Engelbert Humperdinck's Plan To Transcend The Eurovision Song Competition
Englebert Humperdinck, 76, is the U.K.'s Eurovision Song Contest entrant and the competition's oldest male .
The 57th annual Eurovision Song Contest's grand finale takes place this year on May 26 in Baku Azerbaijan. Televoters and a professional jury in each country have a 50% stake in the outcome, which will be broadcast in all 42 participating European countries. Sounds like a good thing for any artist to be involved in, right?
Yet the competition has had such a hit-and-miss appeal in the U.K. over the last few years that it's hard to predict what U.K. viewing figures will be and even harder to tell which act would willingly volunteer for the top honors.
For some British artists it can be a career-maker, for others it's a negative association that follows them around like a bad smell. The U.K. has always been patchy with its entries (which are now chosen by the BBC), swinging from unknowns (Bucks Fizz, created especially for the competition in 1981) through chart-toppers (successful British boyband Blue in 2011 - who came 11th) to, this year, legendary singers (the competition's oldest male entrant Engelbert Humperdinck). Sometimes the U.K. gets it right; Katrina And The Waves won in 1997 with "Love Shine A Light" and went on to sell 178,000 singles, according to the Official Charts Company. And sometimes it gets it completely wrong; who could forget 2003's hapless "nul points" duo Jemini, who became the laughing stock of the British media? So, what's its problem?
Graham Stokes is managing director of Conehead, Engelbert Humperdinck's label. He thinks part of the problem is that the major labels just don't get behind the competition. "There's a certain sniffiness about it. It's like they have learned nothing from Simon Cowell about what TV does for artists." Humperdinck needs little help when it comes to audience or record sales and has (according to SoundScan figures) sold 2.2 million units since SoundScan started tracking. But, says, Stokes, the opportunity to broadcast to such a huge audience wasn't to be sniffed at.
Humperdinck's entry, "Love Will Set You Free," (Conehead) was written by Grammy award-winning producer Martin Terefe (won for songs produced for Jason Mraz) and Ivor Novello winner Sacha Skarbek and released in the U.K. on May 7.
This year, says Stokes, Humperdinck has the added bonus of his mainland Europe audience already watching. In the last two years, Stokes says he has played in a third of all participating countries even performing a concert in Latvia last year which drew 18 million TV viewers. "It's the music equivalent of the Olympic Games and the day we announced the entry, Engelbert was trending No. 3 worldwide on Twitter and his Amazon album sales rocketed."
Jon Ola Sand is ESC executive supervisor. He says, "Last year almost 100 million people tuned in to see the three shows live or deferred. In the U.K. alone more than 9.6 million watched the grand final."
Sand says he expects similar viewing figures this year but it depends on which participants make it to the grand final (if major countries are eliminated, viewing figures can be lower).
All the 42 participating counties will broadcast the shows but the contest is also on air in New Zealand and Australia. Says Sand, "This year we have also received requests from major networks in China and Brazil."
The contest can certainly be a double-edged sword, says Sand, "if you perform well and have a good song, the effect can be very positive but if you don't perform well, it can have a negative effect due to the fact that so many people have seen it."
Singer Bobby G is part of Bucks Fizz, who won the competition in 1981 with "Making Your Mind Up" (the one where the skirts came off). The band was put together for the competition. "We really thought it would be a one-off," G laughs, "I was in Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End and it was simply something to do before going out on tour." But they won, and with it a five-year record deal with RCA. Says G, "Being a UK act we had success in Australia and New Zealand too. It really led to a worldwide popularity. Our biggest territory was still the U.K. as we were easily able to tour." The band went on to release 23 singles in the U.K. and have three number ones. They are still performing as Bucks Fizz and The Original Bucks Fizz after a dispute.
Making it big in America due to Eurovision alone doesn't often happen. But, says Sand, it is possible. "In 1958, the Italian entry 'Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare)' spent five non-consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and was Billboard's number-one single for the year; Modugno's recording subsequently became the first Grammy winner for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1958 and of course, in 1974 ABBA made a major breakthrough with their ESC performance "Waterloo"."
Humperdinck has already seen renewed interest in his work and, as well as a new Conehead release in the summer (of as-yet-unnamed duets) is working with Decca on a new greatest hits package released on May 14. Says Decca's head of classics Mike Bartlett, "We'll be supporting the release in the UK with an extensive TV advertising campaign which will continue through the Eurovision final on May 26th."
Bartlett agrees that the competition is a great platform: "The album will have a presence in every one of the Eurovision markets, with all of the key digital and physical retailers. Within this there will be a substantial audience who remember the hits of the 1960s, but there is also potential for Engelbert to find a new, younger constituency."