This is an updated version of Chris West’s 2017 study of the Eurovision Song Contest and how it fits in with the history of modern Europe. It takes us up to (but doesn’t mention) the 2020 Competition that never was. I love Eurovision, some of my earliest memories are of being allowed to stay up late to watch it. A UK entrant marked the first time I went into a record shop alone and purchased a single (my older sister was stood at the door) and that was Lulu’s “Boom Bang A Bang”. I reviewed the 2016 semi-finals here where I called the eventual winner Ukraine “not particularly listenable”, showing once again it’s the annual festival of the impossible-to-predict and I’ve read a couple of Eurovision themed books before – “The Official History” by John Kennedy O’ Connor and “The Complete Companion” co-written by amongst others Paul Gambaccini and Tim Rice. This book is where we stash our Eurovision score cards each year, now going back to 1999.
If it looks like I might be a bit of an obsessive, let me tell you there are many millions more so than me, people who actually travel to the now massive stadiums each year, knowing all the songs before the shows and can recall instantly who came third in 1984 (well, actually I do know that, because just writing it made me want to look it up- the answer is Spain, but maybe some of you already knew that!)
Chris West, however, is offering here a very different slant. There is the obsessive fan lurking under there but really he’s in it here for the history. He sees it as a very political institution which reflects Europe’s historical patterns. (We’re not talking voting for your neighbours here, which he does not think is as prevalent as its detractors claim). He takes a wider view than the other books I have mentioned, in fact, the UK gets fairly scant attention because here it is not taken seriously enough and does not tap into what’s going on, as a number of the best winners and Chris’ personal favourites have tended to do.
Each year is given a few pages and pretty equal amount of attention is given to the competition itself and events and trends in Europe during those twelve months, with some of the concerns, triumphs and failures being reflected by the entrants or represented by the results. To take an example, the UK seems to have got it right on only a couple of occasions which led to victory each time, Sandie Shaw, who, (the artist rather than the song) conveyed Swinging London of 1967 and Katrina & The Wave’s anthemic “Love Shine A Light” which caught the mood of Europe and so won impressively.
To be honest, the songs West tends to focus on are the ones that passed me by. It seems I’m watching for the spectacle rather than the politics but his view was fascinating backed up by the history (which, admittedly, when we are dealing with the workings of the EU at times I felt a little dry).
In a conclusion the author explains why Europe should perhaps be more like the Eurovision Song Contest which I found myself agreeing with. This is an interesting read which brought the contest right up to date. I think I’ll still continue to stuff my score sheets in the more trivial “Companion” but I welcomed this look at the more serious side which attempts to stick true to the reasons why the contest came into being in 1956.
The paperback edition of Eurovision! I read was published in 2020 by Melville House.
The Best Of: Get Up And Boogie – Silver Convention (Hot 1994)
It’s to Germany we go for this slab of unadulterated guilty disco pleasure and these under-rated early stars of the Euro-Disco music canon. Silver Convention were the brainchild of two producers Michael Kunze and Silvester Levay whose use of synthesized disco predates what came out of Munich by the more famous pairing of Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer.
In the 1970’s we liked to put faces to our acts, anonymous production teams were never going to cut it so a trio of singers were put together to represent the vocals of Silver Convention. Over time, the girls evolved from background singers to much more of a girl group, even representing Germany in the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, but the vocals continued to take a less important role than the production and were often little more than a chant. There was world-wide success for a short period of time, mainly three albums out of a five studio album career . I am sure they are the only act ever to take part in the annual Eurovision extravaganza having previously scored an American number 1 pop hit. (In the event they didn’t win Eurovision coming a middle of the table 8th in a year when France took the prize). This fifteen track CD represents many of their finest moments.
