Pete Waterman. Oodathortit.

Pete Waterman So. Pete Waterman. How very kind of you to volunteer for this exacting role. You will be under the spotlight of up to 600 million viewers worldwide. Even more arduous, you will be nitpicked by UK Eurovision fans in their tens. Maybe even hundreds.

I’ve seen your CV. It’s pretty impressive. I note the first hit single you were involved in was “Rock and Roll Parts One and Two” by Gary Glitter. I’m not going to say anything inappropriate about that at this time.

Gary BarlowLooking to the future then, you have a big act to follow. Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber is a very well known composer. I would venture to suggest he is actually more known worldwide than you are. Another slight problem is that you are not Gary Barlow. We were all expecting him, you know. So were half of Europe. But let that not be a problem for now. The big question is the song.

For last year, although Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has written “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “The Phantom of the Opera” and surely his crowning glory “He Whistled at Me” from Starlight Express, he didn’t deliver a song of that stature last year.Rick Astley Most Eurovision fans agree that “It’s My Time” had probably been mouldering at the bottom of a drawer for ages as he realised it didn’t fit in to any of his musicals.Kylie Minogue So the big issue for this year is PLEASE WRITE A DECENT POP SONG and not give us something that was Xeroxed in the 1980s and has been lurking in some dark cabinet until now. Give us a “Never Gonna Give You Up” or an “I Should Be So Lucky” and not a “Success” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik (never heard of it myself but apparently you were responsible for this in 1988).

I do have some concern also that you apparently revealed your involvement with the UK Eurovision entry on your radio show last week. It’s very concerning that no one picked up on this fact – so either, no Eurovision fans listen to your show (in which case are you the kind of person to give them what they want), or no one cares about the UK Eurovision entry (that can’t possibly be true, can it…), or that no one actually listens to your show anyway (which can hardly be a vote of confidence either.)

I do wish you well. I really really do. I really hope you are closely involved in the procedure to select the performer(s) – whatever that procedure may be as we still haven’t been told. I am sure you aren’t the kind of man who would put a lot of effort in to a project only for it to be second-best, a disappointment, an underachievement, a failure. So put that effort in; don’t allow yourself to be swayed by any negative impressions of “Eurovision”; do it from the heart; make a dream come true. Impress the televoters and juries of Eastern Europe; make us all proud. I am optimistic that you will do all that we require of you.

And welcome to the Eurovision family.

2010 Eurovision songs I like so far

Many parts of Europe have been getting their backsides into gear to start selecting their Eurovision entry. UK – not yet, quelle surprise. Here are just a few songs that I’ve heard in these preliminary stages that I have really enjoyed. I think they have all already failed to qualify or are unlikely to qualify for Oslo – such is the way of the world when it comes to choosing your Euro representative.

In Iceland, microphone problems combined with some high-pitched squeaking put an end to the chances of this little gem. A disco number where Iceland met Turkey but more in terms of grocery shopping rather than national pride.


Also from Iceland, a nice guitarry sound from a group that maybe didn’t come across as having an exportable identity, but nevertheless satisfies the inner soul musically.

And a more upbeat Icelandic group entry, one that cannot fail to bring a smile to your face. (Well it does to mine.)

In Norway, there is a song through to the last chance saloon round that whenever I hear it I cannot get it out of my mind for hours. I would have thought that was a good thing for Eurovision. It’s done well in the charts there too.

I’m fond of this one too, sung in Norwegian, which may not be to its advantage in Oslo but might make it stand out to the local crowd when it comes to making their Big Decision.

Alexander Stenerud has another song in the Norwegian final and I don’t think it has the same dramatic intensity of Find My Girl, with which he failed to go to Moscow, but it’s certainly enjoyable and entertaining.

The Swiss entry has been announced; it has a certain charm, and I enjoy hearing it at the moment, but I don’t think it’s going to bring Switzerland to the forefront of Musical Note.

