Eurovision 2016 – Semi Final One

Greetings gentle reader! It’s Eurovision time again, Hip Hip… replacement. This year 42 nations of the world who are either in Europe, are out of Europe but are in the EBU, or are called “Australia”, will be competing for the glory of the Eurovision win and the honour of hosting the contest in their home country next year. Not you, Australia, get back in line – if you win, Angela Merkel’s going to host it in Berlin like a true okker. To get you up to speed, I’m here with one eye on YouTube and another on Oddschecker to bring you the 18 songs that will get the ball rolling with Semi Final One, coming all the way from Stockholm in bonnie Sweden. Let’s look at them in the order that SVT have decided; no more random draws of course, this is about as transparent as a photocopied fax from Mossack Fonseca. With each song you’ll find the betting odds taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places on an Each Way as at 26th April, and also I’ll give each song a star rating out of 5. Hajde da ludujemo and let’s go crazy!

Finland – Sandhja – Sing it Away

sandhjaSo we start off with Sandhja, and her song bursting with optimism and positivity. It’s the kind of song that just might make you feel better about your life, if you think of all the bad things and then just sing them away. Simples. Apparently, it’s impossible to be stressed if you’re singing. I like its message; it’s got a reasonable amount of girl power to be healthy without being overpowering; and the tune is not half bad. When the chorus kicks in that brassy accompaniment makes it sound like a forgotten album track by Swing Out Sister. The only problem with it is that it’s a wee bit forgettable. And with seventeen more songs to follow, who’s going to remember it? 100/1 – 350/1 (steady). ***

Greece – Argo – Utopian Land

ArgoTime for the annual quiz question, how on earth can Greece afford to participate in Eurovision? Maybe by taking their 2011 entry Watch My Dance, switching the verse and the chorus round the other way, trading in Loucas Yiorkas for an obscure folk group and crossing their collective fingers. Seriously, the lyrics are a rather poignant account of refugees getting a chance to jump on a plane for a better life in an Utopian Land and you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to feel a tinge of there but for the grace of God about it. To be fair, you’ll probably like it most the first time you hear it, which is not a bad thing for a Eurosong. After a couple of listens you want to slit your wrists in a vat of ouzo. 100/1 – 300/1 (steady). **

Moldova – Lidia Isac – Falling Stars

Lidia IsacLidia’s a striking lady with something of the Daria Kinzer about her; I wonder if she’ll borrow all her frocks. After all, she’s borrowed the tune from YOHIO’s Heartbreak Hotel. It’s quite upbeat and enjoyable to listen to but there’s nothing that really gets you going wow. 12 points from Romania. Well, it would have been at any rate, if they hadn’t been sent home with a flea in their ear. 200/1 – 500/1 (drifting). ***

Hungary – Freddie – Pioneer

FreddieNext up a country that in recent years has put out some terrific stuff but is just starting to go backwards. Last year Boggie was a tedefest and I reckon Freddie’s in the same category. He’s got one of those voices where you’re not entirely sure he’s going to make the note without busting some vital organ. The song limps along and after three minutes we’re put out of our misery. For some bizarre reason, this is relatively popular. Must be his Magyar charm, and his inability to tuck in his shirt. 40/1 – 80/1 (drifting). **

Croatia – Nina Kraljic – Lighthouse

NinaSo far this hasn’t been a semi-final of enormous promise, and here’s another one that almost makes it as a good song but then has a rather boring chorus to let it down. A lighthouse is meant to be a beacon to show the way; but I’d be frankly nervous about following Nina up a dark alley. The poor girl’s going to catch her death after all that rain anyway. Quite atmospheric I guess. We saw Nina perform at the London Eurovision Party, where she seemed to be wearing a tree. I have to say, it didn’t shine too much of a light. 25/1 – 66/1 (drifting significantly). ***

Netherlands – Douwe Bob – Slow Down

BobFinally, a song that sounds a little different from all the others! Douwe Bob, unlike his more famous brother Egbert, has got his mates round for a jamming session and some pool down at the local bar. He gives us a country sounding song in praise of taking it easy. I liked this the moment I heard it – and I don’t do country. Will it be the second Common Linnets? Probably not. But it’s generally appealing and will certainly qualify. 25/1 – 50/1 (steady). ****

Armenia – Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave

IvetaAnd now it’s time for a contender for the title Most Attractive Performer (female). Iveta’s song takes a good while to get going – including wasting a huge number of seconds on a silly sound effect about half a minute in – but once it does kick in, I rather like it. Moodily shot, the video includes Carola’s wind machine and a Viking. Plus, it has the words: “Spread a lovewave ´n my heart goes ba-ba-da-bu-who-oh-oh”. What’s not to like? A 2-minute song stretched out to 3. Don’t interrupt Iveta before she goes on stage, as she’ll be meditating with her crystals. 14/1 – 22/1 (steady). ****

San Marino – Serhat – I Didn’t Know

SerhatFrom the sublime to the ridiculous; the really, really, ridiculous. Serhat is obviously a terrific chap, and a doyen of Turkish TV for many years. Have you heard his song Je m’adore? Check it out, it’s great. Just don’t accidentally listen to his Eurovision song by mistake. I hope he doesn’t wear that stupid monocle thing. When I first heard this I found it strangely haunting; that was before they disco’d it up and now I think it hasn’t a ghost of a chance. To think this came from the team who helped create Sakis’ Shake It. How art the mighty fallen. 150/1 – 500/1 (drifting). *

