A few months ago, we interviewed Bas Tukker, a Eurovision afficiando who has interviewed numerous conductors during the live orchestra-era. He told us about the work of Tin Spanja, another Eurovision fan who hopes to see the return of the live orchestra.
Tin runs ESC LIVE MUSIC, an activist website that advocates for the return of live music at the Eurovision Song Contest. Tin was gracious enough to talk with us about his cause.
ESC UNITED: Tin, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.Would you start by letting our readers know about who you are and what you do?
TIN: I’m a 28 year old guy from Oslo, Norway. I’m working as a purchaser for a bookshop in Oslo. I also play the piano as a hobby. I got addicted to Eurovision as child in the early 90s.I remember when they abolished the orchestra in 1999. Back then, I was only slightly sad about it. As a fourteen year old teenager, the new style of uptempo eurodance songs and bigger dancing shows took my attention away from the music perspective for a while.
Eight years ago, when I first discovered the joy of Youtube, everything changed. I think it was Danijela’s performance of “Neka mi ne svane”, conducted by Stipica Kalogjera and the strong orchestral arrangement of Mr. Kalogjera which “woke me up.” I also started to pay attention to the ESCs before “my time”, checking out clips on the Internet, and got more and more fascinated. Now I have all ESC editions on DVD.
ESC UNITED: How did you first come up with the idea of ESC LIVE MUSIC? What is its mission?
TIN: Since I (re)discovered the classic Eurovision shows in the mid-2000s, I was continuouly suggesting a re-launch of an orchestra (and live music in general) when talking to friends and other ESC fans.
In 2009, Norway won the ESC, and when the culture editor of our biggest newspaper wrote that the NRK (Norwegian broadcaster) should use their orchestra for Eurovision 2010, it felt like a duty to do something. So I simply made the Facebook group “the Norwegian Radio orchestra for Eurovision 2010”. I managed to get 5500 members, and even got attention in Norwegian and Swedish media. Unfortunately, none of the NRK producers ever answered my e-mails, and Svante Stockselius only gave an answer through the media- which was negative.
The idea with the website came some months later, when I wanted to use the attention to make a permanent lobby group for this cause, with more general perspectives on live music, and not just NRK’s orchestra in the 2010 ESC.
The Norwegian Radio Orchestra togther with Swedish artist Robyn shows a good example of how Tin thinks a contemporary ESC-performance could look like. Especially notice the great instrumental part between 02.40 – 03.00
The website’s mission is to inform the fans and other interests that the arguments of the EBU that live music can’t function in the Eurovision Song Contest today is not valid. ESC LIVE MUSIC suggests that the contestants should be able to chose between: 1) a live orchestra; 2) their own instrumentalists; 3) pre-recorded music; or 4) any combination of the options above.
ESC UNITED: Can you tell us more about the Svante Stockselius situation?
TIN: In late 2009 and early 2010, I tried to get in touch with both the EBU and the Norwegian organisation for a comment on my Facebook campaign, but they never answered my e-mails or letters. After I got some attention in the newspapers here in Norway, one journalist finally managed to get a short comment from now former execute supervisor Svante Stockelius.
What he basically said was that artists and composers prefers to pre-produce the music in studio. But that simply not true. My investigation in the Eurovision weeks in May 2010 showed that the majority of artists and composer would have preferred a live music option, given that the quality of the band or the orchestra was good enough.
ESC UNITED: I mentioned to Bas Tukker that I found some of the older studio versions of songs to pale in comparison to those from the live ESCs.I specifically mentioned “La Source” by Isabelle Aubret from 1968 (France).What do you think about the differences between the live performances and the studio versions?
TIN: The 1968 orchestra was really fantastic, so I totally agree with you.I think almost all pre99-Eurovision songs sound better as live performances than as studio recordings. The live performance has a more raw and energic sound and is not always supposed to sound exactly the same as the studio recording, especially if the music has been arranged differently.In a live performance, musicians and singers are working together in the moment.And that gives the audience a much greater feeling of presence.
When having a large and compound orchestra, you have lots of opportunities to arrange the music with instruments that are not always affordable for a average music studio or TV station productions. Compare the recorded version of the Slovenian song from 1995 with the live version, and do the same with Greek song from 1996.
