Raymond Lefevre: Maestro of easy listening

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Radio listeners who grew up in the Sixties will recall "Ame Câline" ("Soul Coaxing"), the haunting orchestral instrumental which became a staple of the pirate station Radio Caroline's playlist. Arranged, conducted and recorded by the orchestra leader Raymond Lefèvre and issued on the Major Minor label, which had close ties with Caroline, "Ame Câline" became a huge international hit in 1968.

Lefèvre's lush arrangement of "Ame Câline" – composed by the singer-songwriter Michel Polnareff – went around the world during the easy listening craze which coincided with the wider availability of stereo record players in the late Sixties. The maestro reached the British charts with two of his many instrumental albums – Raymond Lefèvre in 1967 and Raymond Lefèvre Volume 2 in 1968 – and was one of the triumvirate of French arrangers and conductors – the others were his friends and collaborators Paul Mauriat and Franck Pourcel – who found lasting success as far afield as Japan.

"Mauriat was into writing for the horn section, whereas I was more interested in the string instruments," said Lefèvre, "since I had worked with Pourcel who was a specialist of that kind of thing, with the violins and harmonies. I am by nature a romantic composer, I make soft, sentimental music."

Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Lefèvre was a ubiquitous figure in French popular culture, working with the Egyptian born-singer Dalida, conducting the orchestra on prime-time television shows, and composing soundtracks for film comedies starring Louis de Funès, most notably the hugely successful series of "Gendarme de Saint Tropez" (Gendarme of St Tropez) films.

Born in Calais in 1929, Lefèvre picked up the flute as a child and was accepted at the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris after unknowingly sitting the entrance exam at 16. "My teacher didn't tell me and thought I would fail but I passed," he recalled. The young Lefèvre found himself lodgings in Paris and earned his rent playing the piano in Pigalle clubs and cabaret while attending classes at the Conservatory.

For a while, he played big band jazz with Hubert Rostaing but, after getting married, found regular employment as the pianist with the orchestra conducted by Bernard Hilda at the Club des Champs-Elysées. In the mid-Fifties, he began arranging and composing and landed a deal with Eddie Barclay which lead to a six-year stint with Dalida and work with other acts signed to the hip Barclay label, such as the American actor Eddie Constantine. He also scored a minor US hit with an instrumental version of "The Day the Rains Came" (the English-language adaptation of Gilbert Bécaud's "Le Jour Ou La Pluie Viendra").

In 1957, he began writing film music and this sideline became lucrative when he struck up a partnership with the director Jean Girault after collaborating with Paul Mauriat on the soundtrack for the moderately successful Faites Sauter La Banque! (Rob The Bank, 1964) starring Louis de Funès. Lefèvre and Mauriat began work together on "Douliou, Douliou, Saint-Tropez", the title track for Le Gendarme de Saint Tropez but Lefèvre completed the rest of the soundtrack himself.

The comedy about the hapless cop with delusions of adequacy became one of the biggest-grossing films of all time in France and launched a franchise which ran to five sequels. None had much impact on the Anglo-Saxon markets despite attempts at broadening its international appeal in 1965 with Le Gendarme à New York.

Lefèvre's soundtrack compositions fitted every scene like a glove. He was proudest of his work on Jo (Joe The Busybody, 1971, again with Girault and de Funès). "MGM were financing the film so I did a 'suspense' theme over a jazzy rhythm, a sort of poor man's Hitchcock," he said.

In the Eighties, Lefèvre made regular appearances in Japan, where his orchestral music had always been popular. "France has lost that tradition," he said. "You turn on the radio and all you hear is singers." He recorded his last album in 2001.

Pierre Perrone

Raymond Lefèvre, arranger, composer, conductor: born Calais, France 20 November 1929; married (one son); died Seine-Port, France 27 June 2008.