Kunze and Levay still working together after all these years
In the mid 90’s Hot Productions re-released for the mainly American market Best Of compilations from artists many of whom were making their first appearance in CD format. I bought this CD in Miami which is where the label originated from. Disco stars such as The Ritchie Family, D C LaRue, Carol Douglas, George McCrae, Divine and a number of artists produced in the UK by Ian Levine were recognised and many of these CDs have become quite collectable. Amazon has this CD listed new for £78.99. In the UK a vinyl compilation from 1977 reached the Top 40 album charts. More readily available currently is a double CD from the Dutch Smith & Co label from 2003 called “The Very Best Of..” which does have more tracks but opts for the shorter single releases rather than the full-length versions of the disco classics we have here.
Sylvester Levay, from former Yugoslavia, arrived in Munich in 1972 and teamed up with Michael Kunze, Czech born, who had grown up in Southern Germany and studied in Munich. The two formed a song-writing team and scored their first German chart-topper in 1970 with a song called “Du” by Peter Maffray, the biggest German language song of that year. International success came about when they made a record initially as Silver Bird Convention.
That track, a delightful piece of Euro-Disco entitled “Save Me” was recorded using backing vocalists including Roberta Kelly, who would go on to work with the German productions of Donna Summer and have a Giorgio Moroder produced career of her own including the great Euro-hit single “Zodiacs” in 1978 and even put out a Disco gospel album. At a music convention, one Pete Waterman, then working in promotion at Magnet Records picked up on the track and the shortened name act was signed to the label in the UK. This resulted in a Top 30 UK hit in mid-1975 some months before Donna Summer put Munich on the musical map with “Love To Love You Baby”. It also scored well in Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands.
Considering Levay and Kunze were primarily songwriters they were not going to win any awards with the lyrics of this song which are basically “Baby save me, save me I am falling in love”. Maybe to protect his song-writing reputation (?) Kunze used the pseudonym Stephan Prager for the first two albums. “Save Me” was distinctly wordy compared to the next hit which blew the whole Silver Convention concept sky-high. “Fly Robin Fly” kicks off this album in its full length 7 minutes and 44 seconds glory.
A bass line which I have always found a little chilling moves into soaring strings and the lyrics which contains a total of six words repeated in various combinations “Fly/Robin/Right/Up/To/ The/Sky. It’s the string arrangement that has it though as it rises and descends with the speed and accuracy of the robin onto the worm. The echoey vocals with the slight Germanic accent combine brilliantly and form the blueprint of Silver Convention. In New York, the Disco scene was kicking off and this became one of its early huge hits crossing over to the American pop charts where it topped the charts for three weeks towards the end of 1975 and won the Grammy for best R&B Instrumental Performance. They were the first German act to top the American charts and Euro-Disco was born. It was a huge international hit and topped the charts in Norway and made the Top 3 in, amongst other markets, their homeland, Belgium and Canada. In the UK it went a couple of places higher than their debut reaching #28.
That earlier track, “Save Me” is up next and is less electronic sounding and features a sprightly saxophone solo. My seven-inch single of “Fly Robin Fly” morphed in its last few seconds into “I Like It” which was the B-Side in the UK to that single although on their first album this track preceded it. Here it follows “Save Me”. By the release of these tracks Silver Convention had become Penny Maclean, Linda G Thompson and Jackie Carter, the latter being the only remaining vocalist from the “Save Me” sessions. The quality is maintained with another track from that debut album “Another Girl” which is richer in melody and features the lovely German “V” sound when they sing “Woman”. This is Euro-Disco combined with the sound Barry White perfected for Love Unlimited with just a hint of Abba. Once again the strings vie for dominance over the girl’s harmonies and spoken interludes and this is one of my favourites from the group. I think with hindsight and the explosion of Euro-Disco music which came afterwards from the likes of Boney M, Cerrone, Baccara etc it’s easy to forget how different this all sounded. The album topped the Billboard R&B Charts (certainly the first German act to do so) and reached number 10 in the US pop charts. The “All Music Guide To Soul” rates the album five stars and describes it as having “a uniquely European take on American soul-pop and disco. Arguably the group’s most essential release. “Save Me” is a dance classic.”
