Eurovision coverage.

There’s a staggering amount of Eurovision-related stuff on The Guardian’s site this year: go here for the full index, and go here for tonight’s liveblog, hosted by Heidi “H Factor” Stephens.

For a fully illustrated song-by-song preview of tonight’s finalists, David Sim (hands up, who remembers Swish Cottage?) has done an excellent job on the Telegraph’s website.

K’s not around tonight, so I’ll be watching the finals in splendid isolation, laptop perched on my knee… and to be honest, it’ll be a nice change to be able to give the TV coverage my undivided attention.

Happy Eurovision, everyone. And while I’m duly horrified by the appalling scenes that took place in Moscow earlier today, isn’t it ironic that the gay-baiting Russian cops have got HOMO in mirror writing on the backs of their uniforms?

Those Eurovision Song Contest previews, then.

Film-and-music-cover-15.0-001After taking a much-needed break from the obsessive Eurovision-blogging in 2008 – mainly because I wanted to experience last year’s finals as a civilian, rather than as a fan-boy obsessive for once – I thought it might be fun to try and place this year’s previews somewhere other than this here blog.

So, um, here you are then: a handy guide to ten of this year’s more notable entries, which is also the cover story in today’s Guardian Film & Music section.

As for predictions, I’m saying Top Five for Norway, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey, Ukraine… and, oh go on then, the United Kingdom. For once, we may dare to dream…

“Over-excited” Eurovision tweet-splurge.

Last night, I attended the big Eurovision preview party at the Marcanti club in Amsterdam, where around half of this year’s contestants performed their entries. Cue much frantic, hasty and altogether “over-excited” tweeting:

Albania: sweet, underpowered.
Slovakia: strident, screechy, operatic.
Moldova: fab walloping diva.
Slovenia: odd string quartet, almost instrumental.
Lithuania: Freddie-aping skinny dude, in hat. (“Freddie-aping” is an exaggeration, but there was a touch of “We Are The Champions” at the start of the song.)
Serbia: hair bear and accordion, stompy.
Ireland: Vanilla Ninja meets Hepburn, rocking, worked it.
Denmark: totally smashable AOR waiter, grr! (Hmm, the beer goggles had been well and truly donned…)
Cyprus: adorable interpretìve hand movements.
Belgium: fat Shakey does Young Elvis.
Montenegro: upstaged by dancer. I think there’s something he hasn’t told her yet…
Bulgaria’s Got Talent: bizarre castrato car-crash. Many furrowed brows.
Iceland: weak, bland, forgettable.
Germany: preening, overcooked schaffel-swing.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: butcho Balkan bombast, incongruously styled in Coldplay’s cast-offs.
Ukraine: FUCKING HELL THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT. Demonic, fetishistic energy, with bonus beatboxed reprise. (This was everybody’s favourite, as it had been at the London Scala preview party the previous night.)
Poland: a tad too classy for this advanced hour? Grower, though.
Armenia: full blooded Eastern promise. (Actually, this was terrific. More cultural pluralism, please.)
Malta: eternal fan fave tryer tries again, impressively and adorably.
Spain: wildly popular Latino rump shaker. (slightly undermined by over-exuberantly mincy dancers)
Our Jade (United Kingdom): she’s over-selling it. Lacks sincerity. Respectful but muted applause.

Eurovision previews? You want Eurovision previews?

If so, then head over to my mate Chig’s place. He’s live-blogging the final dress rehearsal from the press centre in Belgrade, even as I speak. Off you trot! See you over there!

Update: Now that Chig’s done his stint, I am passing the baton over to The Guardian, where that nice “H Factor” lady will be live-blogging the proceedings from 8pm.

Eurovision 2008: if it’s OK with you guys, then please may I take a year off?

esc2008logoAfter ten consecutive years of obsessively pre-researching each successive Eurovision line-up (a job that has been growing more time-consuming with every passing year), I found myself craving a new experience in 2008.

Namely, the experience of coming to the songs more or less fresh on the night. You know, like the NORMAL people do.

There have been several catalysts for this. Firstly, the old “mad mad busy, have to draw priorities somewhere” excuse. For these days, my daily routine involves coming home, spending an hour or so per day doing various things for the community village blog (still going strong, still updated several times daily), and then squeezing in all the stuff for the Evening Post (which, as you may have noticed, is a fairly massive time commitment these days). If you factor in the doubling of our number of gardens since this time last year, and the occasional “quality time with my partner” slot (we’ll still do whatever it takes to watch every episode of Desperate Arsewipes, come hell or high water (or indeed tornado – watch out for the flying sharks)), then this doesn’t really leave many hours left in the day.

Secondly: watching last year’s final at a friend’s party in Brighton, I had a sudden moment of clarity. Maybe I had started to take this Eurovision thing just a tad too seriously?

(I think I realised this when the whole room had emptied, barring a couple of other mildly interested onlookers – and me, perched clench-fisted and white-knuckled on the edge of the sofa, self-penned print-outs in hand, with a kind of grim “don’t even THINK about holding an off-topic conversation in my presence” expression etched into my features.)

Thirdly: since the family tragedy which coincided with my trip to the contest in Athens (today being the exact second anniversary, in fact), some of the shine has inevitably been taken off the event. Too many associations.

And so, if it’s OK with you guys, I’d like to take this year off, please. Hope you all enjoy the final on Saturday night. We’ll be watching it with friends in the village, and I’ll be cheering on France’s Sébastien Tellier (not a hope in hell, but hey), Ukraine’s “Shady Lady” (hot favourite, and a welcome return for the FYE-ya/diz-EYE-ya couplet), and the rapdily ascending dark horse that is Portugal (sorta fado-tinged musical theatre). Your toilet breaks this year are Israel (#7) and Greece (#21), and your unmissable OMGWTFLOL! moments are Bosnia (#6), Latvia (#14) and Azerbaijan (#20). Croatia has a 75 year old rapper, Sweden has a former winner with a name-change (and at least one face-lift), Georgia has a “how did they DO that?” mid-song costume change, Russia has a shirt-ripping twink, Finland has topless metallers in leather kecks, and Poland has the teeth. Your fashion stories this year are the afore-mentioned leather kecks, and a goodly array of sparkly silver mini-dresses. The overall quality is generally pretty high, as 20 of the 25 songs have had to qualify from the two semi-finals, thus leaving some of the out-and-out dross behind (Estonia and the Czech Republic spring to mind). The “Big Four” (UK, France, Germany, Spain) will be ritually humbled as per usual, and the UK’s second place in the running order (aka the “slot of doom”) has pretty much killed its chances of anything like a respectable finish.

And I’m in danger of accidentally writing the preview that I promised myself I wouldn’t write. Once again: Happy Eurovision, everyone!

In which I briefly put my annual obsession to bed for another year.

Saturday’s result was a Good Thing for the following reasons.

1. Serbia won on merit. Not for its novelty value, not for its gimmickry, but for the quality of both the song and its performance.

2. “Molitva” is the first downtempo song to win since 2000.

3. It is also the first non-English language song to win since 1998.

4. The last eight winners have all been from countries who have never won Eurovision before.

5. No country has won Eurovision more than once in the past thirteen years.

6. As Chig (and several others) points out, “Molitva” was popular with voters from all over Europe, and not just from Eastern Europe. It also scored the largest number of points from Western European voters. Conspiracy theorists please take note.

7. Mystic Mike correctly predicted the top two positions (albeit in the wrong order), and 60% of the top ten. My predicted bottom three all finished in the bottom four.

Saturday’s result was a Bad Thing for the following reasons.

8. Having placed a bet on a Ukranian victory, I am £10 worse off. Naturally, this renders points 1 to 7 above null and void.

Same time next year, then? But of course.

We now return you to your scheduled programming.

Eurovision 2007 preview: finals.

All rehearsal photos taken by Andrew of All Kinds Of Everything. Andrew’s Flickr stream is here.
Click each song title for the lyrics, and for a link to the official preview video.

First of all, a word or two about the results of the Thursday night qualifiers (which Diamond Geezer Twittered so ably), as they have stirred up a right old hornet’s nest among Eurovision fans.

