Ever wondered what sort of soul signs up to be Britain’s doomed entry for the Eurovision Song Contest?
Singer-songwriter Alex Larke was one half of Britain’s 2015 entry to the continent’s craziest music competition, as part of Electro Velvet.
The group’s electro swing single ‘Still In Love With You’ was torn apart by social media and described as ‘Nigel Farage’s ringtone’ by The Guardian.
At the finals itself, the song picked up five points and finished 24th overall.
We caught up with Alex to ask about the madness, the rehearsals and the politics which go into waving the Union Jack in front of millions of Europeans – and found out what you learn on that crazy road…
1. Accidents happen
“My involvement with the project was purely accidental. There was actually another guy who was singing, a guy called Ashley Slater who was in Freak Power in the ’90s. He had just been on The X-Factor with a girl who happened to be his wife and got a lot of stick from the panel. He didn’t really want to be seen with another girl on this kind of song, so he didn’t want to do it.
“The guy who was directing the initial video that went to the BBC is a friend of mine and recommended me. Then he said they were entering it into Eurovision, so I was like ‘Oh, whatever’. Then it made it through. My involvement came about totally by fluke.”
2. There are thousands of entries
“About 4,000 videos were sent in. Some big names, big name songwriters and others who were unknown.
“To win was was astonishing. I think more than having a song that gets entered, it’s the thought of actually representing a nation. It’s a huge thing.”
3. Your most famous moments can happen by accident
“The song was actually written by two other guys, called David Mindel and Adrian Bax White. But I did the old Louis Armstrong scat thing. Initially it was a bit of a tongue in cheek thing. It was an homage to Louis Armstrong and then it stayed.”
Remember the Electro Velvet memes last year they were beautiful
— Emilia (@emiliannatt) April 30, 2016
4. Bad news travels fast
“When it was announced, it was a huge negative reaction.
“There were scathing reviews. I can’t remember which of the journalists it was, but before the announcement was made, he had already put the boot in and said ‘oh what kind of crap are the BBC going to give us this year?’
“It was pretty clear from the speed of articles coming out after the song was released that he had written an article and filled the blanks. That was the initial one that came out and we were done.”
5. Being the people’s choice helps
“I think it was a shock to a lot of people. What they’ve done better this year with Eurovision is that they’ve given it back to the fans to a degree. I don’t know whether that will make a difference when it comes to the crunch. It makes people feel involved and softens the blow of what you’re going to get. You get the choice of five and you vote for it.”
6. People don’t like novelty acts
“I think they thought it was another novelty song in the vein of Skooch. It wasn’t supposed to come across as a novelty song – it was supposed to be a genuine homage to the music of the ’20s.
“Electro-swing is a genuine genre, you get people like Caravan Palace who do it particularly well. It was supposed to be that kind of thing.”
7. The abuse can hurt
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It did. Because I wasn’t expecting it. I genuinely don’t think the people at the BBC were expecting it as well. We all thought ‘this is great, people are going to love it’ – we really had the feeling that people were going to think it was great, fresh, something totally new. It was really unexpected.
“You’re sitting there with your family and you start to get all these tweets coming in from people saying ‘I wish you’d f***ing die’. All I did was put a song out…
“Initially it was quite hurtful, but then it made people start viewing it. The views were going through the roof. It’s that old adage of there’s no such thing as bad press. People wanted to see it. People were doing parodies and it got people’s interest.
“It wasn’t a ‘meh’ song, it was either ‘I really like this’ or ‘I really f***ing hate this song’. They were arguing with each other on Youtube. From that point of view it was wonderful, it got the interest out there.”
8. Rehearsals are non-stop
“We arrived in Vienna ten days before. There’s tons of rehearsals. Our part was pretty simply choreographed, even though it looks like we’re just stood there. We had to stand in a certain place because there were camera shots from above and you had to look in to camera at certain points too.
“It’s more for the dancers really, they have probably the toughest job out of all of us. They had to dance, do back-flips and all that kind of stuff. But they also had to provide live backing vocals as well. They were doing all these spins which made me out of breath just watching it, then they had to jump on the microphone and sing as well. Unbelievable.”
