361 Je Veux Donner Ma Voix – Nayah (France, 1999)

Nayah

Nayah

Nayah is Sylvie Mestre from Perpignan in southern France, near the border with Spain. She was 38 at the time of the contest in 1999 making her the oldest competitor that year – a couple of years older than Bosnia’s senior musical statesman Dino Merlin (see No. 382), who was making his Eurovision debut, older too than the guys in Sürpriz (see No. 470) who, despite their grizzled appearance, were only in their early 30s in 1999.

Mestre had still been in her 20s when she experienced her first brush with Eurovision: in 1990, in partnership with a male vocalist named Joel, she had finished 2nd in the Swiss national selection final with Dites À Vos Enfants. The French duo just missed out to Musik Klingt In Die Welt Hinaus by Austrian singer and violinist, Egon Egemann.

Je Veux Donner Ma Voix (I Want To Give My Voice) was placed third by Norwegian televoters, but was largely ignored by everyone else; its total of 14 points only enough for a 19th place finish (out of 23). This followed France’s second-to-last place finish the year before and would have meant they, along with Spain (who finished last in 1999), would have been relegated from the contest under existing Eurovision rules. The EBU thought having two of Europe’s largest markets absent from the contest was potentially damaging and so the idea of the ‘Big 4’ was born whereby the EBU’s four largest budget contributors (Germany, UK, France and Spain) were given automatic byes.

In the 17 contests since that decision a member of the Big 4 has come last no fewer than seven times, while a Big 4 nation has only finished inside the Top 3 twice (see Nos. 430 & 369). Compare that to the 27 – twenty seven! – Top 3 finishes for the Big 4 in the first 17 contests in which they competed. Compare that also to the eight Top 3 finishes for just one country – Russia – in the past 17 years and you can see how grim the results for the Big 4 nations have been recently.

In the first 17 years they competed Germany averaged 7th place, in the last 17 years that has dropped to 15th. Spain has experienced a similar drop from 8th to 16th. France’s fall has been even steeper – from 5th to 17th, but the daddy of them all is the UK: in their first 17 contests they averaged 3rd place, the UK entry now usually comes around a miserable 19th.

It is open to debate whether automatic entry into the final, and the resultant lack of exposure in the semi final, disadvantages the Big 4 nations. Since 2011 the Big 4 has become a Big 5 with the inclusion of Italy, and Italian results don’t seem to have suffered at all, but I suspect that should the rule be abandoned many contests would be missing most, if not all, of the major players and viewing figures for the main Saturday night show would be seriously affected. Of course most French, German, Spanish and British viewers may not care whether their country is competing or not and would still tune in, but is that a chance the EBU are ever likely to take?

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362 Die Zeit Ist Einsam – Timna Brauer (Austria, 1986)

Timna Brauer

Timna Brauer

From the song that came 13th in 1986 (see No. 363) we move to another of that year’s under-performers, Die Zeit Ist Einsam (Time Is Lonely) by Timna Brauer which finished way down in 18th place out of a field of only 20.

It’s the third Austrian entry in our countdown so far (see Nos. 498 & 374), and like its two predecessors it is from the 1980s. That decade was a propitious one for the Austrians with six songs from the period in the Top 500, compared to the subsequent two and a half decades which yield just three Austrian entries in our chart.

Austria have tended to struggle in Eurovision: they made an inauspicious start in 1957 finishing last with Wohin Kleines Pony by Bob Martin, and replicated that position on a further six occasions in the final and once in 2012’s semi. They’ve scored the dreaded nul points a record four times (along with Norway) and in 2015 became the only host nation ever to score zero when The Makemakes I Am Yours failed to attract even a single vote.