They had some reputation to maintain for its follow-up. Lead track from the second album “Get Up And Boogie” is just a tad irritating. It does work better in its full length version included here as you get electric piano solos and good bass work. In the single version the beat is a bit lumbering, the girls’ vocals sound a bit whiney and the “That’s Right” male voice sample makes the whole thing a bit stop-start. The record-buying public gave it a thumbs up and any fears that the group might have one-hit-wonder European novelty status in the US were allayed when it just missed out on being their second chart-topper, getting to number 2. It became their biggest hit in the UK reaching number 7, topped the charts in Canada and made the top 10 worldwide including The Netherlands and Spain.
There were a couple of better tracks from the second album included on this CD. “San Francisco Hustle” is their entry into the geographical hustle stakes which, a year on from Van McCoy introducing us to the dance had hit variations of “The Latin Hustle” “The Spanish Hustle” and was still with us in 1978 when Hi-Tension gave us “The British Hustle”. The San Francisco version provided a very attractive track, although maybe too slow to dance the hustle? It’s a melody-rich track which could have provided another hit, as could “You Got What It Takes”, which once again has that “Voman” pronunciation which always appeals to me.
Their record labels went for “No No Joe” as the next single. It’s a nod towards the sexualisation of disco that had gone mainstream following the huge success of “Love To Love You Baby”. It was probably the same decision making that led to their UK label putting out the album (and a repackaged first album) with handcuffed naked female cover art. For some reason handcuffs had been an image associated with the band since the first album. This caused much publicity with Woolworths refusing to stock the album. The solution was to overlay the cover with splashes of white to cover up anything deemed offensive but actually to make the whole thing more tantalising for those interested. I think it could have been possible to pick off the overlaid white, but I’m not sure. It’s not even easy to find the artwork for these covers nowadays, even on the internet as they were soon phased out, but I had a vinyl copy. In the UK “No No Joe” wasn’t going to attract much radio-play and so was double A-sided with earlier track “Tiger Baby” but it underachieved in most markets.
Third long player “Madhouse” was promoted as a disco concept album, with tracks loosely linked around a “world is a madhouse” theme. It had a poem on the back cover which attempted to link the tracks and was a funkier effort. The 7 minute title track (not included here) felt similar to what Norman Whitfield was doing with Rose Royce and Undisputed Truth but with the Munich strings and German accented vocals. The best track on show was actually the mid-tempo “Everybody’s Talkin’ Bout Love” which brought back the lushness of a Love Unlimited type track and was far more of a song than we’d had from them before. In the UK it reached number 25.
By this time the group’s personnel had changed. Levay and Kunze were still pulling the strings but by now Penny McLean had been joined by Ramona Wulf and Rhonda Heath. Linda G. Thompson had a shot at solo fame with a turntable hit “Oh What A Night”. Ramona also got plenty of club play with a solo cover version of “Save The Last Dance For Me.” More successfully, in 1975 Penny had scored a big international hit with a solo track, the histrionic “Lady Bump” which had topped charts in her Austrian homeland and Germany. (Check out the YouTube video of her doing her best to sing it live in front of a European gyrating audience- it’s a kitsch classic) She also released a solo album.
Levay and Kunze were still very much behind the group and attempted to boost waning sales by entering the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest. “Telegram” is a good piece of girl-group pop, which has morse code punctuating the song and a singalong chorus (a chorus in a Silver Convention song, that’s almost a first!) The trio arrived in London the on-paper favourites but as ever the vagaries of the Eurovision voting system saw them off. (That year UK came second with Lynsey De Paul & Mike Moran’s “Rock Bottom”- a prediction of future Eurovision attempts perhaps?) “Telegram”, although now meaningless in our time of instant e-mails, remains a Eurovision fan favourite and often appears on compilations.
