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All The Liverpool Acts Who Found Eurovision Success Written by on May 3, 2023

This year’s contest is not the only time that Liverpool and Eurovision have become closely connected. Gordon Roxburgh goes into the archive to find Liverpool’s musical contributions to the Song Contest.

When Graham Norton revealed on The One Show that Liverpool would be the host city for the Eurovision Song Contest 2023, the BBC brought out the United Kingdom’s 1993 entrant Sonia to represent the city’s bid and react to the victory.

According to Sonia, she lost her Song Contest by just one point! We can only assume she was watching the 1988 voting whilst in the Green Room in Millstreet. While no one can deny it was an exciting voting sequence, the Liverpool lass actually lost by 23 points. Still, it’s the closest a Liverpudlian has come to winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

But which other Liverpudlians tried to get their hands on the Eurovision trophy?

Gemma And I

Ten years after Sonia, and at the opposite end of the scoreboard. we find Jemini. They became the first UK act to ever finish in last place, and to compound that distinction they picked up the dreaded ‘nul points

Jemini were Chris Cromby and Gemma Abbey, who had met at Liverpool’s Starlight stage school and had formed an act called Tricity. Between the Song For Europe Semi-Final (which aired on Radio 2) and the televised final, they changed their name to Jemini, a play on the forenames’, but perhaps a change of key may have been a better option as their performance on the stage in Riga was heavily criticised.

Perhaps the best-known Liverpudlian who turned down the opportunity to represent the country was Cilla Black, who was invited by the BBC to sing in 1968. However, she believed it was unlikely that another British female singer could win the Song Contest for a second successive year, following Sandie Shaw’s success in 1967, and consequently she declined the offer.

Instead, her television show featured the National Selection ‘A Song For Europe’, with her friend Cliff Richard performing all six songs in contention. The smash hit ‘Congratulations’ topped the reader’s poll to go forward to the final in the Royal Albert Hall. Five years later her show was used again for ‘A Song For Europe’, and once again it was Cliff Richard who would be carrying the UK flag.

One of the songs that Cliff Richard performed in 1968 was titled ‘The Sound Of The Candyman’s Trumpet’ composed by Anthony Hazzard, who was born in Liverpool in 1942.

The song finished in a modest fourth place, but it turned out to be very popular in the West Indies, where copies of Cilla’s show were broadcast. Apparently, there, the sound of the candyman’s trumpet was a term for a drug dealer, who would let the locals know he was around by playing a trumpet. Weeks later, long after the closing date and the show had been broadcast, postcard votes were coming into the BBC in London from the West Indies for Hazzard’s song.

Another Liverpool-born composer who was more successful in A Song For Europe was Stuart Slater, as two of his songs, co-composed with Stephanie De-Sykes, represented the UK in Eurovision. ‘The Bad Old Days’ sung by Co-Co, which came a disappointing eleventh place in Paris in 1978, and ‘Love Enough For Two’ sung by Prima Donna, which came a respectable third in The Hague in 1980.  Though a further attempt in A Song For Europe 1983 with ‘All Around The World’ was less successful only finishing fifth in the national selection.

Prima Donna had included in their line-up were two sisters from Liverpool, Kate and Jane Robbins, who are first cousins (once removed) of the legendary Paul McCartney. Kate Robbins went on to have a hit song in 1981 with ‘More Than In Love’ with the group Beyond. That group had also participated in A Song For Europe earlier that year with the song ‘Wish’ finishing in third place behind Bucks Fizz.

Keeping up the connections, one of the members of Beyond was Alan Coates, who, by co-incidence had also been a member of Prima Donna.

Another of the Robbins’ sisters appeared in A Song For Europe in 1989, as younger sister Emma was one of the member of The Pearls who sang ‘Love Come Down’ in that contest, though she couldn’t match the achievement of her siblings as The Pearls could only manage 4th place in the National Final

Two years later a fellow Liverpudlian came a lot closer to winning the UK selection when Brendan Faye finished as runner-up behind Samantha Janus. Faye, a folk singer,  had composed, arranged and performed the song ‘Lover Come In’, receiving over 95,000 votes from the public. He had previously sung the track ‘Julie’ in the 1984 film Educating Julie.

There’s been only one Liverpool act that has twice tried to represent the UK, but that won’t be obvious at first glance.

The four-man group Beano, comprising Freddie Phillips, Ken Smith, Ray Johnson and John Birch were formed in 1968, and entered the UK’s National Final in 1977. Unfortunately, due to industrial action the final wasn’t screened on television. Their entry ‘Everybody Knows’ was composed by Phillips, who is fondly remembered by those of a certain age for his television theme music for the children’s programmes Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley.

They finished in a disappointing eleventh place in the contest staged in the New London Theatre. They returned to the competition three years later when they had renamed themselves as Scramble and performed the opening song ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’ at the BBCtv Theatre.

Three of the line-up from Beano returned, though drummer Ray Johnson had by 1979 left the group and was replaced by Richard Tallant. However, prior to his departure, Johnson had performed his duty as the drummer on the recordings of their entry. This time their 1980 entry was composed by Peter Morris who had won the competition the previous year with ‘Mary Ann’ sung by Black Lace, and Scramble improved upon their 1977 result and this time they came in 6th place.

From a group that tried more than once to another composer, who, just like Stuart Slater, tried no less than three times to win A Song For Europe, and that is Wayne Bickerton, though the difference being that none of his compositions was able to win the United Kingdom selection.

Bickerton, along with his songwriting partner, Tony Waddington, managed to get two entries into the Final in 1978, which were ‘Oh No, Look What You’ve Done’ sung by Brown Sugar along with ‘Too Much In Love’ sung by Sunshine, neither of which did particularly well, the latter finished in eighth place, whilst the former came joint last.

A couple of years earlier, the duo composed ‘A Love For All Seasons’ for the group Champagne, which also finished in eighth place, some way behind eventual Eurovision Song Contest winners, the Brotherhood Of Man. Champagne themselves were a Liverpool group, comprising Norman and Val Smeddles, Phil Thompson, Jan Michelle and Derek Marl. They had done better in another competition-style television show, as they had previously won the talent show Opportunity Knocks no less than five times.

Smeddles recalls that on the journey from Liverpool to London to attend rehearsals, the windscreen shattered in their car, and as a consequence they arrived late at the Royal Albert Hall. They had missed their sound check and band call, but did eventually get a rehearsal done, albeit out of sequence. To compound their problems Bickerton had handed them a new lyric for the second verse, but after a heated discussion, they went ahead with the song unchanged. Champagne nearly returned to the contest in 1977 when they were offered the song ‘Rock Bottom’ which they turned down, a decision which they came to regret.

The final Liverpool artist on the list is Paul Holmes. Who is he? Holmes was the youngest member of the group Deuce who participated in A Song For Europe in 1995 with the song ‘I Need You’, which although being a fan favourite to win the selection finished in third place.

Nevertheless, the group scored a top-ten hit with their Song For Europe entry, going one place higher in the charts than their debut single ‘Call It Love’. The group had seemed to be tailor-made for Eurovision but disbanded a couple of years later. Holmes went on to write songs for many international artists, including Robin Gibb.

As Liverpool prepares to welcome the countless members of the Eurovision community, remember that the city has many connections to the Contest to explore, enjoy, and entertain you as you wait for the Arena doors to open.

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