Monday, September 22, 2014

Swedish Idol 2014: the finalists


I was so caught up in pre-holiday preparation, followed by a fantastic holiday (diary to follow shortly!) and completely forgot that the latest series of Swedish Idol is on the way.  The elimination process is over, and the final 12 finalists are now known.  I haven't seen or heard any of their performances yet so don't know anything about this year's contestant but I'm sure we will become very familiar with them over the coming weeks.

The finalists:

Fanny De Aguiar, Lisa Ajax, Mollie Lindén, Niklas Musco, Petter Hedström, Philip Spångberg, Rolf Öhlén, Twyla Lidén, Charlie Diar, Matilda Gratte, Josefine Myrberg, Ludvig Turner.

Who will succeed Kevin Walker in the 10th edition of the contest? Answers to follow!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Break time!

Right then, all blog posts have been posted and now I'm taking my traditional summer break time away from the internet, to take a rest, catch up with some neglected jobs at home and to prepare for our forthcoming holiday to Croatia. 

Enjoy the rest of the summer everyone and have fun!

The Copenhagen Diaries: Days 4 and 5 - Thursday 22nd May 2014/Friday 23rd May 2014

Day 4: Thursday 22nd May 2014

Another day in paradise....it's still hot, bright and sunny, and I'm still struggling to cope with the heat in a hotel room with no air conditioning!  After a day in Sweden, today was all about Danish things and needless to say that includes a Danish pastry...well, actually, it's not really a Danish pastry of course, it's a 'Wienerbrod' but that aside, if you're on Strøget and looking for a Danish pastry then there is only one place to go - Lagkagehuset.  (You'll probably recognise this picture from my Twitter feed)



Lagkagehuset is basically Danish pastry heaven.  You may end up hanging around for about 10 or 15 minutes trying to make your mind up about which one of about 30 or so pastries to have - and that's not even taking the fabulous fruit tarts into account!

After a stroll around it's time for lunch.  Things took a bizarre turn as we ended up at a city centre restaurant which claims to serve the legendary 'open faced sandwiches' with a bizarre twist: there was no bread in faithful travelling companion's open faced sandwich.  This is a long story and I won't bore you with the details, but anyway several weeks later, we discovered that this was not an isolated incident in that particular restaurant. 

Today we slowed down the pace in the hot hot heat, and after the trauma of lunch we came across a Moroccan tea house for some much needed calm....and mint tea.


Following this relaxing break, we strolled round to the Christiansborg area - well, I had to take a quick peek at 'Borgen'.  We also encountered a military band parade. It was probably the hottest day yet, and we were flagging in the heat.  We eventually headed back to our hotel via some more of Copenhagen's fine central shopping streets.

Tonight was our last night in Copenhagen, and there is only one thing on the agenda: Tivoli.

Tivoli is one of Copenhagen's must-see attractions and of course we were not going home without a visit there.  None other than Mr Scooba-dooba-dap-dap-di-di-die himself, Basim, was playing a mini-gig in Tivoli tonight, but he was on stage just a bit too early tonight to fit into our schedule, therefore I had to give him a miss.  After dinner tonight - which is another long story, again I won't bore you with the details - we eventually entered the hallowed gates of Tivoli.  To call Tivoli an 'amusement park' is an understatement.  It's a beautiful, fabulous, scenic attraction which appeals to all ages and tastes.  If you live in Copenhagen, season passes are reasonably priced and it would be a great place to hang out for an evening and go for dinner, drinks or snacks at the many restaurants and bars in the park.  Here are some of the sights of Tivoli.





I would recommend that if you're visiting Tivoli, go in the evening, watch night fall and the park turn into an illuminated gem.  Every part of the park is lit up, including the spectacular Nimb hotel:




Just before closing time, Tivoli stages a fabulous sound and light show on its lake, which is an absolute must-see, and the perfect way to end the last night of our holiday.  But the night was young, and there were still a few Danish beers to be had before bedtime.  It turned out to be a very late night, including a trip to a karaoke bar (as observers rather than participants!) but even in the wee small hours, Copenhagen remained a very safe place.  We've visited so many destinations over the years, but I can honestly say that Copenhagen feels like one of the safest cities I've ever visited.

Day 5: Friday 23rd May 2014

I'm not doing a separate entry for Friday, because this mainly involved travelling home.  But I just thought I'd officially introduce you to the three newest residents of EuropeCrazy HQ, who lined up for a photoshoot in our hotel before we headed to the airport! Meet Rasmus, Lars and Troels!


Above: Rasmus, Lars and Troels: bound for EuropeCrazy HQ. 

However there was still a little time this morning to revisit the city centre. Today, Rådhuspladsen hosted what looks like some kind of energy-efficient/environmental festival, which seems very appropriate for a city which chooses the bicycle over the car.  That's been my main memory of Copenhagen - the cycling culture, and my despair that this just can't be recreated at home.

So as I said on Twitter during my holiday, we were going to have a lot of sad to undo on our return home.  Copenhagen left its mark on us - and I don't just mean the unplanned sunburn!  It's a fabulous, welcoming city which everyone should visit if they can.  It's a scenic, laid-back destination which is perfect for a city break. We had a brilliant holiday and hope to return again someday.

The Copenhagen Diaries: Day 3 - Wednesday 21st May 2014

Today....a special guest appearance by Sweden's third biggest city and 2013 Eurovision host = Malmö.

But firstly, on our way to the station, I couldn't resist the opportunity to photograph Copenhagen's famous Radisson SAS hotel which of course made an appearance in the last series of "The Bridge":


Whenever we go on holiday we always try to have a day trip away from our destination and this one . Malmö is just a half hour's journey out of Copenhagen Central Station, and for fans of "The Bridge" like myself it was an iconic pilgrimage.  It has to be said though that the bridge looks a lot scarier on TV than it was to travel on: the actual travelling time on the bridge lasted only a couple of minutes (I timed it!).  But before we got there, one more Eurovision-related pilgrimage site, as the train stopped at the Malmö Arena station, which was very exciting for this Eurovision fan :)


The weather in Malmö was equally as hot as in Copenhagen.  There were some must-do things on the list: the first of which was (yet again) adding to my moose collection.  It took no time till that was quickly resolved in the tourist information shop:  the latest addition to my moose-family is called Lars and here is a picture of him chilling out later on, back at our hotel:


We also bought T-shirts in the adjoining souvenir shop and then headed over the river into the old town in search of lunch.  I didn't really know what to expect from Malmö, but it was architecturally prettier than I imagined.  And on the usual shallow note, faithful travelling companion most definitely approved of the city's female population.  (At this point I would have to be controversial and say that for me, I preferred Copenhagen's male hotties over those in Malmö!)

Beyond the imposing square named Stortorget, there is a lovely and quaint little square called Lilla Torg (part of it pictured below: note similar bike-obsession to Copenhagen!) with a variety of restaurants and dagens rätt options, so we had no problem finding lunch.


Another day, another boat trip in the scorching sunshine, this time on the city's canals which spanned both the large industrial and port area, and into the beautiful parkland.  And yes, there was even a sighting of Malmö's famous skyscraper, Turning Torso.



The boat trip ended in the late afternoon but there was no respite from the baking heat, so we sought some shade and retail therapy.  No trip to Sweden would be complete without a trip to a CD store: Folk and Rock has a good, if more alternative/specialised selection, but I have to wait till Åhléns. before buying the latest in the 'Absolute' series - Absolute Svenska Hits, a compilation which at that time had just been released. Check out the track listing at http://www.ginza.se/product/absolute-svenska-hits/445533/

Unfortunately we couldn't stay around in the city as we needed to get back to Copenhagen to get ready for our night out, in this instance a wallet-busting meal at another very nice restaurant.  And - it goes without saying - a late-night trip to Heidi's Bier Bar and its usual soundtrack of cheesy Europop and DMGP classics!

