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Nick Pickles: From Bonnie Tyler to Brexit

Nick Pickles is Director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, and a music photographer whose work can be viewed here. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Reform, renegotiate, Brexit. A great question of our time that goes to the heart of our place on the world stage.

I’m talking of course about the Eurovision song contest.

Fraser Nelson fired the first salvo last week:

“For the past 10 years, the Eurovision Song Contest has provided a musical metaphor for Britain’s relationship with the European Union. We submit an appalling entry, chosen because we assume the continentals like trash. They don’t, and tend to give us nul points. We then assume we are victims of discrimination, that Eurovision is an exercise in continental intrigues that we wouldn’t want to win anyway.”

Since 1959, the UK has entered Eurovision every year. More than half a century later, we have just five victories to show for our efforts. Since 1999, we have managed only two top ten finishes. Our last two entries had a combined age of 137.

The roll call of our entries is spellbinding. Who could forget Belle and the Devotions soaring ‘Love Games’ or Bardo’s ‘One Step Further’? Keneth McKellar’s ‘A man without love’ and Clodagh Rodgers’ ‘Jack in the Box’ are rarely far from the top of my iPod’s most played songs, and don’t even get me started on the epic intensity of the New Seekers ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’. It just makes me want to run to the nearest shop and try to find the limited edition of Rikki’s ‘Only the Light’ to play so loud everyone on the bus can hear its beauty.

Very quickly, you realise these songs have two things in common, along with almost every other Eurovision song ever. Firstly, they were forgotten almost as quickly as they took to sing. Secondly, they were utterly, despicably, rubbish.

However you measure performance, for the nation that gave the world the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, David Bowie and Queen, that isn’t really a strong track record. It should keep us awake at night. Imagine the Belarusian teenager, watching Eurovision for the first time. MinskFM hasn’t really lived up to much by way of a musical education, but this is Eurovision. Maybe Germany will have some krautrock and you can see what all this Kraftwerk talk is about, or Jean Michelle Jarre will have inspired the French entry. Alas, if all else fails, Britain will have something good. They’ve heard of the Beatles, seen Muse’s latest stadium set-up, and the expectation is immense. Here begins your musical awakening. Then Bonnie Tyler walks on.

This is not an isolated case. Consider the previous winners. I tried, and other than Abba, who I think won it, or at least did something, the rest of the winners are barely recalled by their ‘angle’ - the scandanavians who looked like vikings and, well, I have absolutely no idea who most of them are or even what their ‘thing’ was. I think Cliff Richard has done it a couple of times, which is usually a sign of something the rest of us should try and avoid.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it is an entirely pointless endeavour. Eurovision is arguably one of the best drinking games ever invented. Mild Euro-baiting, funny hats and drinking every time someone says “nul points”.

But might we expect something more? In Britain, the creative industries employ around 1.3 million people in 140,000 businesses. Over the last decade, the creative industries have grown faster than the rest of the economy. And yet we choose to deliberately make ourselves look culturally vacant infront of most of the continent, on prime time television.

The Government has some genuinely exciting policies to drive forward our already remarkable music industry. The UK Music Skills Academy is aiming to create 200 creative apprenticeships this year across the industry. Indeed, only last week, a £500,000 music talent development fund was announced. Imagine adding to that the millions we spend on participating in Eurovision.

So, should we leave Eurovision? Send Terry Wogan with a bottle of scotch and a white flag? Perhaps.

Yes, I know it’s a harmless bit of fun. Of course, politics and national rivalries determine more votes than the songs themselves. But who cares? We can still laugh at the crazy dance routines, dodgy haircuts and the absence of anything remotely resembling melody if we’re not in it. We’ve got Glastonbury and the Proms, I think we’ll manage.

Personally, I think we should adopt a ballot system. Everyone who fancies a pop puts their name in a hat, and whoever gets drawn is the entrant. No musical experience or talent required, because it isn’t a contest about music or talent.

If we’re lucky, we’ll get kicked out. And it’ll be the closest Eurovision ever came to a moment of genuine cultural significance.


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