war! Frankly, I was astonished at radio makers’ lack of courage.”

The main part of schooling at Bückeburg consisted of music practice, but students were also expected to train as soldiers. “As the war wore on, military training became an ever more important part of the curriculum… standing reveille every morning at six, shooting machine guns, throwing hand grenades, etcetera. We were quite aware that we were losing the war as bombing grew more intense. Moreover, there was our German teacher who told us an Allied invasion would come soon – and someone must have betrayed him to the authorities for his ‘defeatism’; some weeks later, he was taken away by police… and never seen or heard of again. In the last months of the war, all boys of sixteen years and older were forced into the army. Hans Last (future bandleader James Last – BT), who was also studying the double-bass at Bückeburg, was one year younger than me; that is why he escaped army service, while I didn’t. Refusal was not an option; we were expressly told that whoever didn’t follow marching orders would be hanged. I was ordered to march westwards, somewhere halfway between Hanover and the Ruhr. The other side of the way was cramped with wounded soldiers retreating and asking me where the hell I was going…”

“Having arrived at the appointed place, I was given an obsolete Danish gun last used in the First World War – and together with another boy of my age, I was put in a loophole; our orders were simply to shoot at the enemy once he approached. It wasn’t long before an American armoured vehicle arrived. We had already tied handkerchiefs to our guns, signalling our surrender. We were taken to an old barn. There, I turned out to be the only one who spoke a little English. The Amis tied a bed sheet around my neck, explaining me there was a bunch of German officers in a cellar of a house close by. I was ordered to go there to tell them to surrender forthwith to avoid being taken under fire. I will never forget the moment when, one by one, those humiliated officers climbed through the basement window, following me to the American vehicle like baby geese tracing their mama!”

Hans (cross above his head) during military training in Bückeburg (1943)

After initially being taken to Namur in Belgium, Hans Blum spent the following six months in a prisoner-of-war camp in Attichy, France. “The best news came on May 8th: the war was finally over. I have never felt so much relief in my life! Attichy was a huge American ‘baby camp’, housing tens of thousands of German child soldiers. We were given tents and ample straw to sleep on. The Americans had special teachers who gave us re-education lessons in German. We learned the most extraordinary thing there. “In America, one is allowed to criticise the president without risking punishment.” To us, that was sensational! I also spent time on music in those months. At the request of my fellow-prisoners, I gave music lessons in return for an extra bowl of soup. I even formed a choir, composing choral music on all snippets of paper I could lay my hands on.”

Erroneously, Hans had been reported by German authorities to have fallen during the closing stages of the war. When, upon release, he showed up in Hanover in the fall of 1945, his parents were beside themselves with joy. The scenery around them, though, was depressing. Germany lay in shatters. “We didn’t have a thing: no shoes, no stockings… and our bellies were empty. At the train station, I had to go looking for coals which had fallen from passing freight wagons. Meanwhile, I got in touch with my former teacher from Bückeburg. He had managed to save an old double-bass… and he decided to give it to me as a present, without asking anything in return! It was this one instrument which made my post-war life worth living.”

With his bass, Hans earned some money by working as a replacement in two classical orchestras; simultaneously, with some others, he founded a jazz combo, the Bernd-Rabe-Swingtett: “Our band leader, Benny Rabe, was just one year older than me; a great sax player who later joined Erwin Lehn’s orchestra. We were among the first in Hanover to play English and American dance music. We didn’t have scores; instead, we listened to the British Forces Network and the American Forces Network, while trying to write down the arrangements in the process. Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, anything… In return for food, we played for the American soldiers in town – with considerable success! Later on, I found my way to Bremen and Bremerhaven, joining a big band which played dance music for American troops about to be shipped home. We had a great time, we were young, and all we wanted was to play entertainment music. Classical music had no appeal to us; we didn’t want to be buried in some tedious opera score. Jazz was the sound of freedom. We absolutely loved it. And there were other fascinating music genres from America which we discovered… hillbilly, country. This was our new world!”

Hans Blum (far right) in the Geller-Quintett (± 1949)

In 1948, Blum joined the Geller-Quintett, a mixed vocal group in which he sang as well as playing the double-bass. The ensemble recorded several singles with Kurt Edelhagen’s Orchestra. Moreover, in 1950, they performed in one of the first television broadcasts in West Germany. “In a bunker in Hamburg, experimental programmes were recorded. Bruce Low was booked to sing a couple of his songs – and we were his backup singers. Before we went on air, the director said: “Now, do the best you can, we have an audience of six TV sets tonight!” Six! All of them in Hamburg… one was in the display window of a radio dealer in the Mönckebergstrasse, where tram 18 had to halt because so many people were thronging around the window to watch. In the bunker, the heat was unbearable – sixty degrees Celsius! – but we had to perform live… I’m sure we weren’t very good, but we were there! These first post-war years were the ‘big bang’ of the modern light-entertainment business in Germany. Television was just one of many technological advancements. There was always something new to be excited about! I have always found this ongoing renewal one of the most fascinating aspects of my profession.”

The Geller-Quintett broke up in 1951, when the two female members of the group were getting married. With one of the male band-members, Joe Menke, Hans Blum founded a new vocal ensemble with two sisters, Silesian refugee girls they had first encountered at the experimental TV broadcast in Hamburg: the Olden Sisters, Ingetraut and Ursula Maschke. As Blum himself was the bandleader, the new group was called the Hansen-Quartett (pronounced: Hans’ Quartett).

“The bulk of the vocal arrangements was penned by me. We sang close harmony, mainly performing for the American soldiers in the US-controlled sector of West Germany. Both girls were very pretty, but, when the group was founded, we solemnly swore to be good colleagues and nothing more! Our mutual promise didn’t last... We were away in the same car, night after night, often doing multiple performances on the same evening. In short, I fell in love with Ingetraut. After a long engagement, we got married in 1956 – and we’ve remained a couple until this day!”

The Hansen-Quartett on stage, with Hans playing the double-bass and blonde Inge at his side (early 1950s)

In 1952, the Hansen-Quartett was signed by Nils Nobach, a Cologne-based producer and music publisher, to do backing vocals in studio sessions. “Nobach saw us at work in an American club in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He wondered if we were interested to come with him to Cologne. It was a lucrative offer, but my question to him was: “Does that mean we have to sing in German?” Up to that point, we had always performed exclusively in English, but of course Nobach wanted us to sing in German. It was so arrogant of me… it goes to show that I’m a typical musician: no business instinct whatsoever! Despite my reservations, we decided to accept. One of our first sessions was with Vico Torriani in Zürich. Just imagine: we were standing closely around Vico, but in our turn we were surrounded by a huge forty-piece orchestra. Vocals and music had to be recorded simultaneously. Then my Inge, who never became a very proficient sight-reader, made one little mistake… the result being that everyone was ushered out of the studio, into the street to smoke a cigar or have a drink, while the surface of the wax record was levelled for a new take. All these musicians huddled together in one studio – it’s a world gone by. Nowadays, studios are about technique, wires, plastic, and, just occasionally, the smell of the sound engineer’s deodorant.”

When Nils Nobach switched from Telefunken to Electrola, the Hansen-Quartett followed him to record for this record company. Between 1952 and 1961, the vocal group was involved in some eight-hundred recordings, some under their own name, many more backing up other artists: Zarah Leander, Bibi Johns, Bruce Low, and many others. Accompanied by Erwin Lehn’s Südfunk-Tanzorchester, the quartet recorded the songs for dozens of popular revue films. Before long, Blum and his fellow-bandmembers gave up touring altogether in favour of their studio activities:

“In the 1950s, ‘Happy Music’ was what German audiences wanted to hear – and record companies flooded the market with endless numbers of new studio material. It would be hard to name an artist for whom we didn’t provide the dubduwahs in the background. The repertoire was chosen by producers; simple background singers like us had to do as we were told. When no artist was found who wanted to do the German cover of ‘Charly Brown’, I was ordered to step in! It was a makeshift solution, but all of a sudden I found myself in the hit parade – number five in the nationwide charts (and even number one in a separate list compiled by teenager magazine Bravo, 1958 – BT).”

In 1955, Hans Blum signed a new contract with Electrola as a répétiteur; for 300 mark a month, he became the company’s vocal coach. “At the outset, it seemed nice enough, because with the Hansen-Quartett, we were paid per session, while this job assured me of a fixed monthly income. In reality, it was the most horrible thing I have had to do in my life. Seated at the piano, I was supposed to rehearse new song material with artists who weren’t able to sight-read their scores. After a month, I had had enough. The tipping point was with Kenneth Spencer, a wonderful classically educated black singer from the USA. The song I had to rehearse with him was called ‘Hi-ha-ho wir geh’n auf Bärenjagd’ (official title: ‘Bärenjagd in Alaska’, or in English: ‘Bear-hunting in Alaska – BT). An utterly stupid melody! I felt so ashamed. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this job for one day longer.”

While he continued being sought after as a background vocalist, from the mid-1950s onwards, Blum also began receiving commissions to pen studio arrangements for Electrola. In ten years, he probably wrote close to 1,000 scores. “These could be arrangements for anything ranging from just piano accompaniment, sometimes a small combo, or a grand orchestra consisting of fifty musicians. It was a good learning school, but incredibly hard work at the same time. In those years, much of our output consisted of German cover versions of international hits.”

“What it was like? Well, it wasn’t unusual for a producer to phone late in the evening: “Hans, I have a record here from England and we’re going to make a recording in German. Make sure to have the arrangement ready by tomorrow morning, as the session starts at 10AM… and before I forget, the pitch has to be two keys higher than the original.” Without even knocking the door, he would then put the record on my doormat. I sat down and wrote the score by listening to the original – in the dead of the night. My Inge then took the handwritten arrangement to the copyist, who was waiting to write separate scores for each of the session players. Early in the morning, these musicians were phoned – and if one of them wasn’t available, someone else was called upon. Once everyone was there, I counted them in and we recorded the music as fast we could. When we were done, the vocalist came in… who usually didn’t have the slightest idea about the song before arriving in the studio! Again, producers were all-powerful; they picked the repertoire. There was plenty of work for several arrangers – at Electrola, I worked alongside Friedel Berlipp and Paul Kuhn, to name just two.”

At home, celebrating Christmas with Inge (1957)

As an arranger, Hans Blum worked extensively with Bibi Johns, Camillo Felgen, and Lale Andersen, whilst he also penned the scores to Jacqueline Boyer’s German version of her Eurovision winner ‘Tom Pillibi’ (1960) and Conny Froboess’ ‘Midi-Midinette’ (1961), a composition by Hans’ colleague Christian Bruhn. In 1962, Blum himself wrote words and music to Dalida’s German single release ‘Ich war ein Narr’, but it was one of his very few excursions into composition: “Because I had been signed as an arranger, I usually wasn’t allowed to submit compositions for Electrola – except for the odd B-side of a single, when I was lucky. Danke, Herr Produzent”, is what I would say, because this was an opportunity to make some additional income. Generally speaking, though, there was no time for writing my own material. At some point, I started feeling unhappy about the lack of artistic freedom.”

In 1963, Blum took on a freelance commission from NDR, the Hamburg-based broadcasting service, to be the musical director of Chris Howland’s popular TV programme ‘Musik aus Studio B’: “Each week, I had to invent brand-new intro music, a finale, and all incidental music used throughout the show. Yes, that was hard work too, but at least some more creativity was involved – and it allowed me to slowly move away from Electrola. Finally, in 1964, I took the decision to stop being a studio arranger; yes, from one day to the next! I called Kurt Feltz, Nils Nobach, and all other producers in Hamburg and Munich that, from now on, I no longer accepted any work as an arranger or backing singer. From that point on, I focused exclusively on composing and arranging my own music. My wife was a little worried, but I was quite confident we would be all right. I was looking forward to my new life. Having said that, I am eternally grateful to Inge, who gave up her own singing career to look after the household and raise our children, while I was at the piano writing music.”

