Saturday, October 22, 2005

EUROVISION AT FIFTY: You'll never guess what won

It's the least fertile idea for a pub debate of all time, although it does get asked from time to time: Just what is the greatest Eurovision winner of all time? It's Waterloo, obviously. Most people, of course, then move on to choosing the All-time Earth XI who they'd pick to represent the planet in an intergalactic test match against Mars. Not so the people behind Eurovision, who decided that answering that question (and getting back the answer Waterloo) would be the perfect way to mark fifty years of Eurovision Song Contests.

So free of tension was the idea that none of the UK members of Eurovision could find a channel, no matter how far-flung, which wouldn't have had its Saturday evenings tanked by carrying the programme. Not even BBC Parliament or Men & Motors was going to find room, so we found ourselves fetching up in the more obscure corner of the Sky EPG. Channel 822, where TVE Internacionale was broadcasting a Spanish version of events. This had the positive advantage of not having Terry Wogan beligerizing over the top of matters with an endless war on Eastern Europe; it did mean that the non-musical segments were drowned out by two Spanish commentators. At either end, they sounded like they were quite excited, but for the bulk of the programme they sounded like they could have just been chatting about how they were going to swing last night's champagne supper on their expenses claims.

The competition itself was almost deliberately designed to be unfair - which would have mattered more had the winner not been so obvious. Most of the entrants were so far from their first flush of youth, they were represented by a tape of their winning performance and - to justify dragging a smallish audience all the way to Copenhagen and making them sit on very uncomfortable chairs borrowed from a hotel dining room - a troupe of dancers re-imagined the songs in front of the screen.

So, Nicole's A Little Peace saw a stream of bright girls carrying bright, white guitars canter across the stage. Volare (which won for Italy in 1958 and wound up winning the more interesting 'what's the second-best Eurovision song of all time' race) had people spinning umbrellas. Dana International's Viva La Diva proved to be a difficult one - in the end, the choreography solution turned out to be sending in some girls carrying large pieces ripped from living swans, and having them dance to a totally different tune.

The odd thing was, of course, Dana International turned up later in the show, clad in a kind of widow's weeds designed for a lady who'd buried many husbands, and singing a song about talking French. So why didn't she get to sing her own song? It's not like others didn't come on. Johnny Logan, who had two songs in the fourteen finalists, pulled on a white suit and delivered Hold Me Now while trying to pretend he wasn't sharing the stage with the troupe re-enacting closing time at a early 90s singles bar.

Greece's winner Helena Paparizou was also present; although it was possibly Jennifer Aniston doing her bit for her. Unlike the others who were there in person, Paparizou decided that rather than hope nobody was noticing the dancers desperately mugging alongside her, she chose to them as her own personal bitches. One poor chap ended up flat on his back, his testicles, stretched like spaghetti noodles, being plucked by Helena.

All this extra opportunity to emote (or overact) threw the songs where the artists were either too old, too wracked with in-fighting, or too convinced that Abba were going to win anyway to turn up onto a bit of a disadvantage. The toughest hill to climb was given to France Gall, who not only had to rely on black and white footage, but footage which appeared to have spent the last forty years being stored in a leaky caravan next to a giant electricty substation. Jarvis Cocker would still have voted for it.

Celine Dion's much-referenced, seldom seen song also was present in video only. Let's just be kind and say "well, it was the 1980s", shall we?

Abba don't need to show up, of course, and even having a crowd of men rollerskate in and out through a high-kicking gang of Catherine Zeta-Jones was never going to harm their chances.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was that Bucks Fizz hadn't made it into the final - although our very own Cheryl "Eggs and" Baker did appear to introduce Brotherhood of Man's creepy paedo-lite Save All Your Kisses For Me. Luckily, sanity had prevailed and the troupe didn't dress as slutty schoolies, and went for the slightly less obvious dashing-about-with-briefcases angle instead.

The voting was a much less drawn-out business than with Eurovision proper: everyone voted at once, first to get the 14 down to five, and then to choose the ultimate Waterloo from those five. Although this cut through the need to go round country by country for the results (for fear, we guess, of revealing just how few were watching the event), this still left time for a parade of singers from the history of the event doing little songettes and a bunch of "ha, weren't we funny back then" clips which came dangerously close to fracturing the deal we make the event each year. It's okay for the audience to mock the participants, but if the event starts to send itself up, then really we have no need to be present.

And, for some reason Ronan Keating turned up to do Rollercoaster. Presumably as a reminder that, while the Song Contest might add some pollution to the musical stream, there are far worse crimes being committed against music outside the confines of the international bunfight.

Keeping to one tradition, the whole thing overran - TVE didn't even bother apologising to those waiting for the next programme, mind.

Oh, and the verdict? Apparently, Abba is the best song from Eurovision ever. Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to decide if Alan Knott should be invited to keep wicket against the Martians.

More Eurovision from No Rock:
Hate to say we told you so...
Truncated 2005 Song Contest coverage
2004 Song Contest
2003 Song Contest

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