If you’re younger than about 23, you’ll probably fall about laughing at suggestions the UK has actually won the Eurovision Song Contest in the past. But we have

Bury Mercury: That was then... Three British Eurovision Song Contest winners together: Lulu, Brotherhood of Man and Bucks Fizz...That was then... Three British Eurovision Song Contest winners together: Lulu, Brotherhood of Man and Bucks Fizz...

Ah, the spring of 1976. Britain, already in the grip of drought and soon to “enjoy” the mother of all heatwaves, looks forward to one of the annual excuses to gather round the telly: the Eurovision Song Contest.

It’s been seven long years since we triumphed. Ish. For the quirky voting system produced a four-way tie on 18 points in 1969: Lulu’s Boom Bang-a-Bang sharing the spoils with Spain, the Netherlands and France.

Now, hopes are high – especially as The Shadows came second in 1975.

And how about this for an omen? Brotherhood of Man, who squeaked in by the skin of their teeth to fly the flag for the UK, have seen their song top the domestic pop charts in the lead-up to the Eurovision showdown. Can the foursome pull it off in the Netherlands?

Yes! And how.

According to those who keep an eye on such things, Save Your Kisses For Me was the biggest winner of all time, according to the percentage of vote gained, and the biggest-selling Eurovision single. It shifted more than five million records and topped the charts in 33 different countries.

Woo. And that was just the start.

Brotherhood of Man go on to craft a CV that shows three UK number-one hits, four top-20 albums, and worldwide sales of 15m-plus.

For singer and songwriter Martin Lee, who’d worked in the furniture upholstery business before going full-time with the music industry, it’s almost unbelievable. Four decades on, he weighs his words to describe the days after that Eurovision triumph. “That was like jumping on a rocket ship and going to the moon and beyond: Venus, Mars, Saturn.”

Bury Mercury: And this is 1992. Brotherhood of Man at the Pavilion Theatre in Cromer...And this is 1992. Brotherhood of Man at the Pavilion Theatre in Cromer...

Martin – married to fellow Brotherhood of Man singer Sandra Stevens – is at home in Surrey. It’s a few days past his 67th birthday. The band’s going strong – the same foursome that got together in 1972 are still gigging at home and abroad, and enjoying it all, apart from the traffic.

They’re in Suffolk this month – a great chance for Martin to meet up with his older brother and family. Brian used to be a jockey at Newmarket and lives in the county.

I ask Martin to cast his mind back to April 3, 1976, at The Hague. They had to play first. Nervous?

“We were semi-confident, because we were already number one in the charts” – they would be there for six weeks – “but there’s always that air of ‘I wonder if…?’ Nothing’s guaranteed until it’s stamped.

“The worst thing was, everybody kept coming up to us and saying ‘You’re the winners, you’re the winners, no problem with that’. Oh god, don’t say that.

“The pressure of being on first was a bit of a daunting task, because you think ‘God, when they get to (song) 18, how the hell are they going to remember us?’ So we had to make a performance, so they’d turn round and say ‘Oh, I liked that one at the beginning’.”

Now, I’ve read that their routine – simple but effective, with catchy knee-bends and slides; thumbs tucked in belts; little waves – was the first piece of pukka Eurovision choreography. “Nobody really had choreography before us,” he confirms. “Nobody had done choreography as such. Even Abba (winners in 1974). Though we’ve had a lot of stick about it over the years, it stands the test of time. The minute we come on stage, wherever we are, everybody starts doing the dance – because the dance is more or less as famous as the song.”

Can most people crack it? I don’t think I’m that co-ordinated…

“Well, they try and do it. They usually do it quite wrong! But it’s still good fun and it’s very flattering to think they still remember it. Even kids do it. They must see it on YouTube.”

Bury Mercury: And this is now. (Or near enough.)And this is now. (Or near enough.) (Image: Archant)

Back in 1976, Brotherhood of Man picked up consistently good scores from the off. Not that the four were counting their chickens. “We got to the last three (votes to come) and people were saying ‘You can’t be beaten!’ But, of course, you can’t add up. You can’t even think! Then you realise you have done it. It was fantastic.” And also bewildering.

“A certain amount of relief, that’s for sure. But it’s just that – how can I say? – it has to sink in. You walk out there and 20,000 people are in the hall, and you’re taken aback by it all. There’s no time to think, and lots of people are saying ‘congratulations’, and 800 cameras are in your face. It all needs winding down. It happens so fast, in the blink of an eye, and then you really want to do it all again – and sit back and savour it. It’s only when you look back – as we all do – and go ‘That was great, wasn’t it? I’d like to do that again.’ It could be a birthday party; it could be Christmas; anything.”

The post-victory whirlwind was a bit crazy. As they travelled around, making the most of their opportunities, they invariably needed to travel with interpreters – for, 40 years ago, English wasn’t as universal a language as today.

“Now, when I look back at the pictures, it’s something else… It doesn’t seem like it was you – out-of-body-experience kind of stuff.

“The thing that makes it like that is because we have fans come up to us who now bring their daughters, and their daughters are in their 20s, and you think ‘How many lifetimes have I lived?! Have I died and come back or something?’ You do so much in this business – go to so many places and have so much fun. We are the luckiest people in the world. No two ways about it. I kiss the ground every day for the little bit of talent we found and the success people have given us around the world – and they still come and see us and applaud us.

“It’s very humbling to have that after 45 years. God knows how the Rolling Stones must feel! They’re in another league.”

