Flemish singer Liliane scored some hits in her native Belgium before being whisked off to Paris in 1968 by Claude François. The French star gave her a makeover, a new name – Liliane Saint Pierre – and a fresh career.
She was born Liliane Keuninckx on 18 December 1948 in the Flemish town of Diest, Belgium.
As a teenager she took part in a series of mini-song contests for fun, with no plans for a career in music. However, in 1964, she was spotted by manager Milo De Coster, who signed her up and launched her later that year with We gotta stop, a Flemish version of an American country and western song Stop and think it over, which reached number five in the Belgian charts in the summer of 1964.
Waarom followed it into the top 20 that autumn, and Verboden wensen (a cover of Connie Francis’ Wishing it was you) provided another success the following year.
In 1965, Liliane represented her country at the Knokke Cup song festival, competing against the likes of Adrienne Poster for the UK, Suzie for the Netherlands and Iva Zanicchi for Italy. The contest helped establish Liliane’s name across Europe, and she issued her first single in French, Quand vient la nuit, that year. (The B-side, Pourquoi, was a translation of her hit Waarom.)
The release was followed by the fan favourite Vivre comme dans les livres in 1966. (The flip was a terrific version of German singer Marion’s Er ist wieder da, retitled Il est revenu.)
She went on to stretch her wings further – though not her talent – by venturing into the German market. After appearing at Hamburg’s Star-Club, she jettisoned any cool points she may have amassed with the release in 1967 of the schlocky Leider, leider, leider, a song even she didn’t care much for. (It is somewhat reminiscent of Swedish singer Siw Malmkvist’s German Schlager hit Ein neues Spiel, ein neues Glück.)
A further German single, Schuld bist du daran, soon followed and proved a vast improvement.
An appearance at the 1968 Canzonissima song contest with the classy, decidedly grown-up ballad Wat moet ik doen proved a turning point in her career. It was then that she was spotted by French star Claude François, who offered her a contract with his Flèche label.
François had very definite ideas about her career – and her style. He had her hair cut short and bleached, and renamed her Liliane Saint Pierre, as he thought it sounded more French, before launching her in France.
She released a string of EPs and 45s, many of which included covers of international hits. Though this had been the norm for the yé-yé girls a few years earlier, the practice had become less common by this point, but no matter.
First up was 1968’s Je suis une fille toute seule, a version of US singer Sandy Posey’s Single girl. A French version of her own Wat moet ik doen – retitled Nous sommes bien peu de chose – also featured on the disc, alongside the rather marvellous Quand ce jour-là and Rentrer chez moi, her take on Motown girl Chris Clark’s I want to go back there again.
She also recorded a one-off disc for the Italian market, Ma se questa volta.
The French follow up, issued later the same year, proved just as strong. It led with the original J’entends une symphonie, and included a version of PP Arnold’s Angel of the morning (Au revoir et à demain) and a return visit to Sandy Posey’s back catalogue in the form of Je retire tout (I take it back).
A search began to find the best the rest of the world had to offer for her subsequent EPs.
Plus jamais, a version of Tom Jones’s (It looks like) I’ll never fall in love, backed with Je ne suis pas un bonbon (Lulu’s Me, the peaceful heart), was issued in 1968, and Si loin des yeux, si loin du cœur, a cover of Italian singer Fausto Leali’s Un’ ora fa, was picked for the title track of her first French-language release of 1969. The EP also featured Un ombre sur mon cœur (Cilla Black’s Surround yourself with sorrow), Parce que tu me quittes (Mary Hopkin and Sergio Endrigo’s runner up in that year’s San Remo song festival, Lontano dagli occhi) and La route du bonheur (Dionne Warwick’s Do you know the way to San José).
Further 45s comprised Chanson sentimentale pour une fille sentimentale (Herman’s Hermits’ My sentimental friend) in 1969 and Quand c’est fini, c’est fini in 1970.
Her period with Flèche remains her best, and her success led to appearances at Paris’ prestigious Olympia venue, opening for French star Antoine. In a somewhat unlikely move, she also appeared on television alongside Jimi Hendrix.
Her time with the Flèche label lasted until 1970 when a fall out between her manager – whose son she had married – and Claude François saw her return to Belgium. Nous resterons unis, her take on The Brotherhood of Man’s United we stand, proved her final release for the label. (Fans tend to prefer to flip the disc over for the cooler Dieu seul sait, a version of The Grassroots’ Heaven knows.)
Fortunately for the singer, she had continued to release material in Flemish and hadn’t been forgotten in her homeland. However, she took the surprising move of singing as part of the Glory halleluja 2000 project in churches.
In 1974 she enjoyed a pop comeback with Als je gaat, and in 1987 she represented Belgium on home turf at the Eurovision song contest with Soldiers of love, which finished a disappointing 11th.
In the 1990s she had another hit with Ik wil alles met je doen, a cover of Dusty Springfield’s In private, and guested on boy band Get Ready’s 1997 hit Geef me tijd.
More recently, she has been found on the juries of a number of pop reality shows in Belgium, and now lives with the widower of fellow Belgian star Ann Christy.
She continues to record to this day.