Book Review – Attendees at this year’s London Eurovision Party had a special treat in the shape of a new Eurovision book. Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest by Chris West is due to be published on April 20th.
Author Chris West, a historian by day, says that he uses unusual lenses to look at history. Small everyday things like postage stamps, or big extravagant (and wonderfully wacky) things like the Eurovision Song Contest. He says that both turn out to be marvellous narrators, always coming up with something fresh, unusual and delightfully apt to say.
Chris West and his publisher Nikki (also a huge Eurovision fan who was desperate to publish a book abut the contest) kindly took time out to talk to us about his love for the contest, and how he sees Eurovision going hand in hand with historical events throughout Europe over the years. He’s been a fan of the contest since he saw Sandie Shaw singing for the UK in 1967…
CW: The driver for the book is about how Eurovision has interacted with, and been part of, European politics and European social and cultural life.
ET: So do you go to Eurovision?
CW: No, I’ve never been! Well I like watching it at home. It’s a ritual, a family ritual and we all sit down by the telly, I like that. If someone said here’s a ticket to Kiyv , yes I’m off but… It’s a tradition, that’s why it’s historical to document Eurovision. Sandie Shaw was mould breaking stuff. It began to modernise in the 60s and Europe was changing. We had Eurovision in colour and European life was becoming more colourful. It’s a wonderful mirror.
ET: So whats your favourite Eurovision entry ever?
CW: Oh I’m going to be a loyal Brit and go for Katrina. I love that song but I also love the way she sings it. She’s so enthusiastic. The great Eurovision performances, like Alexander Rybak, people like that, they’re loving what they’re doing and that comes across. All my fave Eurovision songs are done by people that are having a ball and that shows.
ET: Who’s your favourite this year?
CW: I like Italy. Nikki’s not an Italy fan. I like the lyrics. They’re clever and funny and witty. There’s a nice vibe in the contest this year. Several songs about being positive, I’m going to live my life the way I want, but not in a brattish way, a nice strong person saying I’m going to be OK. So I really like Italy. He did the soundcheck earlier, we were sitting waiting. The Bulgarian was brilliant, the Swedish bloke was good. It’s strong, it always is.
CW: One intriguing thing is how how different Europe seemed in only one year. Europe was coming together slowly but surely, and despite the many many faults of the EBU, which is a profoundly flawed organisation, underneath it all there was this sense of a cultural coming together, and that’s fractured.
ET: The rise of the far right, Brexit?
Chris: Yes. There’s a slightly darker, well, more reflective tone. It will make the next book interesting!
So how about the book itself? Each chapter lends itself to a year starting right back at 1955 and running through to 2016, and looks at the stand out moments and songs of that year and if they reflected what was happening in Europe at that time.
In his introduction, West states,
“There’s politics in the songs. Not allowed through the front door, they sneak in through the back. The winner of the 2016 contest, ‘1944’, was a passionate denunciation of Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tartars – and by extension, and by extension and equally passionate denunciation of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014. In other years, we’ve had digs at colonialism, radical Socialism, Thatcherism, a marching sing from Ukraine’s Euromaiden movement…in the 1970s a Eurovision song even started a revolution.”
As West journeys through the last 60 years, there’s facts and figures about the Contest that we were unaware of, and memories awakened about incidents we’d forgotten about. How the representatives sang two songs each in 1956. The 1977 contest being delayed from April to May due to UK strikes. The first rock guitar solo in 1982 (“Rock from Finland in Eurovision? No it’ll never work”).
This well written book, with lots of historical facts is a great read for those Eurovision fans that love a bit of European history, politics (not that the Eurovision Song Contest is political, of course!) and international relations thrown in, in an easily accessible format, and a little bit of tongue in cheek Eurovision humour for good measure in places. West finishes with his belief that Eurovision’s quirky, tolerant heartfelt humanity is needed more than ever. We couldn’t agree more.
“A feast for any Eurovision fan” – Graham Norton
“This book definitely gets douze points from me.” Mel Giedroyc
Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest by Chris West is available to pre-order now at all good book shops, and will be released on 20th April 2017. Published by Melvin House UK. ISBN: 9780993414992