Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hello....and thanks for visiting :)

As usual around this time of year my visitor numbers increase thanks to Eurovision.  So once again I just want to thank you all for visiting, whether you're one of the "regulars" or an occasional visitor, or if you just discovered the blog accidentally. 

I've recently been on a wonderful holiday and have also been very, very busy at work and at home lately so haven't had the time or energy to blog.  One more day at work and then it's a four day holiday weekend so I'm planning to take some time out and publish some overdue posts including my Eurovision final review.

In the meantime, have a great weekend everyone :)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Good news for faithful travelling companion!

Did a bit of detective work today :)

Checked the iTunes Store and they've got Aydilge's CDs. As for Aslı Güngör, it's an EP rather than a full album.  Lots of Turkish music on there, all available to buy in this country!!

The big night is almost here!

Just back from a fabulous 4 night break in catching up with all the Eurovision news before getting ready for the big night.  So, how many of my foolish predictions from my previous post from last Sunday came true?  By the way, I have not yet watched the semi-finals and won't watch them till after the contest, so I don't really know how deserved these results were...!

Well I didn't do too badly, got Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia, Belarus wrong - particularly sad about "Time" and "We Are The Heroes" as they're two of my big faves this year.

On the plus side though, well done to Compact Disco - fantastic!  Kurt for Malta was a very surprising but quite welcome qualifier too.

Bosnia-H?  Macedonia?  Would these songs have qualified if they'd come from, say, Finland or Switzerland?

I am far from being one of those people who reach for the sour grapes and blame bloc voting whenever certain results occur at ESC - a particularly British trait perhaps.

But in my own view, I feel there's been a particularly drastic change notably since the introduction of the semi-final in 2004.  On the one hand, it's a good thing that everyone gets a chance to compete on Europe's biggest musical level playing field for at least one night; but it has to be said that since 2004 the focus has shifted so far to the extent that you find yourself sitting on the Saturday night yelling out the 8s, 10s and 12s before the jury spokesperson does.   Whether or not you agree, bloc voting and the so-called "diaspora" vote do exist, and you will see more evidence of that tonight.  Rant over.

Regardless of all that, the Eurovision Song Contest is still the greatest TV show in the world, and I wouldn't miss it for anything.  I have always had my reservations about Azerbaijan staging the contest, but I hope that Baku gives us a sparkling and worthy final tonight, with all the performers giving their very best.  

Happy Eurovision night!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eurovision 2012: It's the final countdown!

Once upon a time, the Eurovision Song Contest happened for one night a year, you'd get a couple of preview shows (and even these were scrapped) and that was it.

Now, Eurovision is an all-year round, truly interactive experience.  And aren't we glad about that!!  Months of national finals, song selections and speculation, rehearsals week, the two semi-finals, the grand final and then months of post-match analysis before it all rolls round again :)

This week I've been enjoying watching all the rehearsal clips, both official and unofficial, posted on the internet almost as they happen.  As I'll be on holiday in the coming week I'll miss the two semi-finals but should be back home in time for the final.  However, I don't really feel that I've missed anything, because of all the wonderful people who are blogging, posting videos, tweeting links, recording podcasts etc....thanks to each and every one of you for bringing the Eurovision experience alive. 

So it's foolish predictions time.  Here's who I think will qualify out of the semi-finals.  As ever, I will probably be completely wrong, but here goes:

Qualifying from Semi-Final 1:

Hope to be wrong here, as I'd love Hungary to make it through - it may not be a "fan-fave" but "Sound of Our Hearts" is one of my particular favourites this year. And he is great :)

You always get a shock qualifier/non-qualifier of course so don't write off Austria due to the draw and just the sheer ridiculousness of it.... and then of course there is also uh oh, uh oh oh, which is awful but catchy. Maybe take Cyprus out of the equation too despite the 12 points from Greece?  Greece will probs qualify because they are Greece of course, even though I can't really stand their song this year.  I just wonder if the current economic situation will affect their points total in the final...or could they be punished at the semi-final stage?

