Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: Eurovision's Greatest Hits (BBC1, 03.04.15)

This review's been sitting in my drafts folder for months so I thought it was about time I got round to posting it.  It seems such a long time since that early April evening when mum and I sat watching this Eurovision anniversary concert.  So let's rewind....

Eurovision's Greatest Hits was commissioned by the EBU and produced by the BBC.  The concert took place at London's Hammersmith Apollo at the end of March and was screened on BBC1 on Good Friday, which was a nice way to start Easter weekend.  Fans of "Strictly Come Dancing" would also recognise the musical director Dave Arch.  It was a bright and well-produced broadcast which proved that the BBC would be able to stage a future contest if only given the chance.  And let's face it, the way things are going it's about the only sniff of a Eurovision production which the BBC's ever going to get now!  (But we live in hope).  Presenters Petra Mede and Graham Norton even made reference to that famous 1998 pairing of an Irish man and a Swedish woman...some history repeating here :)

I'd been looking forward to seeing this show ever since it was announced, and I certainly enjoyed it. But if the mostly negative reaction online which followed it was anything to go by, I seem to have been in a minority.

Much of the criticism related to the dated and predictable line-up.  Perhaps it's a generational thing: I'm one of the Eurovision "oldies" who has stayed loyal to the contest since my 1970s childhood, therefore the likes of Anne Marie David, Brotherhood of Man etc may have had more relevance for people of my age than for the new generation of fans, who will view Loreen and Conchita Wurst in the same way.

And let's not forget the earlier years of ESC were completely overlooked too.  As the years go on, everyone will get older and eventually leave this world behind, so I have no objections to the nostalgia circuit rolling on alongside the modern era's contest.  And fast forward to 2035....prepare for all the complaints about Conchita, Loreen, Alexander Rybak and Lena turning up at the 80th anniversary concert in favour of some of the overlooked winners from 2025 or thereabouts......

Obviously there were some notable exceptions.  Of course there would be no Abba.  And I understand that the fragmented versions of Bucks Fizz meant that they were off the list ("Making Your Mind Up" was performed by Bobbysocks in the show finale) but I'm surprised by the absence of Katrina, with or without her Waves.  I wondered if she had been asked?

Other more relevant criticism related to the lack of representation from the 'new' countries which have joined the contest in the last 20 years.  Apart from Russia, there was no 'Eastern' representation, although it has to be said that "I Wanna" and to a lesser extent "Everybody" wouldn't have been remembered as 'greatest hits' by any means; but where was "Molitva" for example?  Or even "Wild Dances"? (Athough Ruslana probably has much more important things to do in her troubled country).

So what about the acts? 2013 winner Emmelie de Forest kicked off the show with "Only Teardrops" which despite being one of the most overhyped and predetermined winners of recent years, has not aged well.  I would have substituted this with another song - probably "Satellite" although I guess Lena is moving on with her career and doesn't want to be part of the whole Eurovision thing?

For those of us who discovered ESC as a child in the 70s, Anne Marie David was much more up our street (or should that be rue).  In the early 70s, French-language songs totally owned Eurovision.  The exquisite trilogy of winners from Monaco (1971) and Luxembourg (1972/1973)  symbolised a golden age for the French language ballads, however this was smashed to smithereens by Abba in 1974 and the contest would never be the same again.

Anne-Marie reprised her 1973 winning song "Tu Te Reconnaitras" in a bilingual version.  At this point my mum made an interesting observation: she couldn't remember "Only Teardrops" but clearly remembered "Tu Te Reconnaitras/Wonderful Dream".

Even the Herreys, who gave the world one of my least favourite ESC winners ever, turned out to be quite entertaining, even bringing back their dance routine for "Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley", a song title which probably set the contest back years in this country.

I told mum that Dana International's win in 1998 was a major turning point for the contest.  The same couldn't be said for "Diva" which I thought was a pretty 'meh' winner.  (1998 for me was all about "Hemel En Aarde", "Where Are You", "Alltid Sommer" and, ok, laugh if you want to - "Guildo Hat Euch Lieb"!)  Dana's rendition of "Diva" was vocally not great but extra points for topless men.  Ohh yes.  Dana indeed knows the demographic.

