Sunday, July 28, 2013

Time out!

You may remember that last August I did a "digital detox" and gave up the internet for a month.  It was very successful so I'm going to do the same thing between now and the end of August.  No blogging, no Twitter, and only limiting my internet use to:

  • holiday research and booking
  • weather checks
  • watching TV (e.g. Allsång)
I'll be back on Sunday 1st September :))

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: July 2013

The success of "The Killing", "Borgen" and "Wallander" clearly proved that there is an appetite for quality, thoughtful subtitled drama from Europe.  Channel 4 got in on the act, and stepped into the Nordic Noir void, turning to France for the Canal + drama "THE RETURNED" (Les Revenants), which has been a ratings hit. It was initially billed as a 'zombies coming back' drama but that does it a disservice.  What it actually is, is a completely original, complex, gripping drama which, like the best of those other foreign imports holds your attention and taxes your brain at the same time.  A number of people who have died, return to their small Twin Peaks-style mountain village as if nothing ever happened.  It's gripping, creepy and unmissable and the constant sense of brooding menace is perfectly accompanied by Scottish band Mogwai's equally dark and brooding minimalist soundtrack.  Like all the best TV, "The Returned" has been an event, and it ends tonight.  I'm guessing though that we will be none the wiser at the end of it, and will have more questions than answers.  The good news is that there will be a second series which will be, ahem, 'returning' to Channel 4, but we'll have to wait a long while for it.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: TV execs sitting in a room, trying to dream up a new Saturday night entertainment format.  "Hey guys, let's have singing.  Let's have people dressing up as other singers and singing their songs.  Oh s*** it's ITV so we can't use 'ordinary' people - we need to keep them for the Zzzzz Factor, so it has to be 'celebrities'....ta-dah! We have a format!  Now let's give it the most stupid programme name imaginable..."  And so, "YOUR FACE SOUNDS FAMILIAR" (ITV) was born.  The only thing is, we've already had celebs impersonating singers.  That was called "Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes", back in the day.  "Your Face...." is a train-wreck, but bizarrely watchable, from behind your hands of course.  And on the plus side, it's free from the evil clutches of Cowell, so all is not lost.  Every time I see that Cheryl Fergison (pictured above as Dusty Springfield), I just think of Harry Hill's TV Burp.  Maybe the 'Randomiser' (cue uncontrollable excitement from Paddy McGuinness, the latest in a long line of 'let's dream up a show for him to present' TV hosts) could select Harry Hill and she could do a medley of his greatest musical TV Burp moments.  #wishfulthinking

ITV4 delivered its usual impeccable coverage of the "TOUR DE FRANCE" with the usual daily live broadcasts and the excellent 7pm highlights shows.  You know what to expect by now - top class commentary and witty and informative features, with Ned Boulting usually on the receiving end of Chris Boardman's scientific experiments :) By the way I'm reading Ned's book "How I Won The Yellow Jumper" at the moment and it is very good indeed.

A very timely documentary on Nat Geo - a channel which was once quite highbrow but is now on an ever-sensationalist road, by the way - coincided with the end of Le Tour.  "CYCLING'S GREATEST FRAUD" examined Lance Armstrong's fall from grace and the people he destroyed on his way to his chemically enhanced 7 TdF wins.  

Channel 4 has been commemorating the month of Ramadan and in "A VERY BRITISH RAMADAN", Rashid Khan took us on a journey through the day-to-day practicalities and aspects of the month of fasting. It was a fascinating insight and I would like to see more programmes like this, which help us to understand different cultures. 

Rashid was of course the big beardy bloke off  "Make Bradford British", Channel 4's culture-clash experiment from last year.  They're at it again with the life-swapping culture-clashing in "WHY DON'T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?".  A sensationalist programme title - now that's so very 21st century.  In this programme, a group of non-English speaking immigrants from various countries are placed with English people who attempt to teach them the language.  Of course this type of show always gets away from its original premise, turning into a journey of self-discovery for the British hosts, and throw in some staged arguments about immigration along the way.  There is a great programme waiting to be made about the experiences of new immigrants in the UK, but this is not it.

Over on Sky Atlantic, "SMASH" is back for season 2, which has turned out to be the last as the show has now been cancelled in the USA.  The idea of the show was, admittedly, time-limited and you couldn't really see it going on for years.  There is a tendency at the beginning of a second season to completely revamp a show, making it unrecognisable from the first season (hello, Harry's Law and Fairly Legal) so it was quite refreshing to see that "Smash" hadn't really changed that much, apart from ditching a couple of deadwood characters (the irritating Ellis and Dev).  New characters have been introduced - the aspiring musical writers Kyle and Jimmy, discovered by Karen, and I'm guessing that will be a dominant story arc this season. I find "Smash" entertaining and highly irritating at the same time: that's one thing that hasn't changed.

Harry Hill has actually done the impossible and got me watching "YOU'VE BEEN FRAMED" (ITV) which I hadn't actually watched for years, but my friend at work - also a Harry obsessive - alerted me to his hilariously funny voiceovers to the predictable, staged clips of people falling over.

Right, now it's quiz time!  Who the hell thought up "TAKE ON THE TWISTERS" (ITV)?  And more importantly, what were they on at the time?  This is the 5.00-6.00pm summer replacement for "The Chase".  Last year of course we got "Tipping Point" which we initially hated but grew to love it, however I can't see that happening here.  Mum and I had the "is it just me?" moment as we struggled to understand the complex format, and what the hell was the point of the "twisters", a multi-coloured bunch of giant egg timers or something.  And then I went on the internet and realised that there are probably millions out there who are as confused as we are.  Why did they not bring back "Don't Blow The Inheritance" with Tim Vine?  In fact, why don't they fill the hour-long slot with Tim doing 'pen behind the ear'?  Anything would be better than the tedious twisters.

