Review – Dara O’Briain, Crowd Tickler, Derngate, Northampton, 28th May 2015

Crowd TicklerThree years have passed since Dara O’Briain’s last stand-up tour, Craic Dealer, and he asks what has changed in the meantime. Certainly what hasn’t changed is his amazingly quick wit, his awareness of what’s going on around him, his memory for details about comments or events during the show that he will bounce back at us at a later stage, his ability to talk quickly (boy can he do that!) and his extraordinary rapport with his audience.

From the moment Mr O’Briain walks on stage he demands your attention, but in a very convivial and unassuming way. He’s an awfully big chap, both tall and broad but with a strangely gangly appearance that you would normally expect from someone much slighter. He’s like a child trapped in a civil servant’s body, and when he gets animated his limbs go all over the place. He gives a high energy, top quality performance for two and a quarter hours plus, and you more than feel you got your money’s worth.

DaraOBriainIf you’re in or near the front row of a Dara O’Briain show, you’re definitely going to be part of the action. At last night’s show we had people who lied about where they came from (Irchester, never been there, is it that bad?) and what they did for a living (cultural critic for the Wellingborough Evening Telegraph – honestly, who’d pretend to be a theatre reviewer?); a photobooth repair man, his wife who’d never been allowed on board ship, and a 16 year old who’d had an MRI on his knee and ear, for whom Mr O’B had wise words of advice much to the poor lad’s hideous embarrassment in front of his family. There’s also a sequence where four people in the front row are asked for random elements to make up the treatment for a new detective show – so we had the delightful prospect of a hang-glider who murders his victims in the washing machine but the case is solved by a horse whisperer with Tourette’s.

Other memorable moments from last night include the extravagant words in a child’s ABC book, how child abduction is all the rage on TV, a hand-to-the-mouth embarrassing story of his wife meeting a famous playwright, and a visual representation of his “dancing above the gay line” during a recording of Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. But I particularly loved his sentimental account of how they built the Channel Tunnel, which even has its own hashtag, #poorchuggy.

Dara O'BriainIf you like your stand-up, Dara O’Briain is one of the few absolutely must-sees whenever he tours. Apparently effortless (I bet it’s not), a master communicator, he comes across as a genuinely nice guy with the occasional sting in the tail. Can’t recommend him too highly. His tour continues to November in all parts of the UK and Ireland. Book now!

Eurovision 2015 – The Grand Final

Into the final furlong now with seven more songs that by virtue of their parentage or previous success have made it direct to the Saturday night spot without having to appeal to the midweek crowd as well. As the performance order is not yet decided I’m going to take them in alphabetical order. (I know, I’m so conventional.) Again each preview will have its own star rating and its bookmaker odds courtesy of oddschecker.com, as at 13th May. You know you want to.

Australia – Guy Sebastian – Tonight Again

Guy SebastianDo you need me to explain why Australia is in the contest this year? Course you don’t, so let’s move on. The first time I heard this – in fact by the time I’d got to the first chorus – I said, that’s it, game over, Australia has won. Then after a few hearings, little parts of it started to annoy me; specifically the “do whatchya whatchya whatchya want” sequence, which is just some meaningless verbal equivalent to a huge clearing of the throat before the chorus starts; and – no surprise – that final “again”, which has fourteen syllables. I know. I counted them. However, everything else about it is chock full of contemporary fabulousness, and I really do think this has a strong chance of taking the grand prix to Adelaide. (OK, Germany then, because it has been decreed that they won’t host the show next year down under if they win). For all those countries who put their timid little inexperienced people in front of the massive Eurovision audience and then wonder why they crack on the night, take note. Guy Sebastian is the new Dima Bilan; he is a massive star and (according to Wikipedia so it must be right) has 51 platinum and six gold certifications, with combined album and single sales of over 3.7 million in Australia. You always knew those competitive Aussies would take it seriously. He gave a fantastic performance at the London Eurovision Party. I said hello to him in a corridor. He said hi back. Friend to the famous. 7/2 – 5/1. *****

Austria – The Makemakes – I Am Yours

The MakemakesTricky one this. The host nation goes to the opposite extreme from the campness of Conchita Wurst and ends up with a soft-rock threesome who look and sound as gloomy as hell. The song trudges along without ever lifting its head above the parapet. If you think you like the tune, it’s because you’ve more or less heard it several times before over the decades performed by others. “Let it Be” written by a less talented hand; Coldplay with a cob on. I think they’ll give a good performance because they looked and sounded professional at the London party; but I can’t see this doing anything. This isn’t what people watch Eurovision for. 80/1 – 125/1. **

France – Lisa Angell – N’oubliez Pas

Lisa AngellHurrah for another experienced singer giving us a moving song with dignified lyrics about the effects of war and invasion, and inspired by the centenary of the First World War. Sadly I think it’s let down by a not particularly interesting tune, but I reckon Lisa will give it all she’s got. It’s written by the same nom-de-plume as Natasha St-Pier’s Je n’ai que mon âme, so that’s a pretty good pedigree. 80/1 – 200/1. ***

Germany – Ann Sophie – Black Smoke

Ann SophieRichmond-upon-Thames’ very own Ann Sophie sings this year’s song for Germany, Black Smoke, co-written by Ella Eyre who features on Rudimental’s 2014 BRIT award winning single Waiting All Night (I’m so trendy, me.) This is most definitely a grower, it didn’t impact me much on the first couple of hearings, but Ms Sophie’s performance at the London Party was a bit of a knock-out, and now I rather like it. It’s a song about love gone wrong, with more than its fair share of fire, flame, burning and smoke analogies. They missed a trick by not mentioning ashes. Spiky and quirky. 66/1 – 150/1. ***

Italy – Il Volo – Grande Amore

Il VoloWinners of this year’s San Remo festival, this operatic boy band have been together for five years now, and have enjoyed no mean success with their three studio and two live albums, the first of which charted in several countries around Europe (and indeed in Australia) so plenty of the televoters will already know these guys. Their EP version of Grande Amore has gone double platinum in Italy too. For the first time ever, I finally like a Eurovision popera song. Normally it’s a genre that gives me a pain in the aria, but this one is a little gem. Actually the full San Remo version at nearly four minutes is a big gem, and it has suffered a little by undergoing the necessary pruning to get it into the permitted time. The song was originally written in 2003 with the hope of going to San Remo but it was shelved as the writers thought it was simply too old-fashioned. Times change. Certainly Italy’s best entry since their recent return. 3/1 – 11/4 (second favourite). *****

Spain – Edurne – Amanecer

EdurneAnother stunning lady with another stunningly dramatic song. Amanacer means daybreak, but apparently it’s a song about heartbreak – I wish they’d make their mind up. Edurne is a product of the Operacion Triumfo stable, has had a few hit albums and a couple of notable singles, and is also a TV actress and presenter. When she’s not singing and acting, she’s Manchester United goalie David de Gea’s WAG. The song didn’t do much for me at first, but it’s yet another grower. Great for annoying the neighbours when singing in the shower. No tigers were harmed during the making of the video; the bloke, I’m not so sure about. 28/1 – 66/1. ****

United Kingdom – Electro Velvet – Still in Love with You

Electro VelvetAnd finally we come to the UK entry. Ever since its first appearance, subtly introduced to the world by the magic of the Freeview red button, it’s been a matter of some controversy. Certainly if you were hoping for the UK to come up with a contemporary song that can hold its head up in Europe this is Not It. However, in a year where there are a number of similar sounding entries, this is the only one with a novelty sound, which I think can only help it. Many of my francophone friends rate this very highly, and having seen them sing it live twice now I can definitely confirm that they have excellent voices and give confident, fun performances. It does stick in your head, although maybe not for always the right reasons. I have a fiver bet with a friend that it will finish lower down the table than Australia. What can I say, the friend really likes this song. Alex and Bianca are a lovely friendly couple and I wish them loads of luck in Vienna. I really hated it when I first heard it – but now I like it quite a lot. Despite those terrible trite lyrics. And the be-bap-be-bap-be-bap-a-doo nonsense. 33/1 – 50/1. ****

As ever, I do a little counting up of the number of hits each song has received on the Eurovision.tv youtube channel, not that it means anything at all on previous experience.
10th – Belarus (954692)
9th – Israel (988442)
8th – Italy (1058514)
7th – Belgium (1180352)
6th – Spain (1119215)
5th – Australia (1262238)
4th – Armenia (1480922)
3rd – United Kingdom (1819826)
2nd – Azerbaijan (3499640)
1st – Russia (4108146)

Last year Conchita’s song came 2nd in this table, second and third placed Netherlands and Sweden were not in the top ten and Armenia’s fourth placed Aram MP3 came top of this table. Azerbaijan, Italy, Spain and the UK were also in the top ten of youtube views, just as they are this year. The big difference this year is the massive number of views for Polina Gagarina. Do those Russians know something we don’t?

Have a great time watching the show on May 23rd, wherever you are – at home with some crisps, at a party, or in Vienna. No doubt we’ll have some kind of post-mortem at the end of May. May the best song win!

Eurovision 2015 – Semi Final Two

Yes I’m back again, gentle reader, with a look at the seventeen songs that will glitter their way through Semi Final Two. As before, you can also see the betting odds, courtesy of oddschecker.com (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 6th May) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. To horse!

Lithuania – Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila – This Time

Monika Linkytė and Vaidas BaumilaAn inauspicious start to the show. I’m sure this was put together as some kind of tribute to or emulation of Denmark’s jolly 2001 entry Never Ever Let You Go by Rollo and King, but it so hugely fails to come anywhere near it. Not so much “I’m feeling love, love, love”, more “I’m feeling sick, sick, sick” as it gloopily wallows in every sub-country-music cliché. If they stop and do that irritating kiss halfway through I’d be so tempted to throw a brick at the TV screen. Trite as it is, it seems bewilderingly popular with some people. Get a life, guys! 66/1 – 150/1. *

Ireland – Molly Sterling – Playing with Numbers

Molly SterlingHaving started with something horrendous, we move on to something ultra-bland. There’s something about this song that turns me off after about ten seconds, and it never regains my attention. Believe me, I have tried to concentrate on it… has it started to rain outside? Ah shame, I need to go and…. What was I saying? Ah yes, this year’s Irish song. Sorry, vacuous overload. Pass. 50/1 – 125-1. *

San Marino – Anita Simoncini & Michele Perniola – Chain of Light

Anita Simoncini & Michele PerniolaWell Michele sums the whole thing up with his first word. Have you ever seen such ham acting in a music video? To be fair, they are both only 16, so we can make some allowances (but see Israel, below) and an awful lot of the blame should be heaped on the shoulders of composer Uncle Ralph Siegel, who continues to devalue his brilliant career by writing latter-day tosh. I cringe when Anita does her little street-rap interjections (“all walk together”, “yes we should”) and I wonder if that conductor’s asking himself where did his career go so wrong. There are worse songs. A few. 66/1 – 300/1. **

Montenegro – Knez – Adio

KnezAdio has Zeljko Joksimovic’s size 12 bootprints stamped all over it, but it’s none the worse for that, and for me this is the best song he’s penned for the contest apart from his very own Lane Moje. It soars to a lovely middle section full of oh oh oh’s and ethnic instruments, and it just somehow feels right. Knez is a seasoned performer (I think that’s the right phrase) who gave a great performance at the London Eurovision Party. The video could do wonders for the local tourism industry (again, see Israel, below). Montenegro came surprisingly low with a similar entry last year – but this year’s is a whole heap better. 100/1 – 200/1. ****

Malta – Amber – Warrior

AmberThe second of two Warriors in this year’s contest, and the more accomplished. It’s a big tune that calls for a big voice, and Amber has that in spades. She’s been knocking on Eurovision’s door for a few years now, and I’m sure she’ll seize her chance with all the decibels she can. Very borderline qualification, as I’m not sure the song stands too much examination. But I wish her luck. 50/1 – 200/1. ***

Norway – Mørland and Debrah Scarlett – Monster Like Me

Mørland and Debrah ScarlettA few months ago I was skimming through the contestants for Melodi Grand Prix (that’s the Norwegian national final to the uninitiated), listening to 30 seconds or so of each song just to get a feel for it, and on the whole thought they were pretty good. Then Monster Like Me came on and I was transfixed. I had to hear the whole thing. So what was it that Mr Mørland did that was so terrible in his early youth? I don’t think we’ll ever find out. I have a sneaking suspicion that he doesn’t know himself either and has been feeding on hallucinogenic substances to block it out (or make it up). This song is so different, so impactful; a fantastic example of less is more, and Kjetil and Debrah have such a presence together it takes your breath away. A three act drama in three minutes? The missing number from Phantom of the Opera? However you want to categorise it, it’s my winner of the year. 16/1 – 28/1. *****

Portugal – Leonor Andrade – Há um Mar que nos Separa

Leonor Andrade“There is a sea that separates us”, sings Leonor, or at least according to Google Translate. She’s a rock chick-cum-fado singer who looks like she could wrestle with the most difficult composition and win on a technical knock-out. Sadly the song ambles along without getting anywhere, despite its emotional lyrics. A fairly typical Portuguese snoozefest. 100/1 – 500/1 (the most rank outsider). *

Czech Republic – Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta – Hope Never Dies

Marta Jandová and Václav Noid BártaWelcome back to the Czech Republic and their first entry since 2009. Although it doesn’t have a lot of competition, this power ballad is far and away the country’s best entry to date. Marta and Václav performed at the London Eurovision Party and won us all over with their terrific sense of fun and amazing vocals – Václav’s Roxanne has to be heard (and seen) to be believed. A stirring tune and a feeling for drama make this one of this year’s surprise hits. The Czech Rep doesn’t have much in the way of natural allies on the Eurovision front but I hope a good jury score will send this through to the final. 100/1 – 300/1. ****

Israel – Nadav Guedj – Golden Boy

Nadav GuedjI referred earlier to the youth of the Sammarese kidz and the tourism aspect of Knez’ song. Both are intertwined in this year’s entry from Israel, performed by Nadav Guedj, 16 going on 35, and winner of Israel’s “The Next Star” TV show. No surprise he won – what a find is this young chap. Great voice, likeable personality, and such maturity for his tender years. The song takes a while to get going, but once it’s got there it’s the best Middle-East/Bollywood sound to come out of Eurovision since AySel and Arash. Perfect for some embarrassing middle-aged dad dancing. “And before I leave, let me show you Tel Aviv” – this song has been brought to you courtesy of the Israeli Tourism Agency. What Eurovision is all about – entertainment on max. setting, slipping through your taste filter like sh*t off a shovel. 25/1 – 100/1. *****

Latvia – Aminata – Love Injected

AminataAs is often the case with Eurovision, we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Aminata’s lyrics sound either wimpishly wingey or stridently wingey, depending what part of the song you’re listening to, and the musical arrangement sounds like farts in a water bottle. At best this will get lost amongst all the other dullish female vocalist songs; at worst it’s a nul-pointer. 40/1 – 100/1. *

