The CD trail

Times three

This is an article originally written for BBC Radio 4 by me Geoff Harrison, and reproduced here in the hope it will amuse. There's some artistic license in it.

There's also some great snaps from my album for 1999.

(Picture: Times Three for Malta >)

I've been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest since 1967 when Sandie Shaw won with "Puppet on a String". But I never thought of being at the show until 1992 when I found the number of the venue, bought a ticket, and was there in Malmo, and I've been going to the show ever since.

You'll be wondering why anyone would be a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, but if you think about it, there's nothing like it for glitter and glamour.

Countries from all over Europe send their best songs and performers into musical competition, and if you don't like one song, you'll surely love another.

For us fans being here is the culmination of months of study and debate. Lithuania started the ball rolling this year when its song. "The Thrush" was chosen in December. Then there was Estonia, Cyprus, Sweden, and the rest - each one producing a flurry of messages on the Internet, swapping of videotapes, and satellite viewing of the prized few selections we can watch live.

The suddenly, you're here in Jerusalem in the middle of it all with the golden ticket - a press pass.

Now you can watch the rehearsals and see how your favourite song is shaping up, surprise the singers with snippets of their buried history, and get to the parties and the all-important CDs.

For the true fan only a full set will do. It's a little easier this year - only 23 instead of 25 last year, but still tough - I'm still short of four, but since nobody here has France, its really only three, but I still need France.

Notes are compared on the strike rate, methods and CD score, with "Did you get Lithuania?" being the most common question this year.

There are seven basic techniques to get a CD.

Number one is to buy the CD, and through contacts there is much furious swapping by mail, but some are never on sale, and for those attending the show, buying the CD is against the rules of the game.

(< Picture: Sweden's Charlotte Nilsson before the win, pictured in the foyer of the Crown Plaza Hotel)

Method two is to find a CD in your pigeonhole presumably dropped by a good fairy from one of the delegations. This is so rare as to be considered manna from heaven, but this year everyone got a Surpriz CD. Surpriz was the name of the German group, who were actually Turkish - confusing isn't it?

Method three is to be at the performer's press conference and storm the tiny box of CDs handed out at the end. Sometimes the unfortunate holding the box finds himself in the middle of rugby scrum, especially if the CD is never released, like Turkey's, or the fan's favourite - this year Iceland. It helps if you know the man handing out the CDs - Alp from Turkey passed me one directly - "Here's one for you Geoff", to the indignation of the rest.

Some countries use the lure of a party with a CD attached, and this is method four.

This is another kind of manna from heaven. You scuttle across Jerusalem from one party to another, drink the beer, eat the food, listen to the artist sing live, pick up the CD, and onto the next party in a series of taxis. You need never buy food, as long as the supply of parties holds out, which is just as well, as getting to all the Press Conferences, rehearsals, and photo opportunities leaves little time for anything else. Thursday is always richest in parties, this year The Netherlands followed by Iceland, and then Norway, but this was light - some years there have been five in a row.

If you haven't got your prized CD now, either because they ran out, or you missed the conference by taking an official tour of the city, then method five is for you.

DorisWander around the hotel of your target until you find someone from his or her team, and tell them how great the song is, and, if you're lucky, a CD will come out of a bag or pocket. This works a lot better if you're with a well-known journalist, as I found on Monday at the opening party, but it works often enough, and you can sometimes get a bonus picture of the star eating a pizza.

(Picture: Doris representing Croatia >)

For method seven you have to wait until the very end. The Terry Wogans of Europe are not all avid collectors, yet rare CDs are given to them, and sometimes left behind. This is how I got Turkey in 1997.

Other fans are on their own special quests - the autographs in the official programme, the photo with the star, and there are even a few would-be groupies.

Then there's the quest for the post event party ticket, although in the past gatecrashing has worked for me twice. This year they've spoiled that one - we got one in our welcome pack, and then this year there's the quest for the ticket for the night, but that's another story.

Our favourite this year was "All out of luck" sung by Selma from Iceland, but we almost always get it wrong - after all our musical taste is different - but whoever wins is not all that important. All it does is determine the place where next year's unique working holiday will be held.

So it's Shalom from Geoff Harrison here in Jerusalem, Israel

©G Harrison 1999 All rights reserved