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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

University of 3rd AgeProfessor Scott Scores a Euro-Hit

with speaker Professor Derek Scott of Leeds University

Thursday, 20th April saw the return of Professor Derek Scott of Leeds University to Todmorden U3A. Last year we were treated to Orientalism in music; this time we were nearer home, looking at that very peculiar Occidental phenomenon, The Eurovision Song Contest.

Kiev - 13 May

The contest’s final will take place this year on May 13th in Kiev. Professor Scott opened with some musings on whether Brexit will affect voting patterns, and whether Russia, whose entry has been refused by Ukraine, will make a fuss. 'It’s so unpolitical' he said with jocular irony.

Indeed, this was a jocular talk, but, as one would expect from a professor of critical musicology, one that was underlain with some serious analysis and questioning. How often does a country’s indigenous music influence its entry? Has a European style developed? What are the key ingredients that are likely to ensure success?

National styles not represented

Professor Scott thought that national styles were not significantly represented. Swiss singers do not yodel. In 1972, Luxembourg won with a French song sung by a Greek, and in 1978 they were represented by a Spanish duo singing in French. Many entries now are in English.


Perhaps this international blending is what Eurovision is all about. After all, the EU’s adopted motto is ‘Unity in Diversity’.  However, in 1990 the Italian entry, ‘Insieme’, though sung in Italian, had a chorus of ‘Unite, unite Europe!’ sung in English at a time when the UK was agitating about the upcoming Maastricht Treaty!


But what are the characteristics of euro-pop? ‘Easy Listening’ is the predominant style – an urban entertainment representing ‘freshly-minted traditionalism’. 

Popular songs are likely to fall into one of four categories. 

Enjoy life songs

‘Enjoy Life’, featuring songs like ‘Congratulations’, ‘J’Aime la Vie’ or Germany’s 1987 entry ‘Let the Sun into Your Heart’.  These songs invariably have a strong 2 or 4 beat rhythm.

Public space songs

Then there is the oddly named ‘Public Spaces for Leisuretime Pleasure’ category. Professor Scott mentioned such classics as ‘Cinéma’, the Swiss 1980 entry placed 4th, or Germany’s magnificent ‘Theater’ that was placed 2nd the same year.

Hint of fairground songs

There is a particular European fondness for songs that hint of the fairground containing musical devices that suggest mechanical movement. ‘Puppet on a String’ and ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ are obvious examples, and that lesser known German entry in 1962, ‘Zwei Kleine Italiener’.

Quasi sacred songs

Category 3 might be described as ‘Quasi-Sacred, with Secular and Light Political Overtones’ such as Katrina and the Waves’ winning number ‘Love Shine a Light’. The use of the tambourine and the gospel descanter are also popular elements in such songs.

Onomatopoeia songs

And finally, the tremendous world of ‘Visceral Onomatopoeia’ which must include refrains ‘free from linguistic restraint’ such as ‘boum bang-a-boum’, its variation ‘boom-bang-a-bang ‘,‘ding a dong’, and perhaps the mother of them all ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ Finland’s bizarre 2006 winner. 

Less notable was Spain’s ‘La La La’ which won in 1968 when Cliff Richard was pipped by General Franco’s bribed juries. (Remember, ‘It’s so unpolitical’!)  Though the phenomenon of countries voting for each other can perhaps be explained by expat populations, which is why, for example, Germany often supports Turkey so strongly.

Repetition and catchy tunes

What else do composers of Eurowinners need to look out for? The obvious one is the AABA structure: catchy tune, repeat it, have a variation, then repeat it again. If that can include a key shift upwards to reinforce the emotional sincerity of the song, all well and good. 

A happy tone, a party mood, a major key, a solo and a duet, a 2 or 4 beat rhythm, a tempo that is fast but not too fast, and a catchy refrain are other things to include.

To illustrate this, Professor Scott had written us his own Eurovision entry. With lyrics that probably categorised it as ‘Quasi-Sacred’, and illustrating ‘Unity in Diversity’, we listened enthusiastically to ‘Be Nice to Nice People (Be Rude to Rude People)’.  Surely, we were thinking, this would have had a better chance than Jemini or Joe and Jake?

Ernie Rogan thanked Professor Scott for his illuminating and entertaining talk describing him as ‘an upmarket Terry Wogan’. Certainly, the 130 members attending enjoyed an afternoon full of Woganesque humour and intelligibly presented academic analysis. Perfect!

The Coffee Club

Our monthly Groups’ Showcase starred The Coffee Club convened by Jean Pearson. 

Jean spoke about it as the brainchild of Ahmed Commis, and emphasised its value as an informal opportunity for a meeting of minds. Conversation is about learning and friendship, and embraces the international, the national and the parochial. The club’s strength is perhaps that it has no formal agenda, so every meeting is a surprise.

Next meeting

Meetings take place in the upper room of the Polished Knob opposite Todmorden Market on, usually, the first Monday of the month at 11.00. 

Todmorden U3A’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, 18th May in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45 which will feature the return of Bernard Lockett whose subject will be ‘The Social and Political Satire of Gilbert and Sullivan’. 


Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk or (phone) 01706 839175.

Many thanks to Anthony Peter for this report


Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

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