The Copenhagen Diaries: Day 1 - Monday 19th May 2014 / Day 2 - Tuesday 20th May 2014

It has been three months since our holiday in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.  You had probably given up on ever reading my trip report but finally here it is.  Enjoy!

day 1.....

Suitcase - check.  Travel documents - check.  Desperate need for hygge - check :)

To put this holiday into context, all I'll say is that it marked the end of a very difficult few months. And it turned out to be just the tonic we needed.  Never expected sunburn though!

Day 1 was all about the travelling.  The most significant thing on arriving at Copenhagen Airport = good weather.  I'd read all the weather reports in Eurovision week in despair, where the fans ended up doing a literal interpretation of "dancing in the rain" and I hoped for dry weather.  In the end, we got more than that - much, much more.

Of course I had done some pre-holiday research on how to get from the airport to the city, but the one thing you can be sure of is that I will have a meltdown at a ticket machine.  Which I did, yet again, and had to call on the services of a friendly young Pilou Asbaek-lookalike hanging around the DSB ticket area :)

If you are staying in central Copenhagen, which we were, then the most appropriate travel option is the 5A bus which leaves from right outside the airport.  The 5A takes you from Kastrup through the Amager area and our first sighting of Copenhagen's famous red buildings.  And on our first trip to Copenhagen, it's not long until we saw....

...people on bikes.  Not people on bikes a la Tour de France, or the 'look at me, I'm in lycra' brigade which you occasionally get over here - the people who dare to travel on our car-polluted roads, that is -  oh no.  Ordinary people, in ordinary clothing, just going about their business.  Yes there are cars on the road, but the concession to cyclists immediately overwhelms and delights me.  Wide cycle lanes, which we can only dream of.  I may already have found hygge, within about 5 to 10 mins of leaving the airport. 

Also, passing Tivoli on our way in, I spotted the 'Join Us' banners still hanging outside this famous tourist attraction.  The Eurovision circus may have moved on, but I'm making it my mission this week to see if there are any "leftovers" so that's the first one crossed off my list. 

My pre-holiday planning has delivered the goods and we make it to the hotel without any grief.  (Note to self: I really should have been some kind of travel agent.  I love travel planning and can't get enough of it).

After arriving at the hotel and checking in, it was time to go out for dinner and explore central Copenhagen.  We were immediately struck by the laid-back nature of this city.  The prices were expensive, yes, but even after just a couple of hours soaking up the atmosphere, it became very apparent that there is an incredible quality of life here, compared to back home.  Now I'm not saying there are no problems - when you're on holiday you only see one side of the story after all - but yet again I couldn't help but note the differences between home (where you're constantly on edge) and Copenhagen's city centre which might well be one of the safest places we've ever had the pleasure to visit.


After a  very nice dinner, we went in search of late-night hygge.  Which we found very quickly in the Tyrolean-themed Heidi's Bier Bar, a top hangout offering beer at 29kr before midnight and "Fest Hos Mange" amongst their 'apres-ski' playlist.  Hygge and Mange Makers - now there's two things you'd never expect to find in the one sentence.  But we're on holiday at last, and what a wonderful wonderful feeling!!

day 2...

On our agenda today: Strøget (the pedestrian bit); Nyhavn (the picturesque bit) and a canal boat trip. 


So it wasn't long till my first Eurovision moments: the Copenhagen Souvenir shops on Strøget were selling 2014 ESC t-shirts half price.  And then we came across a bakery selling 'Join Us' cakes (see above).


Strøget (pictured above) is a very, very long shopping street in the centre of Copenhagen.  There's international and Danish chain stores, small boutiques, clothes shops, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.  Keep walking from one end of the street to the other and you will end up at Kongens Nytorv, the gateway to Nyhavn.  One minor problem with this square, and the town hall square, and I guess a few others in this city, is that they are not being shown off to their full potential at present.  Sorry for feeling a little bit selfish about this, but that's just a minor point.  It's going to look this way for a few years to come, because the city is undergoing a massive expansion of its metro system, hence the building-site feel.  We never used the metro system during our holiday so I can't comment on how effective it is, but I'm sure it provides a very good service, if the efficient and frequent service of Copenhagen's buses is anything to go by. 


The bright sunshine baked down on one of Copenhagen's most recognisable landmarks: Nyhavn.  A row of multi-coloured buildings, the smell and seafood and the constant flow of canal boats carrying tourists out on the canal tours.  The pictures looked good, but it is even more stunning in real life than we could ever have expected. A truly 'wow' moment.  And it was now time for lunch. 

Regular readers will know that eating out is one of our main holiday pleasures, but I expected Copenhagen to present a few more challenges to this almost-vegetarian.  I do eat chicken though, and eventually managed to find this amongst the seafood paradise of Nyhavn.  I thought I'd also try a Somersby pear cider!

 
Our lunch was soundtracked by an enjoyable laid-back band playing songs by the Beatles and other artists.  The combination of the boiling sunshine and the lack of shaded canopies resulted in some serious sunburn.  And that's with sun protection too!  That's how hot it was today.

Faithful travelling companion is always open to exploring local food options on holiday and he didn't hang about: lunchtime today was all about the famous smørrebrød, the open sandwich... the fish trio!


After lunch, we walked the very short distance to the canal boat station and began our boat trip around the city. 

For those of a conventional tourist persuasion, the highlight of sailing out into wider waters would being the much-anticipated viewing of one of Copenhagen's most famous tourist attractions = the Little Mermaid.  However, for this Eurovision addict, there was only one must-see attraction today:


...yes I mean Refshaleøen, a.k.a Eurovision Island!!  And as you can see, the Join Us sign was still up, two weeks after the contest.

Here are some more sights from our very enjoyable canal boat trip. 




We really enjoyed this canal boat trip, which covered a vast area of the city's waterways before returning to its original departure point in Nyhavn.

By this time it was mid-afternoon, and it was still very hot and sunny in this amazing city.  We headed back up Strøget, stopping off for a coffee at Baresso, which is Denmark's equivalent of Costa Coffee, with branches all over the city. 

On our way back, we discovered a shop called Fona, which reminded me of FNAC in France - one floor selling tellies and other electronic gadgetry, and another floor selling CDs and DVDs.  In these times of downloading, streaming and the like, the one thing I regret is the disappearance of record shops from the town and city centres of Europe.  Going into record shops abroad used to be one of the big highlight of our many foreign trips, and over the years this has uncovered various musical delights for both faithful travelling companion and myself. 

I bought the latest 'More Music' compilation which is like a Danish version of 'Now That's What I Call Music' with a mixture of Danish and international hits.  Rasmus Seebach's live DVD was on offer at a good bargain price.  As a recent convert to his music, I couldn't resist this purchase.

After some more sightseeing we headed back to our hotel before going out for our evening meal.  We began exploring more of the city centre and discovered Tivoli as night was falling...


...and bumped into Hans Christian Andersen...


...before arriving at Rådhuspladsen.


After dinner just a couple of streets away, we returned to Heidi's for some late night hygge and research into obscure Danish beer. Very pleasantly surprised to hear a few DMGP oldies on the playlist tonight! But we have an earlier night, as we're off to another country tomorrow!

We Just Can't Qualify (Latvian Lament)


Here's one of those blog posts from my unpublished backlog which has been hanging around since May, so it may not be all that topical any more, but it's still relevant! After "Estonia" from earlier this year, I've now turned my attention to its Baltic neighbour, with a little ditty to be sung to the tune of "Cake to Bake".

"We Just Can't Qualify" (Latvian Lament)

We made our debut in the Stockholm Globe
With Brainstorm at their best
Since that time we sent a few decent songs
(but forget some of the rest)

We sent acapella and opera too
And the pirates of the sea
And we even managed to win in 2002
And host in 2003

But today....

We just can't qualify, we've got no clue at all
We used to qualify, we used to do that before
What's the reason why we've blown it
Even Mr God don't know it
How to qual, how to qual, qualify.