In the 1960s, the fastest route to success for a fledgling songwriter in West Germany were the so-called Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele, the most popular song festival of the country. After an encouraging sixth place in the 1965 edition with ‘Gib dein Wort, Linda Lou’ for Dutch rock duo The Blue Diamonds, Blum won the festival the following year with ‘Beiß nicht gleich in jeden Apfel’, interpreted by Norwegian songstress Wenche Myhre.

Electrola’s star arranger (± 1962)

“Once, my wife brought me an apple, making a little joke: “Don’t take a bite from any apple – it could be sour!” What a brilliant catchphrase for a song! For once, I told myself, it should be a simple song, just five bars, nothing more. Many of my more sophisticated melodies were turned down… not a single producer showed interest. With that melody, Wenche Myhre won the Schlager-Festspiele; and, more importantly, it was a huge hit. That was my breakthrough moment – from then on, all producers were keen to have my compositions. In a way, it is sad, because of all those wonderfully poetic lyrics I used to write… but the success finally arrived by penning a simple sequence of tones and lyrics about apples. It taught me not to feel scrupulous about thinking commercially. As long as simplicity didn’t evolve into banality, it was all right.”

In the following years, Hans Blum won the Schlager-Festspiele twice more: in 1968 with ‘Harlekin’ for Siw Malmkvist and in 1970 with ‘Das schöne Mädchen vom Seite Eins’ for Howard Carpendale. Unlike many of his colleagues, such as Werner Scharfenberger, Henry Mayer, and Christian Bruhn, who always had to rely on lyricists to provide them with the appropriate words to their compositions, Blum wrote the lyrics to more than half of his compositions himself.

“Sometimes, lyricists like Kurt Hertha submitted their work to me on their own initiative, inspiring me to write some of my finest melodies. Quite often, though, for copyright reasons, producers who I worked with simply insisted on their lyrics. The music business can be a cynical microcosm! I have always been keen to write attractive or witty lyrics myself. On the other hand, I was having more and more trouble finding the inspiration to invent suitable arrangements once a composition was ready. It took too much of my energy. Therefore, I was very fortunate to have my good friend Paul Biste by my side. For over ten years, he took much of the workload off my shoulders. Previously, Paul was the saxophonist in Kurt Edelhagen’s orchestra. He started working with me on the scores of the ‘Musik aus Studio B’ television show, but later he also took care of many of the arrangements to my pop songs. Paul was an arranging genius; without him, I wouldn’t have found the time to write half of the melodies I composed in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Hans Blum at the piano rehearsing prior to the studio recording of his hit ‘Der Herr Marquis’ with Dutch singer Liesbeth List (on his right) and four backing singers – Ulla Wiesner on the far left (1968)

In 1967, Hans Blum had a hit with ‘Zigeunerjunge’, which was recorded by Alexandra – and the piece has become an evergreen in the Germanophone countries. Alexandra, a protégé of Hamburg-based producer Fred Weyrich, had just recorded her debut-album, but none of the songs on it were deemed suitable to be the first single.

“For that reason, Weyrich and Alexandra came down for a visit at my place. She was going through a folder with some unpublished material I had written. After a while, she stumbled upon the lyrics of ‘Zigeunerjunge’, which struck a chord with her. Actually, this song is based on my childhood memories of a band of gypsies which travelled through Hanover every year; as a young boy, I was fascinated by their colourful caravans, their music, this life of freedom… In fact, I had already offered the song to several female vocalists, but in vain. Producers felt the story behind it was too melancholic. Once Alexandra had found the lyrics, she was curious to hear the melody, which I played for her at the piano. Having listened to it carefully, she ran outside to get her guitar from the car; and after having practiced for a bit, she decided this was the song of her choice. I’m sure her record company would have argued this song wasn’t commercially viable – but Alexandra knew what she wanted. ‘Zigeunerjunge’ was her debut single… and she became a star overnight! I remember being in shock when hearing about her death in a car-accident in 1969. The day before, we had been together in a radio show in Baden-Baden. Fate can be cruel indeed.”

With ‘Zigeunerjunge’, Hans Blum and Alexandra went to Carlsbad (Czechoslovakia) to participate in the 1968 edition of the Intervision Festival, the Eastern Bloc’s answer to Eurovision. In those years, in imitation of Italy’s popular San Remo Festival, new song contests sprang up like mushrooms across the globe – and Blum took part in festivals held in Caracas (Venezuela) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).

With Alexandra and her manager Fred Weyrich in Paris (1967)

“In Caracas, I represented Germany with Nina Lizell, a Swedish girl; and I did a guest performance with Helmut Zacharias and Caterina Valente. Going to Rio in 1969 was especially memorable. It took ages to get there, as the flight had to make a stopover in Senegal before crossing the Atlantic. The festival was held in the Maracanã football stadium. We were taken to the venue with a police escort accompanying our bus. On the hillsides far away, you could see the slums – and it was obvious the military junta spent loads of money on this festival while allowing to large swathes of their population to live in poverty. I took part with ‘Zucker im Kaffee’, with Erik Silvester performing. The Brazilian orchestra turned out to be a great big band with strings and no fewer than eight percussionists. They were playing like gods, but there was one sound which none of the players seemed to be able to reproduce: the ch-k-ch-k sound effect which I had added to the chorus. That is why I was the only conductor in the competition who had a microphone on his podium to be able to sing ch-k-ch-k while conducting the band simultaneously! It generated enormous enthusiasm in the stadium, but we didn’t win – the jury picked a boring, slow waltz melody from Brazil itself, leaving little Hans from Overath in the cold with his samba rhythm, ch-k-ch-k! The upside was, though, that my song was a hit in Brazil and several other Latin American countries.”

In the 1960s and early 1970s, compositions by Blum were recorded by a string of artists from Germany and beyond, such as Corry Brokken, Lale Andersen, Cindy & Bert, Graham Bonney, and Carmela Corren. Notable hits penned by Blum include ‘Eine weiße Birke’ by Ivan Rebroff and ‘Wassermann und Fisch’ by France Gall, both released in 1970. In 1969-1970, Blum wrote the music to two single releases for a young Swedish girl called Agnetha Fältskog. In fact, it was not his only involvement with future ABBA stars, as he had also penned a composition for Benny Andersson’s rock band The Hep Stars some years before.

