Saturday, January 30, 2016

Festivali i Këngës for beginners

OK, here are the rules:

1.  You need to make yourself available for three nights around Christmas.  (In 2015, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the 27th of December). Although these dates may slightly change, FiK (as it shall be known) usually always takes place around Christmas.  So now you don't have to subject yourself to the 'joys' of Christmas TV.  But if you are a masochist and feel that way inclined, you can always record those shows anyway.  So thanks to Chromecast I can watch FiK on the big telly which explains the following screen shots from my living room!


2.  You need to throw any preconceived notions of start times out of the window.  FiK never starts when it's supposed to, but usually about 15 minutes later.  So in the meantime, sit back and enjoy the ads (more of them later) and some offbeat short films, and trailers with Michael Buble songs, and more ads, and clips of the Christmas lights in Tirana, and Buble, more ads, and trailers, Buble, Christmas lights, and ads, and (*explodes in frustration*) oh WTF when does this thing start???  But on the plus side it's an education because you will learn some new Albanian words and phrases.  And then it starts....



3.  Be prepared to sing along, or at least hum along, with the utter joy of the FiK theme tune.  This is arguably the best theme song of any Eurovision national final.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGsjidRwVWU

And if you want to belt it out even if you don't know a word of Albanian, the lyrics (and English translation) are on the FiK Wikipedia page. "The years pass, they flow one by one, a word is born, it becomes a melody, in each heart when you stop, you meet a new friend, we welcome you, our celebration".  Just lovely, isn't it!


4.  Be prepared for three very long nights ahead in this spectacular.  There are lots of songs in each semi-final, and not many of them are eliminated so there are also lots of songs in the final.   But there are equally a huge number of distractions which seriously affects the flow: so don't be surprised if the proceedings are interrupted by random speeches, sketches, more speeches, more sketches and who knows, even some old blokes singing "Gangnam Style".  Yes, people, you did not dream that, for it actually happened in 2015.  



5.  Expect the show to be presented by some old bloke (although we had a younger guy in 2014), accompanied by a reasonably glamorous but bored-looking younger woman.  With some hairdo variations.  It would be fair to say that the good people of Twitter-land weren't too thrilled with Blerta Tafani's styling this year.  Neither was she, if the first screenshot above was anything to go by.  

6.  Do you like orchestras?  Good.  For there is none of that backing-tape rubbish in FiK - it's a hardcore throwback to Eurovision's golden age where every song is backed by a live orchestra and each song has its own conductor.  In the years prior to 2015 the conductor got his own moment in the spotlight and an occasional camera shot.  Which would make this particular blogger very happy, given her fondness for a certain Mr Gridi Kraja.  But in 2015 it all changed - the conductors still get a mention but it's now blink and you'll miss them, no lingering camera shots any more.  They have been sidelined.  And that wasn't the only thing being sidelined in 2015 as the next 'rule' reveals...

7.  Do you like ad breaks?  For Eurovision fans, many of the ad breaks in national finals are often as iconic as the song contest itself; particularly if you have 6 hours to spare to watch the Maltese ads-interrupted-by-song-contest extravaganza.  When it comes to FiK, expect those long ad breaks to be dominated by ads for Eurosig, Vodafone and Ardeno to name three.  (Although in 2015 there was no sign of the cheesy singer at the piano or the Geraldina Sposa wedding dresses ad) The story so far: Ardeno, an Albanian furniture store, had expanded into Kosovo and Montenegro.  This was highlighted in the map at the end of the ad, which soon went into Twitter FiK fandom folklore, not because we have a thing for Albanian furniture stores, but for reasons of pure innuendo and nothing else.  


By 2015 though, they had expanded further and the legendary map had been axed from Ardeno's new ad, revealing this very boring conclusion....


Whether it was due to the company's further expansion into other countries, or them just spoiling our fun, we will never know. 

8.  Be prepared for guitars.  Lots of them.  For FiK loves guitars, and they will chuck in a guitar solo whether a song needs one or not.  Oh, and you can forget that three-minute rule at FiK too. Sometimes a song will last for 4 and a half minutes; sometimes it feels like 6 hours.  

9.  Forget televoting: FiK has been going for 54 years now, and as far as I know it has always selected its winners by a jury.  That remains the case even today.

10.  The Dashuri Drinking Game: it is the recommendation of this blog that you do not participate in this activity, which involves taking a drink every time you hear the word "dashuri" in a FiK song.  It is guaranteed that you would have alcoholic poisoning three songs in.  Please drink responsibly!

11. No, you can't sing along with it: having watched the last 4 FiK contests what strikes me is the rather different structure of Albanian songs, if this contest is anything to go by.

12.  After approximately 4½ hours (yes!!) of what feels like an interminable final on the 3rd night, a winner will finally be chosen by the jury.  Inevitably, the internet fan community will then go through the 5 stages of FiK grief: 1) Oh noooo!  2) Bad choice of winner.  3) Maybe with a revamp.... 4) It wasn't that bad, they could have chosen (insert your least favourite song) instead.  5) Maybe it'll sound better in English....


13.  2015 brought, for me, a surprise winner.  There were many highly-rated singers who made it to the final - Sigi Bastri, Klodian Kacani and Rezarta Smaja, Adrian Lulgjuraj, Luiz Ejlli, Teuta Kurti, fan favourite Besa Krasniqi, Nilsa Hysi, Flaka Krelani, Lindi Islami to name a few - but of the 22 entries selected for the final it was Eneda Tarifa (above) who surprisingly triumphed with "Përrallë" - not a tribute to Swedish singer Charlotte (!) but it actually means "Fairytale" (hmm....getting a little deja-vu feeling with that song title in Eurovision!) and the song has a 'Bond theme' feel but I just wonder if the drama of the Albanian version will translate well into English in Stockholm?  The most concerning aspect of this song for me was that it required a number of listens before I really found a "hook".  And when you only get one chance to impress in the semi-final, this could be a major obstacle for Ms Tarifa.