Azerbaijan – Elnur Huseynov – Hour of the Wolf

Elnur HuseynovAnd now for an injection of class. Elnur last appeared on the Eurovision stage in 2008 clad as a fluffy angel. Now he’s back with a less hysterical song (let’s face it, anything is less hysterical than Day After Day), that’s nevertheless splendidly atmospheric and dramatic. Despite being written by a panel of four, probably in a bureaucratic office back of Baku, it’s definitely a contender for this year’s best written song. Elnur’s vocals are a little Marmite, and I’m not a great fan of his English accent, but I expect it’s much better than my Azeri. I’m sure the juries will love this. 20/1 – 25/1. *****

Iceland – Maria Olafs – Unbroken

Maria OlafsThis year Iceland are sending the cutest of their pixies to represent them, 22 year old Maria Olafsdottir. This is an odd song, to my ears; it has all the elements of something really rewarding and enjoyable but somehow, when it comes to the crunch, just fails to deliver. Probably too many “one step”s involved, making it the bastard child of Michael Ball and Bettina Soriat. (That’s a joke for the nerds out there). I couldn’t work out why it was called “Unbroken”, until I realised it was in the lyrics. I thought she was singing “I’m back again”. Enunciation dear, that’s the key. It leaves me not entirely flat, but certainly not particularly sharp. 33/1 – 50/1. ***

Sweden – Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes

Mans ZelmerlowAh dear old Måns, the godlike darling of many a Melofestivalen. How can we thank thee for thy Cara Mia? How may we praise thee for thy Hope and Glory? Yet you win with the much slighter Heroes, and 90% of it was due to that terrific little chap whom you high-five even though he’s make-believe and just a cartoon (hope that’s not a shock to anyone). I’m being mean really. It’s a pretty good song, and Måns is a superlative performer. When he sang at the London Eurovision Party he had the audience in the palm of his hand; and is also no slouch preparing the cocktails behind the bar if the rumours are to be believed. Upbeat and uplifting, it’ll do very well no doubt – but I do prefer his other songs! 6/4 – 13/8 (the favourite). ****

Switzerland – Mélanie René – Time to Shine

Mélanie RenéAnother perfectly nice, charming entry from a perfectly nice, charming female singer that provides a perfectly nice, charming three minutes that you forget instantly afterwards – but it was all perfectly nice and charming. If it’s her time to shine, I hope she’s brought the Mr Sheen. Does she really sing “mucking around” or do my ears deceive me? Switzerland has no natural allies at Eurovision and, frankly, this hasn’t a hope of qualifying. 50/1 – 200/1. **

Cyprus – John Karayiannis – One Thing I Should Have Done

John KarayiannisSomething a little different from Cyprus this year, a very gentle, reflective ballad sung by a decent young chap who looks like a trainee accountant. One Thing I Should Have Done is written by Mike Connaris of Stronger Every Minute fame, and you can see similarities between the two entries. The stand-out moment of this song is its extremely quiet and underplayed middle section, although that’s also its weakness as it’s just too quiet and laid back for me. Cyprus and Greece have been separated in the semi-finals this year like two naughty schoolchildren so I think both might struggle to qualify. As Paul Daniels would say, I like this, not a lot, but I like it. 50/1 – 125/1. ***

Slovenia – Maraaya – Here For You

MaraayaSo Maraaya are a duo. Who knew? She’s Marjetka, and he’s Raay, so together they’re Maraaya, geddit? He wrote Round and Round for Tinkara Kovac last year, but he’s done a better job with this year’s entry, with its English lyrics by Charlie Mason, who penned the words to Rise Like a Phoenix and Beauty Never Lies. Marjetka’s vocals really suit this retro-feeling, sub-Motown sounding, dark song about supporting your lover who’s down down low. A good song, much favoured, and it ought to do really well. 14/1 – 33/1. ****

Poland – Monika Kuszyńska – In the Name of Love

Monika KuszyńskaI first heard this is in its original Polish language version and it completely passed me by. Now it’s in English I find it’s actually quite a beguiling little song. Monika Kuszyńska is a most attractive lady and has lots of experience in the Polish music industry. Being in a wheelchair obviously doesn’t hold her back! The song is perhaps a little repetitive at times but has a kind of Enya-ish quality which can just soothe you to sleep. However, that’s probably not the best genre for the final song of the night, and it might get overlooked while everyone SMS’s for the Slovenian entry. I fear Poland may well not qualify this year. 100/1 – 125/1. ***