“Agnetha’s producer was also her fiancée at the time, Dieter Zimmermann. He took her to West-Berlin to record song material for the German market. I was called in to write some suitable songs for this young Swedish girl. One title was ‘Concerto d’amore’. Agnetha sang really well, in a style which I would describe as ‘cool’, exactly following the notes in the score. Unfortunately, the song wasn’t a hit. Perhaps, but I’m just guessing now, Germans were missing an element of emotion in her voice. Back then, audiences here loved foreign vocalists who sang in German. Zarah Leander, Siw Malmkvist, Roger Whittaker, Severine… Why? Well, Germans have a tendency to be very meticulous – too meticulous, sometimes; and when there is an artist from Holland or France simply singing his heart out without worrying too much about pronouncing all syllables correctly, it sounds sympathetic, charming, even romantic! Maybe also because she was lacking experience, Agnetha didn’t sound relaxed enough. She was pretty and a good vocalist too, but I would lie if I told you I saw a future world star in her at the time.”

Throughout the 1970s, Hans Blum continued being heavily in demand as a songwriter for artists from as different corners of the music spectrum as Ben Cramer, Joe Dassin, and Heintje Simons. In 1973, he penned ‘Jetzt geht die Party richtig los’ for Severine, which only managed sixth place at the Deutscher Schlagerwettbewerb (the follow-up of the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele), but became the French starlet’s single-biggest German hit; and, six years later, he teamed up with Fred Jay and Frank Farian to write one of Boney M’s signature hits, ‘El Lute’ – the melody of which actually was a remake of one of Blum’s instrumental compositions which had seen the daylight years before. Furthermore, he also composed Hildegard Knef’s classic ‘Der alte Wolf’ (1974).

“As with Alexandra a few years before, Hildegard’s album was ready, but her producer was still on the lookout for an appealing song to release as a single. When, one morning, he rang me about the matter, I saw my head in profile in the mirror while answering his call… and that was enough to give me the idea for a catchphrase: “Der alte Wolf wird langsam grau” (in English: ‘The old wolf is slowly turning grey’ – BT). During the daytime, I worked on a melody, but I was still pondering the remainder of the lyrics. Late in the evening, I went on my six-km daily walk, enjoying the hilly surroundings in Overath. The best ideas for lyrics often came to me when going for a walk in the neighbourhood. When I got back, opening the front door, I asked my wife to switch off the radio to avoid losing my concentration… and that’s how the remainder of the lyrics of ‘Der alte Wolf’ flowed from my pen!”

After having completely given up singing when the Hansen-Quartett finally broke up in 1961, Hans Blum made a return as a solo singer in the 1970s. His initial attempt, ‘Ebbe und Flut’ (1971), didn’t make its way onto the record charts, but success was to follow later that same decade. Was Hans Blum particularly looking for the spotlight in those years? “No, that was the last thing on earth I wanted! I have always been a family man, happy to be home by dinner time. Being a Schlager star would have cost me too much energy, especially as I was already over forty. Somehow, I had a sense that times were changing. More and more artists were writing their own material. Sure, I could have gone on for many more years composing songs for others, but it was obvious nonetheless that selling my songwriting output became more and more difficult. That is why I recorded ‘Ebbe und Flut’ myself. I liked Kurt Hertha’s lyrics – and it might not have been a commercial sound, but artistically speaking, it was a fine song.”

In a Hamburg recording studio with Hildegard Knef (1976)

For his 1974 release ‘Ich hab’ dein Knie geseh’n’, Blum took on the pseudonym Henry Valentino, dressing up with a fake moustache and top hat. The song was a hit in West Germany. “In a junk shop in downtown Cologne, I discovered an Edison-type phonograph, an early version of a gramophone player. It had a flaring horn… what a wonderful machine! On it, there was an Odeon record by Enrico Caruso – and it worked! This was irresistible and I took it home. That crackling 1920s recording gave me an idea. Why not create a song with a nostalgic mono sound in the choruses and modern stereo in the verses? A parody of a pre-World War II ragtime tune: I thought it was a nice gimmick. Record companies, however, thought otherwise. Nobody was even remotely interested. What else to do but to prove them all wrong by recording it myself? Thinking back of my Louis Armstrong imitations with the Hansen-Quartett, I decided to use this gravelly voice once more. Finally, one record company, CBS, were willing to give it a go for this one single release. I was hoping to fool the press and audience with my disguise, but not long after, when ‘Ich hab’ dein Knie geseh’n’ was high in the charts, a boulevard magazine found out who the real Henry Valentino was.”

Although Henry Valentino was no longer an effective disguise for Hans Blum, popular demand now dictated that more song material should follow. After several less successful singles, finally, in 1977, he managed to compose a new monster hit for his alter ego: ‘Im Wagen vor mir’, a duet with Uschi Peysang about the desire to make contact with someone in another car on the freeway. Helped by an effective melody, the single sold incredibly well, staying in the West German charts for an impressive eight months.

“Initially, I wanted to compose a chanson about the loneliness of living in those giant grey apartment blocks – people living side by side in big cities without knowing anything of one another. After working on the lyrics for some time, I adapted the idea slightly into a fictional dialogue between an older man and a young girl, each in their own car on the autobahn. On the road, we are alone and anonymous too. The man is day-dreaming about the young girl driving in the 2CV in front of him, while she starts feeling uncomfortable about that same car staying closely behind her for ages and ages. In the end, she exits the motorway to escape from his unwelcome attention, while he waves her goodbye, realising that he will never see her again or know anything of her. It was a fun song – a very simple tune which caught on in a way which I’d not expected. On my fiftieth birthday, I received a gold record for one million copies sold! It is one of my compositions which is still being played today – a real evergreen, and I have had to perform it in an endless number of television shows over the years.”