I know I have omitted a number of entries that might be considered to be “fan favourites”, but these are the ones that have given me most pleasure so far. I’m also a bit behind on hearing songs from outside the Nordic areas, I admit. I think my favourite from this bunch is “Yes Man”. What’s yours?

Photography Assignment No 1

OK so this is the plan. Part of my New Year’s Resolution to be more creative, of which this blog is a product, was to improve my photography skills. I want to do more than just take holiday snaps. I quite enjoy doing that, and fortunately we tend to go to interesting and inspirational places so that basic snapping skills can make for a good picture.

So in discussion with Mrs Chrisparkle, we formulated this plan. Every month I would be given or choose a theme and I would spend odd moments and opportunities in that month take photographs illustrating that theme.

Merry Christmas NorthamptonOn December 31st I was given the theme for January and it was a simple one, “Aspects of Northampton”. I live in Northampton, so I didn’t have very far to go. Basically, the assignment was just to take photos of around and about.

I took lots in the first week of January, but I confess my photographing has somewhat dried up somewhat since then. Anyway my first “Portfolio” is now available as a set on Flickr . Flood DefencesPlease feel free to take a look at it and let me know what you think. Personally, I don’t think it’s sensational, but it’s what I saw on those few walks around town. There’s still over a week of January left, so I may well add to it.

In the meantime, if anyone has a bright idea (and practical for someone with limited skills!) for my February theme, please tell me!

Review – Natalie Clein plays Dvořák, RPO, Derngate, Northampton

Natalie Clein plays Dvořák Our wonderful local theatre, the Royal and Derngate, has this subscription season for a bunch of concerts by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We’ve subscribed to four of them. One was last November, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1. The Bruch was good but with the Beethoven, though enjoyable, the chorus was a bit ropey, the conductor (Nicolae Moldoveanu) way over the top and the whole performance so fast and frenzied that I thought some of the subtleties might have been overlooked.

Fast forward then to Sunday and “Natalie Clein plays Dvořák”. This actually misrepresents the evening as it was but one part thereof. We started off with the Ruslan and Ludmila Overture by Glinka, a piece of music described in the programme as “fizzy”. An apt description, with violins seething like a disturbed wasps’ nest, and the kind of tune to get you into a party mood. Albeit a classical party.

Then on came Natalie Clein, winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1994, Classical Brit Award for Young British Performer of 2005, and the first ever British winner of the Eurovision Competition for Young Musicians. I know all this to be true, because it is taken from her biography in the programme. And that must be true too, as it has been lifted from Wikipedia.

We were to hear Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Natalie Clein From the moment the orchestra strikes up, you are in instant Dvořák territory, somewhere between the New World and a Slavonic Dance or two. I had a fantastic eyeline to Natalie Clein’s most expressive face. She suffered every moment of Dvořák’s angst. She fought with a dramatically wispy bit of hair that kept flinging itself over her eyes as if to enhance that Bohemian gloom. I know that she looked at me too. She saw me appreciating her angst and her eyes said, “Enjoy the angst – it’s good angst, I’m doing it for you”. It wasn’t a perfect performance; she clattered the bow across the edges of the cello a few times in the first movement (I’m no cellist but I’m sure it wasn’t intentional) and kept on fiddling with her tailpin as if she wasn’t comfortable with its stability. But by the time we had reached the Adagio it was fluid and searing and telling and moving. We were part of a well-behaved audience so you could hear every bit without coughing fits. I had that feeling of “great privilege to witness it”.

After the interval it was Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. I confess I have never really got to grips with Beethoven. I think it’s something to do with the fact that, as a child, the second classical album I was ever bought was Beethoven’s 9th (and 8th) Symphonies – a double album, with Beethoven’s 9th stretching over the first three sides, and the 8th on the fourth. Something about this offended my sense of sequence. I was annoyed that the 9th came before the 8th. So, like the big-headed little git I was, I insisted on hearing the 8th before the 9th. And I don’t think it impressed me much (I was probably 7 at the time.) Thus I went off Beethoven.

