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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I do hope you’re managing to keep up with all of this.

Sorry, my poor long-suffering darlings: am I flooding you with trivial details about a TV programme which you have no intention of watching? Can’t be helped, I’m afraid. This is a time of the year when the readership of this blog does a small shift sideways, as inquisitive followers of the Eurovision Song Contest start popping by for updates, and one simply feels a certain duty to oblige.

Worry not, my loyal regulars: this time in a week, the madness will be over. (In other words, I’ll go back to posting once a week, mainly to apologise for only posting once a week. Every blogger needs a House Style, and this would appear to be mine.)

So, with that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s move onto Day Two, brought to you from the back row of the press conference centre.

Actually, let’s finish off Day One first of all.

Yesterday’s penultimate rehearsal came from Bosnia & Herzegovina, who have fielded a splendid bit of breast-beating Balkan balladry. This is the sort of stuff which I used to loathe – but with repeated exposure over the years, one’s ears become acclimatised.

A class act, this one. No silly costumes, no gimmicks, just a powerful and beautifully arranged song, delivered with sincerity and passion. This alone should make it stand out from the pack.

In stark contrast, Iceland‘s Silvia Night and her crew have piled on every gimmick they can think of, and then a few more besides. If this works on the night, then it will be great. However, the staging is so technically demanding that there is plenty of scope for things to misfire – as they did on several occasions during yesterday’s run-throughs.

In common with other responsible sites, I’m not going to give away any of Silvia’s surprises. Nevertheless, you should pay close attention to the lines which she delivers after her, um, descent. In the recorded version, and all the way through the rehersals, Silvia has been using A Certain Word Beginning With F. However, in the printed lyrics which appear in the official programme, the offending line has been rewritten to excise the word in question.

So, will Silvia dare to say “f**king” on Thursday night? Or will family values prevail? Time alone will tell. Look, I’m trying to ratchet up some tension here.

Silvia’s ensuing press conference was a triumph of Performance Art, which apparently caused some offence amongst the more ironically challenged members of the hack pack. She plays that Diva Bitch role to perfection, at all times, never once breaking out of character – and I, for one, admire her for it.

For our evening meal, Chig and I decided to place our trust in the catering team at the joint Ukrainian/Polish party, which was held in one of the side buildings at the official “Euroclub”. (A strange post-industrial complex, reminiscent of both the Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station. Only a bit diddier.)

What mouth-watering examples of their respective national cuisines would the Ukes and the Poles rustle up? Some tasty bits of sausage? Clever things with beetroot?

Um, not quite. Our supper ended up consisting entirely of tortilla crisps and olive tapenade. And vodka. Lots and lots of FREE vodka. (The portions they dole out are ginormous.)

Frankly darlings, I’m living off dust. Well, dust and fags, if I’m being entirely honest. Still, I should be able to squeeze into my nice new red-white-and-blue Paul Smith cowboy shirt by the end of the week, so it will All Be Worth It.

Bugger it, I’m missing Las Ketchup in the next room. Laters!

Swedish pixie not homophobic after all Shockah!

Straight from the horse’s mouth, 10 minutes ago at her press conference:

“I’m proud to be a Gay Diva.”

Have to say, it looked as she was having her teeth pulled while she was saying it.

Carola then directed us to this video interview, in which she supposedly sets the record straight on That Controversial Gay Question Which Won’t Go Away, Dammit.

Hmm. A tad edited, isn’t it?

“I… [snip) … love … (snip) … gay … (snip) … people.”

Heh.

Sheesh, there’s barely time to snatch a fast fag in the loading bay.

Estonia‘s entry is, emphatically, My Sort Of Thing: Scandiwegian pop-rock at its finest, once again delivered by a Swedish performer. (They have a history of doing this.) If you liked “Once In A Lifetime” by Ines, or Sahlene’s “Runaway”, then you’ll like this.

But what is she singing in the chorus?

“Looking through my window, what about the subjugation?” That’s what I thought at the Retro Bar on Thursday. Mmm, kinky!