In 1987, ‘Im Wagen vor mir’ was given an unlikely new life, when punk rock band Die Toten Hosen recorded a cover version. Meanwhile, in the 1980s, Hans Blum’s output as a songwriter somewhat decreased, but the decade was not devoid of success. Firstly, he wrote a considerable number of new novelty songs for Henry Valentino, most notably ‘Schräge Musik’, in which he reflects on his experiences as a teenager in World War II, and ‘Engel in Palermo’, which, in a 2008 remix, was a success in discotheques across Europe. Moreover, Blum gave proof of having moved with the times, as he composed and arranged a pure synth-pop hit with ‘Fly with me to wonderland’, interpreted by Rocky M (1986). In the schlager genre, his song material was recorded by Ute Geller and Dorthe Kollo.

After an active career in music which lasted over fifty years, Blum managed to gradually scale back his work rate from the mid-1990s onwards. Still, he sits at his piano almost daily (“the music is still in me and needs a way out”, as he explains with a smile) – and if he does not, he is compiling CDs of his work or organising his impressive music archive. Looking back on his career, in which he composed nearly 1,000 songs, does he feel pride?

“Well, I’d rather say I’m proud of my wife, who has looked after me for all these years. If she hadn’t been at my side during times when the workload on my shoulders was too heavy, I would never reached the age of ninety… and I wouldn’t have had a career. Having said that, though, I’ve never really been interested in a career; I was just lucky to always have an audience which appreciated my melodies. Pride isn’t a word I feel comfortable with, but I am a thoroughly happy man – I feel happiness about still being with the same woman after seventy years and about having raised three children who all obtained their diplomas. Meanwhile, there are grandchildren… what more could one wish for? These are the things that really count in life.”

Hans at home with his beloved Inge (± 2008)

Hans Blum in the Eurovision Song Contest
As a songwriter, Hans Blum represented West Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest on four occasions; for three of these songs, he conducted the orchestra himself. His first participation came in 1965. After coming close in 1963, when his song for Heidi Brühl, ‘Ein schöner Tag’, finished second in the national selection, he had better luck two years later. A jury of experts chose Blum’s jazzy samba ‘Paradies, wo bist du?’, interpreted by Ulla Wiesner, to represent Germany at that year’s Eurovision Song Contest – or Grand Prix, as the competition has commonly been referred to in Germany –, held in Naples.

“Of course, the Grand Prix de la Chanson was an opportunity for any songwriter,” Hans Blum explains. “and when some artist’s manager asked me if I had some unpublished piece ready in a folder or if I could write something for their protégé, I was keen to have a try. Why not? If a song failed in the pre-selection, bad luck – next time better. On the other hand, in the 1960s, our national jury (usually presided over by Head of Entertainment of Hessischer Rundfunk, Hans-Otto Grünefeld – BT) always constituted a problem. In those years, there was an immensely popular song festival, the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele, but this jury of broadcasting directors disdained anything sounding too commercial. They felt the Grand Prix was an opportunity for them to counteract music which, in their eyes, was superficial and lacking quality.”

“Therefore, any songwriter who wanted to stand a realistic chance to represent Germany in Eurovision, had to present a song which, musically speaking, was the opposite of a Schlager… and with lyrics that somehow weren’t cheap and shallow. Little wonder that, in such circumstances, our Grand Prix entry usually didn’t feature in the charts – and that, in the international Eurovision final, we were doomed to fail. ‘Paradies, wo bist du?’ was a song which I specifically wrote to please the jury here in Germany. It’s not reflective of the music which sold well at the time – and that was probably the reason why it was picked!”

For ‘Paradies, wo bist du?’, Hans Blum wrote words and music himself, though, according to Eurovision’s official list of participants, the lyrics were co-written by Blum’s publisher Barbara Kist. Blum’s first Eurovision participation came one year prior to his big breakthrough as a successful songwriter for the German market with ‘Beiß nicht gleich in jeden Apfel’ in 1966. From 1964 onwards, however, he was fully focusing on his work as a composer, having given up his job of studio arranger. Even for his own work, he now often relied on others to write the arrangements. In the case of ‘Paradies, wo bist du?’, Blum conducted the studio orchestra, but the arrangement itself was written by Paul Biste. For the Eurovision performance, Biste extended the orchestration with an attractive brass arrangement.

Blum, commenting: “Apart from being a dear friend, Paul was an excellent musician and arranger. Writing the arrangements to many of my songs, he took much workload off my shoulders. Although I knew what I wanted the arrangements to sound like, I often lacked the energy to write out scores in their entirety. Quite soon, Paul and I developed a mutual understanding – somehow, he always knew exactly how to put my ideas into an arrangement… and although he didn’t have the ambition or inspiration to write songs himself, he was much better than me at deciding whether to put in a trombone or a woodwind instrument at any given point in a score. We were complementary: combining our different talents, we made a good team, which lasted for more than ten years! Paul was the ideal man to bring something extra to my Eurovision song – and he did just that!”

In the selection programme, which was held in Hamburg’s NDR Studios, all participating entries were accompanied by the NDR Tanz- und Unterhaltungsorchester, conducted by Alfred Hause – and, following the tradition of the preceding three editions of the contest, the conductor of the West German pre-selection also led the orchestra for the performance in the international final. Travelling along to Naples with his wife Inge, Hans Blum watched the contest as a member of the audience.

Ulla Wiesner in Naples, 1965

“In Naples, Alfred counted in the orchestra in a tempo which was perhaps a little too fast, but please don’t make too much of that, because he was a fantastic musician! We enjoyed a very good working relationship for many years. In the days of the Hansen-Quartett (Blum’s vocal group in the 1950s – BT), the orchestras of the various broadcasting services in Germany loved working with us – and especially at NWDR, later renamed the NDR, in Hamburg, where Alfred Hause and Franz Thon were kapellmeisters. More than anything, Hause was a master of tango, but he didn’t disdain Schlager music. It was wonderful to have Alfred as our conductor in Naples. He counted in the musicians as if he were conducting his Tanzorchester for a tango! I noticed right away he was a tad fast, but it didn’t ruin the performance in any way; it certainly wasn’t the reason we didn’t do well in the jury vote.”