We may not have bothered with "DARK SHADOWS" (Sky Movies) but two words changed our mind: Johnny Depp.  Johnny Depp in a Tim Burton film - you can't have one without the other, can you?  And needless to say, Helena Bonham-Carter was in it as well.  This vampire-returns-to-family-mansion romp wasn't usually the kind of thing we go for, and I wouldn't say it was a 'great' movie which I'd watch again, but Johnny always elevates every film he appears in and makes it better than it actually is.

That's it for the reviews, so now a quick preview.  The comedy genius that is Karl Pilkington will be back on our screens later this year in "The Moaning of Life" on Sky 1.  He'll be off on his travels of his own accord as there's no Ricky and Steve pulling the strings this time round, but I'm sure the laughs will still be guaranteed. The second series of  "Moone Boy" will also be on Sky 1 later this year and I'm sure it will brighten up those dark autumn nights.

Square-Eyed will be back at the end of August.  

Thoughts on Le Tour, 2013

2013 brought the 100th Tour de France, and what a show they put on.  From the early stages in stunning Corsica, via the French Riviera, northwards to one of the most scenic stage finishes ever at Mont Saint-Michel, and an extensive programme of mountain stages towards the end of the race, before an unforgettable evening finish on the Champs-Elysees last Sunday in Paris.  It was a three-week celebration of cycling, and as always, a celebration of the French landscape.  And for British cycling, it was 'two in a row'.

Chris Froome made an impressive breakthrough in last year's Tour, and appeared to be a potential GC winner had he not been instructed to take a back seat to Team Sky's 2012 main man Bradley Wiggins. Froome went on to do some serious damage at last year's Vuelta so by the time this year's TdF came around he was being backed as the favourite for this year's race.  But the big question was - who would lead Team Sky?  That was answered when Wiggo withdrew from the race due to illness and injury, shortly before it was due to start.  Froome was installed as team leader and off he went.....

The 100th tour didn't have the best of starts though - with a massive crash and the Orica GreenEdge team bus stuck under under the stage finishing line gantry.

At this year's Tour, Mark Cavendish was racing in the British road race champion's jersey which he won a few weeks ago in Glasgow. Cavendish of course left Team Sky for Omega Pharma Quick Step, however it was noted by commentators during the race that he was lacking the relevant support from his team and this needs to be developed.  Two stage wins did come, which is still a great achievement - but so much is expected from him every year that this would be considered an unsuccessful year for him. Mark has matured in recent years however after a collision with Tom Veelers earlier in the race, we got a glimpse of the immaturity and petulance of the old Mr Cavendish, who proceeded to temporarily snatch a reporter's microphone.  The one thing we can be sure of in cycling though is that nothing lasts forever and new names will come along to dethrone the old champions.  And so it was in this year's tour - Marcel Kittel began the race with a stage win and a yellow jersey, and ended it with a win in Paris bringing Cav's run of 4 wins to an end.

The green jersey competition was sewn up very early though - Peter Sagan proved that last year was no fluke.  I still feel that in time he could develop into an all-rounder capable of winning more than the green jersey.  He's also brought fun and personality to cycling, with his 'wheelies' and having won the green jersey again, he took the theme to great lengths in Paris...

Talking of green, the first week of the race ended up being dominated by the Aussie team Orica GreenEdge. Their bus may have got stuck on day 1 but their riders were on the (Green) edge of glory, as two of them - Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey - held the yellow jerseys for two days each before that crucial win by Chris Froome on Mont Ventoux.

Going off-topic for a minute, I''d just like to mention how much I liked Pierre Rolland's King of the Mountains onesie (pictured above).  It wasn't to everyone's taste though, but I don't care - I love it!

Rolland had to eventually relinquish his KoM jersey, to Chris Froome then newcomer Nairo Quintana from Colombia.  In the 100th Tour de France, French cyclists didn't have too many reasons to be cheerful as there was only one stage win for a French cyclist, Christophe Riblon on the iconic Alpe D'Huez.

Nairo Quintana was this year's biggest breakthrough in Le Tour and I definitely see him as being the main competition for Chris Froome in the years to come.  The Tour is won in the mountains and Quintana is an excellent climber - winning the KoM competition and also the white jersey for best young rider (he's 23 although I thought he was a lot older than that when I first saw him), and of course finishing 2nd overall to Chris Froome.  It was Quintana who turned out to be Froome's toughest competitor, and not Alberto Contador.

After that triumphant stage 8 win at Mont Ventoux, Chris Froome took the yellow jersey and held it all the way to Paris.  At first I was a little annoyed and bitter about this as I feel this had killed the race, but in fact it actually demonstrated Froome's ability as an all-rounder.  He won three stages (two mountain stages and an individual time trial), and these were the stages which mattered.  Of course we are in the age of cycling where everyone who is successful automatically must be doping, right?  At least that was the main tone of a heated press conference after the Ventoux stage win.  Froome defended himself assertively, but with dignity. But the allegations continued in the French press and the internet community.  Eventually, Team Sky provided L'Equipe with a dossier of Froome's climbing data from the past two years, to prove that this was no fluke.

