The BBC’s track record in song selection and national finals has not been stellar in the last decade. Rather than rely momentum and dusting down last year’s plan, something radical needs to be done to guarantee the UK doesn’t embarrass themselves around Europe.
Now the national final season is under way, albeit slowly, enquiring Eurovision minds in the United Kingdom are turning to the BBC to ask when we can expect to see Eurovision: Your country needs you to be making your mind up to select a Song for Europe (douze points to Melodiman for that one). Given the EBU deadline for song submission is 14th March 2011, I’m expecting a one-off Friday night show on 11th March from Studio 3 at Television Centre.
But we can do better than that, and I don’t just mean in the scheduling. A late decision isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Melodifestivalen’s final is on 12th March. What’s bad is not having a strong vision about the song and performance driving the BBC’s Eurovision team. That team has to cover two areas of Eurovision; both the song itself (and all the promotion, production, rehearsal and vision that goes with a modern showcase of a song), and to actually broadcast the Contest back to viewers in the UK on BBC 1, BBC 3, Radio 2, the iPlayer, the website, the Facebook account…
That’s a lot of work for one team, and there is only a finite number of hours in the day. Given the live nature of Eurovision, the logistics to get everything on air and working must surely take precedence over trying to promote a good song.
I continue to be drawn back to 2009. While Andrew Lloyd Webber’s contribution to Eurovision stopped after the National Final (although he did pop back to play the piano on the Moscow stage) Jade Ewen’s record company handled a lot more of the promotion work and song production. I suspect that they took some of the load off the BBC Eurovision team and focussed on what they were good at. Did the same happen with Pete Waterman and Josh Dubovie?
The BBC team needs some fresh blood, someone with musical inspiration; who knows a good tune when they hear one; who can sift through the choices and come up a good song (not a good Eurovision song, a good song in its own right); and someone who can balance the needs of live music, television, entertainment and integrity.
In short the Eurovision team at the BBC need Jools Holland.
It even takes care of how to run the National Final! There’s bound to be sixteen good bands and singers out there that want to have a crack at Eurovision. The worrying point has always been how respectable it makes them look. Well if you take four a week into the “Later… With” studio, have them perform their song and chat to Jools afterwards, throw in a visiting Eurovision star (a Niamh Kavanagh and Jools Holland guest spot anyone?) and a simple “Vote now by SMS” caption at the end of each show and you have your four heats and a final, a winning song, a wonderful affirming National Final, and a way to send all the right signals about how serious the BBC are taking the 2011 contest.
Drop the light entertainment fluff of in-studio judges, backstage emotion with the fragrant Fearne Cotton, all the lights and razzamattazz, and Grahame Norton pushing the viewers to send in a vote at every opportunity. It’s time to treat the UK National Final as the huge musical event it is, rather than a Saturday night shiny floor show.
Then when it’s all over and we have one song, can we ask Jools nicely to be the behind the scenes mentor to the winning act as they travel to Düsseldorf? It might not guarantee a victory – nothing could – but it would start to rebuild the image of Eurovision in the UK and European music industry and the public eye. That’s probably the biggest goal of the BBC for the 2011 contest.
Come on Jools, your country needs you!