14. Does FiK always choose the best song every year?  Well, this is a matter of opinion but in this writer's opinion the answer is....no.  In FiK 54, RTSH really missed the opportunity of achieving a decent result in Sweden with this energetic rock song performed by the winner of The Voice of Albania, a young man named Aslajdon Zaimaj.  This was my favourite song in FiK 54.



And finally....

15.  What are you doing next Christmas?  For there's the 55th edition of a certain Albanian song contest going on....!  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Time out....

Hi folks, just popped in to say that this blog will be back probably around mid-February, with a whole lot of retrospective posts dating all the way back to the end of 2015.  At the moment I'm caught up in some long-overdue painting, decorating and home improvement which is taking up a lot of my time (when I'm not at work, which is also very busy) so I won't have time for blogging for a while.

Back soon (hopefully!)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A weird Norwegian dream


I haven't been sleeping very well over the past week - there's a lot of stuff going on (not directly involving me) and it's obviously messed with my mind enough to end up having a totally random and unrelated weird dream involving me, my late mum, ESC 1986 Norwegian representative Ketil Stokkan and a trip to Norway!

Venue: a hotel in an undisclosed location somewhere in Norway.  This was no ordinary hotel as it opened up at the back to acres and acres of parks, streams and trees.  It was packed with people and I had managed to talk my mum into going to Norway with me to see a concert by Ketil Stokkan who had come out of retirement for this big comeback show which was taking place in a big lounge in the hotel, but there wasn't a big stage - instead the acts had to stand behind the bar where they would sing and perform their show.  We got ready for the big concert and headed down to the bar. There were many excitable Norwegians in the crowd and also some curious British and Americans employed in the oil industry.

Anyway Ketil appeared and started singing but there was no sound.  Despite changes of microphone the sound ceased to work.  My mum got fed up waiting and decided to go back to the impossibly luxurious hotel room but I begged her to stay in the bar, in my most pleading and whiny voice "I need to hear him singing Romeo, I can't miss that!". (Incidentally prior to the show, the organisers presented a massive cake with the word Romeo written in icing on top of the cake)

So she reluctantly decided to stay and we waited and time passed and still no sign of Ketil who had left the stage/bar.  Eventually he then came back on wearing his ESC 1986 trouser suit and started to sing.  This time the sound was working but for some reason he was singing a lot of old rock and roll songs (think Shakin' Stevens!) rather than his own songs.  The booing started and the crowd yelled "sing Romeo!"  I was all geared up to join in the famous "Romeo" dance routine as well.  But then I woke up, which was extremely frustrating as I wanted to find out how the dream ended.  Would he sing "Romeo"?  Would I get the chance to do the dance? Would he ever change my mind about "Brandenburger Tor"? (not one of my favourite ESC songs!)

Aah, so many questions ....but anyway, dream analysts - just what was that dream all about????? A subliminal commemoration of 30 years since my all-time favourite Norwegian ESC entry?  Or something completely different?  This was such a vivid dream that I just had to blog about it of course!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie

I just thought I'd interrupt my blogging break to put down a few thoughts.

It was just another ordinary Monday morning and as I got ready for work the news stopped me in my tracks.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one to greet the news of David Bowie's death with shock and disbelief.  After all, no-one but those closest to him knew that he had been unwell; but in this modern world where every minute detail of the lives of the world's most fame-hungry celebs is posted online, privacy and dignity are rare and treasured qualities, in life and in death.  Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

It was only a few days ago that the singer's final album "Blackstar" was released and many comments have been made today about the uncanny timing of the album and the prophetic lyrics of its single "Lazarus".

As I grew up in the 70s, my house was always filled with music.  And my mum always had a special place in her heart for David Bowie back in those days.  She was fascinated by his changing image and innovative music; although she was more of a singles than albums fan so that explains why we wore out that vinyl copy of the Best of Bowie, eventually replacing it years later with an updated greatest hits CD .  Her favourite Bowie song was "Drive In Saturday" with "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes" close behind; whilst my favourites were "Life On Mars", "Starman" and "Golden Years".  She reserved particular hatred for "The Laughing Gnome" which I used to play because I knew it annoyed her so much; and later on, her impersonation of Bowie singing "Alabama Song" used to reduce both of us to a giggling fit.

But Bowie's music moved on and so did we; although our enthusiasm waned for his later material, but we continued to play those classic songs from the 70s.  I lost count of the amount of times that mum watched the Ziggy Stardust concert.  One night whilst watching it she told me that she wished she'd had the opportunity to see him live in the 1970s.  We never did get to see him play live, for whatever reason....but the nearest we got, a few years ago, was when we went along to see a fantastic tribute show called "Ultimate Bowie" by Ed Blaney and his band, which covered every stage of the singer's career in intense detail, right down to costumes, make-up and vocal style.  The number of hardcore Bowie fans at the show spoke volumes about the quality of this guy's performance, and the setlist didn't just include the big hits but also the "fan favourites" which the more casual Bowie fan may not have been aware of.  I hope that Ed and his band will continue to keep this great music alive.

It would be impossible to imagine an artist of David Bowie's calibre breaking through in these times of bland music, when the dullest artists are acclaimed as worldwide stars.  But he made it big at the right time, when his creativity was allowed to flourish and all on his own terms rather than some contrived record company invention.  The fact that his death was the lead item on all our news programmes today proves just how influential, enduring, popular and unique an artist he was.   But I just want to say thank you, Mr Bowie, for soundtracking my 70s childhood.  Your music made us happy, and it will live on.  R.I.P.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Digital detox time again....

So after my little burst of blogging over the past few days I'm now going to take a break from here and from Twitter.  This month I'm going to paint/decorate my house but it won't be all work and no play as I'm also going to catch up with some of my TV/DVD backlog and get back into reading again.  

