Today has been the most stressful day of my life…

…and enough to kill my “wanna be a journalist, IT consultancy is sooo boring!” aspirations for good.

Well, almost enough.

But at least the day had a happy ending. Maybe I’ll tell you about it one day.

Update (1): There were three happy endings. An upgrade in my press accreditation, which has granted me access to the PCs in the press centre…

…a ticket to the Saturday night finals, on the sixth row from the front…

…but most importantly, and following a complete re-write from scratch owing to my laptop finally dying on me, exactly at the moment that I was going online to e-mail it to my editor (memo to self: ALWAYS take a backup)…

my debut article for Slate magazine. I’m really rather pleased with it.

Update (2): Thanks to Luca for unearthing photographic evidence of the UK photo-shoot. I’m on the far left, and Daz Sampson (the UK contestant) is in the middle, wearing yellow. Click on “previous” and “next” for more.

Incidentally, I made my press conference debut later that day, asking Daz about his song’s co-composer: a member of the underground culty indie act called the Cuban Boys, who were big favourites of the late John Peel. He had been in a bit of a grumpy mood up until then, and the question seemed to cheer him up. One tries to do one’s bit.

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!

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!

More on the rehearsals.

If there are any Brits who are looking to spread their loyalties, then Turkey would be a natural choice, as nearly all of their humpy male backing dancers are either British by nationality or residency. (Yes, Chig’s been chatting them up.) They include a former dancer for Bananarama and Crazy Frog (the honour!), and a former member of some Pete Waterman protegés called Pop!, who had a few hits a couple of years ago. It’s the umpteenth lively number in a row, and so might get buried in the rush, but the disco-influenced dance moves are a source of some delight.

I didn’t stay long for Ukraine, but what I did see involved Cossack dancing, and a giant skipping rope. But hey, I don’t want to spoil all of your surprises.

Ah, Finland. Now, this is a one to watch. Think Slipknot fronted by Roy Wood, singing death metal vocals over a 1980s Bon Jovi-esque backing. Most of the band wear scary monster masks, and there’s a dramatic Costume Moment mid-song (involving wings), and there are fireworks. Big, huge, massive f**k-off fireworks. Which I missed, as they weren’t activated until the final run-through.

The guys over at the splendid OnEurope Livejournal are saying: Winner. Me, I can’t be sure – there was something awkwardly static about the performance, pyros or not. Still, the band gave easily the most entertaining press conference thus far, for which much thanks. (It’s been Platitude City, basically.)

The Netherlands press conference is taking place as I type. Deeply honoured to be representing our country, blah blah blah. I might be the new kid at school, but I’m quickly learning the drill. It’s a slight and over-repetitive song, delivered by a cutesome girl trio, with an acoustic guitar and… eek, wah… DRUMS.

Those of you who survived last years DrumFest in Kiev will still no doubt be scarred by the memories. It is therefore my pleasure to report that NO BIG DRUMS AT ALL have crossed the Eurovision Big Drum Embargo this year. Maybe they were all impounded at customs. Nevertheless, the Dutch girls have managed to smuggle in an extensive array of Little Drums. Scattered all over the stage, they are. Bongotastic. I don’t think this one will qualify for Saturday’s finals.

Back later!

First day at school.

So here I am, slightly overwhelmed and bewildered, nervously clutching my complementary satchel and stumbling around the Olympic Indoor Arena, here in sunny Athens. Lots of goodies have been thrust into my hand… shrink-wrapped DVDs which I might never play, press releases, party invites, timetables, etc etc.

Chig (who knows EVERYONE) is being very good, and introducing me to people at the rate of about once every five minutes. I barely recall a single name, but everybody is very nice. It’s interesting how, every time you’re introduced to someone, both of your eyes flicker down to the ginormous laminated passes that hang, medallion-like, somewhere around your navel. Checking each other out: so, where’s he from? Is he P1, P2 or FAN? Subtle hierarchies prevail.

As for me, I’ve been granted P2 accreditation. Full access to the open rehearsals and press conferences, but – alarmingly – NO access to the press centre, with its banks of PCs and modem points. That’s strictly for the higher beings with P1.

So, in order to communicate with the outside world, I am obliged to hunker down in the press conference area, which has a good strong wi-fi signal. It’s manageable, so long as the blessed laptop doesn’t start blue-screening. There’s no rhyme or reason to this: it can work like a dream for hours on end, then it can just start crapping out randomly all over the place. But ever since I uninstalled Norton Antivirus, there has been a marked improvement. Fingers crossed.

What of the rehearsals so far? Today, we’ve got the decidedly stronger second half of the qualifiers, which go out on Thursday night on BBC3.

Russia are represented by a pretty boy called Dima Bilan, with a mullet nouveau and amazing fawn-like eyes. Having (frankly) slobbered all over him in his Gay Times preview, Chig has been informed that his comments have been circulated the length and breadth of Russia, and that they are being taken as a great portent for success on Thursday. So, naturally, he was right down the front for the press conference – and right in place to catch one of Dima’s complementary pillows, branded with his image. Sweet dreams tonight for Mister Chig!

The performance involves rose petals, and a white piano from which a woman’s head mysteriously emerges. At least, I think so. There was a bit of a crush down the front, and my eyes were still adjusting to the gloom.

A word about the arena. It’s not overly huge, so even the folks in the cheap seats should get a decent enough view. The stage is modelled around a classic Greek ampitheatre design, with banks of descending steps that also serve as video screens. I’ve seen fussier stage designs in my time, but this is fairly simple and it works well.

Eek, Lithuania are on in the next room. ‘Scuse me, must dash. Talk to you later.

Snippets from the departure area.

1. Some light perusing of Slate (my new favourite website, for obvious reasons… see next post) has unearthed an excellent article: The Perils Of Poptimism (Does Hating Rock Make You A Music Critic?, by Jody Rosen. Having read an awful lot of over-inflated guff over the years about so-called “rockism”, its adherents and its “popist” opponents, it’s refreshing to find such a sensible, straightforward exposition of the seemingly never-ending row between music geeks of certain hues.

2. The caption competition! I never gave you the results of the caption competition! After careful consideration, the prize of Super Duper Posh Spa Resort Incense Sticks (Sandalwood flavour) goes to…

asta, for the caption which made K and I laugh the hardest and longest:

K: I’m sure I mentioned that getting a dog would be part of the contract.

Congratulations, asta. Your prize will be winging its way to Canada in a couple of weeks’ time.

3. Over in Athens, Iceland’s “kooky” Silvia Night is giving it the full Diva treatment: at the start of her press conference, she expressly forbade anyone to look at her while addressing her. This turned out to be no joke, as a hapless journo who breached the rule ended up being thrown out of the room by her personal security staff. Now, that’s the sort of behaviour we want to encourage. The spirit of tATu lives on, etc. etc.

Boarding in half an hour! Still very excited!

I AM VERY VERY EXCITED.

Well, this is a novel sensation.

While still basking in the warm afterglow of a wonderful holiday which ended just five days ago, I’m now feeling the giddy demob-happy anticipation of a second holiday, which starts tomorrow morning…

…when I fly to Athens, to spend eight days in the very epicentre of the mad media circus that is…

EUROVISION 2006!

This will be my fifth Eurovision, but the first one where I’ll be enjoying the benefits of press accreditation. This comes courtesy of www.slate.com, for whom I’ll be penning four daily dispatches, starting next Thursday.

The purpose of these dispatches will be to introduce and explain the Eurovision phenomenon to a mostly American audience, who know nothing of its manifold delights. This is particularly well-timed, since the NBC network have recently secured the rights to produce a US version of the contest, in which all 50 states will compete against each other. Let’s just hope they manage to preserve something of Eurovision’s essential charm and character.

My mentor for the week will be Chig, who has been representing Gay Times at the contest nearly every year since 1998. I couldn’t ask for a better guide – or indeed flatmate, as we’ll be bunking up together in an apartment for the duration. (I might also press him into certain fact-checking duties; he’s a notorious stickler for detail, and quite right too.)

The big worries right now are:

1. Will my level of accreditation grant me access to the press centre, which I could do with in order to file my copy? They don’t tell you until you get there. It could get ugly!

2. Will my dodgy laptop hold out for the duration? It’s perfectly well-behaved until I switch on the wi-fi, after which it has a nasty habit of blue-screening at random. My latest wheeze has been to disable the Norton Anti-Virus. Miraculously, it appears to be working a treat… so far.

If the wi-fi inside the Arena permits, then I intend to fire off some rough-and-ready hit-and-run blog posts from the rehearsals and press conferences – along with breathless reports of the parties, of course. (“OH MY GOD I stood RIGHT NEXT to the second Croatian backing dancer from the left! My life is SO GLAMOROUS!”) Well, one must be allowed an outlet for one’s untreated fanboy gush, as Slate are really rather highbrow (SHUT THAT DOOR, BELGIUM’S KATE RYAN!), and I shall be obliged to deploy at least some measure of objective detachment. (GO ICELAND! WE LOVE YOU, SILVIA!)

Yesterday, at the Retro Bar’s monthly “Douze Points” shindig, we watched the preview videos of this year’s entries, and cast votes in the traditional Eurovision jury-based manner. (Luca has the full results.) The winners on the night were Germany, who have fielded a sweet and mega-catchy country-and-western hoedown – but easily my favourite video came from Greece’s remarkably well-preserved veteran Anna Vissi, who served up a gripping mini-drama that had me clutching my sides. YOU SHOW ‘EM GRANDMA!