The Olsen Brothers, who pleasantly surprised many of us when they won in 2000, led a mass singalong of "Fly On The Wings Of Love".  I was quite puzzled that mum didn't remember this song as she liked it at the time.

One song we've never been allowed to forget is Brotherhood of Man's "Save Your Kisses for Me" which brings back memories of doing the dance at school discos that year (!) Unfortunately I doubt if I could recreate the dance routine these days though, with these dodgy knees!

It's been a parade of winners to date but at this show, two of the "Big 5" countries are not being represented by winners but more recent contestants.  It's time for a Spanish medley - no it's not Rodolfo Chikilicuatre or even my once beloved D'Nash come to that - but Rosa Lopez.  Mum can't remember her at all.  She certainly looks very different these days to the Rosa of the "Europe's Living A Celebration" days.  I spend most of this medley, boring mum about David Bisbal and how much I was in love with him back in those days...."and if I'm supposed to remember who David Bisbal is!" was her indignant reply!

But mum is certainly bursting with recognition of the 1982 winner Nicole, who is showing off her multi-lingual versatility on "Ein Bisschen Frieden".  Bearing quite a similarity to JK Rowling too, don't you think!  I have to say though that 1982 wasn't one of my favourite contests, and I was never too excited about this one winning.  'Peace songs' I feel are always a rather cynical way to win votes at Eurovision.

If we're doing interval acts, then the greatest of all was represented by the 2015 vintage of "Riverdance".  Yes of course they could have gone for something more obscure, but you can't underestimate the impact which this had, not just on Eurovision but also in wider popular culture and on the world of dance.  This still gives me chills, I love that music.  Flatley and Butler may be long gone from the show but this new breed ensured that it's in good hands - or should I say feet!

Wonder how long it takes the members of Lordi to get ready for their concerts?  We loved "Hard Rock Hallelujah" and even thought it may have not been to everyone's tastes it was a worthy winner and I was so happy at that time to see Finland finally get its first win.

France is the other country being represented by a 'non-winner' this time Natasha St-Pier.  I thought it was quite surprising that she performed "Je N'ai Que Mon Ame" rather than a medley of previous French winners, or if they couldn't get Marie Myriam then I thought it might have been more appropriate for Natasha to pay tribute to the last song to win it for France in 1977.

The booing for D-d-dima Bilan (or at least for the country he represents) was cut from the broadcast version of the show.  I have always preferred "Never Let You Go" to "Believe" - he sang both on this show - but boy does he over-egg everything.  On the plus side, there was no skater in sight.

Bobbysocks!  They completely ruled.  Where they always win over a lot of other past Eurovision acts is that they still seem to love performing "La Det Swinge" and that feeling was reflected right back at them from the crowd.  Possibly the best performance of the night.

What a reception from the fans when Loreen took the stage.  For many of the newer/younger fans, Loreen would be the highlight of the evening.  And at least she kept her clothes on this time (unlike in this year's Melodifestivalen guest spot) but she didn't repeat that iconic dance routine.  According to mum, "Euphoria" is one of the very few winners from recent years which she can still remember.

And then of course where would a Eurovision celebration be without the King of Eurovision, Johnny Logan?  Performing a medley of "What's Another Year", "Why Me" and the utterly fantastic "Hold Me Now", which for both of us remains one of the greatest Eurovision winners.  I think this was mum's favourite part of the show - she always loved Johnny Logan.

If Johnny is the king of Eurovision then the queen has to be the very first winner of the contest, Switzerland's Lys Assia is still going strong at 91 years old and was a special guest of honour, 'Queen' Lys was crowned by Graham Norton!

I didn't want this show to end but the final act on stage was the defending champ Conchita Wurst with "Rise Like A Phoenix".  For some reason she is only known as Conchita now - I guess she's so famous she doesn't need a 'surname' any more :)

Conchita was back for the show's finale, including a duet with the contest's other ground-breaking winner Dana International on "Waterloo".

In a contest which has spanned 60 years, it was always going to be impossible (or should that be im-paaa-seee-baal) to please everyone all of the time.  After all, this was not a show for the hardcore all-year-round ESC fan family, but was clearly targeted as a nostalgia trip for the once-a-year Eurovision casual viewer.  So the haters are probably gonna hate, but I'm not ashamed to say that as a member of that hardcore year-round fandom, I enjoyed Eurovision's Greatest Hits.

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