In 2008, Andrew Melladay and Spencer Vale compiled a novella based on their musings from their Soldiers of Hell Radio Show/Podcast about the Eurovision Song Contest that inspired the film Transatlantic Smash. (What a convoluted sentence. I assure you only 5 of the sentences in the book are as convoluted as that.) It was called What’s The Deal With Europe? and is available to buy or download from Fossgate Studios Books. Well, in good old Dickensian (that’s the word for in the style of 50 Shades of Grey) fashion we’ve decided to serialise it for you. Starting today, here is part one of What’s The Deal With Europe?
REASONS TO ENTER THE EUROVISION CONTEST
There are many things we can be grateful to the continent of Europe for, not least of which is Europe: the band. Of course, in addition to those famous for The Final Countdown there are fine wines, culture, and now, some of the most trouser-poppingly gorgeous women to have ever walked our area of the planet. For example, if you happened to have watched the Eurovision Song Contest in 2000 you’ll have already had an introduction to Russian beauty Alsou; a pop starlet that given the chance could sway some of you Christina Aguilera heretics to the side of European female supremacy. Only sixteen years old at the time, she showed us that the Cold War hasn’t ended, it has just changed arenas. Instead of fighting for military supremacy, the new weapons are stunningly attractive women.
If you don’t remember Alsou, let me just say that I do; fondly and often. She was a Russian favourite and a year or so later she had a stab at cracking the British market. She released a song called, Before You Love Me which sounded a lot like a Samantha Mumba song. And then a couple of years later she had another go. She released a song in America, and it had a not particularly well known rapper featuring on it. So she’s had a couple of goes at breaking out of the European market. I haven’t seen her for a few years but I’d be surprised if Alsou still looks the same. When she first entered Eurovision back in 2000 she was sixteen. She had a very mature voice for her age. Even then, she looked late twenties. Will she look like she’s in her mid-thirties now?
I don’t know. But I do know that my fondness of Alsou has made me drift off topic somewhat. The point that I’m trying to make is that the quality of the female entries has risen over the last six or seven years. And when I say female entries, I’m not thinking of women as a nation. Although that would be interesting! It’s not the same as me saying that the quality of the Ukrainian entries has risen over the last five years; although that would also be true. I’m basically saying that every year, per square foot of stage, there are more and more women that I’d like to sleep with in the Eurovision Song Contest. I’m not sure whether it’s the removal of skirts, or the shortness of said skirts that is the key to success. Maybe it’s an old gimmick now. What I can say though is that the quality of female talent appears to be essential to Eurovision success.
Testimony to this is Ines, Estonia’s entry into the song contest in the same year as Alsou, and frankly one of the best looking women to emerge onto the music scene in ages. Take that Jessica Simpson! This girl is a reason, a gift from heaven, a sign pointing to the fact that Brits are far too obsessed with the USA and their plastic women. Oh no my friends, as a man and a pervert I ask you now, nay urge you to look east and see the corkers therein. That’s exactly what Ashley Richardson, Patrick Terry and Robert Cole did. And being twenty-something, sex-starved males, would you expect anything less?
May 2003. Which meant it was that great month where Europe comes together to celebrate some of the best music that has ever been written. No, it wasn’t Glastonbury or even Ozzfest. I’ll give you a hint: Michael Ball (and it’s got nothing to do with Andrew Lloyd Crash-face.) No? Ok, another hint. The Olsen Brothers. Yes that’s right the Olsen Brothers. Nothing to do with the Olsen twins. We’re actually talking men this time. Ok, I’ll spell it out for you, it was Eurovision time again.
Ashley had arranged a party at our pad to enjoy the event. Every May he got really excited in anticipation of the Eurovision Song Contest. There are people that have labelled him disturbed for the level of enjoyment he gets out of it. Admittedly, owning the last seven years’ compilation CDs of the event may be a tad excessive, but at least he hasn’t got fifty years worth of CDs. At least he hasn’t yet gone to the trouble of downloading every single song ever entered and rating them. What a long job that would be and at 79p a pop I suspect that would be most of his money gone a month.
Ashley arranged a party for the contest every year and this particular year his hopes were high. This year Jemini were the hope for the United Kingdom and the H and Claire-style duo were right up Ashley’s street. Not only was he a massive fan of Eurovision, but he was a big fan of Steps too. It’s probably worth me taking the time to elaborate on his unhealthy Steps obsession.