Despite the aforementioned post-holiday glow, it’s been a stressful rollercoaster of a week in many ways. I only had two days in Nottingham to unpack, turn round and re-pack, before spending two days back in Canary Wharf in advance of Athens. The morning after I arrive back at Gatwick, I’ll then be back in Canary Wharf for yet another full working week. I’ve therefore had to pack work clothes, play clothes and party clothes for a full sixteen days away. Why, I can barely lift my suitcase.

This was also the week that I learnt that I’ll be required to spend most of June working in London as well. I’m afraid that, in the heat of the moment, I might have used some unprofessional language. Yes, let’s leave it right there.

Today was a classic Canary Wharf day: lurching from Dear-GOD-this-is-the-toughest-gig-ever, WHY-did-they-hire-me, I’ll-NEVER-get-up-to-speed, my-brain-can’t-absorb-ONE-MORE-SCRAP-of-information, to oh-NOW-I-get-it, wow-I’ve-actually-got-something-WORKING, you-know-this-job-can-be-quite-FUN-in-a-twisted-sort-of-way. And thankfully, in that order.

Bloody Slate Dot Bloody Com, if you please! I am VERY excited. DJ DAZ TO BRING IT BACK HOME FOR BLIGHTY!

What a year, ladies and gentlemen. What a year.

Eurovision 2005: I don’t really do post-match reports…

…previews being my particular speciality, but I’d be interested to know what you lot made of last night’s contest. But while I’m here, some quick-fire observations:

1. The best songs on the night were mostly placed at the start of the draw, which made for a spectacular opening salvo. Indeed, several members of last night’s gang in front of the telly swiftly declared it to be the best contest ever.

2. However, there was a distinct tail-off in quality after the bangin’ granny of Moldova, followed by a dramatic slump after Serbia. This could only spell good news for Greece, whose entry shone out from the herd by comparison.

3. Although the level of chat in the room drowned out most of Wogan’s commentary, I did catch his lament that many of this year’s songs sounded indistinguishable from another. That would be the BOWEI (Blend Of Western & Eastern Influences) factor, then. It’s an Issue, isn’t it? And honestly, if I ever clap eyes on one more Big Sodding Drum, I’ll… I’ll… well, I don’t know what I’ll do. But it won’t be pretty.

4. The voting went on far, far too long. It was fine in the old days, when only the couple of dozen participating countries on the night voted – but come on, thirty-nine separate juries? Something needs to be done. Watching numbers float about on a screen for the thick end of an hour and a half is not many people’s idea of good prime time entertainment. Two of our lot fell fast asleep. Hell, even I started wilting a little.

5. I’m a bit worried about the potential fall-out from the “big four” countries (UK, Germany, France, Spain), who customarily stump up most of the dosh in return for automatic entry to the finals, finishing in the last four positions. Will they get the hump and start withdrawing their funding? Because the alternative – corporate sponsorship – would be a grisly prospect indeed. As I’ve said before: the day the event turns into the Pepsi Max Eurovision, hosted by Beyoncé, is the day I’ll lose interest.

6. There is, however, an obvious solution to the UK’s continuing dismal record in the voting. (All together now: POOR Javine!) And that is… devolution! If we adopted the football approach, fielding separate entries for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, then we could all block-vote for each other, and everyone would be happy. And why not throw in Lundy, Rockall and the Isle Of Man for good measure? Ker-ching! Sorted!

7. Nevertheless, and despite all the above grumbles, my ardour for Eurovision remains resolutely undimmed. So much so, that after two years of watching the contest on the telly, I find myself ready and eager to re-enter the fray. So, Athens 2006, then? I am like so there already. Try keeping me away.

Still hungry for more? Than why not gorge yourselves upon Anna Pickard’s live running commentary for Guardian Unlimited? (I’m involved in something similar, which will be appearing on Another Web Site in the fullness of time.)

Alternatively, you could check last night’s results on the official scoreboard – where you’ll notice that the UK’s only votes came from Ireland (English speaking), Malta (ditto), Cyprus (army bases) and Turkey (where Touch My Fire has been a hit).

I am now officially Eurovisionned out. Is there still a world out there? Maybe it’s time to step outside and smell the flowers.

(P.S. I am rubbish at making predictions. Worse than last year, in fact. See below for proof. Eight out of twenty-four? And I try to pass myself off as an expert? Pathetic.)

Eurovision 2005 finals preview.

God, but I’m a glutton for punishment. Here we go again, folks!

(Note: the performance pictures linked below to were all taken at full dress rehearsals, for maximum verisimilitude. More links will follow once the next set of dress rehearsal pictures become available. Nope, sorry: can’t find any fully costumed dress rehearsal photos anywhere. Guess we’ll have to wait and see on the night after all.)

1. Hungary – Forogj világ – Nox. (photo)

Artistically (ahem) speaking, the Magyar Riverdance will make a splendid start to the contest – although in terms of vote-gathering, being drawn first has probably scuppered its chances of landing inside the Top 10. Nevertheless, the clappity-clappitys and the tappity-tappitys still sound great, and the choreography is… well… Oh look, just forget the song and its earnest cultural aspirations (“ancient Hungarian pentatonic scales” be damned!), ignore the singer, and feast your eyes on the campest dance troupe this side of Bangkok. Particularly Madam down the front, who starts the whole thing off. (As Paddy O’Connell said in his semi-final commentary on BBC3: “I’m sure I’ve seen some of those boys out in London on a Saturday night”.) Who knew that hanging-out-the-washing day in Hungary was such a ritualised event?

Points: 84. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 12th. CORRECT.

2. UK – Touch My Fire – Javine.

So, it’s the old Slot Of Doom for Poor Javine, then. (No song drawn in second position has ever won Eurovision, you see.) There’s also the awkward matter of her chosen idiom, as that whole Blending Of Western & Eastern Influences schtick has been comprehensively done to death this year. So much so, that to save me repeatedly typing the whole thing out each time, I’m going to coin a new acronym: BOWEI. Do you think it will catch on?

Earlier in the week, I was loyally predicting Top 10. Now I think it’s fairly unlikely. (Don’t worry: we can still blame our continued unpopularity on that warmongering Blair fellow, just like last year.) No, what’s needed to save the day is another Nipplegate incident. Come on, Javine! Be a sport and pop ’em out, love!

Points: 77. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 22nd. INCORRECT.

3. Malta – Angel – Chiara.

The full-figured and radiantly lovely Chiara came within inches of beating Dana International at Birmingham 1998; it was quite literally down to the very last vote of the night. In the event, she finished third – and ended up spending a few years in a bit of a career wilderness, before bouncing back from obscurity with this equally sweet old-fashioned ballad. Although the song itself may not be the greatest, I’m anticipating a warm, sincere performance from Chiara, who does have an enviable ability of connecting with her audience. And there’s the nub of it: for all the gimmickry on display, most winning Eurovision performances retain an irreducible sincerity at their core. Pure showbiz cheese never does it, no matter how flashy the costumes. So I’m sticking my neck out, and predicting Top 5 for this one.

Points: 79. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 2nd. CORRECT.

4. Romania – Let Me Try – Luminita Anghel & Sistem. (photo)

In a contest stuffed brimful with Big Drumming, Romania’s answer to Stomp wins hands down for the Biggest Drumming of the night. Big huge f**k-off yellow oil-drums a-go-go! Even on the feet! Plus, in a possible homage to the avant-garde German metal-bashers Einstürzende Neubauten, angle grinders! Yes, the “sparks will be flying” in the hall tonight, with this “explosive” performance! (I shall refrain from passing comment on Luminita’s extraordinarily globe-like orbs, as I have already mentioned bosoms once, and you might start to get the wrong idea.)

Points: 73. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 3rd. INCORRECT.

5. Norway – In My Dreams – WigWam. (photo)

Well, what else is there left to say about these four spandexed hod-carriers d’un certain age and their fantastically exciting brand of 1980s stadium rock, other than WINNERS? (No, that’s really not Jessie “Kat Slater” Wallace on vocals. That’s a Norwegian fella called “Glam”.) Despite an annoying dip in sound quality during their performance, WigWam sailed through the qualifiers, increasing their popularity in the hall ten-fold by attaching a large orange flag to the singer’s microphone stand. (Orange being the colour of Ukraine’s popular revolution last December, you see.) Gesture of solidarity, or cheap stunt? I know which way I’m leaning. But still: WINNERS!

Points: 92. Prediction: WINNER.
Actual result: 9th. INCORRECT.

6. Turkey – Rimi Rimi Ley – Gülseren.

I’m going to have to quote Paddy O’Connell’s BBC3 commentary again: “There can be no ley without rimi rimi”. Will Wogan attempt a similar cheeky crack? Methinks not. No, he’ll probably stick to the tried and tested “whiff of the souk”, as per usual. For we are back on BOWEI territory here, as served up by the country who won the contest two years ago, thus kicking off the whole craze in earnest. Expect some seriously florid choreography here, along with some (yawn) very Big Drumming indeed. (Believe me, you’ll never want to look at a Big Drum again after tonight.)

