fullcatastrophe

TFC Eurovision

Part of an ill-fated Ph.D collated by Andy Bell while attending the University of Brunswick West (Bent Street Campus)

Welcome to a collection of the good, the bad and the very strange of the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a gift that keeps giving. I first watched it in 1967 and the rest is history … and a lifestyle.

The ESC occupies a special place in the Full Catastrophe’s heart. It’s lodged somewhere near the left ventricle.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The first ever winner.

Now a compare and contrast job. The Herreys won in 1984 with “Diggiloo-diggiley” 18 years later they re-united. I reckon the 2002 version is the tops and shows what a great song this is.

The urge to be “international” can sometimes be a song’s undoing. Mind you, this kind of effort is preferable to the strangulated English inflicted by most of the contestents these days.

Let’s get into colour and how. A seventies fashion disaster from Deutschland.

One of the best songs to win Eurovision was this one from Denmark. Classy and very resiliant to a rock and roll treatment.

Now, it’s time to feast your optics on some 70s fashion AND an ESC shocker. It’s always tough for the Belgians because of the linguistic frictions in that country. Fair enough…but the clothes. Oh the humanity.

The same year as “Baby, Baby” and a chance for more fashion disasters AND a triple decker orchestra AND a much loved brassy number from what wasYugoslavia.

And don’t anyone believe the 70s was the only time of questionable fashion sense. These Icelanders went on to guide their country’s economyto its present situation.

Now, to restore some decorum, a classic French ballad.

This didn’t win, but it is the most recorded of all Eurovision songs. It’s from the year of my birth and I like to think I was listening into to Domenico Mugno from the warmth of my mum’s tum when it hit the airwaves in 1958!

There was a time when Norge was the land of “nul points”. Year after year the Norwegians just couldn’t find a song that tickled Europe’s fancy. The king of musical despair was a bloke called Jahn Teigen. Feast you eyes and ears on this.

Still with Norge and this song is one the best to ever come last in the ESC I reckon. It was 1990 and everyone thought there was a brave new world of European unity ahead. Mmmmm.

You reckon Euro-choreography is a Noughties thing? No way Jose, Jurgen and Bjorn!! On Sunday night at Neverwhere one of the goodly Joy listeners mentioned a German ESC institution to me and I have gone a-YouTubeing. The Kessler Twins were quite something….let’s go back half a century. This is extra fabulous. Listen out for the commentators wolf-whistle before the girls sing!

Now in 1974 there was ABBA from Sweden, in 1973 there was Nova and some naughty lyrics!

C’mon Aussie. Not Olivia Newton John, who sang for the UK in the year ABBA did their stuff, but Gina G. Surely this is one of the best non-winning ESC songs ever….

Silly gimics AREN’T new.

When Eurovision finally went pop….and how. 1965 and it was cool.

More fashion disasters now. The year was 1969, the place Madrid and this song was one of FOUR songs in equal first place.

Now to the moment where the ESC either “jumped the shark” or entered a new era of verdant, sunlit uplands. You decide. My view of Lordi…a massive joke which far too many people took seriously. Finland won for the first time – and that was nice. The fact that it was heavy rock is a cack. That was as retro-ironic in 2006 as any number of sweet nordic ballads or iberian disco numbers. The secret of Eurovision – never lose your humour! Spinal Tap melds with ESC!!!

I prefer to think of the Finns with this.

And we can’t be in Scandanavia without paying homage to this ash-blonde wonder.

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Posted (in May 2010) by Andy Bell as part of a plea bargain. Some observations from a lifetime spent waiting for Te Deum to sound.

To begin at the beginning. It was in the year of my birth and is, simply, the most glorious of Eurovision Song Contest moments.

As some woman or bloke once opined: “music is the universal language”. So, when the Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956 most of the effort was put into the minims and crotchets NOT the words. The words that were there were in German, French, Italian and Dutch. English came along the next year.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the universal lingo of pop music (whatever happened to pop music?) overwhelmed the ESC. English ruled the roost, apart from the hold-out French and a few aberrations along the way.

The result has been to undo the mystique, but was there that much to undo ?

In 1956, all you had to go on was: “De hele wereld geurt de lentebloesem bleurt ach waarom is er ieder jaar een nieuwe mei?”

Sounded so mysterious and glorious.

If only the viewers had known that Corry Broekken was singing: “The whole world smells good, the springflower is colouring ah, why is there every year a new May?”

One example of countless songs that sounded so good thanks to them being in a language I couldn’t understand. Ignorance is well and truly bliss.

It puts in hideous context some of this year’s lyrical atrocities. The only difference is the linguistic horrors are now understood by a wider audience. English is the global lingo and we’re stuck with it.

Take this piece of verbal nonsense.

“You are my man, you are my half, tell me what’s happening I know something’s wrong.”

Poetry it ain’t, but it was probably never meant to be. It’s from the raging favourite for this year’s ESC: Azerbaijan’s Safura with ‘Drip Drop’ (a classicly daft ESC title).

So as Safura mangles the vowels and fails to deal with most of the consonants, don’t be too harsh on her.

The words she sings don’t give her much of a chance.

“”Siz mənim adam var, mənim yarım, nə bir şey’s yanlış know baş mənim deyin görək,” would be so much better.

For a start, I wouldn’t know what the hell she was ranting on about.

The ways the Eurovision Song Contest has been staged over the years tell us so much more than who had the most popular song.