(Here’s one angry perspective, and here’s the perspective with which I almost entirely agree.)

To put it in a nutshell, all ten qualifying songs from last night are from Eastern European nations: Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Slovenia, Hungary, Georgia, Latvia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey and – possibly the biggest shocker of them all, considering the boos that rang round the hall when the envelope was opened – Moldova. Meanwhile supposedly “dead cert” entries from Switzerland and especially Andorra, as well as hotly tipped favourites from Denmark and Malta, all failed to get through. I’m sure you can imagine the outrage (and the conspiracy theories) from certain Western European quarters; apparently, the atmosphere at last night’s after-party at the Euroclub was so subdued and shell-shocked that the venue closed earlier than usual.

Consequently, no less than eight of tomorrow’s 24 entries will be drawn from former members of the Soviet Union, with a further four hailing from former Yugoslavian republics. That’s what we might call a coup.

(Incidentally, it has also been interesting to witness the “Lordi Effect” fizzle out; none of last night’s straight-up rock songs qualified, meaning that the only rocker on Saturday night will be from Finland, the host nation.)

Cornered by Paddy O’Connell and Sarah Cawood at the end of the BBC3 coverage, the Blonde Bloke From Scooch was visibly processing the implications of this coup. You could see the fear in his eyes, as it became ever clearer to him that, once again, the UK doesn’t stand a hope in hell of scoring highly tomorrow. (OK, so some of us could have told him that weeks ago. Now is not the time to crow.)

My theory is this: that since the bulk of the Eastern nations joined Eurovision well after the Congratu-Boom-A-Bangy-Diggi-Diggi-Ley years, they are less inclined to see the contest as a camp joke, as we do in the West. Therefore, instead of relying on fading stars or second-rate chancers, they field their biggest stars, take the competition seriously – and hence produce much of the best material.

If the West wants to get back in the running, then it needs to drop the arrogance and the complacency (Big Four, I’m looking at YOU), raise its standards and up its game. What it doesn’t need to do is moan and bleat and threaten to take the ball away.

Sermon over. Shall we crack on?

1 – Bosnia & Herzegovina – Rijeka Bez Imena – Maria Sestic.

And here’s a classic case of what I’m talking about. Well constructed, well sung, takes itself seriously, and right in tune with Eastern European tastes. OK, so this particular ballad doesn’t press all of my buttons, but it picks up a good head of steam as it goes along, and should score as well as anything drawn first of twenty-four can hope to expect.


2 – Spain – I Love You Mi Vida – D’Nash.

Depsite the arresting charms of the Fit Blonde One (especially after seeing him flashing his tits in a Finnish sauna during an interval in the semis – God, it’s good to reconnect with the Big Fat Gay Gene once a year), I’m rapidly tiring of this clattering, rattling, clod-hopping and, well, just plain noisy effort from this year’s sole boyband.


3 – Belarus – Work Your Magic – Koldun.

I’m docking a point from Princess Di Lookalike Koldun (or is he just Bob Downe with a black dye job?) after last night’s scary and occasionally wobbly showing. You strained yourself a bit on that last note, love. Anyway, to recap: Bond theme, wall climbing, man cleavage, teeth whitener, drama drama drama. And maybe a touch of hubris?


4 – Ireland – They Can’t Stop The Spring – Dervish.

Um, aren’t these lyrics about fifteen years out of date?

The curtain has been raised
The wall no longer stands
And from Lisadell to Latvia
We’re singing as one clan

The curtain has been raised
And Europe’s all one stage
And the archipelagic icicles
Have melted like the cage

Yes! The Berlin Wall has fallen, and we all stand together in pan-European harmony! If this were 1992, then maybe. But after Thursday night? I hardly think so. And you talk of global warming as if it’s a good thing?

Well, maybe this is the song we all need right now, at this testing time. Bring out the twiddly Celtic flutey bollocks, and let us all bury our differences. From Andorra to Moldova, from Denmark to Georgia, from the press centre to the Euroclub. Dervish, we salute you.

(Sorry, the song. Typical mid-Nineties Celtic flutey bollocks, but also the strongest Irish entry in years, if I’m to be objective for a moment. Personally, I preferred Brian Kennedy’s ballad from last year, but an awful lot of people like a bit of Celtic flutey bollocks, and quite a lot of them live in Eastern Europe.)


5 – Finland – Leave Me Alone – Hanna Pakarinen.

The only hard rocker left standing, which could aid its chances. Unfortunately, it’s also a dog of a song. I really have nothing further to say about this. Sorry. We all dry up some time.


6 – FYR Macedonia – Mojot Svet – Karolina Gocheva.

FYROM have an awkward habit of qualifying on Thursdays, then finishing outside the Top Ten on Saturdays, thereby being shoved back down into the semis every year. Will this do the same? I’d say borderline. Quick aide memoire: it’s the muzika-granica-balkanska one. Yes, balkanska. Crafty devils, they know what they’re doing. D’you know, I feel newly irrelevant to the process.


7 – Slovenia – Cvet Z Juga – Alenka Gotar.

I voted for this last night (along with Serbia, Andorra and Denmark), purely on the strength of operatic Alenka’s OMGWTF scary-bonkers performance, and hence am adding an extra star. Euro-kinder, this one’s a major treat. Do I detect a whiff of Lene Lovich in there somewhere? Or even of Yma Sumac? Watch the hands in particular. How very queer!


8 – Hungary – Unsubstantial Blues – Ruzsa Magdolna.

A great semi-final performance from Hungary’s barefoot Elkie Brooks in the making also earns this an extra star. And my, did she work that Bus Stop, treating it at times like an extra percussion instrument. Yes, it’s essentially tarted up pub rock – but hell, it works. Did I say “unsubstantial”? I unconditionally withdraw that slur.


9 – Lithuania – Love Or Leave – 4Fun.

(I can’t find a rehearsal photo for this one. If you know different, leave me a comment.)

“We’re sorry for the unscheduled break in transmission. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. In the meantime, some music.” The very essence of pleasant but forgettable. Go and re-fill the crisp bowl or something.


10 – Greece – Yassou Maria – Sarbel.

Am I just getting jaded, or is the quality of the automatic finalists significantly worse than the work-for-it-bitches qualifiers? See my earlier point about complacency. Could “Shake it up” be the new “fire/desire”? Anyhow, Sarbel’s a London boy – as he was at pains to point out on BBC3 last night – so if you’re swayed by such things, then Number 10 is the number to dial.

(You’ll notice I didn’t say much about the actual song. Watch it on the night, and you’ll see why.)


11 – Georgia – Visionary Dream – Sopho.

Let’s just say I’m still learning to love it. There are whirling dervishes, there is sword-fighting, there is absolutely heaps going on musically, but it is all wasted on a culturally arrogant throwback such as I. Those coming-out-of-nowhere, what-happened-there-then, did-someone-pull-the-plug electronic bloops still rock, though.

(Seriously though, a lot of people rate this one highly. It will do well.)


12 – Sweden – The Worrying Kind – The Ark.

Weeks and weeks ago, before they had even won the Swedish national finals, I was rooting for The Ark. A well constructed and delightfully arch pastiche of mid-Seventies glitter-pop, which will have you playing Spot The Reference all the way through it (Edison Lighthouse? The Rubettes? Bay City Rollers?), “The Worrying Kind” has My Sort Of Thing written all over it. Will it win? Not a chance. Well, it’s all that Archness, you see. It’s just a little too pleased with its own cleverness to endear itself to the tele-voters. Oh, and word up to the singer: put ’em away, love!


13 – France – L’Amour À La Française – Les Fatals Picards.

Following a dismal set of results over the past four years (18th, 15th, 23rd and 22nd), the French have switched tack, dumped the droopy ballads, and fielded a jaunty, chipper, tongue-in-cheek number. Flipping back and forth between French and English (another major concession in its own right), the lyrics reference various Parisian landmarks (how many can YOU spot?), almost in the manner of a sales pitch. (Vote for us, and you too can visit these “iconic” attractions next year!)

Beneath all the chipper jauntiness, I can’t help feeling that all concerned are trying just a little too hard.


