For all the songs that entered the National Final season; for all the introductions, sketches, and interval acts; one performance has absolutely stuck in my mind. It stopped me dead on the night, and it continues to do so.
Lurking inside the marathon that was Sanremo was a moment of perfection, as Pierfrancesco Favino narrated ‘La Notte‘ with a hint of the orchestra and an epilogue from Fiorella Mannoia and Claudio Baglioni.
For me this was the performance of the National Final season. It captures the elements of why I love the Song Contest, how it can transcend borders, and how we can communicate with each other without barriers.
Favino had spent the previous nights playing the role of court jester to Michelle Hunziker’s confident grace and the avuncular guidance of artistic director Claudio Baglioni. And then he steps up with noting more than a spotlight and his not inconsiderable acting skills. There is no choice, you have to watch him, you have to feel the emotion with him, you have to channel his anger. And you don’t even need to speak Italian.
As I later discovered, this was a soliloquy adapted from Kotles ‘The Night Before in the Forest‘ but there’s no need to look for the reference material.
You know what this performance is.
Last year was the first time I had ever been to a National Final anywhere. After all, I only started watching the selection shows thee years ago so attending one never even occurred to me. Then quite out of the blue in 2017 Ellie suggested I should join her in going to Eesti Laul and I thought ‘why not?’.
This year Ellie and Ewan had already booked to go to Oslo for Melodi Grand Priz, so I figured I’d tag along again…
What a show! I had never seen Melodi Grand Prix before, it wasn’t one that had come across my radar, but what a show it turned out to be. Every time I go to any Eurovision related event I get goosebumps and very often have to stop myself from shedding a little tear (I’m very emotional about things now I’m a bit older) yet here I was in yet another venue in Europe and as the sound of ‘Te deum’ introduced the rehearsals for MGP, there I was sat right by the stage ready to ‘Grab the Moment’, really nothing beats those ‘magical moments’ because I still can’t quite believe that I actually get to do this!
The French Connection
I was not expecting anything less than a car crash when France2 announced the return of a National Final… this is the country whose public selected ‘Moustache‘.
Yet the panel they recruited gave me a bit of hope: a current pop star, the man who brought France back to the top 10, and one of Canada’s best singers; all of whom understood the Eurovision, the music industry and music as a creative act. But with a televote in the final, with the current ‘La Voix‘ title holder participating with a decent song, it seemed like a fait accompli. That Lisandro Cruxi was born in Portugal only added to the narrative: a current reality TV star with roots in Portugal representing France in Lisbon.
The jury rankings in the final round were unsurprising: it seemed like Cruxi had received a perfect set-up with his clear lead over Emmy Liyanna and Madame Monsieur. Except Cruxi’s ‘Eva’ finished second in the Melfest format televote: Madame Monsieur massively won the televote, sending ‘Mercy’ to Lisbon. No one saw that coming – not even Madame Merci themselves. That week’s official singles chart in France told the story: Mercy entered at #3 and the rest of the Destination Eurovision were way down the list.
I suspect I was not the only person screaming in shocked delight at the exciting conclusion to Destination Eurovision back in January. Having survived the three-minute chop without being denuded, combined with an excellent official preview video, I have great hopes for ‘Mercy’ in Lisbon.
Monty Moncrieff (OnEurope)
Like A Scandinavian…
I decided to go on holiday smack in the middle of the National Final season this year (and I’m still playing catch up) but some things have stood out.
My highlight has, like Ewan, been my sole live National Final – Norway – which I attended with the ESC Insight team. It was a treat to see the rehearsal of a show with big ambition. As nine of the ten acts will never make it to Eurovision, the Norwegians have decided that departing from the strict rules regarding the number of performers on stage is worth the deviation for a bigger, bolder show at home.
Step up Ida Maria.
I’ve confessed my love for this song (my favourite of the season) whilst exploring some of the factors behind why I suspected it wouldn’t win for ESC Insight last week. Ida backed her presentation with a troupe of sixteen (!) cheerleaders, displaying their acrobatic ability as they formed human pyramids, and flipped one another high into the air. This led into some formation dancing as potty-mouthed Ida delivered her x-rated lines about the temperature of the Scandinavian sea. Having started singing standing amongst the audience before being hoisted onto the stage, Ida once again sought their participation to bounce a couple of dozen candy-striped beach balls above their heads. The whole thing was a hot mess, but so much fun, the scale of which you can never repeat at Eurovision. An absolute treat for the senses; except maybe the ears…
Back To The Future
With Beovizija, Serbia gave us a perfect evocation of Eurovision in the late noughties and an unbeatable interval act. What better way to spend a Tuesday night in February than enjoying a wildly uneven, creatively spectacular and diverse selection of modern Serbian pop? The songs, staging and general look and feel of the show took me back to when I fell in love with the Eurovision Song Contest, the era before the hyper-polished, hyper-professional Swedish-style festival, when we had something a little bit wonky.
