The one with tea-cups and polar bears
Written by: Andrew Brook
The 23rd Eurovision Song Contest took place 40 years ago, on 22nd April, 1978. Following the surprise win by Marie Myriam it was hosted by France, for the first (and so far, only) time, in Paris. Other notable firsts for Eurovision were the two presenters, the use of a split screen during the voting, and a laser beam. Oh, and the word for word enunciation of the entire rules, in English as well as French, during the interval, whilst the laser did its best to entertain the audience.
In 1978 the thing that really caught people’s attention was the orchestra. Gone were the days when they were seated in the pit. In 1977 they had been centre stage, with the stage moving around them, and for the 1978 edition the French went one better, and seated the orchestra in a massive rotating tea-cup. It must have been a strange experience for the musicians to be moving whilst playing.
The competition should have belonged to Baccara. They were riding on the success of their pan-European smash-hit single ‘Yes Sir, I can Boogie’. But instead of representing Sweden, they went for Luxembourg, singing in French, with a song that was just that bit too close to their big hit. As so often happens in Eurovision, the big stars were overlooked. Parlez Vous Francais? came 7th. At least they beat their own country, with Spain finishing in 9th place.
They were not the only contestants to under-achieve. Both Italy and the UK were expected to do well, only to find that the orchestra and sound mixing fought against their songs, both of which relied upon the harmonies of the groups. The UK suffered its worst result so far, even if 11th would be seen as quite a result these days.
1978 was the first year since 1972 that all contestants had to sing in their own language, and Björn Skiffs wasn’t happy. He decided to sing his Swedish entry in English, only to change his mind at the very last moment. This caused him to forget the Swedish lyrics, and the first few lines turned out to be gibberish. He still managed to beat six other acts.
The contest will be remembered equally for the winner and the loser. 1978 saw the first nul points of the douze-points voting system. Jan Teigen needs no introduction and is arguably more famous than the winners.
Israel was never fancied to win in 1978. But on the night their disco number shone out, and they won by a big margin over second placed Belgium. Five singers joined Izhah Cohen on stage for their tightly arranged up-beat number - and, for the first time for a winning song, a woman conducted the orchestra. ‘A-Ba-Ni-Bi’ became a hit across Europe, though not of the level the contest was used to producing. It is fondly known as ‘I wanna be a polar bear’ in English-speaking countries.
So - is it worth 90 minutes of your time if you haven’t seen it before?. The contest has a completely different feel to today’s events. The concert hall atmosphere and backstage shots of the singers getting ready to perform let you get close up to the competition itself. And the songs, whilst not containing any classics, are mostly toe-tappers.
At the end of the contest the laser operator valiently tried to make the beam project the Star of David on the back of the stage. It didn’t quite work, but that didn’t matter. Israel had finally arrived on the Eurovision stage. And, of course, they would host and win again the following year, in Jerusalem. Halleluia. I wanna be a polar bear.
Sonia, a ginger-haired beauty from Liverpool, was born on 13th February 1971. She shot to fame in the late 80s with the Stock, Aitken & Waterman hit ‘Never stop me from loving you’. This would be Sonia’s only ever solo number one record, lasting thirteen weeks in the U.K. chart. We shouldn’t forget that Sonia was a contributing artist in the 1989 Christmas band aid single ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ which also charted at number one.
Between 1989 and 1993 Sonia recorded an impressive eleven top 30 hits. In 1991, after a falling out with Stock, Aitken & Waterman, Sonia released ‘Only fools (fall in love) which made the U.K. top ten.
In 1993 Sonia was selected as the artist for A Song For Europe, where she performed all eight songs. ‘Better The Devil You Know’ won by a landslide, with 156,955 votes, to 2nd placed ‘Our World’ with 77,695 points. Sonia was delighted to represent the U.K.