Slovenia 1995 – LIVE
Slovenia 1995 – Studio Version
Other more pop-ish songs like “Hemel en aarde” (NL 1998) and “Vrede” (NL 1993) are more “recent” examples of wonderful orchestral arrangements which added the extra little bit to a song.
Greece 1996 – LIVE
Greece 1996 – Studio Version
ESC UNITED: A lot of people agree with you that losing the orchestra was a big mistake. But do you think there are any advantages to having backing tracks used instead of the orchestra? Some say it allows for more variety in the type of music that can presented? What do you think?
TIN: I actually think that only allowing backing tracks favours the most generic, polished, up-tempo dance acts with heavy beats, while ballads, pure pop songs, jazz and rock songs often require a more dynamic and spontaneous performance. Adding an orchestra to the contest, while still allowing backing tracks in some cases (like in 1997 and 1998) would make sure that we have variety of all kinds of music.
ESC UNITED: So let me play devil’s advocate, taking the perspective of someone who has criticisms about the orchestra.With an orchestra, human error can occur.I could bring up the backing track incident with Spain’s Azucar Moreno in 1990. Or Greece’s Eurovision 1991 entry, in which the saxophone player seemed to miss half the notes. If the orchestra were ever to return, what do you think could be done to avoid problems such as these?
TIN: When looking into the history of Eurovision, I would say bad vocal performance is the most common human error in Eurovision. But still very few people suggest replacing live singing with playback vocals!
ESC UNITED: Sort of like what Carlos Paiao suggested in 1981.
Carlos Paiao using irony to make fun of the usage of play back
TIN: In a live TV show, things can go wrong: that’s the part of the game. On the other hand, one should take the quality of the orchestra and sound production seriously. The 1991 contest is an example of a very bad production, not just when talking about the orchestra, but whole production was quite farcical (still funny to watch though).
The incident in 1990 was not about any failure of the orchestra or the conductor but about a technician not doing his job. (In Eduardo Leiva’s bio at andtheconductoris.eu you can read a detailed story about the incident.)
As mentioned above, the quality of the orchestra and the sound production has to be good. And to be honest, I agree with some of my opponents that not all ESC orchestra production in the past were good enough (in this case referring to both the quality of the musicians themselves and the sound production). Some of production were really great like the BBC Concert orchestra in 1998, Anders Berglund’s orchestra in 1992, and Benoit Kaufman’s orchestra in 1989. Other productions like that of the RTL (Luxembourg) orchestra 1973/84 were quite bad.
What Eurovision needs today is a pop orchestra. A pop orchestra is an orchestra which consists of mainly pop/session musicians. Not only does the rhythm group (bass, guitars, drums and piano/keyboards/synths) have to consist of top class pop/session musicians, but so does the main wind players (trumpets, trombones, saxophones/clarinets).And that was not always the case in the old Eurovision orchestras. Musicians who play strings and reed instruments (oboe, flutes, bassoon) are by definition always classically educated.But by handpicking strings and woodwind players with experience in popular music, one can assure that also these musicians will interpret the music the right way as well. I have to stress that most strings and wood wind players in professional classical orchestras are excellent musicians, but even world class classical musicians might have problems adopting to the pop sound/rhythm if they’re not used to it.
The BBC Concert Orchestra knows how to interpret most pop styles
ESC UNITED: Continuing as devil’s advocate, how about the financial aspect, in that having an orchestra would add a huge financial burden on the host country. Is that true? If so, what could Eurovision do to help resolve any financial costs associated with reintroducing the orchestra?
TIN: An orchestra is not for free of course. To me, an orchestra or a live band should be one of the basic features in a music event like the ESC. I find it strange why some opponents look at live music as some kind of extreme luxury. When Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, manages to host its local song festival (Festivali i Kenges) every year with a live orchestra including semi-final and a grand final, it quite absurd that the whole of Europe could not afford having a live orchestra.
On a side note, in the early 2000s, Dick Bakker, the conductor of the Dutch Metropole Orchestra (and also the composer of the Dutch ESC winner Ding-a-dong), offered the Metropole Orchestra for free to the organizing countries. But the EBU wanted nothing of it) (read more about that in the article at: www.esclivemusic.com/index.php/history <http://www.esclivemusic.com/index.php/history>).