14 – Latvia – Questa Notte – Bonaparti.LV.

Oh dear Lord. This, people, is your next OMGWTF moment. A troupe of, hmm, shall we say visually ill-matched tenors in top hats and jeans, bellowing their way through some sort of Nessun Dorma Lite. For added authenticity, they’re also singing in Italian. Can any Euro-anorak tell me the last time we had a Eurovision entry in Italian?

The chaps stroll onto the stage one by one, singing as they make their entrances. It’s all going OK until we get to the third one. There’s something about that feller that disturbs me.

This could go Top Three, easy. There’s no accounting for taste.


15 – Russia – Song #1 – Serebro.

From the traditional to the contemporary we lurch, with the most modern sounding song in this year’s finals. This is all sharp edges, gleaming surfaces and crunchy, fuzzed out synth riffs, topped with typical hard-faced Noughties “Grr, I’m such a foxy raunch machine, don’t f**k with me” attitude. There’s not a shred of warmth or tenderness in any of it, of course (and how could there be, with lines such as “I’ll take your money, yummy” and “I’m your killing pill”), but such is the lingua franca of our age.

Right then, settle your selves down; we’re about to hit a strong patch. All eyes to the screen, please.


16 – Germany – Frauen Regier’n Die Welt – Roger Cicero.

Time for some finger-snappin’ supper-club swing, then. A jazz/swing singer by profession, Roger is a platinum-selling artist in his home country, who usually performs with an 11-piece band. A shame, then, that the dictates of the playback tape mean that we won’t get the chance to experience this song as it should be performed.

Roger’s a sharply-dressed dude in a nice hat, whose performance strikes just the right note of amused insouciance. If this contest was truly a song contest (yeah, right), then this one would deserve to win it. It’s a wry take on gender politics, sung from the point of view of a hapless chauvinist who can’t quite grasp why women consistently run rings around him and his type. The lyrics are clever and funny (with references to Beckham and Clinton in the final verse), the swing arrangement is sharp and tight, and there’s a real momentum to the whole effort. Class in a glass.


17 – Serbia – Molitva – Marija Serifovic.

A great performance by Marija on Thursday, which fully deserved to qualify. Forget the gimmicks; this one’s all about, ahem, Soul Passion and Commitment. Despite not having a clue what she’s singing about, I found this genuinely affecting. You may snigger when she walks out on stage, but you may be sniffling before the three minutes are through. I predict that Serbia will be neck and neck in the voting with the next song. If we can call it a “song”, that is….


18 – Ukraine – Dancing Lasha Tumbai – Verka Serduchka.

Full disclosure: I’ve got a tenner riding on this, at odds of 11-1. If it wins, then expect another aggrieved outcry from certain quarters, as the merits of the Ukranian entry have precious little to do with songcraft and musicianship, and everything to do with novelty, spectacle, and sheer OMGWTF-ness.

Now that Denmark’s DQ has been dispensed with, Verka is the only drag queen left standing. Christopher Biggins in bacofoil, yes. We all thought that as well.

Did anyone else ever play Tetris on a Nintendo Gameboy? Didn’t something like this play at the end of Level 10? It was all so long ago…


19 – United Kingdom – Flying The Flag (For You) – Scooch.

I interviewed the Australian trolley-dolley comedienne and general Friend Of The Gays Pam Ann earlier this week, and was mightily cheered to discover that we are as one in our withering contempt for this awful, witless piece of garbage. (“They’re like the Easyjet version of Steps!”)

Oh please, DON’T tell me it’s “camp”. Sorry, but it’s way too cynical and calculated for that, what with its arse-clenching innuendos and its grim Butlins Redcoat determination to be “fun”. Well, I say “calculated” – but in actual fact, “Flying The Flag” is a virtual blueprint for failure, which presses every wrong button on the flight deck. (Coming straight after Verka Serduchka has strained our chuckle bones to breaking point won’t exactly help its chances, either.)

Cheap, tacky, unfunny and irritating. Have we learnt nothing from the Fast Food Rockers?


20 – Romania – Liubi, Liubi, I Love You – Todomondo.

Sung in multiple languages (can YOU count how many?), this deploys the Zorba The Greek slow-to-fast trick. It starts slow; it ends fast. That’s all you need to know.


21 – Bulgaria – Water – Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov.

Well, well, well, I didn’t expect to see you here. With a much improved position in the draw, Bulgaria’s yelpy tranceoid bashathon could score high on the night. Put the needle on the record! Pump up the volume! CHOOOON!


22 – Turkey – Shake It Up Shekerim – Kenan Dogulu.

Let me consult my handwritten notes from Thursday night.

“I still don’t get it. Brain gone numb. 4/10.”

Yes, that just about covers it. Look, I’ve been in this Internet caff near Victoria station for well over an hour now, and I’ve got to check out of the hotel in 45 minutes. You think I’m going to waste time by dredging up interesting things to say about Turkey?

If you liked the Greek entry, then you’ll probably like this one as well. It’s the battle of the Shake It Ups, basically.


23 – Armenia – Anytime You Need – Hayko.

After five jolly uptempo songs in a row, the time might be just right for this kind of traditional love ballad. The lyrics are trite, the sentiments are stock, and there isn’t a fresh idea to be found anywhere, but there’s no accounting for taste.


24 – Moldova – Fight – Natalia Barbu.

Does her mother know she’s out dressed like that? Rocking the Dirrty-era Xtina Aguilera look in half-mast leather kecks and high-cut pantyhose, Natalia’s strident, jarring performance had me wincing in pain on Thursday night. Chig says that this is the other rock track of the night, to be placed alongside the earlier Finnish entry. Personally, I wouldn’t place it in the same category. Actually, I’d like to place it in a sealed box and hurl it into the Baltic. But that’s just me.

Are we done? Yes, we’re done.


Mystic Mike’s Crap Prediction: Ukraine to win by a narrow margin over Serbia, with Latvia in third position. Top Ten placings for Belarus, Slovenia, Hungary, Georgia, Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. Bottom three for Lithuania, France and Les Royaumes Unis.

Have a lovely Eurovision, and I’ll see you in the comments box later for a full post-mortem.

Preview: Eurovision 2007.

This article orginally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post. As you will quickly discover, it went to press in advance of last night’s semi-finals (blush).


Good grief, can it really be that time of the year already? Tomorrow evening at 8pm, at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, the world’s most gloriously over-the-top musical extravaganza returns for the 52nd time. Those of you with the stamina for such a marathon of Light Entertainment can expect to feast – nay, to gorge – yourselves upon the spectacle of 24 competing nations, all doing their absolute darndest to capture your attention (and later on, your votes) in the space of three minutes. Prepare yourselves for the usual dizzying array of bizarre costumes, frenetic dance routines, corny rhymes, gimmicks a-go-go, endless key changes, and even – whisper it if you dare – the occasional genuinely good song.

By the time you read this, 18 of the 42 participating acts will already be packing their bags, having failed to qualify from last night’s semi-final. A few of you may even have caught the show on BBC3 – and if you did, you deserve hearty congratulations for making it through a record-busting, bottom-numbing, brain-scrambling run of 28 songs. The ten semi-finalists with the largest number of votes will now join the ten highest scoring countries from last year’s final, plus the “big four” – France, Germany, Spain and the UK – who make the largest financial contribution to the staging of the contest.

Based on previous form, these ten semi-finalists are the acts to watch – for not only have they had longer to rehearse, but they will also still be surfing from the confidence boost of last night’s results. In the 2006 finals, eight songs in the top ten were qualifiers from the semis, including the eventual winner, Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi.

Ah yes, the Lordi effect. No doubt hoping that the Finnish victory has opened the doors to rock music at Eurovision at long last, several countries have pitched their hairiest, croakiest, grizzliest old rockers into the battlefield, while others have spiced up their jolly Europop ditties with grinding metal guitars. Best of all, the tiny state of Andorra has fielded the most youthful and exciting entry of the year: a terrific slice of baggy-shorted punk-pop from a bunch of floppy-haired teenagers called Anonymous, which pitches itself somewhere between Green Day and Blink 182.

