Do we really need The Eurovision Song Contest?
I'm biased, of course. For a start, there are many who would wrongly compare my own musical past triumphs to the very worst of Eurovision, but those critics who remember Una Paloma Blanca and Leap Up And Down And Wave Your Knickers In The Air have conveniently forgotten the creative gems of Genesis, Johnny Reggae, Everyone's Gone To The Moon, 10CC and The Rocky Horror Show.
No, the truth is that for decades I begged the powers that be at the BBC to allow me to get my sticky fingers on the run-up to Eurovision to boost the quality of our British entry.
Finally, two years ago, I succeeded. After the fiasco of the Frances Ruffelle year in 1994, I was asked by then-light entertainment boss David Liddiment to mastermind the selection of our British entry. I became music executive for A Song For Europe (now The Great British Song Contest) and we ended up with Love City Groove as our UK representative. It only came 10th on the night, going way over the heads of the Finnish and Bosnian juries, but it reached No. 7 in the charts, sold a quarter of a million singles in Britain alone (more than all the other Eurovision entries added together, including the Norwegian winner) and gave our contest back some credibility. In the week of Eurovision, it was one of the most played tracks on London's Kiss FM radio station, aimed at an audience of rap, hip-hop, dance and soul music lovers.
This year, we've got Gina G as our representative, performing Just A Little Bit, a real smash of a single with British sales rapidly approaching 500,000. Since last year, as a direct result of "Love City Groove" becoming a genuine hit single, the BBC saw Eurovision get the largest audience ever, and we anticipate joining the National Lottery, EastEnders and Coronation Street at the very top of the viewing ratings.
But still the moaning minnies will complain that Eurovision is naff and awful, that it appeals to the lowest common denominator, and that it has no true musical quality. I can predict the avalanche of letters on this page next week with crystal clarity. Mystic Meg could do no better. JK is talking rubbish as usual, the intellectuals will howl. This contest represents the worst, most frivolous and pathetic in music.
Well, that's true in parts. At present, virtually all the other countries submit undiluted crap as their entrants. But times can change and there is no reason why The Eurovision Song Contest should become, God forbid, artistically correct and serious. We have the Young Musician of the Year for those whose talent runs deep and skilful. No, Eurovision must continue to be camp and kitsch, fun and tacky. By definition, a contest where one single performance needs to grab the votes must feature superficial, instant, immediate tunes.
But there's nothing wrong with that. Many of the greatest sounds catch you on one play and have done since time immemorial. You can't tell me the 1812 Overture or Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto failed to win over every boggled first-time listener.
I want the best composers, producers and performers from every country to display their wares to the millions of worldwide Eurovision viewers. Robert Miles or Alex Party for Italy, Ace of Base or The Wannadies for Sweden, Technohead from Holland, U2 for Ireland, Scooter from Germany, MC Solaar from France. There is interesting music being made everywhere. Why not use this TV shop window to grab fans for the finest music in the world?
Do we need Eurovision? Of course we do. With most TV executives clearly convinced that music on TV does not work and giving the nod either to deeply credible and therefore, sadly, deeply dull shows such as The White Room or to zany, jokey displays like The Word, unless you've proved your charitable credentials like Bob Geldof and thus acquired membership to the exclusive TV commissioning club, you don't get a look-in, and mass- appeal music with big ratings potential is considered inferior programming, except for the legends such as Top of the Pops and Eurovision.
The current policy on awards shows such as the Brits is that only huge stars should be given exposure (preferably while doing non-musical things such as being Jesus or flashing one's buttocks). And even Top of the Pops continues to base programming on new entries to the totally discredited, hyped chart while viewers, bemused, tune across to Emmerdale Farm.
Real prime-time TV space for unknown or hopeful musicians is virtually unheard of, and we should cherish these moments and use them to our advantage. Even in its darkest moments, Eurovision has proved it can advertise great fresh talent. Three years ago, after dozens of appalling entries which all flopped on the subsequent world charts, the music during the voting interval, "Riverdance", was better than every country's representative and captivated the globe, going on to sell millions and launch a hundred careers.
Add to that the delightful experience of being harmlessly xenophobic as we howl down the German entry, mock the Russian balladeer with the bad hair and scream with laughter at the Croatian or Turkish entry, and the entire contest becomes the annual TV classic it has been for almost all its 40 years. Whether or not you're a Terry Wogan fan, his witty ad- libs on the vision of many of the European style statements make even the most intellectual observer giggle.
Do we need it? Of course we do. In this era of change and dreary modern horrors such as Hotel Babylon and Man O' Man, the solid, reliable delight of Eurovision is more important than politics, more entertaining than soap operas, more rewarding than Open University. It tells you more about Europe than Holiday or Wish You Were Here. It has been on our screens since long before EastEnders or even Coronation Street. It's the one classic, hardy perennial of the medium and I'm determined to help it continue in triumph. I simply want it to include brilliant songs instead of just ordinary ones. Then the ingredients, for me, will be perfect as a recipe for entertaining and informative, positive television. And whether you admit to liking the show, I bet you'll be tuned in this Saturday, predicting the winner, chortling at Wogan's asides, swearing at any political voting and cheering when, as we inevitably will, Great Britain carries off this year's top prize!
What do you think?
Do you need the Eurovision Song Contest? Every Monday you can give the Do We Need...? subject of the week the come-on-down or the thumbs- down. Send your verdict on Eurovision, in no more than 100 words, to Do We Need...?, Section Two, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL or fax 0171-293 2182 no later than Friday morning, and we will print the best comments on a need-to-know basis.Reuse content