Beovizija had everything. It had a returning artist in Rambo Amadeus, who turned up to do some jazz talking over a lady called Beti who didn’t seem happy about it. It had a pink haired female solo artist (this year’s National Final must have) in Saska Janx, it had traditional vocal troupes with contemporary dancers wafting about, it had a guy singing with someone who might have been his dad, Maja Nikolic as an alien queen, a lead singer who remained hidden under a bed for most of the song, and a bunch of opera goths.
But what got everyone talking was the interval act. While the votes were gathered and counted, RTS gave us a seemingly never ending parade of Eurovision acts from around the former Yugoslavian region, covering everything from ‘Adio’ to ‘Ove je Balkan’, from Bistra Voda to Bojana. They even got Moje 3 to reform especially. The only thing that was missing for me was Igranka. Fabulous.
Now do it again!
Against The Odds
Sweden’s 2018 edition of Melodifestivalen was a decidedly mixed bag. While the quality of songs was generally strong, the focus on introducing fresh blood to SVT’s Contest led to many of the better songs being paired to performers who just didn’t have the presence or experience to fully deliver them.
This was certainly the case in Heat Three, where odds-on favourite Dotter delivered a vocally shaky and poorly staged performance of her ballad ‘Cry’ – which was incidentally also far too derivative of the recent Julia Michaels hit ‘Issues’ – and found herself unexpectedly crashing out in the first round of voting.
Enter Jessica Andersson, one of the last of the class of 2003-2009 so-called ‘Schlager Divas’ who has demonstrated an ability to continue to connect with viewers long after many of her contemporaries have fallen out of favour. Andersson went for an arguably valedictory full-throttle fan service entry, a joyous slice of disco-pop that could just as easily have served as a comeback vehicle for Alcazar (If Alcazar hadn;t already released what they had hoped their comeback vehicle at MF2018 would have been had they got the nod from the selection panel).
The expectation was that Andersson would probably get knocked out in fifth place, or perhaps limp through to AC where she could easily be paired against a more app-friendly entry (presumably pitching her against Felix Sandman would have been a very easy way to end her journey before the Friends Arena). But the joy of Melfest – arguably the joy of the Song Contest and the National Finals – remains that no matter how stage managed certain aspects become, on the night there’s no substitute for performance.
Years of treading the boards onstage and on TV gave Andersson the tools to turn out a show-stopping performance when it counts, and alongside Swedish Idol winner Martin Almgren, she delivered the most polished and engaging performance of the night. Sweden voted accordingly, and the much-ballyhooed death of Schlager was delayed for another year.
Kylie Wilson (ESC Pulse)
This National Final season was a big change for me now I’m living in New Zealand, which meant having to get up a couple hours earlier than my normal wake up time to watch whatever Final I was free to watch. I remember after one bout of insomnia I thought it would be a good idea to switch on the final of Ukraine’s Vidbir at 5am… only to be inundated by angry men shouting at each other and singers getting humiliated by certain judges. That is not recommended.
But my highlight was probably the final of Eesti Laul. There was a debate over whether it was going to turn out to be a coronation or a competition. Would the big favourite Elina walk away with the crown or would we get one of the biggest shock results of this national final season? As it turned out, it was very much a coronation as she wiped the floor with her crystal-clear soprano vocals and her light-up dress, all wrapped up in a striking yet elegant package.
Not that her competitors weren’t worth checking out either. We had the weird and wonderful in the form of Evestus; Frankie Animal offering us the kind of effortlessly cool indie pop that should be on the playlists of BBC 6Music as soon as possible, former National Final veterans Iiris and Stig Rästa making well-received comebacks, and ‘Taevas‘ being a welcome reminder of Estonia’s late-90s golden age.
This also happened to be the tenth edition of the competition, may the Laul live on for another wonderfully eclectic ten years!
Over To You
This weekend is the quiet pause of the season, as we gather strength for the run up to Lisbon. What National Final moments from the last few months stick in your mind? Let us know in the comments.
