Eurovision 1957The second Eurovision Song Contest is the first of which complete footage survives, which is a great relief to me as it should give me a bit more to talk about than trying to differentiate between a bunch of olde worde chansons. Although as it happens, there’s a touch more variety to be found this year anyway, including a couple of fascinating early examples of what would go on to become Eurovision staples.

Whereas last year consisted of two entries per country, this year there’s just the one – a rule that has remained in place ever since. All seven participants from the 1956 contest return for Eurovision 1957 (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and the first ever winners Switzerland) and three new nations join the lineup – Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Only Luxembourg are no longer regular competitors as of 2013.

There’s actual voting this year too, the format of which will take many some twenty years to nail down, but which at least means this show and every show subsequently will bear all the basic hallmarks of what makes Eurovision what it is.

Anaid Iplicjian

Host Anaid Iplicjian was born in Armenia but settled in Germany

The familiar strains of Te Deum open the show, and then we open with a camera pan across the preparing orchestra and our host  walks on to polite applause. She makes her introduction in German, which is lost on me but it doesn’t take a genius to work out the gist. Chief conductor Willy Berking – a rotund gentleman in a tuxedo – is introduced to more applause, descending the stairs behind Iplicjian in a manner that momentarily looks like he’s sneaking up on her, before taking his place in front of the orchestra. A few more introductions follow, and we’re off. 

Bobbejaan Schoepen opens the contest for Belgium with Straatdeuntje (Street Tune). Eurovision appears to have been a mere fork in the road for Schoepen, who enjoyed a long and varied career in which he recorded well over 400 songs, sold over 5 million records and toured extensively around the word. He even opened his own theme park – aptly titled Bobbejaanland – in Belgium. He’s certainly a confident performer, and Straatdeuntje is a jaunty but laid-back tune that serves him well. It opens and closes with an extended whistling solo, which is frequently shown in historical footage of the show. He appears to forget his lyrics at one point, covering with some ‘tra la la’s, but it doesn’t seem to ruffle him.

Bobbejaan Schoepen

Bobbejaan Schoepen – Big hair or wig?

Speaking of unruffled, I do wonder how the casual nature of this performance was perceived by home viewers used to poised, immaculately turned-out continental songbirds.   Schoepen spends the entire song with his hands in his pockets, leaning forwards nonchalantly. It adds to the charm though, and I find myself enjoying this song a lot. One final note though; it’s hard to tell through the grainy footage, but the man appears to either have a very bizarre hairdo or to be wearing a particularly obvious toupee.

We’re back on familiar turf for Luxembourg’s entry, a passionate french ballad the emo-friendly title Amours mortes (tant de peine) [Dead Love (So Much Sorrow)]. Singer Danièle Dupré has a deep, smoky voice and she gives this performance the requisite melodrama, ending by clutching her face as if the emotion of the whole thing has all gotten a bit much for her. This has a stronger melody than a lot of the chansons from last year, and in a more varied field it’s one of my favourites. Apparently the lady herself wasn’t terribly fond of the song – the following year she quit music altogether and became a successful interior designer.

The first ever UK entry is on third, a definite moment of interest.Given our disdainful attitude towards the show you might expect an early example of how much more musically advanced we percieve ourselves to be compared to our continental cousins, but if anything this entry is one of the most old-fashioned of the bunch. Patricia Bredin is the singer, and she sings the quasi-operatic ballad All in a high soprano. It’s notable for being the shortest entry in the history of the contest – a mere one minute and 52 seconds long.

Patricia Bredin

Patricia Bredin hit the high notes for the UK

Also notable is the intro – conductor Eric Robinson strides on ahead of Ms Bredin and starts the orchestra up before she even has time to take her place. According to popular Eurovision rumour the two hated each other, hence his rather unprofessional attempt to undermine her. She recovers quickly, and gives a strong performance, but this is just too shrill and dreary for me. It seems the juries largely agreed, as she finished a mediocre 7th. Her nemesis with the conducting wand joins her for the final bow and they walk offstage together, into a no-doubt frosty green room.