That said, lovers of High Camp will still find plenty to squeal about. Although Denmark’s drag queen DQ may already be on the way home (and let’s hope that he isn’t), Ukraine’s tubby cross-dresser Verka Serduchka is sure to raise the roof with three minutes of complete and utter nonsense, which has already caused an outcry in his native land. (Always a good sign: many Finns were up in arms about the supposedly “Satanic” Lordi this time last year). Verka’s hysterically uptempo Dancing Lasha Tumbai may be trash, and it certainly doesn’t hold up to repeated listenings (trust me on this) – but it’s hugely entertaining trash, and that’s what counts.

Whatever else you might say about it, the 2007 contest is certainly not short on musical variety. Germany’s Roger Cicero serves up finger-snapping supper club swing, the Belgians offer classic Seventies disco in the style of Earth Wind and Fire, Portugal and Norway have gone Latin American, and Latvia are fielding a six-man troupe of operatic tenors in top hats.

Other hotly tipped favourites include Sweden’s The Ark, whose The Worrying Kind is a fantastic pastiche of the sort of glitter-pop that The Sweet, Mud and The Rubettes were churning out over thirty years ago. Indeed, parts of the melody are so similar to Edison Lighthouse’s 1970 chart-topper Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) that the original songwriter has publicly accused them of plagiarism.

In stark contrast, Serbia has the year’s best ballad: the powerful Molitva, performed by a homely looking girl (Marija Serifovic) whose lack of glamour is compensated for by a stunning vocal presence. Serbia is sure to benefit from friendly voting from its Eastern European neighbours, and looks certain to place within the Top Five. Expect similarly high placings from Switzerland’s action-packed Eurodance belter Vampires Are Alive, and from the dramatic Belarussian entry Work Your Magic, whose lavish orchestration conjures up memories of classic James Bond themes.

But what of our very own Scooch? Much as it pains me to be disloyal at this crucial stage, you are advised to prepare yourselves for yet another crashing disappointment. The central problem with Flying The Flag (For You) is this: it’s the sort of novelty song which cynical British audiences think is a “typical” Eurovision entry, whereas the rest of Europe grew tired of such nonsense years ago. Scooch’s underlying attitude (we may be rubbish, but Eurovision’s rubbish anyway and we don’t care) is going to cost them dearly. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Eurovision 2007 preview: Semi-finals #3.

All rehearsal photos taken by Andrew of All Kinds Of Everything. Andrew’s Flickr stream is here.
Click each song title for the lyrics, and for a link to the official preview video.

20 – Malta – Vertigo – Olivia Lewis.

Poor old Portugal. Having first been eclipsed by Norway in the Latino Pop stakes, they are now about to be robbed of their one remaining USP: the fan dancing. Augmented by NOT ONLY a gypsy fiddle, BUT ALSO by a couple of bare-chested hunks, Malta is playing all the trump cards. Oh, and the song’s pretty decent as well. It’s one of those “dramatic”, Bond-theme affairs. Yes, another! James Bond is the new Big Drumming!

Composer Philip Vella has previous form, having composed the Maltese entries in 2000 (8th place), 2002 (2nd place) and 2004 (12th place), and “Vertigo” is an object lesson in button-pushing. Not that it’s without its lyrical idiosyncrasies, mind:

You’re lifting me high
Then you’re taking me low
It’s feeling like I’m getting vertigo!
You colour me blue
Turn my passion to red
It’s feeling like I’ve become… indigo!

If you say so, Olivia. If you say so.


21 – Andorra – Salvem El Món – Anonymous.

Before the start of the rehearsals, this was ranked as a 100-1 outsider. Thanks to some exceptionally strong showings in the Hartwall Arena, Andorra have now shot up to 16-1, and are many people’s smart tip for a profitable flutter. This, my Euro-chums, is the acceptable face of the Lordi Effect – for instead of the usual gnarly old Dad Metallers, Anonymous are a bunch of baggy-shorted, floppy-fringed, fresh-faced punky-poppers, in the tradition of Green Day and Blink 182 (and also arguably McFly, but let’s not get snotty).

“Salvem El Món” is therefore possibly the most modern-sounding of this year’s entries, being full for vim and vigour, loads of excitable “One! Two! One-Two-Three-Four!” count-offs, and appropriately adenoidal bored-teenager vocals. And it’s a Let’s Save The World Anfem, to boot! (“We can do our world some good, we can make a change, that’s what we should, time will tell us but we must act now.“) With spirited youngsters like this leading the way, our futures look rosy indeed!

Another dead cert to qualify.

Update: Thanks to Chig for informing me of an important Andorra-UK connection: namely, that the lead singer is from Guildford. That’s my tele-vote in the bag, then…


22 – Hungary – Unsubstantial Blues – Ruzsa Magdolna.

So here’s a gimmick we haven’t seen before: a bus stop. Genius! 21 year old Magdi Rúzsa displays all the signs of a Hungarian Elkie Brooks in the making, and “Unsubstantial Blues” is, well, exactly what it says on the tin. You spend the first thirty seconds thinking “Ooh, how refreshing, some blues at Eurovision at last, I’m going to enjoy this”, and the next two and a half minutes thinking about something else. Nevertheless, we welcome diversity – so I’ll give it three for concept.


23 – Estonia – Partners In Crime – Gerli Padar.

Hedging her bets somewhat, Gerli has opted to straddle the schlager/soft-metal divide (my, there’s a lot of straddling going on this year), but merely ends up falling between two stools. (Not literally. That would be fun, though.) This is a Meh, Next, Christ Are There Still Five More To Go moment.


24 – Belgium – Love Power – The KMG’s (Krazy Mess Groovers).

I’m sucker for Classic 1970s Disco Revivalism, especially when it comes seasoned with Earth Wind & Fire horn stabs and a Herbie Hancock vocoder. All of which induces me to overlook the slightness of the composition, and its less-than-authentic resemblance to Germany’s “Guildo Hat Euch Lieb” (1998) and “Wadde Hadde Dudde Da” (2000). Four for inspiration + two for execution, which averages out at:


25 – Slovenia – Cvet Z Juga – Alenka Gotar.

Oh great, another Bond Theme orchestral introduction – but hark, are those bouzoukis which I hear? Then in come the dance beats, and CUE Alenka’s operatic warbling, and CUE the celestial choir, and WA-HEY is that a big Top C finish? It’s a bit of a stylistic mish-mash, and I’d never choose to listen to it at any other time of the year – but what the hell, with this week’s skewed aesthetic perspectives it’s getting a:


26 – Turkey – Shake It Up Shekerim – Kenan Doğulu.

I’ve got this marked with four stars on my iTunes, so I must have liked it once upon a time – but not today, good gracious no. There hasn’t been much R&B-influenced material this year (or is that what they call a “reggaeton” beat; I am old and out of touch), so it has novelty on its side, but those Sertab Erener string swirls fairly scream “three or four years too late”.

Update: Since this is one of the more hotly tipped entries on the live-from-Helsinki blogs, I’m clearly missing something. The consensus seems to be that it will easily qualify. Can you spot the reason why? ‘Cos I can’t…


27 – Austria – Get A Life – Get Alive – Eric Papilaya.

Ooh, ooh, British songwriter alert! Composer Austin Howard used to be the singer with Ellis Beggs & Howard, whose “Big Bubbles, No Troubles” reached #41 in the UK charts in 1987 (although it was a bigger hit in the rest of Europe). So if you’re casting around for a “patriotic” vote, then this could be the one.

(Update: Scratch that thought. The “patriotic” vote rightly belongs to Andorra – see above.)

I’d be surprised if it qualifies, though. Not my cup of tea at all – all those yowly rock guitars have started to do my head in good and proper – and as for the AIDS ribbon staging, well, nuff said.

Update: Ah, apparently all proceeds from the sale of the single are being donated to an AIDS charity. Since we now have context, I withdraw my misgivings.


28 – Latvia – Questa Notte – Bonaparti.LV.

Six operatic tenors in top hats, singing in Italian, bring the qualifiers to a dignified and comparatively “cultural” close. My personal prejudice against all things operatic precludes me from further comment – I know my limits – but we’ll deffo be seeing this again on Saturday.