ESC Insight bring you the highlights of a flipping freezing weekend in Oslo to enjoy Melodi Grand Prix 2018, featuring a happy Kyiv reunion, pre-results analysis and joy in the post-results press scrum. Ellie Chalkley, Lisa-Jayne Lewis and Ewan Spence give us their views, and see their resistance to the insistent poppiness of That’s How You Write A Song weaken with every passing moment.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Dr Scandilove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love That’s How You Write A Song
The ESC Insight team travel to Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix with quite a lot of Rybak-related emotional baggage in tow. We speak to Ida Maria about rock stagecraft, JOWST and Aleksander Walmann about where they’re going on holiday and Alexander Rybak about aiming for that second win.
As the 2018 National Finals Season ends and thoughts turn to Lisbon, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
Katie Boyle was a towering presence who stepped forward in the early days of television to help shape the medium and define what it meant to be a presenter, before moving on to a long and distinguished career in journalism and radio.
She moved to the United Kingdom in 1946, and began to make a name for herself first through modelling and small roles in British cinema before being invited to be a guest on the BBC’s magazine show ‘Quite Contrary’. It was clear that she understood what was required in the new medium of television and was promoted to hosting duties shortly afterwards.
From that starting point she worked tirelessly across BBC and ITV, becoming a comforting presence on many panel-based entertainment shows including ‘What’s My Line’, ‘I’ve Got A Secret’, and ‘Juke Box Jury’, and a familiar voice both on BBC Radio and as a continuity announcer on BBC TV.
At which point her path meets the Eurovision Song Contest.
Thanks to formative years spent in Italy, Boyle was multi-lingual, speaking English, Italian, and French fluently. Her multilinqualism, along with a highly respected reputation in the live television environment, made her the first choice when the BBC took on hosting duties for the 1960 Contest.
Boyle was there when the BBC stepped up again in 1963 to host after French TV had to pass on hosting. The music and fashion may have changed but the evolving role of Eurovision Host can be seen through the four editions that were helmed by Boyle. You can see Eurovision flourish from a tiny radio-focused theatre production in 1960, through the unique multi-studio approach in 1963 and the first colour Eurovision in 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall, to the mythical 1974 Contest that saw the international success of Abba forever tinge the Song Contest.
Shepherding the viewers across the world, was Katie Boyle.
As well as becoming one of the ‘go to names’ for both the panel shows of the day and for presenting duties on live broadcasts, she was the voice of European music not just on the BBC, but across many radio stations in continental Europe.
Before Podcasting Over Eurovision There Was Pop Over Europe
Picked up by the BBC in 1963 as ‘Music Has No Frontiers” and rebranded the following year as ‘Pop Over Europe’, Boyle took over hosting duties on the EBU’s monthly radio show that showcased the biggest chart sounds and pop music hits from across the continent for the next twenty-seven years. Producer Edward Nash wrote about the show in the Radio Times:
…When we meet in Broadcasting House each month the initial greetings to and fro across Europe, in a bewildering assortment of languages, have to be heard to be believed! Gunter Krenz, who holds the reins of the whole enterprise in West German Radio’s studios in Cologne, thrives on the challenge of this multi-lingual programme and is always seeking to extend the radio circle – latest newcomers to the chain being the BBC and, from last month, Radio Ljubljana, Yugoslavia.
The object is simple – a top pop song of the month, introduced and played from each of the eight stations taking part, adding up to a programme which gives a cross-section of the European pop scene.
There’s no doubt that picking up this show in 1963 was in part due to her second successful hosting of that year’s Song Contest.
While the Eurovision Song Contest kept her in the limelight during the sixties and seventies, her panel-show format bookings continued into the eighties. Her ‘Dear Katie’ Agony Aunt column in the TV Times further established her as a public figure; it was, however, radio where Boyle was most comfortable over a near forty-year career.
Boyle left ‘Pop Over Europe’ in 1980, and stepped back from broadcasting for many years, allowing her journalism and writing careers to flourish. She returned regularly to the airwaves in the nineties, holding down the mid-morning Radio 2 slot, and presenting ‘Katie and Friends’ a show for “animal lovers of all ages”, drawing in part on her role as a director at Battersea Dogs home.
A Lasting Legacy
Would the modern-day Eurovision Song Contest fan recognise Boyle and her achievements? Perhaps not… the Song Contest has a long history but a short memory. Yet… although the Song Contest is in constant flux its shape was defined in its first decade. In that shape we can find the echo and the memory of one of the pioneers of the art of television presenting.
As we look forward to Lisbon 2018 and a Song Contest that defines what it means to be authentic, what it means to be empowered, and what it means to be honest, there can be no better matriarch for the modern Contest than Katie Boyle.