I'll be back on here and on Twitter at the beginning of February, just in time for another hectic Eurovision national finals season!  See you then. 

2015: The hate chart

Yes my friends, it's the return of the "hate chart" with another year's worth of songs which I never, ever, want to listen to again in my life if I can help it...

10. "Wish You Were Mine" - Philip George
There is good sampling and there is this.  2015 had hardly started when this became an immediate inclusion in my hate chart.  At no time ever is there any excuse for destroying Stevie Wonder's, er, wonderful song "My Cherie Amour".  But Philip George took that chance and produced an ear-splittingly bad piece of dance music to welcome in the new year.  He did later redeem himself with a decent revisiting of Another Level's "Be Alone No More".

9.  "Body On Me" - Rita Ora and Chris Brown
Yes it's Rita "I'm sexy, me!" Ora.  Unfortunately despite releasing a couple of decent singles and coming across as reasonably likeable on X Factor I cannot take her seriously as an artist due to her aggressive, self-publicising sexualisation.  And as sure as night follows day, the video has her prancing around in various states of undress and throwing herself at Chris Brown.  Not a good career move.  Presumably all this is to mask the fact that this is one of the most cliched and bog-standard r'n'b songs to grace the charts in a long time.

8.  "Show Me Love" - Sam Feldt
There seems to have been a spate of sparse dance-cover-reinventions of old hits over the last couple of years.  When they are done well (Felix Jaehn's "Ain't Nobody" for example) it can be a good thing; this on the other hand is one of the worst, a soulless and sparse reimagining of Robin S's enduring dance banger.

7.  "Love Me Like You Do" - Ellie Goulding
Overplayed rubbish from an over-hyped singer who once promised much but then went on to produce a string of overplayed and inexplicably successful hits.  Then something strange happened - she released a song I surprisingly like a lot ("On My Mind") but that was a rarity.  But back to this one - tedious song, irritating voice and appropriately it is the theme song from an equally overrated and tedious film ("Fifty Shades of S****").

6. "Lay Me Down" - Sam Smith
The reigning champion of the EuropeCrazy hate chart and just when we hoped he'd gone away, we were bombarded by not one but two versions of this song in the UK singles chart (the second being a duet with John Legend).  Dismal, manipulative ballad which screams 'talent show audition fodder'.

5.  "Good For You" - Selena Gomez
Yet another depressing example of a former Disney star trying to shake off the shackles of the past, This is sexy/sultry as designed by committee; the fact that Selena still looks a lot younger than her 23 years gives the video a .......disturbing aspect.  As for the song itself, it's just a dire dirge with muffled vocals masquerading as something serious and credible.  And how can you take a song seriously when she sounds like she's singing "I'm farting carrots" at the start of the song?

4.  "House Every Weekend" - David Zowie
This track made history in 2015 as it was the first ever no.1 in the UK singles chart after it moved from Sundays to Fridays.  For such a history-making track, it's a soul-destroying example of the worst type of dance music.  Now I love dance music - always have and always will - but the irritation factor of this is off the scale.  But then again, I'm not in the demographic for this one: I'm quite happy to sit in the house every weekend.

3.  "Summer 2015" - LEJ
Perenially irritating medley of hits from 2015 by a harmonising French female trio with a drum and a cello. They sound like 3 posh students busking in the city centre.  By the time they hit "Uptown Funk" and "Cheerleader" the will to live is lost.  Apparently they did this kind of thing in 2014 as well and that wasn't much better.

No. 2: "Marvin Gaye" - Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor.
In the history of recorded music, can there ever have been a more excruciating lyric than "let's Marvin Gaye and get it on?". Puth then proceeds to pun his way through the Marvin Gaye songbook. Every line a cringe. For a while this was going to top my chart but then I realised that I didn't really hate the song as much as.....


1.  "Hold My Hand" - Jess Glynne.
She is the latest overplayed darling of British radio, and along with Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith has made up about 95% of our radio playlists in 2015.  Any one of her songs could have breezed into my hate chart but this stood head and shoulders over all others as the one I hate the most. I have been in many a heated argument with people who feel that she can do no wrong; whereas for me her voice is like nails down a blackboard and I can't understand her appeal.

The 2015-50: No.10 - No.1


No.10: "Tonight Again" - Guy Sebastian. 

Who'd have thought we'd ever have seen the day when Australia was competing in the Eurovision Song Contest?   It was certainly a wonderful experiment, even if the world record number of "good morning Australia" references wasn't; and the shine has somewhat been taken off by the news that it wasn't a 60th anniversary one-off and the land down under will be back again in 2016, although they won't be automatic qualifiers this time round.

Absolute credit to Australia though for sending one of their biggest artists of recent years - Guy, the original Australian Idol winner.  He brought a high level of professionalism and vocal prowess.  I never ever thought this would win - purely because outwith the ESC fanbase, Australia's inclusion was greeted with some confusion and maybe even resentment?  However, "Tonight Again" more than deserved its 5th place.  The song, a Bruno Mars-esque catchy, brassy pop song, became one of my most-played song after this year's contest and was a regular fixture on Swedish radio playlists too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0EhhZWXTng


No.9: "Don't Say No" - Midnight Boy.

Imagine if Pete Burns was asked to do Eurovision. And once you’ve taken that in, feast on this.  In what, for me, was yet another weak Melfest year (which did choose the right winner of course), then just like last year (“Red” – Eko) it turned out that one of the songs considered not good enough to make the final would be one of my faves of the year.  This is probably the great lost Dead or Alive song!



No.8: "S'te Fal" - Lindita Halimi.

Here's another song from 2014 but it was too late to make last year's chart.  Over the last couple of years, Albania's Festivali i Këngës has become one of my must-see national finals - mainly because of its old-school feel, with songs in native language and singers backed by a live orchestra.  But I can understand the criticism levelled at the contest, that it can be a bit too old-fashioned and out of step with the modern Eurovision.