Rating: ???

If you’d made it thus far, then you might like to view a ten-minute video reprise of all 28 songs. While it plays, I shall consult my crystal ball.

My predictions: Belarus, Switzerland, Serbia, Andorra and Latvia are all virtually certain to qualify. As for the other five, I’m plumping for Cyprus, Denmark, FYROM, Malta and Slovenia. But don’t listen to me, I’m crap at this.

Enjoy yourselves on Thursday night, Euro-fans! I know I shall.

Update: Well, I got five out of ten – not having predicted the Eastern European Landslide. Switzerland deserved to tank on the night, but come ON, Denmark and Andorra beaten by Turkey and Moldova? It’s a DISGRACE, I tells ya!

Eurovision 2007 preview: Semi-finals #2.

All rehearsal photos taken by Andrew of All Kinds Of Everything. Andrew’s Flickr stream is here.
Click each song title for the lyrics, and for a link to the official preview video.

11 – Albania – Hear My Plea – Aida & Frederik Ndoci.

Grizzly looking dude with a suspiciously full head of hair, with something of the Renato Out Of Renée & Renato about him. Operatic Balkan ballad. Gypsy fiddle. Duller than a very dull thing. Let’s move swiftly on.


12 – Denmark – Drama Queen – DQ.

Wa-hey, it’s a man in a frock, with plumage! How SUBVERSIVE! To ram home the “royal” theme, there’s also a giant crown on stage, in which a disco mirror ball nestles. This won the vote at the Retro Bar’s Douze Points night, which is generally the kiss of death – but there’s something rather lovable and touching about DQ’s Cabaret Nite galumphing, and I particularly like the Sideways Formation Shuffling which they’ve nicked from Israel’s customary box of tricks. Camp Not Dead! Shouting SCHLAGER SCHLAGER SCHLAGER mega mega white thing! We are pre-disposed to Like Lots!


13 – Croatia – Vjerujem U Ljubav – Dragonfly & Dado Topic.

More hairy gnarly old rockers, boo hiss! High Camp versus Authentic Rock Stylings FITE FITE FITE! Ils ne passeront pas! Dud to the max, dude!

Sorry, readers. It’s been a long day, and mid-table hysteria is kicking in. Nearly halfway there! Just fifteen songs to go! We can make it if we try!


14 – Poland – Time To Party – The Jet Set.

Well, let’s try to look on the positive side. The gherkin-shaped cage is a nice touch, the long-legged ladies are pretty (I’m struggling already), and there’s some pleasing chair work, not to mention a brief bout of deeply erotic Formation Bumming. But oh dear, hip-hop/R&B done Euro-style rarely works, and this is no exception. “I’m a little bit crazy! Crazy like a baby!” Yeah, whatever.


15 – Serbia – Molitva – Marija Serifovic.

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: Marija is, shall we say, a “homely” type, whose anti-glamour stands in sharp contrast to all the other dolled-up young misses on display – including her own backing dancers, who occasionally give her a reassuring stroke or two. (You’ve lucked out there, Marija. Work it, girl!)

Interestingly enough, this homeliness actually works in her favour (much as it did for Malta’s Ciara in 1998 and 2005) – mainly because, lo and behold, what we have here is a superb ballad, sung brilliantly, with real passion and commitment. This has been wowing absolutely everybody on the live blogs, and is rated as a dead cert to qualify. (We shall ignore the nasty person in the Youtube comments who likened the somewhat static performance to a “bored picket line”.) If it goes on to win, I for one shall be delighted. Why, I might even have a little cry. It has been known.

(Oh yeah, and there’s a cracking dance remix of this floating around. They’ve covered all bases.)


16 – Czech Republic – Malá Dáma – Kabát.

Crikey, talk about contrasts. This section of the draw has been gathering nothing but one stars and five stars from me so far – and here’s another one star. No, I’m not a hard rock fan. It’s the only musical genre other than opera to leave me stone cold (particularly when it’s this croaky and creaky), and I find myself powerless to change my prejudices.

Along with Georgia, Serbia-minus-Montengro, and Montenegro-minus-Serbia, the Czech Republic is the fourth and final of the countries to be making its Eurovision debut. Sadly, this is a far from auspicious start.


17 – Portugal – Dança Conmigo – Sabrina.

Poor old Portugal. Long saddled with one of the contest’s poorest scoring records, one wants to wish them well, but rarely finds adequate reasons to do so. Strictly in Portuguese terms, this ain’t so shoddy. OK, so it’s a bog standard piece of Latin American pop which we’ve heard a thousand times before, but at least it has that most elusive of Portuguese qualities: a tune. And the fan dancing presses a few tribal buttons.


18 – FYR Macedonia – Mojot Svet – Karolina Gocheva.

Never discount the power of the Balkan bloc vote, Part 94. Macedonia managed to qualify last year with a fairly forgettable ditty, and since “Mojot Svet” has the virtue of mild memorability, it should sail through on Thursday. I like the way the chorus rhymes “muzika”, “granica” and “balkanska”, although this is somewhat diminished when Karolina switches to English at the end. This one’s all about the consonants, y’see.


19 – Norway – Ven A Bailar Conmigo – Guri Schanke.

Hang about, didn’t we hear this two songs ago? Brassy, slightly dated Latino pop with the word “conmigo” in its title? As some wag on All Kinds Of Everything observed, this is “like two women turning up at a party with the same dress”. I can’t choose between the two, and neither will anyone else, meaning that the Latino vote will be disasterously split on the night.

Which is a shame for Norway, as they’ve fielded not only “the official face of L’Oreal cosmetics” to sing the thing, but also the King of Scandi-Schlager-Pop, Thomas “Not A Misprint” G:son, the composer of last year’s “controversial” Swedish entry, “Invincible” by The Blessed Carola, Peace Be Upon Her.

Better dancing, but no fans. Hmm, it really is too close to call.


Eurovision 2007 preview: Semi-finals #1.

All rehearsal photos taken by Andrew of All Kinds Of Everything. Andrew’s Flickr stream is here.
Click each song title for the lyrics, and for a link to the official preview video.

1 – Bulgaria – Water – Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov.

Before we crack on with this year’s previews, I have a Serious Complaint. Careful perusal of all 42 sets of lyrics has revealed that not one single entry has opted to rhyme “fire” (fye-YA!) with “desire” (diz-EYE-ya!). This is clearly a gross violation of agreed European Rhyme Quotas, and it Must Never Happen Again.

And so to Bulgaria, who kick off our record-breaking twenty-eight song line-up with a full tilt ethno-trancey-dancey thing, featuring impassioned yelps of “more pee!”, and a return to the Big Drumming which so memorably defined the 2005 contest.

In translation, the lyrics conjure up some incongruously pastoral images:

There’s a young lad coming from the village,
Walking by his side’s a wild young pony,
See him walking there, hear him singing, eeee!

See the young lad riding his wild pony,
See him riding, holding tight his lassie!

However, said pastoralism quickly yields to that other great ESC stalwart, the meaningless refrain:

Tara-du-day du-dara dara-du-da (Hey)
Tara-du-day du-dara dara-du-da (Hey, hey)
Tara-du-day du-dara dara-du-da (Hey)
Tara-du-day du-dara dara-du-da…

Although an absolutely cracking track, and one of my favourites of this year’s selection, the whole thing is a bit too Big Room, Peak Time, Rushing Off Your Second Pill, Oakey Tears The Roof Off for such an early stage in the proceedings. Placed later in the draw, we might have had a chance to warm up (in a strictly non-narcotic sense), but this is a glaring case of Too Much Too Soon, which isn’t helped by a total lack of supporting choreography. Instead, Elitsa and Stoyan appear alone on stage, rattling and bashing their instruments of choice, but without any means of a visual build-up. (One is instantly reminded of the upside-down “roast chicken on a spit” breakdancing of last year’s Club Anfem from Romania, the mighty “Tornerò”. Ah, such memories.)


2 – Israel – Push The Button – Teapacks.

If you were thinking of giving the first few songs a miss, then I implore you to re-consider. This is an exceptionally strong opening run, and there will be plenty of time for toilet breaks later. Plenty of time.