The last hurrah for the group came with “Blame It On The Music” from the fourth album called either “Summer Nights” or “Golden Girls” depending on where you live. This is a great Abba-esque track with flurries of strings which shows the direction the girls could have taken. Soon after the release of this album Penny left the group, and was replaced to concentrate on her solo career and was replaced by Zenda Jacks.
The last two tracks on the compilation come from 1978 album “Love In A Sleeper” which brought them some success in Europe. Here arrangement duties were taken by American disco producer John Davis with some tracks being recorded for the first time outside Munich at Sigma Studios in Philadelphia. Long-term the writing was on the wall and the group slipped away back into obscurity.
The producers Levay and Kunze, however, continued to thrive. Michael Kunze worked on translations of hit musicals and adapted many of the big Broadway shows for German audiences including Evita, Cats, Mamma Mia, A Chorus Line and Into The Woods. He has developed his own musicals including one based on Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” and with Sylvester Levay again a hit German language musical based on the life of Mozart. Levay himself spent much of the 90s in the US composing TV and film scores before reuniting with Kunze for the theatrical productions. Both have gone on to much respectability in the music business but I hold out a hankering for their early work of swirling synthesized strings, repetitive lyrics and the lushness of the German EuroDisco sound of Silver Convention. Below is the video for the US #1 hit single.
And because looking at these videos have given me so much pleasure the last couple of days here is that Eurovision song entry featuring much of what the Strictly Come Dancing judges refer to as arm-ography.
The Best Of: Get Up And Boogie is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £78.99 and used from £12.99. In the US it is available from $17.35. Other Silver Convention compilations are available. The majority of the studio albums are available to stream from Spotify in the UK.
Now this is a real guilty pleasure. Back when I was reviewing the retrospective by Cilla Black “Best Of The Emi Years”, there was a little bit of discussion about who was the best of the Britpop girls from the mid 60’s. There was definitely a Premier League of Cilla, Dusty, Sandie and Lulu who stood apart from the myriad of names including Marianne Faithful, Twinkle, Julie Rogers, Anita Harris, Kiki Dee, Susan Maughan, Helen Shapiro, Shirley Bassey (bigger in the 50’s) and Petula Clark (likewise) but there was one other name that I would put in that league of big-hitters, an artist who has perhaps less stood the test of time but at one point in the mid 60’s was the highest paid woman on British television – the woman dubbed “The British Marilyn Monre”, the sublime Kathy Kirby.
Now, I’ll admit it, from a very young age I was always a bit obsessed with Kathy Kirby. It might have been the old-school glamour kick I found so fascinating- there wasn’t too much glamour around in Britain at that time. Her run of five Top 40 chart hits (all included on this CD) were before my time but at home we had one of her singles her Top 10 cover of an 1954 American hit by Teresa Brewer “Let Me Go Lover” (just writing the title causes nostalgia to prick up the hairs on the back of my neck). I played this and its B-side (remember them?) “The Sweetest Sounds” (also on this CD) to death over a period of many years. It’s a family story that as a toddler I would like to regale relatives with my own version of this song with incorrect lyrics- at the time I obviously did not know what a “lover” was, I sang the more baffling “Let Me Go Wooda”. Older members of my family never want me to forget that.
Kathy’s was a star who burnt brightly only for a short time but throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s she would crop up now and again on television, on things like “The Golden Shot” and I would always seek them out, fascinated by this blonde, lipglossed vision with great diction and a fantastic voice. She would also appear regularly in the Sunday papers, with some story which I didn’t ever know whether I should be reading or not. There were tales of bankruptcy, inappropriate relationships, incidents involving the police and throughout it all Kirby seemed to be smiling on through, apologising and explaining in a very British way. This was a lady who was one of the early examples of life through the media which we just take for granted nowadays. She became the go- to-lady for stories about fame which had been lost- which although would have paid her money in many ways compounded her problems.