The Eurovision Song Contest took place in Millstreet, Ireland, following a fabulous win by Linda Martin in Malmo, the previous year. I remember it vividly, as 1993 was my first ever Eurovision. The final votes were due in from Malta (who were delayed casting their votes from earlier in the evening, due to technical difficulties). Malta’s jury awarded 12 points to Ireland and nothing at all to the U.K - the shock vote of the night. Niamh Kavanagh won the contest for Ireland. A great song and worthy winner and the U.K. had yet again achieved second place!
In the coming years Sonia performed in London’s West End, taking on parts including Sandy in Grease, whilst still releasing music including, one of the songs from Greece, ‘Hopelessly Devoted to you’.
In 2002 Sonia returned to the Eurovision stage as a panellist on the one time only ‘Liquid Eurovision’ show, presented by Jenny Eclair - an alternative to the usual Terry Wogan presentation - on the now dissolved station BBC Choice.
In 2003, Sonia returned to tv on ITV’s ‘Reborn in the USA’ reality show, which featured stars from yesteryear trying to rebuild their careers.
In 2007 Sonia released her greatest hits album and in 2009 released her first single for nearly fourteen years. Three years later, Sonia performed with other former Stock, Aitken and Waterman artists, including Kylie, in their ‘Hit Factory Reunion show, performed at the O2 in London.
In between releasing singles, tv shows and raising her daughter Gracie Rose, Sonia has also performed in various Pantomines up and down the country, often alongside tv favourite Lily Savage.
This year, twenty-five year’s after her Eurovision performance, Sonia is back!! Performing at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on the 26th April, as a one off gig, Sonia will perform all of her hits, including of course ‘Better The Devil You Know’.
Eurovision is two hectic weeks, so it might be good to also plan some time to relax. Maybe getting in touch with nature or perhaps visiting a huge shopping mall? Whether it’s one or the other, Lisbon has that and much more to offer. Here’s five extra recommendations for what you can do in the Eurovision host city.
Our Welcome to Lisbon serie of articles continue as we approach the final destination: the Eurovision Song Contest 2018. We are less than two weeks away from the start.
In our last article, we recommended five sightseeing options for those who want to do more in the Eurovision host city than to simply watch the shows. Because five feels too little, we are giving you extra recommendations on what to do in Lisbon.
1. Get to hear some Fado
Many must have already heard of it, as Portugal has been represented by it in Eurovision in the past, but for those who didn’t, Fado is one of Portugal’s most known music genres. It is characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics mixed with a feeling of fatefulness or melancholia.
Many restaurants and night places in Lisbon often offer Fado nights, where you can enjoy it while having a meal or simply relax by listening to it… Many get emotional. While it is not hard to find a Fado House, it can get quite pricey so we’d recommend a thoughtful research and perhaps booking in advance – if possible.
2. Visit Lisbon’s traditional neighbourhoods
Alfama, Mouraria, Graça or Lapa. Those are just a few of Lisbon’s historical neighbourhoods. They go back in time, own a very peculiar architecture and so many unique traces worth seeing such as its distinctive colours, diverse tiles and narrow streets. If you intend to visit a few, expect a few stairs and ramps. While it might be a tiring journey, the memories – and pictures – will be worth the effort.
Talking about tiles, near Lisbon’s center, you can find the National Tile Museum that preserves and presents its amazing and vast collection of tiles, a very Portuguese characteristic.
See alsoPublic transport in Lisbon – how to get around in the Eurovision host city
3. Visit Cascais and its surroundings
Cascais is coastal town in Portugal. It is not too far from Lisbon – 45 minutes by train – and will give you beautiful landscapes and a lot to see and do, including a meal near the ocean.
Just like the historical neighbourhoods mentioned above, Cascais goes back in time and also features historical traces and architecture. Despite the fact that it has become more and more popular among tourists, it still is way calmer than Lisbon. Once you’re there, you can adventure yourself into so many things: check its old town, the scary Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth – a collapsed cave and series of highly weathered cliffs), rent a bike and explore one of the world’s most famous surf beaches, Guincho, etc.
