In 1976 Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest with Save Your Kisses For Me. The song went on to be one of the biggest selling records of all time. It was number one in 33 different countries including the U.K. where it held the top spot for six weeks. With this year's Eurovision coming up on 14 May, M has caught up with Martin Lee, who co-wrote the song with fellow band member Lee Sheriden, along with Tony Hiller.
You’re featuring quite prominently on the Top of the Pops reruns at the moment (BBC4 has started repeating the archive of old editions, episode by episode).
Yes we are! – Well, 1976 was our year. Of all the years they could have picked to start with it was the best one, wasn’t it? The year of great sunshine. Any television exposure/publicity is great. It just keeps you in the mind of the public.
You’ve got the same line-up as you did back then, too…what’s the secret to your longevity?
We’ve been together for 40 years, which is what excites people more than anything. We just enjoy each other’s company – we always have. We have a lot of fun with each other and on stage.
So how did you get to perform at Eurovision?
In those days, the “Song for Europe” song used to be selected from a choice of songs performed by one artist like Cliff Richard/The Shadows/Lulu, and the format was getting a bit tired. I used to sit on the committee that chose the songs that would get performed by the artist. In 1976 they changed this - instead of one person singing all the songs, each writer who sat on the committee was able to nominate an artist to compete. So, we nominated our bands, and my band was Brotherhood of Man. We’d had a couple of hits already: Kiss Me Kiss Your Baby, United We Stand… but Save Your Kisses For Me was the one that went through the roof.
We won by just two points. We were up against a London band, Co-Co, and the London vote was still due to come in, so we thought we would miss out. But we won… and got the chance to compete against 18 other countries at Eurovision, at the Hague in Holland. It was fun, there was quite a lot of camaraderie – there wasn’t so much of the political side as there is now. It was more about the song.
What was like going on Eurovision?
The nerves were phenomenal; I was shaking like a leaf. We were first on, which is usually a disadvantage. But we thought, we’ve just got to put on a great performance so the audience doesn’t forget us. Lucky for us they didn’t!
How did you go about writing Save Your Kisses For Me?
Lee and I had been writing together for a while. We thought, if we’re going to put a song in the Eurovision song contest, it has to appeal to everybody. So we started off by just bouncing a few ideas around. Lee came up with the riff to get the song going, and then we tried to think of a subject for the song. What appeals to everybody? Animals? Children? The mood of the song dictated the route it should take, so we decided that it would be about a child.
You’ve won a few Ivors in your time too haven’t you?
We won three out of the four awards that were given out – Most Performed Work, International Hit of the Year, and Best Selling British Single. Elton John won the fourth Ivor. In 1976 ours was the only platinum-selling single in the charts. We held off several major bands from the top spot, like Queen, Abba, The Beatles… We almost received another Ivor the following year for Angelo.
You’ve also won another award - a Guinness World Record, no less!
Yes! They got in touch and informed us that we’re the biggest selling Eurovision winner of all time, and they gave us a Gold disc. We also hold the record for the biggest majority of votes – we received 169. These days winners can receive as many as 300 votes, but that’s because so many more countries compete now.
What do you think of this year’s entry, by Blue?
We sent them a good luck message. I think they’ve got a good chance. I think they should get into the top ten, although I haven’t heard the rest of the entries. The most important thing is that the band is known. Andrew Lloyd Webber knew that, which is why he made sure that [Jade Ewen] toured Europe with the song, so people got to know her and she got into the top five. She would have been way down the list if they haven’t done that. It’s the biggest music competition in the world - all the acts are already known to Europe, with multi-selling albums and tours. Blue stand a very good chance because they are also already known.
What Eurovision songs have stood out for you over the years and why?
I knew Johnny Logan (Ireland, 1980 & 1987) would win. Also the guy who sang “Fairytale” and played the violin (Alexander Rybak, Norway, 2009). As soon as he came on I knew he’d win. He really sold the song. Lordi (Finland, 2006) was totally different and outrageous so you knew that they had a good chance. The song needs to have something well-known about it, or a gimmick that appeals to people. ABBA was different; they were the first band to dress up. And then we came along, and we did a choreographed routine, which nobody had ever done before. Performers used to stand still.
How did the choreography come about?
Guy Ludman, who used to work on children's TV, taught us that routine. When he taught it to us we just said, ‘Forget it - we’re singers not dancers.’ But he insisted, so we rehearsed it for weeks until we could do it in our sleep. We do a shorter version in our shows these days.
What are you up to these days?
We’re booked up with gigs right into 2012. Our audience ranges from 3 to 93! This is what fascinates us – many people who come to our shows weren’t even born when we had our hits yet they know the songs – it astounds and humbles us to see them there, singing along. We have a whole mixture coming in. We’re still enjoying it, still love it. People send us photos, we’re in touch with our fans on Facebook and we’re still having fun, after 40 years…we must be mad!
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