Almost every contest in recent years has a Conceptual Art-Joke Prankster act, in which a suspiciously literate looking bunch of overgrown students with Performance Arts subsidies get to play dumb for the night, in the name of Subverting The Norms and F**king With Your Minds, Man. Here’s a text-book example from the country that gave us the mighty Ping Pong in 2000 (we all remember Ping Pong, don’t we?), which lurches back and forth between bouncy Manu Chao-isms and shouty agit-rock, while still finding time to squeeze in a Hebrew rap drum-and-bass breakdown.

In a contest whose most unappealing sub-genre is the World Piss Anthem, “Push The Button” articulates a desire for World Piss (“I want to see the flowers bloom! Don’t wanna go Kaputt Ka Boom!”), without being all pissy about it. It’s well aware of its own absurdity, but in an Alf Poier way rather than a Scooch way.

(Ah, Scooch. We’ll get onto them later.)


3 – Cyprus – Comme Ci, Comme Ça – Evridiki.

Representing Cyprus for the third time (it’s OK, I don’t remember 1992’s Teriazoume or 1994’s Eimai Anthropos Ki Ego either), Evridiki plays right into the hands of Eurovision’s, ahem, core constituency with this hands-in-the-air belter, which straddles the divide between Schlager and Eurodance in a most reassuringly familiar way. The decision to sing in French is a strange one, which will pick up fewer “political” votes than was perhaps intended – but the song works, and the “accredited journalists” d’un certain age will be squealing over this all the way to the Euroclub.


4 – Work Your Magic – Koldun.

OK, forget the “his mother wanted a Princess Diana lookalike” story, and prepare to chuckle at the lyrical innuendo one last time. (“You set my beating heart in motion, when you cast your loving potion over me. But mind the sheets.“) They are but mere red herrings. Instead, think Bond Theme. Think Dima Bilan (“Never Let You Go”, last year’s runner-up). Think wall-climbing dancers. Think “powerful vocal presence”. Think man-cleavage. Think cheekbones. Think pedigree (composer Philip Kirkorov is Russia’s biggest musical superstar). Think drama, drama, DRAMA. This is a hotly tipped favourite, and the first guaranteed qualifier of the night.


5 – Iceland – Valentine Lost – Eiríkur Hauksson.

Aha. This is the first – but no means the last – example of the inevitable Lordi Effect. Just as Ruslana’s victory in 2004 led to the Big Drum Fest of 2005, so the victory of “Hard Rock Hallelujah” has opened the doors to Rock in 2007. Schlager-pop this ain’t. But frankly, on the strength of “Valentine Lost”, would that it were.

“Veteran rocker” Eiríkur Hauksson, who has previously worked with members of Thin Lizzy and Uriah Heep, has admittedly toned things down a little for the ESC, and the song is essentially a power ballad in Jon Bon Jovi drag. The lyrics comprise little more than a random list of well-worn signifiers (“A tiger trapped inside a cage, an actor on an empty stage”), and as such they do their job efficiently enough, but I can’t see this one qualifying.


6 – Georgia – Visionary Dream – Sopho.

I’ve tried extra-specially hard to like this one from plucky newcomer Georgia, as it’s Looby‘s favourite and I hold his opinions in high esteem – but, well, it’s all a bit busy, isn’t it? This is the third number in a row to reach for the High Drama aesthetic, and frankly, at this stage, I’d be happier with a dollop of Low Farce. (We’ll come to the Ukraine later.)

OK, so this is clever stuff, deftly orchestrated and with all manner of intricate twists and turns – including a moment where the whole arrangement collapses down to two rather incongruous electronic bloops, for no apparent reason. Once again, it’s also a bit Bond Theme in places. Give it half a dozen more plays, and I could learn to love it – but plonk it in as Song 6, with 22 more to go, and I fear that it will be buried in the mix.


7 – Montenegro – Ajde Kroči – Stevan Faddy.

Making their debut as a newly independent republic, following last year’s acrimonious split from Serbia, Montenegro field the second of this year’s rockers. I don’t propose to waste much time over this one, as it’s pretty bloody awful. Certain wags in the hall have renamed it “Itchy Crotchy”, and that’s about as much entertainment value as you’re likely to glean from it. Early toilet break!


8 – Vampires Are Alive – DJ Bobo.

Initially a hotly tipped Fan Fave, opinions have been wobbling over this one during the rehearsals, although the consensus remains that it will definitely qualify. DJ Bobo is a man with form in Europop circles, and this is certainly one of the more intricately wrought and professionally presented entries. It’s an Everything But The Kitchen Sink Eurodance Pounder, with Ooky Spooky Bits, Widescreen Orchestral Flourishes, and a Cast of Thousands, whose numbers have been craftily boosted by a bunch of mannequins lined up at the back of the stage. Yes, it’s exciting – but is it also too cold and over-cluttered to warm the hearts of the tele-voters?

Nevertheless, oi’ll give it foive. See you on Saturday, Switzerland.


9 – Moldova – Fight – Natalia Barbu.

“I like the intro, which has real potential to be the new theme for BBC Look East. The first line should be “Top stories in the region tonight” and be accompanied by a few bongs. As it were.” – Nick at OnEurope_Live.

A big Hurrah for the first appearance of that perennial stalwart, the Gypsy Fiddle! And an equally big Woo-Hoo for the first flutterings of that other trusty standby, the Big Flags! Other than that, there’s little to get in a froth about. Mid-paced, high drama, soft rock, a bit of high-register wailing towards the end. Those as like this sort of thing already have Belarus’s Koldun to service their needs, so this one will be swiftly forgotten.


10 – Netherlands – On Top Of The World – Edsilia Rombley.

Edsilia last represented the Netherlands in 1998, placing fourth with the totally spiffing “Hemel En Aarde”, and so my expectations were high. Hmm. This clearly isn’t in the same league – but once the dull openening is dispensed with, it struts its stuff in a tolerably efficient, well scrubbed, bright ‘n breezy Scandi-pop sort of way.

I particularly liked the bridge from the ballady opening into the schlager chorus, which was reminiscent of a clapped out Ford Capri trying to get up the ramp in the multi-storey car park in Bedford shopping centre. It got up there just about, but I thought for a moment it was going to conk out halfway up.” – Nick at OnEurope_Live.


Don’t worry, I’m not going all Eurovision on you just yet…

…partly because, oh dearie me, this is far from a vintage year. Far too many post-Lordi macho rock guitars for starters, and what good are those to any self-respecting Eurovision fan? And also, cramming a record twenty-eight songs into the Thursday night qualifier is un peu de trop, even by my near-fanatical standards.

However, I am taken by the Bulgarian chorus of “More pee!”, and by the swishy young mister from Belarus:

bru_koldun“This blue-eyed brunet was born on 11th June 1985 in Minsk, Belarus. His mother, the founder of Princess Diana’s Belarusian fan-club, had always dreamed of having a daughter who would look like Diana. Amazingly, her dream partly came true. She had a handsome little boy with a striking resemblance to the Princess, who from early childhood exhibited phenomenal abilities in music, literature and even science.”

Mister Belarus’s chorus runs thusly:

“You set my beating heart in motion, when you cast your loving potion over me.”

I wonder if he’s been to Bulgaria recently?


Chig’s UK50 Eurovision Vote-a-thon.

uk50f-worldofchigCliff, Lulu, or Belle and the Devotions?
Kathy Kirby, Kenneth McKellar, or Katrina and the Waves?
Rikki, Ryder, or Live Report?
Patricia Bredin, Pearl and Teddy, or Bryan Johnson?

Over at World of Chig, your votes are requested for the splendid UK50 Project, in which all fifty of the United Kingdom’s Eurovision entries are presented for your examination, in a vote-driven knockout competition. Each day, three songs are presented as an MP3 medley, with Youtube clips to match. Your task is to rank each selection in order of preference, and to cast your votes accordingly.

Apologies for not linking this sooner. However, there’s still time to start at the beginning and work your way through.

Who wins? Who goes? You decide!

(NB: Chig’s lovely logo was designed by my blogdaddy David – formerly of Swish Cottage, and now to be found on various Web 2.0 sites such as this one and this one.)

