Eurovision 1974: I Was Almost There
I've just been to Brighton. It's a great place. For those of you who know Quiggins, the emporium of creativity, quirks and vegetarian delights which had to leave its original home to make way for the Jigsaw concession in Liverpool One, it's as though somebody took that particular warehouse of delights, got out the world's biggest rolling pin and smoothed the storeys down flat into a seaside resort with a pebbled beach. It's brilliant - and probably the only place I've ever been to in the UK outside of Liverpool where I could imagine myself living. And if, like me, you're a Eurovision fan, Brighton has its Mecca. I'm not talking about the bingo hall, although I'm sure it's quite smashing. I refer of course to the Dome, the venue which used to be the stables for the Prince Regent's horses and is now part of a larger arts complex which is linked to the more famous Royal Pavilion via an underground tunnel.
It was here on April 6, 1974, that ABBA brought Sweden its maiden win at the Contest with the seminal Waterloo, a Eurovision winner even Eurovision haters are known to love. I'm not entirely sure the band has been back there since that night 38-and-a-bit years ago but I thought it only right and proper I toddled along there during my visit to see if Bjorn's star-shaped guitar was still hanging around in the foyer waiting to be collected by a member of the Swedish delegation. It wasn't - but I was in for a bit of a surprise when I got there.
The original plan was to simply touch the exterior wall of the Dome in reverential fashion, take a deep breath and sense the reverberation from decades past of a pair of BBC wardrobe scissors cutting Katie Boyle's bra and knickers free from beneath her sheer outfit moments before Te Deum rattled around the venue.
However, our mate Clive had other ideas. He knows someone who works at the Dome and since the main auditorium wasn't in use on Saturday (there was a beard and moustache festival taking place elsewhere in the complex which was well worth a look), I was introduced to someone at the main entrance who knew my name and had taken a look at this very blog. It soon became clear why this was so. The very kind Clive had pulled a few chummy strings and arranged for me to get a quick snoop in the main concert hall, to go beyond beardy Dome and enter the very space where a piece of pop history was made. And where Olivia Newton-John also sang an awfully soppy song in a sky blue nightie.
I've been to two Contests so far (2003 and 2010). Both were held in arenas capable of holding at least 5,000 spectators (about 20,000 in the latter case). Compared to those places, the Dome appears teeny-tiny. I'm not entirely sure of the capacity of the Dome but I'd take a guess at about 1,500. That's not a problem. Back in the 1970s that was audience size de rigeur where the Contest was concerned as it was still very much an invite-only event which the public was only expected to watch on telly. And anyway, it's not the size of venue for the Contest, it's the impact on Eurovision history a particular edition makes, so the Dome can hold its Indian-style turrets up high among your Espirit Arenas and Parken stadia.
I could have gone on to the stage if I wanted to but I felt a bit cheeky as I was a very unofficial visitor. Therefore I hovered on the steps and sort-of-pointed towards the spot where Katie was greeted by a placard-bearing Womble, Gigliola Cinquetti shimmered like a turquoise Christmas tree and Carita from Finland promised someone the fragrances from her well. If I'd been stood in that spot on the big night in '74, I think I'd have obscured the world's first view of Benny at the ivories as well as a fair chunk of the scoreboard.
Conscious that Eurovision is not exactly up there with The Beatles and Bobby Charlton when it comes to objects of fascination, I asked the person from the Dome if I was the first person with a liking for the Contest to get a chance to look around. "Oh no," came the reply. "I once showed a Frenchman around who I thought was going to have an orgasm. Then there was a couple who flew all the way from Australia especially to see where it happened."
Which led to the question I've always wanted to ask. Whatever your opinion of Eurovision, regardless of what you may think of ABBA and their particular brand of pop, the truth remains that, in this building, a piece of TV/music history was made which viewers are still reminded of at least once a year. Has there ever been talk of recognising the events of April 6, 1974, with some sort of plaque or permanent display somewhere in the Dome complex? I got the feeling there never has been and quite possibly never will be. Of course, if at some point there has been and I'm not aware of it then I am quite willing to stand corrected. However, I live in a city where even the more obscure elements of Beatles history are proudly announced on the outsides of the buildings where they happened. It's not obtrusive to the life of the city and yet those venues must appear in the photo albums of Fab Four fans across the globe. It's just a thought - and if it ever happened then I'm sure such a commemoration could be done in suitably leftfield Brightonian style if need be.
The main thing is, I got to see the place where the most famous Eurovision win of them all happened when I was only expecting to give the wall around the main entrance an affectionate pat.
ABBA were this way