I am in favour of lifetime bans for cyclists (and other athletes) who take part in doping - but such is the nature of the sophisticated methods of doping used in cycling, that no-one ever seems to get caught at the time, but years later we learn the shocking truth.  After the Armstrong affair, a cyclist may come forward and admit to being part of a doping programme, say 10 or 15 years ago, but they conveniently get around this by waiting till the end of their career to do so.  Shortly after announcing his retirement from cycling this past week, Aussie sprinter Stuart O'Grady admitted to doping in 1998.  I found this particularly disappointing - he's been a popular and enduring presence in the Tour over the years but will now only be remembered as a cheat.

I want to believe that Chris Froome won the 100th Tour - and probably more to come - thanks to hard work and sheer cycling talent, rather than by any artificial means.  In his winning speech on the podium in Paris, Chris Froome said that "this is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time", referring to the 7 blank spaces in the cycling history books where Lance Armstrong's name used to be.  Froome is an articulate and dignified winner, a million miles away from Armstrong's unpleasant arrogance.

Chris Froome holds a British passport and rides for a British team, but he is an African by birth and upbringing.  It would be a fantastic legacy of his Tour win if, like the Olympians of London 2012, he could 'inspire a generation' of African cyclists, especially from Kenya, the country where he was born.  How good it would be to see Kenyan cyclists in the Tour de France!

Above: individual jersey winners L-R Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome, Peter Sagan.

So, last Sunday night the 100th Tour de France came to an end, with an unforgettable final stage where the cyclists went right round the Arc de Triomphe instead of just in front of it.  The Arc was also the centrepiece of a stunning light show after the stage finished.

You never want Le Tour to end....but don't worry, the 101st is just 48 weeks away!  And it all starts in....Yorkshire!

Swedish Charts Update

As two Swedish acts (Icona Pop and Avicii) have topped the UK singles chart over recent weeks, I thought it was about time to check out what's going on in the Swedish iTunes chart as I haven't done a charts update for ages.  So....

It's no surprise to see Avicii's "Wake Me Up" at the top of the charts over there as well as over here.  This country-meets-dance music hit has now conquered charts over the continent and would appear to be Europe's big summer hit of 2013, along with the ever-present "Get Lucky" (and the hideous "Blurred Lines"...oh don't get me started on that one).

Apart from all the familiar international hits it's nice to see a few Swedish-language songs in the top 30 such as "Miss Decibel" by Medina - not the Danish singer, but the Swedish hip-hop duo who've been turning up on all the summer TV shows.  When I heard the title I immediately thought of Kikki Danielsson and Lasse Holm's Melodifestivalen entry and I thought it was a cover of that, but it's a completely different song. 

Another Swedish-language song doing very well at the moment is "En annan värld" by Stiftelsen, which has a more rocky feel than their debut hit "Vart jag än går" and there is no mistaking Robban's very distinctive vocals, whatever language he sings in.

"Undressed", the debut hit by Kim Cesarion, with its distinctive falsetto chorus, has been one of the biggest songs of the last couple of months in Sweden.  There are definite Prince influences here, which can only be a good thing, and I think he's got lots of potential for the future. 

Danny Saucedo's "Todo El Mundo (Dancing In The Streets)" has had lots of radio airplay and is the perfect Latin-flavoured dance track for what is turning out to be a very long hot summer!  Talking of summer hits, there's a very familiar song from MGP taking up residence on the radio playlists and in the charts - none other than "Bombo" by Adelen which is doing well in both Sweden and Finland at the moment.  Whilst we're on the subject of song contests - this year's ESC winner "Only Teardrops" by Emmelie de Forest is still hanging in there in the Swedish iTunes top 30 although it has been eclipsed by another song which was performed at the grand final: Loreen's "We Got The Power".

You will find her, you'll find her next to....Alejandro!?!

Over recent years, a familiar weapon used in any pop star's bid for world domination and/or expansion into different linguistic markets is the bilingual duet.  Flashback about 10 years or so and you may remember Ronan Keating duetting with what seemed like every female singer in every European country to ensure that he made that country's charts.

Now, in 2013, we have Emeli Sande, who has enjoyed massive international success over the past couple of years, (although personally speaking her music leaves me cold), but obviously she now feels the need to conquer that lucrative Spanish-speaking market.  So what better than a duet with none other than one of my favourite Spanish megastars, Alejandro Sanz?  Alejandro is of course no stranger to an international duet, having shared the microphone with the likes of The Corrs and Alicia Keys over the years.  This time he's doing some Spanish-language warbling on a 'Spanglish' version of Emeli's big hit "Next To Me" and it's obviously working as the song is now in the Spanish iTunes top 10. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Live Review: Blondie, Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow 01.07.13

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Debbie Harry, the photogenic frontwoman of Blondie, received as much press coverage and magazine covers as today's worldwide pop stars.  Yet she was always keen to stress that "Blondie is a group".

Fast-forward to 2013, and when I tell people that we are going to see Blondie, the automatic reaction is "oh is she still going?" and "oh yes, Debbie Harry" but Blondie is very much a group, which continues to change, evolve and stay relevant.  Since their  late 90s comeback they've not been content to just rest on their laurels and have continued to record new material and carry on gigging, in an effort to prove that they're more than just a retro novelty.

This was our 5th Blondie concert - our 5th in 15 years! - since their comeback tour in 1998, when they performed at Glasgow Barrowland, which combined the old hits with some new songs from what was at that time their forthcoming comeback album, the fabulous "No Exit". Since that time they've released two new studio albums: "The Curse Of Blondie" and "Panic of Girls" and are about to release "Ghosts of Download".

