Eurovision You Decide, The UK National Final at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town, 26th February 2016

Pete WatermanIt’s hard to believe but it has been six years* since the UK had a Proper National Final where the public could choose both the song and the performer that would represent the country at the Eurovision Song Contest. How well I remember the excitement of six years ago. I even wrote a blog post in amazement that the one and only Pete Waterman – oodathortit – would be in charge of our entry that year. I implored him to write a great song, to be fully involved in the process, to make us all proud. Sigh. Compare that with what actually happened. It was a rubbish song, he’d never seen a Eurovision stage since the 1980s and his support to our winning act was – let’s be charitable – invisible. To be fair, we had some excellent performers to choose from. Josh Dubovie is terrific at the Michael Buble style of music. Alexis Gerred has carved out a very successful career in musical theatre. Esma – well, having forgotten her words during the show, she’s done well to apply herself at the London School of Economics and go on to do Good Things. Josh won that contest with a song that was completely unsuited to his style; he went to Oslo with a dog’s dinner of a staging, was hung out to dry and came a stonking good last.

BlueSince then we’ve been down the road of internal selections. Blue was a good bet, and had a good song, but the vocals and the staging again let them down at the big show. Engelbert was a risky strategy, being completely the wrong kind of singer (and age); if his song had appeared anywhere other than first or second in the running order it may have got a few votes simply by being an antidote to the more regular Eurovision fayre. As it was, it was sung first and therefore was the antidote to nothing, and was bizarrely saved from last place by the much better Tooji from Norway. Bonnie was the same risky strategy; she also made a mess of the jury final and came 23rd, with a lot of help from a sympathetic Irish vote. In 2014 Molly was a step in the right direction but she made poor eye contact with the audience, and gave a thoroughly introverted performance, fully deserving of its 17th place. Last year Electro Velvet gave us a 1920s song but with a 1990s presentation – two excellent performers but just very wrong for contemporary Eurovision.

Colin BerryAnd so we reach 2016, and a proper contest in a proper venue, with six songs and performers, the majority of whom sounded perfectly contemporary to me (although what do I know) and none of them were sufficiently gimmicky to make us quake with fear when it comes to May. It was a school day, so Mrs Chrisparkle was conducting high level business meetings until 4pm and didn’t get into London until 6pm, but HRH the Crown Prince of Bedford and I had arrived earlier for a spot of lunch and the pre-show OGAE UK party hosted in the elegant surroundings of the upstairs bar at a Kentish Town Road pub. It was appropriate that OGAE should host a pre- and post- party, as for the first time Official Fan Club members had been invited to assist in selecting a song from the public submissions. Everybody involved in it was sworn to secrecy. I could tell you if I was one of the people who took part in the selection – but then I would have to kill you. And that would be an awful waste of a decent life. An early highlight of the afternoon was meeting Radio 2 and Eurovision announcing legend Mr Colin Berry, who’s every bit as avuncular and charming as you would imagine. I was also quizzed for my opinion on the National Final in an interview for Radio International, where I play a small but beautifully formed part every few weeks.

Eurovision You DecideAfter quaffing a reasonable number of alcohol units, we all walked up the road to the venue. I’d not been to the O2 Forum before – it’s a converted art deco cinema dating from 1934 and a pretty useful place to hold an event like this. We arrived shortly before 7, met up with loads of other friends, found a convenient place to stand – near the back but against a railing so we had a) a raised view above heads and b) somewhere to loll. Our host for the evening was Mel Giedroyc, a genuine Eurovision fan it seems to me; not only one of our new BBC commentators for the semi-finals but also fondly remembered for her hilarious Boyka in Eurobeat that we saw three times in 2009 (I think). Eurobeat is coming back this summer to the Edinburgh Fringe – Mrs C and I are already champing at the bit.

The panelUnlike many other countries who involve a jury as well, the UK winner was chosen purely by televote. We had an expert panel, but they were there only to give their comments and maybe guide the viewers in what they thought was the right direction. Frankly, there wasn’t a lot of time for in-depth commenting. Vocal coach Carrie Grant was perhaps the most outspoken of the three but I must say I thought some of her comments were downright weird. Choreographer Jay Revell is obviously no relation to choreographer Craig Revel Horwood, as he was the permanent nice guy of the panel, seeing the best in each entry and generally being encouraging. 1997 Eurovision winner Katrina (of the Waves) had a dodgy microphone and a tendency to shout her responses with the result that I barely heard a word she said.

Mans ZWe started the evening off with a reprise performance by last year’s winner Måns Zelmerlöw (one of the most intimidating names to type on a UK keyboard). What an entertainer that man (or should that be mån) is. Heroes remains as fresh as a daisy, and the inventive chalkguy video that runs behind him still warms the cockles of your heart. Mel interviewed Måns afterwards with ill-concealed lust. I was waiting for the Crown Prince to tell the story of how he and Måns shared a hug last year. I resolved to combat that with my story about how Elizabeth Andreassen of Bobbysocks and I flirted outrageously when we met a few years ago. One-all.