From the shortest ever entry we go straight to the longest (the 3-minute rule not yet being in place.) Corde della mia chitarra (Strings of my Guitar)performed by Nunzio Gallo for Italy, clocks in at a whopping 5.09, and I must confess I feel every second of it. An operatic ballad featuring lengthy guitar solos, it’s a meandering piece that – while pretty in places – doesn’t really go anywhere. It is nice to hear songs from a time before the idea of what a ‘Eurovision song’ was supposed to sound like was set in stone, but on its own terms it’s a bit of a dud.

Another debutant follows – Austria. Not considered by many to be one of the great Eurovision nations, they’ve nevertheless clocked up 45 entries over the years. Wohin, kleines Pony? (Where To, Little Pony?) pretty much lives the stereotype of the crap teutonic Eurovision entry, as the odd-looking singer Bob Martin gives an almost offensively jaunty performance in his deep baritone, even ending with a bit of a leg-kick. Even in 1957 this was clearly considered a load of old tut, and it finished dead last. Wikipedia hopefully informs me that Bob has been ‘particularly popular in southern Austria’.

Corry Brokken

Corry Brokken – A stylish young lady

Dutch singer Corry Brokken had already competed the previous year with the ballad Voorgoed voorbij (Over Forever). This year she has a more jaunty number. Interestingly, like Lys Assia’s victorious Refrain last year, her song Net als toen (Just Like Then) opens with a ceremonial sounding flourish from the orchestra, as if announcing that she’d already won. And indeed, she did. She’s a stylish young girl with a vaguely Liza Minnelli-esque hairstyle which I didn’t realise was remotely popular this early. She’s also sporting some very distinctive earrings, which through the black and white footage look a bit like two pinecones hanging from her earlobes.

The song is quite wordy and conversational-sounding, and she gives great face while performing it. She’s also joined by a violinist who stands behind her and does some nice interplay with the orchestra about two thirds through the song during an interestingly jaunty instrumental section that gives the song a much-needed bit of swing at the point where it threatens to become a bit dull. It’s easy to see why this stood out, there’s a lot going on in this composition, she looks fantastic and performs it excellently. The melody is a little hard to get a handle on even after multiple listens, but it’s a well-deserved winner.

Margot Hielscher

Margot Hielscher’s telephone schtick is an early example of the Eurovision gimmick

A bit of a watershed moment follows, as the German entry Telefon, Telefon (Telephone, Telephone) features the first example of what could only be described as schtick at Eurovision. As singer Margot Hielscher walks on in elbow-length gloves and a long flowing evening dress, it looks like we’re in for more classy but conservative balladry, but waiting for her by the microphone is an old fashioned telephone.

Looking ever-so-slightly embarrassed at the indignity of it all, she picks up the phone and does some multi-lingual speak-singing. Was this the first attempt at shamelessly aiming for votes by crowbarring in as many languages as possible? The actual song, once it gets going, is an almost nursery-rhyme-esque ballad, which she sings without releasing her grasp on the telephone receiver. The “Hallo, how do you do? Merci beaucoup” routine keeps breaking into the song, giving it a bit of a stop-start feel. It’s more like a bit of amateur theatre than a song really, but it’s interesting and quite sweet really, despite the faint whiff of cynicism. Obviously she didn’t win so the unusual gambit didn’t quite pay off, but she finishes a respectable fourth.

France next, and as expected it’s another lady with a ballad. La Belle Amour has some lovely string flourishes and the structure gives me mild Edith Piaf vibes, though without her trademark intensity. Last year I would have been sick to death of this style by now, but it isn’t as dominant tonight. Singer Paule Desjardins seems like a bonny lass, performing with much hand flourishing and a mile-wide grin. She ends with a lovely curtsy and sweeps off stage. The song hasn’t entirely struck me, but I’m charmed nonetheless.