In the 24 years between the 5th place finish of Thomas Forstner’s Nur Ein Leid in 1989 and Conchita Wurst’s dramatic win in 2014 with Rise Like A Phoenix, Austria only once graced the upper reaches of the scoreboard via comedian Alf Poier’s tongue-in-cheek Weil Der Mensch Zählt, which came 6th. Their results were so poor that they were relegated in 1998, 2001 and 2006, and then in 2008 Austrian broadcaster ÖRF withdrew from the contest completely, claiming that the bloc voting of eastern European countries was making it impossible for western nations to compete. In this the Austrians had a point – between 2001 and 2008 former communist countries won Eurovision five times out of eight contests – but when Austria’s neighbour Germany won in 2010 (see No. 430) after Norway’s triumph the previous year, claims of anti-western bias started to sound a little hollow and so in Düsseldorf in 2011 Austria returned to the Eurovision fold after a three year absence. Another three years later and they notched up only their second win, 48 years after their first, Merci Chérie by Udo Jūrgens in 1966.

Back to 1986 and that year Austria were represented by Timna Brauer, an Austrian-Israeli singer and the daughter of acclaimed artist Arik Brauer (Arik was born in Vienna in 1929 to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants). It was not the first time an Israeli singer had represented Austria: in 1963 Tel Aviv-born Carmela Corren became Eurovision’s first Israeli entrant, just pipping her countrywoman Esther Ofarim (representing Switzerland) to the accolade by performing in 4th position to Esther’s 10th. Israel itself did not enter the competition until 1973 (while Austria were on another three year sabbatical); the first time the two countries appeared together was 1976 when Israel awarded Austria their 10 points. Israel again gave 10 points to Austria in 1985 (Kinder Dieser Welt by Gary Lux) but the following year, despite Timna’s connections, the Israelis overlooked her completely.

 

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363 Alles Heeft Ritme – Frizzle Sizzle (Netherlands, 1986)

Frizzle Sizzle

Frizzle Sizzle

Ten years before the Spice Girls zig-a-zig ah’d their way across Europe’s charts, Frizzle Sizzle were projecting a rather more modest form of Girl Power in co-ordinating pastel shades at Eurovision in 1986.

The history of girl groups can be traced back to the late 1930s via the likes of the Andrews Sisters, an American female vocal trio who had a huge wartime hit with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, while in Britain in the 1950s the Beverley Sisters successfully imitated their American counterparts and enjoyed widespread popularity. The girl group hey-day, though, was the late 1950s and early 1960s with acts like the Chordettes, the Ronettes and, of course, the Supremes all making the transatlantic pop charts.

At that time participation in Eurovision was restricted to solo artists and duos, a rule that was still in place when three Dutch sisters, Hearts Of Soul (see No. 413), became the contest’s first girl group to make an appearance in 1970. Since 1963 a ‘chorus’ of up to three backing vocalists had been allowed on stage and it was this technicality that allowed the group to be billed as Hearts Of Soul, soloist Patricia, with Patricia Maessen singing lead and her sisters providing back-up. The following year the rule was jettisoned and up to six performers were allowed on stage, a move that paved the way for groups such as Abba and Brotherhood Of Man.

Patricia and her sisters would return to Eurovision in 1977 as Dream Express (and Patricia was also present at the same contest as Frizzle Sizzle, performing backing vocals for 1986’s winner Sandra Kim), but although the contest is dominated by female singers, female groups still tend to be something of a rarity. Barely more than two dozen all-female outfits (not including duos) have appeared at Eurovision since 1970 and none have set the world alight. The highest placed finish for a girl group is 3rd, achieved by German trio Mekado in  1994 with Wir Geben ‘Ne Party and Russian trio Serebro in 2007 with Song #1 (it would be  stretching it somewhat to describe the Russian grannies who came 2nd in 2012 as a ‘girl’ group).

