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A Lulu of a Eurovision  
The singer talks about 1969 and 2009

Lulu is the first to admit that she hasn’t watched a lot of Eurovision since she won it with Boom Bang-a-Bang 40 years ago.

“I stopped watching when we started to do badly and then it got so political, and now with Eastern Europe running the contest… I just didn’t want to be upset or disappointed any more,” she sighs. “It’s just become so frustrating to watch.”
But her interest has been rekindled by acting as one of the panel of  Eurovision advisers on Your Country Needs You and working alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“Andrew has taken the whole thing to a different level. I think it’s fantastic what he’s doing for the country. Taking part has made me feel quite patriotic again!” she adds.

But she’s feeling the pressure of having to help the country choose a winning act. “It’s so difficult  – what will the rest of Europe go for? I was very upset that Damien went in the first show as I just loved his voice and his style of singing.”
So what advice does she have for the eventual winner? “Well they’re all winners. This is such a great opportunity for all of them, even if they don’t win – to have this time with Andrew mentoring them. It’s a great learning curve and invaluable experience.

“But they have to sing from the heart, that is everything for me.  If it comes from a place of love, without ego getting in the way, good things will happen for them.”

When Lulu represented the UK in Madrid in 1969 she was just 20 but already had  a wealth of experience. “It was nerve-racking. You do feel a tremendous sense of responsibility but I think the success I had had and my confidence helped me carry it off.” And with a charismatic performance, tieing with three other countries, carry it off she did, in a sparkly pink mini-dress and with a jolly Ole at the end of the song.

It was tense up until the last jury, when three countries were tied in first place and UK was one point behind. The Finnish jury ignored the top three and gave one point to us. “Thank God for the Finns,” laughs Lulu. ” I can’t remember anything at that point but I know I was very glad to be in the top 4 and not the top 5!”

She has freely confessed that her oompah-style song – typical for a UK entry of the time after Puppet on a String’s victory  two years previously – was not her favourite  of the final six shown on the BBC, one of which was written by an unknown Elton John and Bernie Taupin. But it provided one of her biggest hits – No 2 in the UK chart, No 3 in Sweden – and she recorded it in five languages.

“It really wasn’t my style, it was camp and kitsch and not very challenging as a singer but it WAS cheerful. I still sing it sometimes. I’ll tease people by saying I won’t do it but then I do.”

Like Boom Bang-a-Bang,  taking part in Your Country Needs You has certainly been uplifting, says Lulu. “I’m getting so caught up in it all. ”  You can be sure that this year Lulu WILL be watching the Eurovision Song Contest.

The 1969 Contest

The 1969 Eurovision Song Contest is best known for having four joint winners: UK, Spain, France and Netherlands. It was certainly a surreal show   – ironic given that the contest logo was designed by Salvador Dali.

The four-way tie caused a furore and much confusion on the night, and the following year five countries –  Norway, Sweden, Finland, Portugal and Austria – withdrew from the contest in protest at the result. The voting system was eventually changed.

It was certainly a colourful contest (though that may be because my recording has the colour turned up so that everyone has bright orange faces and looks like they’re related to Judith Chalmers and the commentary is in Swedish).

Bounce was the order of the day for many of the songs, and there was none bouncier that the Irish entry Wages of Love. A cult entry among Eurofans, it had Muriel Day bounding on as if someone had put a firecracker up her vivid green chiffon mini-dress. And then there was Spain’s Salome, in a blue fringed, one-piece trouser suit. As her up tempo song, Viva Cantando, speeded up and she shimmied correspondingly faster, she resembled a vibrating chinchilla.
Also in the line-up was Sweden’s Tommy Korberg, who went on to represent his country again in 1988 and star in the original West End production of Chess, written by Tim Rice and Abba’s Benny and Bjorn.

Given that in those days there were only 16 juries giving 10 points, there was plenty of kerfuffle over the scoring, in time-honoured Eurovision tradition, with those crackly voices delivering bewildering votes over the phone. There was political voting in those days, too. With British tourists newly invading the Spanish costas, we received few favours in the ensuing years; likewise with Ireland while the Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height. France never did us many favours, either, having blocked us from entering the Common Market.

The spirt of Dali hovered over the interval act, too – a film with strange music that looked as if someone had wandered around Spain with a cine camera while on acid.

Of course, some might argue that the contest should never have been happened in Madrid at all, following the victory the previous year of Spain’s Massiel with La La La (138 Las) over Cliff Richard by one point. It has since been claimed by a Spanish documentary that General Franco sent TV executives around Europe to offer favours in in return for votes, so that Spain could win and improve its image abroad.

So, some might be of the opinion that Cliff was robbed. Hence the wag at the contest in Belgrade last year who had a giant Union Jack bearing the legend ‘Justice for Cliff’. And quite right too!

Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)

Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue

Posted on: 14th January 2009

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