How many 60’s stars can you recognise? Kirby with Cilla Black, Freddie & The Dreamers, Kenny Lynch amongst others
There’s another issue with “Let Me Go Lover” which gets those goosebumps forming. Fast forward to about 12 years ago. What started off as a drink in a Brighton pub to celebrate my sister’s birthday became a pub crawl and probably one of the most drunken evenings of my life. Waking the next morning I found a crumpled raffle ticket by the side of the bed. Not exactly having much recall of events but vaguely remembering the places we frequented I did know the significance of that ticket – it meant for the first and only time in my life I had done Karaoke. Not only did I have a massive hangover to deal with but no doubt public humiliation. The story got pieced together during the day. My sister and I had got up on stage and put quite a crowded pub through our rendition of “Let Me Go Lover”. I asked people who had witnessed this event – but how did I read the screens as I knew I was having trouble focusing? “You didn’t even use the screens,” I was told, “you knew every word.” From nowhere came every word of a song that I had spent my childhood listening to but probably hadn’t heard for ten years before that night. Proof that Kathy Kirby is somehow ingrained into my soul.
This twenty track CD came out in 1997. CD’s of her hits on the Decca label were slow to appear but there are a couple to choose from now. This is the collection I would go for although I also have a 30 track Best Of from Marginal released in 1996 and there are a couple of harder to find “Hits, Rarities and Lipgloss” compilations and a 2005 double CD called “The Complete Collection” (which collects together her Decca recordings but not those from other labels). I’ve chosen this one because of its good range of hits, the inclusion of the aforementioned “Sweetest Sounds” and its avoidance of some of the cheesier moments of Kirby’s career (pub singalong tracks like “Show Me The Way To Go Home”).
Kathy Kirby was born Kathleen O’Rourke in Ilford, Essex in 1938. She came to fame as a protégée of big band leader Bert Ambrose who had been around since the 40’s and saw Kirby as a way of bringing a more youthful audience to his performances. As manager he dominated her career and the two became lovers, an open showbusiness secret because of the difference in ages. Kirby was a natural for television and starred in “Stars And Garters” a variety series set as in a pub. TV appearances became regular and in 1963 the hits started coming.
Kathy Kirby with Ambrose
It was when Ambrose died in 1971 that Kathy’s career went into freefall, but by then the hits had long dried up although her legion of fans forever wanted and expected there to be more. Kathy’s somewhat turbulent life can be read about in books such as “Secrets, Loves And Lipgloss” by James Harman (2005) which I have recently re-read and the more recent, published after her death in 2011- “No Secret Anymore- The Real Kathy Kirby” by Mark Willerton (2013) which is on my reading wishlist.
It’s the music I want to focus on here. What I like most about it is the big sound, the almost cavernous wall-of-sound feel which is evident from the first moment of the CD’s opener and the biggest hit. The Doris Day hit “Secret Love” took Kathy to number 4 at the end of 1963 and it’s Kathy’s excellent voice that bangs in right from the start after a dramatic drum roll. Her really quite startling elongated “Now” is almost an ecstatic howl of joy after pain. Then it kicks in with a more uptempo version of the song and a cha-cha-cha rhythm. This was the track which really established Kirby as a star, although it was not her first hit nor her best track. It was, however, given what we know about Kathy and her relationship with Ambrose (and also entertainer Bruce Forsyth) an appropriate song, as it was 36 years later as the best track on “Songs From The Last Century” by George Michael.
As far as I am concerned it’s the debut hit which really shines. A vocal version of an instrumental by the Shadows which had already reached number one earlier that year. “Dance On” gave Kathy her first chart placing in the summer of 1963 reaching #11. There’s a quirky blast of brass which gives the track real bounce and this ends up much stronger than the instrumental that inspired it. The Australian public certainly thought so as Kathy’s version topped the charts there for three weeks. There’s real Eastern promise in the number 17 1964 hit “You’re The One” which fairly gallops along and is the best example of how good Kathy was as a singer both in terms of range, pitch and diction.
