Eurovision 1997: Sixteen years of hurt. Never stopped us dreaming.
I will never forget watching the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest. I was in my second year at Glasgow University, staying in a tenement flat not too far from the Botanic Gardens or the famous Byres Road (you really should try and do the pub crawl) which had rooms as big as ballrooms that were just as difficult to heat. Two days before the Contest was screened, Labour had swept to power after 18 years in the shadows and Tony Blair looked like the sort of bloke who could make Britannia cool again. With such a momentous seachange for Britain, it's understandable that the goings on between acts from 25 nations across the Irish Sea in Dublin's Point Theatre weren't going to register much on neither media radar nor national consciousness. But somehow, it did.
Topping off a week when, for Britain's non-Tory populous, things really could only get better - they only went and did. As though it was written fresh on the statute book in the burgeoning daylight of May 2, as though everyone had decreed it so to welcome in a new age, as though the rest of Europe suddenly realised we weren't so bad after all on this sceptred isle. On May 3, 1997, the United Kingdom won the Eurovision Song Contest.
And it's still the only one I've ever watched on my own.
With Eimear Quinn's seventh victory for Ireland in 1996 in Oslo not exactly being welcomed with open arms by the European record buying public, but Gina G's eight placed Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit leaping off the shelves across the continent and beyond, the Eurovision department at the EBU realised something had to be done to shift the Contest result in alignment with more modern tastes.
The first thing they wanted to change was the juries. Well, not so much change them, more like get rid of them completely. So, for the very first time in 1997, the televoting system was trialed at Eurovision, where five countries: Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and the UK allowed the viewers to call a voting number for the song they liked best after seeing all 25 and the 10 songs getting the highest number of calls receiving the one to eight, 10 and 12 points usually awarded by the juries. It sounded like democracy in action, it also sounded like a great way for TV stations to make money off the voting lines. It also spelled the beginning of the neighbourly love-in that Eurovision is renowned for today.
RTE did its bit to modernise things by asking Ronan Keating of Boyzone (doesn't he look young in that picture?) to co-host the show, alongside regular TV presenter Carrie Crowley. Ronan didn't do very much presenting at all, but he did join his fellow Boyzoners to do the interval act, the bit of which that sticks in my mind is a girl wearing silver jeans, for some reason.
The set was also quite funky - with the yooge archway seemingly modelled on the hairstyle of 1985 UK entrant Vikki Watson. And it was on that stage that 25 acts did do battle for the Eurovision crown and, lo, I did watch in my bedroom in my flat while my flatmates watched the snooker on BBC Two on the big telly in the front room. And can I just take this opportunity, almost 13 years later, to apologise to them for the ever louder whoops of delight which emanated from my room as the voting progressed and surely disturbed their viewing. What am I saying? I don't care. It was the night we won Eurovision. And it was brilliant.
Blair's Babes present your 1997 facts:
Winners 1997: Katrina and the Waves perform Love Shine a Light for the United Kingdom
(a) Although 1997 doesn't seem that long ago, when the UK last won Eurovision, Princess Di was still alive and Derek Wilton was just about still breathing in Coronation Street. I bought my copy of Katrina and the Waves' CD single of Love Shine a Light from HMV in Glasgow with a cheque (that's how long ago 1997 was), but chucked in a copy of The Seahorses' Love is the Law for good measure in case the assistant wrinkled her nose up at me. Either way, I helped both releases reach number three in the UK singles chart.
I first heard Love Shine a Light on the National Lottery Show on Valentine's Day 1997, when the four shortlisted songs for Dublin were performed, one each week, before the public voted for their favourite. I remember being rather non-plussed with Katrina and Co's first performance of the song and not really liking any of the four on offer. The worst of them all, however, was the (ahem) interestingly titled Yodel in the Canyon of Love - and I'd rather not detail the origins of that phrase here - performed by Do Re Mi featuring Kerry. Scotland's Kerry McGregor always sang from her stool, belying the fact she was a wheelchair user in real life. The Great British Song Contest didn't make Kerri a star, but The X Factor did, when she appeared under the tutelage of Sharon Osbourne in 2006.
