Saturday 29 April 2017

Tears, tantrums, triumphs: half a century at Eurovision

It all kicks off again next Thursday. Here are 20 things that make it unmissable

Euro star: Johnny Logan celebrates his second Eurovision win with 'Hold Me Now' in 1987
John Meagher

John Meagher

Ireland has had a love-hate relationship with Eurovision for 50 years: it was half a century ago this summer when Butch Moore became the first Irish singer to perform at the contest and, next week, our hopes rest with Tipperary teen Molly Sterling.

Now, David Blake Knox - who was RTÉ's head of entertainment during Ireland's 'golden age' at Eurovision in the 1990s when it won and staged the contest three times in a row - has penned a book which looks at this country's strained relationship with one of the world's most popular annual television events.

Here, for Eurovision lovers and those who find themselves drawn to the cheesy spectacle every year, are 20 things you may not have known about Ireland and Eurovision, courtesy of Blake Knox.

1 Ireland has competed at every Eurovision since 1965, with two exceptions. An entry was not sent in 1983 due to budget concerns at RTÉ and the country was not represented in 2002 because Ireland had done so poorly the previous year we did not earn automatic qualification.

2 When Ireland hosted Eurovision in 1988 (with Pat Kenny and Michelle Rocca doing the honours), rising TV director Declan Lowney was chosen to direct a cutting edge show. He went on to direct the first two series of Father Ted.

3 It's not the only connection between Father Ted and Eurovision. The video for Ted and Dougal's entry was an homage to the promo film that RTÉ put together for our 1975 contestants, The Swarbriggs.

4 The Swarbriggs came ninth in 1975, but were outvoted by another Irish singer, Geraldine Brannigan, who was representing Luxembourg.

5 Showband survivor Tina Reynolds represented Ireland in 1974 with the catchy Cross Your Heart, but she had been flown to the event the previous year as standby: Maxi, another showband veteran, was unhappy with the way her song was being arranged and threatened not to perform.

6 Despite her unhappy experience, Maxi entered three further national contests and represented Ireland in 1981 as part of the band, Sheeba.

7 Not many Irish songwriters who have been selected to go to Eurovision have been as effusive as journalist John Waters, whose They Can't Stop the Spring was selected in 2007. The contest, he decided, was "about human desire, in all its complex reality". Despite Dervish's best efforts, Ireland finished 24th.

8 The journalist-turned-songsmith attempted to provide Ireland's entry three years later in 2010, with his song Does Heaven Need Much More? which drew a memorable headline from the Herald: "Heaven help us! Waters is back to give us another Eurovision ear-bashing." Waters was not successful in the national finals.

9 Ireland first entered in 1965 and many hoped that the 'Irish Elvis' Brendan Bowyer - then, comfortably, the biggest music star in the country - would compete. He came fifth in the national competition and letters to newspapers from people in his home county of Waterford urged a protest to highlight the scandalous manner in which "the talents of Brendan Bowyer were ignored". The winner, Butch Moore went on to represent Ireland in Naples and finished sixth.

10 Bunny Carr was chosen to provide commentary in 65 and, as a part-time broadcaster, recalls having to seek permission from the bank where he worked for time off to go to Italy. He was told that he could, but that he was to keep it a secret from the rest of the bank's staff.

11 Terry Wogan was the voice of the BBC's Eurovision for many years and was first chosen for the task in 1971 when his native Ireland hosted the competition for the first time.

12 Two female singers from Northern Ireland competed in that 1971 Dublin Eurovision. Angela Farrell represented the Republic, while Clodagh Rodgers was selected as the UK contestant. The latter received death threats from the IRA for her trouble.

13 Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan won Eurovision for Ireland when Dublin hosted the event in 1994, but their victory was greatly overshadowed by 'interval act' Riverdance. Blake Knox writes that when he first broached the idea of Riverdance to RTÉ colleagues during a board meeting "one senior manager fixed me with a baleful eye and asked, 'Could we not find any Irish people that can dance?' This was a reference to the fact that neither of the leads [Michael Flatley and Jean Butler] had been born in Ireland."

14 Pat Cowap directed the contest in 1994 from an outside broadcast unit next to The Point Theatre and had not anticipated the storm of applause that greeted Riverdance at its conclusion. "You could feel the unit rock with the wave of sound. The noise was so loud, at first I thought it was a shower of hailstones hitting the roof."

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15 Following Johnny Logan's What's Another Year? win, Ireland held the contest for the second time in 1981. Much effort went into devising the interval act, but few remember Timedance today, despite the fact that the dance piece featured heavyweight participants - music from Planxty and a piece written by Donal Lunny and Bill Whelan. It was the latter, of course, who would write Riverdance some 13 years later.

16 Ireland's 1995 entry, Dreamin', sung by Eddie Friel, caused RTÉ pre-Eurovision nerves when its writers were accused of plagiarising the song Moonlight from the 60s American folk singer Julie Felix. According to Blake Knox, the broadcaster reasoned that Felix would only sue if the song won, but as nobody at the station gave it a chance they allowed it to enter. Friel came 14th.

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17 Dana became Ireland's first Eurovision winner when she triumphed in Amsterdam in 1970. The Netherlands was one of four joint winners the previous year, along with the UK, Spain and France and was elected to host after winning a coin-toss.

18 Tipperary songwriter Brendan Graham is perhaps best known for his enormously popular 2002 song You Raise Me Up, but he also is responsible for writing two Eurovision winners - 1994's Rock 'n' Roll Kids (sung by Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan) and 1996's The Voice (performed by Eimear Quinn).

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19 Some may have dismissed Jedward's twin performances in 2011 and 2012 as novelty acts redolent of Dustin the Turkey (2008), but the Grimes brothers' first final drew Ireland's largest Eurovision audience in 15 years and they finished eighth, the country's best performance in 11 years.

20 Besides winning a record seven times, Ireland has finished second on four occasions. Linda Martin's Terminal 3, penned by Johnny Logan, had the misfortune to lose out to the infantile Swedish entry Diggi-loo Diggi-ley in 1984.

'Ireland and the Eurovision' by David Blake Knox is published by New Island

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