But before the band took to the stage, there's the small matter of a support act.  Previous support acts at Blondie gigs over the years have included The Supernaturals (Barrowland), Annie Christian (SECC), Hugh Cornwell (Clyde Auditorium), a Chris Difford-less Squeeze (Clyde Auditorium) so expectations were high.  However, the support band, Lexy and the Kill, were solid although unspectacular.  (Although I have listened to a couple of their songs since the show and actually remembered them, so they weren't that forgettable after all I guess). A group of male musicians fronted by a blonde female singer....ooh, sounds familiar!

After the usual break for soundchecking etc, it was soon time for Blondie to take to the stage, given the legendary warm Glasgow welcome by an all-ages audience spanning everything from teenagers to the original "over 40s" (and way beyond!) fanbase.

At 9.00 pm the band took to the stage, kicking off with a no-nonsense "One Way Or Another" (which of course recently had all the life sucked out of it by a certain boyband in the name of charidee). Debbie was dressed in her tour outfit of hooded coral dress (or top and skirt, I couldn't work it out), metallic platform trainers and what looked like a curtain of ivy(!), which she eventually shed.

The 2013 vintage of Blondie is made up of just three original members: Deborah "Debbie" Harry, guitarist Chris Stein who is as cool as ever in his shades, and the drumming legend that is the one and only Clem Burke. His mop of hair may be grey now but he's still in great form.  He's sat at his drumkit behind a wall of perspex, and dressed in the famous John Lennon 'New York City' T-shirt, attention-seeking his way through the gig with drum solos and throwing his drumsticks in the air at regular intervals.  His antics are worth the price of admission alone, although some reviewers were a bit annoyed that he was maybe just seeking attention a little too much, however that's his unique selling point :)  Recent recruits Matt Katz-Bohen (keyboards) and Tommy Kessler (guitar) bring a freshness to the band, even providing vocals on the verses of a revamped and lower-register "Maria" before Debbie sings the chorus.  Kessler throws some rock-god shapes during the show, which has received mixed reviews from the critics, although I didn't really have a problem with this. Based on my experiences of seeing Blondie live over the last 15 years, the one thing that stands out is that they are a totally kick-ass rock band live, more so than their recorded output ever hinted at.   So if they wanna rock, then go right ahead.

But this gig was completely different from any other Blondie gigs we had been to.  For this gig was as much about what the band didn't play, as what they did.  No "Rip Her To Shreds".  No "X Offender". No "Denis".  No "Sunday Girl".  Nothing (apart from "Maria") from "No Exit".  And, horror of horrors, no "Rapture". Yes, my favourite number in the Blondie live set was omitted, in favour of other numbers from their forthcoming album and a couple from "Panic of Girls" which, to be fair to the band, I wasn't all that familiar with anyway.  There are also cover versions: one of an Ellie Goulding song (which goes over my head as, singles apart, I'm not all that familiar with that singer's music catalogue) and during the encore they tackle Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax", an amusing choice but all in all, a pretty pointless one.  ("...when they could have played Rapture instead...." - oh, you get the idea).

Perhaps the omissions were more about the changes in Debbie's vocal register, and I felt at times that she was investing more vocal energy in the new numbers rather than the hits.  So the overall effect was a more disjointed live experience than the usual Blondie shows that we are used to, and I was a little bit annoyed on the night, however have taken a more rational view over the past couple of weeks and accept the need to musically evolve and move on.  However, there was no doubt that the majority of the audience were there for the old hits, and I don't think that Blondie would ever dare to omit the likes of "Call Me", "Atomic", "Union City Blue", "Hanging On The Telephone" and of course the mighty "Heart of Glass" from their live set!

01.07.2013 also happened to be Ms Harry's 68th birthday, a fact which was most definitely not ignored by the Glasgow audience who chanted 'happy birthday to you....' throughout the show and this fact was finally acknowledged, with Debbie talking about acting her age..."f*** that, it's too late now!" Absolutely!  What an inspirational attitude, and long may she never have to act her age!

Blondie certainly proved that they're not just a retro act, although they need to find the right balance between the old hits and the new songs.  Maybe this time, the balance was tipped a little too much in favour of the new(er) songs, but despite that, we look forward to seeing them again.  Until the next time....

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Eurovision Song Contest 2013: The Final - Malmö Arena, Saturday 18.05.13 - Only Denmark!

So, all these weeks later, I'm finally getting round to posting my review of the final :)

Two semi-finals completed, and now...we are one.

Such a cute opening, as that little caterpillar made its way around Europe, emerging into the Malmö arena as a beautiful butterfly, heralding the start of the grand final.  Oh look - there's Zlatan Ibrahimovic welcoming us all to Malmö.  The opening musical act is “We Write The Story”, the new Eurovision anthem, a collaboration bridging Sweden’s musical past and present, written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus with Tim Bergling better known as Avicii..  Talking of bridges, this year’s finalists enter the stadium on an overhead bridge, a symbol of the Öresund bridge - but don't expect Martin and Saga to turn up here :)  The  finalists cross the bridge, walking Olympic-style behind a flagbearer.  It’s a quite spectacular and awesome start and I don’t know why that type of entrance hasn’t been thought of before at ESC.

The Happy Meal box lanterns are still dangling from the ceiling and Petra Mede enters the stage dressed in pink. 

Graham Norton thought the postcards were banal, well I’d like to disagree – it’s nice to go back to the old days when the performers appeared in the postcards rather than these being tourism commercials for the host country. 

FRANCE: "L'Enfer & Moi" - Amandine Bourgeois.

I did agree with Graham though about Amandine's visual similarity to Courtney Love, although she also put me in mind of Tina Turner.  I liked her fringey dress.  First in the draw is certainly not an ideal position, but the former "Nouvelle Star" winner delivered her song with considerable oomph and passion, although she deserved a better song.  