Katie Boyle, 1926-2018
Katie Boyle, Lady Saunders (born Caterina Irene Elena Maria Imperiali di Francavilla; 29 May 1926 – 20 March 2018).
It’s round three of 2018’s Eurovision Juke Box Jury. Ewan Spence is joined by Lisa-Jayne Lewis and John Egan to discuss the hit, miss, or maybe potential of another five songs that are heading to Lisbon for this year’s Song Contest.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #3 with Lisa-Jayne Lewis (ESC Insight) and John Egan (58 Points).
Latvia: Funny Girl, by Laura Rizzotto. Hungary: Viszlát Nyár, by AWS. Slovenia: Hvala, Ne, by Lea Sirk. Finland: Monsters, by Saara Aalto. Portugal: O Jardim, by Cláudia Pascoal.
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.
Although the preview parties kick off this weekend in Latvia, the ast seven days has been a quiet time for the current crop of performers. As everyone prepares for Lisbon, it’s time to say goodbye to a legend..
Eurovision Insight Podcast: How Cold Is Minsk In November?
Let’s make plans for November, the wrong song at number one, and how to win at ‘Your Mum’ jokes. All that and more as Ewan Spence and ESC Insight bring you another week of Eurovision Song Contest news.
You’ll find Ellie’s ‘Every Eurovision Result‘ poster here on Etsy.
As the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 draws ever closer, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
Starting out as a dancer in her early life, one gig altered her life. Lys Assia’s ‘show must go on’ attitude saw her cover for a missing singer in 1940, and that was that. Dancing was her love but her voice became her career.
Like many variety performers in the forties and fifties, the explosion of feature films saw her picking up credits including 1952’s ‘Palace Hotel’ and 1995’s ‘Ein Mann Vergißt die Liebe’. But her musical career was where the action was, with hits coming throughout the fifties including ‘Moulin Rouge (Ein Lied aus Paris)’, ‘O Mein Papa’ and ‘Schwedenmädel’.
As the EBU’s first Eurovision Song Contest became a reality in 1956, Assia weighed up offers from Germany and Switzerland to attend the first Contest. Her German entry, ‘Ein Kleiner Goldner Ring’ remained in the National Final, but both ‘Refrain’ and ‘Karrussel’ were chosen by Swiss TV to be its two entries in 1956 (the first year saw seven entries, so everyone sung twice to bulk up the running order). As we now know, ‘Refrain‘ took the prize and – thanks to everyone forgetting to write down the scores – every other song, including ‘Karrussel‘, claimed second place.
As music changed shape in the early sixties with Merseybeat flooding the United Kingdom and driving the European Ye-Ye style across continental Europe, Assia’s popular music career fell out of favour. Following a final flourish with ‘Fühl’ Dich Bei Mir Wie Zuhause’ in 1964, Assia stepped back from the public limelight.
Although she continued performing throughout the years, technology and human nature would bring her back into the limelight with the Eurovision community.
The Rise Of The Recorders
During the eighties, with the rise of home video recorders, television moved from a record of immediacy to a historical document that could be studied and examined at a critical, cultural, and academic level.
As such, the Eurovision Song Contest became both a reflection of modern society and a mirror to remember cultural trends of history. A renewed interest and the increasing ease of access to the older shows from multi-generational VHS and Betamax video tapes, through home-burned DVD collections, and the almost on-demand ability watch any Contest online meant that the heroes of the early years were revived and thrust back into the spotlight.
The irony that the visual record of that first Contest is missing should not be lost on anyone, but Lys Assia’s position as the first winner, along with her willingness to engage with the growing community, elevated her to a role that, although unofficial, was that of ’First Lady of the Song Contest’.
In the last ten years, as the Song Contest has seen more celebrations and acknowledges its place in the history of post-war Europe, Assia’s engagement saw her make two bids to return to the 2012 and 2013 Contests. 2012’s ‘C’était ma vie’ played to her strengths and a return to the chanson style of her successful musical career, while 2013’s ‘All In Your Head’ was far more playful, pairing her up with hip-hop band New Jack.
Assia made her way to many of the recent Contests, conscious both of her role in history and the ability for the Eurovision Song Contest to use music to connect across generations and borders. That was as vital in the post-war years as it is today. It is now, after many years, time for new generations to hold on to that flame and keep alight Assia’s spirit of inclusiveness, inquisitiveness, and fun.
Lys Assia, born Rosa Mina Schärer, 3 March 1924 – 24 March 2018.