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John Kennedy Oâ??Connor (â??ESC: The Official Historyâ?�) - Interview

Posted by Eurovision On Top on May 9, 2010 at 8:10 AM


“Azerbaijan or Armenia are the most likely winners”


John Kennedy O’Connor is the Author of “The Eurovision Song Contest: The Official History”*. We had a brief talk with the author of the book about the new edition, the contest and this year’s event. The new edition is now out.


- How did you decide to write a book about the Eurovision Song Contest?


It was something I'd wanted to do for a long time. I've been a fan of the contest for as long as I can remember and I was disappointed by the very few texts that had ever been done about the show. Nothing ever seemed to cover the backstage story or what happened after the contest. I wanted to cover all of that if I could. I never thought it would be an "official" book, but of course, I was thrilled when it got sponsored by the EBU. I actually completed the first draft around 2000/2001, but it took until the approaching 50th Anniversary in 2004 for the EBU and the publishing world to get behind the idea and get a book out for the 50th contest in Kyiv. Of course, sadly, the original draft had to be cut considerably to make it a viable, commercial book. Lots of things I'd written and wanted to see included had to be cut back, otherwise the book might just have appealed to fans and nobody else. And that wouldn't have been good! But hopefully as much as the background story to the contest as possible was retained.


- The first edition was 6 years ago, were you expecting such a big success?


I wasn't! I didn't think it would be published so widely. Although I'm an American, I was born and raised in the UK of Anglo-Irish heritage and so I hoped the book would get a UK/Ireland release in English. I didn't see it going beyond that market initially. Partially because different countries and cultures have so very different views on the contest. The fact that it became the EBU's official book on Eurovision and was released all around the world and is regularly updated was not something I'd initially expected but I was very happy about. Although that did mean the text became a little more "generic" as it had to appeal to every market. Also, much of the humour I put in had to be removed as that would seem odd to non-English readers.


“I keep hoping every year that a new country will win…”


- In how many languages and countries is the book released?


So far, the book has been published four times in English, plus there have been Dutch, French, German, Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Russian editions. There was also an Australian edition, which although the same text as the English edition, it did have it's own cover design. All the different covers are on my FaceBook page for fans to see. I'm quite disappointed that the planned Norwegian edition didn't happen this year. I am not sure of the reasons that it fell through, but it seems a shame. I keep hoping every year that a new country will win so the book may get another unique edition.


- In the first edition, the book didn’t include semifinals. Will you include it now?


The first edition covered everything up until 2004 and at that time, the concept of the qualifying rounds weren't really firmly established. I covered the semi-finals in the text for the three relevant chapters, but we simply didn't have the room to include the detailed results. In subsequent editions, we were able to expand the page count, drop the index and cover more of the "facts and figures" of the contest history and include a detailed section on the semi-finals with all the results. You'll find all the results from the qualifiers and semi-finals in the new edition.


- Is it easy to collect the information you need, specially the older one?


Ha! No! I've been caught out in a few bad mistakes due to the correct information being unavailable. A huge error made was in the 1971 chapter thanks to a bad video I was given by the EBU! It had been edited and no longer had the reprise or the closing titles, but I didn't know that. When I checked to make sure the video was intact and was how the show had been originally broadcast, I was told by the EBU that it was! But it wasn't! I got a lot of stick over that. I've now made sure that things like that were corrected and hopefully some of the other minor mistakes in typography and formatting have also been amended. I'm actually very happy that the new edition is error free! Although having said that, I'm sure there are some fans that will still take issue with things I've written. I was very grateful to some great Eurovision fans who helped me compile the statistics and voting history for the contest and who gave me loads of videos and audio tapes. They were great help.


“I would like to see the Big Four putting more effort into sending big talent”


- More than 50 years… and so many changes. How do you see the future of the contest?


The contest isn't recognizable now from what it was in its early days. I'm not even sure that it's recognizable to how it was ten years ago. It's changed so much. I just saw a TV interview with Sandie Shaw where she said it has got worse! I actually think it's got better. For me, Moscow 2009 was the best contest ever. The highest standard of songs I've ever heard in the contest and the most amazing production. But having said that, I think Belgrade 2008 was the worst ever! So you never know what you're going to get. The size of the contest has made it harder to follow and harder to judge in some respects, because there are just so many songs. Whereas I know all the songs from the 50s to the 90s, I find it hard to remember the songs from the last few years! The contest will continue to thrive, but I hope it will become relevant to the music industry again, as it used to be. Now it is just a huge, wonderful event that has little significance beyond itself. If there could be another Waterloo or another Abba, then I think it would bring the contest back into a different realm once again. Fairytale showed that there's still an appetite for a Eurovision winner in the recording biz. An even bigger hit and a sustained, global career for the winner would be great for the contest. I would like to see the Big Four putting more effort into sending big talent. If they do, then others will follow their lead. I personally don't like that Eurovision has become a talent show for newcomers. I'd like to see the contest filled with big, established stars again. That can only help it thrive.


- As an expert of Eurovision, who do you think will win this year?


LOL! I am a writer and historian who knows a lot about the contest. I don't consider myself an expert. But I do OK at picking the winner. Although last year, whereas I thought Norway would probably win, I expected the result to be much, much closer! So I guess I'm just as fallible as guessing the winner as anyone else. So far, I've only heard the 39 2010 entries. I've not seen very many of them yet. And that makes a big difference. But based on what I've heard, I'd say Azerbaijan or Armenia are the most likely winners. I also have a feeling Ireland could do very, very well indeed. My random outside pick would be Russia. My personal favourite so far is Switzerland; and I'm pretty sure they won't qualify! One of the things that has made predicting harder is not knowing the final running order. That does have an impact for sure.


Thanks John! All the best for your work!


* Where to buy? or photographer Mark Weeks

Categories: Interviews, Special Report, UK

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