LITHUANIA: "Something" - Andrius Pojavis.

Now, what kind of shoes is Andrius from Lithuania wearing?  One is called love, the other is pain apparently. Mum has just realised the lyrics of "Something" and she also decides he’s not as good tonight as he was in the semi-final.

MOLDOVA: "O Mie" - Aliona Moon.

Both in the semi-final and in the final, she has been impressive and a deserved finalist, although all the talk is going to be about that dress.

Mum: Is that dress made of plastic?  It must be very uncomfortable to wear.  She's getting taller by the minute.
Laura: As Alicia Keys might have put it, "This frock is on fire!"

FINLAND: "Marry Me" -Krista Siegfrids.  

Ah, the “controversial” one.  (Apparently TRT - Turkish TV- are not screening the final in protest at the same-sex kiss at the end of the song, which is yet another indication of the country's saddening slide into dictatorship).

M: She’s better than the song.
L: This is quite contemporary and I could see it in the charts. 
M: Gets a bit monotonous after a while though. 

SPAIN: "Contigo Hasta El Final" - ESDM.

Is Spain heading into another ESC slump?  Pastora gave it her all last year but once again, Spain is back in under-achieving territory with this unmemorable song.  It starts with bagpipes.  We hate bagpipes.  The singer in this band is a very pretty young woman in a yellow dress.  Her vocals are nervous and a bit ropey.

L: The wind machine’s going mad.  Hope she’s got clean knickers on.  This song is very bland and boring.
M: Are they a proper group?
L: Yes.
M: I don't like this much. 

BELGIUM: "Love Kills” – Roberto Bellarosa.

Choreography kills, that should be.  But in spite of all that, this song has remained in my post-ESC playlist and will probably grab a spot in my year-end chart.

M: Oh I remember him.  He’s a good singer.  Doing a very good job of it.
L: This is a cracking wee pop song. 

ESTONIA: “Et Uus Saaks Alguse” – Birgit.

Birgit is an attractive young woman and is several months pregnant.  She has a very nice voice, the Estonian language is lovely, but it's a very dated song. We spend the duration of it discussing Sweden’s obsession with wind machines in song contests.  It’s not Winny Puhh (love or hate them), is it?  Now that would have been an interesting choice for Eesti.  But you know who would have been an even better choice?

I'll give you a clue: O** L******.

BELARUS: "Solayoh” – Alyona Lanskaya.

Solay-oh, solay-oh, where the sun is always shining on ya. Presumably that's where she got the tan.

L: I have to say, I do like that shade of fake tan.
M: It’s one of those songs which we’ve heard a million times before.  

MALTA: “Tomorrow” – Gianluca Bezzina.

The good doctor Bezzina administers more of his feelgood musical medicine.

L: This is just a very nice, natural, charming song which is a change from a lot of the clinical and cynical stuff on show tonight.  I’d be very happy if this won.
M: Yes, just a nice simple song.

RUSSIA: “What If” – Dina Garipova.

One of those clinical, cynical attempts to win.  In the big finale, the backing singers chuck Valentina Monetta’s big leftover lightbulbs into the audience.

M: This is the type of song that could win.
L: Presumably “what if we stopped jailing innocent people” didn’t have as catchy a ring to it.  We then spend the remainder of the song discussing the Putin regime.

GERMANY: “Glorious” – Cascada.

Natalie gives it her all.  In those heels.  The dress is a bit more tasteful than her USFM-winning effort.  Yet it's still not quite the finished article and not the challenger to Denmark which it once promised to become.  There are timing issues and her vocals are not as strong as I thought they would be.  Will she come down those stairs?  Will she dare?  ...Yes.  She does. 

M: Look at those heels.
L: I wouldn't risk those stairs.
M: This sounds too much like everything else.
L: Last year's winning song, Euphoria, by any chance?
M: Yes, that one.

ARMENIA "Lonely Planet” – Dorians.

This one has been slaughtered in the fan community for daring to reach the final.  Yet I may be in a very small minority for thinking it's not actually too bad.  I explain to mum that it's been co-written by Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath.  She doesn't believe me.  Even Gor has the wind machine going, Some double denim and pyros going on.  They give a very solid performance of the song.  

Crash boom bang! It's Lynda Woodruff time!!  Her tour of Sweden culminates in Stockholm, mixing up the royal costumes at the Royal Palace with Abba's outfits with predictably hilarious results.  "Voulez-Vous! A-Ha!".  Of course it wouldn't be the last we saw of Ms Woodruff, (or her alter-ego) tonight.  

Petra on the Eurovision fans: "You haven't met the right girl yet!"  

NETHERLANDS: "Birds" - Anouk.

We sit in silence through Anouk's assured, less-is-more performance.  At the end I have a massive lump in my throat.  This would have been a wonderful winner, and would have been a major leap forward for the contest.  But it's maybe too understated for ESC and well, that's why birds don't fly I guess. 

Graham Norton: "In an evening of high-energy pop, that stands out".

From the sublime to the ridiculous....

ROMANIA: "It's My Life" - Cezar.

So how do you describe this?  It is, how shall I say, theatrical.  With male dancers who don't look as if they're wearing any clothes.  What's not to love?  He's even borrowed Aliona Moon's platform.  However, for me, this is a bit of a wasted entry.  Being the bitter old ESC purist that I am, I would have preferred more song and less clip-show freak-show fodder which plays into the hands of the "let's all laugh at Eurovision" brigade.

