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Why Eurovision will always get douze points from us

 

Love it or loathe it, the feast of colourful pop that is Eurovision has become an annual fixture on our television screens. Our writers wax lyrical about the ups and downs of the contest down the years.

Alex Kane: ‘It’s naff, the songs are ridiculous, but it’s great for a laugh’

The best ever Eurovision songs were: Bong Bing Boo, Bing Tiddle Tiddle Bong, My Lovely Horse, and Boom Bang-a-Bang. What they have in common is a mind-numbing inanity, a thumping jangle that the terminally tone-deaf can recognise and repeat, and a bizarre power of possession that even an exorcist would struggle to remove.

As it happens, Boom Bang-a-Bang (the UK's joint winning entry in 1969) is the only "real" Eurovision song in that list: the other three are gloriously silly parodies from Peppa Pig (never let your children listen to it. I did, and it still stumbles into my head at least once a week), Monty Python and Father Ted - and all of them would have had a better chance of winning than most recent entries from the UK and Ireland.

My first Eurovision was April 1974 - the year Abba won with Waterloo. Oddly enough, I didn't actually like the song very much, but I fell hopelessly, helplessly, head-over-heels in love with Agnetha, a feeling that lasted until three weeks later when I discovered she was married to Bjorn.

They won not because it was the best song (I've always thought it was one of their weakest), but because - and memory may be playing tricks on me - all the others were immeasurably worse.

France had withdrawn from the contest a few days earlier because President Pompidou had died and was being buried on the same day.

The Italian song 'Si' (Yes) couldn't be broadcast on Italian television or radio because the government decided that it could be sending a political message to the Yes camp in a divorce referendum due a few weeks later.

Meanwhile, Portugal's entry - 'E depois do adeus' (which came last) - was used three weeks later as a signal to kickstart the successful overthrow of the authoritarian Portuguese government.

The broadcasting of the song on a radio station late in the evening of April 24 was an alert to rebel military forces to prepare for the start of the coup the following day. Who says politics has only come to Eurovision in the last few years?

Back in April 1974 I was revising for my A-levels (I was very tempted to quote Abba in an essay on the French Revolution).

The Sunningdale Assembly was teetering on the brink of collapse as the United Ulster Unionist Coalition prepared for its own coup on May 14.

That said, I'm pretty sure the UK entry Long Live Love sung by Olivia Newton John had no part to play.

But I think Eurovision stays with me - and I've watched all of them since - because, back then, it was an oasis of calm and frivolity at a time of great uncertainty in Northern Ireland.

My school had already begun to make preparations for a potential strike during O and A-levels, because there was a feeling across the country that we were entering uncharted waters in terms of violence, civil disobedience and a showdown between unionism and the British Government.

A year later in March 1975 - I was at Queen's by then - Eurovision arrived a few weeks before the election to the Convention (a doomed attempt to pick up the pieces after the collapse of Sunningdale) and the referendum on the UK's membership of the EEC.

The Netherlands romped home with Ding-a-Dong (silly Euro pop) and we came second with Let Me Be The One (silly love song).

Last year, just before our second referendum, we came third last (24 of 26) with You're Not Alone (we clearly were), while Ukraine stormed to victory with 1944, a song about the deportation of Crimean Tatars by Stalin.

Eurovision doesn't have the same sense of fun any more. It takes itself far too seriously. It worked best when it was just people singing songs that didn't have any particular meaning.

We weren't trying to impress each other with our culture, history and political or moral standpoints. What united us was a fondness for end-of-the-pier silliness and pop songs which could be danced to across Europe.

Even the interval acts were silly. In 1974 it was The Wombles.

But ever since Riverdance in 1994 we've had to endure what is, to all intents and purposes, a commercial for the country's culture. I liked it when we celebrated eccentricity.

And even though the UK has fallen way down the pecking order when it comes to success - there was a time when it was always a "serious contender" - English is still the key language. Last year, for example, 25 of the 26 competitors sang wholly or partly in English - including Armenia, Georgia, Spain, Germany and Israel.

When Jean-Claude Juncker said, last week, that "slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe", he clearly wasn't referring to Eurovision.

I don't expect Eurovision to be good. I expect it to be naff. I expect ridiculous songs from people who are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame.