Frizzle Sizzle were Mandy Huydts, Marjon Keller and sisters Karin and Laura Vlasblom. All four had been members of Kinderen voor Kinderen, a children’s choir first assembled by Dutch public broadcaster VARA in 1980. (The choir – with constantly changing junior personnel – continue to record, having released nearly 40 albums to date). Alles Heeft Ritme (Everything Has Rhythm) finished in a mediocre 13th place out of 20 entries, it was a modest hit in Holland and was followed by a handful of reasonably successful singles but  by 1990 the girls had had enough and gone their separate ways.

So far we’ve had two all female groups in the Top 500 (see Nos. 393 & 371) and there are another half dozen to come.

 

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364 Nu Pleca – Dida Drăgan (Romania, 1993)

Dida Drăgan

Dida Drăgan

The drawing back of the Iron Curtain and the Balkanisation of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s meant more countries in Eurovision and a headache for the contest’s organisers at the EBU. The solution they came up with in 1993 – before the various relegation systems, before the inauguration of the first (and then second) semi final – was Qualification for Millstreet (see No. 472).

Romania was one of the seven ‘new’ countries attempting to take part that year (alongside Bosnia, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia). In January 1993 state broadcaster Televiziunea Română (TVR) conducted a national final of 11 songs to select their first Eurovision entry. Veteran chanteuse Dida Drăgan was victorious with Nu Pleca (Don’t Go), beating off competition from the likes of Monica Anghel (who would go on to represent Romania in 1996 and 2002) and Nicoleta Alexandru (Romania’s representative in 2003).

On 3rd April 1993, six weeks before the contest proper, the seven new Eurovision nations gathered at Radiotelevizija Slovenija’s Broadcasting Centre in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, for the pre-selection final. Each country also sent a single juror who gave their votes in the usual Eurovision manner (12,10, 8 etc) though with so few contestants 5 points was the lowest mark possible. There was no hint of collusion among the former Yugoslavian nations – none of the three awarded their top mark to a fellow Balkan state – yet hosts Slovenia were triumphant and their neighbours Bosnia and Croatia were the two additional qualifiers for Eurovision in Millstreet, Ireland. Dragăn, although she picked up 12 points from Croatia, was placed last by four jurors and so finished bottom of the pack, 6 points adrift of the Hungarian entry in 6th place.

Dida Drăgan was born in 1946 in Dâmboviţa, 50 miles north west of Bucharest. In 1972 she won the prestigious National Festival Of Popular Music competition, which earned her the nickname “The Fiery Voice of Romanian Rock”, and led to a record deal with the East German state-owned record label, Amiga. Successful across the Eastern Bloc she became one of Romania’s most popular singers and even attempted a political career, standing for the centre-right Romanian National Liberal Party after the overthrow of communism in December 1989.

So why did Nu Pleca do so badly? As far as we are concerned it stood head and shoulders above everything else at the Slovenian pre-selection contest. Was it the microphone malfunction early on in the performance? Did the single jury member system give rise to tactical voting, marking down the better song to give their own entry more of a chance?

And if Dida Drăgan had made it to Millstreet, how would she have fared? Well, her diva-of-a-certain-age performance (she was 46 at the time) brings to mind Mia Martini’s rendition of Rapsodia (see No. 450) in the previous year’s contest, and that song finished 4th; but whereas 44-year-old Martini’s voice was shot to pieces in 1992, Drăgan still has a strong set of pipes, more reminiscent of Martini’s own younger self (see No. 379). We think Nu Pleca could – and should – have done very well indeed.

 

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365 I Don’t Wanna Leave – Lidia Kopania (Poland, 2009)

Lidia Kopania

Lidia Kopania

There are seven entries from Poland in our countdown: three entirely in Polish, three in English and one that is a hotchpotch of Polish, German and Russian. We’ve already had their first Polish language song (see No. 403), next up is Poland’s first English language song to make the Top 500.

