Something strange happened to Philippe Robrecht as he crouched shut in Inishbofin, a small island with only 170 inhabitants off the Atlantic coast of Ireland: he became, again, a pop star.
The 55-year-old musician and singer hadn’t made an album in nearly a decade and was forgotten in his native Belgium when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Ireland last year.
He and his wife supplemented their income on the island, their home since 2017, by selling eggs and fish to neighbors.
Then Robrecht rediscovered his muse and wrote and recorded two double albums in his home studio. And a Belgian television talent show featured one of his old hits and catapulted it to number one on the charts.
“It is quite unusual. It has never happened before, ”he said this week.
The show, called Love for Music, featured another artist’s version of Robrecht’s 1992 song Magie, or Magic, in February. The cover version went to number three on the charts, only to be dwarfed by Robrecht original, which went to number one.
“People liked the new version, but turned out to be more excited about the original. There were many comments, press, radio, a storm of people sending things through social networks “.
The resurgence of fame coincided with a burst of creativity that resulted in Robrecht producing two double albums, titled 2020 and 2021.
2020, a mix of 20 new and old songs in Dutch, was widely broadcast in Belgium and the Netherlands. Robrecht plans to release 2021, a mix of 21 new and old tracks in English, this week. It has traditional Irish influences and pop, especially in song. No craic, about loneliness and the difficulties of confinement.
Robrecht is pleased and somewhat baffled by his resurgence, as even in his heyday of the 1990s, when he made nine albums and toured with his band, he did not pursue publicity. “I never squeezed the lemon when it came to popularity. I pushed him a little away from me. There was nothing else I wanted to do except play with my band. “
Magie, who recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, made him a radio favorite, but after the 1990s, Robrecht fell into disrepute.
“I kept my focus on music. I wrote songs for musicals, campaigns, tributes. Music is an art, a passion. Showbiz around him wasn’t my thing. As a person, he was a bit discreet and not very accessible. “
Regular visitors to Ireland, in 2017 he and his wife, Leen moved to Inishbofin, a windswept bucolic island that derives its name from Inishbofin, Irish for White Cow Island. Seven miles off the coast of Connemara, it is a haven for seals and hikers and for decades has attracted writers such as Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Cecil Day Lewis, and Seamus Heaney.
The couple sell leftover eggs from their chickens. “Some people on the island go through a box. It is not a business, but something typical of the island. You do all the different things to keep costs down and make ends meet. “
Robrecht, who also worked as a teacher at the local school, has a recording studio and before the pandemic she made pub appearances. “What the confinement did was push me to dedicate a lot of time and dedicate myself to writing songs.” On the albums, Robrecht played guitar, bass, banjo, and keyboard and invited Irish and Belgian musicians to play the flute, violin, and other instruments.
It’s philosophical about whether inspiration strikes again. “I am just a writer. Either the songs come or they don’t. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism