My money's on the lonely shepherd entry from Cyprus

Others may scoff at the Eurovision Song Contest's daft ditties in funny languages. But not Tim Luscombe
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The Independent Online
I love the Eurovision Song Contest. There, I've said it, I love the Eurovision Song Contest. I always will - unless Jonathan King, impresario, entrepreneur and newly appointed music executive of the contest in the UK, gets his way. He wants to drag it into the Nineties.

The King masterplan starts with submitting to tonight's contest the most interesting UK entry for years, which he hopes will win. As the winning nation, the UK would then host next year's contest, allowing King to set about his modernising project.

In particular, he wants to change"unhelpful" rules, such as the one requiring countries to sing in their native language. Why? Isn't that half the fun?Anyway, I doubt very much whether the rules can be changed on one man's say so. The Eurovision people toyed with this adjustment in the early Seventies and immediately reverted, as all the colour went out of the occasion and the ratings around Europe dropped. Twenty-four other countries like to hear their songs sung in their language. And Dutch doesn't sound funny to Dutch people.

Actually, I don't think "Love City Groove", our entry this year, will win. I think it'll come fifth. I love the song: a rap number from an ethnically mixed group - as revolutionary as "Waterloo" and "Puppet on a String" were in their day. But the bulk of the voting panels are from southern and eastern Europe. Never underestimate the might of those 12 determined Turkish women in that Istanbul studio. Rap is not in their vocabulary. Come in Ankara, and vote for Iceland, Cyprus and Slovenia.

The vagaries of the voting are sensational, year after year, even though some things are utterly predictable, like the Scandowegian mutual support team, and Spain and Portugal voting for each other regardless. I don't think Turkey and Greece have ever given any points to each other, and indeed this year both of their songs are about war. One year, when the troubles in Cyprus were at their height, the Greek TV network pulled the plug on the contest while the Turkish entry performed and showed a still black and white photo of a bunch of flowers. The year we went to war with Argentina, Britain was placed lower than ever before or since, with what was one of our better entries.

It's not only Jonathan King who thinks the contest is anachronistic. But it is cultural snobbery to assume that it is anachronistic in all countries. It did, admittedly, go through a bit of a dodgy phase in the Eighties, but in the past couple of years the quality of songs has improved massively; and with the inclusion of many former Communist countries from the East, the whole thing has spiced itself up dramatically. What was fantastic last year was that Poland and Russia came second and third with truly fantastic songs and extraordinarily dramatic singers.

Because so many new countries want to take part, the Eurovision people have built in a relegation system whereby the bottom five countries drop out the next year, allowing new applicants in. That's good news for Moldavia and Uzbekistan, and bad news for Eurovision stars with seriously prestigious histories in the contest, such as Spain and Israel, who won't be in Dublin tonight.

Ah yes, Israel. Well, let me explain: Eurovision does not mean European. Eurovision is a television network emanating from Geneva, where the contest was first thought up. In 1957, its first year, the Second World War had been over for only 12 years, and having Yugoslavia, Germany , France, Italy and the UK taking part in a relatively peaceful battle was an important event. It also allowed countries to show off their new TV technology. Eurovision broadcasts to Morocco (which entered once, came last and hasn't been heard of since), Israel (which has won twice), and even Libya. Libya hasn't bothered to enter yet. But I'm hopeful.

In most Eurovision countries, the song contest is an important cultural event. In Turkey they have street parties. And in the Netherlands it's celebrated as a marvellous piece of camp nonsense. Here, we tend to affect boredom or even irritation. But we should resist our prissy scorn and linguistic superiority: the glory of the contest is its very diversity, as is the glory of Europe.

There are some who appreciate this. Eurovision is very popular among gays and grannies and intellectual people, particularly gay intellectual grannies. In fact, there are clubs and societies for people who revere the contest, whereyou can exchange videos and tapes of your favourite years, and develop relationships with people who are like you.

What I love about the contest is what Jonathan King is hoping to destroy. I love the melancholic wailing of the Finnish entry and the lonely shepherd feel that often comes with the song from Cyprus. Heavens above, Italy has a reputation for songwriting second to none, and has produced a string of beautiful songs for Europe. There's much to cherish here. I only hope Ireland doesn't win again. I'm bored with Dublin and Cork; I want the contest to be in Sofia next year, or Belgrade. That would be a thing. May the best song win. I just hope it isn't in English.

The author is a theatre director and writer, currently directing 'Jeffrey', a gay comedy, at the Greenwich Theatre in London.

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