Where were you on Boxing Day 2001? I was in the pub. Ashley was at home watching the news. He called me.
“James, have you heard the news?”
“You haven’t heard?”
“I don’t know unless you tell me.”
“So you haven’t heard then?”
“Well I might have. What is it?”
“Steps have split up!”
“Is that all?”
“What do you mean is that all? This is the worst day of my life!”
“Oh come on, you must have had a worse day than this before.”
“I can’t think of one.”
And he was right. This was a big deal for Ashley. Thank God it wasn’t Def Leppard that had split up. Only that event would have conjured up more drama. Heaven forbid the day. Even twenty years of counselling wouldn’t get him through that kind of trauma. Even so, the demise of Steps was a significant day. Little did he realise it was the catalyst of a two year pop rollercoaster for Ashley; bare in mind that Taurus would not come along for almost another eighteen months.
Ashley was given hope in February 2002 when H and Claire from Steps announced that they would continue their careers as a two piece. They released an album and three singles and it’s kind of ironic that their last single was released only about six months before Taurus’s beginnings; back in our house in York in the winter of 2002.
Incidentally, I’ve always wondered what the individual members of Steps are up to nowadays. I sometimes imagine them all working together in some kind of novelty shop based on their name. A shop that only sells step-ladders and escalators. Well we can but dream!
Anyway, as I was saying: May 2003. Ashley was really looking forward to his Eurovision party and had invited people of various different nationalities round to join in the fun. We had representatives from Greece, Switzerland and Germany turn up, many representatives from the UK, our household included, and also Ireland. With me being half Norwegian you would think that we would have had Norway covered as well, but I preferred to support Ireland – just because I knew how much it would piss my housemates off! For once I didn’t care that Ireland as a pop nation had produced shit like Boyzone and Westlife. It was worth associating myself with Ireland for one night to see the looks on the faces of my cohabitants as I appeared in an emerald green shirt and a Guinness Hat.
It was easy for the boys to get me back though. They out numbered me three to one and sported England shirts, England flags and Beckham hair-cuts from the previous World Cup. You know the pointy one with blonde highlights. (I feel it important to clarify this considering the number of Beckham cuts through the years.) And they overpowered me with a quick rendition of Three Lions and a punch to the paunch – and that was even before they’d started drinking.
Ashley was one for preparation and had been out in advance to buy drinks from as many different European nations as possible. He set them out on the table, on which he had drawn a European map in chalk, in the correct position for the country of origin for each drink. Attention to detail; that’s what Ashley was looking for. It’s just a shame that Jemini hadn’t adopted a perfectionist policy.
Let’s first look at what did Jemini did right:
If they were trying to copy H and Claire, they had the good looking blonde girl and the annoying bloke thing off to a tee. Tick.
If they were trying to follow in the footsteps of successful UK Eurovision entries of the past, then the dress that the Jemini girl was wearing was equally as short as the skirts worn by Bucks Fizz and Gina G. Tick.
Now let’s look at what they did wrong:
They failed to sing in the correct key for the entire song. Not exactly a big tick for perfectionism there.
Tatu performed for Russia with a song that was basically just noise. They also threatened to perform naked. Not much of a shock or indeed a threat really. Nevertheless, they didn’t win. It could also be the same reason that Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen never got to number one with their cover version of Especially for You. I remember the day that Denise Van Outen promised live on The Big Breakfast that she would present the following day’s show topless if they got to number one. Nevertheless, they got to number two. It makes me think that The Big Breakfast producers rushed out and bought the singles of whatever got to number one just to avoid a pre-watershed nudity problem.
So finally, the overall scores were totalled and Tatu finished in third place behind Belgium in second. That made Turkey top of the Euro music tree, which Ashley would claim is a tree racked with many branches: a tall old thing, with fruits that sound like an aural heaven. The UK didn’t win, unsurprisingly. But who could have foreseen them finishing last?
It’s not shocking that the UK didn’t win. It’s not shocking that the UK didn’t do well. It’s not even shocking that the UK did really badly; you have to expect that when you’re out of tune. It’s the manner in which we lost that’s upsetting.