But we knew this was going to be something different, from Gridi Kraja’s two-fingered salute, to one of the most ballsy performances I’ve ever seen at FiK.  Lindita, the Kosovo-Albanian version of Beyonce (I nicknamed her 'Albeyonce') even retweeted me after the FiK final so I will probably love her forever.  This song should have gone to Vienna and I'm confident it would have got the country's best result since "Suus".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhyRJxPFM9I


No.7: "Më rrëmbe" - Rezarta Smaja.

Another 2014 song which was too late for inclusion in last year's chart.  Even though I loved Lindita's song, this had the edge for me.  I've followed Rezarta since watching my first FiK in 2012, when she sang "Ti..." so was keen to hear what she would do next.  I can't really describe why this song appeals to me so much - it's old-fashioned and ethnic and not usually the kind of thing I like, but I love Rezarta's expressive voice, the orchestration, the structure of the song....oh and as my Twitter friends are well aware, I'm rather fond of the conductor (Gridi Kraja) too!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUKkXT-iDQw


No.6: "Heroes" - Måns Zelmerlöw.

Firstly, let's play devil's advocate with 2015's Eurovision winner?  It's clinical - some would say cynical - in its elaborate staging.  It could be argued that the animation/projection overshadows the whole song.  The whole package aggressively screams "we are here to win Eurovision".

But let's be positive now.  Firstly I was glad to see Måns finally get the chance to represent Sweden at his 3rd attempt.  And in a below-par year at Melodifestivalen it was a deserved winner.  The staging is breathtaking and takes the contest to a whole new level of presentation.  Alleged plagiarism aside, "Heroes" is a very good, contemporary pop-dance song with wide appeal.  It's certainly not a 'classic' Eurovision winner, but it was the one that the contest needed at this point in time.  So, then, more of a "Mr Right Now" than a "Mr Right" for Eurovision :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sGOwFVUU0I


No.5: "Grande Amore" - Il Volo.

So we know by now how Italy at ESC goes – they’re Italy so we’re going to get a quality song, or artist, or both, but when it comes to the contest you just know that we're inevitably going to get the ‘can't be arsed’ approach to performance.  2015 was very different indeed.  For Il Volo did make an effort and put everything, and crucially personality, into their performance – and they totally connected with the voting public, winning the televote.  If ESC 2015 was based purely on televoting, Il Volo would have won.  So they are seen by many as the "moral victors".  However, my own view remains that whilst I preferred "Grande Amore" to "Heroes", I felt that "Heroes" was the winner which ESC needed.    

"Grande Amore" is a classic slice of Italian-language "popera"; you don't need to understand the language to completely feel the emotion of the song.  It's a powerful and timeless song which oozes class.  Il Volo have been very successful and haven't stopped working hard since the contest, touring and consolidating their fanbase in Italy, Europe and North America.  



No.4: "Tutti Frutti" - New Order featuring La Roux. 

How do you describe being a New Order fan these days?  Well, imagine if you have a wonderful relationship with both of your parents and then they divorce and it all turns nasty.  So since New Order carried on after their acrimonious split with legendary bass player Peter Hook, the continuing disagreement (with the flames mostly being fanned by Hooky, it must be said) has been pretty painful to watch, particularly for those of us whose fandom goes back to the days of Joy Division.

But if I'm honest, I thought that New Order, as a band, were finished.  So the last thing I expected was a new album which would turn out to be one of their best in years.  For me, the key factor was the return of Gillian Gilbert - my all-time female musical role model! - to the band, bringing back the keyboard sound which marked their best material in the past.  "Music Complete" is the sound of a band refreshed and reinvigorated.  "Tutti Frutti" is the absolute standout track - it's a terrific pop song, And as I mentioned earlier in my chart, the inclusion of Elly Jackson on additional vocals is inspired, contrasting with Bernard's distinctive world-weary vocals just perfectly.  This song is the perfect reminder of why New Order were true trailblazers, with their perfect fusion of rock and dance music.

Video of their live performance on BBC 6 Music live at Maida Vale:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIyVPYGhh9A


No.3: "Piss Off" - FFS.

I discovered this song in the same week that my mum died.  But it also made me smile to myself at the time, because I know that she would have just loved it.  As you would expect from a combination of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks, there are witty and intelligent lyrics and distinctive vocals in abundance, and a killer chorus.  This is big, and clever, and funny, and never fails to make me smile.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3WrlwNA1zw


No.2: "King" - Years and Years.

I can't be bothered with this trend over recent years for hyping new artists whether it's the Brits Critics Choice or BBC "Sound Of..." list, which ensures preferential treatment for certain artists/bands, and gets them straight onto radio playlists once they actually release material.  So I was very sceptical of Years and Years, but then I heard "King" which justified the hype (although I haven't had the same enthusiasm for their subsequent singles releases).  "King" is a bright shiny piece of electro-pop music with staying power.  I've lost count of the number of songs that I've played this song. A hit song, from the UK charts, in my top 50? Surely some mistake.  But this one is a terrific exception to the rule.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_uoH6hJilc


No.1: "Fatti Avanti Amore" - Nek. 

So the big news in my chart is that this is the first year when it hasn't been topped by a Swedish artist. Instead, the honour of my 2015 chart champion goes to an Italian singer who has been around for many years, and who I initially discovered through his Spanish-language material during a holiday in Barcelona a few years ago.  But I drifted away from Nek's music for a while, only finding him again through his appearance at Sanremo 2015 with this brilliant pop/rock song.  "Fatti Avanti Amore" is a punchy, pulsating song with a freshness and urgency sadly missing from most of today's music.  
Nek and Sanremo have history: he competed in 1997 with probably his most famous song "Laura non c'e" - but he didn't win.