Lidia Kopania is from Koluszki in central Poland. In 1998 she released her first single, Niezwykły Dar (Unusual Gift) and in 2003 became the vocalist for the Hamburg-based band Kind Of Blue (named after the famed 1959 jazz album by Miles Davis). Three years before she joined the group, Kind Of Blue had come third in Germany’s national selection final for Eurovision 2000, behind Stefan Raab’s Wadde Hadde Dudde Da and Corinna May’s I Believe in God. May would go on to represent Germany in 2002 with I Can’t Live Without Music, while Kind Of Blue’s guitarist Bernd Klimpel would return in 2009 as co-writer of I Don’t Wanna Leave for his Polish bandmate. Another of the song’s four composers was Alex Geringas, a Russian-born composer of TV soundtracks who has written hits for Anastacia and Kelly Clarkson. Geringas would have felt at home at the 2009 contest as it was held in his birthplace of Moscow.

I Don’t Want To Leave was tipped to do well in Russia but it finished a disappointing 12th in the second semi final. Part of the problem was Lidia Kopania’s live vocal performance which lacks the crispness and sparkle of the studio version, and at times – particularly towards the end – is downright excruciating. To make matters worse she was immediately followed in the running order, and thus overshadowed by, the pre-contest favourite – and runaway winner – Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale. Nevertheless I Don’t Wanna Leave did receive 10 points from Irish voters, the only nation to place Poland higher than Norway’s winner.

Poland started Eurovision so well: 2nd with their debut entry To Nie Ja by Edyta Górniak. However subsequent years haven’t lived up to such an auspicious start. Since 1994 they’ve only managed two further Top 10 finishes (Keine Grenzen-Żadnych Granic, that Polish/German/Russian mash-up by Ich Troje, in 2003; and their most recent offering, Color Of Your Life by Michał Szpak, in 2016). In the first seven years of the semi final they qualified only once (For Life by Isis Gee in 2008) but even that song ended up in second-to-last place. Dispirited by such a sequence of failure the Poles skipped the contests of 2012 and 2013, but results have improved markedly since their return in 2014 with all three entries managing to qualify for the final.

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366 The Voice – Eimear Quinn (Ireland, 1996)

Eimear Quinn

Eimear Quinn

The most recent of Ireland’s record-setting seven winning songs is at No. 366, 58 places higher than win No. 6 (see No. 424). Higher too than win No. 4 – Linda Martin’s Why Me fell short of the Top 500 – but lower than Dana, two Johnny Logans and a Niamh Kavanagh, all of which are yet to come.

The Voice was written by Tipperary man Brendan Graham. Graham has a distinguished Eurovision pedigree stretching back to 1976 having written Ireland’s entry that year, When by Red Hurley, which finished 10th. He was also responsible for Ireland’s 1985 entry, Wait Until The Weekend Comes by Maria Christian (6th) as well as 1994’s winner, Rock’n’Roll Kids, for Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan (see No. 424). But he is probably best known for penning the lyrics to You Raise Me Up, a No. 1 hit in the UK and Ireland for Westlife, which he co-wrote with Rolf Løvland of Secret Garden – Eurovision winners in 1996, sandwiched between Brendan Graham’s two Irish victories.

The original intention was for folk band Dervish to perform The Voice, but that plan was ditched after Graham attended a concert by the Anúna choir at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin at Christmas 1995. Anúna are best known for the choral introduction to 1994’s interval act Riverdance. Eimear Quinn, who joined the choir after their Eurovision appearance, performed a solo at the concert in St Patrick’s and on hearing her Brendan Graham knew he had his singer. Dervish eventually got their Eurovision chance in 2007 but with a much weaker song: They Can’t Stop The Spring, written by Irish journalist (and former partner of Sinéad O’Connor) John Waters, which finished last.

For reasons of language and proximity the United Kingdom have given their 12 points to Ireland more times than to any other nation (for reasons of politics this hasn’t been reciprocated). Eight times the UK’s maximum mark went to Ireland: for both Johnny Logan’s winners in 1980 and 1987; for Niamh Kavanagh’s winner, In Your Eyes, in 1993; even in 1970, under a different scoring system, the UK gave their (joint) highest mark to Dana. In 1996, however, the Brits turned their backs completely on their western neighbours and gave Eimear Quinn no points at all – the only one of Ireland’s seven wins not to receive points from the UK.

