Eurovision 2018 – The Lisbon Experience

Lisbon

Lisbon

The Lisbon Experience sounds a bit like one of those awful tourist attractions where you get on an old fairground ride in complete darkness whilst projections and exhibits show you the history of the city. But that wouldn’t be the right way to see Lisbon. Lisbon is a city that lives on the outside. In cafes, in squares, in boats, in parks. I’m quite proud to say that we spent nine days there and didn’t set foot inside one museum once.

Eurovision Village

Eurovision Village

But of course we were there for Eurovision, so there would hardly have been the time anyway. We had rented a one bedroom apartment near Alameda metro station and it was very charming and useful. Alameda is a great location as the station is on both the green and red lines on the metro. Thus it was just fifteen minutes to the centre of the city and also fifteen minutes to Oriente station, which was just a few minutes’ walk from the Altice Arena, site of all the Eurovision shenanigans.

Eurocafe

Eurocafe

For the first few days it was great to catch up with old friends who had flown into Portugal from all round the world. For the first evening we had dinner with ESC Insight’s own New Zealand correspondent, the Americo-Irish Canadian Kiwi, at the Casa Brasileira on Rua Augusta (if you go out for a meal in Lisbon you can barely avoid the Rua Augusta). Options for entertainment on that night included the fabled Israeli Party but we couldn’t face the prospect of the two-hour queue, although it did mean we met the writers of the Russian song and the brother half of Zibbz. Instead, we paid our first visit to the Eurocafe, which was hot and expensive. One of our friends spent 55 minutes waiting to get served on the Monday evening; that’s not really how you want to spend your leisure nights. Gin and tonics (which were primarily made from ice) were 10 euros. A friend posted on Facebook that a bottle of local plonk and a diet coke came to 44 euros. May I remind you this was in Portugal, known for its relatively low prices.

Sea Bass at O Portas

Sea Bass at O Portas

We went to the same restaurant on the Sunday afternoon with M’Learned Friend from Dublin, where we also met HRH the Crown Prince of Bedford who was experiencing his first Eurovision and indeed his first European holiday as an adult (I use the term loosely). We lingered in the Eurovision Village (much better value for drinks than the Café) and generally wasted the time enjoying ourselves. Monday saw us having lunch at O Portas on Rua dos Correeiros. It was probably the best meal we had in the city; a big sea bass, who swam his last that very morning, was filleted on a plate for the three of us. Nota Bene: very near the O Portas is a rip off joint called Obrigado Lisboa which has ok food but stupid surprise prices for drinks and extras. Just check it on Trip Advisor – I’ve never seen such poor feedback for a restaurant. They caught us out for Tuesday lunch. Thieving toerags.

Belem Tower

Belem Tower

Monday afternoon we did a boat ride to Belem Tower with HRH and M’Learned Friend. Whilst on board we bumped into some other friends, two of whom had also come all the way from New Zealand. The boat ride was fun, if a little delayed coming back; Belem is beautiful but (nota bene again) closed on Mondays. Durrrhh. Monday night was a late one in the Eurocafe, which included a great performance by Suzy (you can’t keep a good girl down). We went to bed before Slavko came on.

Our View

Great view of the fans, not so great of the stage

Tuesday was primarily notable for our first actual attendance at this year’s contest – we had General Standing tickets for Semi Final One. These were about as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot because Mrs Chrisparkle and I couldn’t see a thing. HRH must have stood on someone’s shoulders because he saw a little more, but still not enough to warrant the ticket price. We saw Cesar from Austria during his first verse, because it was staged up in the air; we saw most of Sennek from Belgium’s performance as she performed on a platform nearer to where we were standing. And of course, they turn the screens off, so if you were relying on watching the show that way, think again. We were able to catch the results, but the rest of the show might as well have been on the radio. Mrs C spent the evening reading The Guardian website. Shame. Still, we had the pleasure of attending the Irish meet-up beforehand at Irish & Co near the arena, where I bumped into Finnish representative Saara Aalto (as you do). I happened to be wearing a t-shirt with a lyric from her song and when she saw me she pointed and gave a little cry of delight. It’s nice to know I can still have that effect on women. Dinner was in the D’ Bacalhau restaurant, again near the arena, where I decided to try the pork steaks and they were fab.

