Cultural shifts seldom take place overnight. History – and its more rose-tinted cousin nostalgia – tends to place strong associations on each decade. The rock ‘n’ roll fifties, the swinging sixties, the disco seventies etc. But of course, none of those things kicked in on the stroke of midnight at the turn of the decade.
So here we are in the sixties then, for the fifth annual Eurovision Song Contest. But we’re still a couple of years away from The Beatles, and while Elvis is at the peak of his powers and spawning imitators across the globe, there’s been precious little evidence of his influence in the Eurovision, which remains almost exclusively the preserve of the chanson and the perky novelty record. Nevertheless, if it’s starting to feel musically unadventurous, the contest continues to come on leaps and bounds commercially. With the victorious Dutch declining to host again so soon after the 1958 show, it falls to last year’s runner’s up the United Kingdom, bringing the contest to London for the first time.
With a capacity of around 2,000, the BBC Royal Festival Hall is by far the biggest venue the Eurovision has yet been held in, and it shows. Katie Boyle is the host, and the various national commentators are seated in boxes overlooking the stage. Speaking of commentators, for the first year the DVD I’m watching actually comes with English commentary from David Jacobs. He doesn’t appear to have originated Terry Wogan’s habit of getting increasingly tipsy and splenetic as the show goes on, but it’s another crucial element of the modern Eurovision experience falling into place.
We’re up to another new high of 13 entrants this year, with Norway debuting and Luxembourg returning to the fold after a year away. As with 1959, the artists are introduced by the host before the performances begin, walking onstage to take a bow. The crowd is noticeably more boisterous than any previous years, with cheers and enthusiastic clapping for all the participants.
The United Kingdom opens the show with Looking High, High, High sung by Bryan Johnson – brother of Teddy Johnson from last year. Mercifully there are no puppets in this performance, but it certainly shares a sense of jaunty music-hall novelty with its predecessor. He has a strong baritone voice and runs through the whole thing with a fair twinkle in his eye, so you can’t really begrudge him his the second place he goes on to achieve.
I think my favourite thing about Looking High, High, High is the lyrics, which are so terribly English as to provide unintentional comedy value. “I journeyed across the sea, I sought her with devotion / though where she could really be, I’ve not the slightest notion” is not a line you’re likely to hear from Professor Green anytime soon. Needless to say, it concludes with the subject returning home to find his love had been waiting there for him all along. Such was the reality of dating before the dawn of telephones and instant messaging.
Sweden follow, and Alla Andra Får Varann (All The Others Get Each Other) is described by David Jacobs as “a very sad song with a very gay tune.” Quite. Singer Siw Malmqkvist delivers an expressive performance of the song, which has a good swing to it but never quite gets its hooks in. It’s one of the most energetic of the night, but the infamous slot of death already appears to be at play and she finishes joint 10th with just four points. She remains a popular figure in Sweden, and returned to the Eurovision in 1969 for Germany, having scored a huge #1 hit there in 1964 with Liebeskummer lohnt sich nicht (Lovesickness is not worthwhile).
The entry for Luxembourg is notable for being the first of only three entries in the history of the contest to be performed in Luxembourgish – the majority of the country’s entries being in the more widely spoken French language. So laang we’s du do bast (As Long As You Are There) is performed by singer and ‘Disc Jockey’ Camillo Felgen, who has extremely bushy eyebrows and a hairstyle that makes him look a little bit like a middle-aged Eddie Munster. These are the sort of things you notice when a song isn’t very interesting, and it’s no surprise that this song finishes dead last with a solitary point from Italy.
Katy Bødtger from Denmark appears to have turned up in fancy dress for her nostalgic number, brandishing the world’s smallest parasol and a voluminous straw hat that makes her look like she’s popped in from a country wedding. Det var en yndig tid (It Was A Lovely Time) talks about the good old days when ladies were ladies and courting was all about an artfully fluttered eyelash while sharing a plate of pickled herring (I’m paraphrasing here). It is puppy-kickingly twee, and finishes joint 10th.
I’m spotting a theme with reliable old Fud LeClerc’s entries for Belgium; of which Mon amour pour toi (My Love For You) is the third. They’re all very French, very professional and instantly forgettable. He appears to look increasingly serial killer-like as the years go by. To his credit he has a very strong, clear voice, but the song just meanders. A midtable result ensues – 6th with 9 points.
Thank God for Norway, who liven up proceedings considerably with their debut entry ‘Voi Voi‘ (Hey! Hey!) by jazz singer Nora Brockstedt. Looking rather like Mrs Santa Clause in a fur-trimmed traditional ensemble, and performing in front of a snowcapped winter backdrop, her track is almost a song-within-a-song, as it describes a young girl calling up the mountain to the object of her infection. The tune jumps around a bit, but she holds it all together. With the larger theatre, stage presence is perhaps more of a factor than ever before and Ms Brockstedt has it in spades. Maybe it’s just the dreary songs that preceded her, but I find myself really enjoying this. So do the juries, who place her in 4th.
Austria‘s song is written and conducted by the famed Austrian songwriter Robert Stolz, a fact that seems to render commentator David Jacob near breathless with excitement. Du hast mich so fasziniert (You Fascinate Me So) is actually rather a nice tune, if a bit staid. Singer Harry Winter is another large gentleman with questionable eyebrows, but one of the loveliest voices of the evening. It finishes 7th.