Points: 69. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 13th. INCORRECT.

7. Moldova – Bunica Bate Toba – Zdob si Zdub. (photo)

I knew this was going to be good at the semis… but I didn’t know it was going to be ABSOLUTELY BLOODY FANTASTIC. Hell, even my long-suffering Europhobic partner K liked it. That’s a first! The promised “thrash-folk” turns out to be about eight parts thrash to two parts folk, with proper pogo-ing and everything, and as for the rock-a-beatin’ Granny herself… well, you’ll see. As the band themselves say: “I smile, I cry when I see that crazy baba, dizzy tempo dizzy, let’s go my music-mama!” (Oh, and is it me, or are they really singing about knickerbocker glories in the chorus?)

Points: 95. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 6th. INCORRECT.

8. Albania – Tomorrow I Go – Ledina Çelo.

BOWEI time once again, with most of the usual elements: the strings, the skirlings, the wordless chanting (“di di da, di di da”), the power, the passion… you should know the drill by now. Lyrically, this tells the tale of a trepidatious young bride bidding farewell to her tearful mother on the night before her wedding, in a manner that hints that she might not be entirely thrilled by the prospect. So much so, that you’d think she was being led to the guillotine rather than the altar. Although reports from the rehearsals have been fairly dismal, we should still at least try and offer some encouragement to plucky little Albania, who have only entered the contest once before.

Points: 50. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 16th. INCORRECT.

9. Cyprus – Ela Ela – Constantinos Christoforou.

My persistence is outrageous, you’ll be mine cause I’m contagious.” In other words, he’ll be all over you like a rash. We’re already onto the fourth BOWEI of the night, and what more can I tell you: same tempo, same ethnic skirlings, same Big Drums (if a little more muted than some), same wordless chanting (“ela ela ela la”)… so far, so formulaic. However, the Cypriot entry spells good news for those of you who have been impatiently awaiting the first appearance of that evergreen Eurovision rhyming couplet: fire (FYE-ya!) and desire (diz-EYE-ya!). Rest assured that it won’t be the last.

Points: 63. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 18th. CORRECT.

10. Spain – Brujería – Son de Sol.

Brujeria shares a producer with Las Ketchup’s The Ketchup Song – and my God, can’t you just tell, as this is to all intents and purposes Son Of Ketchup. And why not? The relentless jollity has been cranked up yet another notch, and the whole thing is enlivened greatly by the rambunctious brassiness of Son de Sol, whose vocals have an appealingly fishwifey quality: you’re not so much being invited to have fun as being nagged into it, and if you don’t jump to your feet this instant, then they’re not above getting the rolling-pins out. Besides, how could you not warm to an act whose spare time pursuits include “going to the beach, having drinks with friends, buying nice shoes and not worrying about the time when it comes to putting their make-up on!” My kinda gals!

Points: 74. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 21st. INCORRECT.

11. Israel – Hasheket Shenish’ar (The Silence That Remains) – Shiri Maymon. (photo)

One of the major surprises of the semi-finals was Glennis Grace’s failure to qualify for the Netherlands, despite a fine performance and some top-notch Big Arm Movements. (I had a great time mirroring them at home, and was going to suggest that you did the same; what fun we would have had together.) However, the biggest and best ballad of the night came instead from Shiri Maymon: a singer with the somewhat artificial look of a Mariah Carey, but with a vocal performance that comes straight from the heart. Proper singing, in other words; a scarce commodity in this section of the contest. As for the song: it’s an old-fashioned ballad with a desolately bleak lyric (you can read it in translation here), which describes the suffering at the end of a relationship almost in terms of a junkie going cold turkey. I voted for this on Thursday, and shall probably do so again tonight, as this deserves a strong placing which I fear it will struggle to earn. Philistines, the lot of you!

Points: 86. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 4th. INCORRECT.

12. Serbia & Montenegro – Zauvijek Moja – No Name.

Serbia surprised many people by finishing second last year, with a song whose title translated as “Lovely Fawn”. Which just shows that you should never discount the power of Balkan bombast (and, OK, a little bit of neighbourly block-voting) – especially when it’s served up with this degree of class. Sounding like a Slavic Walker Brothers, but looking like the fresh-faced kids next door, the incongruously youthful No Name deliver a splendidly brooding ballad, backed up with a fine orchestral arrangment, full of swelling strings, thundering kettledrums and gruff yelps of passion. “I’ll reach out for you across the Rocky Mountains, take you to my old stone house, and the sound of bells will rise above us and will meet the sky.” Ee, that’s poetry, that is. Two classy joints in a row? It can’t last, can it?

Points: 85. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 7th. CORRECT.

13. Denmark – Talking To You – Jacob Sveistrup. (photo)

No, I’m afraid it can’t. Denmark’s success in the semis was another big surprise – and try as I might, I just cannot fathom the appeal of this utterly routine piece of reggae-tinged jaunty pop. I can only suppose that it made a nice change after all the Big Drumming, gaudy costumes and over-egged dance routines on Thursday night. Anyway, special needs teacher Jacob seems like a nice guy, and as allegedly the first “out” gay singer since Paul Oskar in 1997 – married to his husband for the past five years, with an an adopted child – one feels a certain tribal kinship. But really, this is pants. Toilet break!

Update: Er, hang on. All that “out” gay/husband/adopted child stuff was actually in relation to last year’s Danish entrant, wasn’t it? That will teach me to recycle information from Saturday’s Guardian, then.

Points: 38. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 10th. INCORRECT.

14. Sweden – Las Vegas – Martin Stenmarck.

And you can take your time as well, because this is scarcely any better. Did it really knock out Alcazar, Shirley Clamp, Nanne Gronvall, Bodies Without Organs and Pay TV in the “Melodifestivalen” national qualifiers? Why, Sweden, why? Because this is pure cornball cheese: a showbizzy homage to Las Vegas, which tips a stylistic nod at Tom Jones along the way. Martin Stenmarck’s performance is slick and energetic, and is not without its supporters, but this just ain’t doing it for me. If you’re back from the loo early, then go and grab yourself something from the kitchen. And once again, there’s no hurry…

Points: 40. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 19th. CORRECT.

15. F.Y.R. Macedonia – Make My Day – Martin Vicic. (photo)

…because this equally baffling qualifier from the semis makes it three duds in a row, I’m afraid. Apparently, this is the one which really set tongues wagging in Kyiv throughout Friday, the question “WHY Macedonia?” practically bouncing off the walls of the press area. The usual arrangement of BOWEI clichés, basically. You can probably draw up your own list by now: gypsy flutes CHECK, nasty skirling indigenous pipe thing CHECK, invisible lesbian drummers CHECK, dramatic key change CHECK. Anyway, it’s the one about cuddly toys, sung by the “grandson of a famous bagpipe player”. Let’s hope he ditches that awful pink jacket, at least.

Points: 53. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 17th. CORRECT.

16. Ukraine – Razom nas bohato – Greenjolly.

Right, how long have you got? There was a lengthy article in Thursday’s Guardian about this, which tells you all you need to know about this song’s background as the popular anthem of December’s “Orange Revolution”. Basically, this is just one endlessly repeated rock-rap chant – “razom nas bohato, nas ne podolaty” – which translates as “together we are many, we cannot be defeated”. The overtly political lyrics, which originally mentioned President Yushchenko by name, have since been toned down, following a proclamation from on high that Eurovision songs should not be political in content. Nevertheless, they’re still pretty damned direct: “We won’t stand this – no! Revolution is on! ‘Cause lies be the weapon of mass destruction!” Hang on, didn’t Faithless sing something similar last year?

It goes without saying that this performance will cause flag-waving hysteria in the hall, and it therefore seems churlish to point out that the song itself is rudimentary at best, and therefore not destined to do well in the voting. But as emotionally charged moments go, these three minutes will take a lot of beating.

Points: 51. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 20th. INCORRECT.

17. Germany – Run And Hide – Gracia.

If this year’s Eurovision has one new musical trend, then I guess it has to be rock, with exactly a quarter of this year’s finalists being rock tracks of some description. Having said that, Run And Hide is basically Schlager-pop in rock drag, co-composed as it is by that irrepressible old hack Bernd Meinunger, hiding behind the newly adopted pseudonym of “John O’Flynn”. This will be the 13th German Eurovision entry in which Meinunger has had a hand, including 1982’s winning song for Nicole (A Little Peace) – and that’s not counting his work for other countries, including this year’s entry for Switzerland (see below). The man is an unstoppable force, basically.

The other German/Swiss co-composer, one David Brandes, has found himself in the centre of a hyping scandal involving this song, as a result of which he has been officially banned from travelling to Kyiv with the German delegation. Which is somewhat immaterial when you consider that he’ll be there with the Swiss delegation anyway. Ooh, I bet there’ll be tension in that Green Room tonight.

You’ll notice that I haven’t said much about the song itself. There’s a reason for that. Shall we just say “uninspiring” and leave it at that?

Points: 44. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 24th. CORRECT.

18. Croatia – Vukovi Umiru Sami – Boris Novkovic. (photo)

And back to the Baltic bombast we go. In 3/4 waltz tempo. With a man blowing into a haggis. And a deeply annoying “I’m mad, me” Big Drummer, who all but wrecks the entire mood of the song by coming to the front of the stage during its climax and doing a handstand. Ours not to question why. Not as good as the Serbian entry, but that choral work towards the end is really quite something.

