Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Is the Eurovision song contest important? This former rocker thinks so.
- Credit: Archant
Spring is sprung, the grass is riz and the Eurovision Song Competition will be upon us within weeks. I retain what some might consider an unusual interest in the competition. It’s just that I grew up watching it, from the very early 1960s when I was a small boy.
I have always liked it. There were only about half a dozen countries involved back then, when the glamorous Katie Boyle was our anchor-woman. Essex connections? The first person to win the competion for the UK was pouting Dagenham girl Sandie Shaw – at one time rather a hearthrob for your youthful correspondent.
It was at some point after 1974, when ABBA won the contest with Waterloo, that it began to change into the mountainous hive of high camp which it is today. If you think it looks crass nowadays, however, I recommend that those of you with computers conduct a quick trawl of YouTube for past entries. A good starting point might be the 1980s Luxembourg entry, Papa Pingouin by Sophie et Magaly.
I have to ask myself exactly why it is that I like the Eurovision so much. Before you enquire, no I’m not. It’s just that ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by songs and the writing of them.
When I was younger I used to think that the songs of our near European neighbours were incredibly exotic and would sometimes trawl crackly foreign radio stations looking for unusual stuff. I also believe that the Eurovision demonstrates a genuine entente cordiale which various sporting competitions and EU leaders, despite all their blather, have so far failed to attain. That we don’t really take the show very seriously in the UK is a shame. Quite apart from anything else, it’s terrific fun to watch.
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This whole feature was triggered by the fact this year’s UK entry has been recently revealed. Children of the Universe, written and performed by 26-year-old singer songwriter Molly, is big on air-punching, with many grand gestures and much crashing and whoomfing. It’s epic in so many ways. But is it any good ? My own jury’s still out. It’s not a good song in the way that say, Walk Away by Matt Monro, written by an Austrian, incidentally, was a good song.
It’s not a good song like Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea, written by Charles Trenet, a Frenchman. Nor it is a good song, like Amen Corner’s Half as Nice, written by an Italian. And it’s definitely not as good as If You Go Away, written by Jacques Brel, a Belgian.
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How, though, do we choose our UK entries? This is a tough question. I asked a TV producer of my acquaintance. A Eurovision fan himself, he’s still working on the answer, but he told me he thought the BBC had been rather secretive about the process in recent years. Suddenly, I remembered my mate, Kimberley. Of course! Kimberley would know.
After all, he wrote our last Eurovision winner, 1997’s Love Shine A Light by Katrina and the Waves. This is what he told me: “In 1997 the system for entering Eurovision was: send a cassette to the BBC’s Terry Wogan radio show, as it was then: the best eight were played on the show, votes were invited for the best four: then there was a TV show called ‘A Song for Britain’, where the popular vote was again invited for the final choice. After that they changed the system, and the publicity proclaimed that the UK’s song would be written by ‘professional songwriters’. The process must be organised somewhere by media insiders.”
Kimberley, it must be pointed out, was already a successful professional songwriter at that time, having penned Walking on Sunshine, a huge international hit.
Another friend of mine, Graham, who lives nearby, played guitar on the record of Bucks Fizz’s Making Your Mind Up, our 1981 winner. He’s never cast much light on the competition either. The whole matter of how we put our entries together and who decides what’s what, remains shrouded in mystery.
Now it’s my considered opinion that we here in the UK, with a fabulous pop pedigree have the ability to effortlessly turn out top drawer songs. Why, therefore, are such strange decisions being made each year about our Eurovision entries? How, precisely, do you put a song up for it?
During the last two years, the UK have fielded two perfectly good veteran singers, Englebert and Bonnie Tyler respectively, whom we then hobbled with indifferent songs. There does exist a cynical theory in certain quarters, that although it’s good for us to enter the Eurovision, it would be disastrous for us if we actually won – because then, we’d have to foot a massive bill for hosting it. Am I to believe this?
The crucial point here, I suppose, is that having watched it almost every year for decades, even though there are now more countries involved in the contest than ever, the quality of the songs is universally dreadful. Many entries are a triumph of presentation over content. Even if a genuinely good song surfaces, you can almost guarantee that it won’t even feature in the top five. It shouldn’t be such a mystery. Yet it remains so.
Is the Eurovison important? I think so, yes. That’s why I’m seriously considering entering (if they’ll let me) as a songwriter, for the 2015 contest. Watch this space.