So that’s your lot for Semi Final Two. Which seven songs do you think will go no further? Ireland, San Marino, Portugal, Poland, Latvia, Switzerland and Czech Republic is my guess. Remember to watch the second semi-final on BBC 3 at 8pm on Thursday 21st May – this time viewers in the UK can vote. Ten songs will go forward from both semis to the Grand Final on 23rd May along with seven others – the Big Five, last year’s winner Austria and, for the first time and stretching the boundaries of Europe even more thinly, Australia. I’ll be back again tomorrow to run through those final songs – see you then!

Eurovision 2015 – Semi Final One

Yes it’s that time of year again. As sure as night follows day, the Eurovision Song Contest bounces breezily back onto the stage of a European city, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a whole new gamut of the best ever/worst ever songs to titillate your fancy/send you to sleep and make their mark on the continent/never get heard again (entirely up to you, gentle reader, as to which you delete). As ever, I’m here with my trusty youtube app and sharpened pencil to give you the run down of each of the forty songs that will affright the air at Vienna in a couple of weeks’ time. We’ll be starting off with Semi Final One, and the 16 songs in the order that the producers have chosen in advance to write off the chances of the countries they don’t like, I mean, create a sequence for the most exciting musical show from the resources given them. Once again, I’m also giving you the betting odds, courtesy of oddschecker.com (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 5th May) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. On y va!

Moldova – Eduard Romanyuta – I Want Your Love

Eduard RomanyutaWe start with a song that seems to have met with some derision, although personally I don’t think it’s half bad. Eduard is a 22 year old student, writing his PhD on “tax policy of Ukraine in the context of European integration”. Can’t help think he might have missed the boat on that one. The song is dedicated to an ex-girlfriend, and given his driving habits in the video, I hope any future girlfriends are well-insured. Eduard rocked the crowd at the London Eurovision Party and I thought he was a pretty good performer. It’s got lots of funky moments, and I have a tendency to join in with his “picture that you’re paintin’ got me all anticipating”, much to the embarrassment of all concerned. I heard someone say that if this song had been from Sweden, the fans would have been all over it like a rash; but as it’s from Moldova, they’re not. 100/1 – 200/1. ****

Armenia – Genealogy – Face The Shadow

GenealogyOf course, in the Grand Final, to perform second in the running order is the complete kiss of death. It’s not quite so disastrous in the Semi Finals, but nevertheless if there is anything to help this appalling dross out of the contest as quickly as possible, that’s a blessing. Genealogy are six Armenian singers, plucked out of worldwide obscurity for no apparent reason other than the fact that they are Armenians scattered throughout the world, singing a hokey, grim ditty about world peace. Originally it was called Don’t Deny, but simply changing the title hasn’t helped it one iota. Horrendously derivative, totally tedious. According to Eurovision.tv, for good luck before a performance they hold hands and say random Armenian words. I wonder what is the Armenian for “wtf are we doing here?” 33/1 – 80/1. *

Belgium – Loïc Nottet – Rhythm Inside

Loic NottetHere’s a song with a bit of atmosphere, if nothing else. Loïc moods all over these three minutes with his very portentous “I’m gonna get that rhythm back”. Aged just 19, he’s quite young to have lost his rhythm, poor lad, so I do hope he sorts it out ok. A lot of people like this but I find his English accent rather irritating – I’d have preferred it in French. And that rapapap stuff just makes me cringe. Next time he shoots a video, I recommend he takes a brolly. The androgynous look does nothing for me, although I suspect I’m not the target demographic. 33/1- 66/1. ***

