Today, we travel back in time forty years to the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest. After Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest for the United Kingdom in 1976, the 1977 edition was held at the Wembley Conference Centre in London. It was the first contest to be hit by a strike and took place five weeks later than planned. This was also the last contest to date which was won by France.
The 1977 Eurovision Song Contest nearly didn't happen. The event was postponed for five weeks because of the fact that the cameramen and technicians were on strike. The contest was supposed to take place on the 2nd of April, but as late as in March, a final decision had not been taken. Several options were considered, including cancelling the event, but thankfully the industrial action finished after an agreement was reached.
Come what May
May is now the usual month in which to host the Eurovision Song Contest, the last time that the contest took place outside of this month was 1994, but back in 1977 it was only the second time, after the very first contest, that Eurovision was held as late as May. In addition to the contest, the strike also affected the UK national selection and the TV broadcast of the national final was cancelled meaning that Rock Bottom by Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran was selected by radio.
Another problem surfaced during the event week, which resulted in no postcards being shown between each entry in 1977. The ones filmed at an evening party in a nightclub had to be cancelled for some delegations' fears of not being properly understood by the audience. Instead viewers at home were treated to shots of the audience, with some looking more excited than others! Footage from the party was ultimately broadcast as the interval act. It wasn't the first time that hosting the contest was a challenge, and it wasn't the last!
The show must go on
The presenter, BBC newsreader Angela Rippon, had to deal with numerous scoreboard problems during the voting and, at the start of the show, she struggled to find the right camera and can be seen looking around for “the camera with the red light,” as she recalled during a recent interview, before introducing the participating acts.
Initially it looked like the highest number of participants up to that date, 20, would be reached that year, as Sweden was set to return after one year of absence and Tunisia was due to debut in 1977. However, Yugoslavia withdrew from the contest and Tunisia, which had been drawn to perform fourth in the running order, pulled out of the line-up. In the end there were 18 countries competing in Wembley's Conference Centre big stage completed by a revolving arch surrounding the orchestra.
The language rule (almost) returns
The rule of participants performing in the national language of their country was brought back to the song contest, after four years of free language choice. However Germany and Belgium were allowed to perform in English because their entries had already been chosen before the rules changed. Coincidentally the two countries were among the favourites to win that edition of the contest.
The German all-female trio Silver Convention had been hugely popular all over the world in the mid 1970s with songs like Fly Robin Fly and Get Up And Boogie. There were high hopes that their disco entry Telegram, would score the first victory for Germany, however the song only ended up in eighth place.
Belgium sent a disco-influenced song as well, A Million In One, Two, Three, also performed by a group, Dream Express. The three girls in the group were the Maessen sisters who had already participated in Eurovision in Amsterdam in 1970 as The Hearts Of Soul, representing their native country, The Netherlands. In 1977 they were accompanied on-stage by the writer of the song, Luc Smets, and reached the seventh place, just like in Amsterdam seven years before.
Where are we? Rock Bottom
The UK entry, Rock Bottom by Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran, was unsurprisingly highly favoured by the audience in the venue. The performance looked original at the time with the performers playing grand pianos seating back-to-back and wearing black formal suits. The conductor Ronnie Hazlehurst wore a bowler hat and an umbrella instead of a baton, as requested by the artists.
Typically for the UK, Rock Bottom finished second. 1977 was the last of eleven consecutive times that a UK entry came in the Top 4, an achievement yet to be matched. How did the song do in the charts? Not rock bottom, that's for sure! The song became a hit in several countries and was particularly successful in Germany.
Fancy a comeback?
1977 saw many familiar faces popping up in the competition. Anita Skorgan sang her first entry Casanova for Norway this year. She would return in 1979, 1982 and 1983, while she also tried several more times to represent her home country in the Norwegian national heats.
The Swarbriggs had represented Ireland in 1975 but this year they were joined by Nicola Kerr and Alma Carroll, so their stage name was altered to The Swarbriggs + 2. The addition proved successful as Ireland placed a strong third, even challenging the eventual winner at points in the voting with It’s Nice To Be In Love Again.
