Portugal at ESC

When Salvador Sobral lifted the 2017 Eurovision crown in Kyiv with the mesmerizing “Amar pelos dois” it wasn’t merely Portugal’s first win.  It was the first time the country had even placed in the top five.   For a nation that has competed in the contest (with a few absences) since 1964 that might suggest a quite rubbish Eurovision history.    But aficionadoes know that there is more to Eurovision than the final scoreboard.  They also know that Portugal has often suffered points-wise by being true to itself, authentic even, in a sea sometimes of generic Europop.  So let’s pay tribute to the Portuguese contribution to our favourite music festival …

1964 “Oração” by António Calvário

Portugal debuted in the ninth contest that was staged in Copenhagen.   The contest is infamous for the absence of any full surviving recording of it (the only other contest not captured on video for posterity is the inaugural one in 1956) so the clip below is from the Portuguese domestic selection show “Festival da Canção”.   Their debut however was greeted with the frostiest of welcomes as they ended the night on Nul Points.  Admittedly the scoring system used at the time was more likely to leave songs pointless as each of the sixteen entrants could award points to only three others. An entire quarter of the field ended the 1964 contest on a big fat zero.    Portugal were the first to do so on their debut, and would remain unique in this for thirty years until Lithuania joined them in 1994.     Result:  Equal 13th of 16.

1967 “O vento mudou” by Eduardo Nascimento

Included on our list not because of the unremarkable song but the notability of the performer.  In the twelth contest Eduardo Nascimento was the first black male singer to take to the Eurovision stage (Milly Scott of the Netherlands was the first black female performer a year earlier).  Eduardo was born in Angola when the country was a Portuguese colony, and formed a band called Os Rocks, who moved to Portugal in the mid Sixties and enjoyed some modest success.    At the end of the decade Eduardo retired from the music scene and returned to his native Angola.  Result:  Equal 12th of 17.

1974 “E Depois do Adeus” by Paulo de Carvalho

Another on the face of it another average ditty, but a Eurosong of quite epic historical note.  Despite ending the night equal last (albeit in one of the classic and most high quality contests ever)  just three weeks later “E Depois do Adeus” was broadcast as one of two songs on Portuguese radio as a signal to launch the momentous “Carnation Revolution” which would topple the authoritarian regime of prime minister Marcelo Caetano.   Result:  Equal 14th of 17. 

1975 “Madrugada” by Duarte Mendes

The very next year Portugal were represented by the rather dashing Duarte Mendes,  not only a veteran of  Festival da Canção but also an army captain!.  “Madrugada” was a proud hymn to the Carnation Revolution and legend has it that Mendes wanted to take to the Stockholm stage dressed in full uniform and brandishing a rifle.  Thankfully he was dissuaded.  Result:  16th of 19.

1982 “Bem Bom” by Doce

Enough of Portuguese politics and earnest prayers?  time for some gorgeous Euro fluff and a quartet of Mulheres who graced the 1982 contest in Harrogate.  The brief pause at the start of their performance can be excused as they were the opening song in the contest after Jan Leeming’s headband-tastic introduction.  Result:  13th of 18. 

1991 “Lusitana paixão” by Dulce

Portugal failed to crack the top ten until the short-lived “two-person-on- camera”  jury system ran from 1970 to 1973, when each time they finished in the top ten.  After that it was back to very average results, with only two more top ten finishes until the 90s, when their fortunes took an upturn. Here is their lovely 1991 entry that pays tribute to the legendary “Fado”.  Result: 8th of 22.

1996 “O meu coração não tem cor” by Lúcia Moniz

In their first three decades of Eurovision participation the best Portugal had managed was a brace of 7th places in 1972 and 1980.  The 1996 contest in Oslo would see them better that …. but only by one place.   Amazingly, right up to their 2017 triumph this would remain their best placed entry.  Lucia is both singer and actress and seven years after Eurovision would go on to play Colin Firth’s love interest in “Love Actually”.  Result: 6th of 23. 

2008 “Senhora do mar (Negras águas)” by Vânia Fernandes

Twelve years on and quite a different kind of Eurovision to that of 1996.   In 1997 the first televoting was introduced, and two years later the language rule was lifted, meaning that entries didn’t have to be performed in their native tongue any longer.   While this meant a dash to English for many nations, Portugal stayed true to their native tongue and have continued to do so.   2004 saw the advent of the semi-finals in Eurovision week and to be frank not a great period for the Portuguese.  One high point was this fan favourite from 2008 which rather flopped in the final but was runner-up in the semi.  Result:  13th of 25. 

2017  “Amar pelos dois” by Salvador Sobral

Nowhere else to finish our look at Portugal’s Eurovision timeline of course than the runaway 2017 champion.  Here’s the winners reprise with the composer, his sister Luisa.  Result: Winner of 26.