But the bits of Beethoven I have encountered since then I have largely enjoyed, and few as much as the 7th Symphony. But this number-blindness with Beethoven also means I can never remember which tunes are in which number symphony. So I settled down for this performance without knowing what to expect. The programme notes referred to the extremely popular second movement, the Allegretto, and I tried hard to recollect it.

At this point some horrible sound emanated from the stage, and Mrs Chrisparkle and I caught each other’s eyes in agreement that one of the trumpets had suffered an unfortunate slip of the lips. However, then, like good children, they settled down and played nicely. But it wasn’t until the Allegretto started that I remembered it. It’s one of my absolute favourite pieces – I let out what I think was a far too audible sigh of pleasure as it got going and the tears welled up. It’s just one of those tunes.

And from then on, they didn’t put a bow wrong. They were really tight, really together, made a glorious stirring noise throughout and we loved it. Garry Walker Never before have I noticed Mrs Chrisparkle beating out a rhythmic tattoo with her hands at a concert like she was last night. And I have to commend the conductor, Garry Walker. Dressed in a short velvet jacket and black trousers (the lady on my right let out an “Ooh he’s been to Oxfam” when he first appeared), he let the orchestra be the star. He had this admirable ability to keep total control of the orchestra with minimal movement. He was so undistracting. Only occasionally, when really excited, he did a rather endearing little dance on his podium. The other star was Beethoven, who I think was the recipient of most of my applause at the end. At the end of the first half, Natalie Clein had given a short encore which she said was dedicated to Garry Walker’s new daughter, born approximately ten hours before the concert. Wow. So, he must have been knackered too.

My only slight criticism of the programme was that there was nothing really to challenge the listener – nothing cerebral, brave, ambitious and ultimately disappointing. It was just scrumptiousness followed by bliss and ending up with sheer delight. But I wouldn’t hold that against them. As Mrs Chrisparkle reminded me, “we are in The Provinces”.

And so it was that we didn’t sleep much last night, as sensory overload wouldn’t let go of our brains. I trust an evening in front of the TV tonight will put paid to that.

Review – Sweet Charity, Menier Chocolate Factory, London

Sweet Charity We always automatically book for all new productions at the Menier, because you can be guaranteed a great night out. Or in our case, afternoon, as we like to go on Sundays, maybe have a mooch around the Tate Modern earlier on, then come back home and have a meal at our favourite Indian. Lovely.

And with Sweet Charity, once again the Menier can chalk up a most palpable hit. How do they do it?! I wasn’t familiar with the show, not seen the film, but of course knew the famous songs and it’s always fascinating to put show tunes that you’ve known since childhood into their original context.

I always associate Big Spender, for example, with Shirley Bassey. A bold, brassy, come-on number, full of sassy sexiness and allure. I had no idea it was sung by a bunch of desperate, sad, bored, “hostesses” looking for some income. And it has terrific impact on stage, especially if like me you were in the middle of Row AA with nothing but legs and cleavages to attract your attention.

Rhythm of Life is another standard from this show, and this one I associate with Sammy Davis Jnr from some American 60s Saturday night TV thing. I didn’t know it was the “hymn” from a hippy “Church”, more like something from Hair than a teatime variety treat. The cast do a fantastic and humorous job of suggesting drug-induced fun and make you wish you were a tearaway teenager circa 1967.

It’s full of comic highs, like Charity being stuck in a (fortunately) see-through wardrobe, generously observing what she hoped would be her new boyfriend having it away with his old girlfriend. Sounds a bit seedy put like that but it isn’t really. She’s just a realist.

Tamzin Outhwaite Tamzin Outhwaite is excellent as Charity, full of energy, a smile that no disaster can extinguish, top quality singing and dancing and heaps of fun. Josefina Gabrielle The rest of the cast is great too; I was particularly impressed with Josefina Gabrielle who is voluptuous beyond compare and perfectly cast. The band are (and I only use this word sparingly) fab.