Points: 65. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 11th. INCORRECT.

19. Greece – My Number One – Helena Paparizou.

It’s the bookies’ favourite! Helena was last seen in 2001, coming third with her band Antique, and the dare-I-say-classic (I Would) Die For You. Her performance was a bit on the sulky side that night, so let’s hope she cheers up for this infectious slice of prime-cut BOWEI goodness. Of the night’s six BOWEI songs (the others being the UK, Turkey, Albania, Cyprus and Macedonia), My Number One is the last and the best, tweaking that well-worn formula to perfection. Assuming you can bear to hear one more sodding gypsy fiddle, that is. Most importantly of all, its impact is immediate; none of that “grows on you” nonsense here.

This also marks the second FYE-ya! diz-EYE-ya! rhyme of the night – but where Cyprus was happy to leave it at that, Greece goes one better, tacking on a cheeky take me HYE-ya! for good measure. It’s little touches like that which make all the difference. To say nothing of rhyming delicious, capricious and vicious in the first verse. Take that, Cyprus! Not that any of this will affect the ritual swapping of the Greek-Cypriot douze points later on, of course.

Points: 78. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 1st. INCORRECT.

20. Russia – Nobody Hurt No-One – Natalia Podolskaya.

It’s Avril Lavigneski! Hang on, weren’t we cracking the same joke last year? Ah well, no matter. There’s virtue in consistency. Lyrically, this is a relatively high-minded attempt to discuss the American gun control situation, particularly in relation to the recent spree of high-school killings – an attempt which is somewhat undermined by its choice of “little Erica” as the song’s young heroine, purely because she rhymes with “America”. I started off hating this. I’ve softened up a bit since then, but Eurovision and “meaningful” still make uneasy bedfellows, and I can’t see this attracting more than the usual neighbourly block votes.

Points: 49. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 15th. INCORRECT.

21. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Call Me – Feminnem.

Right then. If your idea of a good Eurovision song is still “one that sounds a bit like Abba”, then this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. There are also strong echoes of 1999’s winning entry for Sweden, Charlotte Nilsson’s Take Me To Your Heaven, in this frothy, upbeat, happy-go-lucky confection. Yes, I suppose you can say that it’s “camp” – but I prefer my camp to be less clinically calculated than this. I know, how curmudgeonly. What am I, the gate-keeper of kitsch?

Still: full marks for calling yourselves Feminnem, I guess. Naturally, they’ve all got nicknames: Sexy, Baby and Fancy. See if you can work out which is which! And are they really singing “united in the song that fornicates”? Ladies, really!

It’s perhaps worth mentioning that a “leading musicologist” has been dredged up from somewhere, to run some sort of detailed “comparative analysis” on the Eurovision entries from all fifty contests. (And you thought I was a glutton for punishment?) His considered verdict: that Abba’s Waterloo is the most perfectly constructed Eurovision song of all time, and that Feminnem’s Call Me is the most perfectly constructed of this year’s entries. Academics, eh? What do they know?

Points: 70. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 14th. INCORRECT.

22. Switzerland – Cool Vibes – Vanilla Ninja. (photo)

How are you holding up out there? Chins up! The end is in sight! And here are Ver Ninje, come to lift our spirits with a little touch of neo-Goth in the night. “Why don’t you kill me?“, they chirrup. “Can’t you see we’re free to die?“, they trill, no doubt echoing the thoughts of thousands of long-suffering spouses and partners who are wondering why they didn’t go down the pub instead of staying in to watch this load of old nonsense. Could this pick up the protest vote from the silent majority? Or will it simply do well because Ver Ninje are actually an Estonian band, and will therefore unite both the powerful Baltic and Germanic blocks of voters? There are some shrewd tactics being played out there.

Points: 56. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 8th. INCORRECT.

23. Latvia – The War is Not Over – Valters & Kaža. (photo)

Good grief, Europe! What is wrong with you, that you should have voted this dismal dirge through from the Thursday night semis? Were you really charmed by the use of sign language in the middle – which, as the great Paddy O’Connell pointed out, ended up looking less like sign language and more like a Steps dance routine? Come on Europe – they’re playing you for fools! Listen to the lyrics! They don’t MEAN anything! It’s just a load of old twaddle strung together, that sounds vaguely “deep” if you don’t actually stop and analyse it! Trust me! I research these things so that you don’t have to!

Hmm. I think cabin fever might be setting in. This is, after all, the 58th “capsule review” that I’ve written for this year’s contest, if you include 10 for Time Out magazine and 25 for the semi-finals. I can hear the birds singing outside, the catmint in the garden needs cutting back, and I’ve not even shaved or brushed my teeth yet today, so great is my desire to get these things posted on the web before lunchtime. But hey, enough about me. Can I just point out that the young chap on the left is a dead ringer for Brie Vanderkamp’s not-gay-after-all teenage son on Desperate Housewives?

Points: 34. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 5th. INCORRECT.

24. France – Chacun Pense a Soi – Ortal.

With few natural allies to count on, France rarely do well in the contest these days – and it is therefore to their credit that they never attempt to play any of the more obvious vote-grabbing games, instead submitting worthy ballad after worthy ballad, year after year. This is more uptempo than most, with alleged Berber/Andalusian influences, and a lyric which wags a disapproving finger at the selfishness which undermines so much of today’s society. Unfortunately, the moral high ground is rather snatched from under France’s feet, as the distinctive Berber/Andalusian vocal inflections does make it sound as if they’re singing about shagging a man. Listen carefully, and you’ll see what I mean.

Points: 55. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 23rd. CORRECT.

My ten favourites:
1. Moldova (thrash-folk Granny-bashing)
2. Norway (slappers in spandex)
3. Israel (classy Carey)
4. Serbia & Montenegro (Balkan bombast boyband)
5. Hungary (clappity-tappity)
6. Malta (big and beautiful)
7. Greece (vicious, capricious, delicious)
8. UK (JaVIIIIIIne!)
9. Spain (Son Of Ketchup)
10. Romania (post-industrial angle grinders)

My predictions:
1. Norway
2. Moldova
3. Greece
4. Malta
5. Bosnia & Herzegovina

22. France
23. Germany
24. Albania

And that’s your lot for this year. Overseas readers can stream tonight’s contest atwww.eurovision.tv, or via the BBC, or – and I gather that this is a good strong reliable stream, if you can handle the Dutch commentary – at www2.songfestival.nl. Hey, you’d be mad not to.

Anna Pickard, she of the little.red.boat, will also be providing a live, minute-by-minute commentary on the Guardian Unlimited site – I’m not sure precisely where, but it should be easy enough to find. I dare say that there will also be a live rolling discussion thread over at I Love Music, which should be entertainingly snarky – “mach’ mit!”, as they say in Germany. I’m going off to shave and brush my teeth now. Six hours to go! Whoop!

Eurovision 2005 semi-finals preview: Part Three.

It’s been pretty good up until now, hasn’t it? Comedy metal, formation scratching, big brassy Bassey-eque belters, rockin’ grannies, oompah salsa, and more invisible lesbian drummers than you could shake a stick at. Unfortunately, things take a marked downward turn from this point on, and never really recover until… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So pour yourself another extra-large glass of whatever gets you through, and brace yourself for… The Boring Bit.

19. Switzerland – Cool Vibes – Vanilla Ninja.

Oh, how the mighty Ninje have fallen! Such delirious good fun two years ago, when Club “Kung-Fu”nearly qualified for Estonia, but just look at them now that they’ve defected to sensible old Switzerland: all grown-up and mature, and brandishing proper instruments like a Proper Rock Band, and coming over all “heavily influenced by Incubus” in their press releases, and… well, this isn’t the Ninje that we knew and loved way back when. As it is, Cool Vibes is a moody mid-paced rocker; not without merit, but far from what the girls are capable of. (Incidentally, the song’s two composers were also responsible for the German entry, which you’ll be hearing on Saturday.)
53 points.

20. Croatia – Vukovi Umiru Sami – Boris Novkovic.

Actually, this isn’t so bad. It’s high time we had some full-blooded, hairy-chested Balkan bombast, and this is a fairly respectable example of the genre. It lilts along in 3/4 time, with a chorus that fairly begs you to sway from side to side en masse, and is accompanied by the usual curious selection of indigenous instruments (including, unless my eyes deceive me, a man who looks like he’s blowing into a haggis). Nice open-throated choral work towards the end, as well.
65 points.

21. Bulgaria – Lorraine – Kaffe.

Not. A. Hope. In. Hell. Look, I don’t want to ruin all the surprises here, but guess what they’ve chosen as the key rhyme for “Lorraine” in the chorus? (Apart from “sweeter the pain” and “again and again”, that is. They’re a given.)

Answer: “the rain”. As in: “I can still remember Lorraine… in the rain.” Genius!

Marginally redeemed by some passable smooth-jazz inflections in its arrangement, I dare say this might have gone down well at a Rotary Club dinner-dance in 1978. As for the fast-paced international milieu of Kyiv in 2005… forget it.
33 points.

