Day 3 at the open rehearsals.

Another day at the office! It’s a bit like Groundhog Day round here, as today’s schedule of rehearsals and press conferences is more or less identical to yesterday’s. We’ve been running through the 14 countries whose songs have been placed directly into Saturday night’s finals. The remaining 23 countries are obliged to battle it out on Thursday night at the semi-finals, which are also broadcast live around Europe. The 10 countries who receive the most tele-votes from the viewing public on Thursday will then graduate to the finals on Saturday.

In an appalling dereliction of duty, I haven’t actually got around to seeing every country’s rehearsal. Some are on way too early, while I’m still recovering from the previous night’s vodka-and-coke-fuelled revelries at the official Euroclub (it gets going around midnight, and finishes at 3am). Others are on way too late, clashing with the daily round of mid-evening parties that are hosted by the various national delegations. But that’s cool, as most of the best songs are placed in the middle of the day anyway.

So, what delights have I witnessed? Here’s a quick lowdown:

Latvia. Ooh, proper music! Performing without the aid of pre-recorded backing tapes (making them the only country this year to do so), Latvia have fielded a six-piece accapella vocal group, who combine tightly arranged harmonies with human beat-box effects. They’re a talented bunch of singers – but sadly, the song itself is a bit of a dog. It’s over-elaborate, it lacks focus, and it lacks any sort of memorable hook – which is pretty much a pre-requisite for any serious contender. Worse still, the young group’s lack of performance expertise leaves them woefully exposed, and looking rather like the winners of a high school singing contest.

However, the final death knell for Latvia comes in the form of positively the lamest, most ill-advised stage gimmick since… since… well, since about five minutes ago, now I come to think about it. I don’t want to give away any surprises, so I’ll just say: watch the left hand side of the stage towards the end.

Norway. No Eurovision would be complete without at least one gypsy-folksy-ethnic turn, and so it falls to Norway’s Christine Guldbrandsen to channel the spirit of the fjords, with a song which translates as “Elves’ Dance”. There are floaty white dresses, there is a wind machine, and much ethereality prevails. Let’s just say that it’s Not My Thing, and move on.

Spain. Wow, some proper pop stars! It’s the return of Las Ketchup, who scored a massive international hit in 2002 with “Asereje”, more commonly known as The Ketchup Song. Still milking the tomato-based liquid theme, the girls are back with a song called “Un Bloodymary”. (Eww, fancy putting ketchup in your vodka, arf arf.) This isn’t a patch on their mega-hit.

Malta. Fabrizio Faniello is a charming, eager-to-please young man, with a winning smile and plenty of expressive hand movements. He has represented Malta before: in 2001, with “Another Summer Night”, which I’m sure we all remember. This year’s song (“I Do”) is similarly bouncy, catchy and memorable. However, the performance – although much improved since the first couple of rough, messy run-throughs – is still a bit all over the place. Worried brows have been furrowed over this one.

Germany. My favourite, the Retro Bar’s favourite, and one of the biggest floor-fillers at the Euroclub every night – which has to be a favourable portent. Every time it comes on, some Pavlovian response kicks in, obliging me to drop everything, break off conversations in mid-sentence, and hurl myself towards the middle of the dancefloor. As I’ve said before, this is a jaunty country-and-western number: firmly in the middle of the road, but with an endearing quality which I can’t quite pin down. It’s a gimmick-free performance, save for a few strategically placed neon cacti – and the URL of the band’s website, plonked centre stage on a couple of mike stands. This could set a dodgy precedent. Personally, I wouldn’t have allowed it.

Despite some growing misgivings, this remains my prediction for this year’s winner – with the Bosnian ballad in 2nd place, and Finland’s hard-rockers in 3rd place. But I’ve never been right at these things yet – and I wouldn’t want you to go wasting your money down at the bookies.

There are more songs to write up, but I need to eat something before tonight’s run of three parties down at the Euroclub.

One last thing: keep your eyes peeled for some promotional shots of the UK’s Daz Sampson with the British fan contingent, all dressed in school uniforms. I’m towards the left of the shot, semi-crouching, and looking like a right wally. If you find the photos anywhere on the web, then let me know, would you? Much obliged!

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