This CD also includes the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest entry “I Belong”, which is certainly one of the stronger United Kingdom entries. It was the first time the song had been chosen by the public as the choices were performed on Kathy’s BBC TV series. It was much hoped that Kathy would give the UK their first Eurovision win in a competition which by this time was 9 years old. Kathy performed second (which is a position where no act has ever won from, I believe). It finished in a position which would become very familiar to the nation – 2nd place with the winner that year coming from Luxembourg with a song written by French icon Serge Gainsbourg. “I Belong” reached number 36 in the charts and was another example of the curse of the UK Eurovision entry as it became her last charting single. The UK would have to wait another couple of years to get its first Eurovision win with another Brit-Pop girl Sandie Shaw.
Of the other tracks there’s a good mix of standards beautifully performed such as “Body And Soul”, “Make Someone Happy” “I Wish You Love” and a fantastic version of “The Way Of Love” a song also associated with Cher. This track incidentally gave Kathy her only hint of chart success in America, reaching #88 in the Billboard Charts in 1965. There’s songs that perhaps shouldn’t work but do, especially Kathy’s version of “Havah Nagilah” and just the one oddity in “Old Man Mose”, a slightly tasteless song about a dead man. Throughout there is the quality in production, that big sound and the Kirby voice, which fascinated and entranced people years after she faded from the music scene. Not included here is a version of the Beatles’ “Here, There And Everywhere” which Paul McCartney reputedly said was his favourite version of the song. (Paul was a great champion of Kathy and like Sandie Shaw supported her when times got hard). There are some later recordings of hers which I have never heard which come from the mid 70’s, including a disco version of “My Prayer” and a changed-gender version of Charles Aznavour’s “She” which got radio airplay at the time but never reached the charts. A lot of Kathy’s television appearances no longer exist- her BBC series were lost as film was often recorded over in those days. There is a DVD of collected performances released at a time when another comeback was mooted but Kathy died not long afterwards.
Kathy with Ketty Lester – another much under-rated singer
She spent her last years in relative anonymity in South Kensington. I always had this little fantasy that one day I would meet her and she would ask me to pen what is a fairly amazing life story, but that never happened. It has since been said that Kathy was diagnosed with schizophrenia which would explain some of the real oddities in her life. She has aristocratic connections within the next generation. Her niece, Sarah, is now Lady Thatcher, the wife of ex-PM’s Margaret’s son Mark and another niece, Claudia, is Lady Rothermere. These connections seem to add to the sheer Britishness of the Kirby story. I’m prepared to dish the dirt a little more with a review of “Secrets, Loves And Lipgloss” but for now I’m just going to enjoy the music of one of Britain’s much loved singers of the 1960’s.
For a rare piece of existing footage of Kathy singing live and for those of you Eurovision fans out there- it’s back to 1965 when the show was on a considerably smaller budget!
The Very Best Of Kathy Kirby is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £3.99, and used from £0.19. and as a download for £3.49. In the US it is currently $8.70 new and used from $0.34.
It’s Eurovision Week! I’m confessing to a not-so-guilty pleasure- I love Eurovision and during the course of this week we have already have 16 countries fall by the wayside by not making it into the Song Contest Final. This was sorted out in two shows hosted by last year’s winners, Sweden. This is good news. Sweden do Eurovision very well. They are up there with Ireland with the most wins and they are happy to stage it and treat the whole thing with the appropriate amount of respect and tongue-in-cheekness which the enterprise deserves. This year we see the return of Petra Mede as main presenter. She is up there for the title of Queen Of Eurovision as far as I am concerned. She has led the show before and is the perfect choice for host. She was also excellent last year hosting the Greatest Hits Concert with Graham Norton. She can host Eurovision every year, whatever the location as far as I am concerned. She understands Eurovision. Her co-host is no slouch either, Mans Zelmerlow won for Sweden last year and is certainly easy on the eye. He has fitted in superbly in what can often be an awkward transition from performer to host.
