Competition published on May 5, 2017.
Take an amazing journey through the history of a continent, told through the world’s greatest song contest – Eurovision – watched by over 200 million viewers worldwide.
Do you think the world of the Eurovision Song Contest, with its crazy props, even crazier dancers and crazier still songs has nothing to do with serious European politics? Think again. The contest has been a mirror for cultural, social and political developments in Europe ever since its inauguration in 1956, when an audience in dinner jackets and ball-gowns politely applauded each song. It has been a voice of rebellion across the Iron Curtain, an inspiration for new European nations in the 1990s and 2000s, the voice of liberation for both sexual and regional minorities. It even once triggered a national revolution.
Eurovision! charts both the history of Europe and the history of the Eurovision Song Contest over the last six decades, and shows how seamlessly they interlink–and what an amazing journey it has been.
*We have 3 copies of Eurovision! by Chris West to give away – scroll down for your chance to win!*
Reviewer Sue Hardiman couldn’t resist:
I must admit to being a latecomer to the Eurovision supporters club. In the last few years I have been invited to a friend’s Eurovision party so have become a lot more interested. I was of course aware of certain winners in the past but not the whole story.
The winners and losers of the competition are almost incidental in this book. The author guides us through each year from the beginning in 1956 to 2016. However, the focus is more on what was happening politically, socially and economically in Europe and the development of the EU. This is especially poignant now we are in process of Brexit. The “frivolity “of the competition is in marked contrast to the “power play” in Europe during the Cold War and later the war in the Balkans. I was struck particularly by the sense that nothing ever changes – there always seem to have been tensions and animosities amongst nations.
However, the book still covers the stories behind each year’s competition and examines the “block voting” that seems to have become prevalent in later years. It was interesting to read how the song style has changed and that the music has followed trends and fashions e.g. the Celtic vibe in the 90’s. The author considers how the voting for the UK will be affected by Brexit- well we can’t do any worse than in the last few years…can we?
I would certainly recommend this to Eurovision fans and non-fans alike as it is more an examination of Europe itself than just its song contest.
Don’t miss author Chris West on Radio 2’s Fact Not Fiction Book Club on 11 May, just before the Eurovision final on Saturday 13 May.
‘I’ve always thought Eurovision was just a joke, but Chris West shows how it has always been a mirror of cultural and political change. He also thinks that as the most popular European institution, it can give lessons in transparency and accessibility to the leaders of the EU. But he does give us some laughs too.‘
Robert Tombs, Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge
‘Don’t ever say that Eurovision isn’t political. It is. A colourful cornucopia of everything I wanted to know about modern history and the Eurovision Song Contest.’
Katrina Leskanich, Katrina & The Waves
‘For Europhiles, Europhobes and the Euro-cautious alike: witty, informed and insightful.’
Alison Light, author of Common People
‘This book definitely gets douze points from me.’
For your chance to win a copy of the book, simply fill in the form below:
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About the author
Chris West watched Sandie Shaw winning in 1967, and has been hooked on Eurovision ever since. His books include Journey to the Middle Kingdom, The Beermat Entrepreneur and First Class: A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and daughter.
Chris tries to understand what went wrong for the UK after Katrina and the Waves took the trophy twenty years ago – with clips, if you can bear it!
Eurovision! by Chris West, published on 20 April, 2017 by Melville House UK, in paperback
EUROVISION: A POLITICAL GLANCE
1956 The Eurovision Song Contest was devised as a way of bringing European nations together by Marcel Bezençon. Seven countries took part in the first ever contest, six who went on to sign the Treaty of Rome and form the ‘EEC’, the forerunner to the modern EU. Britain was seen as peripheral to ‘Europe’, and was not involved.
1964 It took until this year for a non-white singer to take part in the contest: the Netherlands’ Anneke Grönloh, who was from Indonesia. She came tenth. The contest had to wait till 2001 before a black singer won: Dave Benton, singing for Estonia. The first Muslim winner was Turkey’s Sertab Erener, in 2003.
1969 The contest was held in Spain, then under the rule of General Franco. There are rumours that he bribed his way to victory the year before (pushing Cliff Richard into second place) and when the 1969 contest took place, the stage was dominated by a huge silver sculpture that looked remarkably like the Roman fasces, symbol both of Mussolini’s fascists and of Franco’s own Falangist Party.
1974 The playing of Portugal’s entry for that year on Lisbon Radio was a secret signal for an uprising to begin. As the radio played ‘After Goodbye’ by Paolo de Cavalho, units led by young army officers moved to take over key locations such as the capital’s TV station and airport. The people came out onto the streets, and the regime, that had been in power since 1932, resigned.
1990 Enthusiasm for the European political project reached its zenith it this year, with Eurobarometer, the biannual Europe-wide poll run by the European Commission, showing 71% support for the EEC (as it then was) around the continent. Eurovision’s winning song reflected this: ‘Insieme, 1992’ by Italy’s Toto Cutugno is a hymn to ever closer union. Its hook-line is ‘Unite, unite, Europe!’ Support for the EEC/EU began to wane from 1990 onwards, and by 1996 it was 48%. It has hovered around 50% ever since.
1993 Bosnia-Herzegovina made its debut in the contest. To participate, singer Fazla and his musicians had to escape besieged Sarajevo. This meant taking the main road to the airport, which was known as ‘Snipers’ Alley’, waiting until dark, then running across the airport to a corner of Bosnian-held land. Six people were killed trying to do the same thing the evening that Fazla and his team escaped. Fazla received a rousing reception from the Eurovision audience, but didn’t win.
1998 Eurovision has been popular in the gay community for many years, but it was only in 1997 that an openly gay artist, Paul Oskar from Iceland, participated. Next year, it was the turn of Dana International, a transgender singer from Israel. On arrival in the UK–the contest was held in Birmingham–she received death threats, but she ignored them, took part and won with her song ‘Diva’.
2003 The Second Iraq War was essentially fought by the USA and Britain. The rest of Europe did not approve, and this was reflected in Eurovision, where the British entry not only came last (the first time a UK song had done this) but got the dreaded nul points. The UK has come last two more times since then, but has always managed to scrape a few points.
2009 In 2008, Georgia fought a war with Russia over two breakaway parts of the country, Abhkazia and South Ossetia. Russia won both conflicts. In 2009, Georgia’s Eurovision entry was called ‘We don’t wanna Put In’, with the last two words pronounced ‘poot in’ just in case anybody missed the message. It was banned by the EBU as too political and Georgia sat Eurovision 2009 out.
2016 Ukraine’s winner, ‘1944’, was ostensibly a song about Stalin’s deportation of 240,000 Tatars from Crimea in that year. The great-grandmother of the singer, Jamala, had been one of the victims of this, and one of her great-aunts had died in the deportation. However the song was also taken as a protest about Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February / March 2014 and the subsequent treatment of the Tatar minority.
(with thanks to Melville House UK)
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