UNITED KINGDOM: "Believe In Me" - Bonnie Tyler.

Graham Norton's doing a maximum pimping job on our entrant this year.  But will Europe believe in Bonnie?  This is not the worst song we've ever sent to ESC, and the BBC have finally realised that 13 years after the Olsen Brothers, that giving the audience little lights to wave might enhance the performance of this swaying country ballad.  There's big cheers from the crowd at the beginning of the song, and I like the understated stagiing with the singing backing band, but unfortunately Bonnie's vocals often miss the mark and you get the feeling that the overwhelming impression in Europe is, "why do the UK always send singers from long ago?".  Bonnie takes to the catwalk and she ascends, Sarah Dawn Finer "Moving On"-style into the air on a raised platform, but on this performance I can't see her ascending over to the left side of the scoreboard this year.   

SWEDEN: "You" - Robin Stjernberg.

Sweden could have been looking at a very respectable top 10 placing if he had sacked the stylist and ditched the horrendous 'dancing'..  He's singing his butt off but any impact is being trashed by those silly dancers. 

M: I remember this one now, but as I said back then, it's too repetitive.  
L: The dancers and backing singers are killing off the chances of this by the minute. 

HUNGARY: "Kedvesem" - ByeAlex.

One of the most unlikely finalists in this year's line-up but still rather welcome.  This is different enough to make an impact and cashing in on the currently popular acoustic trend in music.  But he needs a makeover quickly.  

M: He never made much of an effort, he looks as if he's just come in off the street.  You need to dress up at Eurovision!
L: He deserves marks for being different though.

In recent years we have seen the rise of the "predetermined winner", the song which has gathered all the internet buzz.  That buzz has grown (although with some reservations) over recent weeks and after the triumphant staging of the next song at the semi-final, it entered the final at absolute favourite status.  I refer of course to....

DENMARK: "Only Teardrops" - Emmelie de Forest.

Emmelie is a very pretty young woman, in a natural way rather than in the fake, over-made-up 21st century style.  She has a very distinctive voice and a lot of potential.  As a song contest entry, this certainly makes sense, and it's a popular favourite with the almost-local crowd from the first notes of the penny whistle.  Although it would be a rather safe winner as opposed to, say, Norway or the Netherlands.

L:  This is, of course, going to win.
M: Then there's no point in watching the rest of the show then, is there?
L: (shakes head in despair).
M: I don't like this song, it's far too repetitive.

ICELAND: "Eg a Lif" - Eythor Ingi.

After the penny whistles, the drumming and the pyro-curtain of Denmark, this was simple, refreshing and rather spellbinding.  If it had been, say, the 90s, this might have done some serious damage, however yet again Iceland are waiting on the sidelines for that first big win.  

L: Iceland's one of my favourite ESC countries as you know. 
M: He's a very good singer, I prefer this to the last song (Denmark) but then I prefer male singers anyway. 
L: One day Iceland, one day!

AZERBAIJAN: "Hold Me" - Farid Mammadov.

He's very good, radiating both charm and vulnerability, and this is probably the best song they've ever sent to ESC.  But I still hate the ridiculous choreography of the gyrating man-in-a-box and then the woman in the big red dress comes on (no, not Esma), it must all mean something but the point of it totally escapes me.  Yet the staging also has the Believe-effect which will leave its mark on the voters'/juries' memories.  If we didn't know then what we know now, that would be my explanation of why the song did so well.  

L: Man in a box, woman in a red dress.
M: It must mean something but I don't know what.  

GREECE: "Alcohol Is Free" - Koza Mostra featuring Agathon Iakovidis.

This may not be to everyone's taste.  As the song goes - I don't care, I love it!  Because (a) it's catchy as hell, (b) I love a bit of ska, and (c) Greek men in kilts.  

M:  I still don't get this at all.  
L: Aww it's great fun!

UKRAINE: "Gravity" - Zlata Ognevich.

Mike Rafferty! Mike Rafferty!  As in the semi-final, the big giant bloke carries Zlata on stage, but, as in the semi-final, it's a rather pointless novelty trick.  Even though I don't like the dress, she looks incredible in it, and she is vocally perfect.  Yet the fact remains that I still do not rate this song at all.  However in retrospect I can understand its success: a highly polished and professional performance which obviously connected with the viewers/juries.  

M: This bores me to tears.
L: I don't get all the hype around this one.  Yes she sings it well, but it's not a song. The hand-snake movements annoy me.   

ITALY: "L'Essenziale" - Marco Mengoni.  

Marco is looking very lovely in a nice blue suit, making him one of this year's best-dressed ESC artists.  No Barbara Dex award for him, that's for sure.  Despite my initial reservations about his failure to make eye contact, to connect with the viewers, it's the only other performance of the night apart from Anouk's, which has really moved me.  The blue lighting is effective and the 'less is more' principle worked again.  

M: I love to hear songs in the Italian language. 
L: This is quality.  Although I still can't move on from Italy not sending Mi Servirebbe Sapere (all together now: "shut up Laura, you've made your point....!")

NORWAY: "I Feed You My Love" - Margaret Berger. 

There's something about Margaret....her stage presence makes this one of the best presentations of a song in this year's ESC, and despite the ice-queen persona, she does come across as incredibly approachable and likeable.  And then, of course there is the dress.

M: How does she sit down in that dress?
L: And how does she keep that figure?
M: I'm not so keen on this.
L It's one of my favourites this year. 

GEORGIA: "Waterfall" - Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani.  