Those Eurovision previews in full – LIVE from backstage at the final dress rehearsal.

THIS is how much I love you, my Euro-chicklets. Instead of trouping into the hall to watch the final dress rehearsal, I have decided that it would be a lot more fun and fulfilling to blog it live from the press centre, where it’s being relayed on giant screens around the room. Let’s just hope they turn the sound up.

I was at last night’s dress rehearsal, in the best seats I am ever likely to get at any Eurovision ever, and I loved every minute of it.

So hold very tight please, and off we go.

Firstly… you MUST be in your seats for the opening few minutes, which contain some truly stunning coups de theatre. Much as we may have bitched about some of the poor organisation backstage, THIS is what Greece does best. It’s theatrical, it’s OTT, and it had even the most jaded of hacks ooh-ing and aah-ing in wonder last night. They’ve been keeping this a secret all week. Turns out that we don’t know everything in advance after all.

Another plus point: they’ve seriously pruned all that endless preamble, before the songs start in earnest. It’s now 10 past, and we’re on to the first video postcard.

Your hosts are a nice American lady, who is calm, confident and has a useful knack of ad-libbing her way out of difficulties – and a local superstar stud called Sakis Rouvas, who came third a few years ago. What Sakis lacks in presentational polish, he makes up for in Man Cleavage. Darlings, I was transfixed. However, I have a nasty feeling that Sakis might come seriously unstuck during the voting. Could we be looking at another Toto Cutugno situation? (Legendarily inept Italian co-host from the early 1990s – so inept that Italy pulled out of the whole shindig a couple of years later, never to return.)

Now, I’m afraid that the first part of the draw has its longueurs. Bear with us – things hot up dramatically from Song 8, and Songs 13 to 17 are solid gold.

Switzerland is pretty dire: the usual Ralph Siegel hackwork, partially enlivened by a former member of Alcazar. Drop dead fit, but my God, doesn’t he know it.

Moldova is fronted by Arsenium (or “Arsey” to his mates – I shit you not), who used to be in O-Zone, of “Dragostea Din Tei” fame. You might know it better as the “Numa Numa” song, with the home-made webcam video that was all the rage on the web a couple of years ago. Arsey looks curiously uninvolved in his own performance, and the ending is a right old wash-out. No climax, no points. This will sink like a stone, despite the BRILLIANT GROUNDBREAKING NOVELTY of staging a REVERSE STRIPTEASE.

Israel is the third dud in a row, but things do start getting more interesting after this. Note the white suit – white suits are THE fashion story of Eurovision 2006. Why not add white suits to your drinking games at home?

Oh, Latvia. What were you thinking? This is the accapella group with the most ill-advised gimmick ever: a dinky little low-tech robot. Everybody say aah! The song’s a complete dog. Last night, I challenged my friends to sing even one line of it from memory. We’ve been hearing it all week, but no-one could come even close. Even the group’s vocal warm-up exercises were catchier than this! Still, it’s fun to have a number that is performed entirely without backing tapes – yes, those human beat-box effects are all being produced live. They’re clearly very talented, but what a waste of that talent.

Norway is rapidly emerging as the new dark horse. Folksy-ethnicy Enya-esque numbers often perform well here, and this is the only example of such in tonight’s contest, so it should clean up with the folksy-ethnicy lobby. This was particularly warmly received in the hall last night. I don’t care for it at all, but I respect its craft.

Ooh, proper pop stars! It’s Las Ketchup from Spain, continuing to mine that tomato-based theme with “Un Bloody Mary Por Favor”. The “duty free, duty free, duty free…” refrain is particularly fetching, but the song itself is disappointingly under-par – it should have been faster and feistier than this. Still, at least they’re not wearing white, which makes a nice change.

I’ve got ahead of myself, so let me quickly tell you about last night’s entertainment: a “Mister Gay Mediterranean” beauty pageant, held in an alternative arts theatre in front of a mostly straight audience, with a PA from former 1970s Euro-disco icon Amanda Lear (looking like something out of Eurotrash, knobbly kneed, collagened to buggery, and tottering about in a baby-doll dress which partially revealed her bare arse) – and, get this, a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II” thrown in, just for fun. (We arrived late, and missed that bit.) Bizarre in the extreme, and thank God that we blagged it on the guest list (as representatives of the international gay press, which was actually sort of true), or else we’d have been rueing the 35 Euro admission price.

Malta have been more desperate to win Eurovision than any other country – and last year, 98 per cent of the viewing population tuned in to watch the show, so one has to admire their commitment. Fabrizio Faniello has been working the media hard all week, and has been popping up for impromptu PA’s all over the place. As a result, I’m sick to death of his happy little ditty – but if you haven’t heard it before, it’s kinda cute.

First of the big guns! Germany‘s Texas Lightning are much loved among the hack pack, and have been wowing the Greeks with their alternative version of “No No Never”, with an expanded middle section that goes all Zorba The Greek. The lead singer is Australian, and lovely. The URLs for the band’s website on the mike stands are a step too far though, and should have been banned: the thin end of a potentially troublesome wedge. Anyway, I love this song to death, and so should you.

Denmark‘s original staging was rocking a very similar country and western vibe to Germany, so they’ve wisely re-thought their act before coming out to Athens. This is a daft little hen-party of a track, which features another of this year’s Big Stories: break dancing. Another one to add to your drinking game? There’s an absolutely filthy alternative version of the chorus doing the rounds, which I don’t propose to repeat here – but think of words which rhyme with “twist”. Ahum.

It’s the man of Chig‘s dreams next: Russia‘s Dima Bilan, who has consistently grown in confidence since his nervous beginnings a week ago. Much like me, in fact – from nervously clutching my satchel like the new kid at school, to the international media presence that I am today. In fact, it’s fair to say that Dima and I have been on something of a shared journey together this week. We’ve never met, and yet I feel we connect in some way. Oh yeah: keep an eye on that grand piano – this is one of the standout gimmicks of the show.

Sheesh, what’s FYROM doing here? I don’t mean to be snide, but this can only have qualified from Thursday on account of FYROM’s uncommonly large number of “special friends”. This might be good moment to put the kettle on. If you’re struggling to concentrate, then see if you can spot the name-checks for Beyonce and Shakira.

And here’s another former also-ran which is coming up on the inside lane: Romania, with a slice of Ye Olde Ibiza Euro-Trance. In the hall, this is fantastically uplifting, with a concluding upwards key-change par excellence, and as such it gathered roars of approval. But how will it translate on telly? Watch for the rotating chicken-on-a-spit break dancer towards the end, and admire the responsible way that he has donned protective headgear before commencing his stunt.

There’s a brief commercial break (during which BBC viewers can feast themselves upon the Sakis Man Cleavage once again)… and then it’s the Big Five. Get back in your seats, everyone – this is the best sequence of the show, with most of the hot favourites drawn next to each other.

I’ve only spoken to one person all week who dislikes Bosnia‘s classy, beautifully arranged and exquisitely sung ballad. When 18 of us gathered together on Thursday evening to pool our predictions as to which 10 songs would qualify from the semis, this song and Finland’s were the only ones to receive a unanimous thumbs-up. My only worry is that Hata Mata Hari (known back home as “the nightingale of Sarajevo”) will get distracted by the ripples of applause which punctuate his performance, and allow self-congratulation to creep in. Sometimes he does this; sometimes he stays focussed on his performance. It could make a slight but subtle difference to the voting – but surely this is a dead cert for Top Three.

You may detect booing from the humourless Greeks for Lithuania‘s middle managers on a corporate awayday – but pay them no heed. Yes, this is a joke which quickly wears thin – but if you’re fresh to it, then it works a treat. Watch the baldy on the far left spring into life halfway through – and, hey boys, check out the lead singer, who gets my vote as 2006’s Top Eurovision Totty. Middle-aged men in suits! Does it for me!

