Book Review: Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest

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

84 comments on “Book Review: Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest

  1. Added to the shopping list.

  2. Sounds like an interesting read. Birthday is coming up in 5 months exactly. :)

    • Ι am torn between this and another one about the scramble of Africa as my next book-treat. Atm the moment I am finishing a book I started reading mid-February – ”The Silk Roads: a new history of the world” by Peter Frankopan.

      • I am reading Mary Beard’s “SPQR”, C. F. Meyer’s “Die Hochzeit des Mönchs” (The monk’s wedding – I totally adore Meyer btw …) and Jeffrey Deaver’s “Solitude Creek” atm. :)

        • Ι don’t do literature often.

          • I always read a history or art-history book, a classic and a crime novel simultaneously. :)

            • Since I am about to visit the former Yugoslavia for Easter, I am taking with me “The bridge over the Drina” by nobel laureate Ivo Andric. People I trust have highly recommended his books.

            • It’s one of my favourite novels ever and I have read it at least 5 times. Very precise, cold and detached, which makes the effect even stronger. When I read it for the first time (I was still at school), I actually fainted on the school bus when I read the impalement scene. Two years ago, I finally visited the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad (I even had a view of the bridge from my hotel room) and Ivo Andrić’s birthplace in Travnik. It’s a beautiful Konak museum house now. :)

            • Yes I noticed it starts with that scene. There is nothing that can upset me more than sadism and torture so I am not exactly looking forward to it…

            • The “Romeo and Juliet” passage is fantastic too. :)

            • You should read it afterwards instead ;)

        • I am reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
          by Yuval Noah Hariri…Don’t let the title fool you,It is very entertaining and informative :)
          I like reading biographies and informative books…Novels bore me 😬

  3. Since I am a history buff, not to mention an ESC buff, I would be very interested in reading a book that looks at the history of Europe through the history of the contest. However I’d like it to include perspectives from writers all around Europe and not just from an anglo-saxon perspective which is just one among many, but carries a lot of pretensions of universality (not to mention a certain sub-stratum of cultural arrogance towards the rest of Europe).

    As for the things discussed in the interview, I don’t see how the rise of the far-right or something like Brexit have registered themselves in the contest. On the other hand, fraught relations between countries in the former soviet sphere indeed have and continue to do so, just like the participation of Israel, greco-turkish war, the fall of the iron curtain and the violent breakup of Yugoslavia did in their time.

    • You’re probably right, Michos. Still, with this one you’ll have 1 perspective. I’m particularly interested (or should I say only interested) in eurovision from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s (I can tolerate the early 80’s). Can anyone recommend a good book covering those decades? From then on, I lost completely my interest in the contest.

  4. Would be good to read how ESC has reflected some big European conversation topics during the past 60 years like sexual liberation, feminism, gay rights, ecology, race, AIDS, student radicalisation, refugees, populism etc.

  5. it’s always nice when someone decides to put their passion into print so I may order a copy myself. Another book on ESC I’d recommend is “Nul points” by Tim Moore which I got as a present. He tracks down all the singers from the 70s, 80s and 90s and 2003 who got zero points in ESC and interviews them (those who wanted to be interviewed I mean, otherwise he gives an overview of the singer in question) it’s quite funny to hear about their ESC experience and what “nul points” meant to them, Celia Lawson (POR 97) is quite gracious and funny about it all , whereas Seyyal Tanner- Turkey 1987 put all the blame on the Turkish conductor ..darling.. !

  6. @ Dino, there is nothing more thought provoking than good literature imo because literature does not teach but make you think. :)

    • so true, but alas instilling that into millenials like my neices and nephews these days is quite a task :-( I always try to read something before I go to sleep even if it’s only 10 minutes these days, as a history fan I’m currently getting through “The history of England volume 3: Civil War” by Peter Ackroyd as it’s a period I only remember vaguely from my school years, all these kings and queens can get a bit confusing though I have to keep rereading stuff!!

    • Same could be said of contemporary art. This is a fantastic year as both Venice Biennale and Kassel Documenta are on 😃

  7. Noted. It sounds like a good read.

    • It is and Peter Ackroyd is an excellent writer, but as all those European royals were so intertwined it’s difficult to keep track , well somehow like today with European royals and inter-marriage etc, I’m obviously a republican so agree with Portugal’s idea of getting rid of them, though from my reading at least Portuguese royals were always more on the sidelines and didn’t cause too much trouble, maybe as “conquistadors” jeje! :-)

  8. Off-topic: ‘Amar pelos dois’ has been enriched by an Ukrainian version; it works. :)

  9. how lovely! it shows how much his song touches many people around the world, btw I heard there is a Catalan(Mallorquí) version in the pipeline and hoping he will sing it himself :-) molt bé, espero que si..

  10. am sure I took an interest :-) for good or for bad :-)

  11. @ Morgan, Dostoievski was the first complete works I owned. I got them as a present for my 14th birthday. :)

  12. One more image of the stage:

  13. It actually sounds pretty good. I was definitely not a huge fan of John Kennedy O’Connor’s “official” book, which was pretty boring and way too selective in its choices of entries to talk about. At least for an “official” book.

    Apart from that, I only have Leif Thorsson’s “Melodifestivalen genom tiderna”, which according to the site andtheconductoris.eu is “probably the best book ever published about the Eurovision Song Contest”. I like it a lot, and it is also written in a witty way often. The author uses a lot of his personal opinions about the songs, which makes it a bit more enjoying to read imo. At least he almost always stays fair with his remarks, and never goes too far. Well, with the exception of Monaco 1969 which is the one he absolutely detests for some reason.

    “A Song for Europe: Popular Music and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest” is also an interesting one in that it offers a more in-depth study of Eurovision and its music; like an analysis of Ralph Siegel’s musical development, the geopolitical state of Yugoslavia’s national final, the identity crisis of Switzerland and more. :)

  14. I have a book on Eurovision by Jørgen de Mylius. Unfortunately it is not too well written (it badly needs proofreading among other things), and he only offers a couple of pages for each year. So especially when we come to the later years with 39-42 songs in it, there are a lot of interesting entries that are not mentioned at all.

  15. I have Jan Feddersen’s ESC book too. Alas, it is solely written from the perspective of an ageing guy who loves schlager, big ballads and sequins. He really thinks that “Quédate conmigo” is the best ESC song ever. The book has some strong moments but all in all I can only say: to each his/her own.

  16. 1st semi review from esctips:

  17. This is for mermaid: Mr Rose-cheeks :)

  18. Too bad my bday just happened last month… but Santa Claus surely will write it in my list ;)

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