Fast-forward to 2015: Nek returns to Sanremo....and doesn't win.  But that doesn't really matter.  For if Nek had won, I doubt if he'd have taken up the offer to compete in ESC. After all, he's already an established and known artist in many European countries.  I get the feeling that Sanremo takes precedence over Eurovision for Italian artists, and an appearance at Sanremo is the best possible showcase for new material, so that's probably the real reason that Nek returned to Sanremo. Whatever the case, he's still got it.  "Fatti Avanti Amore" is my favourite and most-played song of 2015.  If Sanremo 2016 can bring anything as good, then it will be well worth watching.  

The 2015-50: No.20 - No.11


No.20: "Here For You" - Maraaya.

I've never really been a big follower of Slovenian ESC entries - although it's a country I would really love to visit at some point in the future - but I definitely took more of an interest this year after watching my first full Slovenian national final.  "Here For You" was certainly an entry to be proud of: Marjetka and Raay are a very appealing couple and even if they pushed all the gimmick-buttons just a bit too far (Headphones?  Check!  Air-violinist? Check!) they deserved their place in the final, although they maybe just got a little lost on the big stage in Vienna.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFMv2LjuD2E



No.19: "Waiting For Love" - Avicii.

A particularly impressive track from Avicii, his wonderful songwriting/production collaborators Salem Al Fakir and Vincent Pontare, and lead vocals by Simon Aldred.  Like many of Avicii's hit songs over the past couple of years, "Waiting For Love" was more than just a dance track - it was a cracking pop single, with the positivity of the song recalling Salem's own solo material (he is really sadly missed as a solo performer) and as for that video - well, that souped-up mobility scooter is just something else.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHHLHGNpCSA



No. 18: "Mendje Trazi" - Jozefina Simoni.

The first of those annual chart "discrepancies" - this song is from Festivali i Këngës 53, from 2014, but was not included in last year's chart as it was just too late for inclusion.  This FiK 53 song later became a big fave of mine.  Being a Bledar Sejko song yes there is a guitar solo, but the complex orchestral arrangement is a joy.  Offbeat, jazzy and defiantly old fashioned; all of the things I love.  Add to that Jozefina in her crimped hair and feathery dress and the lovely Gridi Kraja conducting the proceedings and this is just great.
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLEJ-uFws3c


No. 17: "Goodbye to Yesterday" - Elina Born and Stig Rästa.

Estonia continues to provide one of the most interesting national finals in Eurovision season.  It's the most 'indie' of national selections and this year provided some cracking entries - notably Elephants From Neptune's "Unriddle Me" which narrowly missed out on my chart.  But this was the runaway winner, even before a note was sung in the national final.  By the time it got to Eurovision, Elina and Stig matched the a dark, complex entry with a suitably matching performance from the duo, with an undercurrent of tension and sadness.  This is one of those songs which could never be described as a "Eurovision song".  Watch and learn, BBC.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xsx_dIJOtgI


No.16: "Brinner i Bröstet" - Danny Saucedo. 

The other great Swedish-language pop reinvention of the year.  Danny had followed a similar career path to his fellow former Swedish Idol contestant Darin - accessible and appealing English-language pop - but like Darin and indeed many other talented Swedish artists, Danny has started recording in his native language.  It hasn't affected the quality of his music and has taken his popularity to new heights in his homeland. "Brinner..." is an exquisite pop/r'n'b track with the biggest anthemic chorus.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6GekWxcZvo


No.15: "Lush Life" - Zara Larsson.

I think we can say that 2015 was a very successful year for young Ms Larsson.  This catchy pop song was the big hit of the summer in Sweden, dominating radio playlists for months, and went on to be a hit in several other countries too.  Of course the UK is always the last country to catch up with a European hit, so there's been no sign of "Lush Life" in our charts in 2015 - although all that could change as the song's scheduled for release over here on 15.01.2016.  She did have success in the UK this autumn as featured vocalist on MNEK's "Never Forget You" which is still in the UK top 20 so that bodes well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD4HCZe-tew


No.14: "Peanut Butter Jelly" - Galantis.  

Galantis is a Swedish duo who have had songwriting/production success with many artists in recent years so it was time to have some success of their own.  They had their first big dance hit "Runaway" last year but it was "Peanut Butter Jelly" which really appealed to me with its 1970s disco vibe.  This very catchy dance/pop song is one of the year's most enduring hits for me,  I never tire of it, the track is just packed with joy and happiness.

Add to that the daft feelgood video with people dancing in the supermarket - now you never see anything like this in Asda or Lidl then eh?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jBDnYE1WjI


No.13: "Lisja Esenski"/"Autumn Leaves" - Daniel Kajmakoski.

Two for the price of one here.  This is actually one of my chart discrepancies as "Lisja Esenski" first made its appearance but is in my chart this year as it qualified to Eurovision 2015.  Many fans didn't like the original version of the song when it won Skopje Fest, but I was in that minority who did. When it was then translated to "Autumn Leaves" and revamped into a mid-tempo song in the style of OneRepublic, well, I also liked that one too!  (This is beginning to sound like that Aldi ad - "I like this one....but I like this one"!)

So rather than place both songs separately in my countdown, I've joined them together as I like each one equally.  Daniel was one of the more appealing aspects of 2015's contest, so it was even more disappointing when he failed to reach the final.

Lisja Esenski:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlVbOcBABfM
Autumn Leaves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8QCt6CJCHc


No.12: "Ghost Town" - Adam Lambert.

So here goes, people, time for my almost-annual question: "what does Adam Lambert have to do to get a hit single in the UK?"  Answer: well, he has a terrific voice, he is talented, stylish, flamboyant and makes great pop music.  Which probably speaks volumes about the quality of the UK singles chart.  "Ghost Town" is a sparse, creeping pop song with an appropriately spooky production, and again it has an enduring quality which has made it one of my most played songs of 2015.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix8ocFEMa1o


No.11: "Ta Mig Tillbaka" - Darin.