Now, this is an unfortunate draw, as the United Kingdom is saddled with following one novelty song/performance with another. Will Europe’s chuckle bones hold out? Great staging, though – the video backdrops are well-conceived, and the girls nail their characters to perfection. My favourite bit: the “oooh-shi-ine” section, where everyone comes together at stage front. Keep an eye on the bits of paper which the girls fling from their desks – during rehearsals, including this one, they’re Union Jacks, but Daz has promised a surprise for the actual final.. Just bluster, or are we going to see something else? Earlier in the week I was predicting Top 5 – now I’m not so sure. It’s loved by the Brit hack pack, but hasn’t really crossed over beyond that.

Oh crikey, it’s Anna Vissi for Greece, setting the Diva controls up to max. Not since the days of Alla Pugacheva (Russia 1997, oh come on, of course you remember), has anyone gone quite so OTT as this. However, the adulation which Anna receives does have a negative impact on her performance, as what should be a song of pain and anguish turns instead into a triumphalist lap of honour. Come on Anna! Concentrate! Didn’t your lot coin the term “hubris”?

I’m not going to tell you anything more about Finland, as you need to stop reading this RIGHT NOW, and glue your eyes to the screen for the best staging of the entire night. The little girls behind me on Wednesday night were alternately squealing with fear, and giggling with delight. Another Top Three dead cert?

I don’t care what you lot think of Ukraine‘s Tina Karol, because I LOVE HER LOVE HER LOVE HER. Such a game little trouper! How could you not want all the good things in life to come her way? This is the one with the Cossacks and the skipping rope. If Tina wins this, I shall probably burst into tears. And it won’t be the first time this week, either.

(Aside: when Monaco’s 1971 winner Severine took to the stage as a surprise turn at one of the after-parties, to give us a rendition of her classic “Un Banc, Un Arbre, Un Rue”, I promptly bawled my little eyes out. At the end, I turned to Chig, only to find that he had been doing the same. What sentimental old sausages we are.)

Ooh, ooh, rubber-necking at a car-crash time! France‘s Virginie Pouchain is a TV talent contest winner who lacks experience at this level, and she has apparently been suffering from crippling nerves this week. Word yesterday was that the head of the French delegation had to physically push her onto the stage yesterday afternoon, for positively the worst vocal performance I have ever seen from a professional singer. Last night, she rallied a bit, and managed to hit the occasional right note. I sincerely wish her all the best for tonight – I don’t take pleasure in this kind of humiliation. However, it will take a miracle to stop this heading for “nul points”.

Croatia is Chig’s favourite – the cloth-eared fool! – but you can’t deny that this is top, top entertainment. Severina has modelled herself as closely on Angelina Jolie as teams of top cosmetic experts will allow – and there are some decidedly colourful skeletons in her closet, as well. (Happy Googling, pervs! Chig has seen the evidence, and it ain’t pretty. She says it was an amateur video which got leaked. Well, don’t they all?) There’s also a top Bucks Fizz, whoops-there-goes-my-skirt moment. Put it away love! Does your mother know you’re out dressed like that?

And here’s your man Brian Kennedy for Ireland – a country which is finally taking the contest seriously again after many years in the wilderness. This is my slow grower of the week. It’s cheesy to the max, but there’s an emotional quality to it which Kennedy pulls off, against all the odds. In the hands of a lesser singer, this would have been a disaster – but he’s an old pro, and it shows.

Three to go! Here’s god-bothering Carola for Sweden, complete with her specially imported wind machine – which she has graciously shared with any other act who wants it. I think that’s quite nice of her, don’t you? Opinion divides more sharply over Carola than any other performer this year – but I’m a fence-sitter. Part of me thinks she’s a ghastly, deluded fake, and part of me sees a strangely fragile quality, which she has plastered over with all this born-again nonsense. She’s sort of false and sincere at the same time, and I can never quite get to the bottom of her. As it were. Anyway, this is another hot favourite which should sail into the Top 10.

SHOCK UPDATE! Has Carola LOST HER VOICE? After sounding fabulous on Thursday night and Friday afternoon, an astonishingly all-over-the-place performance last night had us wondering what on earth was was going on. Could this be the reason? She sounded distinctly under-par just now, and at her last press conference a spokesman had to do all her talking for her. All pray for Carola, if you please!

Two to go! It’s Turkey, with the alternative UK entry – as the backing dancers (and Chig’s new best mates) are all British by extract or residency. Singer Sibel wept openly at the qualifier’s press conference on Thursday, and started thanking everyone under the sun. Easy, love! You haven’t won yet!

Last one! Plucky newcomer Armenia surprised everyone by qualifying on Thursday, and no-one really knows quite why. There’s a sort of bondage-meets-maypole-dancing thing going on here, but after 24 songs one gets a little jaded with this sort of caper.

And that’s your lot. The interval act is fun – more camped-up Greek classicism – but first of all, there’s a surprise appearance from a TOTAL GREEK MUSICAL LEGEND. Can you guess who it is?

Much to the relief of all but the most hardcore of stats geeks, the voting will be speeded up considerably this year. The lowest 7 points from each country won’t be read out, but will be displayed on screen instead. Then just the 8 points, 10 points and 12 points will be read out in full. Towards the end of the voting, this will revert to the usual method of reading out all 10 scores in full, just to draw out the tension. Ack, I’ve not explained this very well, but you’ll see soon enough. I think I’ve worn myself out – I’ve been typing literally non-stop for the last hour and fifty minutes, and exhaustion is beginning to kick in. But IT HAS ALL BEEN WORTH IT.

Before I sign off: prediction time.

1. Finland
2. Bosnia & Herzegovina
3. Germany
4. Russia
5. Sweden (if the voice recovers, or else bottom 5)
6. Greece
7. Norway
8. Croatia
9. Lithuania
10. United Kingdom
12. Romania
13. Ireland
14. Turkey
15. Ukraine
16. Malta
17. Armenia
18. Denmark
19. Spain
20. Moldova
22. Latvia
22. Switzerland
23. Israel
24. France

Enjoy tonight’s show. It’s a good ‘un. Over and out!

The third Slate piece is up…

…and it’s here. This is what has been referred to behind the scenes as the “Euroweenies In Athens” section. Can I just re-emphasise the plea in the final paragraph? Freeze-frames at the ready, gang!

The final Slate piece will appear on Monday, and then it’s back to civilian life (and proper food, three times a day).

Mike’s pointless semi-final predictions.

OK, let me nail my colours to the mast. These are the 10 countries who I think will qualify from tonight’s Eurovision semi-finals.

Please bear in mind that I have a hopeless track record in these things.

In order of appearance, they are:

Cyprus – strong impassioned ballad.
FYROM – political reasons! They have many friends…
Russia – the ballerina concealed in the grand piano should swing it, and he’s a comely chap.
Ukraine – oops, forgot to include this yesterday. She’s such a game little trouper, and we all love her dearly.
Finland – Europe’s metal lobby have already been galvanised into action, and Dear LORD those fireworks!
Lithuania – so bad it’s good. There’s always one.
Sweden – I can’t quite see the appeal, but Carola is loved by many.
Estonia – good sturdy Scandi-pop which will unite the Baltic states.
Bosnia – sheer class, but he needs to tone down the self-congratulation.
Iceland – for sheer comedic effort and invention, despite loud boos from the hall this afternoon.

Can I also urge you to tune in early, for the campest opening medley ever. It’s blinking brilliant!

Update: Hey, seven out of ten isn’t too shonky. I must be improving…

Rachel’s Eurovision drinking game.

Rachel From North London has swung by in my comments, to post details of the Eurovision drinking game which she and her friends will be playing on Saturday night. Her uncannily prescient list of “characteristics”, upon whose appearance contestants will be obliged to take a drink, deserves a wider audience.

Wind machine
Gypsy Violins
Inadvertent nipple flashing
Peasant on stage
Flag waving
Bondage/fetish wear
Wet-look hair
Ambivalent sexuality/gender
Random percussion
Guitar solo
Over-use of crotch
Sudeden tempo change ie from ballad to hard rock
High kicks
Formation dancing
Bizarre ‘ethnic’ dancing
Removal of items of clothing (inc. hats). Bonus points for skirts.
Back flips

All I can say is: Rachel, you and your mates will be thoroughly sloshed before the interval act. Enjoy!