Friend of the Parish Roy Delaney loves this time of year. Anyone who loves the sheer joy of the ‘not quite up to standard’ songs that crash theNational Finals, the curious slices of promotional video, and a bit of nude-nudge wink-wink gossip will already be following Delaney’s blog Eurovision Apocalypse. If not, get ready to descend into the rabbit-hole.
What about the man behind the car-crash? What can our Song Contest offer to a hard-boiled, musical journalist for hire, who moonlights as the drummer Roy D. Hacksaw?
There’s a question I often get asked. It’s the one where people look at me with a quizzical expression and make the following enquiry: “Hacksaw, you’re a big hairy punk rock singer of some minor note. As a music journalist you’ve been known for digging out some of the best underground rock acts on the planet, and with that hair, beard and dress sense you look as though you should be living under a bridge. So why the hell are you such a big Eurovision fan?” The answer, as it should be with these things, comes in just one word. Showbiz.
I grew up in a slightly different era to many of the Eurovision Song Contest fans of today, back when we only had three channels on the TV and everything was in black and white. The fact that my parents were also considerably older than those of most of my peers pitched their preferred televisual viewing back to an even earlier era. I was raised on light entertainment and variety while most kids my age were happily watching Magpie and the pop shows.
This led me to view popular music with a slightly different eye to all my chums at school. In those post-hippy, pre-glam rock days at the turn of the 70s, I was in love with the glamour of showbiz and the carefully crafted shape of a pretty song.
We would have always had the Song Contest on in the house, even from my days in the cradle. The old man would have been out playing snooker on a Saturday night, and my mum, a big fan of popular song since her childhood, had the chance to watch what she wanted for once in the week. And for one spring evening a year, that meant Eurovision. I have vague recollections of some of the contests from the late 60s, but the one that first stuck in my memory and tattooed the contest on my heart forever came in 1970.
Back then, like most of the families in my village, we only had a flickery 405-line UHF black and white TV set. And the picture got even worse at peak hours, as our signal appeared to bounce off the gasometer at the other end of the High Street. But you could still decipher the glamour from the dancing grey particles, and even the merest pinched glimpse of a glittering sequin would have me in thralls of excitement as if I was seeing colour for the first time in my life.
Of course, I was gutted that Mary Hopkin didn’t win. Even as a five-year-old I’d been following her career for some years after her Opportunity Knocks win a couple of years earlier – I always was an advanced child when it came to pop. But there was something about the winner that left me feeling not quite so sad about the result. Dana may have been like some wisp of a girl to all the grown ups, but to my first-year-in-the-infants self she looked like their height of sophisticated womanhood.
Those Were The Days
From that point on I was hooked. I’d wait excitedly for each new contest, even though I hadn’t quite grasped the concept of time yet, and each year seemed like an eternity. But my next epiphany came in 1974. Now a terribly grown up boy of nine, I made my first foreign jaunt on a school trip to a bunch of nearby European countries (in order, Belgium, France, Holland, Luxembourg and Germany). It was a mere week after that year’s contest in Brighton, and in each new country I visited I heard that year’s winner blasting out from the chip shops and car radios of the nation. It was at that point that I first realised the pure pop power of a pan-European hit, and that concept has never left me.
Even as a 12-year-old punk in 1977 I stuck with the contest. There was something about John Lydon’s music hall air that mirrored the showbiz bluster of all my favourite Eurovision songs, and I just couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been picked as our act for that year. Just think of it – how perfect would that have been? The most important British band for a generation – and indeed many generations to come – representing their country in Jubilee year. It seemed like a no brainer. The dear old BBC was letting me down with their choices even then.
For the next few years, despite spending most of my time wedged in the corner of some grimy punk rock club or another, I’d always make time for Eurovision. But as the 80s went on I was getting more and more busy with my band and started getting into girls (yes, girls. There are a few of us grubby hets still into Eurovision), and my interest in the show started to waver. I’d always slavishly pore over the results, but I’d rarely ever cancel a decent night out just to watch it.
That was until 1991. I was visiting friends in Sweden on the day of the contest, and was amazed at how the whole country appeared to stop just to watch the show. The country already had much to celebrate that day, as they’d bagged the world Ice Hockey championships for the first time in years and there was a special prickle of anticipation in the air. And when that girl Carola was declared winner after that confusing countback situation, the good people of Uppsala spilled out onto the streets and partied like maniacs for the second time that day.
I couldn’t believe how seriously the Swedes too the contest that I loved – but which the rest of Britain seemed to treat like a slightly embarrassing sideshow. I’d got the bug again, and from that day to this, I’ve never missed a show.
Then, in 1998, a curious thing happened. Birmingham, a city only a short train ride from my Bristol home, was somehow hosting the competition and I just had to be there. At the time I was editing my University magazine and thought it would be rude not to try and blag a press pass. And much to my surprise it worked. So I tried it again the following year in Jerusalem and it worked again – as it has done every year since.
And over those years I’ve found myself in some amazing places, meeting fantastic people, and have forged a network of friends that I count among my very closest. And when my middle-aged self is dancing like a loon to some high energy dance mix of a National Final near miss, after having sampled a buffet of savoury delights and an entertaining regional free bar, while surrounded by beautiful singers and dancers in an amazing foreign building for the fifth time that week, I wonder if my five-year-old self could ever have imagined that I’d be doing that very thing some forty odd years later.
And people still ask me why I love Eurovision so. Seriously, there’s nothing more punk.
You can follow Delaney’s witterings over on Eurovision Apocalypse, and he’s done some guest posts here on ESC Insight as well. As for the alter ego, have a listen and ask yourself… why did the Swiss reject this as their 2014 Eurovision Song?