Picture it: Dublin, 1981. It was one of the all-time iconic moments of Eurovision, when Velcro rocked and UK won the Eurovision Song Contest. You’ll be pleased to know that Bucks Fizz are still ripping those skirts off these days.
Now the group consists of original members Cheryl Baker and Mike Nolan, plus Shelley Preston, who replaced Jay Aston. And they still perform the 1981 winner ‘Making Your Mind Up’. “But now I have to rip off two skirts at the same time. It’s incredibly difficult while singing as well,” jokes Mike.
And there have been a few wardrobe malfunctions. “Sometimes Shelley’s skirt has peaked too early and come off in the song before ‘Making Your Mind Up’,” adds Cheryl drily.
But even she admits that they might owe their Eurovision victory and subsequent successful careers to the power of Velcro. “I think if we hadn’t ripped off our skirts we might not have won. I don’t know whose idea it was. I usually say it was me! ” “So do I!” pipes up Mike.
The pair will be recalling their success at the final of Your Country Needs You on Saturday, though their memories of the 1981 contest are something of a blur. “There was a lot of Irish hospitality,” admits Cheryl, and although they were an unknown group put together for the contest, they were favourites to win.
Says Mike: “I was a bit cocky going to Dublin and thought we were going to walk it. But when we started rehearsing and I heard the other songs I got less and less confident. By the end of the week I didn’t think we would do it.”
On the night, though, as they bounded on in primary colours, blond hair (one could only imagine the fights over the peroxide bottle) and full of the sparkle their name implied, their harmonies were not exactly spot on. “I was great – it was the other three who let me down.” laughs Mike. They won by just four points but the song went on to top the charts around Europe.
For Cheryl, doing Eurovision was a dream come true. “I had wanted to do Eurovision since I was a little girl and winning it was like getting an Olympic gold medal for me.” Bucks Fizz was her third attempt. In 1976’s Song for Europe she was in the band Co-Co, which just lost out to Brotherhood of Man, and in 1978 Co-Co got to the contest in Paris with ‘The Bad Old Days’, where they came 11th. “That was the worst position the UK had ever come at that time but if we got that now we would be putting out the bunting!”
Bucks Fizz has had various incarnations over the years, involving a total of 17 members, and at one time there were two competing versions, one led by I’m a Celebrity’s David Van Day. Cheryl and Mike were asked to do Eurovision again in the mid-Eighties. “We said no. Johnny Logan managed it twice but we felt once you’ve done it, it’s time to go,” says Cheryl. “I wouldn’t want to do it again,” adds Mike.
So what of the contest today? Cheryl: “I’m glad we’re taking it seriously this year – it needs a kick up the bum. It’s just go too big. I think it would be fairer if there were regional finals. Western Europe just doesn’t get a look in any more.”
Mike: “Until five or six years ago I would watch it and would always be on to the phone to Cheryl talking about the songs. We don’t do that any more and now when I watch I’m just flipping through the channels. I think if we don’t do well this year we should just pull out.”
It seems the fun has gone out of Eurovision for Mike and Cheryl, the core members of Bucks Fizz who have always got on famously and clearly enjoy what they do. Mike says: ” We have always got on. Mind you, we do have rows sometimes – we’re like an old married couple.” Nowadays they do about a dozen gigs a year. “That’s enough, so it’s still fun when we get together. If it’s not fun it’s not worth doing it,” says Cheryl.
And that’s their advice to this year’s UK representative, to just enjoy themselves. Says Cheryl: “We had a fantastic time doing Eurovision and afterwards with all the singles and albums. I wouldn’t change a single day of it. It was a great opportunity, and I just hope that whoever sings for the UK this year welcomes it with open arms.”
The 1981 Contest
If the overall standard of songs in Dublin – following Johnny Logan’s first win the previous year – was not of the highest order, then it certainly supplied one of Eurovision’s most memorable moments.
It was the Bucks Fizz skirt moment of course, which went on to influence Eurovision shtick for years after. Even now, singers – usually women, though Greece’s Sakis Rouvas, who is back in the contest this year, had two women rip his jacket from his muscled torso to reveal a ripped T-shirt in 2004 – are wont to peel off a costume to reveal another one underneath.
In 2005 Belarus’s Angelica Agurbash – who publicised herself with her own newspaper all about Angelica and held a party where she welcomed each person individually – managed three costumes in one of the campest-ever performances. A sparkly cloak was removed to reveal a sparkly big frock, which in turn covered something briefer – and sparkly.
The record for the number of costumes worn at the same time is probably held by a Romanian backing dancer from 2003. At the start of the song she looked like a girl who could do with missing a few meals but she stripped off one layer after another until, at the end, she was eventually revealed as a slim young thing clad in just a skimpy one-piece.
Velcro apart, that night in Dublin wasn’t Bucks Fizz’s best performance, and perhaps that was why the contest was so close. With two juries to go, Switzerland, UK and Germany were tied but when the Swiss gave points to UK and none to Germany, it was all over. UK ony received the top douze points from two countries (Switzerland had five and France and Germany four 12s) but UK was the only country to receive votes from every single jury..
There were the customary bizarre moments: the Austrian singer was backed by four women dancers who seemed to be on a different planet, even from each other. One wore just a leotard and an American footballer’s helmet.
Finland went for the unlikely genre of reggae and blond moppet Ricki Sorsa performing in a pink and yellow harlequin outfit. ‘Reggae OK’, he sang. Actually, it wasn’t. Equally bizarrely decked out were the Irish trio Sheeba singing ‘Horoscopes’. You could have predicted the outcome just by looking at the exotic green costumes, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a production of Aladdin.
And poor old Norway brought up the rear once again with nuls points – they’ve done it a record four times.
The voting process was as confused as ever, especially when Yugolsavia seemed to have lost the plot together with their score sheet. Asked after a long pause what their votes were, an exasperated female voice replied: “I don’t have it!”
And the interval act, performed by Planxty, offered a spooky glimpse of the future. Showing Irish music through the ages, it was called ‘Timedance’…..
Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)
Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue
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