If Cascais is on your plans, take advantage of its train line and stop by Oeiras for more history, beach and a relaxing walk in its Passeio Marítimo of over 5km along the ocean.
4. Shop in Lisbon
There are so many different places where you can shop in Lisbon. An obvious one is its downtown, Baixa-Chiado, as it is amongst Lisbon’s most popular places. Not only does it features countless unique traces, a lot of street artists, movement and restaurants, but also a big amount of stores, especially for clothing and souvenirs.
In Baixa, if you take Rua Augusta it will eventually lead you towards Terreiro do Paço where the EuroVillage will take place this year. It is iconic and a great square with an amazing view to the ocean.
Nonetheless, there’s more places where you can shop in Lisbon. Its shopping centers are amongs the biggest ones in Europe. Colombo, Vasco da Gama – right next to Altice Arena – or the biggest Dolce Vita Tejo are just three of the main ones.
See alsoThe Chef's recommendation – Where to eat in the Eurovision host city
5. Get lost in Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
The Gulbenkian Foundation is located in Praça de Espanha and was established back in 1956. Its main purpose is focused on fostering knowledge and raising the quality of life of people through art, charity, science and education. Many events are held there such as exhibitions, collections and even concerts. Its agenda is constantly updated on its website and you can find anything to your own taste.
If by any chance, no event catches your attention during your stay in Lisbon, you still have the opportunity of visiting its beautiful garden. Not only its entrance is free of charge, but here’s a great chance to relax after a big day.
And there you go. You now have ten of the many things you can do or visit in Lisbon. We hope you take advantage of such and enjoy what the city has to offer. Again, don’t limit yourself to those, there’s just so many things you can do. Have fun!
From grannies beating their drums to folk punk, from that same folk punk band wearing the pointiest hats in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest to a memetic saxophone player who returns with his band to claim third place, Moldova has a special reputation at the Song Contest.
With only a few exceptions, their entries have stood out for bringing the party without compromising on the region’s own strongly folk-influenced musical sound – and even when they do pick a more mainstream sound, the stage show is something else. As the Kirkorov-backed DoReDos prepare to take their infective brass riff and a very different kind of giant hat to Lisbon, lets take a look at one of my favourite Eurovision countries and examine how and why they acquired this reputation.
Chisinau greeting monument (Photographer: Gustav Flatabø)
A Little Bit Of Hawks’ Moldova
One of the poorest countries in Europe, landlocked Moldova sitting at the edge of the former USSR doesn’t often feature in Western European media. Tony Hawks’ 2000 book ‘Playing the Moldovans at Tennis‘ is a rare exception to this, when the comedian makes a bet based on knowing nothing about Moldova and the Moldovans and ends up falling in love with the country. But in general, aside from Eurovision, many Europeans would never think of Moldova. And this is key.
It’s well-known that the Eurovision Song Contest is a big deal to eastern and south-eastern European countries in a way it never is for the Big 5 or other Western nations suchas like Ireland, Norway, and Belgium. The Song Contest is a great opportunity to promote themselves and their music to a global audience, a chance that they’d rarely get on their own. An act qualifying for the Grand Final means they and their country get shown to an audience of well over one hundred million viewers.
And if they win, they get an international spotlight the following year, one that while hugely expensive, is far more practical than hosting many major international sporting events. Andy Warhol claimed we’d all get 5 minutes of fame, but for much of Europe, Eurovision is all about the three minutes of fame.
And Moldova is arguably one of the countries this is most true for.
Arriving Late And Starting The Party
Moldova were one of the last Eastern European countries to join the party, coming on board in 2005, but they didn’t so much climb a gangplank as swing from the rigging yelling as they went. Zdob și Zdub took the relatively short trip to Kiev in 2005 with a performance so memorable it got a reference in ‘Love Love Peace Peace‘ 11 years later.