22. Ireland – Love? – Donna & Joseph McCaul.

All these years on, and the Irish television authorities are still terrified of fielding a song which might stand even a ghost of a chance of winning, just in case they get saddled with the expense of hosting the damn thing next year. (For those who might have forgotten, Ireland won the contest four times in five years during the 1990s.) Aren’t those credit card bills paid off yet? Couldn’t they hire Bono to front a Drop The Debt campaign? Because the grisly alternative is inflicting us with yet another bunch of fresh-faced provincial hopefuls, barely able to believe their luck, mining the same “enthusiastic amateur” seam as our own dear Gemini in 2003.

Oh, just slap me, will you. I’m being far, far too mean. The song itself may be dire, but you can’t help loving the two chirpy siblings for their eager, up-for-it, “we’re going to have the time of our lives, no matter what happens” attitude. Proper Spirit Of Eurovision, that is. Long may it continue.
47 points.

23. Slovenia – Stop – Omar Naber.

Speaking of enthusiastic amateurs, our next contestant has a day job as a dental technician – so he’s sure to put a gleaming smile on millions of faces tonight! (Sorry – I’ve been reading more press releases than are strictly good for me.) Penned by the writer of one of my favourite Eurovision entries ever, Nusa Derenda’s storming Energy (7th in 2001), this is stylistically very different but almost as dramatic, starting as a typical Balkan Bombast ballad before exploding in a hail of yowling rock guitars about halfway through. Although initially unimpressed, I’m slowly coming round to it. Or maybe it’s just that prolonged exposure to all thirty-nine tracks has warped my normal sense of aesthetics out of all recognition. (This usually happens. Hazard of the profession.)
57 points.

24. Denmark – Talking To You – Jacob Sveistrup.

From a dental technician, we move next to a teacher in a special needs school for autistic children. Which we applaud, of course. But sadly, our applause doesn’t extend to this unexceptional mid-tempo pop-reggae effort, which passes straight through us without leaving any trace of its existence behind. Rather like tofu, in fact. Buck up! Only one more to go!
41 points.

25. Poland – Czarna Dziewczyna – Ivan and Delfin.

If for no other reason, this deserves to qualify for the final purely so that Wogan can trot out that evergreen line: “Ah, the old melodian!” And qualify it should, as this has more life in it than the previous seven songs put together. Melding the aforesaid melodian with a breakneck gabba-techno tempo, a twanging Shadows-esque guitar break, lashings of gypsy campfire chanting, and a chorus which consists entirely of the word “laj” (pronounced “lye”), this is topped off by a camp-as-tits performance, equally camp pink and white outfits, and a final flourish of strategic costume shedding from Ivan himself. What more could any self-respecting Eurovision fan possibly want?
70 points.

My ten favourites:
1. Norway (comedy metal)
2. Estonia (formation scratching)
3. Hungary (Magyar Riverdance)
4. Moldova (rockin’ Grandma)
5. Lithuania (polished Scandi-pop)
6. Romania (drummers from Stomp)
7. Monaco (orchestral flourishes)
8. Israel (classy ballad)
9. Austria (arriba-oompah)
10. Poland (laj laj laj laj…)
(Not forgetting Glennis from The Netherlands and her Big Arm Movements: a certainty to qualify.)

Don’t forget: BBC3, 20:00-22:15 tonight. See you back here tomorrow for the next set of previews, in which I shall be coining a helpful new acronym: BOWEI.

Eurovision 2005 semi-finals preview: Part Two.

12. Estonia – Let’s Get Loud – Suntribe.

Long-standing readers will remember the excitement round these parts in the Spring of 2003, when the Estonian girl-band Vanilla Ninja came tantalisingly close to representing their country with the mighty Club “Kung Fu”. It therefore gives me great pleasure to report that the song’s composer, one Sven Lõhmus, has more or less re-created the magic with his latest bunch of young protegées, the wholly delightful Suntribe. Once again, Let’s Get Loud is a riotously rockin’, deliriously uptempo, “all girls together” slumber-party of a tune – but with the added gimmick of, wait for it, formation scratching. Yes indeed! Five crazy ladies + five turntables = one crazy-happy party! And you were thinking of escaping to the pub on Thursday night?

You know how with every Eurovision, there’s a Good Bit somewhere in the middle, containing many of the strongest contenders? Well, we have just entered the Good Bit.
85 points.

13. Norway – In My Dreams – WigWam.

From formation scratching to comedy stadium metal, as the four members of WigWam – the somewhat misleadingly named Teeny, Glam, Sporty and Flash – blend the style of The Darkness with the sound of Bon Jovi/Def Leppard, to eye-popping effect. Which could have been frightful, were it not for the undeniable power of the track itself, and the sheer entertainment value of the band’s performance. Avoiding the off-putting smugness which can creep into parodies of this nature (Stefan Raab, I’m looking at you), there’s a decidedly endearing quality to the sight of this bunch of slapped-up old bifters, galumphing about in unforgivingly clingy spandex. An absolute dead cert for the finals – and the more I hear it, the more I think it could go all the way on Saturday night.
86 points.

14. Romania – Let Me Try – Luminita Anghel & Sistem.

Remember how last year’s contest was all about the Big Drumming? Well, the beat is most definitely back, as our crack team of invisible lesbian boom-thwackers is wheeled out once again, for the first of many similar excursions. Combine this with Ye Olde Hi-Energye Disco, Ye Olde Trancey Synthe Stabbes, and Ye Tyme-Honoured Key Chaynge At Ye Ende, throw in Ye Sounde Of Ye Gypsy Pan Pypes for good measure, and you have all the ingredients for success.

Sorry, sorry… HOLD the invisible lesbian drummers, as the Romanians have provided their own troupe of big yellow oil-drum bashing hunks, rather in the style of Stomp. Such spectacle! Whatever next?
75 points.

15. Hungary – Forogj világ – Nox.

A Magyar Riverdance, that’s what’s next, as treat piles upon treat. Having done spectacularly badly at Birmingham 1998, Hungary promptly stropped off in a sulk for the next few years, only to return in 2005 with a serious contender that is certain to qualify. Unfortunately, with the rules of the contest dictating that no more than six performers are allowed on stage, Nox’s extensive dance troupe has had to be drastically trimmed down – but reports suggest that the choreography is still quite something. (If the vertical bunny-hops have been axed, then I shall be most vexed.) Anyhow, the song itself claims to “build a bridge between the ancient Hungarian pentatonic scale with the world of contemporary music”, and as such, its aspirations are to be applauded. Watch out for gypsy violins, genuinely exciting syncopated clapping and tapping, and those all important Big Drums.
84 points.

16. Finland – Why – Geir Rönning.

Whew, that was exciting. Do we all need the toilet now? Yes, I think we do. Now that the Good Bit is over and done, Finland are here to kill the atmosphere stone dead with this excruciatingly dull and “meaningful” ballad. Look, when has Eurovision ever successfully done “meaningful”, at least since Nicole’s A Little Peace swept to victory in 1982? Still, if you like your candles to be burning, while “winds of faith” are blowing and tears are “falling down like rain”, then this is the one for you. Just save my place on the sofa for when I get back, will you?
20 points.

17. F.Y.R. Macedonia – Make My Day – Martin Vicic.

When the best strapline you can think of for your singer is “grandson of a famous bagpipe player”, then you know you’re up against it. However, potentially the biggest problem faced by the Macedonians is the stylistic similarity between this song’s uptempo blend of Eastern and Western influences, and a whole clutch of others which are already through to the finals. And there’s the rub. Every key element of “Make My Day” – the gypsy flutes, the Big Drums, the Big Key Change, the ethnically skirling middle section – is more successfully deployed elsewhere, leaving nothing else to remember but some strange lyrical business involving cuddly toys.
55 points.

18. Andorra – La Mirada Interior – Marian van de Wal.

Jeezus, enough with the invisible lesbian drummers already! You’ve made your point! There’s the bar! This is only Andorra’s second year in the contest, but I’m sensing that the pool of available performers may already be running short, as they’ve roped in the owner of the local guesthouse to do the honours. From Saturday night after hours singalongs in the Lounge Bar, to a major international stage and an audience of millions, Marian has certainly come a long way – and one wishes her well, of course. However, I just don’t see this getting any further.
46 points.

Eurovision 2005 semi-finals preview: Part One.

(Note that these aren’t the same as the previews which I have written for this week’s Time Out magazine. Because that would be cheating.)

1. Austria – Y Asi – Global Kryner.

And straight away, with the very first song of this year’s contest, we strike “only at Eurovision” gold. Forget all of that “Fusion Of Eastern And Western Influences” stuff for a moment – there will be plenty of time for that later – and prepare instead to welcome a brand new musical genre: Cosmopolitan Karawanken Beat. And what’s that? Why, it’s a bold new blend of Cuban music with Alpine folk, of the oompah variety. Yes! You’ll be yodelling as you salsa with this heartwarming tale of cross-cultural love, as performed by a cheerful bunch of beer festival busker types. Check their website for Cosmopolitan Karawanken Beat re-workings of Like A Virgin, Something Stupid and Lady Marmalade, and marvel at the consistency of their trombone player (“well buff” according to strategically placed local sources), loyally parping out the same two notes over and over again.
71 points.

