Eddie Barclay

Music impresario with a keen eye for talent
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The Independent Online

Edouard Ruault (Eddie Barclay), composer, conductor and producer: born Paris 26 January 1921; nine times married; died Paris 13 May 2005.

Eddie Barclay became the most celebrated music impresario in post-war Europe, who popularised the music of performers including Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Mireille Mathieu and Sacha Distel. He was also a composer and conducted his own orchestra.

But his knowledge of music was at first somewhat superficial. He was born Edouard Ruault, son of a waiter and a post-office clerk. Around the age of 15, he started playing the piano "by ear", with enthusiasm but little accuracy. His first instrument was a pianola, that refuge of all who aspire to be virtuosi without too much effort.

His parents opened their own café in Paris, opposite the Gare de Lyon. Young Edouard helped out as a waiter. But as his pianola skills improved, he became the café pianist. He was crazy about jazz and after the Second World War, became familiar, through the Hot Club de France, with French idols like Stéphane Grappelli and Boris Vian. Visiting Americans brought a more varied jazz influence, and the discotheque phenomenon. So it was Edouard Ruault who launched the first disco in Europe.

He soon changed his name to the fashionably un-French Eddie Barclay. He founded his own jazz club and in 1949 started the Blue Star record label. At once he displayed his keen eye for talent by signing Eddie Constantine, who went on to become a film star. Barclay's first song hit, "Laura", was created by Don Byas and his smooth tenor sax. His band attracted American musicians like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and later on Quincy Jones, a great arranger. Sacha Distel became his first crooner.

Nineteen fifty-five was an important year for Barclay. His American contacts in Paris raved about a new recording technique, the LP. Barclay at once set off for New York and brought back 60 moulds for his first pressings, which produced a record of Bach Preludes and Fugues. Within the first 10 days it had sold over 10,000 copies.

Another Fifties success was Barclay's own number, made popular by Renée Lebas, "Tire l'Aiguille", a sort of semi-comic "Stitch, Stitch, Stitch" with the simple refrain of "Lai-lai-lai, tire l'aiguille". The lyric, if it can be called that, was all Barclay's, but the music was written with the help of Emil Stern on the harmony. This kind of technical collaboration was to become standard in Barclay's compositions. His charming "Valse des Lilas" ("Lilac Waltz", 1954) was made musically viable by Michel Legrand. His best-known hit "Un Enfant de la Balle" ("An Old Trouper", 1956) was a musical collaboration with Philippe Gérard.

It was Barclay's talent for commercialisation that propelled his best compositions. He was the first French music-maker to take advantage of radio and later television. Through such astute management of his affairs, he had built up a fortune before selling out to Philips Polygram in 1979.

In 1970 Barclay was introduced to the delights of St Tropez by Brigitte Bardot. After he had sold his label to Polygram in 1979, he bought land for a house and his own private heliport at Ramatuelle, a short drive from "St Trop". The region had become a playground for the famous and the very rich. For a few enchanted years, before the day-trippers started arriving, it was a romantic paradise, where all Barclay's stars and vocal groups came to sunbathe and party - Léo Ferré, Michel Sardou, Nicoletta, Jean Ferrat, Aznavour, Alain Bashung, Rachid Taha, Quincy Jones and Maxime Le Forestier.

Eddie Barclay's middle name might well have been Bluebeard. Yet his nine marriages and eight divorces left no bitter after-taste. There was no acrimony in his alimony, which is surely an indication of a certain rare generosity in his nature. His last marriage was in June 2002, at the age of 81.

James Kirkup