All things considered, Britain’s not done too badly at the Eurovision Song Contest over the years. Sure, we’ve sent a few duffers like Jemini and Andy Abraham over to the continent in our time and occasionally finished dead last, but on the whole Blighty’s Eurovision record is pretty good.
We’ve won the contest on five occasions, come runner-up fifteen times and, most importantly, given some unforgettably kitschy pop music to the world.
And this year hopes are higher than ever for the UK with the hugely popular Engelbert Humperdinck as our standard-bearer in Azerbaijan, crooning for Queen and country in the Jubilee year.
He’s so popular he’s already been mobbed in Baku, and he’s sold over 150m records in his lengthy career, but let’s not forget that Eurovision is more than just a popularity contest.
Indeed, it’s all about the music (at least in theory), and Humperdinck’s pinned his hopes of Eurovision glory on a reflective ballad called Love Will Set You Free.
Accompanied by guitar chords and swelling strings, the track sees Engelbert in fine voice and tackling those old songwriters’ perennials: love and regret. It’s a moody, evocative piece about the pain of letting go of a lover, which is sure to do well with Humperdinck fans.
But in contrast to the five stridently jovial tunes Britain’s triumphed with at previous Eurovisions, it’s quite the change of pace. In fact, let’s compare this mature, emotive song with our nation’s fondly remembered (if occasionally naff) past successes shall we?
Sandie Shaw – Puppet on a String
Sandie Shaw triumphed by quite some margin at the 1967 Austrian-held Contest with this jaunty paean to lovesick infatuation.
Though it’s perhaps unsurprising that a tune with such a strident oom-pah arrangement did well in a Teutonic territory, it’s a genuinely memorable slice of classic British pop. How does it stack up against Engelbert? Well, they’re both about love, romance and heartache – themes proven to do well in Eurovision – but Sandie’s is by far the more danceable of the two. Has Engelbert perhaps missed a trick by failing to employ a full-blown rhythm section?
Lulu – Boom Bang-a-Bang
Appropriately appearing in the same year that Carry On Camping was released in cinemas, Lulu’s saucy love song is so jam-packed with double entendres it could’ve been written by Pam Ayers.
Accompanied by some coy winking to camera, this jolly ditty about the thrills caused by Lulu’s heart boom-bang-a-bang-banging away was a charming dollop of British humour in ¾ time. Engelbert’s got neither the saucy lyrics nor the waltz rhythm of Lulu’s track, but perhaps makes up for their absence with dignity and gravitas.
Brotherhood of Man – Save Your Kisses for Me
Featuring one of the more infamous xylophone intros in pop history, Brotherhood of Man’s winning entry from 1976 also boasts one of the most memorable choruses ever heard at Eurovision.
Lyrically it’s somewhat similar to Engelbert’s entry in that it’s about bidding farewell to a lover, though unlike the sideburned crooner’s heart-rending effort this sounds more like the sort of thing you might say over the shoulder to your spouse before setting off for work. Again there’s the a hint of the oom-pah in the tune’s arrangement, which suggests that people just can’t get enough of alternating bass-lines out in Mitteleuropa.
Bucks Fizz – Making Your Mind Up
Another four-piece pop act featuring two pairs of guys and gals, Bucks Fizz’s skirt-whipping, hand-jiving number propelled them to Eurovision victory in 1981.
Presumably aided no end by the group’s infamous dance routine, this is nevertheless a fun, feel-good pop single with lyrics that celebrate, you’ve guessed it, love. While Engelbert’s song brings a tear to the eye, this one leaves a smile on the lips – which might explain its comfortable victory 30 years ago…
Katrina and the Waves – Love Shine a Light
Sumptuously arranged and ably performed, Katrina and the Waves’s winning entry from Eurovision ’97 proved that we Brits have more in our musical arsenal than saucy, throwaway pop.
As well as being yet another meditation on the wonders of love, Katrina and the Waves’ driving beat, soaring vocals and uplifting message brought an almost evangelical cheer to the Contest. With its hopeful lyrics and well-crafted backing track, this tune almost sounds like the happy counterpart to Engelbert’s solemn song.
So what’ve we learnt? Probably not that much, all told. After all, tastes change year on year and Eurovision voting’s more politically charged than ever these days. Nevertheless, Engelbert seems to be bang on winning trend with his song’s subject matter, if possibly a little too subdued in its orchestration. Still, only time will tell whether he’s got what it takes to win. Good luck and godspeed, Mr. Humperdinck…
Which is your favourite Eurovision-winning British song? Will you be watching Engelbert in action this weekend? Post a comment and let us know…