Qualifying from Semi-Final 2:

Again I'm having some doubts as Belarus could drop out of the running with either Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina sneaking through although both of their songs are, for me, substandard this year.  I've got a feeling Slovenia is going to do very well though. 

Georgia could be the possible shock qualifier in this one but I don't know who could drop out - maybe Lithuania, although they have a terrific draw, and if Donny sings out of his skin the way he did in the 2nd rehearsal then he's definitely a tip for the final. 

You'll have noticed I've got the Netherlands in there.  I have a feeling that "You and Me" could give them their best result in years, due to its simplicity.  And everyone will remember the headgear which is totally unnecessary.  But at Eurovision, you gotta have a gimmick, so...

The Big 5+1

My views on this, as with the rest of the entries, change from day to day, from hour to hour. 
UK: will be top 10 at least, possible top 5 but won't win.
France: will get the poorest result out of all the big 5+1
Italy: definite top 5, possible winner - there was a lot of goodwill towards Italy last year and I think this could appeal to both juries and televoters.
Azerbaijan: just outside the top 10.
Spain: definite top 10 placing.  She can really sing this song.
Germany: definite top 10 placing, if he loses the silly headgear.  Great draw and a song with wide appeal, even if the hardcore fans seem to hate it.

I am not going to predict the winner.  If Loreen does win, as she seems to be getting a pre-contest Rybak/Lena buzz going, then it will be the latest in a long line of predetermined wins, which seems to be becoming the norm in the internet age. 

Then there are the grannies.  Have you ever been to a kids’ school concert or a dancing display, and there is always the little attention seeking one at the end who is about three steps behind the rest at all times, and yet they are so damn cute that you can’t stop watching them. Just like that little one in the Buranovskiye Babushki. The "awwww" factor is alive and well here, and Europe could totally fall for it. However, what Eurovision really needs is an international hit song as a winner, not a novelty entry.

So if Loreen or the grannies don't win, I think it's going to be a really close contest with the lead changing after every couple of voting results are announced.  Yep, I am sitting on the fence.  So instead I am going to predict the top 10, middle 10, and bottom 6, based on the above predictions.  Which, I reiterate, will be completely wrong.  But that's the fun of Eurovision!

In no particular order, the top 10:
United Kingdom

The next 10:


The bottom 6:
*possibly substituting shock/surprise qualifiers!

Next Saturday I'll be in front of the telly (watching in HD for the first time!) with wine and nibbles and the statutory potato wedges break .  As usual mum will be on hand to provide the odd quip, and I'll have pen in hand writing down all the thoughts of the EuropeCrazy HQ jury to turn it into a blog post which should be posted on here next Sunday.  In the meantime....enjoy Eurovision week!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Eurovision Memories Part 4: 1998

Another week goes by, another Eurovision anniversary.  Three days ago - Europe Day 1998 - marked the 14th anniversary of the last time the United Kingdom hosted the Eurovision party, in the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.  The Beeb, in traditionally cash-strapped style, had Sir Terence of Wogan in the dual roles of presenter and commentator that year, whilst co-presenter Ulrika Jonsson could definitely have done with better styling not to mention tact and diplomacy.  A long time ago, was it???

The set was simple and stylish with its 'fishtail' backdrop.  Excellent job by Geoff Posner that year.

