Another Saturday, another British coronation ceremony.
This one has, arguably, even more bling and baubles — and certainly more crying.
And tonight there are 26 new pieces of music, in contrast to the 12 in Westminster Abbey last weekend.
It is safe to say, however, that regardless of who is crowned champion of Eurovision later — a Finnish rapper in hi-vis Blackadder kitsch, perhaps, or Sweden’s 2012 winner making a cat-clawed comeback, or five middle-aged Croatians in Y-fronts — few of tonight’s tunes will be remembered much beyond next week.
Indeed, some struggle to qualify as what is generally known as ‘music’.
UK’s Mae Muller will perform at the Eurovision Song Contest this year in Liverpool
‘We’ve gone from diamonds to sequins in the space of a week,’ explains Stuart Andrew, the culture minister in charge of ‘ceremonials and major events’ — and thus both the Coronation and Eurovision.
Both events, he argues, illustrate Britain’s potential to wield soft power.
Mr Andrew is walking the streets of Liverpool as he inspects his department’s £10 million contribution to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
This includes an exhibition of powerful war photography and the arresting sight of the city’s Nelson monument shrouded in sandbags, imitating all the statues in Liverpool’s twin city of Odesa under threat from Russian bombs.
These are a few of the many reminders that the Eurovision circus should not be here at all but 1,500 miles to the east. Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, of course, won last year’s Eurovision, only for their nation to be denied the right to host this event due to war.
So, as runner-up, Britain was asked to step in. After 20 cities expressed interest, the host organisers, namely the BBC, plumped for Liverpool.
Despite having just months to lay on this event — the 67th — and an obligation to pretend to be somewhere else, the city has embraced its role as Kyiv-on-Mersey with gusto.
Ukrainians well up as they tell me what it means not just to see their flag everywhere but also local street signs and menus in Ukrainian, street furniture painted blue and yellow, giant inflatable nightingales (the national bird) on street corners and one of the country’s great musical stars, Jamala, duetting on a giant public stage with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
The UK has been hosting Eurovision on behalf of war-torn Ukraine who won the competition last year
This is all being beamed back to millions of grateful Ukrainians and is being greeted as warmly as those cruise missiles which the Ministry of Defence put in the post this week.
All this has done something else, too. Whisper it, but Europe is warming to the fact that Britain is not as cold, stand-offish and generally rubbish as post-Brexit mythology would suggest.
‘I can honestly say that this is probably the best Eurovision I have attended,’ says Germany’s Dr Irving Wolther.
This is praise indeed. Dr Wolther, 53, known as ‘Dr Eurovision’, was the first to complete a doctoral thesis on ‘Eurovision studies’.
This is his 30th contest. Indeed, the University of Hanover lecturer is one of very few people here in Liverpool who were present the last time Britain staged this thing, in 1998 in Birmingham.
He even organises academic conferences on Eurovision. This week, I heard one discussing Britain’s first ‘nul points’ entry back in 2003 (the song writer was on the panel and blamed the result on the Iraq war plus a BBC conspiracy). Deep waters.
But Dr Eurovision is thrilled by what he has seen in Liverpool. ‘I arrived here two weeks ago and I have never seen a host city embracing the contest like this. We know the Scandinavians are mad about Eurovision but this even tops that.’
Sam Ryder, who was last year’s runner-up, performs during the rehearsal for the Eurovision Song Contest final
Night after night, a huge Eurovision Village on the waterfront plays free concerts to all-comers with top-class acts.
Indeed, as I watch local legends, The Lightning Seeds, pump out monster hits such as It’s Coming Home to wild applause, I can’t help wondering why the hell they aren’t representing the UK tonight.
Dr Wolther has grim memories of the UK’s last turn as host, in 1998. ‘We were not made to feel welcome in Birmingham,’ he says. ‘The whole attitude was about making fun of the event and the artists — in the press and on television.’
No one can argue that a festival which mixes head-banging zombie apocalypse acts with big-haired Balkan hoofers warbling a dirge in front of a wind machine should be exempt from ridicule.
But what has always upset the Eurovision diaspora was the perception that Britain was not just laughing but sneering. Now, though, they are bowled over after receiving the full state visit treatment.
For the King and Queen no less were here a fortnight ago to open the Eurovision stage inside the M&S Bank Arena. They toured backstage and even filmed a cameo role for Tuesday’s opening semi-final show.
During his state visit to Germany, the King met this year’s German entry, Lord of the Lost, in their chainmail leotards (they found him ‘very calm’ and ‘charming’).
Last year the song contest was held in Turin, Italy, but this year will take place in Liverpool, Merseyside
A further sign of British gravitas is the man producing tonight’s show. Martin Green has strong pedigree, having delivered the Olympic ceremonies of 2012 and last year’s Commonwealth Games. ‘At least this one is indoors. I’m loving that,’ says Mr Green.
What has also struck the legion of Eurovision obsessives — and the European broadcasters transmitting to 160 million viewers — is the fact that Britain has seriously raised its game musically.
Last year’s entry, Sam Ryder’s Space Man, is generally regarded as a classy and professional Eurovision candidate which might well have won in another year.
Angelos Dadalias, 45, is president of the International Network of Fan Clubs for Eurovision and runs the Eurofans radio station. He says the reason Britain languished in the doldrums for so long was that the rest of the continent simply could not understand our attitude.
‘The UK has this amazing music industry and history. So how, with all that, could you send us the acts we used to get?’
He is thinking of offerings like Jemini, our Liverpudlian ‘nul points’ duo from 2003 (never to be heard from again, except when the female half popped up to be convicted of benefits fraud in 2016).
‘Now, the UK’s back in the game,’ says Angelos, adding that this year’s finalist, Mae Muller, has already acquired a strong following around Europe with her entry, I Wrote A Song. ‘Our station goes crazy for that,’ he says.
Some Tory MPs certainly did not go crazy for her after it emerged that Mae also wrote some regrettable tweets prior to her BBC selection. A staunch Labour fan, she had declared that Boris Johnson deserved neither sympathy nor an intensive care bed while fighting Covid.
That will have no bearing on her chances tonight, of course.
So much about Eurovision is baffling. Why must most nations endure a semi-final but the UK does not? As one of the ‘Big Five’, we pay more into the pot.
Why is Australia here? Because they love it (though it can never go there because of the time difference and the distance for fans).
And how on earth can voters choose a fluffy love ditty one year and then give the prize to a pneumatic drill the next?
We will never know.
Age is no bar (the two teenage entries, Greece and Romania, are already out whereas Croatia’s unhummably awful Y-front act includes a 61-year-old).
Some things are entirely predictable, though, like the mutual backscratching of Greece and Cyprus or the mutual loathing of Armenia and Azerbaijan (in 2009, all 43 Azerbaijanis who voted for Armenia were questioned by police).
Expat loyalties in the UK mean we often lean towards Poland and Lithuania (whose highly impressive 2023 entry includes a Waitrose worker from Essex).
Nor do you have to win to make it big. The most frequently covered Eurovision song of all time is Italy’s 1958 entry, Volare, later recorded by everyone from Dean Martin to Pavarotti and still in vogue as a football chant. It came third.
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