Netherlands – Trijntje Oosterhuis – Walk Along

Trijntje OosterhuisAll those “j”’s in her name really put you off don’t they – think of her as Traincher and it’s much easier. An experienced Dutch singer with absolutely nothing to do with golfer Peter Oosterhuis (although watch to see if she’s wearing 70s checked trousers on the night). An instantly appealing pop song, with a catchy tune and a chorus that reminds you of a Geordie with his finger caught in the car door. Maybe slightly repetitive after a while but still very enjoyable and it’s a thumbs-up from me. 66/1 – 150/1. *****

Finland – Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät – Aina Mun Pitää

Pertti Kurikan NimipäivätFinnish songs can be Marmite, and punk rock isn’t (perhaps) at its most natural home with Eurovision, although it’s a broad church and everyone’s welcome. Amongst the more unusual aspects of this entry is the fact that it’s all over in less than 1 minute 25 seconds, all four members of the group have developmental disabilities, and that it’s a raucous din. Alas, these guys are not the new Lordi. Personally, I think it’s the worst song in the contest. It’s so short, they could reprise the entire thing and still be within the time limit. It’s not even long enough for a proper toilet break. Its relatively short odds can, I think, only be put down to a misplaced and patronising sympathy vote. It’s a no from me. 12/1 – 22/1. *

Greece – Maria Elena Kyriakou – One Last Breath

Maria Elena KyriakouThis year’s Eurovision is notable for a plethora of very worthy strong female ballads, which I think, on the whole, will cancel each other out, leaving the winner to come from another genre. However, the first of these strong female ballads to get an airing this year is possibly the best. We saw Maria Elena Kyriakou at the London Eurovision Party and I have rarely seen anyone more stunningly beautiful, and she delivers the song with great style and presence. Very classy indeed. 50/1 – 125/1. ***

Estonia – Elina Born & Stig Rästa – Goodbye to Yesterday

Elina Born & Stig RastaGoodbye to Yesterday? That old Melodi Grand Prix entry by Blue Moon Band that got nowhere in the 2007 search for a song for Norway? No. This is a very different kettle of fish. Elina and Stig present a very modern and dark look at a relationship split, with his sneaking out the door without waking her up, and its video with its undercurrent of suggestions of domestic violence (her on him). Not a lot of laughs here, but then it is Estonia. It’s a really strong, thought-provoking, sad and strangely beautiful song, sung with loads of conviction and it’s definitely my favourite of this semi-final. Highly fancied, a song that will last. 5/1 – 11/1. *****

FYR Macedonia – Daniel Kajmakoski – Autumn Leaves

Daniel KajmakoskiNo, not Nat King Cole’s old classic, but Daniel Kajmakoski’s entertaining blend of ballad and ethno-pop. Daniel won the first series of X-Factor Adria, and he’s got a great voice. I really like this song – it’s simple, heartfelt and delicate, but I wonder if it might get a little lost after the grand drama of Estonia. Watch the video to see a charming cartoon romance. I hope it does well and I think it will qualify. 40/1 – 100/1. ****

Serbia – Bojana Stamenov – Beauty Never Lies

Bojana StamenovThe message of Serbia’s song is that not only is beauty merely skin deep, but you have to look deep inside to find the real beauty of a person. I can imagine few people who could put this message across better than the incredible Bojana Stamenov, whose powerful, larger-than-life presence gives the song some amazing oomph. The video is good fun, with fans all over the world contributing their own performances. An excellent song for anyone who’s got a few scars – mental or physical – and isn’t afraid to show them. Strong singalong tune too. Rather like Bojana’s dress size, this just keeps on growing. 50/1 – 125/1. *****