“Looking through my window, what about the Soviet Nation?” An oblique comment on post-Warsaw Pact independence? That would be nice.

Nope, now that I’ve got my official programme, I can confirm that the lyrics are, in fact, “Looking through my window, what about sun you made shine?”. Dropped definite article and all. Well, of course.

The direct lift from Abba’s “Does Your Mother Know” is a nice touch, and is reflected in the Abba-esque outfits: 1975-style mini-dresses and boots. She’s a bit plastic, but that’s only right and proper. Go Estonia, etc etc.

Oh, someone else appears to be doing this live-blogging thing as well…

…only I suspect that the Schlagerboys are doing it from the palatial splendour of the P1-enabled press centre, whereas I’m squatting at the back of the press conferences like a pauper. Not bitter! Not bitter at all!

Anyway, their blog is great, and reading their comments on the same events is like hearing some weird Schlager echo.

Don’t forget the OnEurope Livejournal, either. Scabrously opinionated, which is just the way we like it.

I’ll wear myself out with all this to-ing and fro-ing…

…and they’re fresh out of complementary water bottles, as well. I’m sweating like a hog! But it’s all for YOU, so that’s all right then!

Portugal. Never very strong on yer actual Tunes, are Portugal. This year’s entry makes their most concerted stab in yonks at an Actual Tune, being frothy, boppy, and a leetle bit Motowny. 4 ladies, lots of mini ra-ra skirts, lots of movement, lots of bounce… but, nah. This ain’t gonna break their run of failure, either. How’s about some Fado for next year, huh? I could see Fado going great guns.

The hall was jam-packed for everyone’s favourite homophobic pixie with a wind machine, Sweden‘s Carola: a strong contender, with previous form. Carola brought it home for Sweden in 1991 with “Captured By A Love Storm”, aided by judicious use of a wind-machine – and blow me if the wind machine isn’t back in 2006, now turbo charged to ventilate not just Carola’s rippling blue train, but the ginormous silver flags of her backing dancers. Love her or hate her, this was a rip-roaring, barn-storming performance, and a dead cert to qualify. So she’s a born-again nutter! Deal with it!

I’m getting quite quick at doing this, you know. And the laptop hasn’t played up once. Time to source some fluids. Back later with three Big Ones: Estonia, Bosnia, and – be still my beating heart – Iceland!

I wasn’t really enjoying myself much this morning. Too overwhelming, too much to take on board. Now that I’m actually making myself useful, it feels a whole lot better. Arbeit macht frei!

Gawd, are they still wittering on?

I’ve just nipped out to watch Portugal, and have returned to find the Dutch ladies still blathering on about “this fantastic opportunity”, yadda yadda yadda.

I’ve also spotted the Question Of Doom, which crops up at every press conference. Some well meaning soul will always pop up and ask the act about whether they see Eurovision as a springboard to an international career, and what plans do they have to tour abroad, etc. Tumbleweed, every time, followed by non-committal mumblings. Hey, let’s not kid ourselves here. We’ve all been around the block.

Lithuania performed to the smallest crowd of hacks that I’ve seen thus far. Was it just the post-lunch dip, or were people staying away in droves because “We Are The Winners” is widely regarded as one of the drossiest Eurovision entries ever?

Fools! Fools! OK, so the song is little more than a terrace chant (“We are the winners! Of Eurovision! Vote vote vote vote vote for the winners!”), set to the tune of the children’s refrain “I’m the king of the castle”, over a basic drum pattern. And OK, so the performers look like a bunch of middle-managers getting pissed up at a company Awayday. But, I’m telling you: you’ve got to watch this one. It has a charm all of its own. This is my current Dark Horse.

(There’s also a great bit where it sounds as if the song is about to lurch into Van Halen’s “Jump”. The moment passes quickly, but it’s a thrilling one.)

Excuse me while I hoof it over to everyone’s favourite homophobic pixie with a wind machine: Sweden’s Carola. Busy busy busy!