Sem-sem, sem-semi final, sem-sem-sem, sem-semi final
Sem-sem, sem-semi final, sem-sem-sem

After Marie N won in 2002
With her cross-dressing Latin dance
We said hello from Mars with an all-star band
But we never stood a chance
We tried lots of versatile languages
We tried singing in Russian and English
And guess what - we even sung in Latvian! - but that was just an epic fail.

And today

We just can't qualify, we've got no clue at all
We used to qualify, we used to do that before
Why do all you voters hurt us
Even the "Baltic bloc" deserts us
Now we can't, now we can't, qualify!

We just can't qualify, we've got no clue at all
We used to qualify, we used to do that before
How can we become world-beaters?
Send a Latvian Conchita?
Cause we must, now we must, qualify!
Please come back, Latvia, and qualify :)

The Nästa big thing?


Admit it, even Eurovision obsessives need a little break from the ever-expanding song contest season.  But we're in August now and the withdrawal symptoms are starting to grow and grow.
After weeks of speculation, Vienna was chosen last week as the venue for the next Eurovision Song Contest, so it's time to get into ESC mode once again.  After all, it's only just over 9 months away!

So here's something to keep us going for a little while.  A few days ago Swedish radio announced the line-up of finalists in its national Svensktoppen Nästa competition.  The winner of this contest gets an automatic pass into Melodifestivalen.  Now I've never been too excited about this contest before, as it's never really made much of a mark on Melfest.  In 2014 however it brought us the band EKO with "Red" which still remains my favourite of this year's Melfest songs, so I'm a lot more interested now than I used to be.

You can find all the songs from this year's finalists in full at http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=3147&artikel=5932383 to hear them for yourself but here are my thoughts after just one listen to each song.

"Bells and Whistles" - Bullock Hearts
I wasn't initially sure if I would be in the moo-d (groan) for this particularly upbeat and jaunty song, but the chorus stayed in my brain for a while.  It mixes a little bit of Sebalter-style whistling with some Kika/Rongedal influences.  The problem with this song on first hearing is that the verses are rather forgettable.

"If Forever Means Forever" - Stephanie Quinth
This initially sounds like someone who's been listening to too many Ellie Goulding songs.  There's a pulsating electronic backbeat, and just as the song threatens to burst into a big old pop chorus, it stops very short and leaves us without a hookline.

"Ways Of Growing Old" - Last Trees
And now onto a pleasant but ultimately unexciting acoustic song which doesn't really go anywhere. Sorry but I don't really have too much else to say about this one.

"Den Där Dan" - Kalle Johansson
Yippee!  At last something in Swedish.  Not only that, but this has radio hit written all over it.  Of course that doesn't mean that it's a Melodifestivalen winner, but it's the best and most commercial of the songs I've heard so far in this competition and would be an asset to the final line-up.

"Living By The Gun" - Flat Foot
This is a little bit country, a little bit rock, with a "run Johnny run" chorus.  It's not bad but it's not great either.  It's just..there.

"Alive" - Elsa Martinsson
This one's yet another example of the pop songs which the Swedes churn out in their sleep.  This promises a lot but like Stephanie's song earlier, it is missing a killer chorus which would massively improve the song.

"Honung" - Morgan Färm
I didn't really like this to begin with, but it's got that little retro-feel to it and it's quite nice.  Wiwi Bloggs has pointed out the slight similarity in the chorus to "In And Out Of Love" which I also noticed too.  It's a pleasant and easy-going pop song, and there's more whistling.  Whistling, it would appear, is the new black.

"When The Blackbirds Sing" - Rebecca Fredriksson
Birds. Songbird.  And now When The Blackbirds Sing.  The avian-related theme continues.  This is quite similar in low-key style to "Songbird" and the public seem to go for that style now, so this is in with a strong chance.  No whistling though, despite the bird-theme.

After hearing all the songs, it's Kalle's Swedish-language song which floated my boat, however it will ultimately be a mix of public and jury votes to determine the winner at the final on Sunday 31st October.  Good luck to all the contestants!

Summer rewind: collected thoughts on...

...the weather: well well well!  Who'd have thought it?  We have actually had a summer in Scotland, where usually more than 2 consecutive dry days counts as a summer.  Well we had some very hot weather for more than 2 days (I do like a nice dry day but in my view the temperatures were just a bit too high at times).  Normal service is now resumed, with rainy days and some cooler temperatures.  Which, for a change, I've actually welcomed, as I can now get on with those long overdue jobs at home, and of course write some blog posts!  I'm off work today so it's the perfect time for a blog catch-up.


(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

...holidays: after some research and debate, we're heading off to Croatia in September.  Trogir (pictured above) is a small, medieval town which I'd never heard of until a couple of months ago, but I immediately fell in love with it the moment I saw it.  It looks like a magical little place and after a few difficult months it could provide the perfect location for some much-needed peace of mind.



...the Royal Highland Show: 26 years ago, I first visited Scotland's top agricultural show.  At that time it was in a work capacity as part of my job.  I vowed back then that I would return to the show for 'play' rather than 'work'.  But years turned into decades, and that vow wasn't fulfilled - until this June.  With that unseasonably hot spell in full flow, the most essential item was sun protection cream rather than wellies!  The Royal Highland Show is not just for farmers and agricultural professionals - it's a top day out for young and old alike.  And if you love farm animals you will be in heaven!  From beautiful cattle to rare sheep breeds to cheeky goats to big Clydesdale horses, there's something for everyone.  And it's not just animals either - there's lots of entertainment going on, street food stalls and a massive food hall showcasing the best produce from Scotland and beyond, and plenty of shopping - which reminds me that it can be quite an expensive day out too!

...another day in Ayr: the end of June brought yet another trip to our favourite Scottish seaside town. Prior to our trip, there had been an excessively hot spell, but the temperatures cooled down to a more comfortable level.  Whatever the weather though, Ayr is always worth a visit, with its fine selection of shops, cafes and restaurants.


...Allsång: Summertime in Sweden, and that most traditional of summer TV shows entered a new era with its first ever female host.  Since her appearance in the first series of Så Mycket Bättre 4 years ago, the reinvention of Petra Marklund has been remarkable.  From dance-pop star to credible Swedish-language artist, Petra has undergone a further evolution into the new queen of Swedish light entertainment television, as the new presenter of Allsång på Skansen, which ends its summer 2014 run tonight.

Week 1 was a dazzling debut, but it wasn't long before the Swedish tabloids slipped into negativity - viewing figures in freefall, poor selection of guests, Petra's nerves.  Blah blah blah.  Rewind to previous hosts of the show and we've read it all before; however, the press have been kinder to Petra in the past couple of weeks.  And my own opinion?  I think she's done a smashing job.  For someone who isn't even a professional presenter,  I've found her to be a warm and engaging host.  However, I can't see her sticking around for too long, as there have been times when I've got the feeling that she's wondered if she's done the right thing.  That's not a criticism by the way: I would certainly welcome her back for at least another year, and the tabloids report that SVT would like to keep her in the job.


...Le Tour: Who would have thought that Le Tour 2014 would be remembered for the riders who never made it, rather than the ones who did?  Yes, this year's Tour was all about the crashes, the injuries,

After the British dominance of the race over the past couple of years, the 2014 race began here in the UK with three stages, commencing in Yorkshire.  And from the very beginning, the high-profile casualties began to fall.  Firstly Mark Cavendish, hotly-tipped to win that first stage and get that yellow jersey, only for him to crash out near the finish in Harrogate.  As the tour headed back on to French soil, we had a spectacular stage which included the infamous Paris-Roubaix cobbles.  On the wet roads of northern France, defending champion Chris Froome crashed out of the race.  Team Sky immediately made Richie Porte their main contender to challenge Vincenzo Nibali, who had established a comfortable lead and was in yellow for every day since stage 2, except for one day when French cyclist Tony Gallopin rode into Bastille Day in yellow.

The high-profile casualties continued: Fabian Cancellara, Andrew Talansky (memorably pushed back on to his bike and told to get on with it following one crash), and the race's other main contender Alberto Contador.  Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara and Simon Gerrans also exited the race.

