Eurovision, Conchita Wurst and “Rise Like A Phoenix”

It has just occurred to me that I have now written about Celtic soul, Celtic rock and Celtic punk since starting the blog two months ago and have ended up writing about two traditional songs with lyrics attributed to unknown in the last week alone. Time to get back to more mainstream pop material I think but as mentioned earlier this week, the song Loch Lomond sung by Runrig is a great way to end a “do” and last night that is exactly what happened at my sister-in-law’s “big birthday” party. All age groups gather in a circle and after about 3 minutes of hand-holding and arm-swinging, the mayhem ensues. You’ll have to come to Scotland and experience it sometime.

So, what could be the opposite of Celtic music I wonder – Something unconventional, not traditional; something from a country far from the fringes of Northwestern Europe; something perhaps by a solo artist and not a band of instrumentalists – I know, Rise Like a Phoenix by Conchita Wurst, the winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest!

Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst:

I have written about my love for all things Eurovision before (link here) and how last year, after watching the song contest on television for nearly 50 years, I went with friends to watch it LIVE in Vienna. The reason it was held in that beautiful city was of course because the previous year’s winner was the inimitable Conchita Wurst, an Austrian drag queen who treated us to an amazing performance of her country’s entry, Rise Like a Pheonix (a potential James Bond theme song if ever there was one).

It is now nearing the end of March and this year’s contest is just around the corner being held this year in Stockholm as the wonderful Måns Zelmerlöw won last year for Sweden with his song Heroes. But back to the story of how a drag queen ended up winning the 2014 contest. She was selected to represent her country after receiving the most votes during the selection process but of course she is not going to be for everyone, and many did see her selection as promoting LGBT rights. On the other hand, she has now established herself as a gay icon and regularly performs at pride parades and has been invited to the UN Office in Vienna and the European Parliament.

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The inclusion of the beard as part of the Wurst character was very much a statement to say that “you can achieve anything, no matter who you are or how you look.” Her message is very much one of tolerance and as Graham Norton said after the contest, it seemed like Eurovision had done something for once that mattered just a little bit.

Despite the controversy about the inclusion of Conchita and her song in the 2014 contest, especially in Eastern Europe, from the personal experience of having visited Vienna last year, she is a bit of a national treasure there. She was one of the co-hosts of the show and presided over the green room. Her voice featured on the metro system as she had recorded announcements for visitors. Her face was on the cover of just about every newspaper and magazine and I lost count of the many groups of people wearing little knitted beards. (There must have been a pattern made available in advance of the contest.)

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As for us, it doesn’t look as if we will be making the trip to this year’s contest in Stockholm so it will be back to the usual plan of hosting a get-together and supplying little flags, score-sheets and the food & drink of the host nation. Some countries are easier than others, Greece for example, but when Lordi won there in 2006 they took the next contest to Finland which was a catering challenge indeed for our 2007 get-together! Looks as if we’ll be consuming a Smörgåsbord of Svinhufvud, Hummer and Speksill (?) this year but that’s the great thing about Eurovision, the sheer cultural diversity between all the countries that participate. In 2014, having a drag queen win the grand final for Austria did appear to be a victory for diversity and tolerance in Europe – Long may it continue.

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Rise Like a Pheonix Lyrics
(Song by Charlie Mason/Joey Patulka/Ali Zuckowski/Julian Maas)

Waking in the rubble
Walking over glass
Neighbors say we’re trouble
Well that time has passed

Peering from the mirror
No, that isn’t me
Stranger getting nearer
Who can this person be

You wouldnt know me at all today
From the fading light I fly

Rise like a phoenix
Out of the ashes
Seeking rather than vengeance
Retribution
You were warned
Once I’m transformed
Once I’m reborn
You know I will rise like a phoenix
But you’re my flame

Go about your business
Act as if you’re free
Noone could have witnessed
What you did to me

Cause you wouldn’t know me today
And you have got to see
To believe
From the fading light I fly

Rise like a phoenix
Out of the ashes
Seeking rather than vengeance
Retribution
You were warned
Once I’m transformed
Once I’m reborn

I rise up to the sky
You threw me down but
I’m gonna fly

And rise like a phoenix
Out of the ashes
Seeking rather than vengeance
Retribution
You were warned
Once I’m transformed
Once I’m reborn
You know I will rise like a phoenix
But you’re my flame

Eurovision Memories, Riverdance and Måns Zelmerlöw

Following on from my last post when I wrote about the sad passing of Sir Terry Wogan, I feel I can’t end that thread until I have mentioned The Eurovision Song Contest. Love it or loathe it, the contest is a big fixture in television’s annual calendar and is watched by, wait for it…… up to 600 million people worldwide!

Terry presided over the television commentary of the contest from 1980 until 2008 after which he hung up his headphones, making way for another witty Irishman, Graham Norton. During his years at the helm, Terry’s commentary was far more of a draw for viewers than the contest, or nonsense as he called it. Who can forget all the “eejit” on-stage hosts we had to endure, and his observation that the Danish pair in 2001 looked like “Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy”.

