Saturday, May 05, 2012

Eurovision Memories Part 3 - 1997

I got the inspiration for the third part of this occasional series just a couple of nights ago, as various top bloggers/tweeters - notably Birmingham's finest, Melodimen - were commemorating the 15th anniversary of the last time the United Kingdom won the Eurovision Song Contest, on 3rd May 1997.

That was a pretty significant night for me, as it would be the first time since the early 1970s that I hadn't been at home on the evening of the contest due to a prior engagement.  On the way home by taxi, the driver had the radio news on, and I heard the announcement that the UK had won Eurovision.  My first thought was, for goodness sake, I really must be drunk!!  Did they just say what I thought they said?

But yes, they did.  On that evening, Eurovision was once again back in its spiritual '90s home, Ireland, after yet another win the previous year.  1996 had, for me, been one of the worst contests I'd ever had the misfortune to witness, and fittingly it was won by one of the weakest winners ever (IMHO) "The Voice" sung by Eimear Quinn. A strangely old-fashioned winner, yet the set design and production values of 1997 gave a message of modernity, what with all those digital screens etc, the introduction of limited televoting - giving power to the people - and then of course the interval act performance by the top pop band of the day, Boyzone.  (Between presenting and performing, RTE was definitely trying to get its money's worth out of Ronan Keating that night!).

Despite the push for modernity, many of the songs were still 'old Eurovision' and very little stood out that year for me.  Ireland defended its title well with top quality ballad "Mysterious Woman" sung by Marc Roberts, a song spookily reminiscent of that early 90s classic "Jessie" by Joshua Kadison (anyone else spot the resemblance or is it just me?).  Scoff if you must but I still have a soft spot for the Netherlands' great lost Bond theme, "Niemand Heeft Nog Tijd" by Mrs Einstein, whilst Italy's temporarily return with "Fiumi di Parole" brought a bit of welcome Italian style and class from the duo Jalisse.  Good to see Estonia getting a respectable result too with "Keelatud Maa" by Maarja-Liis Ilus.

It may have been a little cheesy, but I liked Hungary's answer to Boyzone-on-stools - VIP - and even now I still find their mid-tempo boyband song quite pleasant indeed.

My favourite entry of 1997 was a song with, ahem, a very memorable performance which probably had Sir Terence of Wogan choking on his Bailey's.  "Minn Hinsti Dans" is one of my most favourite Eurovision songs, ever.  It's Páll Óskar's PVC Party, and everyone's invited. 

Sweden, Sweden, Sweden.  Sorry, but I really did not like Blond or their song in 1997, and I still don't have much time for it today.  Let's not forget the nil-points brigade: Portugal's Celia Lawson and her finger-clicking backing-talkers shared last place with Norway's Tor Endresen.  Oh, and there was Alla Pugacheva.  That woman really did give it some of "that".  Then there was Kolig Kaj, rapping away in Danish, with a couple of backing dancers who had obviously graduated from the early 90s Melodifestivalen school-of-backing dancers (!), the off-key Croatian Spice Girls ENI, need I go on?

Looking at the contest now, it's understandable why "Love Shine A Light" won.  And what a runaway winner it was too.  Katrina (and her Waves) went out and gave an in it to win it, anthemic performance.  There was also the recognition factor: everyone remembers "Walking On Sunshine". Let's not forget the late draw either: and also the small matter of a positive change of government a couple of days earlier.  It was the days of Cool Britannia, of Things Can Only Get Better.  For the UK at Eurovision, it was still a time when respectable results were the rule, rather than the exception.  But those days were numbered.

For Eurovision, change was also in the air.  Limited televoting had been introduced in 1997 and this would eventually be extended to every country, replacing the increasingly unpopular jury system.  Whatever next?  The abolition of the orchestra and singers singing along to backing tapes?  People singing in whatever language they wanted?  But for the moment, there was the small matter of the United Kingdom hosting Eurovision the following year.  To be continued....

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