Presenters Petra Mede and 2015 Eurovision winner Mans Zelmerlow
For the first time the semi-finals were transmitted on BBC4 and perhaps as a result the British links seemed a bit less chaotic than they have in the past when it sat nervously on the schedules of yoof-orientated BBC3. Scott Mills was joined by Mel Giedroyc and this is another pairing which works well. Eurovision’s global audience seems to grow every year. The USA and China are having it transmitted live for the first time and two years in Australia looks like they have a very good chance of taking the Eurovision crown. Would this mean the whole she-bang would decamp to Sydney next year? There might be quite a few voting just for that to happen.
I’d like to point out that although I love Eurovision I’m not one of those super-fans who have watched each qualifiying show online, scrutinise the videos and watches dress rehearsals. Apart from the UK entry, which I saw deservedly qualifying from a fairly ropey selection I was new to all the songs. And like most Eurovisions, the vast majority of them certainly did not stick in my mind. There’s a lot of power ballads this year sung very hard by people who can just reach the notes on a good day- quite a few of the songs blended into one. It’s not clear yet if there is one that will stand out from the crowd. Two years ago when Conchita Wurst won for Austria, I , like most of the viewing population was so gobsmacked by the sight of the beautiful bearded lady that couldn’t take the song that seriously in the semi-final. It was in the final when Conchita further upped her game and turned in a blistering performance which had the whole of Europe reaching for its phones.
Conchita rising like a phoenix for Austria in 2014
In the second semi-final Petra and Mans began the show by attempting to explain Eurovision to its new audiences. This they chose to do in the medium of song and dance and once the hairs stopped sticking up on the back of my neck I really got into this lengthy extravaganza of an opening. It was surprising, funny, well done and should become the Eurovision anthem or at the very least be given a few douze points from the national juries. In the first show Mans had shown what a worthy winner he was by reprising his “Heroes” which benefited from imaginative staging as well as being a good song well sung- This is very much a blueprint for Eurovision, but one that a number of countries persistently choose not to follow. One country which is following the blueprint is Russia, who seem to have thrown tons of money on their staging which is along very similar lines to Sweden’s last year. It’s not a bad song, it’s well sung and is the hot favourite. There might be a backlash because it seems so desperate an attempt to win (and a large number of Eastern European countries have qualified for the final which might split the voting) but it is probably the one to beat. The countries who ignored the blueprint included San Marino (what was that all about?) and Moldova who decided to do the opposite of Russia and spend no money on their performance. Whilst Russian entrant Sergey Lazarev was soaring to the stars, the Moldovan entry had a man come on in a tin foil space suit. They did not qualify. Greece, usually competitive, also decided to do something very odd with a rap meets folk blend which was fairly horrible and saw them bid an early exit.
Would a win for Russia alienate Eurovision’s core audience?
After sitting through the eighteen entries of the first semi-final I made a little list of what I thought should go through and I got nine out of the ten right. The surprising omission of the whole thing was Iceland, who had seen the Zelmerlow blueprint although had chosen a woman singer to perform a good enough song with dramatic bat and bird like effects. It looked like it might be one of the front runners but failed to qualify. I was surprised by the selection of Croatia. The song was not as strong and it was one of those performances which seemed to hinge around the changing of a dress (It looked like she was standing behind the first dress anyway).
Iceland’s surprisingly unsuccessful entrant
By the time the second semi-final came along I’d lost my touch a bit. In this selection of songs the Scandanavian countries seemed hard done by in favour of the Eastern Europeans. Georgia’s entry was largely unwatchable because of the overdose of flashing lights and was a rock performance so out of kilter with Eurovision that only those who wanted to sabotage the sheer poppiness of the show would have voted for it- but it went through. It managed to take out successful Eurovision nations as Denmark, Norway and Ireland who despite having Nicky Byrne from Westlife singing quite a light song after the heavy ballads failed to qualify.
What happened, Nicky?