Eurovision 1998 was "of its time" - and I particularly loved the postcards devoted to various British cities.  Glasgow was featured in the postcard which preceded that nice Polish entry by the way :)  "Cool Britannia" was at its height, and I particularly enjoyed the various British hits which accompanied the postcards.  M People, Supergrass, Duran Duran, Everything But The Girl, Pet Shop Boys, Pulp, Catatonia, Duran Duran, Manic Street Preachers, Lighthouse Family, The Verve, Suede, Rod Stewart, Simply Red, Kula Shaker, Underworld, The Beautiful South, James, Mansun, Lightning impressive roll of honour which is even more impressive these days in the depressing, disappointing era of bad music :(

Of course, 1998 was all about the attention seekers.  Israel's Dana International looked fab in her glittery frock, complete with regulation Israeli sideways-strutting choreography, but if I'm honest "Diva" was not my favourite song that year...but you can't underestimate the significance of it all: and soon afterwards the arrival of the internet was to have a phenomenal effect on the development of the modern Eurovision song contest, which would never be the same again.

Dana was swiftly followed by the equally shy and retiring Guildo Horn for Germany, in his crushed velvet suit, complete with his Orthopaedic Stockings and a young Stefan Raab as conductor.  Admit it, peeps, there are more classic Eurovision moments in this performance than in many of the years which were to follow.

Watching the contest again, there are a few songs which I'd forgotten about....Ireland, for example - I thought "Is Always Over Now" was very underrated at the time.  By the way, I used to work with a girl who looked a bit like Dawn Martin, whilst my current boss resembles Charlotte Perrelli in her blonde days :)

And so to Royaume-Uni.  The crowd going wild for Imaani.  The hitherto unknown singer was charged with the responsibility of defending the title and she did an incredible job.  She looked great, sang brilliantly and the whole thing was a very professional effort.  Little did we know at that time that the UK's prestige at the contest was about to plummet in the years to come....:(

On to my favourite song of the night, and one of my most favourite ESC songs ever.  I refer to Mr Wogan's particular favourite too: "Hemel en Aarde" sung by Edsilia for the Netherlands, written by the Fluitsma/van Tijn songwriting partnership which was responsible for some of my mid-90s favourite songs.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this performance: this is one of the reasons why I am so proud to call myself a Eurovision fan. 

Oh look, it's Anders Berglund! Which means only one thing: Sverige.  A fine, assured vocal performance by Jill Johnson even if I never really rated her song.  Subtle intervention by the wind machine too.  I probably like this more now than I did back then.

We are in a very good section of the contest at this point: just when you'd given up on a decent French-language ESC entry by Belgium, along came the song which was known as "Seaweed" at EuropeCrazy HQ. 

Fast-forward a little more to another of our major favourites HQ that year: "Alltid Sommer" a.k.a. "All I Ever Wanted Was You" sung by the jumper-wearing seriously cute Norwegian Lars A. Fredriksen.  Actually there is nothing wrong with this either.  Total perfection.  "That boy is going to get a few girly votes" declared Sir Terence; ab-so-lutely!! The girls at EuropeCrazy HQ headed straight to the phones....

Then there was Koit Toome, the Estonian Gary Barlow-meets-Bruce Hornsby, who was reasonably cute too, but the song didn't really do much for us.  At that point, Estonia were solely flying the Baltic flag with no sign of Latvia: we had to wait two years for arguably the most amazing debut song ever in Eurovision.  Fact.

The interval act, showcasing the various musical cultures of the UK, was maybe a little too old-fashioned, but its heart was in the right place anyway.  And someone even managed to sneak Vanessa-Mae and Lesley Garrett in there. 

Then there was some voting.  Katrina, in a long red glittery frock, handed the trophy to a defiantly unpunctual Dana Int who reappeared in her victory outfit topped with those feathers.  Viva la diva indeed :)

So that was 1998, which was a very significant year, for two reasons. Firstly, it was the final year of the orchestra accompanying all the entries; it was also the final year before free language was reintroduced. Eurovision was in transition, and this was probably the last of the "old" contests: Eurovision was about to evolve into the mega-event of the modern era, the "party for everybody" which we know it as today - a very sprightly 56 year old which has no intention of slowing down, and which has a lot of life left in it!!!

