Well, that was a cracking evening, wasn’t it boys and girls?
In my 20-odd years of liking Eurovision, I’ve managed to attend three actual Contests as an actual person sat in the actual hall but I’ve never been to an actual national final. That all changed on Friday.
I’m sure regulars at Melodifestivalen will be used to something a tad swankier and those who attend the Latvian heat in person will have missed
that fucking Riga Beaver but for someone who was breaking their domestic qualifier duck it was rather exciting to wander up the stairs to the balcony of Kentish Town’s O2 and see that first sliver of the BBC set (which seemed to have used recycled scenery and graphics from last year’s 60th anniversary show in much the same way that past Song for Europes held in Comic Relief years used bits of the set Lenny Henry had given running totals in front of a few weeks earlier) loom into view.
It had been an interesting week as a Merseyside-based journalist who occasionally dips their toe into the pool of arts and culture. When Wirral’s Karl William Lund had been announced as the sixth of the six competitors on Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 show on Monday morning, his song Miracle sounded an excellent fit for the Contest, with emotion and anthemic lifts aplenty. I interviewed Karl for the Liverpool Echo about an hour after the song had been premiered and as he was considered a relative favourite with the bookies, there was a possibility that if he did the business in Kentish Town, I’d get him on video after the show, with a message for all his supporters in Merseyside. I was getting flashbacks to my time in Riga in 2003 – the first Contest I ever attended in actual person – where I was also tasked with tracking down Scouse hopefuls Jemini for a similar regional media-type report. It also meant I kept an eye on how much booze I was consuming. If Karl did the business, it really wouldn’t have done to tell a BBC press officer a few hours later they were my besht friend, I really, really loved them, always had done and if they wouldn’t mind letting me speak to Karl for a few minutes, that would be boss.
More of that bit later. As you probably have a very good idea, even if you’re reading this, on how this story ends. So back to the show. Out of our party of four, I was the only one who had heard the six songs beforehand. My partner Glyn (whom you may have seen take tea with me when Sight & Song took the format of 20-minute-ish vlogs) was wuite happy to be patient and hear them for the first time on the night. Our landlords for the evening, Lynn – a travel writer who grew up in California – and Rob – an accomplished musician who’s sung at Westminster Abbey – were also taking their seats without knowing their Bianca from their Darline or Dulcima but were enjoying the atmosphere nonetheless. There’s something to be said for not immersing yourself too much in the songs (a tough ask for someone who loves the Contest with every fibre of their soul) as that distance does allow you to be far more subjective about what’s on offer. Non-fans, for example, aren’t quick to jump on a potential UK entry within the first few bars, vitriol slathering from their jowels, while scowling: “Is THIS the best they can do?” Perhaps it’s handy to have one such person on hand next time you too want to assess the winning chops of a Eurovision entry.
With any show on BBC Four unlikely to make a million viewers and Dollie De Luxe knows what sort of budget was available to the production team, the O2 Forum was a decent venue choice. It felt a lot more like a concert than any UK national final since the heady days of the Albert Hall being used in the 1970s, giving a decent idea of who is more likely to connect with an audience than anyone warbling to 150 people in a TV studio. The build-up to going live was genuinely exciting (did I mention I’d never been to a national final before?) and Mel Giedroyc was a good fit for the presenting job. In time, ‘Eurovish’ will become aural wallpaper and not quite so irritating as the first 27 times the phrase has been used. If we ever had a UK Eurovision presenter who was on the po side of faced, it would be disastrous.
We’re almost 800 words in and still no mention of the songs. I shall dally no longer. I’d be interested to know if the running order was determined by the production team sitting right at the back of the hall during rehearsals and giving the pimp slot to whoever impressed them the most.
Dulcima were a decent opener and while there was plenty of vigour to what they were doing, all I could think of was how much of their trust fund from mummy and daddy had gone in to those nicely ragged outfits and their not especially cheap instruments. A good effort though.
Past Eurovision entry it reminded me of the most: Cake to Bake (Latvia 2014)
Matthew James’ A Better Man was the only song that leaked beforehand and it turned up Roy Delaney’s rather marvellous Eurovision Apocalypse site early in the new year. The version that snook on to YouTube was exactly the same as the one we heard on Friday night while I had thought (naively) it was a demo which would undergo some form of Bruno Mars-style makeover before the final (it could have been amazing with a When I Was Your Man-style tweak). Sadly, it was a good song pitched at the wrong decade but with all the social media support Matthew was getting in advance of the show I was more than prepared to see this announced as a shock winner at the end of the show.