The song ‘Boonika Bate Doba‘ (‘Grandmamma beats the drum’) was written about the owner of a guest house the band stayed at while on tour, and in a story that always makes me start crying when I drunkenly explain it to friends, when they got the first ever Moldovan Eurovision ticket, they invited the selfsame Boonika to come on stage with them – which involved some of the band doing a ‘Sad Tony’ to limit the performance to the EBU’s ‘six ‘people on stage’ limit. So when the ethno-punk band danced and sang around the Palace of Sports with a performance brimming with both energy and authenticity, the old woman in the rocking chair who stood up and, beaming, played her drum in front of Europe, was the same woman who inspired the song.
And we loved it.
Zdob și Zdub came 2nd in the notoriously tough single semi-final, beaten only by their neighbours from Romania, and ended up with 6th place in the final, only 10 points behind 3rd (which also went to Romania). Yet they succeeded beyond that – in the UK at least, the ‘Moldovan granny’ was the main memory of the contest, and suddenly, Moldova was in the consciousness of people in Birmingham, Bilbao, and Bielefeld. It was a fantastic start, something memetic but also true to Moldova.
Arsenium & Natalia Gordienko weren’t able to repeat that success in 2006. Hampered by a second-place draw in the running order but with a performance that was all but a low-energy Spanish entry, with nothing especially stand-out aside from possibly a giant sail, they sunk in Athens finishing 20th.
Natalia Barbu to the rescue! ‘Fight‘ is another of the Moldovan entries people still remember now with its Evanescence-style sound, violin riff, and vaguely goth-industrial bodysuit, bringing Moldova another top ten finish in Helsinki. Then Geta Burlacu didn’t make the Grand Ginal the next year with a slow jazz number with little especially memorable beyond her reclining on a sofa on stage holding a teddy bear.
Nelly Ciobanu came second to Zdob și Zdub in 2005 and she got her chance to represent her country in 2009, returning to the more ethnic sound. Trumpets, drums, and dancing all across the massive Moscow stage, she brought the party, with everything from the title and lyrics to the costumes and LEDs screaming ‘Moldova’. Even the chorus was clear:
Ra, he hei, he hei
Hai la hora, hai la hora din Moldova – (Come to the dance, come to the dance from Moldova)
Ra, he hei, he hei
Iute-i hora, iute-i hora în Moldova – (The dance is fast, the dance from Moldova is fast)
It qualified for the final and came fourteenth, and with memories of Zdob și Zdub’s grandmother still in people’s minds, Moldova began to acquire a reputation for this kind of music and show. But Nelly’s performance, while energetic, wasn’t memetic.
Enter Epic Sax Guy
Nobody saw SunStroke Project (with Olia Tira) breaking well beyond the Eurovision sphere and becoming internationally known. ‘Run Away’, a eurodance number featuring SunStroke’s trademark sax-violin combo, is certainly an upbeat and fun song, and the stage show beyond the famous part is flashy and active, but it only just qualified for the final in 2010 and then finished 22nd, ahead of Ireland, Belarus, and the UK. The stage was certainly set for the song becoming beloved of a certain kind of Eurofan but not making much of an impact beyond that, however something unexpected happened – it went viral.
Eurovision songs had gone viral before – winners Lordi, Lithuania’s LT United, and of course Zdob și Zdub – but never to this extent. Epic Sax Guy (Sergey Stepanov)’s rhymthic thrusting while miming playing his saxophone was shared across the Internet, benefitting hugely from modern media, and became well-known in the United States, arguably a holy grail for Eurovision performances.
Although it was his sax riff and hips that grabbed the most attention, people coming across the song through memes across forums and social media often stayed for the whole song, ratcheting up a YouTube viewer count far beyond what its 22nd place finish would indicate. In fact, few of the 21 songs that beat it would endure in quite so strong a fashion, and while memes come and go, they tend to be fondly remembered. This would turn out to have strong repercussions 7 years later.