Birthe Wilke and Gustav Winckler

Birthe Wilke and Gustav Winckler – a saucy performance of a romantic piece

Third and final debutant is Denmark – the first of the Scandinavian nations to join the festivities. Skibet skal sejle i nat (The Ship Sails Tonight) is also the first ever duet in Eurovision history – performed by Birthe Wilke and Gustav Winckler. There’s a definite nostalgic element to this, Winckler dresses as a departing soldier and Wilke his lover. It’s bizarre to think that World War II was within immediate living memory in 1957, and doubtless this will have struck a chord with a lot of viewers. That is, until an unexpectedly racy moment at the end when the two burst into a properly passionate snog that still seems faintly indecent in 2013. One can only imagine the reaction it got in the buttoned-down 50s. It still holds the record for the longest on-stage kiss in Eurovision history, and they really are going for it – those saucy Scandi’s.

It’s easy to overlook the song in the midst of all this FILTH, but in fact it has a lovely melodic quality that will become a hallmark of the Scandinavian entries over the years. I’m a little biased as I speak enough Swedish to be able to follow a little bit of Danish (and indeed Norwegian, the three languages being mutually intelligible) but I think this would have been one of my favourites regardless. The audience like it too – they leave to wild applause and finish third.

Finally, the previous winning country Switzerland – and Lys Assia is back to defend her title. She’s still a great singer, her rich tones really stand out even in a year in which there’s barely a duff note to be heard, but L’enfant que j’étais (The Child I Was) is more subtle than Refrain and lacks the triumphant intro that made that song stand out. A very classy performance, but one that meanders a little bit, and a second consecutive victory wasn’t to be.

Voting

Corry Brokken Wins

The winner – Corry Brokken with Net als toen

The first ever footage of Eurovision voting has an amusingly low-glamour aesthetic as the immaculately turned out Ms Iplicjian sits at a desk with her less glamorous looking assistant and physically rings up the spokespeople from the ten juries. Each jury had ten points to distribute as they chose, and points were displayed on a big scoreboard with revolving points presumably being rotated by a listening stagehand behind the screen. It all looks a little haphazard, but aside from a few connection errors and language issues, everything seems to run smoothly. The Netherlands take an early lead with 7 points from the Swiss jury, and maintain their lead throughout. Corry Brokken wins with 31 points – fourteen clear of the runner up from France.

Ms Brokken emerges from backstage looking suitably pleased, and reprises her song after receiving some sort of medal for her achievement.

After the contest

Like Refrain the year before, Net als toen does not appear to have made a big impact after the contest – although Ms Brokken recorded versions in German and French. We’ll be seeing her again at the contest in 1958, and indeed in 1976 (as a presenter) if I ever get to that point. She also presented the Dutch votes in the 1997 contest, although by that point she had left music behind and become – of all things – a judge.

Final Analysis

On the whole, I think 1957 is a stronger collection of songs than 1956. There’s certainly more variety, and the elements of novelty and gimmicks is fascinating to see in this early form. Just one entry per nation definitely makes things more engaging, although the relative brevity of this contest won’t last as more and more countries join up in subsequent years. The winning song is once again not my personal favourite, but it’s a strong and deserved champion. On the whole, a very interesting year – onwards to 1958, and the debut of another Eurovision behemoth…

Votes from the Lucas Jury (given in the traditional 12-0)

12 Denmark – Skibet skal sejle i nat
10 France – La Belle Amour
08 Netherlands – Net als toen
07 Luxembourg – Amours mortes (tant de peine)
06 Germany – Telefon, Telefon
05 Switzerland – L’enfant que j’étais
04 Belgium – Straatdeuntje
03 United Kingdom – All
02 Italy – Corde della mia chitarra (Strings of my Guitar)
01 Austria – Wohin, kleines Pony?