Past Eurovision entry it reminded me of the most: Hold Me (Azerbaijan 2013)
I had resigned myself to Darline winning 48 hours beforehand as most of the Eurovision-loving internet wanted to adopt it and ensure it got good schooling then an internship at a reputable organisation with good employment prospects. I thought Until Tomorrow was so dull and anonymously representative of its field its parents could only have been called Jen and Eric. I’m not quite sure why so many people held it in such high esteem but a hangover from the Common Linnets’ near success two years ago could be one explanation. That said, the rest of our party liked it and thought it was the best of the three we’d heard thus far. I cannot express in enough detail the relief I felt when this was not the name on Mel’s card at the end of the night. More than any other song on show, this was the one which would have got so lost in Stockholm it faced a very real risk of being sung in Oslo.
Past Eurovision entry it reminded me of the most: This Is My Life (Sweden 2010)
A bias I wasn’t ashamed of and the prospect of a Merseyside act reclaiming the scoreboard 13 years after Jemini turned in the UK’s worst ever shift at the singing factory made me a tad nervous in the moments before Karl William Lund’s performance. I genuinely liked Miracle and thought a bit of spit and polish could see it work wonders in Stockholm, especially if it had a few more vocal lifts along its three-minute route. #TeamKWL had recognised this in the run-up to the show and promised it would be addressed if it got to Stockholm. It’s a pity those changes couldn’t have been brought in before Friday night as it may have made a real difference with the final vote. Despite all that, our lad was still the best of the four performed so far.
Past Eurovision entry it reminded me of the most: Love Kills (Belgium 2013)
It was surprising to see Bianca promoted from the death slot of Song Number Two in the Ken Bruce rundown. It can only have been down to her singing skills rather than the material she had been given. Another offspring from Jen and her by-now-knackered hubby, Shine a Little Light – other than sucking up to panelist Katrina – was more of an exercise in vocal dexterity than memorable composition. This isn’t a bad song but it’s been done at Eurovision so many times before that even a faultless rendition staged by Gandey’s Circus with the assistance of both Industrial Light & Magic and the British pyrotechnics industry would have been unable to lift it into the mid teens. A worthy effort. A bullet dodged.
Past Eurovision entry it reminded me of the most: Drip Drop (Azerbaijan 2010)
Six songs. More than the four we had to play with in the mid ’90s heats and two shy of the standard eight for much of the ’80s. Perhaps we could have had another couple of tunes in the mix (perhaps we can next year?) but the main thing was we had a choice. With Joe and Jake (is it ampersand, is it ‘and’?) being the first out the traps in Ken’s sneaky peeks, I thought these were the sacrificial lambs of the UK heat but the moment You’re Not Alone began, my three chums all said: ‘this is the one’. I had to agree with them. It’s a cracking pop song, sounds very British (as though Coldplay had penned a track for One Direction) and has two great vocalists in charge of it (yes, I’ve listened to the live performance with my headphones in to make doubly sure they can cut the mustard). It’s also the type of song which can handle a myriad of innovative staging ideas. That’s where the BBC comes in now. They have to remember last year, they have to remember the Electro Velvet production which looked like an am-dram version of Anything Goes performed on The Generation Game and sponsored by Vagisil. Please, BBC staging types. Don’t think light entertainment. Think The Brits, think the Grammys, then take it from there.
Past Eurovision entry it reminded me of the most: Something Better (Finland 2014)
Admittedly, Katrina’s performance of Love Shine a Light knocked everything else out of the park but it was a great bit of nostalgia. Her Southern preacher-style asides to keep the crowd in the moment suggest she’s come to terms with her role as a Eurovision winner (who’d have thought the gap between Katrina and the next British champ would have been longer than the one between her and Bucks Fizz?) and takes all the more extreme excesses of fan appreciation with a roll of the eye and a tongue in the cheek. I still remember her 1998 interview ahead of the Birmingham Contest when she said all she ever wanted to be was the next Chrissie Hynde. It’s funny how life turns out.
After Joe & Jake were revealed the winners (it was the sort of show where, really, any one of the six names could have been called out by Mel at the close of the show), a few of the doubters in the audience admitted the pair had surprised them and it would be interesting to see how they fared in Stockholm. The BBC couldn’t arrange for me to speak to Karl William Lund as they were only dealing with the winners (fair enough). I was offered a speck at the press conference but with there being no local angle I decided it was better to go for a pint with my chums instead.
I emailed 200 words about how much Karl had impressed the crowd and the panel to the Echo’s night crew and then settled back for a smashing meal at a fried chicken over the road. As we were hunkering down, a loud cheer could be heard from the table next to us. Dulcima had arrived to join their family and supporters for a post-final meal. They were in good spirits and didn’t seem at all fazed by the result. In fact, as they all laughed and giggled away, I couldn’t help but compare one of the losing teams’ reaction to proceedings with the grinding of teeth about the result currently underway on social media.
Eurovision in the UK is like the table plan at a wedding. Those in charge of it spend hours finding the combination which will please as many of those who want to be there. No matter how hard they try, one end of the room may be having a whale of a time, enjoying the moment for what it is but we all still notice the one in the corner, glowering into their pint while mentally listing all the reasons this experience is naught but fresh hell for them.
And would we really have it any other way? Actually, don’t answer that.