Better Know a Eurovision Song Contest Winner: 5 Questions With Kimberley Rew

Kimberley Rew (L), Katrina Leskanich
So many of us can sit in our recliners and poke the Eurovision Song Contest in the ribs, but almost none of us can say with certainty what it's actually like to be there, much less to win the whole enchilada. That's why for my piece in The Stranger I made it a point to reach out to a few people who had. The one that gave the most lucid and refreshingly candid reply turned out to be none other than the man who gave the world "Walking On Sunshine" in 1985.

Kimberley Rew formed the Waves in the mid-'70s, then took a little time off to join the indisputably great post-punk legends The Soft Boys with Robyn Hitchcock. After that group split, Rew reunited with drummer Alex Cooper and recruited American lead singer Katrina Leskanich and rechristened themselves as Katrina & the Waves. Rew wrote the lion's share of songs from their American eponymous debut, including a couple of inarguable classics of pop/new wave: "Going Down to Liverpool," which the Bangles also covered, and the ineffably timeless "Sunshine."

The Waves subsequently vanished from the U.S. eye, but didn't ever officially break up and continued to record for most of the '80s and '90s. In 1997 they submitted Rew's composition "Love Shine a Light" for the Eurovision Song Contest, where it stormed to a 70-point victory. As of now it's the last United Kingdom song to win the top prize.

I contacted Rew via his webmaster with a few questions about his experience, to which he very patiently and kindly gave his thoughts (which The Stranger understandably couldn't use because of space). Here's our ad-hoc chat, unedited.

PP: What directly led up to your participating in Eurovision in 1997?

Kimberley Rew: This was very much a Katrina and the Waves band career event. We didn't really have what you'd call an organised career at the time, at least not that we could control in the sense of planning tour/album/tour etc. The background was that four years into our existence, in 1985, we had what turned out to be an isolated hit single and were therefore on the map, but didn't climb to the next stage and have a BIG PLAN. Thenceforth it was always a matter of a short lived record deal here and some college or festival dates there.

The Eurovision Song Contest was always there on the horizon; in the sixties some major British stars had dovetailed it seamlessly into their careers; by 1997 though uncomplicated entertainment had become unfashionable, which meant that the chattering classes of the media had come to treat the contest with suspicion, which resulted in a sort of stand off between the music world, who would mostly avoid it as it seemed contradictory to career credibility, and the public who kept a soft spot for the contest. And of course everybody actually watched it on TV on the night.

The system was (since abandoned) that the BBC (public service TV and Radio who televised the contest) would invite anyone to send in a cassette (the preferred medium of the time) to the long established and well liked Terry Wogan (now Sir Terry) breakfast show on national BBC radio. The best eight were played on the air, then people could send in votes. Alex Cooper, who was probably the only member of the band with any concept of a career, sent in a demo I'd made (we were one of those bands that had built its own studio), with Katrina, of "Love Shine a Light," and it won.

PP: What were some of the highlights during the week of the contest for you, personally?

KR: I remember one of our backing singers, Miriam Stockley, on the morning we were getting ready to check out of the hotel and leave Dublin after the big night, telling me that for someone in the music world I was actually quiet a sane and reasonable human being, which I thought was great.

PP: How did winning the Eurovision Song Contest affect Katrina & the Waves’ career, and your personal career?

KR: As I say, previous to Eurovision we'd had one hit, which invites the label 'one hit wonder', so that no longer applied! We were all on a musical journey, and inevitably the journey acquires twists and turns from the pressures of the music world- relative success, relative failure etc. If Walking on Sunshine hadn't been a hit in 1985 we might have split up then. Or if it had been a bigger hit, therefore appearing to invite more opportunities, we might also have split up then. As it happened we split up soon after 1997!

With the benefit of hindsight, I think Katrina was ready to plough her own furrow, and it obliged me to plough my furrow (or stop making music at all), and inevitably the furrows led to different fields, if I can tortuously extend the metaphor. I'm getting a bit old now (in 2015), and am really making the music for my own satisfaction, rather than knocking it out to a wider public, but I'm lucky too cause I now have lots of moral and musical support from my wife and musical partner Lee, and plenty of people in Cambridge (England) that want to hear us, and material support from having written that hit song way back.

PP: If you were to be a judge for the Eurovision Song Contest, what would be your criteria? What would you listen or look for?

KR: After Eurovision, I suppose because it might have appeared that I'd made a contribution to British songwriting prestige, I was invited onto a panel, probably by someone like the BASCA (the British Authors, Songwriters and Composers' Association), who were judging as far as I can remember some category like the best contribution to a British film score for the 1997. I hadn't heard any of the songs or seen any of the films, nor did I have any sort of general background knowledge of 'the scene'. I realised I wasn't actually very good at being in the mainstream, let alone joining the music establishment, so kept very quiet til the end, then snuck off home to concentrate on doing what I'm qualified for, which is writing Kimberley Rew songs, whether a lot of people ever get to hear them or just a few.

PP: Any other reflections about Eurovision?

KR: I haven't said very much about the actual Eurovision Song Contest phenomenon. It's a natural Europe wide home for uncomplicated (though high production) mainstream musical entertainment, as well as giving everybody a chance to put forward their best home grown talent, and support the home team. (As you can see we got in there perhaps more because our song coincided with what was right for the occasion rather than that we were trying to second guess what people would like from the outset).

Here in the UK over the years we have developed artistically progressive pop music, from the Beatles on, which is wonderful, but be careful not to cut yourself from the rest of Europe and from straightforward fun!
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