The other remarkable thing about this year's race was the surprisingly poor weather, with torrential rain during many stages.  Whilst we spent most of July baking in non-stop sunshine, the cyclists were sliding and skidding across the roads of France!

With the loss of so many GC contenders, the race took on a whole new look as it headed into its final week. Nibali had built up such an unbeatable lead and had very quickly killed the race, so our attention focused on the very close battle for 2nd and 3rd place on the podium, and the ever-changing lead in the King of the Mountains competition.  2014 was a big year of transition in Le Tour.  It's been a long, long time since any French cyclists made a major impact on the race (Thomas Voeckler excepted) but this year was the breakthrough we've been waiting for, for so long.  Jean-Christophe Peraud - 2nd place.  Thibaut Pinot - 3rd place and best young rider. Romain Bardet - 6th place.  This bodes well for the future.  In the other competitions, Polish cyclist Rafal Majka was impressive in winning the King of the Mountains jersey and has shown so much promise that he could potentially be a future GC contender.  And the green jersey?  Well, despite starting and ending the race with a stage win, Marcel Kittel could only make 4th place in a sprint competition inevitably won by the unstoppable Peter Sagan.

So Vincenzo Nibali is this year's Tour de France champion.  Well done to him, but next time can we have a closer race and less of a foregone conclusion please?

...the World Cup: maybe it was just the mood I was in at the time (knee deep in a depression which is slowly but surely lifting) but for some strange reason, I just wasn't feeling my usual love for the World Cup this year.  It was a bit like the Tour de France in a way, as top-rated teams fell by the wayside, one after the other. It was strange not to see the likes of Spain, Italy, England and Portugal progress beyond the first round.

There were some new innovations: goal-line technology, free-kick vanishing foam, and cooling breaks to help the players cope with the excessive heat.

Although the standard of the football fell well short of the quality expected of the world's greatest players, I was impressed by the high scores within the group stages, with dreary 0-0 draws kept to a minimum.  What we could have done without was the level of dirty play and fouling which often went unpunished by referees.  We could also have done without unsolicited biting: one more thing for the notorious Luis Suarez to add to his CV of football crimes.


The round of 16 then happened. Chile unfairly went out on penalties to an underwhelming Brazil side, and Mexico were very unlucky to be defeated by the Netherlands. Algeria were equally unlucky against Germany.  Argentina and Brazil continued to be underwhelming as they progressed through the tournament.  One team which did impress me was Colombia, who played a nice style of attacking football.  Forget Messi and Neymar: for me, the real star and top scorer of the tournament was James Rodriguez, and he also won the EuropeCrazy Top Toy Boy award.  (That Golden Boot's all good and well, but the TTB award is the one to win :D)

When I drew Costa Rica in the office sweepstake, I was very dismissive and thought they'd be on the first plane home after the group stage.  But they were much more impressive than expected and I cheered them on all the way to the quarter finals where they were very unlucky to lose to an increasingly annoying Dutch side.  In the semi-final, the Netherlands and Argentina were in a contest to see who could be the most underwhelming side, and it had to go to penalties.  Argentina has always been my South American team, but they frustrate me in every World Cup as they never play to their full potential.  Yet again, Messi-mania fell flat.  Argentina underwhelmed their way to the final where they faced a German side which I'd tipped as possible world-beaters in a post I'd written on here 4 years ago: http://europecrazy.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/summer-rewind-world-cup.html


Germany beating Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final?  Who'd have predicted that one?  But despite being the host nation, I'd never been impressed by Brazil.  Like Argentina, they relied on one particular player - in this case Neymar who had been injured in a shocking tackle during the match against Colombia.  With Neymar gone, the team's flaws were exposed and Germany took advantage again and again.  It felt like the goals were coming every minute.  Well, they actually were at one point! Germany proved that a solid, strong team performance was better than any team with one ''star' and a substandard supporting cast, so it was no surprise that they lifted the World Cup, beating Argentina 1-0 (after extra time) in the final.  Germany became the first European team to win the trophy in South America.  They are so strong that I could see them making it a double in 4 years time, but watch out for Colombia.  After their impressive performance in Brazil, they look as if they could just get better and better.

As with most big events these days, the World Cup had the world talking on Twitter.  Social media is now giving large-scale sporting events a new dimension.  Who needs to listen to those boring TV pundits when you can find much more entertaining analysis on Twitter?  As I said around the time of Eurovision, Twitter may have its dark side but it is also a great way to bring people together to talk about their common interests.

Not long after the World Cup ended, another sporting event arrived closer to home.  Which I'll write about in a separate post, coming soon!

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: July 2014

Several weeks have passed since STV Glasgow hit our screens and I thought it was time for a progress report.  Well..I'm sad to say that things haven't really improved.  A new channel showing off life in Glasgow, timed perfectly for the beginning of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games - but what a wasted opportunity.  "THE RIVERSIDE SHOW" continues to be a parade of posh accents and a load of posh young people employed to do nothing but look at social media.  Like, wow.  The cooking sections ("tea for a tenner") are vaguely interesting, featuring chefs from local Glasgow restaurants, but these are spoiled by the embarrassing interaction between the presenters, David Farrell (who was top Radio Clyde evening DJ, 'Romeo' in a past life - not the best career move) and Jennifer Reoch.  I'm not feeling any charisma from, or between, these two.  They really need to lighten up if this show is to have any longevity. 

For me, the only worthwhile thing left on STV Glasgow is the Polish TV drama "CZAS HONORU" which strangely enough is now billed in the Sky EPG under its English title, "Days of Honour" - perhaps to encourage more foreign-language-title-averse people to watch?  I recently found out that there have been several series of this excellent and gripping World War II drama, so I only hope that STV Glasgow won't bail out after one series.  Please stay with it STV!

The combination of the World Cup, the Tour de France, and the recent and prolonged spell of hot weather means that I have built up an outrageous backlog of telly programmes.  Still hoping that one day I'll get organised enough to watch all of them.  I'll be doing a blogging/internet detox in August and early September, when I'm also planning some home improvements so hopefully will have some energy left to catch up with the telly backlog....

Last month I mentioned the lazy, depressing trend of demonising-documentaries, which give the wrong impression of life on benefits, and which feed off the paranoia of certain people within this country.  Never mind that the bankers got the country in a mess, when the government would like us to believe it's the people on benefits who are really to blame!  And if it's not them, then of course it's that other target beloved of the right wing - immigrants.


Documentaries about immigrants are like buses: you wait a while then two come along at once, this time in the same week and on the same channel.  One of these managed to go against the grain of a media-driven racist agenda, and the other one...well, didn't.  Firstly, "THE GREAT BIG ROMANIAN INVASION" (BBC1) which, despite its sensationalist title, turned out to be a rather warm-hearted and personal exploration by journalist Tim Samuels, himself descended from Romanian immigrants, about the much-hyped so-called tidal wave of Romanian immigrants to the UK on 01.01.2014 following the relaxation of rules on free movement.  As it turned out, only one actually arrived on the day: Victor, who became a media star.  Victor is now back in the UK, with his girlfriend in tow, and with big plans for cheese entrepreneurship.  As for the other immigrants interviewed, the grass was far from greener, and Samuels managed to put a human face on a shameful agenda which is increasingly apportioning blame for all society's wrongs on those of a different race/nationality. A very good programme which provided much food for thought. 

"NICK AND MARGARET: TOO MANY IMMIGRANTS?" (BBC1) presented by Lord Sugar's erstwhile sidekicks Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, was more prime-time and populist than the last documentary, and had a major whiff of Channel 4's similar experiment "Make Bradford British" from a couple of years ago, which paired up opposites - this time round, we had immigrants matched up with immigrant-sceptics.  The big question: are immigrants a gain, or a drain?  Perhaps the real question which should be asked is - are documentaries like this a gain, or a drain?  On this evidence - most definitely a drain.

