Bonsoir mes amis, guten Abend, buona sera, it is Eurovision time once more: the annul proof that every nation has great talent in music, and that true artists have no need to compete, and indeed don’t. John Lennon never felt the need to put himself up to the scrutiny of Luxembourg and Finland, nor did Demis Roussos, Jacques Brel, José Feliciano or Luciano Pavarotti. Do you really think the likes of Serge Gainsbourg would sully himself in the meat market of teenage girls pimping himself to any microstate that would take him for the sake of a career boost ? Well, alright, yes, he did write Luxembourg’s 1965 winner, sung by eighteen-year-old ingénue France Gall (a girl with a name that could not be any more French), but he did so ironically, surely ?
Of course, the lyrics are a vital part of any great song, if not a great title (La La La, Boom Bang-a-Bang and Ding-a-Dong all having won the contest). And considering that performing in English seems to be de rigueur these days, this ought to make for an evening of delightful poetry with a little musical background accompaniment. Strangely, it never seems to work out this way.
The idea of a pan-European celebration of the muse is nothing new, of course, and the Pitshanger Archives are abuzz with one such competition taking place in London in 1814 to celebrate the ending of the Napoleonic Wars. Poets from all across the continent came to pit their verses, and many contestants dropped in to the pre-showdown workshop to sharpen their oratory skills. Nobody present could understand a word being declaimed, but everyone agreed that it all sounded jolly important.
No such shenanigans at this week’s workshop: James Priestman opened the show with an old-fashioned tale of Samson, a young man getting into scrapes and pondering the riddle of existence, followed by Doig Simmonds’ new age ballad of the cry of the forest and the song of the axe. John Hurley has been off to the races and is now the bookies’ favourite, while Daphne Gloag has been aiming for the stars with her cautionary tale of too much success. Peter Francis presented a simple folk tale of fruit picking, complete with traditional innuendo, while anticipation in a high street cafe were on Christine Shirley’s mind. Martin Choules split his three minutes of fame into a three-part performance around a common theme, with a fable thrown in, and Alan Chambers’ finale brought us a brief storm in a tea-break.
At the Pan-Euro Poetry event itself, Prussia and Bavaria predictably voted for each other, Piedmont and Savoy each celebrated their newfound, everlasting independence, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw’s place was controversially taken by Russia following an invasion. Representing the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland was represented by Leigh Hunt, who was seen as safe and predictable, who was a last minute replacement for Lord Byron who was anything but. Mr Hunt, according to The Times, gave a very commendable recital, allowing just a hint of suppressed emotion to seep through. He finished last. The winners were Sweden-Norway, with their scaremongering predictions of future hostility with the recently (and thoroughly) defeated French. Apparently thought that events would come to a head in a field in Wallonia, based on their reading of some history book on the shelf. My my.