Music and memories -
Hey Hi Hello by Annie Nightingale
As a dj and broadcaster on radio, tv and the live music scene, Annie Nightingale has always been in tune with the nation's taste, and in her new memoir Hey Hi Hello she digs deep into her crate of memories, experiences and encounters to deliver an account of a life lived on the frontiers of pop cultural innovation. Littered with names and events you'll be oh-so familiar with, this is a candid and warm memoir, and sure to be on the wish list of many music-lovers.
Here you can read an exclusive extract
Song Contest, Anyone?
Put on your own song festival ? Well, why not ? A competition to see who can write and arrange the best song, words and music, with a star to sing it, a clutch of musical experts to judge ?
Eurovision had been going since 1956, really an exercise in overseas outside-broadcasting skill and panache, among the EBU (European Broadcast Union) countries. Their theme or signature tune has always sounded like some creaky Ruritanian national anthem. Fill of pomp and self-importance, and very, very dated. But kinda cutesy quaint at the same time.
The idea had begun inspired in Italy, ‘land of song’, especially popular in the 1950s with ‘Volare’, and Americanised versions such as ‘Ciao, ciao bambina’. Italy still has a pop chart with more indigenous hits than any other European country.
It all began with a song festival in Sorrento. And another, further north in San Remo, a seaside town on the Riviera near to the French border, where their song festival continues to this day.
I’d been sent to San Remo in my early days as a TV presenter, the year that Dusty Springfield took part. I met and was photographed with almost all the international stars taking part, from Gene Pitney to Petula Clark and Timi Yuro. The event was really for the benefit of songwriters and music publishers, to sell their wares, as much as for the stars who sang the songs.
So . . . thought Associated-Rediffusion, the TV company that had created Ready Steady Go ! . . . let’s do our own version, a British song festival, right here in the UK, on ITV (as the BBC has the rights to broadcast the Eurovision version).
And it was decided that the British Song Festival would be held in my adopted hometown of Brighton.
It was, it’s safe to say, an unmitigated disaster.
Rules of entry got, er, bent, so that one song had already been performed in public. The event had been organised by middle-aged music publishers, hoping to have winning hits with old-fashioned ballads. But the teenage audience were more into screaming for the then pop heartthrobs such as Billy J. Kramer (of the Dakotas) and Paul Jones of Manfred Mann.
I was a co-host but was always unclear what my role was to be. Actually no one had any idea what anyone else was supposed to be doing. It was live and had never been attempted before.
I shared a dressing room with Marianne Faithfull, though hardly saw her there at all. She was newly pregnant and being hotly pursued by the intrepid Daily Express showbiz reporter Judith Simons, known to all as Fag Ash Lil on account of her equally intrepid chain-smoking habit. There was a drama a day, with tantrums, storm-outs and disqualifications.
I had to make a ‘promo film’ trailer for the event to camera, poised aboard Volk’s Electric Railway, clattering along on the beach front in a bright-yellow painted miniature train that ran – still does – a mile from Black Rock to the Aquarium and Palace Pier. I had to deliver my lines between stops, no retakes possible, and could not screw up.
I did photo shoots on the beach in a navy bikini, and more in front of the Royal Pavilion. I’d been lent a very glam sugar-pink evening gown with sequin top to wear for the final. I had my picture taken with Lulu, one of the participants. Lulu’s song was announced the winner. Then was . . . unannounced. There had been a mix-up. Sorry folks. Sorry Lulu, there’s been a mistake. You are not the winner. The proper winner was adjudged to be a song sung by Kenny Lynch. All this confusion unfolding on live TV.
The world’s press was there. Variety, the US showbiz bible, attended, and delivered its career-killing line about my televisual delivery, ‘The girl’s a looker but not a sayer.’ You never ever forget reviews like that. I rather hoped they were reviewing the dress, not me. But I’m sure my part in it all was abysmal. The British Song Festival was a write-off.
It never happened again.
Except . . . it sort of did. Nine years later, in the early seventies, the actual, actual real Eurovision Song Contest came to Brighton, to the same venue. I was not taking part and very relieved not to be. But I was busily involved, meeting the publishers, mingling with the managers. Hearing the songs, interviewing the singers. Who came from myriad counties, with myriad customs and taste and appearances. Eurovision had had to break its rule that the winning county must host the following year’s contest. Luxembourg had won two years in a row. Said they didn’t have the cash to put on the event yet again.
It was all nearly as bizarre then as it is now. As the UK representative chanteuse, we had Olivia Newton-John, who had lived most of her life in Australia. Israel, geographically challenged as a country actually in Europe, situated as it is in the near Middle East, took part. (But then Australia, the other side of the planet from Europe, is now included. Go figure, it’s all part of Eurovision’s delightful eccentricity.)
Even so, it was bewildering to behold the Yugoslav entry called ‘Moja Generacija’, a Serbo-Croatian creation and composition. No, not a cover version of the Who’s ‘My Generation’. I met, interviewed and misunderstood the author. Also another entrant, an unknown singing group. They wore knickerbockers and weird little hats.
I mostly likely thought that the UK had it in the bag, with our international superstar rep Olivia Neutron-Bomb.
I told the rather out-of-touch-looking knickerbocker group, in as loftily kindly a way as possible, not to get their hopes up. They didn’t stand a chance.
The UK host nation jury concurred. Awarded them NUL points.
They represented Sweden.
They’ve sold, since, 385 million records.
They were . . .
Annie Nightingale CBE is Britain's first female DJ, and longest serving broadcaster on BBC Radio 1. She celebrated her 50th anniversary in 2020. Her radio shows are listed among 50 cultural highlights by the Observer critics' panel, March 2020. A presenter, documentarian and journalist, she was the sole anchor of BBC's music TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test and associated TV programmes for 11 years during 1970s and 80s. Her previous published memoirs are Chase The Fade (1982) and Wicked Speed (2000). As well as touring the world as a live DJ, she has also released music compilation collections, including Annie On One (Heavenly) and Masterpiece (Ministry Of Sound). Annie was born in South West London and lives in West London.
Author Photo © Anya Campbell