ESC UNITED: Since the orchestra has left Eurovision, what songs do you think would have benefited from having the orchestra there? I myself think Jade Ewen “It’s My Time” (UK 2009) would have sounded incredible with the full orchestra.
TIN: I think that the majority of songs would have benefited on having a live orchestra. If we for instance analyze the songs from the 2012 contest, I would definitively say that all the ballads would have benefited: Albania “Suus”, Estonia “Kuula”, Serbia “Nije ljubav stvar”, Finland “När jag blundar”, Netherlands “You and me”, Croatia “Nebo”, Denmark “You should have known better” Bosnia Herzegovina “Korake ti znam” and Ukraine “Love will set you free.”I could also think the big band-style Italian song “L’amore è femmina”, the 70s disco-tune from Lithuania “Love is blind” and the indiepop song from Israel “Time” would have benefitted as well. I even think Sweden’s “Euphoria” would have worked with an additional live strings-arrangement added to the synthetic backing track (or being played live with synths and electric drums along with the strings).
My personal orchestra-dream of last year’s ESC would have been “Crno i belo” with Kaliopi from Macedonia. The mix between guitar/rock sound and the orchestral sound could have made the performance sound like an epic rock opera. The recorded versions already feature some violins, but it would have been far superior with a large rich string sound.I can hear it inside my head hehe. Sounds really epic!
ESC UNITED: Do you think there’s ever been a case where using a backing track would havebeen better than using an orchestra (or even a backing track/orchestra combination)?
TIN: Theoretically no. Some may think that dance songs and electronic songs don’t need to be played live. And regarding the most generic portion of that genre,like this years German entry, one can discuss whether it’s worth the effort to do it 100% live. In those cases, the difference between using a backing track or playing it live with synthesizers, electric drums etc. is not always that noticeable.
So I think it’s okay if those dance acts are performed with a backing track. But again, I also think that the more sophisticated dance and electronic songs, like this years Norwegian entry, or the winning song from Sweden last year could really sounded even better with live music. Especially a live drummer and live strings could have made some difference in these cases.
I recently discovered the song from the film Oblivion performed by M83 featuring the Norwegian vocalist Susanne Sundør. I think it’s such a good example of a song whose foundation is a 100% electronic composition but is also beautifully mixed with live strings and a French horn.
ESC UNITED: Bas Tukker noted in his interview that: “Swedish maestro Curt-Eric Holmquist explained to me that the lack of live instruments is probably one of the main reasons for the off-key singing for which the Eurovision Song Contest has become so notorious in the last fifteen years; because of the lack of real instruments to pitch their voices to, he stated, singers are more likely to sing out of tune.” Would you agree?
TIN: In general, I must say I agree with Holmquist’s theory. I don’t think a bad singer will usually perform better with an orchestra than he or she would have done with the backing tracks. However a good and experienced singer will know how to work with the orchestra to get the maximum out of the performance. I believe re-introducing the live music to the contest could up to a certain point eliminate some of the bad singers and bad songs. Having a live production makes the quality level higher, and thus, attracts more serious artists.
ESC UNITED: Who were some of your favorite Eurovision conductors? I myself loved Rainer Pietsch (“Ein Lied Kann Eine Brucke Sein” Germany 1975). He was very energetic, fun, and totally feeling the song, like Joy Fleming and her backup singers were. It’s a shame it did so poorly. As with many fans, it’s one of my all-time Eurovision favorites!
TIN: “Ein lied kann eine brucke sein” is actually one of my top favourites songs too. It’s hard to pick a favourite conductor. But I have to mention Stipica Kalogjera ( Croatia 1995, 1998) because of his wonderful orchestral arrangement for “Neka mi ne svane” which when I re-discovered it in 2005 was a personal turning point for me regarding the interest in this contest. Another obvious one is Anders Berglund from Sweden. Anders is not only one of the most experienced conductors of Eurovision (15 MF, 15 international finals) but he also has a big heart for this contest. While other conductors just looked at the ESC as just another job, Anders is a real pop and schlager man.He has raised his voice many times in the media in Sweden to advocate the return of the live orchestra, and he is often involved as musical director of various pop and schlager concerts in Sweden featuring artists from both older and contemporary Melodifestival shows.
