Every now and again a new book about Eurovision rises up through the ether purporting to be a definitive guide to the contest and its history. Most of the time they end up being either a dry, sociopolitical treatise or yet another list-based run through of the same old facts – and often pretty poorly researched and contextualised facts at that. So one must applaud the ambition of Chris West’s attempt to blend the two approaches into what has become a breakneck dash through the unavoidable intermingling of Eurovision and European social history over the last sixty-odd years.
Laying his theories out on a year-by-year basis, he combines each year’s contest with the political and social events of the time, making some starkly original and fascinating observations along the way. It had never really dawned upon me that the make up of the early contests closely mirrored the boundaries of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire, an area that itself made up the very earliest roots of the EU. But framed around that starting basis, it makes the parallel’s between the development of post-war Europe and the contest easier to understand, as it adds a compelling narrative strand to our existing knowledge of our favourite singing show.
Of course, it’s not without its faults. West’s understanding of genre tends to slip up when he veers too far from the more esoteric folk musics of Europe, and his insistence of talking about perceived bloc voting without any correlation to notions of cultural constancy and regional music footprints will frustrate those with a deeper understanding of the contest’s voting history. But these aren’t fatal failures, and the whole thing skips along in a witty, conversational manner that most of the more academic tomes never come close to achieving.
While never taking the contest too seriously, it also realises that much of what happens on this wonky continent of ours filters down into its collective songwriting – whether it be hamfisted attempts to engender world peace, or more thinly veiled references to regional goings on that slip under the EBU’s radar. As West notes, the most successful songs at Eurovision are often those postcards from a moment – whether that be the politics of state, sexual identity, the rise of technology, or simply matters of modern love. And to that end it’s a thoroughly entertaining and frequently thought provoking book, well worthy of a few evenings of your time.
Eurovision! A History Of Modern Europe Through The World’s Greatest Song Contest is available from your usual online suppliers and most good book shops.
Author: Roy Delaney
Source: Eurovision Ireland