Monaco made an undistinguished debut in 1959, ending in last place with 1 point. Ce soir-là (That Night) by François Deguelt plays things quite safe with a classic chanson style, but nevertheless the song has a moody, dramatic quality that sets it apart as one of the stronger compositions of the night. An impassioned performance followed by one of the most enthusiastic audience reactions of the night sees a turnaround in the principality’s fortunes – 3rd place with 15 points.
Switzerland are singing in Italian this year, with Cielo e terra (Heaven & Earth) a full-bodied ballad from Anita Traversi. At this point I’m really noticing that this is the least varied set of songs since the 1956 contest, and I’m struggling to think of interesting ways to describe the succession of ballads. This is yet another that is nice, classy and well sung. She finishes 8th with 5 points. I’d say she deserved a little better, but not much.
It’s all so unremittingly tasteful that the arrival of a Dutch nincompoop with highly questionable hair actually comes as a blessed change of pace. Wat een geluk (What A Night) by Roberto Benigni lookalike Rudi Carrell isn’t very good at all, but it’s jaunty and one of the few this year that I’d have little trouble remembering five minutes after hearing it. The juries aren’t fond, and he finishes 12th with 2 points. Apparently he went on to be a highly popular TV presenter and comedian. So that’s nice.
Germany are usually good for a bit of fun, but even they’ve gone all French and tasteful this year, the bastards. Bonne nuit ma cherie (Good night my darling) actually only steals the French for the title, but it’s definitely in that classic chanson style (God, how many times have I typed that phrase now? 1,000? It feels like 1,000…). To be fair, it has a low key, seductive charm coupled with some memorable orchestral flourishes. Probably one of the best songs of the night, and in a more varied lineup it would stand out a lot more. A strong and deserved 4th place.
Once again, Italy fields arguably the biggest star of the evening. After two attempts by US chart topper Domenico Modugno, this time it’s Renato Rascel and his self-composed piece Romantica (Romantic). Rascel was at this point best known for his hit single Arrivederci Roma, a success in the UK for singer Anne Shelton with the altered title ‘Arrivederci Darling‘ in 1955. Like Modugno’s entries, Romantica went on to have a strong afterlife as a standard after the show, but also like Modugno’s entries it didn’t come close to winning, settling for 8th place. It’s a nice song, but yet another in a long line of ballads and a not especially thrilling performance probably account for the underperformance.
And so to the winner, which is also the final song of the evening. I can only imagine this helped after a long, long run of ballads, but frankly Tom Pillibi would likely have won from anywhere. A beautiful young French girl with a sweet, quavering voice, Jacqueline Boyer is the perfect vehicle for this jaunty tune about an untrustworthy but irresistible lover. The whole song is extremely hooky, with the verses having a marching band feel that puts me in mind of Anne Shelton (her again)’s 1956 chart topper ‘Lay Down Your Arms‘, while the chorus shifts into a quite lovely, yearning refrain. Boyer, incidentally, was the daughter of Jacques Pills, who had come last for Monaco the previous year. The raucous cheers make it clear that we have a favourite on our hands, and so it is.
The lovely but ever-so-slightly-intimidating Katie Boyle re-emerges to oversee the voting in a wonderfully British, no-nonsense style. At one point she actually tells the audience to shut up as they’re making too much noise and she can’t hear the national jurors. It’s amazing.
Monaco take an early lead, closely followed by the United Kingdom. France soon catches up, and as Monaco drops behind a two-horse race emerges. Looking High High High actually scores more points than Een Beetje, the winner from last year, and for a long time the UK and France are running neck and neck. However, by the time the UK jury is called to deliver the final votes, it’s all over, and they graciously deliver a healthy 5 points to their gallic rivals, pushing them into a comfortable victory – 32 points to the UK’s 25. Ms Boyle runs through the top 3, with Bryan Johnson receiving a predictably energetic applause.
For the first time, the previous winner Teddy Scholten is brought on to hand over the trophy to the new winner, Jacqueline Boyer. This tradition is now an integral part of the show, and brings a nice air of continuity to proceedings. Finally, Ms Boyer reprises her hit and we all go home. Wonderful.
After the Contest
Tom Pillibi achieved a small milestone in Eurovision history by becoming the first contest winner (though not the first entrant) to hit the UK top 40 – spending two weeks at #33. It did well across the continent – being by far the most ‘pop’ winner so far – and an English version was recorded by no less an icon than Dame Julie Andrews.
Back in the UK, Looking High High High didn’t match the #12 chart peak of Sing, Little Birdie, but was another top twenty hit that proved the contest could yield mild commercial dividends for the home entrant. Johnson tried again for Eurovision the following year, but failed to qualify from the UK ‘A Song For Europe’ show, losing out to The Allisons with Are You Sure? He passed away in 1995.
On the whole, 1960 isn’t a vintage year for me. Too many classy-but-dull ballads and not enough sonic variety make for a bit of a slog. There’s definitely a sense that the show has started to fall behind the popular culture, with no evidence of rock & roll or even skiffle music, all of which was dominating the charts at the time. I suspect this will be the case for a few more years, but I look forward to some big names giving the contest a much-needed shot in the arm in the mid-late sixties. On the plus side, the right song definitely won through, and Tom Pillibi is one of my favourite victors so far.
Votes from the Lucas jury (given in the traditional 12-0)
12 France – Tom Pillibi
10 Norway – Voi Voi
08 Bryan Johnson – Looking High, High, High
07 Monaco – Ce soir-là
06 Sweden – Alla Andra Får Varann
05 Germany – Bonne nuit ma cherie
04 Switzerland – Cielo e terra
03 Austria – Du hast mich so fasziniert
02 Italy – Romantica
01 Belgium – Mon amour pour toi