In fact, ‘Paradies, wo bist du’ failed to pick up a single point – along with entries from three other countries. Fortunately, this last place did not harm Hans Blum’s career. Even then, he took it lightly: “A humiliation? No, no way! It wasn’t the first time Germany got no points – and it wasn’t the last time either. These things happen. An important lesson to anyone in the music business is to be gallant in defeat. I have always been a good loser. You’ve got to have this sportsman’s mentality. Perhaps, as a former soldier trained at the Heeresmusikschule, I was better prepared than others in dealing with disappointment. Every time you lose, learn from your mistakes and try to do better next time. For performers, though, it was harder. Bad results could seriously affect their careers. I really felt for Ulla. Many other countries were represented by their stars, but not Germany. Our experienced artists refused to participate. The result was that this Nachwuchsmädchen, a young girl without much experience in the business, was thrown to the lions. I’ve seen so many young artists – mostly girls – who were utterly miserable after a bad result in some festival. They simply couldn’t manage to put what had happened into its proper perspective.”

As a songwriter, Hans Blum was flown in on the day of the contest – and German television did not pay the hotel for more than one night. Understandably, Hans and his wife Inge were keen to spend some more time in Naples and decided to extend their stay at their own costs.

Backstage at the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest in Naples: Ulla Wiesner surrounded by two contestants from neighbouring countries: the Netherlands’ Conny van den Bos (left) and Lize Marke from Belgium

“We had a hard time finding a hotel for the extra night, though!. It turned out there was a military parade that day – thousands of veteran soldiers wearing their colourful outfits and plumed helmets filled the streets. In the end, a taxi driver said he knew a hotel which probably had a room available for us, Hotel Vesuvio. And he was right: at the reception, we were explained that the entire hotel was sold out, except for one bed which nobody wanted because it was in the room where Enrico Caruso had expired (the famous tenor died there in 1921). That room always remained empty! We said we weren’t intimidated by any of this at all – and so the two of us spent the night in the single bed where Caruso had drawn his last breath! The next day, the centre was much quieter and we had ample opportunity to do some sightseeing… and we shared a pizza, the best we’ve ever tasted!”

After coming third in the 1966 German pre-selection with ‘Das Zirkuskind’ for Margot Eskens, Hans Blum managed to convince the expert jury once more in 1967 with his composition ‘Anouschka’. It was interpreted by Inge Brück, a singer chosen beforehand by West German television to represent the country at Eurovision, to be held in Vienna that year. Brück had given proof of her ability to be successful in a competition format, as she had won first prize at the Rio de Janeiro Song Festival in 1966. Careful thought seems to have been given to create a winning formula, as the orchestration for ‘Anouschka’ was penned by Hans Hammerschmid, the arranger of ‘Merci chérie’ by Austria’s Udo Jürgens, the Eurovision winner the year before; Hans Blum himself, bolstered by his victory in the 1966 Schlager-Festspiele, conducted the Eurovision orchestra in Vienna.

“Yes, I was the conductor,” Blum recounts, “but I wasn’t really that involved in this entry. Again, I gave it a go and submitted a song – and the demo was really good. I can’t say I’m particularly proud of this piece, though; it’s nothing special and doesn’t rank among my best work. It was released on the label which had signed Inge Brück, Ariola; and the publishing rights went to Hans Rudolf Beierlein, who I usually didn’t work with either.”

Hans Blum with Inge Brück (1967)

In the days leading up to the contest in Vienna, in between rehearsals, Hans Blum was treated to a typical Austrian dinner in a Viennese wine bar by Beierlein: “He always wanted me to join his publishing company, but I never did; I preferred remaining independent. Undeterred, he invited Inge and me to join him that night in downtown Vienna. Over dinner, I spoke about some new composition which was about to be released; in fact, I had the 45-inch record with me. Beierlein was curious to hear it, but where could we find a gramophone, especially at this late hour? After having finished our meal, Beierlein took us on a ride through Vienna’s city-centre in a fiacre (a horse-drawn open carriage – BT). We asked the coachman if he happened to know a place with a gramophone player, but it seemed a hopeless case – by then, it was well after midnight! Still, the man said he knew someone who maybe could help out. After quite a long drive, we arrived in a narrow, cobbled street. Brrrr, the horses were halted.”

“While we were still chatting and joking amongst one another, all of a sudden the coach driver started shouting: “Alois, Alois, are you there?” He was extremely loud. We fell silent immediately. He must have woken up loads of people – Vienna was asleep! After some time, on the fourth floor of this humble apartment block, a window was opened… and the driver shouted in heavy Viennese dialect: “Alois, can we come upstairs to play a record?” He had to ask several times before the chap in the open window understood. In the end, he replied: “Wait, just one second, I will throw down the key for you!”, and a giant key as big as my forearm was thrown from the window. The driver opened the front gate, asking us to come in – and we followed him up the stairs, which, though we were trying to be really quiet, were squeaking heavily. Finally, on the fourth floor, a sleepy man in nightgown opened the door and showed us his gramophone… and there it was, an old-fashioned phonograph with a huge flaring horn – and it only played records at 78 rounds per minute! There we stood with our 45-inch single, while the coach driver and his friend went on arguing a little longer: “But you told me you had a gramophone player!” Hours had passed, but Beierlein still hadn’t heard my new song. We gave up and asked the driver to take us to our hotel, where we arrived in the early hours of the morning. It may sound like the scene from some slapstick movie, but I can assure you this is a true story from start to finish!”

In the end, all high hopes about doing well with ‘Anouschka’ were in vain, as the entry picked up a meagre seven votes, finishing joint-eighth among seventeen participating entries. Blum, who conducted a Eurovision orchestra for the first time, says rehearsals were fuzz-free. Didn’t he feel tense to stand up conducting an orchestra for so vast an audience of television viewers? Laughing: “No, I wasn’t nervous about conducting in Eurovision. I had been a studio arranger for over a decade. You don’t need the education of a classical conductor to lead an orchestra for a song written by yourself and without any tempo changes; all you need is the flair to stand up and do it!”

