Sunday, May 13, 2012

Eurovision Memories Part 4: 1998

Another week goes by, another Eurovision anniversary.  Three days ago - Europe Day 1998 - marked the 14th anniversary of the last time the United Kingdom hosted the Eurovision party, in the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.  The Beeb, in traditionally cash-strapped style, had Sir Terence of Wogan in the dual roles of presenter and commentator that year, whilst co-presenter Ulrika Jonsson could definitely have done with better styling not to mention tact and diplomacy.  A long time ago, was it???

The set was simple and stylish with its 'fishtail' backdrop.  Excellent job by Geoff Posner that year.

Eurovision 1998 was "of its time" - and I particularly loved the postcards devoted to various British cities.  Glasgow was featured in the postcard which preceded that nice Polish entry by the way :)  "Cool Britannia" was at its height, and I particularly enjoyed the various British hits which accompanied the postcards.  M People, Supergrass, Duran Duran, Everything But The Girl, Pet Shop Boys, Pulp, Catatonia, Duran Duran, Manic Street Preachers, Lighthouse Family, The Verve, Suede, Rod Stewart, Simply Red, Kula Shaker, Underworld, The Beautiful South, James, Mansun, Lightning impressive roll of honour which is even more impressive these days in the depressing, disappointing era of bad music :(

Of course, 1998 was all about the attention seekers.  Israel's Dana International looked fab in her glittery frock, complete with regulation Israeli sideways-strutting choreography, but if I'm honest "Diva" was not my favourite song that year...but you can't underestimate the significance of it all: and soon afterwards the arrival of the internet was to have a phenomenal effect on the development of the modern Eurovision song contest, which would never be the same again.

Dana was swiftly followed by the equally shy and retiring Guildo Horn for Germany, in his crushed velvet suit, complete with his Orthopaedic Stockings and a young Stefan Raab as conductor.  Admit it, peeps, there are more classic Eurovision moments in this performance than in many of the years which were to follow.

Watching the contest again, there are a few songs which I'd forgotten about....Ireland, for example - I thought "Is Always Over Now" was very underrated at the time.  By the way, I used to work with a girl who looked a bit like Dawn Martin, whilst my current boss resembles Charlotte Perrelli in her blonde days :)

And so to Royaume-Uni.  The crowd going wild for Imaani.  The hitherto unknown singer was charged with the responsibility of defending the title and she did an incredible job.  She looked great, sang brilliantly and the whole thing was a very professional effort.  Little did we know at that time that the UK's prestige at the contest was about to plummet in the years to come....:(

On to my favourite song of the night, and one of my most favourite ESC songs ever.  I refer to Mr Wogan's particular favourite too: "Hemel en Aarde" sung by Edsilia for the Netherlands, written by the Fluitsma/van Tijn songwriting partnership which was responsible for some of my mid-90s favourite songs.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this performance: this is one of the reasons why I am so proud to call myself a Eurovision fan. 

Oh look, it's Anders Berglund! Which means only one thing: Sverige.  A fine, assured vocal performance by Jill Johnson even if I never really rated her song.  Subtle intervention by the wind machine too.  I probably like this more now than I did back then.

We are in a very good section of the contest at this point: just when you'd given up on a decent French-language ESC entry by Belgium, along came the song which was known as "Seaweed" at EuropeCrazy HQ. 

Fast-forward a little more to another of our major favourites HQ that year: "Alltid Sommer" a.k.a. "All I Ever Wanted Was You" sung by the jumper-wearing seriously cute Norwegian Lars A. Fredriksen.  Actually there is nothing wrong with this either.  Total perfection.  "That boy is going to get a few girly votes" declared Sir Terence; ab-so-lutely!! The girls at EuropeCrazy HQ headed straight to the phones....

Then there was Koit Toome, the Estonian Gary Barlow-meets-Bruce Hornsby, who was reasonably cute too, but the song didn't really do much for us.  At that point, Estonia were solely flying the Baltic flag with no sign of Latvia: we had to wait two years for arguably the most amazing debut song ever in Eurovision.  Fact.

The interval act, showcasing the various musical cultures of the UK, was maybe a little too old-fashioned, but its heart was in the right place anyway.  And someone even managed to sneak Vanessa-Mae and Lesley Garrett in there. 

Then there was some voting.  Katrina, in a long red glittery frock, handed the trophy to a defiantly unpunctual Dana Int who reappeared in her victory outfit topped with those feathers.  Viva la diva indeed :)

So that was 1998, which was a very significant year, for two reasons. Firstly, it was the final year of the orchestra accompanying all the entries; it was also the final year before free language was reintroduced. Eurovision was in transition, and this was probably the last of the "old" contests: Eurovision was about to evolve into the mega-event of the modern era, the "party for everybody" which we know it as today - a very sprightly 56 year old which has no intention of slowing down, and which has a lot of life left in it!!!

I've enjoyed taking a trip back in time for this short series of Eurovision memories.  There is so much more to come, so the series will return later this year for another look back at the world's greatest TV show :)

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