Eurovision fan Michael McDonagh on the enduring appeal of the 60-year old contest which is back in a fortnight.
The single most popular television show in Europe returns to our screens on 14 May. So, of course, I popped up to Elstree studios to meet three Irish people synonymous with the contest. Ireland has, to date, won it seven times on the 50 occasions it has competed in the 60-year old contest.
The crown prince of Eurovision is Australian-born Irishman Johnny Logan, the only lead singer to have won the competition twice and one of only five composers to have written two winning songs.
He wrote Linda Martin’s winning song, Why Me in 1992 and came close when she came second in 1984 with another of his songs, Terminal 3. His own first win in 1980 was the classic What’s Another Year written by Shay Healy and his second win he wrote himself, when he won in 1987 with Hold Me Now.
Back then he was young and inexperienced and his success did not come without some tribulations from the first record and management contracts he had signed, which mired him and the labels involved in some dramatic Dublin High court shenanigans.
I reminded him of Terry Wogan’s razor-sharp quip as he made the BBC introductions at the dress rehearsal of the show at the RDS in Dublin in 1981: “Welcome to the 26th Eurovision Song Contest here in the Simmonscourt Pavillion in Dublin. Tonight there are 3,000 people gathered in this wonderful venue and most of them are managing Johnny Logan.”
We all collapsed with laughter. So many years later and in Elstree, Johnny smiled ruefully and said: “That was probably true”. A young Louis Walsh went on to manage and work closely with him and also with Linda Martin, when he signed to CBS (Now Sony).
Linda remains a great friend of Louis who brought the world Boyzone and Westlife.
The event has changed quite a bit since those days, Johnny told me: “Today Eurovision reflects the record business as it is now. It is much more like The X Factor and is so completely different to the business back then when I started my career”.
As it happens, the group that won in 1981 was Royaume Unis’s own Bucks Fizz with Making Your Mind Up, helped by their memorable dance routine in which the two male singers ripped (by arrangement) the skirts off their two female singers to reveal tiny mini – a seminal moment in the history and presentation of the contest.
“That’s a loss and I also think that perhaps there are now too many countries involved, so it now goes on for too long but it is still a great show and a great opportunity for the winner”.
Ireland first won in 1970 not long after The Troubles had started, when an innocent wee girl from Derry, Dana, sang All Kinds of Everything.
Since then there have been Johnny and Linda, Niamh Kavanagh (In Your Eyes) in 1993 followed by Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan the next year in Dublin with Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids. That was also the year when millions watching on TV were treated to a remarkable interval act led by Irish dancers Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, Moya Doherty’s Riverdance.
This year in Stockholm Ireland will make its 50th appearance in the competition, this time with Nicky Byrne, formerly of Westlife.
It’s a small world, Eurovision.