Jemini’s twenty-sixth place caused Ashley much distress and as a result he re-branded the contest Euro-so called-vision. The reason was that this particular Saturday, May 24th 2003, saw the one and only time in Eurovision history that the United Kingdom had totalled nul point. Nothing, none, no points, zero, nil, zilch, zip, diddly-squat.
This was a travesty in Ashley’s eyes. As the points failed to come in he got more and more angry until it got to the stage where he said “Well I don’t want any now then. I’d rather just come last.”
He suddenly found himself with pop issues to deal with and he needed some kind of therapy.
“I’ve got a vision. It’s a Eurovision where we don’t get nul-point. This travesty just shows how out of touch we are. Why Jemini…Why?”
Ashley’s vision was a brave one all things considered. I’m pretty sure that if Eurovision 2003 had actually been a Euro-babe contest, then the Jemini girl would have come cream of the crop (steady on!) – but unfortunately for her, it wasn’t and she didn’t. And so Ashley had to tell everyone his vision; his way to make it all right again.
“I have to tell you about a dream I had last night,” he said. “The dream was that they re-did the contest, no-one performed and there were only four countries allowed to take the vote. And those countries bizarrely were the UK, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.”
“That’s highly inaccurate. That’s almost fifty percent inaccurate,” exclaimed Patrick. Maths is not Patrick’s strong suit, but at least he’d identified the inaccuracy.
“Australia and New Zealand gave United Kingdom seventy five points each and they gave Turkey one.”
Patrick, Robert and I were getting a bit confused with where Ashley was going with this. He could see the lack of understanding in their eyes and proceeded to explain what Terry Wogan had given as an explanation of the whole thing.
“Ah, war backlash.” That was roughly what Terry had said; in roundabout way.
“Ah, Terry Wogan. European backlash.” I think they were his exact words. At least that’s how I perceive Terry Wogan to speak. But that’s probably because I can never do a convincing impression of anyone without impersonating them saying their own name, just so that people know who I’m doing the impression of.
Ashley’s dream had got him thinking, and based on Terry’s words he’d come up with a number of reasons why the UK wasn’t doing that well in Eurovision anymore:
(1) The War in Iraq had had a marginal effect on how kindly the other European nations looked at the UK.
(2) United Kingdom was not particularly popular in Europe at that time generally speaking, even without the war.
(3) Greece gave Cyprus twelve points and vice versa. That’s ok. That’s just one set of twelve points that goes astray. But when you’ve also got Estonia giving Latvia twelve and Lithuania ten and then Slovenia giving Slovakia twelve…basically there’s loads and loads of points going astray due to loyalty not due to song quality.
After the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the Baltic States the more traditional Eurovision countries have started to do less well. Let’s look back:
1999, Sweden won – fine
2000, Denmark – yeah not a bad song. Olsen Brothers – Wings of Love, which has since been covered by someone else, keeping it in public consciousness.
Since then there’s been Estonia, Latvia and Turkey all in a row. Fishy? I think so!
Or at least that’s how Ashley saw it. There was only one way around this for him; to write his own Eurovision song.
“I’ve done it! It’s a song about Europe coming together. Let’s all be one people!” he exclaimed.
“Is it pro-Europe?” asked Robert.
“It’s very anti-Richardson actually.”
“I’ve never met your Auntie Richardson, how is she?”
“She’s not bad thanks. Her thyroid glands are still up at the moment but hopefully the doctors will sort her out.”
“Is she still against Europe?”
“Yeah, she’s still anti-Europe.” Auntie Europe – a great idea for a comic book character! “My song’s called ‘What’s the deal with Europe?’” Ashley announced. “I’ve even mentioned you in it James.”
“Really? Why me?” I asked.
“Because I was trying to list lots of different European things, and you’re Norwegian…”
“Half Norwegian. And so it just seemed appropriate to mention you.”
We read through his lyrics and I was shocked by the sheer brilliance, the genius, of Ashley’s song. His dream was to perform the song at the following year’s Eurovision Song Contest and rightfully put United Kingdom back at the top of Europe’s pop tree. He imagined performing the song with, as he put it, “lots of fit women in short skirts. That should guarantee twelve points all round I think!”
“Do you need a drum beat intro?” asked Robert.
“You can do a Pete Waterman style 80’s drum beat if you like.”
And so it began…