“In 1969 I was chosen to audition for the Irish National Song Contest when they opened it up to amateurs. I came second, which I was very glad about. I must have been the only artist praying I wouldn’t win. I couldn’t deal with the anxiety of knowing that if I won I would be picked up as the Irish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. That night I retired from music but the producer remembered me and the following year he called me and said “I have a song for you.” The song was All Kinds Of Everything.” I thought: “It will be my last fling and I’ll never do this again.”

Born in Islington, north London in 1951, Dana Rosemary Scallon – better known as Dana - sprang to international fame when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970. Appropriately enough, Dana had “relocated” to Derry, Northern Ireland at the tender age of five – ostensibly due to her parents’ upbringing and ancestry but also after the family’s doctor advised that the London smog prevalent at the time (and prior to the Clean Air Act in 1956) could prove detrimental to her health – and her Irish heritage has never been in doubt. Her parents were, of course, musical – her father played the trumpet in his own dance band, The Imperial All Stars, her mother was their guest pianist – and at an early age Dana competed in piano and violin competitions and sang with the family. By the age of fourteen she was writing songs, coming first in folk singing competitions and being offered a record deal via Decca. She’d also been offered a place at a Bush Davis Ballet School in London.

Dana was still toying with teaching Music and English when she found herself performing on the same bill as erstwhile Irish superstars, The Dubliners, but events took over when Sixteen, her debut release on 17th November 1967, surfaced via Decca’s Irish offshoot label, Rex Records. The record was not a commercial success but local TV and radio stations were enamored and Dana was invited to audition for the Irish National Song Contest due to take place in February 1969. She came second but the following year she triumphed with “All Kinds Of Everything” and was chosen to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest. She was up against Mary Hopkin and Julio Iglesias.
“Everyone watched the Eurovision Song Contest at that time,” says Dana, “and I remember watching it as a child with my parents but there was a non-reality about me being in the competition. I lived in the north of Ireland but I was representing the whole of Ireland so that was beautiful because it was cross border involvement. I’d never even been abroad before but my mother, my grandmother and a small Irish team came with me to Amsterdam. I was basically left alone by the Eurovision press for all of that week because Ireland had never won. Most people in Ireland didn’t know who I was!” Naturally Mary Hopkin was one of the favourites and Dana was a huge fan. “It was incredible to meet her,” says Dana now. “A beautiful girl. I never for one second thought I would win so to wait in the green room with all the other artists watching the TV screen was incredible. As each one went out we applauded and wished good luck and as each one came back there were cheers.”

“I was the last one to sing and, as the votes came in, I wasn’t watching, I was watching Mary Hopkin (who looked like an angel), and Julio Iglesias and Katja Ebstein from Germany. I just wanted to lock everything in my head. Then we moved to the side of the stage and I missed a very big vote for Ireland and it seemed to be that the next second the stage manager was pulling me by the hand and saying, “Come with me, you’ve won” and I was pulling against him with all my weight and saying, “No, no, the last vote isn’t in, I haven’t won.” And then Mary Hopkin said, “Go with him, you have won” and I just walked with him to the side of the stage in complete shock - which I remained in for about six months. The 1970 Eurovision Song Contest had an estimated viewing audience of two hundred million and, unsurprisingly, Dana’s life and decision process had now been thrown off-course.

“I think I thought that once the night was over I would go back to school and finish my A- Levels but when I went back to my home town – which had been on the front pages of newspapers worldwide – there were thousands of people there. It was during The Troubles, and an incredible moment of light in a very dark time. There was a Spanish and German film crew camping in the corridor of the apartment we lived in and I couldn’t get out of the door. There were even more film crews at my school and it would have been impossible for me to go back. I was an overnight pop star!”
Indeed, she was! “All Kinds Of Everything” spent two weeks at the top of the UK charts and together with huge success in Australia, Austria, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Yugoslavia, it sold three million copies and set Dana on a pop career that has encapsulated around twenty albums - “they are all my babies!” - and a fascinating cornucopia of musical projects. But does she have favourites? Well she loved recording with Barry Blue on The Girl is Back and Rod Temperton was “special” but she suggests that The Collection also “has a special place in my heart. It features songs that I always wanted to record. And my children appeared on my Christmas album,” she continues “which was wonderful. I also love The Rosary, essentially a contemplative prayer in spoken word and music.” The latter sold over a million copies worldwide.
In 1976, Dana had surgery on her vocal cords due to a cancer scare and spent five years, at times, unable to sing or even speak. Doubts were cast over whether she would ever be able to sing again but Dana made a full recovery. Subsequently, inspired by the September 1979 visit of John Paul 11 to the Knock Shrine in Ireland - to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of an apparition there – Dana wrote and recorded the song Totally Yours which achieved No. 1 status in Ireland and also became a firm favourite in the United States. Some years later, in 1983, Dana began performing as Snow White - in a pantomime adapted from a book that Ruby Murray had instigated in the 1940s – breaking box office record and appearing for the next fourteen years in fourteen different UK cities including London’s West End.
Dana has had a very successful TV and radio career and one Xmas found herself being broadcast on the three major networks at exactly the same time – an occasion that prompted her Grandmother to be upset enough to suggest that her manager was forcing her to work too hard. She had two series for the BBC, A Day With Dana in 1974 and Wake Up Sunday in 1979 as well as the I Believe In Music BBC Radio series in 1977. In 2005, she spent seven weeks on the RTÉ television series The Afternoon Show and in 2006, she and dancer Ronan McCormack came second in the RTÉ dance series celebrity Jigs ‘n’ Reels. In 2009, she became a judge on The All Ireland Talent Show and in the summer of 2010 she participated in the Best of British Variety tour. She was also a contestant in the fourth series of the reality television programme, Celebrity Bainisteoir.
Dana has produced two volumes of autobiography. The first in 1989 - released simultaneously with a Fifties tribute album entitled If I Give My Heart To You - told the story of her childhood, married life and musical career and made her vow to “never try such a thing again”. Naturally, by 2007 she had relented as “so much had happened” but has since suggested she’ll “never try such a thing again.” If this has meant laying down her pen to resume musical duties then we are happy to report that Dana has recently returned to the studio and finished recording her new album set for release on FOD Records in October 2019.

