Italy and Puglia, Domenico Modungo and the Eurovision Song Contest

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

Polignano al Mare

After an unusually late night we slept on and after a simple breakfast in a cramped dining room we left the hotel and made our way back to the old town with the intention of passing straight through and making for the beaches to the north of the town.

Out of the town we were soon dropping down onto some rocky limestone outcrops, erosion scarred, potholed and potentially spectacularly dangerous but leading seductively down to a perfect azure sea and adjacent rocky coves pitted with sea caves and with a rewarding view of the old town of Polignano rising vertically out of the sea in alternating cream, buff and beige strata like a chocolate layer cake.

Behind all of this was a tall statue of a man with arms theatrically outstretched as trying to attempt flight and this turned out to be the singer/songwriter Domenico Modungo who is perhaps the most famous son of Polignano who after a career in show business went on to become a member of the Italian Parliament.

Domenico who? I hear you ask.  Well, let me tell you that Domenico is renowned for writing and performing what is claimed to be the most famous, most copied, most successful ever Eurovision Song Contest entry (even beating ABBA)  and most lucrative in terms of revenue, Italian popular music songs of all time.  Think about it…have you got it…

“Nel blu dipinto di blu” or most popularly known as “Volare”

Despite its success the entry surprisingly only came third in the 1958 competition after France and Switzerland but was later translated into several languages and was covered by a wide range of international performers including Al Martino, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Luciano Pavarotti, The Gipsy Kings and my personal favourite Dean Martin.  I might be wrong here but I don’t think any of these musical giants ever recorded cover versions of ‘Waterloo’?

Volare Domenigo Modungo Polignano a Mare

I like the Eurovision Song Contest.

In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.

In January 1955 the director general of Swiss television came up with the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in a single television programme to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy and was seen as a brave technological experiment in live television as in those days it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network. The suggestion was approved at a meeting held in Rome in October 1955 and it was agreed that the first contest would take place in 1956 in Switzerland (probably as a reward for coming up with the idea in the first place).

Seven countries took part, each submitting two songs and this was the only contest in which more than one song per country was performed. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation with a song called ‘Refrain’ sung by Lys Assia (probably as a reward for coming up with the idea in the first place).

The United Kingdom first participated at the Contest in the following year. The BBC had wanted to take part in the first contest but had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. The UK has entered every year since apart from 1958, and has won the contest a total of five times. Its first victory came in 1967 with “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.

There have been fifty-seven contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 contest, which had four.  Twenty-five different countries have won the contest. Italy has won the contest twice in 1964 and 1990.  The country with the highest number of wins is Ireland, with seven.  Portugal is the country with the longest history in the Contest without a win – it made its forty-fourth appearance at the 2010 Contest.  The only person to have won more than once as performer is Ireland’s Johnny Logan.

Norway is the country which holds the unfortunate distinction of having scored the most ‘nul points’ in Eurovision Song Contest history – four times in all, and that is what I call humiliating. They have also been placed last ten times, which is also a record!

For many years the annual Eurovision Song Contest was a big event in our house usually with a party where everyone would pick their favourite song and would dress appropriately to support their chosen nation.  In later years no one ever picked the United Kingdom because the only thing that is certain about the competition is that being the unpopular man of Europe we are unlikely to ever win again and every year there is a ritual humiliation with a predictable low scoring result. 

After we had admired the statue of Domenigo Modungo we moved on to the beaches.

The Eurovision Song Contest Party…

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9 responses to “Italy and Puglia, Domenico Modungo and the Eurovision Song Contest

  1. Amazingly, even Latvia won in 2002! That was a bit mind-boggling.

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  2. Our B&B was directly behind the statue -groups of Italians would visit constantly to pose for photos with arms outstretched, chanting Volare at the top of their voices!

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  3. Dr and the Medics (remember them) did a cover of Wateerloo with Roy Wood on sax, wasn’t anywhere near as good as their cover of Silver Machine or Paranoid.

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  4. I must have been living in the cabbage patch because I haven’t heard about this contest. Interesting.

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