2. Lithuania – Little By Little – Laura & The Lovers.

Smooth, sleek Scandi-pop with a gleaming professional sheen, as put together by a predominantly Swedish team with telling connections to the mighty Alcazar. As for the abilities of Laura herself, I couldn’t have put it better than this quote from one of her songwriters: “The nuances in her voice are like the colours of the rainbow, sparkling with colourful tones and shades.” Blimey! Laura & The Lovers have also quickly endeared themselves to the press corps in Kiev, by handing out free condoms at their first press conference. Apparently there was something of a scrum. Which tells you a lot about the much vaunted “international party atmosphere” of rehearsal week.
80 points.

3. Portugal – Amar – 2B.

Historically one of the weakest countries in the contest (can YOU hum any of their songs from the past few years?), Portugal have made a particular effort to choose a strong song this year, ditching the usual public vote and opting instead to rely on a panel of experts. Consequently, and in stark contrast to its predecessors. Amar has a naggingly insistent and memorable chorus, if nothing else. (“Happy pretty way, happy shiny day, happy place to stay, we can hold it together!“) Oh, OK, let’s be cheap: there is nothing else. Except for an onstage back-flip, apparently. (But if you think that a mere back-flip is going to swing it, then you are sorely mistaken. The stakes are so much higher than that.)
52 points.

4. Moldova – Bunica Bate Toba – Zdob si Zdub.

Remember that squiffy sounding trumpet player from last year’s winning Ukranian entry, who appeared to be playing a different “tune” (if you could call it that) from everybody else? Well, I find myself wondering whether he has jumped over the border to neighbouring Moldova (making its Eurovision debut this year), in order to join up with this bunch of Raggle Taggle Gypsy-oh mentalists. Thrash-folk is the order of the day here, with this barely comprehensible ode to a Rockin’ Grandma who can’t stop a-bangin’ on her big bass drum. (And yes, fear not: the Rockin’ Grandma and her big bass drum WILL be appearing on stage. In a rockin’ chair, appropriately enough.)

This is also notable for what must be Eurovision’s first ever unequivocal drug reference. “Drain a bottle of wine, no need to smoke the leaves, by the end of that show you’ll blow yourself to bits.” Absolutely. Because why bother wasting time with boring old leaves, when you were all clearly OUT OF YOUR BOXES ON ACID WHEN YOU WROTE THE SONG? Love it. A real highlight.
83 points.

5. Latvia – The War is Not Over – Valters & Kaža.

After a rollicking first four songs, the pace slows right down for this gently strummed soft-rocker, performed by a couple of young men who have been playing music together since the age of two. Its closest antecedent is 2000’s winning song for the Olsen Brothers, Fly On The Wings Of Love (before it was turned into a helium-voiced Dance Anthem, that is), and the performers in question are even known in their native country as “the young Olsen Brothers”.

So, will this come as a welcome gimmick-free respite from all the back-flips and banging grannies and arriba-oompah-ing and general arsing around? Not a bit of it! Because Valters & Kaža have pledged to perform the song in sign language, so that everyone can understand its “universal message”. Which would be fine IF THE SONG ACTUALLY MEANT ANYTHING, instead of just being a sequence of random platitudes strung together to no discernible purpose. (There is also a cheap jibe to be made about the hearing-impaired being a natural constituency for Eurovision, but I shall refrain from making it.)
44 points.

6. Monaco – Tout de Moi – Lise Darly.

Having stayed away from the contest for twenty-four consecutive years, Monaco seem to be labouring under the delusion that there will still be a full orchestra in attendance on the night, just as there was in their glory days. (Five top 5 placings in eight years during the 1970s; not bad for such a tiny principality.) However, with the house orchestra having vanished for good after Birmingham 1998, Lise Darly will have instead to rely on pre-recorded playback for this admittedly stirring ballad, whose arrangement – full of pleasing rococo curls and neo-classical flourishes – will have a notably lessened impact as a result. Which is a shame, as – in musical if not in performance terms – this is the most accomplished ballad of the night.
73 points.

7. Israel – Hasheket Shenish’ar (The Silence That Remains) – Shiri Maymon.

…although this lovely effort from Israel, which may suffer by comparison in the draw, does come close to surpassing it. Indeed, Shiri’s impassioned vocal performance clearly outstrips Lise’s, with only a certain old-fashioned staidness of approach letting the song down. However, such admirable class and restraint in the ballad stakes will all be forgotten about in two songs’ time, as… well, you’ll see soon enough. But first, get the amyl out…
72 points.

8. Belarus – Love Me Tonight – Angelica Agurbash.

…as it’s Big Fat Gay Disco Anthem Time! Woo! Tops off! Podiums ahoy! Now, time was when stuff like this would be packing out the Top Five – but times have moved on, as the dismal failure of Xandee’s One Life in 2004 all too clearly demonstrated, and so I fear that Angelica will be struggling for promotion with this one.

I also suspect that 35-year old Angelica (“a woman who never hides her age”) might be a little more sensitive about such matters than her press people would have you believe. Take this quote, for instance. “The most important element of beauty is your inner world. Beauty comes from within. My face is a mirror of my soul. When bad feelings control me, I turn plain, wrinkles appear, the lines on my face become sharper. When I feel this way there’s no make-up in the world that can help me out.” Come on, Western Europe! Never mind all that trendy Make Poverty History nonsense! We need airlifts of top-grade cosmetic treatments to Belarus NOW!
67 points.

9. Netherlands – My Impossible Dream – Glennis Grace.

Lise from Monaco? Shiri from Israel? Over here please. Lovely ballads, both of you – but you may as well pack up and go home now, because here comes The Terminator. Now, with a name like Glennis Grace, you might be expecting some washed-up Dorothy Squires impersonator from what remains of the Northern club circuit. Instead, what you get is a full-on, industrial-strength, Grade A Diva Deluxe, of the Whitney Houston school, with one hell of a set of pipes on her, a precision-tooled “striving through the wind and the rain to MAKE IT ON MY OWN” belter of a song to match, Big Interpretive Arm Movements by the truckload, and a concluding Triumphant Backwards Head Fling to die for. (“Yes! I made it through to the end of the three minutes! My struggle is complete!”) She’s gonna walk this round, or I’m a Belgian.
58 points. (Because, after all that, I don’t actually care for it much.)

10. Iceland – If I Had Your Love – Selma.

Another abiding Eurovision tradition: The Fan Fave That Flops. Happens every year, and mostly to over-ambitious, slightly worthy numbers that score high on “impressive”, but low on “lovable”. And so it is with Selma, who came second in 1999 with a lot of people’s Favourite Eurovision Entry Ever, the admittedly mighty “All Out Of Luck”, and who is now being hailed as this year’s home-coming queen. However, all the leading positions in all the online fan polls in the world still won’t help her on the night, as If I Had Your Love is – whisper it if you dare – actually not all that good. Taking Britney’s Toxic as its starting point, this is all intricate Eastern strings, tightly orchestrated swoops and stabs, and impossibly complex stop-start polyrhythms – but for all of this sound and fury, it never quite knows what it wants to be. Just bloody well stay the same for more than five seconds, can’t you? What is this, Squarepusher?
60 points.

11. Belgium – Le Grand Soir – Nuno Resende.

I received a registered item in the post the other week. Well, not the actual item itself – come on, when does that ever happen? – but one of those dreaded little “while you were out” cards, full of supposedly helpful advice that is actually of no practical use whatsoever. There was, as usual, only one solution: an early morning drive out to the sorting office at the edge of town, through the suburban rush hour traffic, with K muttering and cursing at the wheel.

“This is SO DEPRESSING!”, he wailed. “I HATE having to drive through these bleak estates!”

We spend our lives, as you may have gathered, in something of a city centre/country cottage Luxury Bubble, from which we rarely have cause to emerge.

Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves at the depot. Five minutes after that, I was back in the car for the twenty minute drive back, tearing open the registered package.

“Come on then. What is it?”

I couldn’t speak for laughing.

“You’ll be so – SPLUTTER – glad you – SNORT – made this trip – BWAHAHAHA OMIGOD OMIGOD.”

“I shan’t be amused, you know. But you might as tell me, since we’ve COME ALL THIS WAY.”

“It’s a CD single of the – WHEEZE – Belgian entry for this year’s – GASP – Eurovision Song Contest! Shall I put it on? YES! I’m BLOODY WELL PUTTING IT ON!”

“Mike. I dare say that in other circumstances I might be capable of finding this funny. But this is not the time and this is not the… oh Jesus, it’s even worse than I thought.”

First toilet break of the night, this one. Big overblown soggy ballady thing, which gloops along at a funereal pace. But you’ll have to be quick, though – the next one’s a little cracker.
24 points.

(Many thanks for the CD anyway, Ïan. Sorry it won’t be Brussels 2006, though. Zed, have you heard this?)

Eurovision 2004 – act of closure.