For anyone still on Mars and out of the loop, the 2014 Commonwealth Games are taking place in Glasgow - and despite my initial scepticism, I'm very much enjoying the TV coverage so far.  Prior to the event, BBC Scotland screened an excellent documentary, "BOYCOTTS AND BROKEN DREAMS" which took us back to 1986, the last time Scotland hosted the event, in Edinburgh.  That year was as much about what happened off the field as on it - notably the Thatcher government's support of the apartheid regime in South Africa resulted in a boycott by African nations.  By the way, if you missed it, it's due to be rebroadcast this week on BBC4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b049fn89/broadcasts/upcoming

Talking of Glasgow 2014, BBC Scotland attempted some comedy which for me completely missed the mark.  "DON'T DROP THE BATON" (BBC1) mixed comedy club stand-up with unfunny sketches about the Games.  It was so unfunny that I didn't even last the full half hour. 

I don't always mention it on here, but for anyone who's still watching it, a moment of appreciation please for "TOP OF THE POPS 1979" (BBC4).  Of course in this post-Yewtree era, only certain episodes are shown as long as they are not presented by certain DJs of course, so there's a significant number missing... Anyway watching TOTP 1979 again has just reminded me that there were some cracking disco, new wave and pop tunes in that year - some of which I remember very fondly indeed. Get in there while BBC4 is still showing them....


Having done a cruise last year, I was very keen to check out "THE CRUISE SHIP" (ITV) however it was all very shallow.  At only 30 minutes, shoved between the Friday night episodes of Corrie (and crucially, 'not available in Scotland' where we get the RSPCA documentary Animal 999 which I admittedly quite like, if only for the cutesy animal sightings) it's too short to achieve anything).  Sadly, the done thing these days is for bog standard dumbed-down documentaries, which don't really go into any depth but only scratch the surface and attempt to make 'personalities' out of people who, well, don't really have them.  Such was the case with this short series about the Royal Princess, which is way out of my price range :(


I can't go without mentioning a certain sporting event which has been taking place over the past week and a half, and which is due to finish tomorrow night.  I will write a separate post about the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, but purely from a TV point of view, there's been wall-to-wall TV coverage on BBC1/BBC2/BBC3 and also on the red button.  Every event has been covered from morning till night.  Well done BBC :)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: June 2014

OK so I know I said that I wouldn't be doing a TV review until the end of July, but I've been on holiday this week and had some spare time, so here's a quick look back at June's TV.

As I mentioned in the last Square-Eyed, a new TV channel has taken to the airwaves - STV Glasgow.  It's a local version of STV which is the Scottish version of ITV....anyway as you'd expect from local telly it's a bit low-budget.  Someone on Twitter, I think, referred to it as "two couches facing the Clyde" which kind of sums it up!


The channel's flagship evening show is "THE RIVERSIDE SHOW" - picture that legendary STV teatime show "The Hour" (in the days before The Chase) re-imagined by posh Glasgow university people.  The magazine format is a bit like "The One Show" - or in Glaswegian should that be "The Wan Show" (!) - and is best watched pre-recorded and on fast-forward, due to (a) too many ad breaks and (b) you can't please everyone all the time.  There are some occasional interesting features but my problem with it is that it's just too posh.  Come on STV Glasgow - give us more 'ordinary' people rather than what feels like a parade of ex-Glasgow Yoonie alumni, picked for their posh-ness.


I wanted to mention one unmissable programme which I'm addicted to on this new channel is a Polish-language drama, "CZAS HONORU" (Days of Honour) which is set in Warsaw during World War II, and looks at life under Nazi occupation from a Polish perspective - just weeks after "Generation War" did the same for the Germans.  It's gripping and highly addictive viewing, and of course it always helps when there are some not-entirely-unattractive cast members to enjoy ;) Anyway at the moment this is only being screened in the Glasgow area but I think it would be a very good idea if, say, ITV3 picked this up for transmission across the rest of the UK.  It's probably my favourite TV drama at the moment, and after every episode finishes I can't wait for the next one.


Which would probably make it a perfect candidate for that most Noughties thing, binge-watching.  Yes, why watch one programme when you can watch at least 7 episodes in a row.  Unfortunately my uninspiring attention span doesn't run to binge-watching.  Two episodes in a row is a major achievement for me.  So to get to almost three episodes in a row is record-breaking.  I managed that for the re-run of "BROADCHURCH" on another new channel, ITV Encore.  Broadchurch was one of the most talked about British dramas of last year, but me being me, I missed it.  My work colleagues raved on about it, and it was described in the British media as the closest thing to a Nordic drama.  So when it was finally repeated, I had to check it out.  It was certainly worth watching, but between you and me I still prefer my Nordics. 

Talking of which, I still haven't seen the final Swedish series of "WALLANDER" (BBC4) but it's been Sky Plussed and I'm ever hopeful that I'll finally get round to watching it before 2014 is out! :))

Now, I come from a generation which is old enough to remember a time when - wait for it - not every World Cup match was televised live on TV.  We have come a long way since then of course, as these days the TV channels make sure that we don't miss a minute of any game.  Yes, it's World Cup time in Brazil, with all the usual irritating commentators and pundits in place.  Unfortunately I haven't seen as many games as I'd have liked - but what I really would have appreciated, particularly during the group stages, would have been a highlights programme on TV at a decent hour.  Is that too much to ask?

It's just as well that the World Cup is all over our telly at the moment as there's really not much else, is there??  The big, massive, major problem with TV in this country at the moment is the alarming growth in the 'blame the poor' documentaries (hello Channel 5/Channel 4!) - "Big fat illegal immigrant gypsy mums of 13 on benefits and proud". What's happened to British TV's classic tradition of investigative documentary making?  Sadly dead and gone by the looks of it....


Something else which is losing its appeal is "CORONATION STREET" (ITV) which I have watched for virtually all my life.  Corrie was once renowned for its humour, now all we have are murders, affairs, and people shouting at each other in almost every scene.  Flippin' eck, I thought we'd walked into EastEnders.  Anyway, Tina was recently killed off of course, I'm a bit annoyed that we got to see the identity of the killer when a whodunit would have been so much interesting.  In real life, Michelle Keegan has quit the show for a life in Essex with "star of ITV2" Mark Wright.  Presumably she will now have more time to top up her tan.  Maybe the arrival of Les Dennis in the show might bring some much-needed comedy: if Steve McDonald is described as the best comedy character in the show, then that really says a lot about how much this show is in decline. 

Back to where we started - in Glasgow.  Based on its first episode, "I BELONG TO GLASGOW" (BBC1 Scotland)  is a winner.  Week 1 saw Chewin' The Fat's Karen Dunbar with her own take on her adopted home city, exploring everything from the gay scene to karaoke and the notorious Glasgow diet.  Looking forward to the remaining episodes.

Eurovision Song Contest 2014: The Grand Final, Saturday 10th May 2014

The waiting is over.  On a personal note, it's been a particularly enjoyable fortnight's lead-up to the contest, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the timing - I'm usually either on holiday on Eurovision week, or the week after, but this year I timed it perfectly and was able to follow all the rehearsals and the week of the contest itself.  And then there was Twitter.  All my best Twitter friends who were in Copenhagen really brought the contest alive.  For various reasons I can't go to Eurovision so this was like the next best thing to being there, for this stay-at-home fan. 

But on Saturday, 10th May, it's just me, mum, and the telly.  And mum is not in Eurovision mood. For which I apologise in advance. As ever, don't expect detailed analysis (you'll find that on many of the excellent ESC sites out there in internet land), just some musings by (a) an obsessive fan and (b) someone who isn't.

