It takes something special to keep viewers hooked between the songs and the scoreboard
As we head into this evening’s second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2015, with 17-year-old Molly Stirling hoping to secure our place in Saturday’s show, The Right Hook turns its focus to the bit that comes between the singing and the scoreboard, the interval act.
Joining guest host Jonathan Healy will be David Blake Knox, a former RTÉ producer who helped to select the Irish entrants in the 90s, and author of the new book Ireland and the Eurovision. Tune in live from 6.30pm or listen back to the show’s podcasts here.
Once all the songs are sung and the votes are being tallied, each hosting nation has the dubious honour of keeping our attention glued to the screen with a performance. Having won the competition, and hosted it, a record-topping seven times, RTÉ and the show’s producers have been responsible will filling up to 10 minutes of prime-time trans-continental broadcasting with seven spectacles showcasing the country and its culture – and they feature more Johnny Logan that was probably necessary.
So here is Newstalk’s definitive ranking of our seven interval acts, from best to... well... Riverdance.
7: ESC 1997, Dublin’s Point Theatre, Act: Boyzone
The last time Ireland won the competition was during an incredible streak of pop-music domination in the 1990s – a decade that saw four Irish songs win and a fifth come second, the year that this Boyzone song bridge the gap between performances and voting.
If the rumours that the competition nearly bankrupt our national broadcaster are to be indulged for a moment, well this limping pop song, Let the Message Run Free, might have been RTÉ’s warning in the year that televoting was first attempted to Europeans to never sending the competition back our way.
Ronan Keating, who co-hosted the entire show, looks like an extra from The Matrix, as the whole thing kicks off with some sort of futuristic dystopia involving Aertel. A song so boring that the other four lads in the group literally have so little to do that they spend most of it waiting to climb down a ladder from a platform. Nul points.
6: ESC 1971, Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, Act: The Bunratty Castle Entertainers
A year after Dana claimed the country’s first victory with All Kinds of Everything, Ireland’s first shot at producing a breathtaking interval act saw video footage of the Bunratty Castle Entertainers at the forefront of Europe’s viewing.
The performance is enjoyably naff, taking in everything from gobbledigook Gaeilge songs to baking brown bread on an open fire, with a bizarre montage taking in a fox hunt, for some reason.
It’s earnest, and all the sillier for that, having aged fairly poorly. But anyone pining for Mad Men following its finale earlier this week can get a fix of voluminous hairstyles from the period, at the very least.
5: ESC 1988, Dublin’s RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, Act: The Hothouse Flowers
The Hothouse Flowers’ song Don’t Go is a perfectly fine pop-rock tune from the late 80s, complete with the quintessential saxophone solo of so many hits from the period. Singer Liam Ó Maonlaí, Ireland’s original Hozier, is introduced to the continental audience by Newstalk presenter Pat Kenny, and proceeds to charm everyone with a cúpla focal from what appears to be the world’s longest piano.
The video kicks off a whistle-stop touring of the band performing all over Europe, and is cut together like the frenetic opening credits of a HBO show – and feels just about as long as well. Don’t Go won’t stop, going on and on and on and on and on and on for a full seven minutes, reprising the same music and lyrics over and over, while Ó Maonlaí flicks his hair against some indistinguishable European backdrop.
4: ESC 1981, Dublin’s RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, Act: Planxty & the Dublin City Ballet
Before Riverdance, Bill Whelan had a dress rehearsal with this performance of Timedance, an original piece of music and dance performed by the trad group and a number of dancers. Sure, it lacks a certain wow factor, but the bones of something much grander were there on display.
The performance sees three different periods of Irish history told through dance and music, from Megalithic stone cairns through to what is presumably some sort of Logan’s Run dystopia – with the dancers kitted out in flowing clothing that would not look out of place standing in the windows of American Apparel today.
3: ESC 1995, Dublin’s Point Theatre, Act: Lumen
Well, when you know you can’t possibly top the previous year’s ground-breaking show, what are you gonna do? Get a bunch of monks from Glenstal Abbey and Brian Kennedy to sing in Latin, obviously.
Lumen is a strange interval act, bringing monastic chanting and pop music to the centre of the show. For a song that is all about turning darkness into light, it’s a little bit dull and hard to actually see what’s going on. But the music is majestic, and the melodic interweaving of the chanting is actually something very special and arresting. Not particularly fondly remembered, it’s simple and complex all at once.
2: ESC 1993, Cork’s Mill Street Arena, Act: Linda Martin and Johnny Logan
It’s commonplace for the winner of the previous year’s competition to now open the show, with Austria’s Conchita Wurst reprising her song Phoenix in Tuesday’s semi-final, as well as this evening’s and Saturday’s main show. Which is all well and good, but a true diva doesn’t open the show. She opens for Johnny Logan.
In 1993, Linda Martin, in a dress made of black masking tape, accompanied by a man on a Perspex piano, reminds everyone in Europe why her. And then paves the way for Johnny Logan to take to the stage with an original song.
If the words “Johnny Logan” and “new material” strike fear into every fibre of your being, rest assured that the second he steps onto the stage and starts throwing some serious shapes, you’ll be unable to take your eyes away. He’s joined by a chorus of Cork Music School singers, dressed in shapeless smock blouses that make them look like members of an underground cult, swaying rhythmically to the beat. Then they usher on a bunch of bored-looking kids who can’t remember the words or keep pace.
It’s a trainwreck, and makes for wonderful viewing.
1: ESC 1994, Dublin’s Point Theatre
How many of the other six Irish interval acts could you actually recall? There’s a reason for that. Riverdance is truly something special. Just go with the flow.