And so on Saturday, the final. This is where factors such as geographical bias and running order have a significant part to play. Also the Big Five join in. They do not go through the semi-final process and suffer by ending up at the bottom of the leaderboard because by the final allegiances to songs have been formed join in. Of these France stands the fairest chance of ending up mid-board. The UK have their best entry for some time with the peppy Joe and Jake. Much will depend on their performance but if that comes up trumps we should expect to place in the Top 15, more than that might be a little too much to hope for. Last year’s winners Sweden also join the Final selection without having to qualify. This could be the dark horse entry. It’s topped the charts in Eurovision mad Sweden and sounds contemporary and relevant. Once again, much will depend on the performance. I don’t hold out much hope for Germany and Italy’s chances of standing out from the crowd on the night.
UK entrants Joe and Jake. France’s entry by Amir
So who might win? Well, it is Eurovision and your guess is as good as mine. Russia and Australia might have it sewn up between them (but watch out for Sweden). No country wants to win more than Malta and they have a better than average chance. If Bulgaria and Israel perform well they could also be in the running. Ukraine has a political song, which is always a bit of a wildcard. Some nations may love it –some may hate it – and like a lot of political songs it is not particularly listenable. Running order is important. I don’t think a country has ever won performing in second place on the night (and this is a position where the UK seem to have been quite a number of times). The short straw this year goes to the Czech Republic Because most of us Eurovision watchers have a short memory span it’s better to perform near to the end. The last three to perform will be Austria, UK and Armenia but there are too many other factors involved to get that excited!
Could Dami Im or Frans win for Australia or Sweden?
Anyway, in a moment I’m going to print off my Eurovision Scorecard from the BBC Site This is I will fill in dutifully and after the event it will be inserted into my now bulging copy of the definitive guide to the first forty years of the contest – “The Complete Eurovision Song Contest Companion” by Paul Gambacini, Tim & Jonathan Rice and Tony Brown (Pavilion 1998) with a foreword by a man who will be remembered during this year’s proceedings, Sir Terry Wogan. This appeals to the budding Eurovision nerd in me because I can track back years to see how my favourites fared against the national juries and viewing public- 2015-Sweden (1st) 2014- Austria (1st) 2013- Azerbaijan (2nd) 2012- Ukraine (15th) 2011- Denmark (5th) 2010- Romania (3rd). I can go much further back but I can tell it’s making your nervous. I’m actually not bad at liking the songs that do well (apart from 2012) and have picked the winner two years in a row.
If you are reading this before the show is transmitted then I’m sure you will be as unclear as I am as to who the winner will be. If afterwards then you will have the satisfaction of knowing how much barking I was doing up the wrong tree. No doubt the unsuccessful countries will be threatening not to participate next year (all in the spirit of togetherness) but maybe USA and China will feel the need to participate to further broaden the Eurovision horizon. We are promised a new voting system so it will be interesting to see how that copes with bias and prejudice which some say blights this contest. How can you not love Eurovision?
Don’t want to get too excited before the final – so four stars only
If you like Eurovision the following clip sums it up wonderfully. If you don’t then this is probably why!
The Eurovison Contest Semi-Finals were broadcast on BBC4 on Tuesday 10th and Thursday 12th May with the final taking place at 8.00 pm on BBC1 on Saturday 14th. Both Semi-Finals are currently available on catch-up online at the Eurovision site and on BBC I-Player.
Post -Final Update: After the performances it looked like it was going to be a straight battle between between Australia and Russia. On our scorecard we had placed Russia 1st, Australia 2nd and opener Belgium 3rd. After the national juries gave their votes it looked like Australia had an unassailable lead but we hadn’t counted on the new voting system which caused the UK to drop down towards the bottom of the leaderboard, Poland to come soaring up and for Ukraine (which we had rated as 25th out of the 26 songs) to grasp victory. This is the reason I love Eurovision – you just cannot tell what it is going to happen. The presentation of the final by Petra Mede and Mans Zelmerlow was excellent- keep them on for next year I say…………………………..