Eddie Docherty recounts his vain attempts to score for Scotland
For years I was content to watch the Eurovision Song Contest on TV with mates, getting drunk and slaughtering each of the acts. (Think of the acclaim a stag party including Jeremy Clarkson and Nigel Farage would give a teenage Morrissey after reciting a poem about his kitten…. “oooo the whittle pussy woosy needs wuv and milk….” Cue bellicose braying.)
But in 2013 I realised spectating wasn’t enough and I wanted to be part of the freak show. Despite a BBC selection format which didn’t actually allow submissions, I decided I would write a song and send it to auntie whether she wanted it or not.
It’s the perfect time to do so because while the UK was impressive in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, it’s been dire since the late 90s – a bit like the Scotland football team. In the event’s first 20 years, the UK finished in the top four on all but two occasions. In the last 20, that’s happened only three times. Since 2003 – when Jemini spectacularly tanked with no points – the UK song has been in the bottom five on eight occasions….and Berti Vogts never wrote one of them…
I enlisted the services of an unwitting musician mate, Jamie, who hates Eurovision and whose musical tastes are leftfield to say the least. On the day I pluck the courage to ask for help, I arrive to find he’s recording the workers and machinery renovating his flat for a ‘piece’ he’s planning. With musical tastes that are avant-garde with a frisson of ‘security guard’, I’m on my guard when I ask: “Fancy writing a song for Eurovision?” Miraculously he agrees.
We begin by trying to ascertain if there’s a Eurovision formula. ‘Research’ reveals we need a female singer – 24 winners. Wear white – seven, more than any other colour, and perform bare foot – five. A professor of critical musicology at the University of Leeds’ School of Music wrote a tune in 2011 based on his identified formula that songs should have a “serious political and moral message guaranteed not to offend anyone”. He called his ‘Be Nice to Nice People’.
We ditch the science and focus on a melody.
One evening practising guitar I stumble on one which I play over a 120 disco drumbeat I’ve googled and Jamie adds a funky bass line.
But what should it be about? Going through airport security like the UK’s in 2007? Hydroelectric power station construction like Norway’s in 1980? Genghis Khan like West Germany’s in 1979? Maybe not.
It’s now spring 2014 and Scotland is in the grip of independence referendum fever. As a couple of lefties planning to vote yes, we decide to use Eurovision to bring down Britain – ‘Anarchy from the UK’ if you like – and with Westminster in mind, pen lyrics about a woman leaving her partner because they’ve changed for the worst. Reading them back, it’s a kind of smart price ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor.
With a hook which goes ‘Liar Liar’ I call it ‘Pants on Fire’.
Despite our best efforts, it becomes clear our subversive anthem won’t be ready and we mothball it. The 2014 and 2015 events come and go and Scotland votes no – damn, if only the people of Morningside had heard it.
It’s with much excitement in September 2015 that I learn the BBC is inviting submissions for the 2016 event! Acts are to film themselves performing live and a panel will pick the best six for the public to decide.
Pants on Fire is fished from the depths of the musical linen basket and re-laundered.
We need to record it and like many people, I’d rather have an appointment with a drunken dentist than sing. However, I have a go and do it with all the conviction and self-belief of a spotty, shy schoolboy asking the hottest girl in the year out for a date. Mumbled and evasive do not begin to describe my efforts.
Another problem. We can’t use the downloaded drumbeat as it would breach copyright. An opportunity to rectify this emerges when Jamie out walking his dog, hears drumming from the front room of a house. Walking past, he glances and sees a middle aged man beating along to ACDC.
It’s with some trepidation a week later that we darken his door – how do you begin to explain to a complete stranger that you want him to play on your Eurovision song?
Roy is not only remarkably polite but programmes four different beats for us which Jamie layers to make one ‘superbeat’. But we still need a singer.
I ask a friend who’s an actual proper singer – Lorraine’s sung on a Stevie Jackson of Belle and Sebastian album. She seems genuinely delighted to help until she hears the version with me singing and with a curled lip, agrees.
The only time the three of us can get together – Jamie and Lorraine haven’t even met – is deadline day and I book a studio for the video.
We also don’t have a name and I call the band ‘The Bearded Kings of France’ a title stolen from a student pub quiz team in Edinburgh.
Lorraine arrives with her seven year old daughter Patti who she’s taking swimming in an hour. So after quick introductions, Patti is given protective head phones and sits behind us to do her homework – or so we thought.
Before recording, me and Jamie embrace the Eurovision spirit and dress for the occasion. I opt for subtly in the shape of a red neck scarf – I’ve always had a penchant for cabin crew chic. Jamie doesn’t and emerges from behind an amp wearing an old lady’s dress, a grey wig and a pair of dark sunglasses looking like a woman’s rural biker gang member.
We record five versions before Lorraine has to leave. Reviewing them reveals the real star. Unbeknown to us while performing, Patti has been interpreting the song behind our backs. We’ve been upstaged by a seven-year-old.
Despite this, I pick a version, upload it and the wait begins.
For many, Euro rejection comes in the shape of ‘nil point’ from Azerbaijan in front of 200 million TV viewers. Mine came via a polite BBC email effectively telling me Pants on Fire was… well the lingerie equivalent of a pair of men’s briefs emblazoned with ‘contains lethal package’ on the front.
The deflation was only compounded when I watched the six tunes preferred to ‘Pants’ – okay, I did tap my feet to Joe and Jake, the eventually UK entry.
So alas, this Saturday it’ll be back on the couch with mates, wine and insults.
But I’ll continue to dream that one day…. I’ll be the one on the receiving end…