For the French-language release of ‘Anouschka’, Inge Brück’s Christian name was slightly adapted

According to Hans Blum, by the time of his third Eurovision participation in five years, in 1969, it was beginning to dawn on German television officials that Eurovision was not as highbrow as they were hoping it was; the 1968 festival was some sort of a watershed. “Was that the year when Cliff Richard took part with ‘Congratulations’? Can you believe it, it nearly won – and musically, speaking, that could have been a German march! And these Heads of Entertainment at the broadcasting services here in Germany were still trying to find a Eurovision song which fitted their own old-fashioned standards. Cliff Richard’s success made it a little easier for songwriters to compose in a style which was somewhat more commercial, but it wasn’t until ABBA that it was clear to everyone there was nothing sophisticated about Eurovision – a simple, effective pop song was enough to win it.”

After three years of internal selections, the 1969 West German Eurovision entry was picked in a live television programme, though the decision fell to an expert jury once more. Fending off competition from Peggy March and Rex Gildo, Siw Malmkvist won the ticket to the international final in Madrid with Hans Blum’s composition ‘Primaballerina’. In terms of lyrics as well as music, ‘Primaballerina’ was a resumption of ‘Harlekin’, Blum’s creation with which the experienced Swedish vocalist had won the Schlager-Festspiele the previous year. “Around that time, tunes with an Eastern European rhythm, the so-called Slawische Welle, were popular with music listeners… my hit for Alexandra, ‘Zigeunerjunge’, was a prime example of that; and, in a way, ‘Anouschka’ and ‘Primaballerina’ followed the same trend. Both were written in a flat key signature. It was a style of music I liked – and I wrote a lot of songs in that pattern in the 1960s. Siw Malmkvist was an excellent singer, but ‘Primaballerina’ was not good enough to make an impact, to be honest with you… just like ‘Anouschka’. On a positive note, it was good to see that the jury in Germany had the courage to vote for a real Schlager; as said, they must have felt that something had to change to avoid finishing near the bottom year after year.”

In Madrid, ‘Primaballerina’ finished mid-table (ninth among sixteen participating entries). Hans Blum, who had written the arrangement himself this time, conducted the orchestra, but rehearsals were easy – too easy for him to remember anything in particular. He has more lasting memories of the Spanish organisation.

Siw Malmkvist on the Eurovision stage in Madrid, 1969 – picture taken from the Swedish single release of ‘Primaballerina’

“These were the days of the Franco dictatorship… and it was obvious Spanish authorities saw Eurovision as the best possible advertising campaign for their country. The situation was similar in song festivals in South America in which I took part. Huge amounts of money were spent to keep the participants happy, but you weren’t allowed to go anywhere without police escorts, keeping you away from people in the streets. In Madrid, one night, all delegations were invited to a lavish supper in Madrid’s townhall. Soup was served, but first, a general with lots of gold on his shoulders held a speech – and beforehand, we had been explained in various languages that we weren’t supposed to start eating until he sat down; but this speech lasted… it lasted an eternity. There we were, all nations of Europe gathered in Madrid, having to endure a speech in a language they didn’t understand. By the time he was done, our soup was stone-cold, but at least we hadn’t upset our organisers’ protocol…”

On the evening of the concert, Spanish organisers were not taking any chances. To avoid delays in the programme, backstage, all conductors were ordered to stand in line in order of appearance. “We had had to do the same in rehearsals,” Blum adds. “It was incredibly boring having to stand there, doing nothing, for ages on end. At some point, I decided I needed a breath of fresh air and went outside. After some time, Hans-Otto Grünefeld (Germany’s Head of Delegation – BT) came storming out, grabbing me by my collar with his left hand and with the other by my waistband to drag me back inside. He was hysterical! Like a puppet, I was put back in line, where I found two conductors waiting in front of me… I knew exactly what I was doing, but, anyway, it was good for having a laugh.”

After having won the ticket to represent West Germany in the international Eurovision final on three occasions in the 1960s, Hans Blum failed to win his country’s pre-selection in the following fifteen years, though – in his five attempts – he came very close twice: in 1971 with ‘Ich glaube an der Liebe auf der Welt’ for Katja Ebstein (second place) and in 1975 with Mary Roos and ‘Eine Liebe ist wie ein Lied’ (third). Blum even had a song in the running in the 1973 Netherlands’ selection, in which Ben Cramer performed four titles – but Blum’s composition ‘Melodie’ came last, and in fact he was not credited as a songwriter, perhaps in an effort to avoid upsetting Dutch sensitivities about potentially selecting a song originating in Germany.

By 1986, the Grand Prix Eurovision in West Germany had become virtually synonymous with the name of Ralph Siegel, who, since 1976, had represented his country as a composer five times, picking up a first German victory with Nicole and ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’ (1982) in the process. In the 1986 pre-selection, four out of twelve competing songs were penned by Siegel. Hans Blum had one title in competition: ‘Über die Brücke geh’n’, performed by Ingrid Peters – an artist under contract with Siegel’s publishing company… and Peters won, in what was a personal triumph for her after two failed attempts at winning the pre-selection in previous years.

Asked about the genesis of his song, Hans Blum explains: “At that time, Gorbachev had just come to power in the USSR; in Germany, his accession created profound hope that the East-West relations were about to improve. The communist regime in East-Germany seemed to be crumbling. Could it be? Could the Berlin Wall come down? I can’t say I expected that, but I had a dream… a vision. There was something in the air. “Über die Brücke geh’n” (in English: “Crossing the bridge” – BT) was written with that emotion in the back of my head. “Deine Hand gibt mir ein Gefühl von Vertrauen / Laß uns beginnen und eine Brücke bauen” (“Your hand gives me a sense of trust / Let us begin and build a bridge” – BT). I’m sure these were lyrics which many people in Germany could identify with; the core of the message was that we should bring down walls without war, simply by showing the other side our good intentions. Without a doubt, this is the best of my four Eurovision songs – and by far the one I’m most proud of, until this day!”