With this song, Darin's transition from pop-dance star to fully-fledged Swedish-language musical heavyweight was complete.  An utterly dreamy and delightful song which brought me calm in many times of stress and sadness over the past year, and proof that music can really be the most therapeutic thing.  And on a completely unrelated shallow note, Darin is just getting hotter with every passing year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_p1D63vj0ss

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: November-December 2015


Something very strange happened to me over the past couple of months.  For in my infinite (lack of) wisdom I decided to revisit "THE X FACTOR" (ITV) and watch the live shows for the first time in 8 years or so.  I don't know why, I must have lost my mind.  But it was strangely addictive for all the wrong reasons.  The six chair challenge was bizarre, the live Judges' Houses shows were frankly embarrassing, and as for Olly Murs and Caroline Flack, well the less said about them the better. So it wasn't only the viewers who were going through the motions....

After weeks of manipulative and predictable television, we were left with three finalists - third-placed soul singer Che Chesterman, chosen one Louisa Johnson and the "people's choice" Reggie 'N' Bollie. R'N'B were like Chaka Demus & Pliers (remember them, 90s kids?) updated for the 21st century. Their "What Makes You Beautiful"/"Cheerleader" mash-up was inspired.  But they were clearly stitched up in the final and in a particular burst of cruelty they were made to sing "Forever Young" which exposed their vocal inadequacies.  And it wasn't the chirpy "Parenthood" theme version of the song either, but rather a dreary ballad version tailored to the style of "new Leona" Louisa.  The music-buying public have finally had enough of Cowell's obsession with boring ballad winners' songs.  Christmas no.1?  It didn't even make no.1, only reaching no.9.  A very telling statistic which speaks volumes, that the great British public are sick and tired of the manipulative X Factor.  The bad news is, it's not over yet and unfortunately will be back next year.  By that time, I'll be using my time more productively, i.e. not watching X Factor!


If The X Factor is crashing down a very slippery slope, "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) remains a monster hit.  I quite enjoyed the 2015 series more than some in recent years.  For a start, we had some new professionals in the mix - Oti Mabuse (sadly eliminated early, hope we see her back again), Giovanni Pernice, and Gleb Savchenko.  Ahhhhh, Gleb.......not that we ever need an excuse for a gratuitous picture!


Gleb was paired with Anita Rani and they were one of my favourite couples along with Giovanni and Georgia May Foote.  Before the series started I thought that serial reality TV botherer Peter Andre would win, but after a couple of weeks Jay McGuiness, formerly of The Wanted, became a strong contender.  My main problem with Jay was that he was far too dour and emotionally unresponsive. Dancing is an expression of great joy - I'm not asking for a fake grin but even a glimmer of enjoyment would be nice.  It didn't get any better either - his unimpressed reaction on winning made me very angry indeed.  But I managed to find an extremely rare picture of him cracking a smile...


This was a controversial win, as Jay was not top of the scoreboard on final night.  But that was down to an explosion of favouritism by the judges towards Kellie Bright and Kevin Clifton for their showdance and Charleston which were virtually the same dance; but at least they looked as if they were enjoying it, and their showdance had a bit more 'show' than Jay's non-show-showdance to "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd. But Jay had been the most consistent dancer over the series, so that explained the win.  Given the show's enormous popularity it was inevitable that there is great media interest, and the stories just kept on coming.  Ola Jordan quit the show, just after alleging that the judges influence the competition thanks to over-marking and under-marking certain contestants. The 'fix' allegations arose again following the final.  Whether there is any substance or not to these allegations, you have to accept that it's a modern-day TV entertainment competition, which can easily be manipulated by something as simple as a choice of a certain dance, or piece of music, or the suggestive power of a judge's remark which may convince a viewer to vote a certain way.  But that's modern-day telly for you.  Then there was the gossip about a possible romance between Jay and Aliona - after all these years of Strictly romances, the media was desperate for another one but they didn't get it.  Aliona has now quit the show, going out on a high as the only professional to win twice. Despite all the rumours, allegations and criticism, Strictly remains a bright and glamorous way of lighting up our TV screens during the dark autumn/winter nights. Same time next year then!


Still on the theme of dance, BBC2 screened a very interesting drama-documentary recently, all about Russian ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev.  "NUREYEV: DANCE TO FREEDOM" (BBC2) was a compelling look back at the dancer's rise to fame and finally his decision to defect to the West at an airport in Paris in 1961, with the KGB in hot pursuit.  The drama was interspersed with interviews with those who worked with and knew the dancer.  Nureyev was played by Artem Ovcharenko, who is not only a top ballet dancer in his own right but also bore a spooky similarity to Nureyev.  


The world of lower-league football is mainly overlooked by TV in favour of the multi-millionaire world of the Premiership, but what happened when the two came together?  "CLASS OF '92: OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE" (BBC1) answered that question.  A group of Man Utd's former players who were all part of that successful 1992 team decided to buy a local team, Salford City FC.  This very enjoyable two-part documentary followed the first season under Neville, Neville, Giggs, Scholes and Butt's ownership.  It's a very different world in the lower leagues, but this programme demonstrated that even amateur footballers can be prima donnas who think they can get away with anything! This soon resulted in the sacking of the team's manager replaced by a quite frankly very scary management duo, whilst the team also had to cope with the almost-obsessively hands-on involvement of Phil and particularly Gary Neville.  There was a happy ending of course; the team achieved promotion and face a new set of challenges in the next league up.  It would be a good idea if the BBC revisit this story in a few years to find out a) what happened next and b) if anyone had the guts to tell the Nevilles where to go.


