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Nick Pickles is Director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, and a music photographer whose work can be viewed here. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Reform, renegotiate,
Brexit. A great question of our time that goes to the heart of our place on the
world stage.

I’m talking of course
about the Eurovision song contest.

Fraser Nelson fired
the first salvo last week:

“For
the past 10 years, the Eurovision Song Contest has provided a musical metaphor
for Britain’s relationship with the European Union. We submit an appalling
entry, chosen because we assume the continentals like trash. They don’t, and
tend to give us nul points. We then assume we are victims of discrimination,
that Eurovision is an exercise in continental intrigues that we wouldn’t want
to win anyway.”

Since 1959, the UK has
entered Eurovision every year. More than half a century
later, we have just five victories to show for our efforts. Since 1999, we have
managed only two top ten finishes. Our last two entries had a combined age of
137.


The roll call of our entries is spellbinding.
Who could forget Belle and the Devotions soaring ‘Love Games’ or Bardo’s ‘One
Step Further’? Keneth McKellar’s ‘A man without love’ and Clodagh Rodgers’
‘Jack in the Box’ are rarely far from the top of my iPod’s most played songs,
and don’t even get me started on the epic intensity of the New Seekers ‘Beg,
Steal or Borrow’. It just makes me want to run to the nearest shop and try to
find the limited edition of Rikki’s ‘Only the Light’ to play so loud everyone
on the bus can hear its beauty.

Very quickly, you realise these songs have
two things in common, along with almost every other Eurovision song ever.
Firstly, they were forgotten almost as quickly as they took to sing. Secondly,
they were utterly, despicably, rubbish.

However you measure performance, for the
nation that gave the world the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, David Bowie and
Queen, that isn’t really a strong track record. It should keep us awake at
night. Imagine the Belarusian teenager, watching Eurovision for the first time.
MinskFM hasn’t really lived up to much by way of a musical education, but this
is Eurovision. Maybe Germany will have some krautrock and you can see what all
this Kraftwerk talk is about, or Jean Michelle Jarre will have inspired the
French entry. Alas, if all else fails, Britain will have something good.
They’ve heard of the Beatles, seen Muse’s latest stadium set-up, and the
expectation is immense. Here begins your musical awakening. Then Bonnie Tyler
walks on.

This is not an isolated case. Consider the
previous winners. I tried, and other than Abba, who I think won it, or at least
did something, the rest of the winners are barely recalled by their ‘angle’ – the
scandanavians who looked like vikings and, well, I have absolutely no idea who
most of them are or even what their ‘thing’ was. I think Cliff Richard has done
it a couple of times, which is usually a sign of something the rest of us
should try and avoid.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it
is an entirely pointless endeavour. Eurovision is arguably one of the best
drinking games ever invented. Mild Euro-baiting, funny hats and drinking every
time someone says “nul points”.

But might we expect something
more? In Britain, the creative industries employ around 1.3 million people in
140,000 businesses. Over the last decade, the creative industries have grown
faster than the rest of the economy. And yet we choose to deliberately make
ourselves look culturally vacant infront of most of the continent, on prime
time television.

The Government has some
genuinely exciting policies to drive forward our already remarkable music
industry. The UK Music Skills
Academy is aiming to create 200 creative apprenticeships this year across the
industry. Indeed, only last week, a £500,000 music talent development fund
was announced. Imagine adding to that the millions we spend on participating in
Eurovision.

So, should we leave
Eurovision? Send Terry Wogan with a bottle of scotch and a white flag? Perhaps.

Yes, I know it’s a harmless
bit of fun. Of course, politics and national rivalries determine more votes
than the songs themselves. But who cares? We can still laugh at the crazy dance
routines, dodgy haircuts and the absence of anything remotely resembling melody
if we’re not in it. We’ve got Glastonbury and the Proms, I think we’ll manage.

Personally, I think we
should adopt a ballot system. Everyone who fancies a pop puts their name in a
hat, and whoever gets drawn is the entrant. No musical experience or talent
required, because it isn’t a contest about music or talent.

If we’re lucky, we’ll
get kicked out. And it’ll be the closest Eurovision ever came to a moment of
genuine cultural significance.

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