Hungary – Boggie – Wars For Nothing

BoggieIf you were asked to imagine what someone called Boggie might look like, I’ll wager a pound to a penny you wouldn’t have come up with the impish loveliness of this year’s Hungarian singer. She was born Boglárka, which makes more sense. She came to prominence with her video of Nouveau Parfum, which I would highly recommend to you. Wars For Nothing is a quiet anti-war song that is so laid back it can barely stand up by itself. Whilst there’s no doubt its heart is in the right place, for me this song commits the cardinal sin of being just a bit boring. She sang it at the London Eurovision Party but I can’t say that I actually remember her performance. Sorry. 50/1 – 125/1. **

Belarus – Uzari & Maimuna – Time

Uzari and MaimunaNow here’s an unusual thing – for the second year in a row, Belarus have kept with the same song that won their national final! Time is an uptempo pop song from singer Uzari and violinist Maimuna, who certainly lends some class to the proceedings. Uzari has the nastiest case of aural metallurgy I’ve ever seen; he’ll never get through the airport security scanning unaided with those things attached. It’s quite a funky song, with its pretty-music-box introduction and thumping chorus. I can see them all doing the Military Two-Step to this in all the Minsk hotspots. 33/1 – 100/1. ****

Russia – Polina Gagarina – A Million Voices

Polina GagarinaThis year’s annual Russian juxtaposition between caring lyrics, human rights and warmongering comes from the delightful Polina Gagarina, another stunningly attractive woman with a belter of a voice. The video features lots of cute kids and a lovely old couple in an attempt to make you think the Russian government values international peace. It’s a strong, anthemic tune, and Polina delivers it assuredly and with vigour, but I think she’s better than it is. I’m sure the technical team will be active on the night to fade out the boos. It’ll do very well, I have no doubt. 12/1 – 20/1. ***

Denmark – Anti-Social Media – The Way You Are

Anti Social MediaFour clean cut lads recreate a retro 60s sound with this simple feelgood chant. No hidden message, no subtle agenda, just a plain old pop song about love. It puts you in mind of summer sunshine, a few beers and some happy days. Co-written by the chap who co-wrote Superstar for Jamelia, so he probably knows a thing or two about what makes a good song. The group have only been together a few months, let’s hope they continue after May 23rd. 80/1 – 150/1. ****

Albania – Elhaida Dani – I’m Alive

Elhaida DaniI often find myself struggling with Albanian songs. They’re usually too serious for me, performed by a female singer with just too much angst. This year it’s the same, only lesser so. Originally they chose Diell as their song but it was replaced in February, and the new song is definitely an improvement. Elhaida is a great singer, who triumphed in The Voice in Italy in 2014. This is one of those female ballads that will get eclipsed because of all the other female ballads. I would like to like this more than I do. But I don’t. 33/1 – 66/1. **

Romania – Voltaj – De La Capat (All Over Again)

VoltajTime for a moving little song about the plight of Romanian children left behind at home while their parents move abroad for work. It’s part of a charitable project set up by the group that you can read about here. Voltaj have been going for about 20 years now and have nine albums to their credit. Without the background knowledge of what the song is about, it’s really just another quite nice song. With that background knowledge, it takes on a much nobler feel. Hard not to love it. 50/1 – 150/1. *****

Georgia – Nina Sublatti – Warrior

Nina SublattiSemi Final One ends with the first of this year’s songs called Warrior. At first you think this is going to be really powerful, then it all drones on to become rather samey and dull. If you thought Ruslana was like Xena Warrior Princess, Nina’s warrior is a whole new form of scary. Don’t watch the video before bed unless you want nightmares. And surely it’s the only song in the whole wide world to feature the word “oximated”. Nina’s a fine performer and there’s a helping hand in the production from Thomas G:son, but it fails to live up to the sum of its parts. 66/1 – 150/1. **

So what do you reckon? Six songs won’t qualify and I’m going to suggest they will be: Armenia, Finland, Hungary, Georgia, Moldova and Greece. Semi Final One is on BBC3 on Tuesday 19th May at 8pm. The UK can’t vote in that semi-final, so just watch for fun! And I’ll be back shortly with a preview of Semi Final Two. A bientôt!