By Gerry Moran
It’s Eurovision Song Contest time and I have to confess that I couldn’t care less if it never happened. And I couldn’t care less ever since it ceased to be a song contest and became an event more concerned with spectacle than song (and I blame Lordi, the Finnish rock/metal band who won in 2006).
Then there’s the voting which has become ‘incestuous’ what with neighbours voting for neighbours regardless of the tune or the performance. I am so out of touch with the contest that I don’t actually know who’s representing Ireland this year and I forgot that it was taking place in Liverpool as last year Britain came second to the Ukraine where it would be impossible to stage the contest.
That said, time was when the Eurovision Song Contest featured quite prominently in my life and I have some great memories of the event. I remember Butch Moore coming sixth with ‘Walking the Streets In The Rain’ (1965), Dickie Rock coming fourth with ‘Come Back To Stay’ (1966) ‘ and Seán Dunphy’s ‘If I Could Choose’ second to Sandie Shaw’s ‘Puppet On A String’ (1967) And I remember them all in black and white as colour TV had yet to arrive. I especially remember Dana, an 18-year-old schoolgirl, winning the contest for Ireland for the very first time in Amsterdam in 1970 with ‘All Kinds Of Everything’.
A student in UCD, I watched the contest with my sister and her boyfriend at the time, in a flat we both shared in Rathgar. We were jubilant when Dana won and my sister’s boyfriend brought us to the Burlington Hotel (quite posh at the time) for a celebratory drink. It was only as we walked through the foyer that we noticed yours truly was wearing his bedroom slippers, in typical student condition ie. falling apart. Not quite kosher for the Burlington.
Ten years later, 1980, I am watching the contest in my home with my mother. Johnny Logan romps to victory with ‘What’s Another Year’ (a poignant song penned by the late Shay Healy, about missing his deceased father). My mother and I are thrilled. Indeed my mother blesses herself and tells me there is a Kilkenny connection to Johnny Logan who, she informs me, is in some way related to the Gargan family in Kilkenny, making the win all the sweeter.
In between those two momentous wins was the contest I watched with my girlfriend at the time (1974) in her flat in Dublin’s Kenilworth Square. This ridiculous group (I thought) called Abba sang some silly song called Waterloo. I was totally unimpressed whereas my girlfriend tipped it to win. The rest, as everyone knows, is history. Abba won (I lost my girlfriend) and went on to become one of the most successful pop groups of all time. Which says a lot about my ability to predict success in pop music.
The Eurovision Song Contest began as a technical experiment in television broadcasting; the live, simultaneous, international broadcast in the 1950s, was considered a marvel. The first Song Contest was held on May 24, 1956, in the Swiss-Italian town of Lugano and saw seven nations compete: the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Italy. In the first broadcast, each country submitted two songs, with Switzerland’s Lys Assia triumphing with her second song ‘Refrain’. Over the years the format has evolved into the boundary pushing, multi-show spectacular we know today. And you know where I stand on that. Now if they only stopped calling it a song contest I might be less critical.
Meanwhile, it’s still good to know that Ireland is top of the charts with seven wins (including three-in-a-row): Dana, ‘All Kinds of Everything’, 1970; Johnny Logan ‘What’s Another Year’, 1980 and ‘Hold Me Now’,1987; Linda Martin, ’Why Me?, 1992 (penned by Johnny Logan which makes Johnny a three-time winner and gives him a unique standing in the contest); Niamh Kavanagh ‘In Your Eyes’, 1993; Paul Harrington and Charley McGettigan ‘Rock n Roll Kids’, 1994 and Eimear Quinn, ‘The Voice’, 1996.
Finally, another Eurovision Irish record. In the 2014 semi-final Jedward had the highest hair (18.9 cms) and the biggest shoulder pads!
In the meantime I don’t know what Ireland has to do to get into the final, let alone win!