Points arising from Saturday night:

  • Despite spending most of Saturday feeling Horribly Left Out, watching the contest on telly with six friends turned out to be almost as much fun as being there in person.
  • By the end of the evening, we had a few new converts to The Cause. One of them even wants to come to Kiev with me next year.
  • No, not K. Don’t be daft!
  • In fact, K bailed out early and went down the pub. No staying power.
  • He seemed quite sober when he left, as well. I repeat: no staying power.
  • Five of my predictions (see below) turned out to be accurate; fifteen were wrong, and four were “near misses”. And I have the temerity to brand myself an expert?
  • Nevertheless, I did at least predict the winner.
  • Although my own vote was cast for Sweden. Because Stockholm 2000 was the Best Fun Ever, and I fancied a reprise.
  • Sweden’s Lena Philipsson, those lyrics, and that microphone stand: she knew, didn’t she?
  • As I feared, most people in the room really did talk all the way through the German entry. It was with some relish that I pointed them towards my prediction on this matter.
  • Because – naturally! – I had already had printed copies of my predictions to hand. For the benefit of the group, you understand. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
  • What the blinking blazes was going on with all those votes for Serbia & Montenegro? (Literal translation of title: Oh My Fawn. Shades of Father Ted, we thought.) There were too many votes, from too many countries, for it be purely a case of “political” voting.
  • My take on the perenially thorny issue of “political” voting: it can get you so far, but no further. To get into the Top 5, you need to have attracted votes from right across the board.
  • Having said all that: why did Belgium’s One *punch* Life *punch* do so badly? We all thought it was great. Was this an anti-EU protest vote, directed at the mandarins in Brussels? It was all quite baffling; almost as baffling as Serbia coming second.
  • Actually, the Belgian chorus works even better if, instead of punching the air twice, you make two flicks of the head: first to the left, and then to the right. This works best of all if (unlike me) you have a floppy fringe.
  • Improbable hairdo of the night: France’s Jonatan Cerrada. (And let’s not even get started on the throat tattoo. Or the Interpretive Dancer on stilts.)
  • Or the Interpretive Gymnastics from Russia.
  • Lisa from Kent Cyprus blew it a bit, didn’t she? I’m putting it down to nerves; she was much better on Wednesday.
  • Not that this stopped the UK loyally awarding her 10 points, mind you. Funny, that.
  • Deen from Bosnia should have stuck with the tits-out costume from the semis; I suspect that his modesty cost him valuable points.
  • The First Annual Jemini Award for outstanding vocal performance goes to… Iceland’s Jónsi, who had us all howling in pain.
  • The Ruffus/Brainstorm Award (for songs/performances that would have stood up just as well in the “real”, non-Eurovision world) goes to… Spain’s Ramón. (Highly commended: Turkey’s Athena and Belgium’s Xandee.)
  • K and I were thrilled to bits when the “video postcard” between the UK and Polish entries showed the very same balloon that we flew in, four years ago, in Cappadocia.
  • That Russian spokesperson was a bit hoity-toity, wasn’t she?
  • Lorraine Kelly in Old Compton Street! Rah! Gay Pride!
  • Er… and didn’t the UK award maximum points to hunky Sakis “shekki-shekki-shekki” Rouvas from Greece? See previous point.
  • Did Wogan say anything funny? Because we weren’t really listening.
  • In Summer 1982, I studied in Kiev for a whole month. I can’t wait to get back there in 2005.
  • And that really is your lot for this year. Troubled Diva will now resume its normal, Eurovision-free service. Thank you for your forbearance.
  • Come on – why Serbia?

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 2.

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12. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Deen – In the Disco
If one ignores Croatia (and sad to say it, but many will), we’re now in the middle of the Rump Shaker Section, with Albania & Ukraine closely followed by darling little Deen and his pert little Disco Tits. As the week has progressed, I’ve developed an enormous fondness for Deen, whom I now view as the Poster Boy for the entire contest. For those of you who didn’t read yesterday’s comments, let me introduce him further:

Bosnia & Herzegovina entrant Deen arrived at his second Press conference with his pet rabbit, “Gabbana.” If that isn’t enough, Deen told eurovision.tv, one of the Bosnian & Herzegovina Delegation has a dog called “Dolce.”

Ever the fashion victim, Deen showed off his new, exceedingly tight hot pink “Vote Me!” T-shirt. If the message wasn’t clear enough, his dancers’ pale pink T-shirts said: “Vote Deen!”

“Pink is my favourite colour!” says Deen.

Deen says he loves the music of Beyoncé Knowles, Mariah Carey, Donna Summer and Kylie Minogue. “Kylie’s so sexy,” said Deen. “She’s like me!”

Deen was asked to describe his personality. “I’m totally crazy, very happy,” Deen said, spinning on his chair.

The world is a happier place with Deen in it.
Prediction: 4 to 7.
Actual position: 9th. INCORRECT.

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13. Belgium – Xandee – 1 Life
Whoop! Whoop! Second Gay Anthem in a row! If I were DJ-ing at one of the big parties in Istanbul this week (one can dream), this would make a perfect segue, as Deen’s Moroder-isms yield to Xandee’s trance-lite synth stabs. Indeed, it is almost impossible to listen to the chorus of this song without punching the air in the gaps after “One” and “Life”.

Shall we practise that now?

One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH*, living together
In one *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , let us be free
One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , you take my troubles away
Light up my dayyyyyyy….

The only trouble is: brutal, metallic gay anthems like this have a habit of floundering badly on the night itself. Unlike with Deen, there’s no redeeming warmth to win over everybody else.

The first time I play this out, it will be about one o’clock, and my dancefloor will instantly become one seething, exultant mass. The second time I play it, it will be nearly four o’clock; there will be about 15 people left, standing against the walls on their own, still forlornly trying to cop off with each other, but merely prolonging the inevitable solitary cab ride back to the hotel. The track’s throbbing energy will have frozen into a harsh, joyless echoing angularity, which…

Sorry. Where was I?
Prediction: early to mid-teens.
Actual position: a shocking, inexplicable 22nd. INCORRECT.

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14. Russia – Julia Savicheva – Believe me
As the sweat-drenched crowd settle back into their seats, the woman they’re all calling “Avril Lavigneski” strolls moodily onto the stage, ushering in The Dull Section (Apart From Greece). Feel free to talk amongst yourselves for a while.

Oh, the song? Well, it’s is a mid-paced plodder with slight soft-rawk touches, which never really goes anywhere.
Prediction: bottom five.
Actual position: 11th. INCORRECT.

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15. FYR Macedonia – Tose Proeski – Life
With Macedonia, it’s all about the scarlet ribbons. Watch closely, and you’ll soon see. Teen-goth Livejournal lyrics; a ruched cream creation which might once have graced minor Macedonian royalty; and no other points of interest whatsoever.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 14th. NEAR MISS.

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16. Greece – Sakis Rouvas – Shake it
OK, everyone – out of the kitchen, back to your seats, settle down and shut up – the totty’s on. Of the male and female kind, so everyone’s happy. The girls strip down to bikinis – Sakis tears his jacket off – and suddenly, there are more belly buttons than a man can shake a stick at. The “fire/desire” rhyme is merely the icing on the cake.

But – and I still feel that it’s a big but – the singing, my dears, is just all over the place. No breath control, that’s the main problem. As to whether any of Europe’s drooling millions will either notice or care – well, that’s quite another question.
Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual position: 3rd. INCORRECT.

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17. Iceland – Jónsi – Heaven
A strapping young man with great shoulder definition and a finely chiselled face delivers another carefully wrought Fan Fave ballad which, superficial philistine that I am, leaves me completely cold. Apparently, he wants you to “blend your colours with my blue“. But won’t that just reduce everything to a nasty green/purple sludge? I can’t say I’m persuaded.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 19th. INCORRECT.

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18. Ireland – Chris Doran – If the world stops turning
Now, as we all know, Ireland have been running scared from hosting Eurovision again for many years, following their financially crippling run of success in the 1990s. And so, yet again, they’ve shoved some well-meaning hopeful into a suit, plonked a row of indifferent backing singers behind him, squeezed everyone from his home town on a plane with unlimited supplies of booze (you should see the size of the Irish “delegation” every year), and saddled him with yet another turgid dirge which threatens to stretch three short minutes into five long hours.

(This one might be written by that guy who’s just left Westlife – you know, the one with the wife who won that I’m A Celebrity doo-dah – but that changes nothing.)

Yes, it’s a toilet break. Ireland, the emptying bladders of Europe will be serenading you tonight.
Prediction: bottom 3.
Actual position: 23rd. CORRECT.

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19. Poland – Blue Cafe – Love Song
Let’s play Consequences!
Esther Phillips met Men At Work in a tapas bar.
She said: “If I’m representing Poland, why do I have to break into Spanish halfway through?
They said: “Corazon! You forgot to sing Corazon! We’re doomed!
And the consequence was: bottom 5.
Actual position: 17th. INCORRECT.

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20. United Kingdom – James Fox – Hold on to our love
James Fox is, quite clearly, a thoroughly decent and personable fellow. Hold on to our love is, quite clearly, a vast improvement on last year’s Cry Baby fiasco. Bryan Adams is, quite clearly, a continuing major influence on aspiring young musicians the world over. And I am, quite clearly, smiling through gritted teeth.
Prediction: for once, let’s be specific. 14th.
Actual position: 16th. NEAR MISS.

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21. Cyprus – Lisa Andreas – Stronger every minute
In a strange twist of fate, the official UK entry is followed by a song written by a British composer, and performed by a 16-year old schoolgirl called Lisa, who lives in… Kent, actually. So, Cypriot in what way, precisely?

Let’s look it up. Lisa “lived in Cyprus for two and a half years as a small child“, and she “returns to Cyprus regularly to visit relatives“. So that’s OK, then.