My first memories of Eurovision were from 1967 when a barefoot Sandie Shaw won for the UK with Puppet On A String. I have mentioned my “anorak” tendencies before in this blog and The Eurovision Song Contest is a dream for people like me – Endless possibilities when it comes to stats, lists and databases. Who won in which year; where the contest was held; which artist represented each country and so it goes on…

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Anyway, in 1967 when I was still only 6 years old I remember using a little blue Silvine notebook to record my family’s verdict on the songs which had made the shortlist as potential contenders for our entry to that year’s contest. I can’t remember if as a family we did pick Puppet On A String but I do remember that we all had to give each song points out of 10 and I was savvy enough to realise that if I started with a lowish score of 5 out of 10 there would be room for manoeuvre. I also can’t remember if we actually sent in our verdict on a postcard (or if you couldn’t afford one of those a stuck down envelope), but for me, it was the start of a long love affair with all things Eurovision. As the years went by I became an even bigger fan of the contest and when colour came to our television screens things just got better and better.

Sadly when my teens and twenties came along, and I found myself a social life, Eurovision lost out as I tended to be out on a Saturday night but it would have been impossible to miss the fact that we won again in 1976 with Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses for Me, and soon after in 1981, with Bucks Fizz and Making Your Mind Up.

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The contest at this time was entering a fallow period and it was definitely not cool to admit to being a fan. Terry’s commentary continued to amuse but we didn’t really put up any worthwhile candidates and didn’t win again for another 16 years. During the ’90s however the Celtic Tiger was rearing its head and Ireland won the contest four times in five years. It seemed they could do no wrong and when Bill Whelan’s Riverdance was performed as the interval “filler” during the 1994 contest, a new and very lucrative art form was born. Gone were the days of folksy, green velvet-jacketed Irish dancing and in breezed Michael Flatley and a cast of thousands with their toe and heel-tapping spectaculars. Johnny Logan who won the contest himself for Ireland in 1980 and 1987 also wrote the winning song for Linda Martin in 1992, making him the most successful entrant ever. Wonder if any of this success was down to Terry and his Irish charm?

The times they were a-changing however and when the wall came down, Eastern Europe suddenly wanted to be a part of this music-fest, not realising that here in the UK it was still seen as a bit of light-hearted nonsense. In the rest of Europe, the contest has become a juggernaut of a show with each country putting up their most talented artists and in the build up to the live final, practically bankrupting their country with the promotion of their song. It all got a bit too much for Terry however, and his astute observation that there may well have been some political voting (never!) led to his eventual departure from the commentary box.

Since my daughter has been old enough to enjoy Eurovision with us, it has become one of my favourite nights of the year. We print off the scoresheets, invite friends round, serve the food and drink of the host nation and wave our little flags when the UK entrant appears on stage. Since the debacle of 2003 when Jemini had the distinction of receiving the first ever score of “nil points”, we have generally languished around the bottom of the scoreboard and it is hard to see how things are ever likely to change. We don’t really take it seriously, we are part of the “Big 5” who pay for the thing so go straight through to the final (no-one likes someone to get an unfair advantage) and yes, political voting is absolutely part of the contest and pretty much nobody wants to pal up with us in the world of Eurovision.

You are probably wondering if I am ever going to get round to the song in this post well here we go. Last year after watching the contest for nearly 50 years on television, I went to watch it LIVE in Vienna! We went with our best friends dressed as Bucks Fizz and had the best time ever. As usual the UK came about last but we made loads of new friends and were “papped” constantly in our outfits. The winner was a young Marti Pellow-lookalike called Måns Zelmerlöw from Sweden with his fantastic song Heroes. Sweden are now knocking on the door of Ireland’s record of seven wins in the contest with a very impressive six, their first being the song Waterloo by the most successful Eurovision act of all time, Abba.

Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw:

There are a lot of problems in the world today and even in Europe we are facing big political decisions in the very near future. I just wish we could gather together some of our leaders for the next Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm. The whole concept behind the contest in the 1950s was to help a war-torn Europe rebuild itself. The European Broadcasting Union set up a committee to search for ways of bringing countries together, via a “light entertainment programme”. From our first hand experience of Vienna, it certainly works and if Angela Merkel and David Cameron want to join us we have a couple of very fetching Bucks Fizz outfits going spare?

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Heroes Lyrics
(Song by Linnea Deb/Joy Deb/Anton Hård af Segerstad)

Don’t tell the gods I left a mess
I can’t undo what has been done
Let’s run for cover
What if I’m the only hero left
You better fire off your gun
Once and forever
He said go dry your eyes
And live your life like there is no tomorrow son
And tell the others

To go sing it like a hummingbird
The greatest anthem ever heard:

We are the heroes of our time
But we’re dancing with the demons in our minds
We are the heroes of our time
Hero-uh-o-o-oes
O-uh-o-o-oh
We’re dancing with the demons in our minds
Hero-uh-o-o-oes O-uh-o-o-oh

The crickets sing a song for you
Don’t say a word, don’t make a sound
It’s life’s creation
I make worms turn into butterflies
Wake up and turn this world around
In appreciation
He said I never left your side
When you were lost I followed right behind
Was your foundation