Monaco was represented by the French singer Michèle Torr which had already represented Luxembourg in 1966 placing 10th. Her return to the competition was also a hit, reaching 4th place with the mid-tempo ballad Une Petite Française, where she describes herself as "just a country girl from Provence" in South East France, where Michèle was born.
Austria gave an innovative performance of Boom Boom Boomerang by the group Schmetterlinge. The song was performed with the artists wearing pop star standard costumes of the time and masks and a tuxedo on their backs so that they would turn them to the audience revealing their other side at points, the one that represented the greedy record industry. It was very controversial as it was the very first entry to satirize the event and have a heavy dig at the record industry, so it didn't come as a surprise when it placed second-last. Some of the band members had represented Austria already in 1972 in The Milestones group which placed 5th, so this time the comeback was not a boom!
In the Portuguese band Os Amigos we find two former Eurovision entrants: Fernando Tordo had placed 10th in 1973 and Paulo De Carvalho was equal-last in 1974, so their 14th place in 1977 with the song Portugal No Coração was like a meeting halfway.
The Israeli singer Ilanit was the first artist to represent her country back in 1973 and had achieved the best result for Israel to that point, a 4th place, so she was sent back to Eurovision with Ahava Hi Shir Lishnayim, or Love Is A Song For Two, to try to improve it, but only placed 11th in London.
And if all these artists were not enough comebacks, some of them, not only Anita Skorgan, made later appearances. Stella from Dream Express would go on to represent Belgium as a soloist in 1982. Pino Gasparini from the Swiss Pepe Lienhard Band made a comeback in 1985 duetting with Mariella Farré and Mia Martini would represent Italy again in 1992.
The bird and the child
In the three years before 1977, the winners had been bouncy uptempo numbers performed by groups, so the bookmakers favoured these types of entries in the run-up to the contest. Even though it was not one of the main favourites, France won the contest for the fifth, and to date the last time, with the song L'Oiseau Et L'Enfant (The Bird And The Child) performed by Marie Myriam, who also admitted that she was very nervous during her performance. Whilst vocally flawless, the nerves were clear to see in her shaking hands.
France's victory in 1977 was a record in Eurovision Song Contest history. It was a record that was equalled by Luxembourg in 1983, and beaten by Ireland in 1994. The winning song was a simple French ballad with a melody that built up to the end. It managed to enter the charts all over Europe and was a big hit in the Francophone countries, ultimately reaching the top 10 of the United World Chart for two weeks peaking at #9.
Greece placed 5th with their best result up to that time, and one that remained until they placed 3rd in 2001 and later won the competition in 2005. In 1977 they sent a song called Music Lesson (Mathema Solfege) in which Pascalis, Mariana, Robert & Bessy sing the musical notes as the chorus. They got 12 points from Spain...
...And the Spanish artist could have well used their lesson, as the title of his song was Teach Me How To Sing (Enséñame a Cantar). Micky, the singer, was wearing a striped jumper and was accompanied on-stage not only by three backing singers, but also by a girl playing banjo and a man playing a jug! Written by Fernando Árbex, who had achieved some international success with his band Barrabás, placed 9th in Wembley.
Rounding up the Top 10, an unusual visitor to those shores, Finland. They sent singer Monica Aspelund wearing what looked like a Finnish flag in the shape of a triangle and a necklace with the shape of Sibelius Monument in Helsinki. Lapponia was a most memorable song with a high note that is difficult to forget as it is the melody of the chorus. It was the first leader of the voting, again something highly unusual for Finland, as the first country to cast their votes, Ireland, gave it 12 points.
Despite all the problems that had to be overcome, to the average viewer, the 1977 Eurovision was still perceived as a successful broadcast. It was a testament to hard work and dedication and proof, if ever there was any needed, that postcards make the Eurovision Song Contest more interesting!