Several times a year they play to 500 or 600 people at Warner Leisure hotels – as they were last Sunday, in Somerset – while appearances at Butlins holiday centres can see audiences 3,000 to 4,000 strong. “Which is another ballgame. They go crazy!” Martin says: “We enjoy entertaining the people. What we don’t enjoy is the travelling. It has become a nightmare with the roads today, and all the problems when you get on aircraft. It has become a mega-chore.” If it’s at all practicable, they’ll head for home after a gig, rather than stay overnight. The roads are so quiet, compared with daytime.

Brotherhood of Man’s three number one hits were co-written by Martin and fellow band member Lee Sheriden. Martin (the one with the moustache!) feels their success and staying power is down to telling a story. Not that it’s an exact science…

He says you can write a song and think “This is unbelievable!”, and then go in the studio “and it turns out very average! And one you think ‘This might be good…’ turns out to be Save Your Kisses For Me. It either has magic or not. There are no answers”.

Bury Mercury: Brotherhood of Man are no strangers to East AngliaBrotherhood of Man are no strangers to East Anglia

There was a tingle about Kisses, which had that all-important cute twist at the end to make it stand out. As they wrote it, they wondered “Is it his wife he’s saying goodbye to, or his girlfriend? What do people most like and go ‘Ah!’ over? Ooh, animals. We could suggest he’s leaving his little dog behind? Ummh… What about a child? That could be good.

“We decided on that: Won’t You save them for me/Even though you’re only three...”

Mind you, they liked that dog idea. It found its home as the payoff in My Sweet Rosalie: She’s the only one for me/The cutest little puppy dog you’ll see. “So it didn’t go to waste. It was either one or the other for Eurovision, and we picked the right one!”

Oddly, bearing in mind the writing success of Martin, Lee and Tony Hiller, no-one ever commissioned them to pen a potential Eurovision hit for another group or singer. “We were too busy to do anything anyway, but it would have been a good idea; I agree with you.” Today, Martin reckons even a big established name would potentially struggle to win gold. It’s so unpredictable, and ability is no guarantee.

“Europe is a totally different kettle of fish to us, in how they receive songs and what they like listening to. Today, Kisses or Angelo wouldn’t cut it. Today, it’s a modern kind of obscure pop song. You can’t always sing along to them, and it’s just what people fancy on the day. Whether that’s enough to sustain them” – as artists – “for two years, 10 years, 40 years…

“Today, I would not have a clue what to write. I could only write one and say ‘It’s a good song’. It’s pure luck.”

Back to the ’70s!

The Brotherhood of Man top the bill at the We Love Bury St Edmunds! A Night 2 Remember party on December 18.

It’s celebrating the welovebse website’s first birthday and raising money for the My WiSH Charity for the West Suffolk Hospital and North Court Care Home.

The party’s at Ashlar House, 23 Eastern Way, Bury St Edmunds, from 7pm until 12.30am.

Full details: www.welovebse.com/events/night-2-remember-wont-forget/

Famous Five: UK Euro-wins

1967: Sandie Shaw, Puppet on a String

1969: (joint winner) Lulu, Boom Bang-a-Bang

1976: Brotherhood of Man, Save Your Kisses For Me

1981: Bucks Fizz, Making Your Mind Up

1997: Katrina and the Waves, Love Shine a Light

It’s become a light show and a graphics show... but still brings world together

Martin always watches Eurovision, though admits being baffled by some developments. “They have a Eurovision to get a Eurovision, don’t they!” (Two semi-finals, this year.)

“What is it, 40-odd countries? Which is ridiculous. And now Australia! Where did they come from? There’s even talk of America. If they came, it couldn’t be Eurovision, could it? It would have to be Song-o-vision or something!” For an event that’s once a year, though, it’s great, he says. “A fantastic music show that brings the world together. And, god, we need that today – bringing everybody together, rather than fighting – and music is a tremendous medium.

“The instant you play a song, you remember where you were at that time. It brings sadness, it brings happiness, it brings memories. It’s a fantastic vehicle.”

Maybe it’s my age, but Save Your Kisses For Me was the complete package: a happy and singalongable song complemented by a neat little dance.

“Well, that’s it. Today… I don’t know. It’s become a light show and a graphics show.

“When you look at the set we had in 1976… We had a big sun behind us. It was a little bit Jackanory. But today there’s lasers; there’s all kinds of thing happening.

“And of course, now, they’ve brought in graphics. The last two songs really won by graphics. The ‘song contest’ part of it seems to be vanishing a little bit. I know things have got to move on and you can’t stay a stick-in-the-mud, but it is a song contest!”

From Pom to prince of pop

Martin laughs that he was one of the Ten-pound Poms who immigrated to Australia under a subsidised scheme to boost the population. That was when he was young – taken by his parents.

Sadly, his mother died out there and the family returned to England when Martin was in his teens.

He was about 16 when he started looking lovingly at the guitar and wanting one of his own.

“I suppose I was influenced by Ready Steady Go!, which was the Top of the Pops of its day, and ‘Oi’ll give it foive’” – a reference to ITV music show Thank Your Lucky Stars.

“As always, Dad said ‘Why don’t you get a proper job? You’re wasting your time…’” he laughs. But his cousin was playing the guitar, and that probably helped swing it for Martin.

The pair began writing songs together and even got through to the last three of a song-writing competition involving Ready Steady Go! presenter Cathy McGowan.

It was, Martin admits, a “dreadful song!” called Please Be Mine. “I can still remember it. The worst thing is, I can still sing it! But it encouraged you to keep writing, and that’s what I did. And here we are today.”