Eurovision: Always terrible but at least it used to have a novelty value

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Eurovision: A party political broadcast on behalf of Euro-sceptics if ever there was one.

Anyone wishing to persuade their compatriots that Britain really should leave the European Union as a matter of urgency simply has tell them to tune into BBC1 tonight for this annual cheese-fest.

Masquerading as a music contest, this bloated televisual nightmare is simply an excuse for all the other countries of Europe (especially France) to show just how much they dislike us.

Mind you, we don’t do ourselves any favours, do we?

I mean, Bonnie Tyler is this year’s United Kingdom Entry. Really?

Don’t get me wrong I’m as fond as the next man of her massive Eighties hit Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

The video alone – with its weird imagery taken at an all boys school where nudity and the consumption of drugs which make your eyeballs turn into small suns seems commonplace – is frankly unforgettable.

But if we are reduced to wheeling out stars from 30 years ago then surely we’d be better off opting for Duran Duran or asking Wham to reform.

I’ve nothing against the Welsh warbler selected to champion this Sceptered Isle in Malmö tonight, other than that she appears to be somewhat past her best.

I guess we’ll see when the block-voting by members of the former Soviet Union commences this evening.

Maybe it’s my age but I don’t remember it always being a foregone conclusion that the UK would receive fewer points than Lichtenstein.

Although, to be fair, during the 1980s the countries taking part in the competition were at least in Europe.

Nowadays they’ll take anyone – including Israel, Cyprus and various intercontinental countries such as Russia and Turkey.

My first memory of Eurovision is of the year when family-friendly Bucks Fizz were the toast of Europe.

The grinning four-piece, with their daring outfit change, won the contest in 1981 with Making Your Mind Up – a song so bad all the other countries in Europe voted for it so that we were forced to keep listening to it and seeing the group’s garish outfits on Top of the Pops.

These days, Eurovision has its own website and there’s even an app to download – should you run out of chores to do – which allows you to immerse yourself in competition trivia and learn all the words to Moldova’s entry.

Of course, 30 years ago – even though the contest was well-established there was still a huge novelty factor when countries most of us only knew from O-Level or GCSE geography came together on the same night via the wonder of the small screen in our living rooms.

Back then we laughed at the idiosyncrasies of Europe’s smaller nations – until, that is, they started beating us with songs which sounded like they’d been made up by a drunken medieval peasant.

We didn’t mind so much when Ireland’s Johnny Logan kicked off the decade by winning with What’s Another Year. At least we could understand what he was saying.

But did the Aussie-born singer really have to return in 1987 and win again with Hold Me Now? Surely there should be rules against that sort of thing.

I bet Terry Wogan agrees with me.

Of course, Eurovision in the Eighties also introduced the watching public to a little-known, Canadian-born singer by the name of Celine Dion whose Ne partez pas sans moi won first place for Switzerland in 1988.

She was 20 at the time, years before she hit full diva mode with her epic theme from the movie Titanic.

That victory launched Celine Dion on the path to global stardom. Yes, it’s Eurovision’s fault.

Oh well, at least we can thank it for the music of Abba.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

Alluring appeal of vinyl echoes glory days of the charts

Granted, it is certainly not considered as vital as it was 25 years ago. Back then we all sat glued to BBC Radio One on a Sunday evening – taping, yes taping (on a cassette), the top 10 – while Top Of The Pops was required viewing.

However, this week the Official UK Singles Chart celebrates its 60th anniversary which gave me an excuse to dig out some of my vinyl collection.

Not that I need much prompting.

The way we buy music these days has rendered the chart almost irrelevant but the grand old list – which first appeared in the pages of the New Musical Express (NME) on November 14, 1952 – continues.

It was the NME’s Percy Dickens who came up with the idea of a UK singles chart – based on the American Billboard listings.

He persuaded 52 record stores to report their sales figures and Al Martino’s ‘Here In My Heart’, a favourite of my nan and grandad as I recall, stole the top spot.

It’s difficult to explain to anyone who has grown up with CDs or the internet what we’ve lost in recent years now that the downloading of music is de rigueur.

But when I was growing up in the Eighties the UK singles chart was crucial – going in hand-in-hand with regular visits to Lotus Records or Mike Lloyd Music up Hanley.

