4th, February, 2009
So you want to be a real Eurovision fan?
Like Christmas, Eurovision comes but once a year. The day after the contest – when you’re maybe looking at the leftovers of your Eurovision party (rollmops, large sausages, a sticky liqueur of dubious provenance), do you have that sense of anti-climax, as if you have opened all the presents?
Do you long to get a Eurovision fix all year round? Here’s my guide to being a true Eurovision fan.
Well to start with, the Eurovision season, as one friend calls it, or the build-up to the contest lasts a lot longer these days. Albania is always the first to choose its entry, through a song festival held every December for the past 45 years. Other countries start dusting off the glitter for their selection process kicks off in the new year and the finals – 43 countries – last up to mid-March. Thanks to YouTube and satellite TV, hard-core fans can follow each country’s progress and get all the latest gossip from such websites as the fan-run esctoday.com.
Of course, a real Eurovision die-hard has to try and get to the contest itself, and it’s not always easy or cheap (many of the regulars are giving Moscow a miss this year because of the financial times and the expense of this particular city).
Time was not that long ago when the audience for the contest comprised nicely coiffed ladies and gents in DJs all politely clapping the songs. Now it is open to the crazed, flag-waving supporters of all nations. The atmosphere at the 2004 final in Istanbul was more like a camp version of the FA Cup final.
And there are now, with the semi-finals, three lives shows to enjoy. Added to all that there are the official parties for accredited participants and media plus events for the fans too.
It’s not always easy, though, as getting the tickets can be a labour of Herculean proportions. One friend almost had a nervous breakdown over a month in trying to get tickets online for Kiev four years ago. We paid top wack and ended up behind a huge platform with a bank of cameras blocking our view. It’s not all glitter and fun being a Eurofan you know – oh yes there’s heartache and disappointment too (rather like supporting a football team I suppose).
A cheaper option for more hard-core types is the final of individual countries. Sweden’s Melodifestivalen is the most popular, a six-week contest that takes place all over Sweden, in which the country’s top stars fight to enter. The standard of songs is high, the sort of thing that, until this year, UK fans could only dream of. It’s compulsory Saturday night viewing through February and March for winter-weary Swedes. Some two million vote in the final – nearly a quarter of the population – at the huge Globen arena in Stockholm and tickets are like gold dust.
Schlager, as Scandinavians refer to anything connected to Eurovision, is big in Sweden, so Stockholm is a good place to visit for a Eurovision fix at any time. You’ll get more Boom Bang-a-Bang for your buck in late July/early August for the city’s Gay Pride celebrations, when one night of the festival in the park plays host to a schlager concert with Swedish acts plus those of Eurovisions past and present from other countries too.
If thats not enough schlager, try Patricia’s, a boat moored on the edge of Sodermalm, every Sunday night where the music is fun and the food (try the Reindeer Extravaganza) is half-price. Clubs such as Linos also play schlager/Eurovision. The only place for any self-respecting fan to stay is at the Rival Hotel, owned by Benny from Abba and situated in a quiet square in the funky (well as funky as Swedes ever get) Sodermalm area. It’s a smart and laid-back hotel. Watch out, too, for the opening of the new Abba museum.
If you can’t get to Sweden there are regular schlager parties in London – the clientele is a mix of expat Swedes and UK Euro fans, held every couple of months. The longest running Eurovision night – 10 years and counting – in London, though, is at the Retro Bar near Charing Cross station on the second Thursday of every month. With it’s highlight of a mini contest of six Eurovision videos and jury voting, it gets a serious crowd and is usually packed out.
Most of all, though, being a Eurovision fan means you make lots of new friends – and you never have a dull time when they’re around.
READ THIS: John Kennedy O’Connor’s official Eurovision history is a must-have bible for followers. For a different slant, there is Nul Points, in which Tim Moore tracks down all those who scored the magical zero. It’s an affecting mix of high comedy and tragedy.
LISTEN TO THIS: There are CDs and DVDs of the more recent contests, and many compilation albums but “Song for Eurotrash” is a unique combination of Eurovision hits performed by the unlikeliest singers, among them Shane MacGowan, Sacha Distel, Terry Hall and Sinead O Connor and Edwyn Collins.
And finally…. a mystery solved
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brow furrowed. “Why on earth did Malta give 12 points to Scooch? he asked. The Maltese ambassador looked equally bewildered and expressed complete ignorance. Around the country several hundred Eurovision fans were yelling at the TV screen: “The Schlagerboys!”
To explain. The Schlagerboys are two awfully nice chaps who live in Birmingham but would much rather, as their splendid blog explains, live in the land of schlager, Sweden (see above). For the past two years they have told a nation – OK, a small island – where to give their top marks, douze points, on the big night.
Two years ago, the Schlagerboys – aka Andrew, who teaches children with special needs, and David, who works in human resources, were big supporters of the Maltese entry and dressed in appropriate colours with flags for the semi-final. They became favourites on Maltese TV, and told Maltesers to give their 12 points to the UK’s Scooch. Which they duly did.
Last year the boys told Malta to vote for Sweden (great song but shame about the scary stick insect, praying mantis, alien-looking singer). Sweden got it’s only 12 points from Malta. It wasn’t a coincidence.
The boys are serious in their pursuit of all things schlager – namely cheesy pop songs with big hair and heels, glitz, strutting and pointing and, most crucially, a key change. They don’t have much truck with ballads (but they love this year’s UK entry). They have pursued schlager singers all over Scandinavia and Malta (they will be at Malta’s final on Saturday); they even went to Nuneaton carnival to see Bucks Fizzs Cheryl Baker and to see Nicki French (“Don’t Play That Song Again”, 16th in 2000) in panto last year in Chipping Norton. Talk about dedicated. So who will get Malta’s 12 points this year? Just ask the Schlagerboys in Moscow!
Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)
Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue