Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Moo memories

Today I randomly discovered that Ventspils in Latvia now has another claim to fame apart from hosting the annual Latvian Eurovision national final, Eirodziesma.  Ventspils has become the latest European host of the world's greatest annual open-air public art event - the Cow Parade.  The event will also take place in Toulouse this summer, and throughout Northern Ireland, and also a number of global destinations.  More info at

In case you are unfamiliar with Cow Parade, a number of different international cities are chosen every year and local artists and communities are given the challenge to paint their blank canvas which is none other than a fibreglass cow. The results are often unique, dazzling, funny and dare I say it, 'moo-ving' (!)  The cows often have witty cow-pun names to match their design - "Moo Are Here"/"The Daily Cow-Mute"/"Metamoorphosis"/"Spur of the Mooment" for example.  The cows are then placed all over the host destination for visitors to enjoy.  Once the exhibition is over, the cows are auctioned and all the money raised goes to charity so it's all in a good cause too.

Rediscovering the Cow Parade today took me all the way back to the summer of 2006, when it was Edinburgh's turn to host the event between May and July of that year. Everyone knows that cows are my most favourite animal, so needless to say I absolutely loved the Cow Parade. It was great fun trying to track down as many of the cows which were situated throughout the city, particularly in and around Princes Street Gardens.  There were even cows hanging between the pillars at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art.  The event really put a smile on everyone's faces and I would recommend that you check it out if it ever comes to a town or city near you.  Here's a few cows from Edinburgh 2006.

(Going back to Ventspils for a minute, I'm reminded of how Latvia's finest, Renārs Kaupers from Brainstorm was also known as 'Reynard Cowper'...someone should maybe have designed a tribute and called it Reynard Cow-per.  No?  OK then.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: April-June 2012

Ricky Martin won "The Apprentice"! Sound the horn and play *Livin' La Vida Loca*!! Has our Latino idol fallen on such hard times that he's got to beg Lordsugar for £250,000? Nope. Wrong one. This one was a wrestling businessman with an ethical recruitment agency idea (the words 'ethical' and 'recruitment agency' just scream 'huge contradiction' don't they!), which apparently impressed the Lord more than Nick Holzherr's online recipes/Jade Nash's cold calling/Tasty Tom Gearing (above)'s wine hedge fund. Never mind the business plans, we'll just hire Tasty Tom anyway.

It appears that "Smash" (Sky Atlantic) has taken a bit of a critical hammering on the internet, yet for some reason I'm addicted to it. It may have been described as Glee-for-grown-ups I prefer this much more. The plot is a very simple one - the development of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. It does admittedly have many flaws - Jack Davenport phones in his usual drawling-baddie performance first seen as Miles in"This Life"; Katharine McPhee proves that there is life after American Idol, although I still feel that her character needs development; they could have done something more interesting with Debra Messing's character than turn her into a whimpering mess. Yet in spite of all that I'm sticking with it.

The latest in BBC4's always excellent 'Britannia' series was up to the usual standard. "Punk Britannia" did what it said on the tin: the story of punk, before, during and after. It brought back some fond memories; even though I was too young to embrace the lifestyle, I certainly enjoyed the music and agreed with the sentiment - and as a fan of 'indie' music in the 1980s and beyond you can't deny the long-term effects which that musical revolution had on the music business thanks to the 'do it yourself' attitude. What really boosts the credibility of this series is that rather than call upon the usual list-show talking heads who probably weren't even born at the time, it featured those who were actually there. 

"God Save The Queens" (Sky Atlantic) was yet another voiceover/talking heads clip show, but with a nice twist - it saluted the influence of gay performers in showbiz over the years.

Do you hear something? If you do, it's probably the sound of a barrel being scraped. I refer to "Battle of the Brides" (Sky Living) which takes the wedding-contest format to extremes. Two competing brides with very different wedding themes have to plan an identical wedding. Yep, it's that ridiculous, and it's all too 'scripted-reality' with scowling and tears in all the right places. And I switched off before the end.

Unlike "Four Weddings US" which continues to run on Sky Living and is our guiltiest of guilty pleasures. It's lightweight fluff, with four brides marking each others' weddings Come Dine With Me-style.

The reality makeover shows just keep on coming, and along came another series of "The Restaurant Inspector" (Channel 5) where Fernando Peire goes and does his Gordon Ramsay-type restaurant makeover thing (minus the swearing and gesturing of course). There's always a predictable outcome - either change the furniture, change the name, change the menu or a mix of all three. For that reason it's probably getting a bit tired now.

I had the hankies at the ready as "One Tree Hill" (E4) recently came to an end after 9 seasons. So what made this teens-into-twenties drama so special, I hear you ask - especially as I'm a long, long way from the show's demographic? For me, it stood out from all the others because it had a heart, warmth, and characters whom you actually cared about, whether you loved them or hated them. Even though the last couple of seasons weren't really up to the standard of the earlier ones, it was still must-see viewing. Given the worldwide audience of this blog I won't spoil the ending as some of you may not have seen the final season, but suffice to say that a lot of loose ends were tied up. Oh, and one more thing - after that finale, Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want To Be" reappeared in the UK top 30! I've now gone back to the beginning and am rewatching season 1 :)

"Steps On The Road Again" (Sky Living) continued the fly-on-the-wall format of last year's "Steps Reunion" - basically, Steps went on a UK arena tour and there was THE DRAMA! The dramatic voiceovers! The recaps! The anguished close-up camera angles!

Season 1 of "Homeland" (Channel 4) started well, lost its way a bit, then regained its brilliance to become one of the most gripping first seasons of US drama since "24" or "Heroes". Strong performances from all concerned: even if Claire Danes annoyed me on a regular basis, by the end of it all you couldn't help but sympathise with poor Carrie! There is going to be a season 2: we can only hope that it maintains that edge-of-the-seat standard and doesn't get too silly as it goes on.  Like 24 or Heroes....

Another one of my favourite US series, "Grey's Anatomy" (Sky Living) recently came to the end of its 8th season. Am I the only one who feels that as a season finale, this was truly a shark-jumping of the highest order? Plane full of doctors crashes into a forest, Lost-style. One character dies. Back at Seattle Grace Mercy West, one doctor gets fired. Meanwhile back in the forest, time's getting on, the credits roll and there's no-one there to save them. Who will survive? Presumably the one (or two) who don't agree with their new season contracts, or 'want to go off and do something different'. Or maybe, just after the credits roll, a plane/helicopter will come into view to rescue all of them to safety :)

I've still got a bit of catching up to do - still haven't watched The Bridge, and need to finish Dexter Season 6 among the rest of my TV backlog - so I'll cover these in my July telly write-up.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A day out in Stirling

Today was the latest instalment in our occasional series..."Tourists in our own country" :) Both faithful travelling companion and I have a week off work this week, so today we took advantage of that rare event - dry weather - and headed off to what, according to Wikipedia ( is Scotland's smallest city....Stirling, for a day trip.

Stirling's geographical position on the Scottish map is described as the "gateway to the Highlands" yet is only 30 mins away from Glasgow on the Scotrail express train from Queen Street Station - even the slower trains only take 45 minutes and it's a very frequent service.

Stirling has played a major part in Scottish history - from Mary Queen of Scots to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The city's (town's?) main selling point as a tourist attraction is Stirling Castle and the surrounding area of the Old Town.  Apart from the castle, the city walls and the ruins of Mar's Wark, the uphill journey from the new town to the old town is an architectural feast for the eyes with a number of streets lined with beautifully preserved old buildings.  Then there's also the Old Town Jail, which we didn't have time to visit today (but that's maybe one for the future!).  By the way, good strong footwear is recommended for those cobbled streets!!  The weather was perfect for walking, approximately 18 degrees today, mainly cloudy but very pleasant nonetheless.

Down in the 'new town' meantime, there are winding streets with a good variety of restaurants to suit every price range.  Shopaholics will also enjoy Stirling as all the big chain stores/fashion shops are represented, both in the town's main streets and also in the big shopping mall, The Thistles.  Although like every other town there are more empty shops than there used to be, casualties of the retail recession. Stirling is well worth a visit and we really enjoyed our day trip.  We will certainly be returning there in future.

Above: Mar's Wark.

Above: statue of Robert the Bruce.

Above: panoramic landscape from the Stirling Castle esplanade.  The Wallace Monument is on top of the hill in the foreground.

Above: Stirling Castle from the esplanade.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Eurovision Song Contest 2012: The Grand Final, Baku 26.05.12 - my review

Finally, here it is.  Don't expect too much in-depth analysis, just some thoughts from me and my mum accompanied by the usual wine (for me), Irn-Bru (for mum), nibbles and of course, potato wedges!  All photographs courtesy of

Fabulous fireworks in Baku herald the opening of this year's extravaganza. A bit of wailing followed by a dance troupe who wouldn't have been out of place in Azerbaijan's Got Talent, with some lit-up outfits = a tribute to Danny Saucedo. Oh and look - flying! Dima Bilan's got a lot to answer for.Then here come the girls, all in beautiful blue dresses. And a drumming guy. And more dance. And finally, it's time for the world's most unconvincing duet, Ell and Nikki. "Running I'm Scared" then, it is.

Laura: This is still so bloody bland - one of the most forgettable winners ever.

Mum: Too repetitive.

Then we meet the presenters - Eldar, aka Ell of Ell and Nikki, flanked by two dark haired beauties, one of whom is not the president's daughter.

A VT about the building of the Crystal Hall. They don't mention the forced evictions of course.

M: Where did they put the people?
L: Jail, probably. 

This year, the voting goes back to the old way where the lines didn't open till all the songs are played. Which could be very bad news indeed for some of the songs in the first part of the draw....

Time for the postcards. They are certainly stunning, as is the Crystal Hall, which is lit up in the colours of each country's flag at the end of every postcard. Now it's time to....get behind The Hump!

United Kingdom: "Love Will Set You Free" - Engelbert Humperdinck.

Yes, poor old Engelbert Humperdinck has been drawn in first position, which isn't such good news for a ballad as simple, smooth and swaying as "LWSYF". There will be a lot of dazzling staging to come, but this one keeps it simple. The Hump is bathed in simple spotlights and then we get the big catherine wheel sparklers at the end. Still got reservations about that final note, not quite in a "Blijf Zoals Je Bent" kind of way, but still falling short. The look on The Hump's face at the end is one of relief.

M: He did well, considering.
L: Although it is a very nice song, I don't think it'll do as well as first thought.  It could get lost, and the draw hasn't done it any favours.

Hungary: "Sound Of Our Hearts" - Compact Disco.

For me, this is 2012's "New Tomorrow" - a strong performance by a great band with an eye-catching frontman, and unfortunately a very early draw.

L: I won't hear a word against this one. He's really great too :)
M: The backdrop is too distracting, I think this is a problem with a lot of the songs now. He's not bad looking though.
L: And he sings very well.

Albania: "Suus" - Rona Nishliu.

Horses in the postcard.

M: Maybe they'd have been better putting the horses in.
L: Singing "My Lovely Horse" of course.

"This'll put fear into your heart" warned Graham Norton. Where do I begin to describe the complete oddness of all this.

M: What's that big ball stuck on her head?
L: It's her hair.


M: (goes into furious rant) That's the worst song I've ever heard in my life. I refuse to even call it a song.

Lithuania: "Love Is Blind" - Donny Montell.

Donny, complete with his sparkly blindfold, is described by Graham Norton as a 'young John Barrowman'.

M: This is an insult to blind people.
L: Ah but wait till he chucks his blindfold off, does the little cartwheel and it goes all disco-ey. For some reason the melody reminds me of the music from the Ferrero Rocher adverts.
M: He's a nice wee boy.
L: From the ancestral homeland.
M: The old country.
L: It's a good old Eurovisiony tune.
M: I quite liked that.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: "Korake Ti Znam" - Maya Sar.

More horses. These postcards are definitely a tribute to "My Lovely Horse".

I choose this one to go off and dry some dishes. The song wafts into the kitchen and it's still boring.

M: Her dress isn't that bad. Not as bad as her who was on a couple of songs ago.

Russia: "Party For Everybody" - Buranovskiye Babushki.

I've got mixed feelings about this - on the one hand it really puts the fun back into the contest, but on the other hand it would be a nightmare winner. But the crowd love it, it puts a smile on our faces and the cute factor is turned up to 11. 

M: They're great! Eurovision is too serious now. I preferred it in the days when you had little men dancing and singing with lederhosen on.
L: They're so cute though. And oh my God, they're making pies.
M: I think they should win it.
L: The pies! Yay! The pies! It's the pies wot won it.
M: It's harmless rubbish.
L: Party for everybody dance, come on and dance, come on and BOOM BOOM!

Iceland: "Never Forget" - Greta Salome and Jonsi.

Graham Norton says Jonsi is 'just frightening'.

L: Jonsiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!! I love him, I love Greta's dress, I love the backdrop, it's all perfect. Please please please let Iceland win one of these years, as I say every year.
M: Is her hair real?
L: What do you think of Jonsi?
M: Jonsi's OK. Not bad.

Cyprus: "La La Love" - Ivi Adamou.

Beige outfits. Yuck. It's a holiday song with a dazzling backdrop.

L: La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la. I'm more interested in a pack of bacon sizzler McCoys.
M: Very bland. Background music. Boring.
L: Heard this on Rix FM today so it will probably be a big hit in Sweden. And it'll get 12 points from Greece.

France: "Echo (You and I)" - Anggun.

L: I've always liked her, she is a great singer with a very distinctive voice, but....why did they give her this mess to sing?
M: The only good thing about this is the men.
L: She deserves a much better song. This is a train wreck. Faithful travelling companion would maybe like her gold pants.
M: And this is indeed pants.  I'll be surprised if this one gets any points at all.
L: A bottom 5 I think.

Italy: "L'Amore e Femmina (Out of Love)" - Nina Zilli.

Carpet postcard. Really liking these. Eurovision and HD were made for each other.
Nina, one of this year's favourites is looking sassy in a silver dress. Pity about the backdrop which is a bit too harsh.

L: Looking forward to this. Although I don't like this two-language thing - wish it was in Italian.
M: I quite like this.
L: Yes, she's really playing to the audience. Hope it does well.

Estonia: "Kuula" - Ott Lepland.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for Ott. And we are transfixed throughout his performance.

M: I wouldn't say no to him. And he can sing.
L: Yes yes yes!! I think and hope this will do very, very well. He does that big note, the KUUUUULAAAAAAA at the end of the first verse which I got annoyed about in the rehearsal, however it worked on the night.
M:  This is very good.
L: I think it's definitely got a good chance of a top 10 place.

Norway: "Stay" - Tooji

Tooji complete with hoodie in an exact move-for-move performance from the MGP.

M: He reminds me of....
L: Eric Saade!
M: Yes! Backing dancers can be beneficial or a nuisance. In this case it's all too distracting.
L: I still like the twirly hand move.
M: It's OK but not a winner. Too many special effects and not enough content.
L: I had a dream a few weeks ago that the credits were rolling and the reprise of this was being sung. But then again I also dreamed that Måns Zelmerlöw and Sarah Dawn Finer were presenting Eurovision 2013, so....

It's time for the green room and look who it is! The Hump. We are not worthy.

Azerbaijan: "When The Music Dies" - Sabina Babayeva.

More garabagh horses. Is this a reference to some of the songs which are a load of garabagh? I thought these postcards were stunning to begin with, but they're a bit too repetitive now. Azerbaijan - Land of Repetitive Postcards.  And now, the home team.

M: I love her dress.
L: At least she's made an effort.
M: She's a very nice looking girl.
L: Oh no, it's the wailing bloke.

We're more interested in the lighting effects on her dress which keep us amused for 3 minutes as we've got a bit bored with the song.

Romania: "Zaleilah" - Mandinga.

Is this Mandinga by Zaleilah or vice versa? I get confused. Romania, along with Albania and Armenia, is one of those countries-which-will-win-it-eventually. But not this year, as although it was an early favourite and has a kind of Europe-pleasing Waka-Waka vibe to it, there's too many distractions going on. You want moonwalking bagpipes? You got it!

M: That was the kind of song you used to hear at Eurovision 20-odd years ago. It's annoying me.
L: I don't like this very much.
M: It's like a circus out there.
L: (has horrific flashback to Algo Pequenito). When's Jimmy Jump when you need him?

Denmark: "Should've Known Better" - Soluna Samay.

Oh Denmark, you frustrate me. This is the polar opposite to New Tomorrow. You had a good national final. You could have sent Take Our Hearts or Venter but THIS????

L: Immeasurable blandness.
M: What's she done up like a sailor for?
L: She wore this in the final and it was crap back then too.
M: You could fall asleep during this and not realise you've fallen asleep.
L: Horrific styling.
M: They were probably put together in half an hour. This is so boring, last place is too good for it.
L: Oh look, a guy in a hoodie playing a cello! So wrong on so, so many levels. And as for the Seal/Everything But The Girl plagiarism....

Greece: "Aphrodisiac" - Eleftheria Eleftheriou.

Here we go, it's Greece by the numbers. The Poundland Paparizou takes to the stage for what in my view is one of the evening's weakest songs.

M: Well they couldn't afford to host a contest.
L: At the moment they can't even afford a pint of milk.
M: She's the only one who's enjoying it.
L: It's repetitive in a tiresome way.
M: This has been on for 20 minutes.

Sweden: "Euphoria" - Loreen.

The internet buzz for this song has made it this year's predetermined winner. However, will the performance be a bit too avant-garde for ESC's traditionalists? The song has certainly grown on me since Melodifestivalen, and if it wins, I could see it becoming the massive international hit which the contest really needs. The key to success is Loreen herself, her vocal power and image, and her iconic performance of the song.

M: Definitely one of the best tonight.
L: A serious contender to win. She is faultless.

Turkey: "Love Me Back" - Can Bonomo.

Cheers ring out from the audience before Can even starts singing. A few vocal wobbles but this one's all about the theatricality and the performance - it looks and sounds more like something out of a West End musical than an ESC entry.

M: Oh you'll be cheering for this one as you like Turkey!
L: Not my most favourite Turkish entry, but it has its moments. He's a lonely sailor drinking the night away. Ol' Captain Pugwash.
M: (speechless) I'm speechless. And that is a first for me.
L: Very theatrical, like Fiddler On The Roof. He's a cheeky chappy.
M: Na-na-ne-na-ne-na-ne-na. This took about two minutes to write.
L: I know they need it for the song's theme but this boat thing is too distracting.

Spain: "Quedate Conmigo" - Pastora Soler.

Pastora is looking very stylish in a long white cutaway dress, although the severe hairstyle isn't such a flattering look. Very effective lighting too.

L: They were (allegedly) told to throw it.
M: She's definitely not throwing it.
L: She sang phenomenally in the semi-final. And she's singing the ass off it here.
M: Too shouty.
L: But she's really good at what she does. I don't like 'big singing' but that big note before the keychange is a goosebumps moment. Wow.

Germany: "Standing Still" - Roman Lob.

Eurovision is a wonderful big glamorous party. So you should dress for the occasion. Someone obviously didn't tell Roman. Nice twinkly lighting on the stage though.

L: I'm despairing at his headgear.
M: I think he's being very disrespectful to Eurovision, wearing that on his head. There's one thing being casual, but...He's a good looking guy, why's he trying to ruin his look?
L: This is one of my fave songs this year. A lot of people have called it boring but I like it.
M: Yes it's a good song.
L: Written by Jamie Cullum, don't ya know!
M: Roman can come to our house anytime ;)

Malta: "This Is The Night" - Kurt Calleja.

The title reminds me of Sakis on a stapler, but this is very welcome in the final and it's a slick performance.

M: Big hair and skinny legs. Just like Jedward.
L: I'm enjoying this. It's a bit of light relief, he knows he won't win so he's just going out to enjoy himself.
M: Very 1950s styled. Interesting.
L: Eh eh eh eh...

Macedonia: "Crno I Belo" - Kaliopi.

I wasn't too familiar with this song as I was with some of the others before the contest, and was flummoxed when it qualified for the final. However, I can understand now why she made it. Very commanding performance.

M: Too shouty. I've taken an instant hate to this.
L: Tortured Balkan rock. This calls for potato wedges.

Ireland: "Waterline" - Jedward.

It's Jedward time! They are all in gold and the hair is DOWN!

M: Do they write their own stuff?
L: No.
M: They did better than Blue last year, didn't they? I thought they had a better song last year, more instant. This does nothing for me.
L: Ooh, nice water feature!
M: Wet wet wet. The song's baloney.

Serbia: "Nije Ljubav Stvar" - Zeljko Joksimovic.

The stage is lit in gold and blue for the return of ZJ, who's become synonymous with Eurovision in recent years as competitor, songwriter and presenter.

L: Another serious contender methinks. A serious Paradise rip-off too.
M: This isn't bad, he's a good singer.
L: It'll certainly mop up the Balkan vote. I like the start of it but it all gets a bit too overcooked towards the end. Definite top 5 though, without a doubt.

Ukraine: "Be My Guest" - Gaitana.

She's wearing a fringey dress which reminds me of a car wash. The fact that we spend the duration of the song discussing the horrible racist comments made about Gaitana suggests that we were none too impressed with the song, which is basically three minutes of shouting and trumpeting elephants.

M: It's not much of a song. Too much shouting.
L: But Ukraine+good draw = lots of votes. And the use of the flashmob at the end was quite neat.
M: This is about 4 songs rolled into one.
L: Can we have a close-up of the backing dancer with the curly hair?
M: You and your curly-haired men!!

Moldova: "Lautar" - Pasha Parfeny.

From Epic Sax Guy onwards, Moldova is becoming the definition of bonkers at Eurovision. This year is no different. Mum is a migraine sufferer, and she is watching from behind her hands due to the combination of the ferocious set and the ridiculous dancing.

L: MC Hammer trousers. It's the Moldovan Colin Farrell.
M: Like one of these people who go into the jungle....big game hunter.
We spend the rest of the song chuckling hysterically.
M: It's all too stupid. That screams "we don't want to win".

And so it's over, all songs have been performed, we now sit through what feels like 17 recaps. Mum is now declaring her undying love for Roman Lob. It's time for the interval act, Emin Agaralov, who conveniently happens to be the president's son-in-law.

M: More bloody strobes and flashing images.
L: If this was a lighting contest this would walk it.
M: They must have some electricity bill in Azerbaijan.

There's a grand build-up to herald Emin's arrival, so it's inevitable that we'll be disappointed. Basically this is just a plug for his latest song, "Never Enough" written incidentally by Ben & Mark from A1, so extra points for that. Emin is a decent looking young chap however in the words of Simon Cowell, his vocals are 'distinctly average'.

In the green room, Nargiz speaks to Soluna Samay.

M: She was rotten!

On to the voting.

Albania: 12 to Greece. Graham Norton: "the Greek finance minister just died!"

Montenegro: 12 to Serbia.

Romania: 12 to Moldavia.

Austria: 12 to Sweden.

Ukraine: 12 to Azerbaijan. I'm in love with Ukrainian jury spokesman.

Belarus: Dimaaaaaaaa! Looking mighty fine. 12 to Russia.

Belgium: 12 to Sweden. This is the game-changer. 1 point to The Hump.

Azerbaijan: 10 to Russia. 12 to Turkey. I'm not going to bang on about voting blocs but some of these scores are, dare I say, a little predictable??

Malta: 12 to Azerbaijan. For the 3rd year in a row, apparently??

San Marino: 12 to Albania. Only 7 to Italy. I feel an international incident coming on.

France: 12 to Sweden.

UK: Scott Mills delivers our votes. 10 to Ireland...12 to Sweden!! Britain in good taste 12 points shocker.

Turkey: 12 to Azerbaijan. *Laughs hysterically*.

Greece: It wouldn't be 12 to Cyprus, would it? *Continued hysterical laughter*

Bosnia-Herzegovina: 12 to FYR Macedonia.

Moldavia: 12 to Romania.

Bulgaria: 12 to Serbia.

Switzerland: 12 to Albania. Mum: WTF?

Slovenia: 12 to Serbia.

Cyprus: 12 to Greece. Quelle surprise.

Croatia: 12 to Serbia.

At this point Sweden are leading with Serbia 2nd and Russia 3rd. Loreen yells "I freakin' love you!!" And we freakin' love you too, Loreen!

Slovakia: 12 to Sweden. Who are now 50 points in the lead.

FYR Macedonia: 12 to Albania.

Netherlands: 12 to Sweden. Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom are all in the bottom half of the scoreboard. It's looking very worrying indeed for The Hump, who we'd all predicted to get the UK's best score in years - now it looks like one of the worst.

Portugal: 12 to Spain.

Iceland: 12 to Sweden. UK is now last.

Sweden: High point of the evening's voting - it's Sarah Dawn Finer as Lynda Woodruff! "Thank you to B'ku!" For anyone who hadn't seen Melodifestivalen, this comedy creation may have been lost on most of the ESC voters. But for those of us in on the joke it was a treat. 12 to Cyprus may have seemed surprising, but as "La La Love" has received lots of airplay on Swedish radio already then it makes more sense.

Norway: 12 to Sweden. By the way, Sweden only gave 3 points to Norway. I feel another international incident coming on.

Lithuania: 12 to Azerbaijan.

Estonia: 12 to Sweden....and 5 to the UK.

Denmark: 12 to Sweden.

Latvia: 12 to Sweden...and 2 to the UK. *Baltic bloc voting scandal*.

Spain: 12 to Sweden.

Finland: Oh look, it's Mr Lordi! 12 to Sweden. Mum: "I think we can say Sweden have won it".

Georgia: 12 to Lithuania. Tog is now last. Why?

Italy: 12 to Albania....and nothing at all for Sweden! International incident #3.

Serbia: 12 to FYR Macedonia. Norway still last, UK second last.

Germany: 12 to Sweden.

Russia: 12 to Sweden.

Hungary: 12 to Sweden.

Israel: 12 to Sweden.

Ireland: 4 point to the UK, and 12 to...Sweden.

So it's an emphatic victory for Loreen for Sweden with "Euphoria". Congratulations! I'm really happy about the result for a couple of reasons: although the Eurovision Song Contest goes from strength to strength, it really needed an international hit song. Now they've got it.

On a more personal note, I was never happy with the choice of Azerbaijan as a Eurovision host country, for a number of reasons. Apart from the well-documented human rights situation, I felt that it was used as a platform to gain some kind of international respectability for the ruling family. Eurovision is not just an annual one-night TV show. Eurovision is a state of mind. You either "get" it, or you don't - and in my view Azerbaijan don't "get" Eurovision.

I'm extremely excited about the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest taking place in a country which clearly "gets" Eurovision, which gave us the greatest Eurovision winners ever. (No, not the Herreys). The last time Sweden hosted Eurovision, at Globen in 2000, it set the standard for the 21st century ESC. I have no doubt that in 2013, SVT will bring its fantastic production values from Melodifestivalen to put on a show to redefine the Eurovision Song Contest yet again. Oh, and can we please have Måns Zelmerlöw and Sarah Dawn Finer co-hosting it? Tack.

I can't go without mentioning the 25th place (second last) finish for the United Kingdom. Predictably, the minute the credits stopped rolling, the analysis began:-

  • The song wasn't good enough.
  • We sent the wrong artist.
  • We should pull out of Eurovision
  • Everybody hates us.
  • It was a bad draw.
  • We'll never win it again thanks to Baltic/Scandi/Ex-Yugo/Ex-Soviet bloc voting.
  • The voting system needs to be changed.
  • Even if we had Adele singing we'd still flop.
  • It's all too political.
  • We don't have any neighbours to give us 12 points.
  • It's not a song contest anymore.
  •  It's a stupid naff contest anyway so why bother?
Yes, that's just some of the stuff which keeps coming up, year after year. So why does the UK do so badly at Eurovision? Well, here's my own theories:
  • The BBC/British media's attitude to the Eurovision Song Contest is rooted in the 1960s/70s, the era of boom-bang-a-bang, of stupid songs and stupid costumes. It's an event to be laughed at. It's 'let's all laugh at the funny foreigners'. If this is the way we are encouraged to behave, then who can blame Europe for turning its back on us?
  • To be associated with Eurovision is a stigma which will haunt you forever. You will be branded as a 'Eurovision flop' if you don't win. Never mind that it's an opportunity to reach the biggest potential worldwide audience of your career.
  • The publicity campaign for all British entrants is always the same - aim for support from your own country, e.g. "Get Behind The Hump". What's the point in that when you can't vote for your own country?
  • The UK needs to choose a hit song. After all, if the public in your own country aren't buying the song, how can you expect Europe to vote for it.
  • Still on the same theme, the current internal selection system, where song and artist are presented as a fait accompli, is clearly not working. Get the public interested, and get it going viral....
  • The BBC needs to get with the internet. Lena, Rybak and now Loreen all grabbed pre-contest attention because they went viral on YouTube. Word-of-mouth (word-of-mouse?) is more important than ever in achieving a high score at the contest.
  • Chart Show TV/Dance Nation TV excepted, don't expect to see any videos of Eurovision acts on the music TV channels. And God forbid, that a Eurovision song should be played on British radio. It's that stigma again.
  • If you go to Europe, you will hear songs from neighbouring countries, in different languages, on the radio. Unlike the UK, where "foreign" music is not encouraged in any way, apart from the odd 'holiday hit' sneaking through.
  • The UK has particularly suffered following the reintroduction of free language. English is the language of international pop music. Most European countries are now sending songs in English - so the UK needs to send something extra special to stand out.
So how do we reverse the decline? Well, I can't see things changing any time soon. Earlier on I was talking about countries which "get" Eurovision.  Royaume-Uni clearly doesn't, even though there is a big devoted fanbase in this country.  The UK will continue to flatline at Eurovision as long as the Eurosceptic, defiant-little-islander mentality continues. Until attitudes in our media change to embrace Eurovision, and indeed Europe, the UK will be propping up the bottom of the scoreboard for many years to come.

In the meantime, here's some suggestions.

  • Get rid of whoever's in charge of ESC at the BBC and replace them with someone who's more sympathetic to Eurovision.
  • The Beeb probably couldn't afford it, but if they ditched some of their overpaid "stars" they could go down the Melodifestivalen route. Make it an event. Six weeks, 32 songs and artists - some old, some new, with something for everyone's musical tastes. Tour the country, get the public interested, use the internet, get people talking - and voting.
  • Either that, or choose an established artist who is still popular. Give them about 8 songs for the public to vote on. Put them on in prime time, Saturday night.  Give us an artist, and a song, to be proud of.  A contemporary song from the 21st century!
  • Whatever selection method, make the songs available for download and get them on the BBC radio playlist.
  • BBC pull out of Eurovision and give it to ITV. I can't stand their talent shows but they do that kind of thing much better than the BBC (chokes me to say it, but it's true).
I don't expect any of the above to happen.

Eurovision 2012: the result

1. Sweden (372)
2. Russia (259)
3. Serbia (214)
4. Azerbaijan (150)
5. Albania (146)
6. Estonia (120)
7. Turkey (112)
8. Germany (110)
9. Italy (101)
10. Spain (97)
11. Moldova (81)
12. Romania (71)
13. FYR Macedonia (71)
14. Lithuania (70)
15. Ukraine (65)
16. Cyprus (65)
17. Greece (64)
18. Bosnia-Herzegovina (55)
19. Ireland (46)
20. Iceland (46)
21. Malta (41)
22. France (21)
23. Denmark (21)
24. Hungary (19)
25. United Kingdom (12)
26. Norway (7)

This will be my last blog post for a while, as I'm going to step away from the computer, enjoy the summer, watch Euro 2012 and the Tour de France, and get out and about!   Have a great summer everyone :)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Lock up your glassware: The Voice UK and the Big Singing epidemic

It's all over, and thank goodness.  The first series of The Voice UK ended on Saturday night with victory for Leanne Mitchell, a young woman with a quite frighteningly big voice.  It's big, in a lock up your glassware kind of big.  Given the show's title, it might have been a most appropriate win, if you like that sort of thing.