I've enjoyed taking a trip back in time for this short series of Eurovision memories.  There is so much more to come, so the series will return later this year for another look back at the world's greatest TV show :)

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Eurovision Memories Part 3 - 1997

I got the inspiration for the third part of this occasional series just a couple of nights ago, as various top bloggers/tweeters - notably Birmingham's finest, Melodimen - were commemorating the 15th anniversary of the last time the United Kingdom won the Eurovision Song Contest, on 3rd May 1997.

That was a pretty significant night for me, as it would be the first time since the early 1970s that I hadn't been at home on the evening of the contest due to a prior engagement.  On the way home by taxi, the driver had the radio news on, and I heard the announcement that the UK had won Eurovision.  My first thought was, for goodness sake, I really must be drunk!!  Did they just say what I thought they said?

But yes, they did.  On that evening, Eurovision was once again back in its spiritual '90s home, Ireland, after yet another win the previous year.  1996 had, for me, been one of the worst contests I'd ever had the misfortune to witness, and fittingly it was won by one of the weakest winners ever (IMHO) "The Voice" sung by Eimear Quinn. A strangely old-fashioned winner, yet the set design and production values of 1997 gave a message of modernity, what with all those digital screens etc, the introduction of limited televoting - giving power to the people - and then of course the interval act performance by the top pop band of the day, Boyzone.  (Between presenting and performing, RTE was definitely trying to get its money's worth out of Ronan Keating that night!).

Despite the push for modernity, many of the songs were still 'old Eurovision' and very little stood out that year for me.  Ireland defended its title well with top quality ballad "Mysterious Woman" sung by Marc Roberts, a song spookily reminiscent of that early 90s classic "Jessie" by Joshua Kadison (anyone else spot the resemblance or is it just me?).  Scoff if you must but I still have a soft spot for the Netherlands' great lost Bond theme, "Niemand Heeft Nog Tijd" by Mrs Einstein, whilst Italy's temporarily return with "Fiumi di Parole" brought a bit of welcome Italian style and class from the duo Jalisse.  Good to see Estonia getting a respectable result too with "Keelatud Maa" by Maarja-Liis Ilus.

It may have been a little cheesy, but I liked Hungary's answer to Boyzone-on-stools - VIP - and even now I still find their mid-tempo boyband song quite pleasant indeed.

My favourite entry of 1997 was a song with, ahem, a very memorable performance which probably had Sir Terence of Wogan choking on his Bailey's.  "Minn Hinsti Dans" is one of my most favourite Eurovision songs, ever.  It's Páll Óskar's PVC Party, and everyone's invited. 

Sweden, Sweden, Sweden.  Sorry, but I really did not like Blond or their song in 1997, and I still don't have much time for it today.  Let's not forget the nil-points brigade: Portugal's Celia Lawson and her finger-clicking backing-talkers shared last place with Norway's Tor Endresen.  Oh, and there was Alla Pugacheva.  That woman really did give it some of "that".  Then there was Kolig Kaj, rapping away in Danish, with a couple of backing dancers who had obviously graduated from the early 90s Melodifestivalen school-of-backing dancers (!), the off-key Croatian Spice Girls ENI, need I go on?

Looking at the contest now, it's understandable why "Love Shine A Light" won.  And what a runaway winner it was too.  Katrina (and her Waves) went out and gave an in it to win it, anthemic performance.  There was also the recognition factor: everyone remembers "Walking On Sunshine". Let's not forget the late draw either: and also the small matter of a positive change of government a couple of days earlier.  It was the days of Cool Britannia, of Things Can Only Get Better.  For the UK at Eurovision, it was still a time when respectable results were the rule, rather than the exception.  But those days were numbered.

For Eurovision, change was also in the air.  Limited televoting had been introduced in 1997 and this would eventually be extended to every country, replacing the increasingly unpopular jury system.  Whatever next?  The abolition of the orchestra and singers singing along to backing tapes?  People singing in whatever language they wanted?  But for the moment, there was the small matter of the United Kingdom hosting Eurovision the following year.  To be continued....