No offence to Nodi, as I would like him to come back to ESC some day to represent Georgia on his own, but there is no natural chemistry between them.  Even Ell and Nikki were a more believable couple than these two.  And that's saying something. It's all too "staged" and tries too hard. And are they really singing "like I am sailing on a sea of cheese?" 

Oh, and when the key-change and the pyro-curtain comes in, I just want Pastora to come on stage and sing the final chorus of "Quedate Conmigo"...which of course was also written by a certain Mr G:son.  

IRELAND: "Only Love Survives" - Ryan Dolan.

Yes! It's a good draw position however the performance is lacking in something, and there were some timing issues.  It's as if he put all his energies into the semi-final.  I still hate those backing singers too.  A brilliant draw position but with so many of the strong contenders coming before him, it turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing, in retrospect.  The last time Ireland asked "Why Me?" in Malmö, they won.  Now they'll ask it again, for a completely different reason. As with Tooji last year, I just can't understand why this came last.

Recap time, and then the first interval act - the return of last year's winner, and the reason why the contest is being staged in Sverige this year: Loreen, with even more feathers than Dana International, performing her new song "We Got The Power" and then of course the iconic "Euphoria" which as a winner will be a very hard act to follow.

Time for another recap, and then a sketch poking fun at Swedish stereotypes, including a cameo appearance from the Swedish prime minister.  Of course in the UK, the BBC in its infinite wisdom decides to screen a VT of Bonnie's Eurovision week.

"Our people are cold but our elk are hot!" sings Petra on the overindulgent but enjoyable musical number which had Melodifestivalen written all over it.  "Swedish Smörgåsbord" was an extravagant chuckle at the expense of Swedish stereotypes, with cheeky lyrics which you could never have imagined in the Eurovision days of old.  Oh and there was also a same-sex kiss!  As someone wittily remarked, I think on Twitter, "you wait 10 years for a same-sex kiss at Eurovision then 2 come along at once!".  That and Petra's little 'dancing queens' remark ...SVT for sure knows its audience.  You wouldn't have got that in Baku then, would you?   Carola being blown off stage by her wind machine was inspired.  This has been an excellently staged final mixing technical excellence with warmth and humour.  Petra has also been a revelation as solo host and like Loreen, she will be a hard act to follow.  

But Petra hadn't finished causing offence.  Oh no..  For the next part of the interval act, she took us through the history of the ESC and it was one particular remark which got everyone talking, with her remark about Linda Martin, suggesting that she was Johnny Logan in drag - "I know a drag queen when I see one".  The resulting furore however didn't do Linda any harm, culminating in her performance on an Irish TV chat show of the song of the summer - Daft Punk's "Get Lucky"!

Eric Saade in the green room: "if anyone needs to pee....".  I actually found his greenroom antics rather hashtag-annoying, if I'm honest.  Jon Ola Sand hashtag-the-boss needing a few minutes to count the votes blah blah blah.

Now I'm really enjoying this contest but there is probably another hour to go which means it won't finish until 11.30 or thereabouts, and I will really need to grab a couple of hours sleep before leaving for the airport at 3.30am!  In the meantime we have the final instalment of the interval act, with Lynda Woodruff's alter ego Sarah Dawn Finer (that's Finer, Mr Norton, not Fee-ner) singing The Winner Takes It All.

Let's get on with the voting!!

San Marino's jury spokesman is none other than UK ESC expert John Kennedy O'Connor.  12 to Greece.
Sweden's votes are delivered by Yohio: "Hej Stockholm!...and Malmö".  12 to Norway.
Albania - 12 to Italy.
Netherlands - 12 to Belgium. "There's only love between neighbours".
Austria - 12 to Azerbaijan.
UK - 12 to Denmark, who are now in the lead.
Israel - 12 to Azerbaijan.
Serbia - 12 to Denmark.
Ukraine - 12 to Belarus.  Jury spokesman Matias, whoever he is, is a rather odd chap.
Hungary - 12 to Azerbaijan.  They're picking up a lot of 12s....
Romania - 12 to Moldova.  This one writes itself doesn't it!!
Moldova - 12 to ....shock and gasps as it's not Romania, but Ukraine!
Azerbaijan - further shocks are to follow as the ex-USSR love-in misses one particular country, namely Russia, and the 12 goes to Ukraine.
Norway - Tooji is all suited and booted in Oslo, and still smiling as he gives 12 to Sweden.  Tack Norge indeed.
Armenia - now there's nothing worse than a former ESC contestant popping up as a jury spokesperson to remind everyone of the fact.  Step forward Andre, singing "Without Your Love".  The Armenia love is not going to Azerbaijan of course and it's 12 to Ukraine.
Italy - 12 to Denmark, who are developing a strong lead.
Finland - 12 to Norway.  Norway now in 3rd place.
Spain - 12 to Italy.
Belarus - 12 to Ukraine, who are now inexplicably in 2nd place.
Latvia - 12 to Russia.  Ireland are currently in last place, and the UK is as usual near the bottom of the scoreboard.  Graham Norton is sounding very weary.
Bulgaria - 12 to Azerbaijan.
Belgium - 12 to Netherlands.
Russia - Alsou, who represented Russia the last time Sweden hosted ESC, announces 12 to Azerbaijan.
Malta - 12 to Azerbaijan.  Even before the post-contest scandal I was beginning to smell a rat about all these 12s to Aze.  Back to B'ku next year?  No thanks.  If it's between Azerbaijan & Denmark then I hope the Danes win.
Estonia - well helloooo Rolf!  Can you please represent Estonia sometime if Ott doesn't do it again?  12 to Russia.
Germany - 12 to Hungary.
Iceland - 12 to Denmark.
France - 12 to Denmark.  After that little wobble a wee while ago, it looks as if ESC 2014 is taking a very short walk over that bridge.
Greece - 12 to Azerbaijan, who are now 2nd and Ukraine 3rd.
Ireland - well helloooo lovely Nicky Byrne!  12 to Denmark, the song which sounds like an Irish entry of old.
Denmark - 12 to Norway.
Montenegro - that grumpy Montenegrin woman was good value wasn't she!  12 to Azerbaijan.
Slovenia - 12 to Denmark.  Who, by my calculations, have now won it.
Georgia - 12 to Azerbaijan.
Macedonia - 12 to Denmark.