The first act was Canterbury busking duo Dulcima. He’s called Tomas, she’s called Dulcima, and they’re called Dulcima. Someone should tell Tomas to get new marketing staff. Their song is the irrepressibly infectious, thigh-slapping hoe-down tune When You Go. This is Mrs C’s favourite of the six, and I can see why. Very catchy, the kind of song that brings a smile to your face when you hear it. In the hall it sounded great. When we got home and watched the recorded programme we were amazed at how poor Dulcima’s vocals were. Weak as a parvo-puppy, I’m afraid. Carrie Grant said that she thought with their costuming and appearance she was expecting something darker. Darker? Dulcima herself looks like the hippiest folk chick out there. She’s pure Woodstock from head to toe (the festival, not the Snoopy character). She’s about as dark as Tiny Tim singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

The second act was ex Bad Boys Inc singer Matthew James with A Better Man. When the songs were first unveiled on Ken Bruce’s radio show I thought it sounded really contemporary (that word again) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it looks like I was just about the only one as it was the rank outsider at 40-1 (not very promising in a field of six). I thought he gave it a very good performance but you could tell it just wasn’t capturing anyone’s imagination. We were standing near his family all wearing their Vote Matthew t-shirts and no matter how much they whooped, they were never going to affect the result. Come the end of the evening they were a picture of misery, poor things.

Next came Until Tomorrow by Darline. Another country sounding song, performed by two pretty girls, Abby and Càra. Country doesn’t normally do that well in Eurovision, although pretty girls do. These were a very popular combo, but I confess I don’t like the timbre of the warble of the blonde girl. Carrie Grant criticised them for not being together enough – not a duo, more like two side-by-side soloists, and I think she was spot on. It’s not, as I thought, Darline, rhymes with Margarine, but Darline, rhymes with Northern Line. What kind of a silly name is that? Very popular in the hall and I know much enjoyed by the fans. But it wasn’t to be.

The fourth act was Karl William Lund, with Miracle. This was the entry that had been chosen by the OGAE members as their contribution to the sextet of songs. Now here’s a Marmite song if ever there was one. To many it was the obvious winner, to others it was totally dire. For me it fell between the two. I was chatting to a friend at the bar and we both agreed that it has the elements of being a great song, but it just needs a little more development. Certainly the presentation was very static and the arrangement could have done with oomphing up. However, three days on, it is the chorus of Miracle that is persistently, irritatingly, infuriatingly, and constantly re-emerging in my musical brain. There it goes again. Stop it, Karl William, you’re getting on my nerves!

The fifth act was the rather classy Bianca (no relation to Electro Velvet’s Bianca) with Shine a Little Light. Again this was popular with many of the fans, particularly the ones who like the strong female power ballad. That style isn’t entirely to my taste all the time, and whilst I thought she gave a very fine performance I just find the song a little… generic balladish to make me sit up and listen.

Last up were Joe and Jake, both alumni from The Voice, a programme that I always think I am going to enjoy but then turns out to be a complete anti-climax once the audition stage is over. Their song, You’re not Alone, is very nearly as catchy as Miracle and When You Go but performed with real commitment and joy. Of the six I concluded this was probably our best potential entry, performed by a couple of cheery lads who actually sing pretty well and have a good stage presence together. And it appears that the rest of the Great British Public agreed with me, as this will indeed be the UK’s entry for Stockholm in May 2016. You’re Not Alone, We’re in this Together – could be David Cameron and George Osborne’s next release.

KatrinaAfter a rousing rendition of Katrina’s Love Shine a Light (always a favourite), some memories of the Eurovision’s Greatest Hits show from last year and a tribute to the late Sir Terry Wogan, the result was announced by giving us just the name of the winner – no agonising “and in sixth place…..” Joe and Jake were well chuffed, the other five acts magnanimous in defeat, and the rest of us headed back to the pub to continue the post-show analysis and socialising. Just drinking really.

Mel GiedroycGood things about the night – the introductory films before each song were insightful and considered the lyrics and why the singer found them special, which I thought was a neat trick of introducing both the song and the singer in a meaningful and factual way. The fact that it was on BBC4 meant that it was under the auspices of BBC Music instead of BBC Light Entertainment and it felt like a much more credible programme. Its viewership of 678,900 may not sound many, but the average for that slot is a paltry 167,000, so it’s an improvement of something around 300%. Mel Giedroyc was an excellent host, managing the live aspect with humour and confidence, so that when things (inevitably) went wrong, she didn’t go to pieces. Among the less good things – the sound in the arena was very bassy and quite uncomfortable to listen to; I’m not sure the panel added that much to the experience; and the O2 Forum charges £3 per item for their cloakroom. You’ve never seen so many guys keep their coats on all night.

Joe and JakeBest of luck to Joe and Jake – I don’t think it’s a winner but I don’t think it’s going to shame us either. All will be decided on 14th May. However, before that, we’ve got the London Eurovision Preview Party to look forward to on 17th April, where we can listen to several of this year’s acts and see how well they measure up. Happy Eurovisioning!

*It has been pointed out that in 2010 the UK public only got to choose the singer, not the song. The last time we chose both was in 2008. Dang! My mistake. Oh well.

If the picture looks rubbish, that’s because I took it. If it looks professional and smart then it was taken by DizzyDJC on Flickr. Thanks for letting me use your photos, Dan!

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