Maybe Moldova took this on board, as next year they send Zdob și Zdub back again with a performance all but tailor-made to be both memorable and memetic. ‘So Lucky‘ with the tall pointy hats and angelic unicylist carried the band’s trademark ethno-punk genre, albeit in a slightly heavier way than six years earlier. No matter. While not enduringly successful in the way SunStroke Project managed to be, Zdob și Zdub qualified and scored a respecteable 12th place finish in Düsseldorf, just outside the top ten.
Pasha Parfeny followed hot on their heels/wheels, bringing his trumpet-driven ‘Lăutar‘ to Baku, and dancing his way to 11th place with a slightly chaotic stage performance where at one point Pasha stands surrounded by three backing dancers spread across the floor pretending to run. ‘This trumpet makes you mine’ and it seemed to broadly work. Aliona Moon equaled Pasha’s result one year later, with an 11th place finish built on a memorable projection-based dress that transformed Aliona into an erupting volcano for the final chorus.
Moldova had achieved success with two kind of performance which sometimes overlapped – brass-driven folk party songs, and memorable stand-out staging. The most successful performances (certainly in the long run) achieved memetic status, and the country’s reputation was solidified.
A shame then that they lost their way for a few years. Cristina Scarlat’s ‘Wild Soul‘ didn’t meet either of the above critera and not only failed to qualify but scored Moldova their worst result yet on their 10th entry. Eduard Romanyuta’s gloriously trashy ‘I Want Your Love‘ with its dancing cops almost got Moldova into the final in 2015, but something did indeed ‘steal their thunder’. The ‘looks vaguely like the start of a porn film’ staging wasn’t enough.
Neither was Lidia Isac’s dancing, accreditation-lanyard-sporting, spaceman in Stockholm, a bizarre edition to the song that felt as if Moldova had remembered they were Moldova at the last minute and made a concession to their reputation, history, and past successes.
And then they rolled with their past successes, and returned the now-firmly-legendary SunStroke Project to Kiev.
With a hugely confident performance of ‘Hey Mama‘ acknowledging Epic Sax Guy’s memetic status but not relying on it, with a solid party song, Moldova put all their most successful elements together…and scored a podium finish, one not even the die-hard Eurovision betting community had seen coming, yet one which few felt unearned.
In the city where their Eurovision journey began in such an epic memetic fashion, Moldova triumphed. Yes, they were given a lot of promotion over Epic Sax Guy’s past, but this wasn’t unmerited, especially given how their 22nd place 2010 finish did not reflect the song’s enduring success. And Moldovans couldn’t have been prouder, with a grand reception for the homecoming trio outmatched only by winner Salvador’s in Portugal.
So we come to DoReDos. How will they do in Lisbon? The trumpet-driven, party song ‘My Lucky Day‘ definitely fits into the country’s tradition – many eurofans recognise this as a Moldovan entry at once – and DoReDos have brought immense energy on stage in their own national finals, only being pipped to the post by Lisa in 2016. Phillip Kirkorov’s involvement suggests a degree of confidence in the group and the song is popular among Eurofans this year, many acknowledging how it is once again true to the music from that part of the world. Will it go memetic? Unlikely but maybe if Marina brings that oversized hat from the video…
There’s More Than One Way To Win At Eurovision
Moldova has been far more successful at Eurovision than their size and 2014-2016 finishes would suggest. They have achieved this through both being true to themselves in a consistent way relatively few other Eurovision countries have, but also by creating memorable performances that have gone viral and achieved memetic status both within the Eurosphere and beyond.
This means Moldova stands out internationally in a way that no other country I can think of does. Musically, they are best known through memes. Their international success has been through utilising performances and songs that have stood out in a viral way – and this even precedes Eurovision. Because if I was to ask what Moldovan songs an average Brit might know, they might know SunStroke Project’s two entries, they might recall Zdob și Zdub, but (so long as they’re of a certain age) they’ll recall ‘Dragostea Din Tei‘, better known as ‘the Numa Numa Song’.