The Denmark butterfly logo is projected onto Petra's dress, and she announces "Only Teardrops" as the winner.  For the first time I can remember, a win is officially announced before all the votes have been delivered.  I thought this was a bit of a black mark on what was otherwise a perfectly staged contest, and a bit of an insult to Cyprus, Croatia, Switzerland and Lithuania who had still to announce their votes.

Cyprus - 12 to Greece.
Croatia - 12 to Ukraine.
Switzerland - 12 to Italy.
Lithuania - 12 to Azerbaijan.

So it's all over.  Emmelie makes her way to the stage across the bridge, you half expect Ant and Dec to be standing at the other side waiting to crown her queen of the jungle.  But it's not "I'm A Celebrity" but the Eurovision Song Contest, and the final ritual is the awarding of the trophy and the winner's reprise.  Emmelie and her "toy soldiers" give a well-drilled reprise of "Only Teardrops" which was the overwhelming favourite and a safe winner.  Knowing what we know now, about all the voting allegations involving certain countries "east of the Iron Curtain" as they used to say, it was perhaps for the best that an "old" Eurovision country in Western Europe took the title.  "Only Teardrops" is a winner, but is it really a "hit"?  Looking at the various singles charts across Europe, the song has initially done pretty well but doesn't appear to have had the longevity of its predecessor "Euphoria".  Here in the UK, it made a very brief top 20 appearance, entering the official chart at no.15 then completely disappearing again.  Emmelie is a very talented young singer with potential to have a long music career on her own terms, and her Eurovision win will certainly provide her with the means to do that, yet I doubt if "Only Teardrops" will be remembered as a classic winner.

I was very happy when it won DMGP, thought it was the right choice.  However, as the song contest approached, the notion of yet another "pre-determined winner" turned the whole thing sour for me.  The internet is a wonderful thing which has turned the Eurovision experience into a year-round treat for us all, but in recent years it has also spoiled any chances of a surprise victory.  It would appear that the voting public really are led by what they hear and what they're told.

Anyway well done Denmark!

By the end of it all, Graham Norton sounded jaded.  And I mean as jaded as Terry Wogan was in his final year before he gave it all up.  You shouldn't sound like this after, what is it, 5 years in the job?  Maybe the BBC should give the job to someone who really appreciates Eurovision!  But then when it comes to Eurovision, don't expect the BBC to pay any attention to good ideas.  I shudder to think who they've got in mind to represent us next year.... :(((

The Aftermath:

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking apart that counts.  The post-Eurovision analysis of voting patterns gets almost as much attention as the contest itself and there was added spice this year with the alleged SIMs-for-votes scandal.  There has always been allegations of skulduggery on the voting front over the years – even back to General Franco scuppering a Cliff Richard win in 1968 – but even if you don’t believe it, you have to wonder why such a relatively new country has consistently performed so well since its debut.  Why should Azerbaijan do so well?  Did Drip Drop and When The Music Dies really deserve such high positions in the voting?  And as for Running Scared… for me that is still one of the weakest winners of recent years.   The news that the EBU will not be taking its investigation into the allegations any further, does not surprise me in the least.  

Then there is the jury voting system, revamped further for 2013, in which all juries ranked all entries.  I’m not going into deep and meaningful analysis when there are other sites out there doing it much better, but suffice to say that this new ranking system has had a significant impact on the competition: songs placing highly in the televote are killed by a low jury ranking.  My head’s hurting from all this, particularly when the allegedly ‘transparent’ EBU dig their heels in and refuse to reveal full details of the split vote. 

So what's next?  Well, we wait for the announcement of the host city, which at the time of writing will either be Herning (Boxen pictured above), Copenhagen or Horsens.  But just one thing....please please please don't bring back Dr Death and the Tooth Fairy, and their stupid rhyming couplets.  Thankfully it looks as if Parken is out of the running - I didn't enjoy the 2001 contest from there, it was one of my least favourites of recent years.  But Denmark has come a long long way since then, and DMGP has become one of the best national finals in Europe - this year's was outstanding, so I have complete confidence that wherever it takes place, DR will deliver a great Eurovision Song Contest in 2014.

The final results

1. Denmark - 281 points
2. Azerbaijan - 234 points
3. Ukraine - 214 points
4. Norway - 191 points
5. Russia - 174 points
6. Greece - 152 points
7. Italy  - 126 points
8. Malta - 120 points
9. Netherlands - 114 points
10. Hungary - 84 points
J11. Moldova - 71 points
J11.. Belgium - 71 points
13. Romania - 65 points
14. Sweden - 62 points
15. Georgia - 50 points
16. Belarus - 48 points
17. Iceland - 47 points
18. Armenia - 41 points
19. UK - 23 points
20. Estonia - 19 points
21. Germany - 18 points
22. Lithuania - 17 points
23. France - 14 points
24. Finland - 13 points
25. Spain - 8 points
26. Ireland - 5 points