Russia – Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One

SergeyThis year’s big favourite with the bookmakers comes from a strong performer, and with a glossy promotional video it’s clear that Russia really want the title again. And I think they could do it. Sergey has the ability to make a weak song sound like Ivor Novello. The song isn’t quite the strongest but it’s perfectly acceptable and with a combination of a good performance and millions of roubles, it could be St Petersburg 2017, Tovarich. Wonder if he’ll have a proper haircut before the event? Colgate and whitening, it’s getting exciting. 13/8 – 2/1 (steady). ****

Czech Republic – Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand

GabrielaFollowing the Czech Republic’s return to the Eurovision fold last year with a little cracker of a song, they’re keeping up the pressure with a solid and charming ballad from the lovely Gabriela Gunčíková. Nice video; amazing what you can achieve with some Astroturf and raiding the Garden of Remembrance on a busy day. Surely this must be the country’s first qualifier to the Final. However, being wedged between Russia and Cyprus isn’t going to do it any favours. 28/1 – 40/1 (steady). ****

Cyprus – Minus One – Alter Ego

Minus OneAnother personal favourite. You can tell these guys are hard because they’re playing their electric guitars under pylons which must contravene Health and Safety even in Nicosia. With those capes, they’ve obviously escaped from a monastic order and brought the chief Abbot’s husky along for the ride. It’s a winning combination of genuinely raw guitar work that cunningly disguises a nice piece of Thomas G:son schlager. Once that tune gets stuck in your head, it doesn’t leave without a fight. Saw them at the London Party – they’re like this in real life too. 33/1 – 100/1 (drifting slightly). ****

Austria – Zoe – Loin d’ici

ZoeThe fourth in a sequence of strong songs is this delightful ditty from Austria, sung in French by an Austrian singer with Austrian parents but who was educated at the French lycée in Vienna; for no good reason apart from sheer contrariness as far as I can make out. Loin d’ici is retro, but it’s real quality retro, as Zoe channels her inner Catherine Ferry and sings of a land far from here where, searching for Paradise, they all sing. Awww. A nifty arrangement and her gamine appearance all contribute to three minutes of 1970s delight. As contemporary as a Prawn Cocktail but much more satisfying. It’s got me hooked. Of all the songs performed at the London Eurovision Party, this one went down best. Zoe was moved to tears. Her wonderful apology to the audience: “Don’t make me cry, it’s just a song for Europe.” 66/1 – 150/1 (steady). *****

Estonia – Juri Pootsman – Play

JuriYoung Juri has those typical Estonian broody looks and an expression that says if I have nothing to say I just won’t say anything. The song too has an internal brake in there somewhere that stops it from soaring. It’s a good, thoughtful lyric but with a rather reserved melody and a surprisingly dated overall sound. Is if me, or is ELO’s Mr Blue Sky trying to burst out of the chorus somewhere? On reflection – a bit boring. 100/1 – 200/1 (steady). **

Azerbaijan – Samra – Miracle

SamraThere are two types of Azeri Eurovision entry: those that grab you by the whatnots and entertain the hell out of you, and those that sink into the blandness of high production values and no substance. Sadly, Miracle falls into the latter category, with a totally forgettable verse and slightly less forgettable chorus, but it really is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. 33/1 – 80/1 (steady). *

Montenegro – Highway – The Real Thing

HighwayFor those 1% of Eurovision fans who like a bit of heavy metal or hard rock, there are two offerings this year. In Montenegro’s The Real Thing, frankly the lyrics aren’t going to win any awards, but the guitar riff that recurs with regularity throughout the song has a pretty powerful effect. Sadly, the vocals for the chorus come across as unnecessarily Neanderthal on the recording. But I like it more than I ought, and at the London Eurovision Party they completely nailed it. 200/1 – 500/1 (drifting). ***

Iceland – Greta Salome – Hear Them Calling

greta salomeIt’s the return of Greta Salome, on her own this time and with a song that I think I prefer to Never Forget. In the video, today Matthew, she’s going to be Loreen, all dark wind machine and pelvic exercises, so I hope she finds her own identity for the performance on the night. The verse has barely finished before the breathlessly upbeat chorus kicks in, with some weird and wonderful instrumentation that keeps you engaged throughout. We saw her at the London Eurovision Party and she certainly has a charming cheek about her. It’s not the best thing since sliced bread but it definitely deserves to qualify from this selection. 66/1 – 100/1 (drifting significantly). ****

Bosnia & Herzegovina – Dalal and Deen – Ljubav Je

Deen and DalalAnother return offender, this time Deen, who, twelve years on is no longer In The Disco, more on the balcony of some Art Nouveau cinema that’s to be redeveloped as a shopping centre. Definitely a game of two halves, with a rather alluring Balkan ballad enhanced by the lovely cello of Ana Rucner, only to be spoilt by a haranguing rap from Jala. As a clash of cultures it’s a brave attempt; it fails, but it only just fails. By trying to appeal to both young and old it will probably alienate both. The staging will be mightily important. 100/1 – 400/1 (steady). ***

Malta – Ira Losco – Walk on Water

Ira LoscoThe original winner of this year’s Maltese Eurosong, Chameleon, successfully changed its appearance (as they do) and now looks like Walk On Water, and, if Ira Losco can achieve that, it’ll be more than a seventh wonder. (Did you see what I did there?) It starts promisingly and implies deep water ahead, but when we get to the chorus, Ira’s paddling in a shallow pond. Disappointing. 14/1 – 20/1 (steady). **

So that’s the sum of the parts for Semi Final One. Eight songs won’t qualify and I’m going to suggest they will be: Finland, Greece, Montenegro, Czech Republic, San Marino, Moldova, Hungary and Estonia. Semi Final One is on BBC4 on Tuesday 10th 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. Bis später!

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