This glorious contest has been around for over 60 years, and of course there have been some drastic changes throughout its running time. Beginning in 1956 with only seven competing countries, it has blown up to the huge music festival of 42 countries, three separate contests, more than 100 million viewers and all sorts of delightful extravaganzas which I doubt that Lys Assia and the founding members of Eurovision could have foreseen all those years ago.
But we always have time to reminisce about the past and look back on how things were done in yesteryear — and maybe get a little nostalgic along the way. So much has changed, even though the core of Eurovision has mostly stayed the same in 63 years.
Today we have a contest that is much more open to the public and to the fans, we have playback, a room full of eager fans waving their flags of choice and contestants doing big promo tours by performing in various pre-parties. But it wasn’t always like this, and now here’s a list of things we kind of miss seeing from the old school Eurovision.
7. The respectable gala vibe in the audience
There were times when Eurovision was sort of a musical gala event. The audience were seated and facing directly at the stage, looking a bit aloof and with a severe stiff upper lip. It seemed like it was the high society créme de la créme of each hosting country that was given the chance to watch the show. Fans wearing orange suits, with faces painted in national colours or wielding a huge inflatable Israeli flag hammer were nowhere to be seen.
Instead we had ladies wearing evening gowns (the wild ones were wearing gloves and carrying fans) and the gentlemen were dressed in a tuxedo. All sat gracefully in the room and politely clapped their hands after each act performed, without shouting or having their phones out to take an IG video. No one seemed to have a fan favourite and every act was greeted with the same look of either disinterest or the vague “I have no idea what this was about, but I’m raised the proper way, so I’ll do what society asks of me” smile. Simpler times indeed!
6. The Israeli choreography
The Israelis have always had their own thing going on in Eurovision, but back in the days, we could always count on the “Israeli choreography” to appear on stage. By that, I mean that the singer was of course the main attraction to the song, but the backup vocals got their precious screen time in abundance.
The Israelis were never fans of hiding their backups somewhere in the shades, only to be seen if the camera whooshed by them for 3.5 seconds. No, the backing singers were always very visible and at the climax of the song, they would walk up to the singer, line up on either side of him/her and sing their precious hearts out, and preferably bust out a dance move or two.
This can be seen in about 95% of all Israeli acts since their debut in 1973. “A ba ni bi”(1978), “Chai” (1983), “Olé Olé” (1985), “Kan” (1991) and “Amen” (1995) all spring to mind when thinking about the “Israeli choreography”, just to mention a few. Most recently we saw a glimpse of it in “Golden Boy” in 2015, albeit with a modern twist.
We really, really miss this specific stage lineup, which was Israel’s trademark back in the days, and we’d love to see it make a comeback. In the world today, where everyone should be equal, why not do it the Israeli way and have the joint lineup and choreography of singer and backups locked down like it’s 1983?
5. The contest in Ireland
OK, so its actually nice to have some variety when it comes to the winning countries but we can’t deny the fact that Ireland did an amazing job hosting three contests in a row. I mean, who does that? Spoiler — Ireland did!
Their winning streak in the beginning of the 1990s is a record that will never be broken. Never. And there will never be anyone who will match the all-star winner himself, Johnny Logan. Having Ireland hosting the contest became some sort of a habit, and of course people — probably the Irish themselves included — grew a bit tired of being welcomed to the Point Theatre in Dublin time and time again. The only variation was the one occasion the show was hosted in Millstreet — a gorgeous town but located in the middle of freaking nowhere. Believe me when I say so — I’ve been there.
But it is safe to say that a contest hosted by Ireland was a good contest, no matter the location and they did everything they could to welcome all the delegations, offering some variety, bringing up fresh and new interval acts (hello Riverdance) and do everything in their power to make sure that the contest would not go stale. All in a course of three consecutive years. We’re desperate for a new Irish victory, because imagine what they could do with a modern-day contest, given the fact that they managed to set this undying record without bringing RTÉ on the verge of bankruptcy. Nothing but respect to Ireland, y’all.
It was the early 1990s and Europe was changing. The 1994 contest saw the then highest number of competing countries, when Russia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia and Hungary competed for the very first time. This increased the number of competing countries from the common number of 22 countries up to 25.
The EBU was not quite ready to accomodate such a high number of contestants. So the EBU ruled that the seven lowest scoring countries of the year before had to sit this one out in order to make room for the newbies. Meaning that Denmark, Slovenia, Turkey, Belgium and Israel were forced to stay at home and watch from a far.