However, the Phil Spector-style anthem, which The Samaritans turned down as their 30th anniversary song because "it sounds like the sort of thing which wins Eurovision" won the vote by a fair margin. Thus, the 1980s hitmakers, best known for the single Walkin' on Sunshine and who had even appeared in Q Magazine's Where Are They Now? section the summer before their Eurovision campaign, were off to Dublin. In a rare stroke of luck, the UK bagged a fantastic draw in 1997, singing 24th out of the 25 songs and were in the right spot with the right song to make the right sort of impact. Katrina Leskanich, the Kansas-born lead singer couldn't decide on an outfit to wear for the night of the Contest, so settled for an emerald green blouse she'd picked up in a London market for about three quid as she believed the colour would bring her good fortune in Ireland.
Before the Waves launched into Love Shine a Light, a cheerily confident Terry Wogan announced to UK viewers: "This'll take the roof off." He wasn't wrong.
After the first three juries were a tad sluggish to show their support for the UK, the 12s soon started rolling in for Blighty. Amazingly, even Ireland gave Katrina and Co the douze - and it still gives me great pleasure to hear the Irish spokeswoman practically force the words: "...and 12 points go to the United Kingdom," through a fixed grin. She probably felt ill afterwards.
By the end of the evening, the UK had 227 points, one more than the dreadful Rock'n'Roll Kids had earned on the same stage three years earlier. Sixteen years after Bucks Fizz had also won in Dublin, Britain finally had its hands on the Eurovision trophy again. And, perhaps more importantly, it meant the UK was going to stage the event once more, but this time in an era when the Contest was very different from the end-of-the-pier stand-in productions the BBC had mustered up in the 1970s. I think I was excited every day for the next 12 months. And I'd feel the same if we won again this year.
Ireland, finally finding out how it feels to finish second...
(b) Just to slap on the irony, it was Ireland who took second place to the UK in 1997, positions which were usually the other way round on the scoreboard at '90s Eurovision. To this day, I can't find anything especially exciting about Mysterious Woman, except the piano intro. As 1997 was the very first year technology enabled the Eurovision fan world to mobilise itself into a pre-Contest continent-wide vote, this was a surprisingly popular offering considering how much the Oslo result had alienated a fair few Contest afficianados against Irish entries.
Although it featured among most countries' top 10 songs, only the UK awarded Mysterious Woman the full douze and Marc was 70 points behind Katrina and the Waves at the end of the show.
It's alright Marc - we know full well how that feels.
Ugh! Celine Dion's gegging in on the Turkish entry...
(c) There are some countries whose Eurovision careers have always been so unremarkable that you never expect them to trouble the top 10. That is why Turkey's bronze medal in 1997 was completely out of leftfield. Sebnem Paker had also sung for her homeland in Oslo 12 months previous, opening the show. She shifted one place up the running order to the accursed number two slot in Dublin, but the moment she began performing the 100-1 shot Dinle, the audience seemed completely captivated.
So too were the juries. It went home with 121 points - about 120 more than expected. The impish-faced Sebnem was given a hero's welcome on her return and even granted an audience with the President who vowed their country would go two places higher in the UK in 1998. I don't think Katrina got invited to Number 10. And she'd won the thing.
The lesser spotted Italian Eurovision entry has never been spotted since.
(d) And so, Italy made its Eurovision swansong in 1997. The song Fiumi Di Parole (Rivers of Words) was the big favourite among the Contest fans as Dublin neared, which I've always suspected had more to do with the fact that it was the first Italian entry for four years and this was the first in many a year to go to Eurovision having won the prestigious San Remo song festival. Jalisse's river of lyric had to be blocked off to meet the three-minute maximum Eurovision imposes and this necessary hacking did affect Fiumi Di Parole's ebb and flow.
Still, it finished fourth, a smidge behind Turkey and Italy's best result in five years. It just wasn't enough to convince them to stay and they have been absent from Eurovision ever since, although San Remo, the event which spawned the Contest, continues to thrive.
(e) Another country doing unexpectedly well in 1997 was Cyprus. Even more surprising was, although the first song up on the night, Mana Mou proved memorable enough for the juries to deliver such a good placing. A bit livelier than Cyprus' recent Eurovision back catalogue, this saw lots of dubba-dumming and monochromatic outfits, topped off by a finale where everyone strode to the front of the stage to sing in a line.
Textbook Eurovision, which may be why it was so very well thought of.
(f) By far the biggest pop act on the planet in 1997 was The Spice Girls, who had emerged in the summer between the Oslo and Dublin contests. It's a wonder there weren't any more copycat acts in the Point line-up, but the most obvious one came from the usually-ballady Croatia.