"I can't believe what I'm watching (part 95)" - Is there no hobby, interest, pastime or sport which TV won't turn into a competition?  After the massive success of the Great British Bake Off, BBC2 brought us the Great British Sewing Bee and as if that wasn't enough, we now had "THE GREAT POTTERY THROW DOWN" which followed the exact same format with ordinary people being set weekly challenges, judged by two expert judges. Now I'll admit that pottery is a very intricate task and I applaud the talent of anyone who can turn a lump of clay into a vase or a bowl or a cup - but competitive pottery just didn't work for me.  Host Sara Cox even tried to go down the Mel and Sue innuendo route to make it more interesting, but after 20 minutes I was out.  I guess the difference between baking and pottery is that baking is a more accessible hobby; with the right instructions and ingredients anyone can bake a simple cupcake (come on, if I can, anyone can!!) whereas pottery feels more inaccessible with a higher level of expertise required.

ITV meanwhile needn't look on and scoff - not when they gave us "BBQ Champ" a.k.a. "The Blatant British Bake-Off Rip-Off" or indeed the true horror of the celebrity sheepdog trials that was "Flockstars"....


Dominic Sandbrook, the documentary maker who likes to hear the sound of his own voice, returned to BBC2 with "LET US ENTERTAIN YOU".  Never mind that Britain's manufacturing industry is kaput, because Dominic tried to convince us that Britain's greatest export is popular culture.  All the usual cliches were rolled out along the way, but it was worth watching nonetheless.

Channel 5 is terrestrial TV's home of the deja-vu list show.  The latest was "BRITAIN'S FAVOURITE ABBA SONGS".  Has this not been done already on ITV?  But C5 always have a bit of an Abba obsession and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.


ITV is also prone to the odd list show too.  "THE NATION'S FAVOURITE BOND SONGS" revealed the results of a viewers' poll to choose the best James Bond theme song.  But like all these lists/polls it is inevitable that the more recent songs will do better than they deserve to.  So it was here.  I mean, really, people, "Skyfall" by Adele the best Bond song ever?  It's actually one of my least favourite, although the recent effort by Sam Smith is even worse and doesn't deserve to be called a Bond theme!  This show however brought home just how many great and timeless Bond themes there have been, even if there was the odd duffer too.


BBC1's 3-part "CAPITAL" was an intriguing drama, set around the economically and racially diverse residents of a London street, but all linked by a series of events, beginning with mysterious cards posted through their letterboxes, stating "we want what you have".  The series held my interest but I felt that it was maybe too short and could have been stretched out to another couple of episodes. I've never read the novel by John Lanchester, which the series was based on, but the critics were pretty pleased with the adaptation.


"PRISON: FIRST AND LAST 24 HOURS" (Sky One) didn't get much attention in the media, and I never heard anyone talking about it. but this fly-on-the-wall (or should that be fly-on-the-cell) series about the arrival, or liberation, of male and female prisoners in various Scottish jails.  It provided a fascinating insight into the circumstances of those who end up in prison - and almost on all occasions their lives have been doomed from day one, and their lives blighted by unstable family situations, alcohol and drugs from an early age.  It was very easy to guess which of the soon-to-be-liberated prisoners would inevitably end up back behind bars, despite their claims that this would be "the last time"; sadly, for many of these prisoners, it would appear that life 'inside' is a more preferable option to the freedom of the outside world.  This documentary series certainly provided much food for thought.


As the BBC cuts bite, there will probably be a lot less original programming on BBC4 but we got a new music documentary recently.  "I'M NOT IN LOVE - THE STORY OF 10CC" told the story of one of the 1970s' most creative and underrated groups.  I wasn't really aware of the pre-history of the group's members so it was interesting to learn that Eric Stewart sang on the Mindbenders' hit "Groovy Kind of Love" whilst Graham Gouldman was an established hitmaking songwriter before 10cc's formation.  Inevitably though, as with the stories of many bands, it was a tale of fame and fortune followed by creative conflicts which ultimately tore the band apart.  Kevin Godley and Lol Creme would go on to establish a successful career as innovative video directors and released music as a duo, Eric Stewart went on to produce a number of artists whilst Graham Gouldman still tours to this day with a new line-up of 10cc.


Finally, let's nostalgically rewind to the 90s with the return of "TFI FRIDAY" (Channel 4) for one series only.  Now I know this programme has its haters, but I was really happy to see it return although in these days of compliance, censorship and the easily-offended, those sharp edges of the original days were well blunted and the show became an adult version of a kids TV show, with the likes of Freak of Unique and Ugly Bloke replaced by silly stunts like the slip and slide, the Malteser challenge and cute animals.  And the unkindest cut of all, the "It's Your Letters" song was officially retired.  Let's face it people, none of the songs which replaced it were a patch on "It's Your Letters" which Reef came on to give its final performance ...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_dRBQ3UVis

Scene-stealing star of the show was Chris Evans' son Noah who came on the show every week to ask his "killer question".  But daft stunts and interviews aside, TFI's strong point has always been the live music included in the show.  This series was no different and proved that mainstream TV is missing a regular outlet for music.  We need one, more than ever.  I will miss TFI Friday - yes, it may have belonged to another era, it may be silly and childish, but I've enjoyed this throwback to simpler, happier times.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year!

Yes, I know I'm early but as I won't be around blogland for a couple of days I just thought I'd take the opportunity to thank all of you for reading my blogs this year.  It goes without saying that 2015 has been a very tough year, both personally and for the wider world, so you'll understand why I want to say "good riddance" to the year which is ending.

I'm no fan of "new year" as such but on the positive side it gives us yet another blank page - or in this coming year, 366 blank pages - to write on.  So may your pages be filled with happy events and good times in the year ahead.  (And at least we've got Eurovision season to look forward to).

And though it's been said, many times, many ways....."hope it's better than the last one!!"

Best wishes to you all - and particularly to those very special friends who have stuck by this blog for the past 8 years.  You know who you are!

Finally, just to say that the top 20 of my 2015-50 chart will be published on 1st January, so check back after that date to find out who's topped my chart of the year.

All the best for 2016!

Love
Laura  xx

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The 2015-50: No. 30 - No. 21


No. 30: "Stolen Car" - Mylene Farmer and Sting. 

