Let’s get some of the simple stuff out of the way first. We’re not totally useless at Eurovision, we’ve just had some trouble in recent years.
We used to win (when the contest was smaller) – we won five times with Lulu, Brotherhood of Man, Bucks Fizz, Katrina and the Waves, and Sandi Shaw. Over the last thirteen years or we’ve come last three times. We were second in 2002. We’ve had a fifth place in 2009, and an eleventh in 2009. We haven’t been totally useless.
Part of the reason for us stumbling around in the voting table isn’t down to political voting (on that score, Christer Bjorkman is right). To explain the reason we’ve stumbled around the voting table on the rest of Europe hating us is, effectively, blaming everyone else for our continued apparent inability to understand Eurovision. We’ve struggled to enter into proceedings with the material that suits the programme’s running order and pleases the audience back home at the same time. In trying to satisfy both those aims we’ve ended up creating a bit of a chasm between us and the rest of Eurovision.
Since our breathtakingly awful performance in 2003 when we came last with ‘Cry Baby‘, there have been years when it’s felt as though we’re not even watching the Eurovision when we’ve sent the songs we have. These were the years we got it wrong; the years when I was scared of even looking at the screen.
It might have been sung in tune but ten years on ‘Teenage Life‘ (19th, 2006) still looks like a misadventure in pantomime accompanied by an ill-advised ‘rap’ track. ‘Flying The Flag (For You)‘ (22nd, 2007) saw a more polished stage act of what was an infuriating song (I still despise it with a passion the way I did the morning after the public selected it).
‘That Sounds Good To Me‘ (25th, 2010) was subject to moments of rank live vocals – singer Josh Dubovie lacked the necessary experience for delivering the song and at times had a terrified look in his eyes whenever he looked down the lens.
In its defence, Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘Love Will Set You Free‘ (25th, 2012) was a beautiful number but, come the key change, poorly executed. It was poorly drawn too – it was first in the running order and came nearly last in the voting. Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Believe in Me’ (19th, 2013) fared a little better but still didn’t really cut any ice. Disappointing as their results were, I’m proud that an albeit internal selection did buck the Eurovision trend and demonstrate a commitment to diversity on stage.
There have been other years where there’s been good intent, but we’ve stumbled at the stage presentation. ‘Even If‘ (25th, 2008) was a perfectly serviceable pop song with an impressive live vocal but looked a little bland on stage. Similarly, Molly’s ‘Children of the Universe‘ (17th, 2014) was a good number but, as with a lot of band-based songs, difficult to present. With Molly stuck behind a microphone the visuals were always going to be a little static. A slightly more adventurous stage production might have elevated the UK a little higher than the place we ended up in.
The years we got it right were undoubtedly when boyband Blue helped nudge us closer to Eurovision respectability. ‘I Can‘ (12th, 2011) was an ambitious number with punishingly high notes in the descant and surprisingly tight harmonies towards the end. Similarly Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s carefully crafted ‘It’s My Time’ (5th, 2009) for Jade Ewen saw hard work and attention to detail pay off.
And while few will agree with me, I won’t have a bad word said about ‘Still In Love With You‘ (25th, 2015). I enjoyed the song, recognised the enthusiasm both Alex and Bianca, and songwriters David and Adrian had for participating in the competition. I also observed from a discreet distance the hard work the UK delegation put into producing the number.
This year’s song – ‘You’re Not Alone‘ – marks a change in the efforts of the UK. Joe and Jake were selected at a UK selection programme, something we haven’t had in the UK since 2007 (at least not a selection for the actual song). The song is upbeat, uplifting, and something which sees the corners of my mouth tentatively turn upwards every time I hear it. Importantly, it sounds like a crowd number, meaning that I think it will fill the arena and, as commanded by the tagline for this year’s contest, help encourage everyone to come together.
Set against the rest of the songs, Joe and Jake’s song has a clarity and freshness to it that is lacking from a lot of the other richly-mixed pop. Importantly, they’ll perform (though not be voted on) during the second semi-final on 12th May which should mean they get a lot more exposure, and experience. Given that show’s running order, we’ll get a sense of the impact of the song too.
Ultimately however, much will depend on where in the Final running order they appear and we won’t know that until, I think, Friday 13th May when the running order is announced.
The preview video might seem unadventurous visually but it’s a creation which helps reassure the rest of Europe that we’re sending something credible. That’s vital. If experience has shown me anything it is that Eurovision fans are vocal and unforgiving in their judgements.
If we can hold our nerve and make the stage act look good, I think this puts Joe and Jake on the same level as Blue from 2011, perhaps even a little higher.
You’d expect me to proud of our own song for Eurovision, and I am. I really hope it does well.
- Listen to Joe and Jake singing an acoustic versions of ‘You’re Not Alone‘ on Michael Ball’s BBC Radio 2 Show
- Summaries and extended reviews of all the songs at this year’s Eurovision are available at www.thoroughlygood.me/eurovision