Given the UK’s disastrous performances in the Eurovision Song Contest for the past two decades, it’s hard to credit a time when we could not only top the table, but winning could be parlayed into a successful chart-topping career.
But when Bucks Fizz won in 1981, that’s exactly what happened.
After the bubbly pop of Making Your Mind Up and its memorable dance routine which saw the guys whipping the women’s long skirts off mid-song took the honours, the original quartet of Bobby Gee, Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Jay Aston went on to score further UK number ones with Land of Make Believe and My Camera Never Lies, as well as several other top 10 singles. They sold a whopping 15m records around the globe.
While the group have technically never split, numerous people have passed through the ranks over the years and there have been the obligatory, sad legal battles over who owns the name. As a result, three-quarters of that original foursome are now forced to tour under the somewhat unwieldy handle of Cheryl, Mike & Jay formerly of Bucks Fizz.
However, with a tour marking 35 years since that Eurovision win, things have been going very well for the trio, who are now joined by fellow Eurovision veteran and Pompey native Bobby McVay.
‘It should be another good year for us – it’s been brilliant,’ Cheryl tells WOW247. ‘To think all these years on we’re still ripping our skirts off is a bit sad,’ she laughs, ‘but it is also quite exciting.
I think when people come to see us, particularly at festivals they go: “Oh, I forgot they did this one”, “Oh, I forgot they did that one”, and then they come see us on the tour, which is wonderfulCheryl Baker
‘There’s an audience and the audience is growing. I think when people come to see us, particularly at festivals they go: “Oh, I forgot they did this one”, “Oh, I forgot they did that one”, and then they come see us on the tour, which is wonderful.’
And she thinks it’s the enduring upbeat nature of that era’s songs that keeps crowds coming back for more – as the continuing round of ’80s package tours and festivals proves.
‘It’s very, very popular, not necessarily with the audience from the ’80s, but generally.
‘My kids are 21 (Cheryl has twin daughters) and they love ’80s music.
‘I think it’s just good time music, but it lost its way again in the ’90s.
‘There was some good music in the ’70s but then punk hit – you don’t see many punk bands out on the road because it was a bit depressing or it made you think too hard. The ’80s was just happy music.
‘I don’t know why it was – we came out of the ’70s and bounced into the ’80s, and it stayed like that for ages.
‘There’s a lot of nostalgia for those songs, you’ve just got to put on a Nik Kershaw song, or Duran Duran song, or Bucks Fizz song and everyone sings along, they know all the words. No matter how old you are, everyone knows them.’
And they are, naturally, still doing their trademark skirt-ripping routine.
‘Most people remember that moment. Even though we’re women of a certain age now, Jay and I, when we’re on stage we don’t feel it.
‘The audience watching, you give them the nostalgia. We don’t do the show any different, we don’t do routines any different, we give them what they remember and that’s what they want.’
The memory of that winning night in Dublin is still fresh for Cheryl.
‘I remember standing on a podium and having to turn around and face all the world’s press and keep shuffling around for all the cameras and thinking: ‘Oh my word, my life has just changed”, and it absolutely did.
‘We eventually got back to the hotel and I called home – I lived in a council flat in Bethnal Green at the time – and my sister answered. My real name’s Rita and she was shouting “Rita! Rita!”
‘They were all cheering, and Sheila said when we won, our block of flats and the two either side, everyone came out and was dancing up and down the balconies because I was their local girl and it was such a big deal.
‘I wanted to be there and back with the people I loved rather than in Dublin, I felt so homesick.
‘Apart from that moment, the whole thing was a joy, an astounding experience.’
And it marked the start of a rollercoaster run, until Jay quit in 1985 amid recriminations and accusations.
‘Apart from America we had worldwide success, we had the hits, we did an album in South America, won the Best Song award in the Yamaha Song Festival in Japan, had loads of hits in Australia, of course everywhere in Europe. I think the only places we didn’t have success were Russia and America.’
The only fly in the ointment for the group was the perception of them as puppets.
‘That’s absolutely true,’ says Cheryl. ‘Jay was the youngest, but she had a lot of experience as she’d been performing with her parents since she was 14. We all had our stripes by then, we’d all been treading the boards, all been working – Bobby had been in musicals in the West End, Mike and I had been working for years, either in bands or solo, so yes, it did irk us. And it was a stigma that stuck with us, but fortunately I think that’s gone now and when people hear us sing live, I think a lot of people say: “Actually, they can sing!”
Cheryl first left in 1993 to pursue a career as a popular TV host with shows like Eggs and Baker and Record Breakers. She joined Mike Nolan and Shelley Preston as The Original Bucks Fizz in 2004 – Jay finally rejoined them in 2009.
The name Bucks Fizz is now, strangely, legally owned by Heidi Manton, Bobby Gee’s wife, who joined Bucks Fizz in 1994.
‘Bobby does do gigs,’ explains Cheryl, ‘I don’t think he does do many, but he can go out as Bucks Fizz and we can’t. I’m sure his audience looks at them and goes: “Hang on – that’s not Bucks Fizz, they don’t look like them, they don’t sound like them, or do the routines like them”. And it’s sad.
‘It’s Bobby and his wife, I don’t know who the other two are.
‘Legally it’s correct, but morally it’s completely and utterly wrong, I don’t know how she sleeps at night, I think it’s shocking.
‘There should have been an agreement between us before it went to court. We actually went to a trademark hearing. We should have agreed to him going out as Bobby Gee’s Bucks Fizz, and we’d be Cheryl, Mike and Jay’s Bucks Fizz, and that would have been fair. But fair doesn’t come into it unfortunately.
‘I don’t feel bitter about it, but I do feel it’s totally unfair and I think the law does need to change.’
Bobby McVay joined the other three last year, but had been a friend since 1983 when his then group Sweet Dreams represented the UK at Eurovision with I’m Never Giving Up, coming a creditable sixth.
Bobby had been invited to join the trio before, but the timing hadn’t been right, as he now has a family and lives in Italy.
‘Now he’s in the band, and dare I say it, this is the best line-up ever, better even than the original line-up.
‘There might be people out there who are disappointed in that, but I’m telling the truth. Vocally he’s great, visually he’s great, he does the dance routines great, and he’s a lovely bloke – he gets on with everyone and the fans love him. It’s a great thing, it really works.’
n The 35th Anniversary Tour is at the Kings Theatre, Southsea on Sunday, April 3.
Tickets cost £22. Go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk or call the box office on (023) 9282 8282.