In 2012 you can have a fantastic collection of music on a device the size of a mobile telephone.

But it can never beat that feeling of purchasing a record, admiring the artwork, reading the notes on the sleeve, and sticking it on a turntable to hear that unmistakable crackling before the music kicks in.

I still have all my singles. My first purchases were a real mixed bag – reflecting no particular musical style or taste.

They include, in no particular order: Status Quo’s Marguerita Time; Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a place on Earth; Slade’s My Oh My; Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl; and the Auf Wiedersehen Pet theme.

Once I got to college, however, I fell in with a crowd of rock music fans and my music collection became devoted to U.S. bands Bon Jovi, Guns n’ Roses, Poison, Whitesnake, Aerosmith.

Jovi were, and still are, my favourite band – and my record collection reflects that.

I began attending record fayres at places like the YMCA in Hanley and saving up to buy singles I didn’t have.

These included limited editions, picture discs, posterbags, gatefold sleeves, and singles including foil stickers and backstage passes – as well as imports from places like the U.S., Germany, Holland and Japan.

I 1989 I remember paying £20 for the Bon Jovi single Runaway, released in 1984. That was an awful lot of money to me back then.

And digging out the UK limited edition issue of Wanted Dead Or Alive, complete with silver foil stickers still in mint condition, still gives me a thrill.

My record collection became a great source of pride – something to show my mates – just like a complete Panini sticker album.

It’s not quite the same with a virtual record collection that exists only on an iPod or some such thing.

That’s perhaps why many people under the age of 30 view their music collection as something they can access rather than something they actually own.

The dominance of CDs was relatively short-lived and vinyl collectors like myself will point to the artwork and packaging of singles and albums which, in terms of their desirability, were often as important as the musical content of a purchase.

I’ve got many more albums on vinyl than I have singles but my singles collection reminds me of a time when the charts still mattered and when millions still paid attention to them.

Which brings me to my main Christmas present request this this year: A new record player, of course.

Pick up the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

The day Live Aid rocked our world

Thirteen was a pretty good age to be when the biggest concert in the history of the world was staged.

I had discovered music two years before when I was given my first record player for Christmas and got my first album (Status Quo – Twelve Gold Bars).

After that I had built up a collection of 30 or so singles ranging from Paul Young’s Love Of The Common People to King’s Love And Pride. Enough said.

As well as regular trips to Lotus Records up Hanley, like most people back then I relied on Radio One’s Sunday chart countdown and Top Of The Pops for my musical fix.

Then at 12 noon on July 13, 1985, a charitable phenomenon quite literally rocked the world.

Unless you were around at the time of Live Aid then it is difficult to appreciate the sheer scale and impact of the dual concert staged at Wembley Stadium and across The Pond at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.

Indeed, in comparison the Live 8 concerts – staged some thirty years later – felt like Live Aid light. They were simply duller reinventions for a new audience.

Back in 1985 the dual concert was all anyone was talking about.

Live Aid was a televisual first and one of the largest satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time.

Against all odds, a relatively minor punk rock artist managed to bring together a multitude of genuine superstars who performed at the same time in front of an estimated audience of 1.9 billion people in more than 150 countries.

Bob Geldof was that man – or Sir Bob, as he is now.

The scruffy and irreverent lead singer of Irish band The Boomtown Rats had been incredibly moved by BBC reporter Michael Buerk’s of the 1984 famine in Ethopia.

This led him to pick up the phone and call Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure and together they co-wrote the massive number one hit single Do They Know Its Christmas?

The Band Aid track, sung for free by a collection of British and Irish musicians, became the fastest-selling single ever in the UK and raised a staggering £8 million for the famine relief effort.

Overwhelmed by the public response, Geldof then set about organising a concert of epic proportions.

Although most of us were completely unaware of the logistics at the time, the Live Aid concert brought together TV networks ranging from the BBC in the UK to ABC and MTV in the U.S. as well as numerous channels on the continent.

It was also broadcast live on the radio in a technical accomplishment which, for its time, was quite remarkable.

The list of performers – with a few notable exceptions – read like a who’s who of the music world.