It's not the first combination you'd have thought of, but she's got "previous" (Les Mots with Seal) so in hindsight another duet turned out to be quite logical.  Mylene's last two albums have been a bit disappointing for me, so I wasn't expecting too much from "Interstellaires" but on limited listens so far, it seems to be an improvement.  Anyway, back to "Stolen Car": it's actually a rework of a Sting solo track, reinvented Mylene-style and it works very well.  But if you live in the mystical Mylene-fandom, the last thing you'd have expected was a) an appearance on an American chat show and b) a top comedy moment from the goddess herself....https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a81F56tgOY

Stolen Car video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQkkmYIu95I


No.29: "Waiting For The Sun" - Simon Erics.

OK, so it's just a little bit generic, borrowing from that Avicii country-dance template, but it soundtracked most of my spring (and certainly much of my spring holiday as I listened to a lot of Rix FM whilst on holiday in Brussels).

It's infectious, catchy and with a whistling hookline you won't forget in a long time.  This was the great European hit which got away - it had the potential to be a massive continental spring/summer hit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N1OLYF3Qgw


No.28: "One Last Time" - Miriam Bryant.

Success is all about good timing.  And Swedish singer Miriam Bryant was certainly in the right place at the right time as she turned out to be the major breakout star of this year's series of Så mycket bättre on TV4. Miriam delivered one inspired cover after another - right now she's dominating the Swedish iTunes singles chart in the same way that our own charts have been full of Justin Bieber. The best of her covers for me was this one - an inspired take on Niklas Strömstedt's "Sista Morgonen".  Niklas himself also remarkably reinvented Ace of Base's "Happy Nation" in honour of Jenny Berggren's appearance in the show, as "Lyckolandet" with his own anti-racist take on the Sweden Democrats and similar groups: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMLP25o26Q4  

One Last Time video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOAkyuwV97Q


No.27: "Plastic" - New Order. 

One morning whilst on holiday in Port de Pollença in September, I had the radio on whilst getting ready for breakfast.  And a song came on which jumped out of the radio and stopped me in my tracks. Immediate thoughts: 1) That sounds like New Order.  2) That definitely sounds like New Order, but I haven't heard that song before.  3) Wow.  That's like an old-school New Order song, but so fresh.  But I didn't expect them to be making any new music....am I hearing things or what?

As it turned out, it was a new song, from New Order, and it was this one.  What a massive return to form.  As usual, don't expect a three-minute pop song when you can have a seven-minute epic.  New Order would go on to release a pretty great comeback album (and birthday present!) "Music Complete".  You haven't heard the last of it in my annual chart either....

Audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THwp-hWtC5Y


No.26: "Pressure Off" - Duran Duran.

OK, so while we're talking inspired comebacks by '80s icons, let's move on to Duran Duran who provided one of the other pleasant surprises of 2015 with this brilliant, funky collaboration with Nile Rodgers and Janelle Monae.  But you will probably not have heard this song on your local radio station - because this year they've been too busy playing Adele, or Ellie Goulding, or James Bay, or Sam Smith, or Ed Sheeran.  But my advice to you is: dig deeper and you'll discover gems like this one for example.  And even if the musicians get old, the music never does.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qFhSWA9Cz4


No. 25: "Me Quemo" - Kendji Girac.  

I was away from French music for a long time and missed this guy's rise to fame.  Here in the UK we're not used to winners of "The Voice" having any kind of career, but it's a whole different situation in France.  After his success at the 2014 edition of the NRJ Music Awards I immediately bought his album and have become a huge Kendji fan over the past year.  "Me Quemo" is the first track released from his second album "Ensemble" which came out this year and didn't disappoint - yet another example of his trademark flamenco/latin-flavoured pop.  Irresistibly infectious.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nMRhC42Lvk


No.24: "Sugar" - Robin Schulz featuring Francesco Yates. 

Back in the day - 12 years ago to be precise - the original version of "Suga Suga" by Baby Bash https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rgStv12dwA became a big hit in Europe, particularly in France, Belgium and Germany where it was never off the radio.  So that recognition-factor ensured that Robin Schulz's reinvention of the song would find much appreciation at EuropeCrazy HQ.

Schulz brilliantly reinvents the song in his trademark dance style with guitar riffs, and the vocals by big-haired young Canadian talent Francesco Yates top the song off perfectly.  And you probably won't be too surprised to learn that this song didn't do so well in the UK.....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvC_0foemLY


No.23: "Make Me (La La La) - Dinah Nah.

So we have a Swedish woman with a ridiculous name, who bears a great resemblance to Crown Princess Victoria, only with a head of cascading pink hair, making her debut appearance in Melodifestivalen with a song with a silly title.  I never really rated this at the time, but then something happened.  Over the spring and summer this song had a grip on my iPod and wouldn't let go.  It was one of those songs which took on a life of its own after Melodifestivalen and went on to become a big favourite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY7Vl6B-kTg&list=RDhY7Vl6B-kTg


No. 22: "Crossroads" - Satin Circus. 

After Finland sent Softengine to ESC. this was a natural successor.  Accessible guitar-pop with shades of One Direction.  The more I heard this, the more I believed that it would represent Finland at Eurovision 2015 and get a very good result...  But fate has a funny way of intervening....Satin Circus did well despite a way-below-par performance of the song in the final, but it wasn't enough to beat a a certain punk band with the shortest song ever sent to Eurovision.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=530xiUSr4GU


No.21: "People On The High Line" - New Order.

New Order's influence on what we know as 'dance music' today can never be underestimated.  And now, all these years later, they have brought back that fabulous vibe on several tracks on their latest album, "Music Complete". "People...." is yet another effortless house anthem.  The other pleasant surprise on that new album is the significant dimension which Elly Jackson (La Roux) brings to several tracks.  Now you know that I've never been a big fan of her's, but I've had to revise my opinion, because her contribution to this album is just magic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYF718oOoco