OK for us Brits, that is. For I confidently predict that we will be queuing up to claim kinship before the night is through, as “our” Lisa sails effortlessly into the top three with a first-class performance. Streisand-esque, I think you’ll find. “With a maturity that belies her years”, they’ll all be saying.
Prediction: 2nd or 3rd.
Actual position: 5th. INCORRECT.

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22. Turkey – Athena – For real
Blimey, who let those rough-arsed ska-punks in here? An absolutely belting brassy opening – worthy of 2-Tone in its glory days – unfortunately gives way to a song which doesn’t quite live up to its early promise, topped off with a Bad Manners-style chant of a chorus which sounds suspiciously like “I wanna bring you off“. The home crowd are gonna go mental to this one.
Prediction: 4th to 8th.
Actual position: 4th. CORRECT.

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23. Romania – Sanda Ladosi – I admit
There’s something – well – a bit constructed about Sanda, isn’t there? Oh, but this contest is bringing out a side of me which I try so hard to suppress. You thought I was nice, didn’t you?

Although this might not be one of the more memorable songs, at least it has the virtue of paying a nod to contemporary trends in modern pop: R&B staccato strums here, Britney-style string skirlings there. Its late place in the draw will doubtless win it a good few extra points, provided that anyone can remember it after Turkey’s ska and the majestic brilliance which is to follow…
Prediction: 11th to 15th.
Actual position: 18th. INCORRECT.

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24. Sweden – Lena Philipsson – It hurts
At last! At last! The 36th song in this year’s event, and – counting the semis – the 46th performance, and we’re finishing with a good ‘un. Like Belgium’s One *PUNCH* Life *PUNCH*before it, It Hurts has Big Fat Gay Anthem written all over it – but where Xandee coldly rattles, Lena warmly embraces, with a singalong chorus that will have the queens beaming broadly from ear to ear.

As others have mentioned, this year’s Swedish song does appear to be a thinly disguised ode to an*l sex – especially in the chorus and second verse. I doubt whether this will exactly harm its chances. Lena, already a massive star in her own country, is promising to do all manner of suggestively charged things with her microphone stand, which she has brought over specially. I am also reliably told that she is… well… can we say “sex on a stick” here?

Ever since I first heard this, I’ve had it down as the winner. As far as I can see, its only serious rival is Ukraine’s Ruslana, with her Wild Dances. But when have I ever been right? (That would be 1998, then. Dana International. Bit of a no-brainer, that one.)
Prediction: definite top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 6th. INCORRECT.

And that, patient reader, concludes this year’s previews. I earnestly hope they assist you in your viewing pleasure tomorrow night. Next week, we’ll be back to normal. Until then, Happy Eurovision!

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 1.

(Preview videos can be seen here – then click on “Multimedia Lounge”.)

Er… you don’t think I’m in danger of doing this subject to death, do you?
Actually, perhaps it’s better that you don’t answer that.
On we plough!

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1. Spain – Ramón – Para llenarme de ti
You’ll need to get settled down fairly promptly this year, because the opening song is a sizzling Latino cracker; it’s well constructed, keeps its pace, and never runs out of ideas. Ramón is an undeniably comely young man, who has been getting certain people I know worked up into a right old lather. He also has the honour of being the first of this year’s contestants to intone the sacred words “mi corazon“, which come second only to “fire/desire” in the ESC lyrical pantheon. As the brass blares, and the invisible lesbian drummers swing into action at about the one and a half minute mark, you know that you’ve made the right decision in staying at home tonight.
Prediction: Top 10.
Actual position: 10th. CORRECT.

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2. Austria – Tie Break – Du bist
At which point, you may suddenly find yourself questioning that decision. On first hearing Du bist, I pegged it as the sort of leaden, dead-eyed ballad that is doled out to finalists in reality TV pop shows. Having said that, this would have struggled to make the grade on the Michelle McManus album. Hell, even Rik Waller would probably have turned his nose up at it. So hey, guess what? It turns out that this three-piece boy band were all finalists in the Austrian version of Pop Idol. Now, there’s a thing. Atrocious. Not even their spirited last-ditch attempt to corner the gay market can save them.
Prediction: Bottom 3.
Actual position: 21st. NEAR MISS.

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3. Norway – Knut Anders Sørum – High
Despite my pronouncement that Eurovision and soft-rawk make uneasy bedfellows, it has to be conceded that Kurt makes a much better stab at it than those unfortunate Latvian semi-finalists. A passable Bryan Adams facsimile, solidly delivered, which soars where it needs to soar, and basically makes all the right moves in all the right places. If you like that sort of thing.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 24th (last). INCORRECT.

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4. France – Jonatan Cerrada – A chaque pas
Like Norway before him, the French song is all about healing your wounds, stepping forwards into a bright new tomorrow, the redemptive power of love, et cetera et cetera, and so we remain on similar emotional territory for a while longer. Like so many French singers before him, Jonatan (winner of the first French Pop Idol; is a pattern forming already?) is once again given an elegant, stately, timeless French ballad to perform. And as always, it is destined to languish in mid-table; admired by the “bring back the orchestra” fan brigade, ignored by the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like here.
Prediction: early teens.
Actual position: 15th. NEAR MISS.

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5. Serbia & Montenegro – Željko Joksimoviæ – Lane moje
Ah, the old pan pipes. Just thought I’d get that in before Wogan does. Because you know he will. The first song from the semi-finals to qualify – and, for me, quite a surprise to see it get through. This also means that it’s the third time I’ve had to write about it this week – and, frankly, I’m running out of inspiration. This was well sung on Wednesday night, and should finish respectably.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 2nd. INCORRECT.

Now, here’s a thing. Of the opening five songs, no less than four are sung in their native language, with only Norway settling for English instead. Whereas from this point on, all of the remaining songs are sung in English, with only a brief snatch of Ukrainian in Wild Dances, and – bizarrely – a brief snatch of Spanish in the Polish entry. Apparently, this is the highest percentage of English language songs to date. I think we’re in danger of losing something rather precious here; don’t you?

So, as the Indigenous Authenticity Section draws to a close, we move into the Oh How Sweet Section, with a run of fresh-faced little ditties that, depending on your pre-disposition, will either charm your socks off or curdle your blood.

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6. Malta – Julie & Ludwig – On again…off again
In an unusually male-dominated contest, the Maltese entry marks the first female lead vocal of the night – although there is still quite a way to go before our first female soloist. Cheesy operatics are the order of the day, as a shuffling 125bpm beat almost makes you want to start wiggling your hips. But not just yet. Watch out for that extraordinary middle section, as Julie takes over the operatic role – and watch also for a rather smarmy peck on the shoulder at the end.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 12th. INCORRECT.

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7. Netherlands – Re-union – Without you
Acoustic strumming, old-tyme Frank Ifield/Karl Denver yodelling, but unlike the semis, this is a poor place in the draw for the rather raddled looking Dutch duo, who will struggle to be remembered by the end of the night.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 20th. INCORRECT.

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8. Germany – Max – Can’t wait until tonight
After three semi-final qualifiers in a row, we come once again to a new song, and one which divides opinion. Some will love it; some will loathe it; some will talk all the way through it and go“which was the German one again?” at regular intervals during the voting. Me, I love it: a genuinely soulful ballad, with something of the early Café Bleu era Style Council about it. Max isn’t exactly the prettiest of tonight’s contestants, I grant you – but remember, it’s a song contest, right? (It is axiomatic that every third or fourth posting to every Eurovision fan forum will haughtily remind you of this fact, palpably false as it is.) Minus five points for singing “my lady” with apparent sincerity, though.
Prediction: a very tough call indeed, but I’ll say just outside the top 10.
Actual position: 8th. INCORRECT.

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9. Albania – Anjeza Shahini – The image of you
After just one new song, we now have another run of three qualifying semi-finalists. I recently heard the original four and half minute version of this song, and cannot believe how much it has been improved since then. They’ve edited it down, speeded it up, added a gospelly backing, and turned a ropey old screecher into a miniature classic, which progresses from soft ballad to out-and-out belter in not much more than a minute. My big worry here is Anjeza’s vocal performance, which was dangerously ragged on Wednesday night. However, it’s the first song since the opener that will get the crowd on their feet, and as such will make a nice warm-up for the next act.
Prediction: 5 to 10.
Actual position: 7th. CORRECT.

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10. Ukraine – Ruslana – Wild Dances
Enough with the winsome sweetness; let’s ramp it up several hundred notches, with leather, whips and Big Big Drumming that would test even the toughest of lesbian drumming troupes. As for Ruslana herself: who says that Eurovision has no appeal for heterosexual males? Lads, she’s gorgeous! Possibly the most Total Performance of the night. If the rumour mill in Istanbul is to be believed, this was the runaway winner on Wednesday, and quite rightly so.
Prediction: definite Top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 1st. CORRECT.

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11. Croatia – Ivan Mikulic – You are the only one
For many of us, this was the biggest shock result of the semi-finals. Those of you drinking pints might be advised to use these three minutes wisely. (The rest of you should try and hold on for another seven songs.) Undeniably well sung, and I’m certainly not averse to a bit of butch Balkan belting, but this resolutely fails to do it for me.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 13th. INCORRECT.