I expect choreography inspired by St Vitus; lyrics that a bunch of monkeys could have produced after an hour with a computer keyboard; costumes cobbled together by a blind seamstress, and performances so cheesy that hordes of mice are gathering in the wings.

And I expect the scoreboard to reflect that nonsense, rather than the political nuances and annoyances of the day.

I want to sit round the television with the family, roaring with laughter as one act after another treats us to the musical version of It's A Knockout.

What's wrong with a Eurovision that cheers us up?

Una Brankin: 'Best thing about it was Wogan; I've not bothered since he hung up his mic'

Nothing could entice me to watch the Eurovision Song Contest this year, nor any time in the future. It's not the same without Terry Wogan. Graham Norton is fun, but he has yet to match some of Terry's classics from his decades of Eurovision commentary, like when he referred to the intriguing Danish hosts in 2001 as "Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy", prompting outrage in Denmark.

He was spot-on, of course. And he was perfectly right when he went on to insult the whole shebang in Finland, at the outset, in 2007 by pondering: "Who knows that hellish future lies ahead? Actually, I do. I've seen the rehearsals."

Like Terry, I had enjoyed seeing the spectacle go from bad to worse from the 1990s onwards. But I recall when it was good, in my younger mind anyway.

All of us who gathered on the couch at home in 1974 reckoned we were seeing something special when Abba won the competition with Waterloo.

The song was so immediately catchy and uplifting, and I remember mum teasing dad for fancying both the girls.

That night, from Brighton, has probably become permanently ingrained in my memory - and everyone else's - due to the frequently repeated clips of the iconic performance, but it kickstarted my interest in pop music and I never missed an edition of Top Of The Pops afterwards.

Johnny Logan looms large in my Eurovision recollections too, but not with the same sparkling effect.

The song, What's Another Year, was good. His voice was good. But his white suit was terrible and I thought he looked like a pansy, as was a common term of abuse in those non-politically correct days.

One of my pretty cousins disagreed vehemently.

She and some other Johnny fans went to see him in the Ashburn Hotel in Lurgan after his 1987 win with his self-penned Hold Me Now.

She was rewarded with a kiss when he was doing his meet-and-greet after the gig (my sisters and I were disgusted, as he was a married man).

At home we always supported the Irish entry, but we all liked Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz, which won for the UK in 1981.

They weren't as good as Abba, but it was a good, frothy song, and the disappearing skirts made for a memorable dance routine.

To my mind, one of the best Irish entries was the redhead Niamh Kavanagh's In Your Eyes, which won the contest in Cork in 1993.

A great soul ballad, if that track had been covered by a star such as Whitney Houston it could have been a worldwide hit.

I also liked the Irelande Douze Points novelty tune in 2008 by Dustin the Turkey, RTE's irreverent screeching puppet, with its cheeky references to Riverdance ("Give us another chance; we're sorry for Riverdance!") and Michael Flatley ("Sure Flatley, he's a Yank").

Not many in Belgrade liked it, though; cheeky Dustin failed to make it into the final.

He was a bit harsh on Riverdance, admittedly. I remember making dinner with my flatmate in Dublin's Baggot Street that night in 1994, only half paying attention to the TV as the late shock jock Gerry Ryan and his blonde co-host introduced the interval act.

But as soon as the bodhrans started booming and the strings section of the RTE Orchestra gathered pace, we knew this was far better than the average filler fare. It deserved the standing ovation; even Terry was impressed (we'd tuned into the BBC's broadcast, rather than RTE's especially for him).

He did advise an over-excited Ryan to "steady on", though, when the host nearly lost the run of himself in the giddy aftermath of the Irish dancing extravaganza.

I haven't seen the Eurovision the whole way through since Terry handed over the commentary in 2009 to Norton, advising him "not to open a bottle until song nine".

I wasn't interested in the man with the beard who won (in the same way I'm not in the least curious about the freakish Caitlyn Jenner), and I couldn't bring myself to watch Brian Kennedy and his mawkish Every Song Is A Cry For Love in 2006, or Nicky Byrne from Pond, sorry, Westlife, last year with his banal effort.

If there was any entry in the running this year tipped to be as good as Abba, I might make an exception. But it wouldn't be the same.

You just can't recapture that sort of magic.

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