It’s like a snapshot of the mid-Eighties music scene and, looking at it, I defy anyone to tell me that the Nineties or Noughties were richer and possessed more talent.

At Wembley the Coldstream Guards band opened the show with a royal salute before veteran rockers Status Quo kicked us off with the very appropriate Rockin’ All Over The World.

Elvis Costello sang The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love and U2 established themselves as one of the great with an energetic set in which lead singer Bono leapt into the crowd to dance with a girl who he thought was being crushed by the throng.

Other artists included Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Alison Moyet, Dire Straits, Elton John, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Adam Ant, The Style Council, Bryan Ferry, The Who, Nik Kershaw, Sting, Sade and Bob Geldof himself who sang I Don’t Like Mondays with The Rats.

Phil Collins was unique in that he preformed on both stages – using a Concorde to make it to the U.S. show in time.

But, for me, the stand-out performance of the show was Queen’s astonishing set.

Genius frontman Freddie Mercury held the entire crowd of 72,000 in the palm of his hand during Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are The Champions – while the rest of us sang along at home.

It’s little wonder to me that various artists, music industry executives and journalists voted it the greatest live performance in the history of rock music.

Artists on the stage in front of 100,000 people in Philadelphia included The Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run D.M.C., Reo Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Madonna, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, The Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppellin, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Lionel Richie.

All the while the music was playing 300 phone lines were being staffed by BBC personnel – allowing us to make donations to the Live Aid cause.

At one point, the yet-to-be Sir Bob, interrupted BBC presenter David Hepworth as he attempted to give out the address for potential donations.

Pumped up by Queen’s performance, Geldoff shouted: “F*ck the address, let’s get the (telephone) numbers!”

After his outburst the rate of donations rose to £300 per second.

It was estimated that Live Aid ultimately raised around £150 million for famine relief in Africa.

It was certainly the ‘Woodstock’ of my youth – even though I don’t even know anyone who was actually there!

Pick up a copy of the Weekly Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

The perfect man to tell us why the Eighties remains so popular

Few names scream the Eighties like Mike Read. The evergreen DJ and presenter became a household name during the decade of decadence – long before the uncomfortable viewing of his time in the jungle during the 2004 version of I’m A celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here!).
It is, therefore, no surprise to discover him fronting a stage show called 80s Mania which is touring the UK.
Mike is the video host of the show – appearing on the big screen surrounded by girls (Top Of The Pops style) and introducing the various chart acts from back in the day.
He also slips in impersonations of former colleagues such as David ‘Kid’ Jensen and late greats such as John Peel OBE.
I caught up with Mike when the 80s Mania show called in at Hanley’s Victoria Hall.
His CV is extraordinary and spans more than 30 years in the entertainment industry as a DJ, TV presenter, songwriter, author, actor and writer of no less than eight stage musicals.
Through his time hosting the Radio 1 Breakfast Show and as a presenter of the station’s legendary Roadshow Mike rubbed shoulders with everyone who was anyone in music and regularly drew 17 million listeners.
As the host of Saturday Superstore he was a household name to youngsters while his Saturday night Pop Quiz – featuring many of his showbiz friends – attracted more than 10 million viewers at the peak of its powers.
To my mind, this breadth of knowledge and experience should make Mike Read the perfect man to explain why the Eighties enjoys such an enduring popularity in the UK.
“It’s actually a really difficult question to answer,” said the 64-year-old. “However, what I would say is that the Eighties is to many people what the Sixties was and is to many others.
“You have to understand I am biased but I would say the Eighties was stronger musically than the Seventies, the Nineties or the Noughties.
“It also coincided with the advent of music videos which were hugely important and innovative and basically changed the face of the industry overnight.
“Back then the top acts could afford to jet off two Mauritius for a couple of weeks to work on a wacky video to accompany their song.
“They had the money to do it. There was plenty of cash around at the time and we all thought it would last forever.”
Mike’s time at Radio 1 coincided with a golden era in pop music and he helped launch some of the biggest names – as well as famously taking the decision on-air in 1984 not to play the Frankie Goes To Hollywood single Relax because of its ‘obscene’ lyrics.
Mike said: “It’s hard to choose a favourite artist from the period. There were so many quality acts like Duran Duran, the Spandaus (Spandau Ballet), Paul Young, Adam And The Ants – the list is endless.
“I was privileged to be a part of this scene and it is something that, at the time, I’m not sure we all appreciated.
“Simply being able to work on a show like Top Of The Pops was a dream and so much fun.
“At the same time the Radio 1 roadshow was a juggernaut – just so popular all over the country.”
Of course, even the bespectacled, always smiley advocate of the Eighties has to admit that some of the fashions from the time were somewhat regrettable.
He said: “I distinctly remember thinking at the time that, compared to the Sixties and Seventies the clothes we we wearing weren’t in any way unusual.
“I thought that people would look back at the Eighties and think ‘blimey, they wore normal clothes back then’.
“However, nowadays I see how wrong I was because some of the fashions were absolutely horrendous!”’

