It was a bit alarming to learn the Eurovision Song Contest is still going strong, having celebrated its 67th year in Liverpool last weekend. The event had already looked the worse for wear back in the 1960s, but somehow it just won't go away. In fact it's got bigger and more brassy than ever -- an uninhibited celebration of kitsch.
The United Kingdom entry in this year's event came second from last although singer Mae Muller should take heart from the fact that two years ago the UK finished rock bottom with a grand total of zero votes. In fact it's almost a badge of honour to do so badly.
As you may have guessed I have never been a great fan of the Eurovision event simply because I don't enjoy the music which anyway is usually overwhelmed by daft antics on stage. Those extravagant light shows and pyrotechnics seem solely designed to cover up the musical shortcomings. This year one performance, which could have been mistaken for a bizarre Village People tribute act, had guys in military uniforms ending up on stage in their underpants. The actual song was all but forgotten.
Watching snippets of the contest on the BBC felt like experiencing an out of control techno-pop festival. However, the BBC were gushing about how wonderful it all was and to be fair the audience loved it.
A case of different strokes for different folks, I guess.
I remember watching the contest on TV back in 1967 when Sandie Shaw, famed for singing in her bare feet, won with Puppet On a String, a song I really loathed. Sandie later publicly admitted that she also hated the song, "from the first oompah to the final bang on the bass drum" and referred to it as having a "cuckoo-clock tune".
The fact the song won was probably due to Sandie's popularity in Europe rather than the song itself. She had a terrific voice which is evident on her 1964 hit There's Always Something There to Remind Me.
However, Puppet went on to make No 1 in the UK charts which meant Sandie had to grit her teeth all the way to the bank and sing this ditty she loathed everywhere she performed.
Waterloo not just a battle
The four other UK winners of Eurovision were equally unmemorable. They included Boom Bang-a-Bang (Lulu, 1969), Save Your Kisses For Me (Brotherhood of Man, 1976), Making Up Your Mind (Bucks Fizz, 1981) and Love Shine a Light (Katrina and the Waves, 1997).
Of course the most famous winner was the Swedish group ABBA with Waterloo in 1974. A few years ago on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 British people were interviewed about what the word "Waterloo" meant to them. Most cited the ABBA song, followed by the London railway station, with the actual battle coming in a distant third. More alarmingly, 14% thought Napoleon won.
Even scarier, among the names suggested as leading the British forces into battle at Waterloo was none other than Albus Dumbledore, the wizard of Harry Potter fame.
Ban the bang
It may come as a surprise to learn that Boom Bang-a-Bang (a love song about a heartbeat) and Waterloo were among 67 songs banned by the BBC during the duration of the First Gulf War in 1991 for fear they might undermine the war effort, bizarre though it may sound. Lulu's love song was said to be bad for morale because it had "Bang" in the title. Waterloo got the chop because it referenced an ancient enemy, as did the Beatles' Back in the USSR.
Other songs that were temporarily banned included Eric Clapton's version of I Shot the Sheriff, Skeeter Davis and her plaintive The End of the World, and Jose Feliciano's brilliant version of Light My Fire, "fire'' being the offending word. Somehow Rod Stewart's Sailing was also sunk.
The most eyebrow-raising casualty was the Plastic Ono Band's iconic Give Peace a Chance. If you are going to ban that you might as well ban everything.
Speaking of Waterloo, many may have forgotten a lovely whimsical number Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks, which was voted by a radio station as the "Greatest Song About London" with its lyrics about the "Dirty old river…" and so on. Something the Kinks and ABBA have in common is that their respective Waterloo songs began life with a different title. ABBA's song was originally called "Honey Pie" while the working title for Waterloo Sunset was "Liverpool Sunset."
Kinks leader Ray Davies explained that his favourite city was Liverpool and he originally wrote the song with Liverpool in mind, there also being a Waterloo in Merseyside. However, the Beatles had just released Penny Lane which was all about life in Liverpool so the Kinks moved their song's location to London with Davies warbling "As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise".
From personal experience, witnessing a sunset at Waterloo usually meant that I had just missed the train home.
For those following "Wild Wolf" James Valentine's exhausting walk from Pattaya to Phuket, despite suffering badly from blisters on Friday he had reached Chumphon town. He is raising money for the Take Care Kids charity. He is hoping for a June 1 arrival in Phuket.
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