If you wannabe Croatia, you'd better get with their friends
ENI did not have perhaps the same team of stylists behind them as Posh, Scary, Sporty, Ginger and Baby enjoyed, but we're prepared to bet they'd take them in a sing-off. Singing right before the UK, Probudi Me was expected to do a lot better than it did. In the end, it finished way down the field.
(g) Alla Pugacheva is one of the biggest stars in living memory in Russia, so her low placing at the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest must have been a real body blow. Especially in heels that high. Her song Primadonna was, quite simply, too old-fashioned for the time she entered although, as Terry Wogan mentioned on the night, she does look remarkably like Rita from Coronation Street at certain angles. And we do like the way she tries to drink her microphone when the song finishes.
Sticking with Alla, and far more interesting than her appearance at the Contest, remember an incident in Russia a few years back when the audience at a theatre were held hostage? It was Alla, theatrical superstar and quick-thinking comrade that she is, who provide some schemaics of the building (what she was doing with them remains a mystery) which enabled the rescue team to plan the best way into the building. Just like Who Dares Wins. What a gal.
(h) Tragically, Iceland's performance at the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest cannot be embedded from YouTube (how mean...), so the promo video is included instead.
We can't embed Paul's Eurovision performance - but trust me - it looks like this, only on a sofa
Cheeky monkey Paul Oscar was the last act of the night, following Katrina and the Waves by draping himself over a sofa while various ladies in fishnet stockings draped themselves over him and gradually rose up to join him for the final line-up dance. The juries hated it, but it did very well with the countries who had just introduced the televoting system. The seeds for big performances doing well over songsmanship had been sown. Minn Hinsti Dans is great to watch, but not much to listen to.
And now Sir Cliff's gegging in on Bosnia...
As with Croatia, it was just so refreshing to see and hear an entrant from the former Yugoslavia, and from a country which was always on the news for the wrong reasons, to send something that's just a bit of fun. Full of finger snapping and daft head-shaking to the side, the Goodbye of the title isn't even a hidden jab at a past regime, it really is just about a bloke Alma doesn't want to go away. Poor thing. She should have gone to Katrina for some blouse advice as well.
(j) Bettina Soriat had been a backing singer and dancer for Austria's George Nussbaumer in Oslo in 1996.
Primark only had it in blue.
She came back the following year, with rather more dancing than singing, but One Step is a very guilty pleasure. It's great.
The No Frills version of Love City Groove
(k) At least Love City Groove looked like a rap act who knew their way round a club. Kolig Kaj was the Danish equivalent who probably couldn't find his way from his bedroom to the downstairs hall. Stemmen i Mit Liv was all about a man who falls in love with the woman at the end of the phoneline in directory enquiries and his determination to woo her via the medium of rap.
Kolig was certainly a persistent fellow and the bit where the woman goes: "Ha-ha-ha!" in mock amusement is worth the entry fee to Eurovision '97 alone. Although he put a bet on himself to win during rehearsal week and told any journalist who cared to listen that he was "going to be rich", his confidence did not pay off. Bless him.
Their kids had to leave the room during the performance
(l) This is a bit special. It completely bombed, but it's still a bit special. Mrs Einstein looked like a WI tribute to the Spice Girls, although saying that, I can't quite think of any branch of that staunch institute which would allow in such flighty members.
A brilliant pastiche of a Bond theme, all about nobody having the time to do this, that or the other, it was choreographed to death but only brought the Netherlands five measly points in the final shake-up. A travesty. But at least each member of Mrs Einstein got a point each to take home with them.
(m) And after all the fun of 1997, we have to come to the sorrow. Two songs scored the infamous nul points in Dublin, with both unfortunate nations landing in the top 10 in Oslo the previous year. The first of these was Portugal.
Yes, we can quite understand why that did so badly as it is rather dull but, horror of horrors! The other zero-pointer was none other than Norway - 1995 champ and 1996 silver medaller. Never had a country gone from glory to the gutter in such a short space of time.
Mind you, they did send this. be thankful I didn't post the promo video. It's got nudie ladies in it.
And since this hasn't happened since, I leave the Bluffer's Guide to Eurovision with the final bit of the voting.
Aren't the French kind? And the Croatians.
Will we ever see those days again?