Despite the UK’s snub The Voice romped home, nearly 50 points ahead of Elisabeth Andreassen’s I Evighet in 2nd. The song did graze the UK chart, reaching No. 40 – better than Brendan Graham’s earlier winner, Rock’n’Roll Kids, which had missed the chart completely – but was nothing like as successful as that year’s UK entry by Gina G. Ooh Aah…Just A Little Bit topped the UK chart, was a huge hit throughout Europe and even made the US Top 20. The fact that it only finished 8th underlined how out-of-touch with mainstream musical taste Eurovision had become by the late 1990s.

Eimear Quinn found, as most Eurovision winners do, that her victory was not a springboard to international stardom (to be fair, Gina G sunk back into obscurity fairly soon too) but through the contest she did manage to bag herself a husband: head of the Irish delegation in Oslo was a certain Noel Curran, Noel is now Director General of Irish broadcaster RTÉ and Eimear Quinn has become Mrs Eimear Curran.

 

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367 Frei Zu Leben – Chris Kempers & Daniel Kovac (Germany, 1990)

Daniel Kovac & Chris Kempers

Daniel Kovac & Chris Kempers

Christiane Kempers and Daniel Kovac were brought together by Germany’s Mr Eurovision, Ralph Siegel, specifically for the 1990 contest, which was held in Zagreb in Croatia, after Yugoslavia’s first and only win the year before with Rock Me by Riva.

With Croatia still a constituent part of Yugoslavia and independence a year away, Kovac was technically on native soil having been born in Črna na Koroškem in Slovenia, near the border with Austria. His family had emigrated to Germany in 1968 when Kovac was 12 years old. In the late 1970s he worked as a session singer before landing a job as presenter for the Munich-based TV channel Musicbox.

Mönchengladbach-born Kempers was nine years younger than her duet partner. She had made an unsuccessful Eurovision bid in 1988 with the four-piece band Rendezvous and subsequently appeared on TV impersonating Jennifer Rush in the German version of Stars In Their Eyes where she was spotted by Ralph Siegel.

Frei Zu Leben (Free To Live) is Siegel’s fourth entry in the countdown so far (see Nos. 470, 445420) and there are a further four to come. The song was a collaboration with lyricist Michael Kunze, a fellow Eurovision veteran who had been responsible for Germany’s entries in 1977 (Telegram by Silver Convention) and 1984 (Aufrecht Geh’n by Mary Roos). Kunze, under the pseudonym Stephan Prager, was the producer and brains behind Silver Convention, a disco oufit comprising various female session singers. Before their Eurovision appearance the group had scored a handful of hits in the UK, but were more successful in the US with two huge smashes: Fly Robin Fly, a No. 1 in 1975 and Get Up And Boogie, a No. 2 the following year.

1990 marked the end of an era for Germany in Eurovision. Up to that point they had only come first in the contest once – with Ein Bißchen Frieden in 1982, the poorest record of any of the “Big 5” nations. Yet this paucity of wins disguises a consistent run of high quality entries throughout the 1970s and 1980s – four 2nd place finishes in the 1980s, and a series of three consecutive 3rd place finishes from 1970-1972. Indeed, Germany’s early 1970s entries from Katja Ebstein, Mary Roos and Joy Fleming are as fine examples of schlager as that period’s more well known winning French language songs – Un Banc Un Arbre Une Rue, Après Toi and Tu Tu Te Reconnaîtras.

The drop-off in quality of German entries post 1990 can be seen quite markedly in our countdown: there are no fewer than ten songs in the Top 500 from the 15 year period from 1976 to 1990 compared to just two in the 15 years from 1991 to 2005.

 

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