The show begins with that oh-so-21st-century thang, an X Factor-style recap of last year's festivities in Sweden.  Which makes way for an army of James Bonds (or Milk Tray men!) - delete as appropriate -  making their way from Malmö to Copenhagen, (to the soundtrack of Denmark's first ever ESC winner, "Dansevise" from 1963) ending in a very athletic flag parade.  As it turns out, that's not the last James Bond reference of the night.  Anyway it's not quite as spectacular as last year's 'Bridge' entry in Malmö but it's still pretty good.  I like the way they're introducing the artists who all come out on stage individually to that "woo-hoo" song which was a hit a few years ago and still gets up my nose if I'm honest.  Austria's Conchita Wurst gets the biggest roar of appreciation from the audience and there are also big cheers for Basim (Denmark) and The Common Linnets (Netherlands) whilst the UK's Molly also receives a warm reception.


Then it's time for confetti pyros! I don't envy the poor cleaners who will have to clear all this up: Graham Norton agrees.  The three hosts, Lise, Pilou and Nikolaj 'join us' (groan) on stage.  Pilou kicks off his running Chinese gag which would, um, run and run and run.  The boys are in nice suits and Lise is in a rather drab beige ballgown - perhaps a subtle tribute to the queen of beige herself, Emmelie de Forest? 

In the technically advanced land that is the UK, "UK viewers cannot vote by text".  (This doesn't really matter to me as it takes me about half an hour to send a text anyway...!).  UK viewers can't app-vote either. At least Graham Norton is explaining that the jury final took place on the night before the Grand Final, and this was which the international juries voted on.  Their votes are worth 50% of the overall total. What no-one really mentioned was the influence which the jury ranking system would have on that overall total. 

As it turns out I don't get to hear much of what the presenters say, and can't really tell if Graham Norton's commentary is any good or not, as my mum talks over everything from the beginning to the end of the show.  She hasn't been very well over recent months so I will let this go, and rewatch some parts of the show later to complete my review. 

Songs!


UKRAINE: "Tick-Tock" - Mariya Yaremchuk.

The hamster wheel's still there, she is still wearing that midnight blue dress and she is still stunning. However it's also still too gimmicky and the song just doesn't cut it for me: it does nothing to change my view that Ukraine hasn't sent a decent song to ESC since "Shady Lady". However you have to hand it to Ukraine for maximising the potential of every entry they send.  Talking of recreating flags, at one point the guy in the hamster wheel recreates the three-legged Isle of Man flag.

Mum: Would this song be called Tick Tock?
Laura: Indeed.  There's too many props here.  Ukraine is notorious for throwing everything including the kitchen sink at their songs.  This will be top 20 but probably more to do with the current Ukraine-Russia conflict and sympathy votes accordingly.


BELARUS: "Cheesecake" - Teo.

A funny thing happened on the way to Eurovision.  When "Cheesecake" won the Belarus final I thought it was ok but nothing more.  Yet it was one of those songs which grew on me as it became more and more familiar.  So far so good.

And then it happened.  Behold the cult of #TwerpyHamsterDave.

This started with the misheard lyric in the song's chorus which started in our little Twitter fan bubble - it has become "I don't wanna be your twerpy hamster Dave" to the point where I am completely disinterested in actually learning the real lyrics. I explain the whole twerpy phenomenon to mum but she doesn't really understand.  Graham Norton doesn't seem all that keen on this one.

M: He looks familiar - have I seen him before?
L: Yes he was on the other night.
M: I like that little dance he does.
L: This whole song has just reached a new level of greatness thanks to #TwerpyHamsterDave.  I really like it now.
M: I can't see this doing very well.


AZERBAIJAN: "Start A Fire" - Dilara Kazimova.

She has a presence and dare I say, a sense of wonderment about her, which is wasted on this non-song.  I've heard this song countless times and still struggle to make out the lyrics apart from "start a fire".

M: This is boring me.
L: Ditto here.  The trapeze act is just a distraction.  They've always been up there in the top 5 but I can't see this keeping that record going.


ICELAND: "No Prejudice" - Pollapönk.

As in the semi-final, it's an animated and infectious performance which sticks out after the Azeri snooze-fest. 

L: Ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp.  I really love this now.
M: It's very colourful, but not much of a song.
L: I disagree.  The lyrics are actually very good and there's a strong message in there. 


NORWAY: "Silent Storm" - Carl Espen. 

Or according to Graham Norton, Carl Epsen.  Que??  Whatever way you pronounce it, Carl's vulnerability when performing this song never fails to move me, and I don't know about you but I'm in bits by the end of it. 

M: I remember him!
L:  This is a bloody great song.  And listen to the cheers from the crowd!
M: He reminds me of someone.  This is a very hard song to sing, but he sings it well. If this doesn't finish in a high position it will be a fraud!


ROMANIA: "Miracle" - Paula Seling and Ovi.

Remember when Simon Cowell used to say on all those talent shows that "this sounds a bit too cruise ship cabaret?".  Where once in 2010 they were an appealing couple, in 2014 they're just annoying.

M: He's a wee man isn't he, compared to her.
L: Although he's probably not wearing 4-inch heels.
M: I remember this from the other night.  He's getting on my wick now.
L: The song is just far too generic. 
M: And it's too loud.  Turn it down.  These songs are too samey.
L: I don't think you could ever say that any of these songs this year sound the same!

(things are getting pretty heated at this point so let's move on).


ARMENIA: "Not Alone" - Aram MP3.

Once an absolute pre-contest fave, and then its chances spectacularly bombed.

M: My main problem with this is that there are too many strobes and lights.
L: He's not doing it for me tonight at all: I've heard him sing better than this.
M: And then the wind started up.
L: OK you're not alone.  We hear you.

This is perhaps the most disappointing performance from a favourite that I can remember in a long time.  I don't think ESC will be heading to Armenia next year.


MONTENEGRO: "Moj Svijet" - Sergej Cetkovic.

I then go into ranting mode about the completely unnecessary use of a figure skater on stage.  Rant out of the way, let's talk about the song.

L: The Balkan ballads always do well here, and I think this is rather lovely.
M: (goes into inexplicable rant) I can't believe what I'm watching.  The songs are all so forgettable beyond belief.
L: I really don't understand where all this is coming from.  This is one of the best contests in recent years so please stop slagging it off!!


POLAND: "My Slowianie - We Are Slavic" - Donatan and Cleo.

L: Boobs, that's all.
M: Typical Eurovision!
L: They're like the Babushkis' younger Polish cousins.
M: This is hellish.  Where is this from?  I hate this. 
L: But it has to be said, they sure as hell know how to churn butter in a seductive manner ;)


GREECE: "Rise Up" - Freaky Fortune featuring Riskykidd.

The excitement is all too much for Risky who is going off on one in his opening rap. 

L: We'll see how long until you say...go on, say it.
M: Is this song called Rise Up?  I'm surprised everyone doesn't rise up and walk out!
L: Now come on, I'll admit that the vocals aren't the best, but I still like the song.  And I really wish I was on that trampoline with them ;))

Now....the wurst is yet to come!


AUSTRIA: "Rise Like A Phoenix" - Conchita Wurst.

If winners were judged by cheers from the audience, then she's already a winner. 

M: I still can't really understand what he/she is about.
(At this point, I have to give mum yet another explanation about Conchita).
M: She looks great though.  I love her eyes too!
L: Is ESC going to Vienna?  Looks like it!



GERMANY: "Is It Right" - Elaiza.

Otherwise known as "Is It S***e" at EuropeCrazy HQ.

L: I still don't like this.  At. All.
M: The German public must have been really stupid to pick this one.
L: This didn't deserve to win their final (I go on to explain to mum that Unheilig should have won the national final....)
M: Her outfit is terrible too.  There is nothing good about this at all.
L: It's still my tip for the bottom of the big 6, and even the whole scoreboard.
M: If it's yes or even no? Get off!!

Break time brings another instalment of the book of records: the highest note.  Which belongs to Croatia's entry from 1996, which, fact fans, is one of my least favourite contests ever. 


SWEDEN: "Undo" - Sanna Nielsen.

Another of this year's major contenders.  It's an impressive set, and the audience is singing along.