ESC UNITED: What sort of feedback has your website received from the conductors and/or the artists?
TIN: The website has not yet been such a great success as I hoped for. But when I lobbied here in Norway in 2009/2010 in connection with the former Facebook group, I managed to get through to many of the artist and composers who participated in the contest in Oslo. All of the people I got in touch with – without a single exception – agreed that the Eurovision Song Contest would be better off with live music! Back to your question again. Quite some former Eurovision conductors and artists have signed my petition, yes.
ESC UNITED: If any, do you have any recent favorite songs from the more recent Eurovisions?
TIN: I already mentioned “Crno i belo.” But other recent favourites include: “Senhora da mar” Portugal 2008, ‘Et s’il fallait le faire’, Patricia Kaas (France 2009), Algo pequeñito – Daniel Diges (Spain 2010), Satellite (Germany 2010), Follia d’amore (Italy 2011), Caroban – Nina (Serbia 2011) and Suus – Rona Nishliu (Albania 2012).
Netherlands 1993 – LIVE
ESC UNITED: I know we still have many entries yet to be announced, but at this point, what is your favorite 2013 entry so far?
TIN: I think the level of songs this year compared to last year is slightly lower than last year. But I really like the songs from Italy and the Netherlands. If I have to pick a up-tempo entry, I would have to say that the Norwegian one, “I feed you my love” is a quite decent electro-pop song.
ESC UNITED: Do you have any advice on how fans of the orchestra can advocate for its return?
TIN: Signing my petition or joining my Facebook page is a good start. But it would be really great if part of the organized fan communities would help me to try to get more attention one this issue. When I was lobbying here in Norway in 2010, I actually thought about putting together a live-band to perform outside the arena or at a Eurovision fans event. The idea was to perform instrumental versions of Eurovision songs. But unfortunately it never came into reality. When I’m thinking about it again, it could have been a good idea getting attention, handing out flyers. (Hmm, I got carried away for some minutes. Back to reality.) But it still would have been funny to try to make some kind of gig at the Eurovision arenas.
ESC UNITED: I love the idea of having a concert of Eurovision songs played with the orchestra. Perhaps this could be organized with the folks from the Eurovision in Concert that happens in the Netherlands every spring before the Song Contest? On the other hand, could it then hurt artists in that this orchestra-backed version would not sound as “full” as the backing track at the actual Song Contest?
TIN: As far as I know, quite a number of Eurovision artist over the last years have performed their songs with live musical accompaniment on tours and concerts or TV shows before the ESC final, so that shouldn’t be the biggest problem.
ESC UNITED: Any closing thoughts and words to fans of your website?
TIN: I would like to thank all the fans who are supporting this cause, and encourage them to tell others about this initiative.
I think I will use my last sentences to try to analyze some of the obstacles and misunderstandings I have experienced when working with this subject. I have got the impression that a large portion of the fans personally would like the orchestra to return. Bud sadly quite many of those that want the return of the orchestra also tend to believe the policies of the current EBU bosses in that it can’t work today. That’s what I think is the greatest obstacle.
Unfortunately this idea is not only common among ESC fans but also among TV people and so-called ESC experts. I think the main reason for the creation of this myth is that the orchestra disappeared at the same time as the general modernization that was undergone in the late 90s and early 00s. The language rule was liberalised, the arenas got bigger, much more modern screens, lighting and staging, facilities, and the fans communities were invited to be more involved in the development of the contest. Many of these measures were important to secure the interest of the contest for new generations. But taking away the live music altogether was a really bad, and took away a lot of the essence of the contest. I’m 100% sure that the music production and the way of using and putting together the orchestra could have been adjusted to the new realities, instead of abandoning it. And I’m sure it is still possibible – with a good pop orchestra, of course.
ESC UNITED: Tin, we thank you so much for you time and thoughts.
Readers, please check out Tin’s website at: http://www.esclivemusic.com/;
His facebook group page is: https://www.facebook.com/pages/esclivemusiccom-We-want-live-music-in-the-Eurovision-Song-Contest/134819689901672?fref=ts;
Also, be sure to check out his YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/user/escLIVEmusic1.
It features many great live performances.