O-Zone’s 2004 international megahit didn’t quite reach ‘Gangnam Style’ levels of fame, but the dance tune with its earworm of a chorus achieved a great deal of radio airplay in the UK even before then going viral online with an early meme video of a man singing and dancing along (‘Numa Numa Guy‘ as he came to be known). O-Zone were often mistakenly reported as Romanian at the time, which might indicate the problems Moldova has had in making a name for itself, but those who looked a bit further realised and started to pay attention to Chisinau, just before the Grandmamma beat her drumma into Eurovision history.
Not to say there isn’t a great deal of Moldovan music that isn’t memetic and is still fantastic (Alternosfera, Gândul Mâței, Che-MD), but it’s the ‘Epic’s which have broken beyond the banks of the River Dniester and enchanted Europe and the world.
As the countdown to Lisbon gets ever closer to zero, many of the stars of Eurovision 2018 are taking the opportunity to meet their fans and hone their crowd-pleasing skills at the numerous preview parties taking place all over Europe throughout May.
In this week’s Newsletter, we bring you a roundup of which artists have been hitting the stage at which events, plus a major announcement about the 2018 interval act and the long-awaited announcement of the Semi Final running orders.
In the meantime, here’s a handy roundup of some of the best ESC Insight content you might have missed during the past few weeks…
ESC Insight Podcast: Jukebox Jury Ewan Spence and his ever-rotating lineup of guest pundits submit more of this year’s 43 entries to the Hit, Miss or Maybe test as Juke Box Jury passes the halfway point.
When Local Celebrations Take On Eurovision Song Contest Selections March saw John Egan experience his first ever Norsk Melodi Grand Prix. In this thoughtful piece, he examines the delicate balance between a national Song Contest, local TV audiences and the ultimate prize of a ticket to the Eurovision Song Contest…
Uncovering The Popular Tropes Of The Eurovision Story Contest Eurovision is more than just a Song Contest – in order to win, you also need a story. Guest writer Jenny Gerlach looks at some of the approaches taken in recent years, and which of this year’s three-minute wonders fit the tropes.
Remembering Lys Assia, The First Lady of Eurovision As the first winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1956, Lys Assia’s place in the history of our Contest was guaranteed the moment the credits rolled over ‘Refrain’. But it was her passion for the Song Contest throughout her life that endeared her to the fanbase. Ewan Spence remembers her career and a playful sense of adventure.
Remembering Katie Boyle: Eurovision’s Definitive Host Another Eurovision legend also left us last month. Ewan Spence looks back at how four-time Contest host Katie Boyle helped to define the role of the presenter, leaving an indelible mark on Eurovision that endures to this day.
Why Iceland Is The Cutest Eurovision Nation Ever They may not have fielded a finalist in a few years, but Iceland’s National Final, Söngvakeppnin, has been getting bigger and bigger at home. Ben Robertson pays one of Europe’s smallest but most determined competitors a long overdue visit…
Right Song, Wrong Contest: Trapped In Your National Final We all have our favourites in the National Final season, and it can feel deflating when they don’t win, but nothing smarts more than the feeling when a genuine contender fails at the first hurdle. Monty Moncrieff looks at some of the factors that can leave a potential Eurovision winner stranded on home soil…
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Eurovision 2018’s Juke Box Jury, round six. Ewan Spence is joined by Lisa-Jayne Lewis and Dan Hudson to talk wheelchairs, lopers, and beards. Looking for hits, misses, and maybes are Lithuania, Israel, Russia, Montenegro, and Denmark.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #6 with Lisa-Jayne Lewis and Dan Hudson (A Gay And A NonGay)
Lithuania: When We’re Old, by Leva Zasimauskaité.
Israel: Toy, by Netta,
Russia: I Won’t Break, by Yulia Samoylova.
Montenegro: Inje, by Vanja Radovanović.
Denmark: Higher Ground, by Rasmussen.
Don’t miss an episode of the Eurovision Insight podcast by subscribing to the RSS feed dedicated to the podcasts. iTunes users can find us in the iTunes Store and get the show automatically downloaded to your computer.