M: What age is she?  She looks quite old.
L: She's 29.
M: Never!
L: It's true.
M: This is the worst Eurovision ever for dazzling lights!!

My migraine-suffering mum is really struggling by this stage.  As Graham Norton would say: "Many of the songs contain flashing images".

Even though I have never particularly liked this song, I can probably now understand its appeal. It's a very well-staged professional product which is guaranteed votes.  But for me, it's still crucially lacking any heart.



FRANCE: "Moustache" - Twin Twin.

Twin Twin Oh Yeah!!
L: This is catchy.  I know that not many people like this, but I do.
M: Are they a group?
L: yes.
M: Interesting hair.
L: Je veux ci je veux ca.  I like the lyrics, and the song has a message, but I think that will be lost on a lot of people.  This is probably bombing.
M: All the flashing lights have completely ruined my night. 


RUSSIA: "Shine" - The Tolmachevy Sisters.

And now from one set of twins to another.  This time, with interlocked hair and ready-made booing.

L: This is a very confident "we're on our way to invade you" performance. 
M: They don't deserve the boos.  They are just a couple of young girls and they don't deserve that.
L: But it's what they represent which is being booed.  I'm not advocating booing them at all, but I can understand why it's happening.

The main problem I have with this song and performance is that it's just too forceful and sterile.  Their professionalism is not in any doubt though, and I think that will be rewarded with votes.



ITALY: "La Mia Citta" - Emma Marrone.

Another one of the big 5.  I explain to mum that Emma is a big star in Italy but this is not a patch on "Non è L'Inferno" which won Sanremo 2012.  But all of this pales into insignificance as the lights are flashing again.  Emma's dressed as a 21st century Roman empress, but does she impress?

M: Not more bloody flashing images!!  Can they not just sing?  I don't like this.
L: She is capable of much better than this, but having said that, I like this song. 
M: Eurovision is far too serious now...it's lost its humour.
L: It's still very enjoyable though.  I hope Emma does well, as I love Italy in Eurovision.
M: I just wish the song was more....melodic.  More traditional Italian.
L: I'm just glad it's in the Italian language.


SLOVENIA: "Round and Round" - Tinkara Kovac.

It's a competent flute-flaunting performance from Tinkara.  Slovenia in the final is a rarity indeed, so it's just lovely to see them here anyway.

M: This is ok, although quite bland.
L: I can't see it doing that well though.  There is such a high standard this year that this one will probably get lost. 


FINLAND: "Something Better" - Softengine.

Yay!!! But mum.....
L: Warning - the next performance contains strobe lighting, etc etc.  I'm really glad this made it though!  They have really made the best of their staging/lighting.
M: The lighting is (still) getting on my wick.  I like this group though.  Good song.



SPAIN: "Dancing In The Rain" - Ruth Lorenzo.

I explain to mum that she appeared in the British version of X Factor and is therefore known to British viewers.

L: I'm not liking this at all.  Get the woman a hairdryer.
M: She's taking the song title a bit too literally.
L: I'm off for my toilet break now because Switzerland is on next!!!!
M: She's far too loud.
L: THE RAIN! THE RAIN! THE RAIN! 


SWITZERLAND: "Hunter of Stars" - Sebalter.

DROP EVERYTHING BECAUSE IT'S SEBALTER TIME!!!!!!

I explain to mum that she missed him in the semi-final but that is not going to happen again. Never mind the fact that I am completely and utterly under the spell of Sebastiano Pau-Lessi, isn't "Hunter of Stars" such an infectious song?  If you head over to this blog around Christmas time you probably won't be surprised to find this song in my year-end top 10.

L: God, that guy could charm the birds out of the trees.  I love him.
M: Yes he is very good looking...strange song though.
L: I absolutely love it now, so catchy and likeable. 

And if you're participating in a pyro curtain drinking game, drink now :)


HUNGARY: "Running" - Andras Kallay-Saunders.

As I said in the semi-final, I'm not too happy with the interpretative dance.  The subject matter would have been fine on its own.

M: I don't like this song, I'm not impressed.
L: See, I do like it, but I would have changed the staging of it.  I really want Hungary to win it one of these years - they've entered some good songs over the years. 

Of which "Sound of Our Hearts" remains my favourite.  I wish Compact Disco would come back and represent Hungary some time.


MALTA: "Coming Home" - Firelight.

Another pre-contest favourite of mine.

M: Not more bloody flashing images!!
L: You have to admit though that it's some show.
M: Some size of set anyway.
L: I still like this song a lot.  Their performance tonight is much better and more confident than in the semi-final.



DENMARK: "Cliché Love Song" - Basim.

This has become one of my pre-contest favourites and finally, local favourite Basim gets the chance to wow the viewers across Europe.  "Cliche Love Song" might annoy a lot of people, but for me it has a smashing feelgood factor, and puts a big smile on my face every time I hear it.

L: I still think this is going to do very well, although it's not a patch on the staging in the national final.
M: (sings) "You to me are everything..."
L: I know it sounds as if it's ripped off another song, and he's a bit of a Danish Bruno Mars, but I still really like it!

There is a silly 'love' banner draped towards the end of the song where the Danish flag used to be in the national final.  Why?  They should have kept the Dannebrog in: it would have been a nice nod to the fact that the contest is coming from Denmark this year.



NETHERLANDS: "Calm After The Storm" - The Common Linnets.

Sing along with the Common Linnets...
What everyone didn't expect was that since the semi-final two nights ago, "Calm After The Storm" has soared up the iTunes charts all over Europe - even here in the UK!! - and become a major contender.  The song/outfits/staging/performance is just the complete package and whilst it's a million miles from "old" Eurovision, I'm delighted that a song like this is doing so well, if only to help to change the (non-fan) viewing public's perception of the contest, and break down that peculiar stigma which still exists in this country about ESC.

M: (sings) "Tulips from Amsterdam"/"Every Breath You Take".
L: Since the semi-final the other night this has become a really big hit so it's going to do very well tonight - serious contenders. 3rd from last is a very good draw.
M: This does have a very good chance.
L: Netherlands haven't won for almost 40 years.
M: So it's about time they won it then!


SAN MARINO: "Maybe" - Valentina Monetta.

Unashamedly, unapologetically, 'old Eurovision' with a wind machine and a talky bit and Ralf Siegel doing a Lloyd Webber 'featuring' bit on the old piano. 

L: She's been in it 3 years in a row and everyone's happy that she's made the final.
M: This is very, very old fashioned compared to a lot of the other songs. 
L: "Maybe" (groan) that's why it appealed to a section of the voters then.


 

UNITED KINGDOM: "Children of the Universe" - Molly.

I'm not being patriotic here, but I have to say that the postcard - a Union Jack made out of London buses, Post Office vans and an army of willing volunteers in blue cagoules - is probably one of the best and most ambitious postcards this year.  Could we say the same about our song and singer?

The previously unknown Molly Smitten-Downes was chosen to represent the UK this year, using the 'BBC Introducing' process.  During one of the programmes on the excellent pop-up radio station BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, I think it was Guy Freeman who said that this is part of a long-term strategy for the BBC at Eurovision.  Maybe the Beeb has finally got the message that they must try harder to attempt to win the contest.  This year's UK singer and song have certainly had a much warmer reception from the fan community in the weeks leading up to the contest, the "Children of the Universe" video received lots of airplay on Chart Show TV but there could have been more promotion both here and on the continent.

It's a pity that Molly's performance is a bit of an anti-climax after that impressive postcard.  Molly is all post-apocalyptic gold lame and gladiator sandals.  There's an enthusiastic drummer and some reliable backing singers, and Molly gives a good enough performance; that in itself is a nice change for a UK entry (!) but crucially, the spark is missing, and Molly fails to make that vital connection required of a winning entry. 

M: (scoffing): Power to the people! 
L: It's a good performance but that's all.  We need something more special than that.
M: It's too repetitive, and not a very likeable tune. 