9. The PR is non-stop
“Then it’s interviews and television. People like Lorraine Kelly want to know what you’re doing. You don’t get an awful lot of sleep. You’re up early and going to bed late. It’s very full on. It’s great of course. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity – you’re having a ball while you’re doing it.”
10. They run the entire show four times
“You actually run the full show in the morning. You get there at 9 and you get in all the garb. Our costumes were hideous to get into. They had all this wiring, you couldn’t bend your legs, you couldn’t do anything. If you bent your legs and you’d break the LEDs.
“They literally run the entire show once in front of an audience, who I assume buy tickets knowing full well they’re seeing the matinee thing. They run the show and do a mock voting and you do it again. In total, they run the show four times over the course of two days. All the presenters are up there and it’s just like watching the show on the night.”
11. There’s no time for nerves
“You don’t really have time to stop and think ‘I’m feeling nervous’ or anything. Even when you’re actually lining up for the performance, there’s only a minute in between each one I think. You stand in the wings and one goes on – it’s like a conveyor belt.
“If they left you for ten minutes on your own, you’d be going ‘Oh God, there’s so many people’ – but there’s just no let-up.”
12. Everyone gets along (mostly)
“When you’re backstage, it’s a huge room and they’ve got temporarily built dressing rooms for each artist. Everyone’s wandering about freely. Some of them were dicks and didn’t want to talk to you, but a lot of them were lovely. You had a chat and big hugs.”
13. The sense of competition does kick in
“I’m quite competitive, so throughout the rehearsals I was watching others and thinking ‘their stage show wasn’t as good as ours – this will be a walk in the park’. That was probably foolish thinking, it clearly was.”
14. The British team do actually want to win
“They worked day and night those guys. They genuinely believed that this would do well. My suit was £50,000 on its own – that technology had never been used before. It showed up as white on the camera but it was all sort of multi-coloured. You could make flag colours and all sorts, it was real clever stuff.
“All the dancers and choreographers were people who worked with Madonna and Rihanna. The creative director was Take That’s for all their live stuff. It was all big people and that was the biggest show.”
15. Political voting is real
“It’s a real thing, but I don’t think it affects the top of the table. It affects people like us if we’re not doing especially well, it pushes us further down. If you don’t have a chance of winning anyway, it’s not going to affect who the top eight are.”
16. Getting hardly any points is no fun
“It was sh*t. I couldn’t believe it. It was really disappointing.
“There was free champagne in the green room, so they kept bringing it. By the end of the voting, I was sh*t-faced. It softened the blow of it all. I had my Mum and Dad there and they walked out before the end of the voting. They were gutted really. It was sad. I didn’t expect that.
“You can’t dwell on it. Come the Monday morning, I was ready to go again. I wanted to do more Electro Velvet stuff. But unfortunately that was veto’d by my partner in crime; she didn’t want to do it any more. I thought people would still be alright with it, but we’ll never know.”
17. Eurovision fans are like Directioners
“There’s loads of fanatics over here. You meet them and they’re like One Directioners. They’re very protective of the Eurovision, the brand and the artists. Very passionate people.
“They’re actually all lovely. They’ll say they’re not all that keen on this year’s song but ‘we’ll still be rooting for you’.”
18. The whole show is online before it even happens
“Fan blogs will actually be allowed a press pass into the rehearsals, and they’re allowed to film all the rehearsals in the arena. In any other event you would just see the final product. But Eurovision, they let them in the first rehearsal and they’re allowed to put it on YouTube. The whole show is put out there, so everyone knows what you’re doing on the Saturday night by the Tuesday before. It’s so bizarre.”
19. There’s no regrets
“I would absolutely do it again. I’m half-Greek, so I was bending their ear and asking for another go. I’m a sore loser and thought ‘I’m not having that, I wan’t top ten’.
“It’s been wonderful and I have no regrets. Of course, I was disappointed with the result. But it’s been great. What’s not to like?”
20. It’s really, really hard work
“In fact it gave me piles, so there you are.”
Alex Larke is releasing a new album through Pledge Music later this year
More information can be found at here.
[Main image: Getty]