As the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest concluded last night in a frenzy of digital staging, geopolitical score-settling, and old fashioned sequin studded suits, it’s not a bad time to look back at the Sprout’s brush with a similar contest, the Festival di Sanremo, 1986. For which, as it happens, there is a fairly complete record.
The Sanremo Festival preceded Eurovision, and inspired it. It was primarily a contest aimed at Italian song, and used to choose the Italian entry for Eurovision, but by 1986 it was a sprawling three day event around which there was enormous excitement and hype. At this point, guest acts were invited – not as contestants – from the international scene, presumably to attract young pop fans.
Prefab Sprout were fairly big in Italy in 1986, and CBS in Italy decided to put them into the contest as guests and arrange an extensive set of supporting promotional activities, leading to a tour of live dates in late February.
The band left for Italy on February 10th, delaying the start so that “two members of the band” could appear on TV-AM to do an interview. I expect TV-AM were expecting Paddy, but he stayed in bed and Martin and Wendy were despatched to Camden Lock to show their favourite videos, which included Kate Bush (“Running Up That Hill”) and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret”.
And then off to Italy. And exhibit A, which is the flight itinerary. Interestingly, for the promo tour for which presumably CBS and/or the Italian broadcaster were providing funding, the band flew Club Class and the single band members had their own hotel rooms. It was more normal during tours for more economical means of transport to be used, and room sharing was the norm.
We then have the promotional schedule, prepared by CBS in Italy, which details the programme for the first part of the visit. It’s jam packed – there is an initial section in Milan, before the travel to Sanremo and the festival itself. A mouthwatering array of promotional appearances, none of which seem to have made it through on VHS or audio cassette, but I hold out some hope for some of it turning up, particularly the “Discoring” performance, the Italian version of “Top of the Pops”. Look how packed it is too (click on the graphic to expand it); anyone thinking being a pop star is the life of Riley is sadly mistaken.
There is more luck in terms of material surviving for the Sanremo section of the promotion. For some reason, Sanremo is a seriously big deal for collectors, and there’s a lot of shady offers kicking around of full DVDs for any year you desire. These are of variable quality, but the Prefab Sprout segments exist in very nice versions. We have three clips in total, all mimed versions of Appetite.
The first has been described as the “Primavera Festival” from March 1986, but isn’t – the broadcaster constructed a fake festival programme from odds and ends collected during Sanremo, and these have since been rebroadcast, which is where this segment turned up. This was incidentally the first basically uncirculated Prefab Sprout clip I ever found, and started me off on my years of madness. Gabriele Paoli confirms that it was the “Viva Sanremo” performance at Sanremo’s Orfeo theatre, Valentine’s day (Feb 14th) 1986. Nice matching outfits and a lot of fun.
Then for the actual contest, Prefab Sprout appeared twice. Once on the Friday, and once on the Saturday. The performances are very similar, all that really changed was the stage décor which was more elaborate for the grand final on Saturday.
The itinerary also lists a Live Gala for the Sunday evening. The Italian TV listings magazines are online, but there’s no trace of anything being broadcast, and the CBS memo is a bit vague about that so possibly it never happened. Of course, should anyone remember any of this or have material stashed away somewhere, I’d love to know.
We have another nice little record, which is the band accounts for the period in question. Note the outlay for purchase of a harmonica, the fact that they picked up a couple of the bar bills AND paid for their own pizzas during the TV work. At about 2,200 lira to the pound, the pizzas came to about three quid.
Then finally, we have the obligatory group photograph, taken on the beach. I’m guessing the sharp dressed dudes here are the local management.