Then the commentators get a little tribute from Pilou and Nikolaj - and they single out Graham Norton.  Is that an omen?  Anyway it's more work for the cleaners tomorrow as this tribute culminates in a shower of confetti.

Europe - start voting now!!  Which here at EuropeCrazy HQ means....dialling the number for Switzerland!

Interval act time, by a group of people called Momoland.  They are defying gravity, sitting at the top of ladders, singing a "Joyful" song to the tune of Ode to Joy.  On first viewing, I really don't get the point, and neither, it seems does the audience, given their rather muted reaction.


I rewatched this segment again after the contest and listened closely to the lyrics (which are just lovely) after which time I felt a bit more positive about this interval act.

Next up, the three hosts sing this "twelve points" song - yes, 12 is such a mindblowing number - and cue more of that running joke about China.  Nikolaj to Pilou: "you keep going on and on about China...!" Of course I like Pilou, but I'm getting bored with that running joke.


Back in the green room, Lise introduces Gaia from Malta, a little girl with a huge voice, who won Junior ESC last year and I have no doubt that we'll see her back in the 'big' ESC representing her home country in a few years. 

M: I didn't know there was a junior Eurovision.
L: Yes there is, it's been going for a few years, the UK used to be in it!

Yet another recap to gather up the last of the votes.  Then....Europe - stop voting now!

Whilst the votes are counted, Pilou takes us to the museum of Eurovision history - including an interactive Johnny Logan, kiddie-scaring Lordi, and gyllene skor-wearing Herreys.  I wish that such a thing existed!

Lise's in the green room, providing a full English breakfast to Richard from Firelight, a curly wurly cake to Molly and Twin Twin's favourite meal - they certainly react a lot more enthusiastically than Molly, whose reaction briefly becomes an internet sensation.


Here's a 'fun fact', Pilou - EMMELIE DE FOREST IS NOT WEARING BEIGE. Appropriately for her name, she's got twigs in her pink and white dress.  A brief recap of "Only Teardrops" leads into a performance of this year's official ESC song "Rainmaker".  The stage is spectacularly transformed into a giant pool, and the dancers jump into the moat around the side of the stage.  Then this year's contestants all join Emmelie on stage for the song's finale, singing, dancing and waving flags.  It's a very satisfying end to a modern, stylish, professional production by DR.  But it's now on to the voting results and all the predictable and unpredictable craziness which that brings.

The 12s to Russia from Azerbaijan and Belarus are greeted with mass booing, whilst there are various 12s being thrown around in the early part of the voting to Spain, Sweden, Hungary, Belarus, Italy, Armenia, Montenegro and an 'interesting' (to say the least) 12 from San Marino to Azerbaijan.  What does become very clear, very quickly though, is that the pre-contest worries that much of Europe would not accept Conchita Wurst, turn out to be unfounded.  12s start to fly Austria's way - including from the UK - and particularly in the final half of the voting, the 12s are shared almost exclusively between Conchita and her closest competitors, The Common Linnets from the Netherlands.  With 3 juries to declare, Conchita is announced as the winner.  With their first Eurovision win in 48 years, it's finally time for Austria to "rise like a phoenix!!"  Both of us on the EuropeCrazy HQ were particularly delighted by Conchita's win.



In Conchita's winning speech, she dedicated her win to "...everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom....we are unity - and we are unstoppable".  Conchita represents everyone who has ever suffered bullying or intolerance, and for those who just want the freedom to be who they want to be; the lyrics of "Rise Like A Phoenix" are pretty inspirational. She is certainly a memorable and worthy winner in a time when hate and intolerance is on the rise across our continent, as sadly demonstrated by the European election results just two weeks after the contest.

If at first you don't succeed.....

Who'd have though that we'd have seen the day when Austria and the Netherlands were fighting it out at the top of the ESC scoreboard?  Austria's first and only win was in 1966, whilst the Netherlands last won it in 1975, and in recent years both countries have spectacularly underachieved at the contest.  The success of these two countries screams 'don't give up!' to all those countries thinking of quitting the contest because they don't achieve good results from one year to the next.  These songs are absolute opposites - a big diva ballad and a subtle, quiet country song.  Both are a long way from the boom-bang-a-bang stereotype perpetuated by those in our country's media who refuse to accept that the Eurovision Song Contest has moved on to the modern, contemporary entertainment event which it is today.

Something rotten in the state of Eurovision

There remains a dark side to the glitter and glamour though: the current split voting system between juries and televoting.  After recent voting scandals, the EBU attempted some transparency and revealed the names of each country's jury members before the contest, and revealed their scores and rankings after the contest.  I'm not going into detail about this - there are some excellent ESC fansites out there with all the analysis that you'll ever need - but suffice to say that there continues to be something rotten in a jury ranking system which completely overturns the televoting result from a particular country, and makes you wonder what's the point of televoting if it's not going to count.

Eurovision is just tweeter than ever!

ESC has also spectacularly evolved over the past couple of years into a massive social media event.  As I mentioned at the start of this post, Twitter completely brought this year's contact alive, and the contest dominated the full top 10 trending topics in Glasgow.  That particular site may have some dark, nasty aspects from time to time (the current debate on the Scottish independence referendum being a case in point), but I can honestly say that when it comes to Eurovision, it's been an incredibly welcoming and inclusive community which I am happy to feel part of. 

What happened next....

The immediacy of downloading music has also had a very significant impact on the contest.  Once upon a time, we had to wait weeks for the release of Eurovision singles.  1974 was a massive year for the contest, with Abba, Gigliola Cinquetti and Mouth and MacNeal all making the UK singles chart.  Fast-forward 40 years and on the day after the contest there were, I think, 7 (maybe more?) ESC songs in the UK top 50 iTunes singles chart.  At one point, "Calm After The Storm" was as high as no.2, and achieved an overall chart position of no.9 in the UK Official Top 40 the following week, with "Rise Like A Phoenix" at no.17. 

For although Conchita won the contest, The Common Linnets won the chart war all over Europe.  Then something very strange happened.  Just at the height of their fame, at the end of May, Waylon issued a statement that he would be leaving The Common Linnets; this was never going to be a permanent project for him - it was Ilse's project, which would continue, but Waylon is now going to focus on his own solo career. 

Russia got annoyed by Conchita's win (quelle surprise) and announced their own Turkvision-style breakaway song contest, the revival of the old Soviet-era "Intervision", and it was reported that some Russians had even shaved off their beards in response to Conchita's win.

As for Conchita, she certainly had a dramatic impact and went on to dominate the media for quite a while, and will be appearing at several events over the summer. So where does Conchita Wurst go from here?  I just wonder if she will pursue a recording career out of this, or focus on being a TV/media celebrity?  One thing's for sure, she will remain one of Eurovision's most memorable winning artists, long after her song has been forgotten.

Results:

1.  Austria - 290 points
2.  The Netherlands - 238 points
3.  Sweden - 218 points
4.  Armenia - 174 points
5.  Hungary - 143 points
6. Ukraine - 113 points
7.  Russia - 89 points
8.  Norway - 88 points
9.  Denmark - 74 points
10. Spain - 74 points
11.  Finland - 72 points
12. Romania - 72 points
13.  Switzerland - 64 points
14.  Poland - 62 points
15. Iceland - 58 points
16. Belarus - 43 points
17.  United Kingdom - 40 points
18.  Germany - 39 points
19.  Montenegro - 37 points
20.  Greece - 35 points
21.  Italy - 21 points
22. Azerbaijan - 33 points
23.  Malta - 32 points
24.  San Marino - 14 points
25.  Slovenia - 9 points
26.  France - 2 points

So, as I post this seven weeks after the contest, our thoughts turn to Eurovision 2015.  Countries are already announcing their participation and seeking song submissions; Austria has confirmed it will host the contest next May but the host city has yet to be announced although I can't imagine it being anywhere else but Vienna; and just think, it's only 6 months until Festivali i Këngës. And then it all begins, all over again.....

Let's get summer out of the way first though!! :))