“I found it terrifyingly wonderful to be back in the studio again.”

Produced by Bob Rose at Ennio Morricone’s Forum Studios in Rome, the recordings feature Manny Elias (Tears For Fears) on drums, long-term Lou Reed collaborator Fernando Saunders and Blondie’s Nigel Harrison on bass, Mikey Rowe (Oasis, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Sheryl Crowe) on keyboards, Gregory Darling on piano, Dani Robinson (Jimi Hendrix Experience) on guitars and the sumptuous delights of the Rome Santa Cecilia Orchestra. The album contains ten songs spanning an extraordinary array of styles and subjects and a honey-toned vocal dexterity that could only belong to Dana, one of our best-loved artists. It’s a welcome reminder of how much we’ve missed her.

For her part, Dana says she found it “terrifyingly wonderful to be back in the studio again after so long” but you would be hard pushed to detect this terror on album opener, Falling, a song penned by Jonathan Brown of UK pop phenomenon The Rua, the Windsor-based sibling trio who are making huge waves across the pond. The lyrics focus on a relationship that’s not going anywhere, suggesting that you have to fall before you can get back up again and Dana nails the sentiment in its entirety. Next up, is Shining Light, one of the more inspired and perhaps surprising covers you will hear this year: the song was released by fellow Irish compatriots, Ash and won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song in 2001 though Dana’s version is more reminiscent of something by Tom Petty, George Harrison or Travelling Wilburys and all the better for it. Penned by The Rua’s Jonathan Brown and mooted to be a single, Isn’t It Strange quickly follows, no doubt proving itself a showstopper for those who need to fall in love with a cracking tune before sunset.

Dana then turns her attention to her cover of the Roxy Music classic Just Like You – a version with a gorgeous jazz/New Orleans/Dixieland/ragtime feel, some intriguing Jonathan Brown Bowie infected backing vocals and a lovely solo by The Rua’s Alanna Brown – that can be filed under the Covers We Didn’t Think We’d Ever Hear But Are Glad We Did section, before we hear the southern Californiatinged, country-pop tune Anything and Everything (with hints of Everybody’s Talkin’ and written by The Rua and Mud’s celebrated songwriter Rob Davis, a man who wrote Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head back in the day) which focuses on what it is to be infatuated with someone to the extent that you find yourself doing anything for them. Gorgeously, brazenly, Dana’s mellifluous voice has never sounded better on the Billy Steinberg/Rick Knowles penned tune, My Idea Of Heaven (made famous by Leigh Nash) – harmonies courtesy of Alanna Brown – that follows before title track, My Time – another Rosanna Brown penned tune – shines a spotlight on “surviving the aftermath of a relationship that has crashed and burned due to rumours, secrets and lies”.

After this, we have Breaking Free, penned by Dana and her son Robert, which sounds so like an authentic ‘70s chart topper it is hard to believe it’s an original composition and a stunning version of I Will Never Let You Know, a song written by Erin McCarley, Kevin Rhoads and Kate York and performed first as a solo by Gunnar Scott before he sings it later with Scarlett O’Connor in the Season 3 finale of the fabulous TV series, Nashville. When Dana sings “I’m inside out shot through the centre/Feel this scar of where you entered /Took my life and turned it upside down/I’m burned to ashes split down the middle/f anyone asks it hurts just a little/I died inside the day I let you go”, you know she intrinsically feels every nuance and each bitter truth of the song’s sentiment.

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My Time closes with the gorgeous Sing For Me, a song written by Andreas Johnson - originally mooted as a Eurovision entry - that Dana strips bare and which she describes and performs as if she is “whispering in the ear of, and having an intimate conversation with, the listener.” The comment really sums up the album as a whole, a record which is as surprisingly versatile as it is reassuringly excellent and one which firmly secures Dana’s place as an Irish pop icon.

My Time will be released on FOD Records on November 1st.

 

© Phill Savidge September 2019