As we look back over six decades we can tally up the fashion changes, the development of TV production and performance techniques, not to mention a bit of euro-politics for good measure.

We can also see how the wonderment of being able to link up countries was replaced by the desire of countries to show off to each other. It was a great substitute for fighting with guns, which had been a popular pastime in Europe for quite a while.

Let us wander through the archives and gaze lovingly at contests of yore.

ESC #2 was in Frankfurt in 1957. It looks like a combination of an RSL variety show on a wet Tuesday and a World War II movie about gallant lads about to fight the savage foe while their girls wait for them. But be patient with this compilation, the technical wizardry at the end with the voting is worth the wait! It’s cutting edge … for 1957. Yesterday’s phone operator is today’s Blackberry thumber.

By 1964 and Copenhagen the ESC had shaken off its humble beginnings. The Danes won in 63 with the sophisticated and haunting Dansevise and didn’t disappoint with its staging of the event the following year. The opening “Te Deum” segueways into a dramatic and effective opening. Host broadcaster DR is making a big statement – “we may be a little country, but we sure can put on a show!”. It’s a sure sign that the ESC was now one of THE events of the television year. And the Italian winner is a classic ESC ballad.

By the late 1960s colour television was spreading across Europe. In 1968 the BBC staged the ESC at the Royal Albert Hall, home of the classical “Promenade Concerts” and the odd professional boxing bout. A big venue to make a big (and colourful) splash. The mini skirted Spanish winner Massiel gave a feeling that the contest was right at the heart of the swinging sixties. It was a shame she was representing what was then a totalitarian country. As for the production values, note the small number of shot changes. The performer was the centre of attention, not the vision switcher! TV was thirty odd years old in the UK, but still owed much of its look to the variety theatre.

By 1973 colour was well established and most European homes had got rid of their black & white set. That’s probably why dress sense went completely out of the window. Make a visual statement and that might win votes. The clip needs no comment on that score!! What is worth a mention is the triple decker orchestra! This was a bold and brassy decision by host country Luxembourg. A humongous orchestra stretched up to the rafters of the Nouveau Theatre. And in front of the band, the performers still ruled the roost in terms of what we saw on screen. The direction is simple leaving it all up to those on stage. A classic ESC which, as a 14 year old, made a huge impression on me!

In the same year the multi-lingual, try to please everyone appraoch reared its not so ugly head. The lingo game was to impact on the ESC in the years to come. Enjoy this almost naive Norwegian effort which was far better than its 5th place.

To 1979 and Israel. Suddenly the venue was taking on the same importance as what was happening on stage. Previous shows had taken place in conventional theatres and concert halls as well as TV studios, this one was at a convention centre…and it looks like it. You almost expect a Powerpoint presentation on pyramid selling to pop up at any moment. The other notable development comes before the song. The “postcard” introduction used the latest techniques and some very old stereotypes. This is the beginning of the “event” overwhelming the concept. The cutesy down home music contest of the 1950s was becoming an entertainment SuperBowl!

To 1983 and the whole thing was looking like a Hollywood epic. An added bonus in this clip is the voice of Terry Wogan in the BBC commentary box. He is still finding his feet and style, but his cheekiness is not far away. Note his welcome to Australian viewers watching thanks to the marvel of the age…the satellite. As for the mass entrance of performers, this was an era when European unity was all the rage. Standing together in song … brings a tear to the eye.

By 1990 everything was a bit more frenetic. Cameras swooped, floors lit up, video screens flashed. The performers even moved around a bit !! The Yugoslav TV types were showing off every last bit of wizz-bangery that they could get their hands on. As for the orchestra, the Luxembourg multi-storey bandstand was a distant memory. The live musicians were left in the half-light, they would soon be gone for good.

Just a few years later, and the Irish broadcaster RTE gave big a whole new meaning. It was almost hysterical. The Point Theatre in Dublin made a very significant point. Ireland was more than capable of staging its third ESC in a row and yaa boo sucks to anyone (especially the BBC) who reckons it can’t. And there was even a bit of politics in the intro. The Dutch commentator completely loses it at about 3.30 into the clip and sends up the presenter. This is a sure sign that the contest is now a venerable institution that can (and should) be ridiculed.

To the new century and Sweden. The Ericsson Globe in Stockholm trumped the Point and then some. It could hold 16,000 spectators. Putting on the show had moved from being a proud little flag waving exercise for the host broadcaster and had turned into the equivalent of a full frontal military assault with a glitter ball attached. The backstage camera invaded the green room, while there were so many cameras around the stage it was hard to know quite what to focus on. The set ? The direction ? The outfits ? The size of the hall ? The technology ? Somewhere or other the songs managed to grab some attention, but it was a battle to be sure.

And last year it was Moscow. Moscow ! In 1956, when the ESC started, Moscow was the heart of an evil empire threatening Europe with nuclear destruction. In the intervening years communism had stood no chance against the lethal musical weapon of Eurovsision ! This production is breathtaking. Everything is supersized with extra fries on steroids. Not a moment is allowed to drag. Cameras twirl as well as singers and dancers. There are even fireworks. It’s as if the National Rugby League had taken the whole thing over. Can it get any bigger or bolder…of course it can!

Eurovision never stays still. It can’t afford to. Amazingly, the music still tends to win out. Mega venues, pyrotechnics, camera gymnastics, awful costumes and dodgy hair can’t stifle the heart of the competition.

It’s still the songs that matter.

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