Well, I don't.  Some of the most distinctive voices in popular music, past and present, didn't have to scream to get their point across.  Yet in the UK, there seems to be an ongoing obsession with Big Singing.  Screaming at the top of your voice.  Ad-libbing and stretching out one note for at least 5 minutes.  As Father Ted might have said - "just sing the f****** note!!"  Perhaps that's where the show differed from many of its various worldwide counterparts, which are more welcoming of more straightforward singers who don't feel the need to batter us into submission with their vocal gymnastics. Bo Bruce didn't turn the volume up and her style was acclaimed as original. Maybe so, but Diana Vickers and Dolores O'Riordan are on the phone asking if they could have their vocal styles back, thank you.

The Voice UK started promisingly, and in the beginning it looked like a refreshing change from all those other talent shows.  However, that didn't last.  The back stories were increasingly rolled out.  With a remit to be nice rather than nasty, the coaches seemed to find it very hard to be constructive in an original way and time after time they fell back on the inevitable talent show stock nailed it/you made the song your own have all been heard too many times before. 

The coaches seemed initially likeable, but as the series went on, two of them particularly becamme more irritating by the week.  Every word and gesture from Jessie J and screamed "look at me!".  Much of the time looked bored and would rather tweet, that's when he wasn't standing on top of his chair. When he did get round to making any comments, he didn't go much further than "dope" and a load of other unintelligible nonsense.  Jessie J and her interchangeable hairdos commanded attention, but for someone who claimed before the series to be outspoken, her comments often came across as a stumbling, inarticulate mess.  We had high hopes for Danny, but he also ended up mouthing a load of predictable cliches and there were signs that he was getting a bit too big for his boots.  Tom Jones - the one true living legend on the panel - looked as he was going through the motions, once he ran out of names to drop.  Worryingly, Jessie also began moulding her singers in her own image, reaching the frightening conclusion of Vince-Kidd-IS-Jessie-J in the final (pictured below).

Talking of which, don't even start me on the styling.  A weekly horror show...

And what about the presenters?  Holly Willoughby seems to be better known for her "assets" than her talent, but she's anything but a dumb blonde, picking up a huge pay packet for, quite frankly, doing very little.  Reggie Yates showed promise but his role was far too limited and he was relegated to the role of the Green Room Guy.  Like Tess Daly in Strictly, only without the horrific dresses and the dumb dance routine with Brucie. 

By the end of the blind auditions one thing was abundantly clear.  Jaz Ellington, a curiously old-school soul vocalist, was already enjoying unacceptable levels of favouritism from the coaches.  His main competition seemed to come from Ruth Brown, another young woman with a big voice, but a decidedly distinctive one.  Ruth immediately became our favourite female contestant.  Yet, somewhere along the way, her natural raw talent was snuffed out, the sob stories came to the fore, and she was forced into a box marked 'soul diva'.
Both Jaz and Ruth were dispatched by the viewers at the semi-final stage, with many on the internet alleging racism from the voting public. 

From the beginning we were cheering on Tyler James (pictured below) but even that came with reservations.  Did we really need all those references to being best mates with Amy Winehouse?  And what happened to the Tyler of old with his jazzy-pop vocal style which delighted us a few years ago?  Even this was replaced by a bizarre falsetto.  After that nightmare rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I'm really surprised he made it out to the final.  It was only during his "OMG" duet with that we saw flashes of the old Tyler James, and we remembered what made him so special in the first place. 

Vince was eliminated in 4th place, leaving Leanne, Tyler and Bo fighting it out for the win.  Maroon 5 made a guest appearance and threw in a bit of Moves Like Jagger, the song which resulted from Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera's stint as judges on The Voice USA.  I don't think we'll ever see anything coming out of the UK version to match the greatness of that track.  The coaches' finale was a medley of Price Tag/It's Not Unusual/Breakeven/Where Is The Love.  Memo to Danny: wannabe rock stars don't wear leggings with glittery knee bits.

Where is the result, more like - the show ended with the announcement of Leanne's win, but bizarrely no mention of who was 2nd and who was 3rd.  It's yet another reminder that the BBC does not do "talent shows" well - think Fame Academy, Dance X, So You Think You Can Dance - good ideas which have all failed to live up to their potential in the hands of the BBC.    I can't stand ITV's talent shows, but at least they know how to do a successful formula. 

The winner's prize, of course, is a recording contract.  Despite the emphasis on 'the voice', the question has to be asked -  Leanne Mitchell may be a vocal powerhouse, but is she a marketable recording artist?  I very much doubt it, and she will probably be the latest in a long, long line of talent show winners/finalists consigned to the 'dropped by their label' dustbin - the latest recruit being X Factor 2010 winner Matt Cardle.  Perhaps Leanne could take her vocal talents into musical theatre, where a big voice is always welcome.  As for Tyler, well he spent a lot of time going on about how The Voice had changed his life: well, he's back on pop's radar after this competition, so fingers crossed that it's a launchpad for a second chance at success.

(All photographs courtesy of