“The song wasn’t written for Eurovision and not specifically for Ingrid Peters either. It was a stroke of luck that she agreed to do it, because, with her experience as a performer, she was able to transmit the message to a wider audience. Only after having offered the song to her, I learnt that she had a contract with Ralph Siegel. ‘Über die Brücke geh’n’ was released on Ralph’s Jupiter label. A recording was made in Munich with Rainer Pietsch doing the arrangement. I gave him a demo with the entire arrangement already there; he followed this first version exactly, extending it with string and brass elements. Rainer was a very good musician, so I was happy that he did that part of the job. Still, it was my song and, after we had won the German final, I put my name forward to conduct the orchestra in Eurovision as I had done in the 1960s. Being the composer, I knew exactly what I wanted the orchestra to sound like. That was fine with Ralph; there was never any discussion on that subject.”

Hans Blum with Ingrid Peters after winning the West German Eurovision pre-selection in Munich

The 1986 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Bergen, Norway. As in his previous three Eurovisions, Blum took his wife Ingetraut with him – and this time, they had reason to throw a party, regardless of the result. “That week, Inge and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. We flew to Oslo, after which a train took us across the fjords to Bergen on Norway’s western coast. I had been to Sweden before, when I recorded a single with Benny Andersson and The Hep Stars in the 1960s, but this was our first time in Norway – and we were thrilled at the scenery. We were all happy to be given the chance to visit this wonderful country. I was impressed to find how sensitive to music the Norwegian people actually were. Everywhere in Bergen, bands of street musicians were playing to the visitors’ entertainment. The weather was good, the Norwegian salmon tasted excellent… what more could one wish for?”

In the 1960s, all music in the Eurovision Song Contest was played live, but by 1986, backing tracks were allowed. The playback track of ‘Über die Brücke geh’n’ contained the rhythm elements as well as extensive keyboard programming, but all strings and brass were played live by the Norwegian orchestra.

“It was the radio orchestra of Norway’s national broadcaster,” Blum remembers, correctly. “Eurovision orchestras were always excellent ensembles – and the Norwegians were no exception. We could have done it entirely live, but backing tracks were a sign of the times; around that time, in our business, drum computers and synthesizers were the talk of the town. Personally, I never really got used to them. Essentially, though, my job as a conductor in Bergen was carefree.”

“All of a sudden, when the general rehearsal was due, we heard about the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl for the first time. Immediately, the entire atmosphere changed; all elation and enthusiasm seemed gone. In a way, the message of our song was given an extra dimension… but it wasn’t to be. According to the bookmakers, we were among the favourites, but perhaps jurors in other countries didn’t take the trouble to read the lyrics. Still, we finished eighth, which I was perfectly happy with. The proudest moment came when the UK jury voted: This is London calling – Germany, twelve points! I was beside myself with joy, and so was Ingrid! Britain is a country with an enormous musical tradition. It meant a lot to me to receive the maximum vote from them. We celebrated these points enthusiastically!”

Ingrid Peters on the Eurovision stage in Bergen, Norway

With the eighth place in Bergen, Hans Blum closed the book on his international Eurovision participations. He tried his luck in the German final one more time, with ‘Weil er dich liebt’ in 1988, interpreted by his protégé Ute Geller, but in vain. Blum’s last involvement came in 1996 and 1997, when NDR Television commissioned him to compose the introduction tune as well as all further incidental music to the German Eurovision pre-selection shows, held in Hamburg and Lübeck respectively.

Looking back on his involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest, Hans Blum raises questions about the format: “The Grand Prix was designed as a competition between songwriters, but in practice it has always proved impossible to distinguish between the quality of a composition and the performance. The most mediocre of songs can be turned into a success by a charismatic vocalist, while, on the other hand, a brilliant composition doesn’t attract the attention it deserves with a below-par performance. Even in the 1960s, this was how it worked. For Germany, I lay my head on the chopping block four times, with varying degrees of success, but the impact on my career in music was minimal. It was good fun to participate, but nothing more.”

“Nowadays, we aren’t allowed to say Grand Prix, as apparently even in German the term Eurovision Song Contest has become obligatory. I have lost interest since they did away with the orchestra. Musically, it would have been much better to keep it, not only for cultural reasons, but also because, ever since, all entries seem to have the same, interchangeable rhythms and sound… and there are pyrotechnics and dancers bouncing all over the stage – but attractive melodies are rare. It’s become unbearable to watch. Worst of all, perhaps, virtually everyone sings in English, but that’s a development not limited to Eurovision; you hardly ever hear a song in German on the radio these days. One can only hope future generations treat their mother language with more love.”

Hans and Inge Blum backstage at the 1996 German Eurovision selection programme in Hamburg

Other artists on Hans Blum
Dutch artist Ben Cramer extensively worked with Hans Blum in the first half of the 1970s, recording several of his compositions: “I have only the best of memories of working with Hans Blum. He is someone who is completely absorbed by music – and, furthermore, a very accessible and humble man. Together, we recorded some wonderful material, notably ‘Song of Olympia’, a hymn written on the occasion of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. That session was in a studio in West-Berlin overlooking the Berlin Wall; given that it was a song with a message of peace, the lyrics acquired an even deeper meaning to me. The best song I ever recorded, was also composed by Hans: ‘Ich hab’ so lang gesucht nach dir’. In 1973, when I represented the Netherlands in the Eurovision Song Contest, four pieces were in contention, one of them written by him: ‘Melodie’. Unfortunately, it wasn’t picked… I felt it would have been the strongest choice.” (2020)

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Hans Blum in four sessions, April/May 2020.
  • Thanks to Ben Cramer for his additional comments about Hans Blum.
  • A playlist including most of the songs discussed in the above can be found by clicking this link.
  • Shorter career overviews of Hans Blum in German can be found by following this link and this link.
  • A radio interview with Hans Blum (in German) from 2004 can be found by following this link.
  • A fraction of Hans Blum’s arrangements can be found by following this link.
  • Photos courtesy of Hans Blum, Christian Knauer, Egon Wolff, Markus Luem, Bill Holland, and Ferry van der Zant. If you find the publication of any other of these photos infringes on copyright policies in Germany or any other country, please send a message to the owner of this website by using the contact form.
  • Thanks due to Edwin van Gorp for putting the manuscript and photos online.

  

Songs conducted
1967: Anouschka
1969: Primaballerina
1986: Über die Brücke geh'n