The only downside was having to share the front row bench with two fat people. Not in our company, obviously, but two or three people to Mrs Chrisparkle’s right. If you’ve not been, the Menier do have allocated seating (which is great) but they are numbered spaces on a bench, so if a fat person sits down first, you are left struggling to find places for both buttocks. Fortunately, even though Mrs Chrisparkle has retained her wonderful svelte shape, it meant that I had to sit with one shoulder about eight inches off the back rest so that the man to my left had some space, and when I asked Mrs C if there was any chance of her budging up a bit she told me any closer and then man to her right would have his nose in her tits. That Swiss Finishing School was such a bonus.

We didn’t complain about the seating. It was a full house and you couldn’t really give the fat people 7 minutes to go on a crash diet. You only have one life to live, so make the best of the 150 minutes you have been given to enjoy Sweet Charity as it’s a sellout, so you won’t be going again. Although I have heard a rumour that it might be transferring to Wyndham’s in April, so if you haven’t already booked for the Menier season, you might still be in luck.

It’s that time of year again and I am officially excited

Eurovision The Eurovision Song Contest. Let’s look at it objectively. It’s probably the world’s largest live light entertainment show. Up to 600 million viewers according to some estimates. And with its being broadcast online since 2000, it additionally has a very large number of people following it in countries where it is not televised. It has given ex-Soviet states a chance to shine on the global stage and certainly contributed towards the Baltic States growing closer to the rest of Europe. It has created stars in the world of music. You know their names.

Let’s look at it from the heart. It’s an opportunity for all those countries who used to go to war with each other to vie for superiority, to do so safely from the pizzazz of a glitzy stage. Games without frontiers, war without tears. It’s a feast for the senses – an overwhelming amount of colour, light, sound, audience, competition – it’s live, it’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s emotional, it’s just a marvellous, wonderful thing.

And although it’s just light entertainment, it deserves to be taken seriously. Not po-faced: that’s not entertainment. Not anorakky: that’s alienating. I simply mean treat it with the same respect you would have for any other Saturday night entertainment show. Don’t deride it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Unfortunately I think the BBC over the years has simply come to the conclusion that it doesn’t know how to deal with it.

Graham Norton Last year could have been a turning point but I fear we’re not going to capitalise on the extra interest it created. Graham Norton was a vast improvement on Terry Wogan. He still made it funny, he still stuck the critical boot in where it was needed; but at the same time he did show that he had done some research, did give relevant background facts about some of the people appearing, without being an anorak about it. We had a pre-selection contest that had been well trailed (with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “People of Britain” broadcasts), conducted over several weeks, eliminating contestants X-Factor/Pop Idol/Strictly/Maria style, sweeping the UK viewers along with it and encouraging, legitimising their enthusiasm for the contest.

By this time last year we were well into the pre-selection period. But what of this year? This year we have only just started watching “So You Think You Can Dance”, and it’s no doubt got a few more weeks to go. Eurovision, that show that only clocks up 600 million viewers, has been sidelined again.

I feel the BBC don’t know whether it is something to be taken jokily, whether it deserves to derision heaped on it, and to mock its followers; or whether they think it has any credibility and should therefore be supported, promoted and financed – not only their contribution as one of the “Big 4” but also financing a big lead up pre-selection series.

They should also take responsibility for our subsequent performance and our result. No more of this blaming Europeans for our disappointing results. How much more assertive and productive to say, “We chose to put forward this song, this singer, it was the wrong choice, we offered the public the wrong options, we didn’t approach the right performers and writers and we didn’t publicise it sufficiently – it’s our fault and it’s up to us to put it right”. How unlike the usual Eurovision moaning, which admittedly came mainly from Terry Wogan, but which the corporation seemed to lap up with glee.

Quite rightly, many Europeans think of the UK as the birthplace of great music. This year they will be thinking Lily Allen, Robbie Williams, The Killers. When we send someone considerably below that level of entertainment value they get annoyed with us. Andy Abraham In 2008 Russia sent Dima Bilan. UK sent Andy Abraham. Je reste ma valise. And yes, I know, people will say Lily Allen and Robbie Williams won’t enter because they’ve got “too much to lose”. But surely the same applied to Dima Bilan and Patricia Kaas, and probably at least half a dozen others over the past few years. There’s also “an awful lot to gain”.

