Saturday 22 October 2016

Radio review: Songs in the key of surreality

Molly Sterling with Marty Whelan and Niamh Kavanagh in Vienna
Molly Sterling with Marty Whelan and Niamh Kavanagh in Vienna

It’s ridiculously real,” said Molly Sterling on Friday’s The Ray D’Arcy Show. “It’s so real that it’s surreal.”

She was expressing the surreality of being an agog teenager, freshly landed in Eurovision la-la land. And articulating what it must feel like to be through that looking glass, over that rainbow, and very definitely not in Kansas, or Puckane, anymore.

She probably won’t win the ‘coveted’ glass microphone (or whatever it is) on Saturday night. She may not even escape the clutches of the semi-final. But douze pois for “so real that it’s surreal”. A spot-on summing-up of everyone’s favourite annual juggernaut of delightful absurdity and (occasionally) endearing naffness.

Judged purely on local radio minutes, the build-up to this year’s competition has been relatively low-key (as relatively low-key as Sterling’s own entry). Perhaps it’s just one of those years of relative low-keyness that the Eurovision occasionally settles into (before cartwheeling back into its default attitude of pyrotechnic ridiculousness). Or maybe there’s the small matter of something rather bigger scheduled for the same day.

“There are two big things happening this Friday,” confirmed Neil Delamere on Sunday, for the benefit of those who’d been living under a rock. Inside a volcano. On Venus.

If that’s where you’ve recently been hiding yourself then I’d better add that Delamere added that “the first is the same-sex marriage referendum, and the other one is the Eurovision”.

“In other words,” he said, “it’s a big weekend for the gay community.”

David Blake Knox, formerly head of entertainment at RTE, was Delamere’s guest on Neil Delamere’s Sunday Best (which is — as you may have gathered — a radio show, presented by Neil Delamere, that airs on Sundays).

Knox was in studio to plug his new book — the succinctly titled Ireland and the Eurovision — and to discuss the “LGBT appeal” of the competition, plus “other aspects of the Eurovision that [we] might find interesting and surprising”.

What followed wasn’t especially surprising, but it was far from uninteresting. And Delamere, to his credit, played the whole thing commendably straight (if that’s the mot juste).

“From a very early stage,” said Knox (addressing the question of “LGBT appeal”), “the Eurovision appealed to a lot of camp tastes... there was a lot of frivolity, heightened emotion... a lot of heartbreak”.

But more than that, Knox suggested, the show featured, from its earliest days, “performers who were openly gay... at a time when that was... very unusual... in European broadcasting”.

Knox described the competition’s inception (in 1956) as, primarily, “an attempt to heal the wounds of World War II”, but added that there was “another subtext” (a reactionary one).

“Rock ‘n’ roll was just beginning to impact on Europe,” he said, and “it was thought that the musical traditions of Europe needed support to withstand this... onslaught.”

“So it was a bulwark against the impending American imperialism on the culture,” said Delamere. “That hasn’t really worked out so much, has it?”

“Not so much,” chuckled Knox as talk moved on to the European Broadcastinmg Union’s “liberal” interpretation of the idea of “Europe” (see Australia for details) and Ireland’s fluctuating Eurovision fortunes.

“It cannot be ignored,” Delamere concluded, of the whole phenomenon. And what mean spirit would want to ignore it?

So real that it’s surreal? Wunderbar! Bring it on.

The Ray D'Arcy Show, RTE Radio1, Weekdays

Neil Delamere's Sunday Best, Today FM, Sunday

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