But as well as those relegated nations, Italy and Luxembourg also voluntarily took a pass. We did not realise at the time that while Italy would (eventually) return, Luxembourg’s break would show no sign of ending.
The cold harsh truth revealed itself through the years to come, when one Eurovision after another went by, and still no Luxembourg to be seen anywhere. The “Ah, they’ll be here next year” voices faded as time went by, and this year marked the 25th anniversary of Luxembourg’s departure from Eurovision. But fans refuse to give up and there is a call every year for the Grand Duchy to return to the contest. And we hereby plea as well. Luxembourg, please come back! We love you. Love us in return. PLEASE! Oh, and bring Turkey along with you while you’re at it.
3. The voting procedure and the people behind it
With a whopping 42 countries competing today, there had to be a change in how the the voting procedure was executed, with the latest one being that the spokesperson only gives out the 12 points verbally. A necessary change if we don’t want to sit through the entire night, waiting for the results while drinking gallons of Red Bull to stay awake.
But we sometimes long for the simpler times, when the juries alone were responsible for the voting; times when the spokespersons gave all the points from 1 to 12, via a crackly phone call. The host would repeat those results in two languages (three when Italy hosted in 1991).
This part was managable when there were only 22 competing countries. It wasn’t until 1994 that we actually got to see the people giving the points face to face, with Sweden’s Marianne Andenberg being the very first spokesperson seen by the viewers at home.
Otherwise it was all through a long-distance call, which sometimes worked and sometimes not. The muffled voice on the other end — that probably was praying for the sometimes wonky satellite connection to stay strong for just a couple of minutes — became a hallmark of the results section. Ah, to be young again and hear those beautiful words: “Bonsoir Europe, voici les résultats du jury français”, and wondering what the person behind them actually looked like.
2. Frank Naef
Before Mr Jon Ola “Take it away” Sand, we’ve had several executive supervisors of the Eurovision Song Contest. But none of them — with all due respect — was as loveable and delightfully familiar as Mr Frank Naef. He oversaw the contest from 1978 until 1992, which makes him the longest running executive supervisor in the history of Eurovision.
Frank Naef is Swiss and had that grandpa-like facade which gave both contestants and hosts a sense of security and coziness. His kind face and reassuring voice was like being wrapped in infinitive amount of hugs made out of cotton, and no one — and I mean no one — ever wanted to see him make a frown. Unfortunately this happened several times during the voting procedure in 1991, and probably scared the crap out of everyone around him.
He retired after the contest in Malmö 1992, and was honoured with a large bouquet of flowers, presented to him by Carola herself, which left him both stunned as well as close to tears. We love Jon Ola Sand, but there will never be anyone like Frank Naef. I just bet he had a bowl of Werther’s Original on his desk and invited everyone around him to have a piece, just like a devoted grandfather would do. We bow to your greatness, Monsieur Naef. Please adopt us.
1. The conductors
“And the conductor is…” Words that we unfortunately do not hear anymore in Eurovision. The modern-day contest relies on playback only, and most of the younger viewers don’t know any other way for the music to be performed on the big stage.
And no wonder, for it was 21 years ago in Birmingham when we had the very last contest where a fully fledged orchestra, along with a conductor, was responsible for the instrumental part of the song. Oh, those lovely and ever-so-recognisable conductors!
Many countries sent the same conductors most of the time, and they became like an old friend that visited once a year, only stopped by for about 30 seconds, but was greeted like Santa Claus himself. Guys like Edoardo Leiva, Ossi Runne, Harry Van Hoof, Anders Berglund, Ronny Hazelhurst, Kobi Oshrat, Richard Oesterreicher, Haris Andreadis and — two of my personal favourites — Noel Kelehan and Henrik Krogsgaard.
They became familiar names and faces among Eurovision fans. The contest is definitely lacking the presence of these amazing men, who, let’s face it, kind of held the fate of their representatives in their hands, or their baton more precisely. We will probably never see a live orchestra running the show again, and we can only look back on those simpler days when we saw Kobi Oshrat being cooler than frostbite and Henrik Krogsgaard dancing like no tomorrow whilst he conducted his orchestra… or simply joining his crew on stage. Sigh…
These are only a few things we miss dearly from the past. Is there anything you miss and would like to add on the list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.