Forget downloads: I remember when music still mattered

The government has announced a major shake-up of copyright laws.
Finally, the Digital Econony Act will make it legal to copy music and films to a computer, iPod or similar device.
It won’t affect me one bit, of course, and I dare say I’m not alone.
I have never downloaded a tune or a movie and I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I am a complete techno-phobe. I resisted email like an absolute Luddite. I don’t have an iPod or an iPad for that matter. My mobile telephone is basic, to say the least.
I can barely set the video (sorry) DVD recorder – which is just the way I like it, to be honest.
Back in July 2006 I said goodbye to an old friend – someone many of us grew up with.
After 42 years Top Of The Pops (TOTP) disappeared from our TV screens with little more than a whimper.
Ratings had been on the slide for some time and what killed TOTP wasn’t the advent of the compact disc.
It wasn’t even the sparklingly charismatic presenting duo of Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates. No, honestly, it wasn’t.
What did for TOTP in the end was the internet which meant that people were finding new ways to access the music they liked.
Suddenly, the charts didn’t matter anymore.
Not only could people download albums and singles by their favourite artists but websites which gave new acts the chance to shine were springing up all over the place.
Performers whose music had only ever been heard via the internet became overnight sensations.
Without such websites like MySpace then artists like the Arctic Monkey and Lily Allen would perhaps never have been discovered.
Even so, I reckon the internet has actually done more damage than good to the music industry.
Apart from anything else, I can never forgive it for putting the final nail in the coffin of the charts.
I can’t be the only one who misses their weekly fix of movers and new entries.
Surely I’m not alone in wishing that the old-fashioned way of monitoring the music scene was still available.
In its halcyon days TOTP had more than 15 million viewers on a Thursday night.
We got to watch our favourite bands perform (sometimes they weren’t even miming) and experience the cultural melting pot of musical tastes.
Where else could you get Duran Duran, the Pet Shop Boys, Bananarama, Cliff Richard and Bon Jovi in half an hour?
Back in the day we all knew what was number one in the singles chart. How many of us can say the same now?
Not many, because the truth is no-one cares anymore.
If you ask me there is something desperately sad about the fact that there are now generations who have only ever known music via downloads.
Getting your music from the ether strikes me as a pretty soulless affair.
Never mind social networking: How can it possibly compare to the shared experience of watching TOTP then nipping up Hanley with your mates at the weekend to scour through the racks for the tracks you wanted?
I have friends with tens of thousands of songs on their iPod but I would never swap their hi-tech for my vinyl collection.
Just think of all the fantastic album covers you’ve got tucked away in a cupboard somewhere.
Each one is a work of art – complete with sleeve notes, photographs and lyrics.
The other night I watched a TOTP2 Eighties special.
It included such gems as a live performance of I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston, poodle-haired Scandinavians Europe rockin’ out to The Final Countdown and T’Pau’s China In Your Hands.
But it was the last song which took me back to a time and a place which is special to me.
The track, from 1988, was The Only Way Is Up by Yazz and The Plastic Population.
Having watched that original episode of TOTP I then recalled dancing to the song with my Port Vale fan mates in Regime’s nightclub – with the chorus doctored to ‘the Vale are going up, baby, Division Two now’.
Not that original, granted, but the memory has stuck with me all the same.
Yes, downloads may be the present and the future, but I think I’ll stick with my vinyl and the occasional trip down memory lane with TOTP2 to a time when music still mattered.