Congratulations – the best song never to win Eurovision?

Bill Martin recalls first wanting to write for  Eurovision when he heard “Volare” in the 1958 contest. Although it wasn’t a winner, it went on to become a worldwide smash still heard today. Bill teamed up with Phil Coulter and, in 1967, duly won the contest with the song Puppet on a String. Instead of resting on their laurels, their publisher, Jimmy Phillips, spurred them on to give him another number one the following year.

Bill recalls the day he and Phil had been ordered to produce that other hit.

“Phil and I went back to our office in Denmark Street where we had a piano, two chairs and a wash hand basin (we were very clean songwriters!). But there was nothing happening that day, so in time honoured song-writing tradition I went to the pub.”

When Bill returned to the office the following morning, he found a piece of sheet music on which Phil had written the familiar melody we all know, but the words were I think I love you, I think I love you. I think the world is fine, if you will say you’re mine. Bill wasn’t impressed by the lyric. ‘I told Phil it was a load of rubbish, so had to find something better using the five syllables in each of the first two lines. In the end I suggested Congratulations and Celebrations. Phil finished the arrangement and I suggested the slow down part for emphasis. And the rest is history. Cliff sang it on Eurovision in 1968 and to this day everyone thinks it won Eurovision.’ (It came second.)

‘It’s still played all over the world,’ says Bill, ‘at weddings, birthdays (including the Queen Mums 100th) and even at Wimbledon! I recently received a special Platinum Disc with flags from all the countries where the song has been No1 – and that’s everywhere except the USA.’

‘Phil and I are very proud to have written what Cliff refers to as “A song as big as Happy Birthday”. And I am lucky that it has taken me from the shipyards of Govan, Glasgow, to a house in Belgravia. There’s only one problem with it, as Tim  Rice pointed out to me when we both attended the funeral of American songwriter, Mort Schumann. Tim nudged me in the ribs and whispered, “You’d better write another good song or when you go they’ll play Congratulations”.

Congratulations (1968), written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, published by Peter Maurice Music Co Ltd. Performed by Cliff Richard.

Where are they now? Catch up with the band that sung the biggest selling Eurovision entry ever – Brotherhood of Man

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