Oh and look at the top 5 last year:

1) Norway
2) Iceland
3) Azerbaijan
4) Turkey
5) UK

That has to put paid to the argument that only the East wins nowadays because “they all vote for each other”. Three of the top five are from the west. In the past few years the winning song has been one from the East that has appealed to voters from the West. Javine Last year it was reversed, a song from the West that appealed to voters from the East. But that appeal has to be subtle. Much as I enjoyed the charms of Javine in 2005, her song was trying to be Turkish. Norway’s winning song this year had an instant appeal, but it wasn’t trying to be anything other than it genuinely was, upbeat, from the heart, honest. Iceland’s highly regarded song that came second was as simple and honest and straightforward as it is possible to be. Me, I couldn’t write a song for toffee, so I plead with you Eurovision songwriters out there, just write a good song. One you can be proud of to stand alone as a good, honest, lovely song. It’s good songs that win and are remembered.

Phew! That’s a lot off my chest. I only say it because I care. I care very much how the UK perform in the Eurovision. I want us to be proud of our entries; to be able to say that we offered the rest of Europe the best we had. Other countries do. We used to.

And I should add that we don’t yet officially know what the BBC propose for this year. They might surprise and delight me. I really hope so. But if it is a megastar it would have been great to have known earlier. The excitement would have been building around Europe too and that could only have been to our advantage.

Why I am leaving the Celebrity Big Brother House

Big Brother Camera Day Seven in the Celebrity Big Brother House and I’m that cheesed off with it that I’ve decided to stop watching.

To be fair, I think I’ve been a loyal Big Brother watcher for far too long now. I was really fascinated and excited by the original concept and those first few series had a definite punch to them. Do you remember when Craig cornered Nasty Nick for being a hypocrite and game-playing? The world watched with shock and awe. TV schedules were hijacked. It was riveting stuff.

Then they started doing the Celebrity versions. They were briefer series, pithier. Half a dozen celebs went into the house on a Saturday and they were all out again a week later. We saw Chris Eubank being as eccentric as we thought he might be; Anthea Turner teaching us how to change a duvet cover with one hand; Mark Owen coming back into the limelight; Les Dennis going through personal problems; Michael Barrymore trying to wheedle his way back into the public’s affections; Anne Diamond needing to lose weight; Jack Dee being Jack Dee.

I’m not naturally attracted to the Cult of Celebrity. But those people were interesting to observe. For one thing, I’d heard of them. For another thing, many of them were funny.

And so we come round to this series of Celebrity Big Brother. Stephanie Beacham, yes, is a celebrity, a well known actress with a touch of glamour, a persona that you think “how will she cope”, and the possibility of some amusing interchanges with house mates. Vinnie Jones – I have also heard of him. He was a footballer. He did a film. I don’t go to the cinema. I now realise he has made loads of them. He had his 45th birthday in the Big Brother House. I was delighted to realise that though I am older than him I look younger.

As for the others, I genuinely haven’t heard of them. Some of them simply seem to be there because they have slept with someone more famous than they are. Is this what today is called “Light Entertainment”? I suppose it could lead to a revealing game along the lines of Six Degrees of Bed Separation – how many interesting people they have slept with by association throughout the chain. Although how many of those are likely to be really interesting people?

And they don’t entertain. They sit around and fart. And laugh at it. To adapt an old saying, “if I’d wanted to be entertained by people laughing at farts, I could have stayed at home”. The challenges have been dull. There wasn’t even an eviction. Oh and there’s a Bible Basher. Really very very boring. Nah. I’ve had enough of this.

I haven’t watched Uncelebrity Big Brother for a couple of series now, and I’m pulling the plug on this one.

Davina Why does Davina seem to have a bad press by the way? I find loads of people online saying they don’t like her. She comes across to me as being a delightful person. She’s going to be about the only thing I’ll miss by not following the series. Maybe I’ll just switch on to watch her. No – I mustn’t.