Sunday, December 5, 2021


Please see below for the script I used in completing this video:

Coming up, I take a fond look back on how I wrote a song about nostalgia, how it won a song contest, and why this is not case of “this is how _I_ did it” more than “is _that_ how I did it?”




[TITLE: “How to Win a Song Contest, apparently” or “Don’t Take a Stand ‘til You Reach for That Landfill”]


Hello there. In May 2021, the “CheapShow” comedy podcast ran the second Urinevision Song Contest, following the success of the previous year’s event in substituting for the pandemic-hit Eurovision Song Contest. This time around, I had an idea for a song, and decided to enter, despite never having properly written, recorded and sung a song before. I effectively sent my entry to answer the question, “is this anything? Does this sound like something I should be doing?” I faithfully watched the ceremony live on Twitch, to see if I had made the shortlist, and I yelled “yes!” when “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You” appeared as the ninth song out of thirteen, meaning my work would now be judged by a panel of thirteen comedians, actors and singers, and I would find out if I had embarrassed myself or not. But… that wasn’t the end of it.


[“RECONSTRUCTION” caption on screen, waveform in background, as Eli Silverman announces: “The winner of Urinevision 2021 is Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You by Leigh Spence.” I am as open mouthed as I can be.]


I was devastated. I genuinely was not prepared for this outcome, especially after hearing the other entries, songs like “Down at the Spoff & Pickle” by Ukulele Jon, and “Piss Crystals” by L.J. Goody, thinking how much more they fit the themes and energy of “CheapShow” as a podcast, and how much more professionally recorded the other songs sounded, at least to me. I do remember feeling incredibly confident for a while after submitting my song, but that was me thinking, “wow, I made a thing,” not “I’m gonna win this thing.” So, thank you to “CheapShow” for putting on a great show, and for the lovely shirt I won, featuring art by their in-house artist Tony Vorrath, and thank you to everyone for all the nice things they said both during the contest and online afterwards.


Before I go any further, I implore you to listen to “CheapShow” as it is a great podcast, and one I have written about at length. Hosted by Real Ghostbuster Paul Gannon, and pickle of destiny Eli Silverman, “CheapShow” rummages through the charity shops, the bargain bins, the thrift stores, the flea markets, the pound shops and record bins of the known world, to give you the treasure amongst the trash. It also has its own tie-in magazine and merchandise, which may itself be the subject of future discussion in another geneeration’s podcast. It is an absurdist comedy machine with an enjoyably filthy mouth on it, like Derek & Clive meets Blue Peter on the bus home from a night at the Cabaret Voltaire. It is a magazine show: you may have board games and charity shop finds one week, novelty records and weird soft drinks another week, celebrity guests or an audio drama with mad characters the week after – it’s great that there is a podcast I can download each week and not know what form it is going to take, other than in minutes and seconds, and you need to cherish something like that if you find it.


And so, in order to explain “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You”, I must play it to you first, using the lyric video I created previously. I will be back in a moment.




I should say the reason I am playing the recording instead of singing it live is because…


Singing at my limit is a mountain to climb,

So I broke the lyrics up and sang two lines at a time.


…and edited it together. On the night of the contest, I did like how the presenters visualised the songs by using puppets. [Clip of ostrich.] Here is some of the reactions from the judges…


[Play selection of some, ending with response to Imran Yusuf: if you can pay for it, you can be my guest.]


I will say the response that made me happy immediately was from co-host on the night, Ash Frith: [“Who performed that, that was amazing!”] …I’m going to play that again. [“Who performed that, that was amazing!”]


There was only one rule for the Urinevision Song Contest: your song had to be between one and two minutes long. How I interpreted this was that I would need to fit as much song as I possibly could into two minutes, working out how many bars of 4/4 time I can get when using a hundred and twenty beats per minute, divided by two bars per line. Rather than entirely sounding like a maths exercise, my favourite Eurovision song, “Ding-a-Dong” by Teach-In, which won for the Netherlands in 1975, clatters along at such a pace that it doesn’t need all of the three minutes it was allowed. At the same time, Tony Christie’s song “Avenues and Alleyways,” the theme to the TV drama “The Protectors,” doesn’t have a chorus as such – Christie sings “in the avenues and alleyways” a second time, followed by an entirely new set of lyrics. Therefore, aside from a short intro and outro, I have three whole verses, a vast middle section to list nostalgic things, and exclaim “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You” – I’ve only since realised I unintendedly wrote “nah-nah-nah-nah-naah-naah, nostalgia’s gonna get you!”


The music itself is kept very simple, performed in C sharp major to stretch to what should be out of reach, and to sing just slightly out of my range, but I deliberately chose instruments that evoked the 1980s: a drum machine, synth chords and a synth bass that jumped up and down by one octave to fill the sound. Far cheaper than spending a few thousand pounds on the real thing, Apple’s BandCamp lets you pick a LinnDrum, one of the first sample-based drum machines, and the machine most associated with Prince, from “1999” to “Purple Rain”, with “When Doves Cry” essentially being a LinnDrum featuring Prince. What also helps is that, if you choose the right drums, you can make a pattern that sounds like a clock. 


