Thursday 22 March 2018

The Eurovision experience, it's part of what we were

Book review of 'Inside the Eurovision Song Contest: Music, Glamour and Myth' by Eurovision insider Julian Vignoles

Johnny Logan
Johnny Logan
Inside the Eurovision cover
Terry Wogan
Linda Martin
Marty Whelan

John Masterson

When Julian Vignoles retired from RTE he received a note from the Director General which read "I really appreciate your success in not winning the Eurovision." It was, of course, a joke. There are a large number of RTE executives who want nothing more than to win the Eurovision. It is a headache that they would welcome.

RTE does the big events well. It always excels when it has to pull out all of the stops. Eurovision is an opportunity to strut their stuff. And hang the expense. If we can't have the first visit of the Queen again, or Obama, then the Eurovision gives the suits annual hope that they can show what they can do.

Julian Vignoles was an unlikely Eurovision fan but his love for the annual contest that used to be about songs shines through every sentence of the book. He was hooked as an insider, and continues to be hooked as a fan.

I worked with him in 2007 on the ill-fated Dervish entry where we did not do as well in Helsinki as we deserved with John Waters and Tommy Moran's song. I saw his passion up close.

Eurovision fans will parse and analyse every sentence of the book. Julian has been at the innards of the Eurovision and explains all of the arguments about voting blocs. Eurovision fans will argue this for hours but no one else cares if it is fair. We have forgotten who won the next day.

It is a night to listen to Terry Wogan and Marty Whelan, and these days Graham Norton. The piss take commentary is the real deal. When Wogan began in Helsinki with "Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually I do. I have seen the rehearsals," there were probably BBC suits who wanted him fired as much as they did Jeremy Clarkson.

We were the experts at winning it. But in recent times the abiding impression one has looking at Kyran O'Brien's photos is that we have rarely managed to forget anyone as totally as we have deleted most of the no-hopers we sent to compete. Eurovision is Johnny Logan and Linda Martin and both have always earned a good crust from it. They have talent.

Eurovision is lights and graphics and special effects and each year the host country pushes the boundaries. The days of "Come in Ljubljana" being met with silence are long gone. Eurovision is Abba and Celine Dion. And of course Eurovision's greatest success is Riverdance, and it wasn't a competitor.

Julian's blend of fan and executive makes this a fun and compelling read. He knows what he is talking about. He cares.

This book is full of things that you didn't know about Eurovision, the organisation, the vast amounts of money spent, the endless meetings and controversies about the rules. It is full of people who were has beens before they had even made it.

But then I remember when there was an orchestra. When Brendan Graham and Shay Healy and Charlie McGettigan wrote fine songs. When Dana won with All Kinds of Everything, there were only 12 countries linked up with bitten finger nails. When Phil Coulter wrote Puppet on a String, there weren't that many other countries. Oh and he wrote Congratulations for Cliff too.

There used to be a song contest called Eurovision. It lost its way. Julian's book is a very interesting read on its search to become relevant again and convince the X Factor world that it matters. Sadly it doesn't. But we would all miss the commentary.

Inside the Eurovision Song Contest: Music, Glamour and Myth

Julian Vignoles, with photos by Kyran O'Brien

Liffey Press, €16.99

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