Every May brings all of Europe together to share the experience of watching the small screen, just like we all used to do back in the day. Streaming TV services and watch on demand, mean that outside of sport, there are now just a few international events where half the globe shares the immediate experience.
Each May, the Champions League Final and the Eurovision Song Contest do just that. Back in the days of single channel land, the Eurovision and it’s clarion anthem were up there as part of our national jingoism; that and the Aga Khan and the Rose of of Tralee. But surprisingly, fast forward several decades, and the Eurovision is arguably bigger than it ever was, helped no doubt by the shared experience of social media.
However, it is hard to believe that a quarter century has passed since we last competed for the title. We are the Manchester United of Eurovision now, forced to live on past glories, harking back to the days when we were the top dog and it was up to others to challenge us for the titles.
This month 25 years ago, Marc Roberts was Ireland’s performer — and he delivered Mysterious Woman extremely well, securing a second place and a thrill that has not been replicated since.
Marc was perhaps unfortunate though in that he came up against what was probably the UK’s best entry since Bucks Fizz and Brotherhood of Man, and he was pipped at the post by the enigmatic Katrina and the Waves with their hummable and boppy Loves Shines A light.
Now, maybe there has been a sort of Mayo curse on Ireland since then. Maybe, some singers must have a passed a funeral and didn’t stop, because since then, Ireland has been operating in the doldrums, not even guaranteed a place in the final — Even tonight we have to hope that Brooke Scullion qualifies in the Thursday semifinal to guarantee us some shouting rights for this weekend.
Meeting fresh-faced Marc, it is hard to believe he was out of short pants a quarter century ago, never mind thrilling Eurovision viewers, but he looks back on it with great pride.
“Unbelievably so. It feels like yesterday and thankfully it’s all very vivid in my mind.”
It came at a time when Marc was a burgeoning singer songwriter, who has since then gone on to great success in Ireland and internationally.
“I had a record company interested in signing me and my publishing, but they were taking too long. When the opportunity arrived to sing Mysterious Woman, I grabbed it with both hands.
“At the very least it was going to be a high profile TV show, if the song got through to the National Song Contest. When the actual day of Eurovision arrived, I signed a five-album deal with the same record company and a publishing deal for my songwriting, that morning.
“So, at that point I was very happy. All I had to do then was come top three in the Eurovision to reap the rewards. A week after Eurovision, I was in London at the record company head office with a newly appointed PR company. TV shows with Davina McCall, Richard & Judy and Suggs from Madness followed.”
All heady stuff for the man from Crossmolina who has since made Galway his home.
The contest itself was surreal — He had rehearsed well and nothing was going to faze him, but what he hadn’t factored in was the massive reaction from the home crowd when he took to the stage.
“I can still see the glass stairs that I had to walk up to go on stage. About 10 people running with a grand piano in front of me to put it in place for the performance.
“Nobody prepared me for the reaction. Here we were the host country and the audience went crazy. We had the final dress rehearsal that morning. That’s the important one as it’s recorded live and broadcast simultaneously with the actual event that night. It’s also what all the juries vote on and make their decisions.
“After the dress rehearsal we went back to the hotel. I was wrecked so I went to bed for a lie down. I fell asleep and was awoken by a call from the manager of the hotel asking me if I’d like to share a customary glass of champagne with him and his staff before the bus left.
“I asked when the bus was leaving….’in ten minutes’ was the reply! I never got ready so quick in my life!
Has he happened upon Katrina and the Waves since?
“We follow each other on Twitter so we do DM from time to time. When she released a solo album, she got in touch and we played a few tunes from it on the ‘Feel Good Factor’.
“I honestly was afraid of coming second last, not second place, as we’d won Eurovision so many times in those days.
“People regularly say, if it was another year we would’ve won. I made a conscious decision not to listen to the other songs. My first time hearing the UK song properly was on the night.
“I knew when I heard it, it was a contender! When the voting started RTE set up the television cameras in front of our table and Katrina’s…….that’s when it started to get nerve wrecking.”
That night in 1997 was Ireland’s last best performance - where are we going wrong?
“I always feel people forget it’s a song contest! All you ever hear is ‘he’, ‘she’ ‘they’ would be great in Eurovision, when in actual fact what we need is a really good song. All of the songs that did well for us were not ‘Eurovision’ songs.
“They were just great songs and then they got a singer to interpret and sell the song. ‘Mysterious Woman’ is a country song. In the vein of a Garth Brooks’ song. It was written by John Farry who now manages Nathan Carter.”
Is it more than just about the voting structure?
“Absolutely! The block voting has been there forever! You know when you see Greece are up next, that they’ll give 12 to Cyprus etc. My year was the first year they used televoting. We gave UK 12 points and they gave us 12 in return.”
Marc’s Eurovision experience kickstarted a successful career in songwriting and broadcasting, and it is no surprose that he is still in great demand from top singers, such as Daniel O’Donnell, when it comes to recording exciting new works.
Lockdown was a terrifying time for everyone in the music industry, Marc included.
“Lockdown was scary for everyone, but for us in the music industry, it was very scary. The uncertainty of it all. Not knowing if and when we’d get to return to what we were put on this planet to do. We broadcast mass live on Galway bay fm every Sunday morning and I have to say singing at that helped a lot.
Did he fear that performance would never return?
“Like most people I was going from being confident it would, to having negative thoughts about the industry. The uncertainty of it all was very scary.
What is it like to be back performing on the road?
“Well, it certainly makes you appreciate every moment. It’s fantastic to be back on stage and the audiences are amazing. It’s time to start living again and appreciate the little things. Music is part of our soul,” he concluded.
On that vein, Marc is performing in Galway tomorrow night Friday May 13, making a welcome return to the Town Hall Theatre with his wonderful award winning show — ‘A Tribute To The Music Of John Denver’. Fans can relive the memories. Annie’s Song, Take Me Home Country Roads, Some Days Are Diamonds, Grandma’s Feather Bed and more. Tickets available From Theatre Box Office 091-569777 or through www.tht.ie