The chords were played on my Yamaha Reface DX, a proper FM synthesiser like the original DX7, replicating the original Electric Piano 1 setting with the same glassy sound that characterises the era, as Yamaha sold thousands of DX7s to musicians who, apart from Brian Eno, used the same thirty-two built-in patches from piano to bass, to brass to marimba, because it was too hard to program.


I am absolutely happy to be compared to them, but I must admit I was initially perplexed by the comparison to Squeeze made by co-host and TV writer Paul Rose, aka Mr Biffo [“Cool for Cats” quote, followed by Depeche Mode.] My only reason for this was my having been so focussed and influenced during this process by the Eighties-est artist of them all, and a recurring name on “CheapShow”: Phil Collins. Yes, I own the sheet music to the “No Jacket Required” album. What happened was I was listening to a local radio station, Wave 105, on a Sunday morning, and after they played a jingle, there was silence, almost like they fell off air. When a song eventually started, it was the dum-da-da-dum-clap of “Take Me Home”, followed by, yes, chords played on a Yamaha DX7. Having since bought the album on CD, I think “Only You Know and I Know” may be one of the catchiest songs ever devised, even more than “Sussudio,” but what I did find were the demos that Phil Collins made of his songs – they are simply a drum machine, a DX7, and his singing almost in tongues to get the melody and the energy down before writing the lyrics. The simplicity of these demos was what I decided to go with in my finished song, but while I wrote the lyrics, I did have the sound of the Phil Collins demos in my head… [Imitate them using “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You” tune.]


In terms of the lyrics, I intended to use my three verses to build up into a preposterous situation: start with giving into nostalgia, followed by something weird, then complete all-consuming hysteria – instead of “the greatest hits of yesteryear will do for you now,” it was originally “because there’s no hope for you now.” However, I had the final line “don’t take a stand ‘til you reach for that landfill” from the start as a line that sounds utterly bizarre by itself, but entirely in context by the time you get to it – that is why I was happy for how one of the judges, Tom Mayhew, reacted to it: [Tom Mayhew clip].


I felt it was easy to refer to liminal spaces, hauntology and Jacques Derrida in the song, as they have all been discussed on “CheapShow”, although I didn’t yet know there was a song by Scritti Politti titled “Jacques Derrida”. Dead shopping malls are almost a genre of video on YouTube as people film walkthroughs of places that were once safe and busy, rendered eerie and empty by changing times – while they can be perfect examples of places you have to pass through, but you don’t think that you should be there, I think watching them might be my version of ASMR. Having said that, “That vape shop once sold games on tape for my Spectrum Plus” was the hardest line to condense, and then sing – I only realised later that Sinclair made a computer branded as a Spectrum+, because I was originally working down from Spectrum Plus 2. I also originally wrote “once sold cassette games for my Spectrum Plus,” proving you need to be as clear as you possibly can – this was why I had to change “Birds Eye Potato Waffles, still alive”, which I like, to “Findus Crispy Pancakes, still alive” which I hate – it has to be dah-dum, dah-dum, dah-dum, not dum-dah...


The middle section was always meant to be a list, but I then had to find items that were a stretch to be nostalgic about, like Polaris, which was Britain’s nuclear deterrent at the time, maintaining a base in my home town, but then also had to rhyme with each other, like The Naked Gun and “Pebble Mill at One,” thanks to my pronunciation of “wun” instead of “won.” I loved how the BBC’s daytime TV show, a forerunner of “The One Show”, also made it into another song in the contest, “Watching Shit Old Daytime TV” by the Electric Chair Orchestra. By the way, I was meant to sing “didn’t die” instead of “still alive”, until I had to sacrifice the alliteration when I realised I was singing “die, die, die” all the way through.


My favourite verse is obviously the last one – once I worked out how to talk about the monotonous “rhythm” of the nightly news, the alternate 1985 of “Back to the Future Part II” came to mind very quickly, an easy way to say “what went wrong?” and retreat into the past. “Tomorrow’s World Is Cancelled” both means exactly that, and the fact that the BBC’s science show of that title ended in 2003, the same year that Concorde flew for the last time, as if our idea of what the “future” was, and where you would find it, had ended.


If I had one regret with the song, it was not following Stephen Sondheim’s rule of no half-rhymes all the way through, having left “sounds” rhyming with “around” in the first verse. I think, by that point, I had to stop writing, and put my pen down.


So, what happened next? The Urinevision Song Contest 2021 album is available to listen to and download on Bandcamp – I never expected to be found on the home of vaporwave, so that is mind-blowing in itself. Entering the contest was the best thing I could have done, it has been the highlight of 2021 for me, and if I ever do anything as successful or as popular again, I will remember that it started with “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You” - it’s as simple as that. 


What this experience also confirmed for me is that, within strict legal definitions, I can apparently sing, and I have music confirmed as one more outlet, one I intend on making much more of, after writing a new opening and closing theme for this show. [Closing theme starts.] All I know for sure is this: if you enter your song into a contest, and it moves someone to say [Ash Frith clip] “who performed that, that was amazing,” you must be doing something right.


Thank you for watching. Comment, like and subscribe to let me know what you think, and until next time, the nostalgia culture crisis continues at, the new home for dancing with the gatekeepers.

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