Typical blue walls

Typical blue walls

Another very good restaurant for Wednesday lunch – the Cofre Verde on Rua de Sao Juliao. It’s run by a very nice Nepalese lady who took great pains to show us our dead, but otherwise healthy looking, fish before cooking the poor chap. Full of Portuguese people, so that’s always a good sign. The ubiquitous white wine of choice, incidentally, is Planalto Reserva, a bottle of which you should be able to get for something like 14 to 16 euros. It was only 11 euros in D’Bacalhau. It was 40, yes 40, euros in the dreadful Obrigado Lisboa.

Moldova

What goes on backstage during Moldova’s entry

Wednesday evening we had tickets for the Jury Final of Semi Final Two, Golden Circle Standing. That’s the bit between the stage and the circular apron that many of the performers decided to run around during their songs. We got in quite early and decided to take a unique position: right round as far right as we could go, virtually under what became universally known as the Ireland Break-Up Bridge. It’s a completely side on view, and totally unobscured. Although you didn’t get any of the feel for the staging of a song like Moldova’s, where the comedy (and I use that term loosely too) is all gathered from the choreography as seen from head on, at least you could see the backstage positioning of the performers whilst that song was being performed – a genuinely fascinating experience. Other great moments were when we stood under the Hungarian guitarist; we could almost shake hands with the San Marino robots; we could peek into the back of Christabelle’s box (if you’ll pardon the expression); and HRH could see where the stagehands were extinguishing a fire backstage during Benjamin’s performance.

Proximity

This is how close we were to the stage

This is probably a good point to bring up the question of security. Little did we know on Wednesday night that some tosser would grab the mic off SuRie and damn near ruin Saturday’s show for everyone – frankly she should sue his arse. However, we were very alarmed, considering our proximity to the stage, at the very poor security presence. We were behind a lowish railing; there was a small bank of chairs in front of us, before another small railing and then the stage. During a few of the songs, one security guard sat in front of us, updating his Facebook, checking sports news, and indeed videoing the performers; in fact anything but watching out for potential Jimmy Jumps. During the vast majority of the evening there was nothing to stop me from vaulting over the two fences and running on stage shouting Justice for Jemini – apart from my innate sense of decorum and 14-and-a-half stone. I can’t see anyone in Israel getting anything like this close to the performers; and if anyone tries to rush the stage there, it will be the last thing they do.

Hungarian guitarist

Hungarian guitarist

For post-show dinner we returned to the D’Bacalhau because the nice waitress from Tuesday said she’d look forward to seeing us again. However, she wasn’t on duty and had been replaced by a couple of elderly grumps who’d learned customer care at the António de Oliveira Salazar Finishing School. Food and drink was still yummy though. Thursday lunchtime was the Radio International Team Lunch at the Tivoli Oriente Hotel near the arena. It was very enjoyable, if a little slow and chaotic, and good to see most of the team there on fine form. As it has been the 20th anniversary of the show – Gadzooks, how can that be? – I thought I would do a little after dinner speech. It would have been even better if we’d all been drunk.

Typical Eurovision Mayhem

Typical Eurovision Mayhem

Thursday afternoon saw us back at the Eurocafe for the OGAE UK party – that’s the UK Eurovision Fan Club, for the uninitiated. Mrs C and I were chosen to do an interview for ITV Anglia News that I think ended up on the cutting room floor. Great to chat to all the UK types and it was a very busy and enjoyable afternoon. Mrs C, HRH and I rushed off to Guacamole, a nearby Mexican restaurant that we had discovered that did tasty (but always cold?!) food and lethal margaritas. Good value and quick, when you want to get on to somewhere else in a hurry.

SF2

Semi Final Two at the Village

Which, for us, was the Eurovision Village, as that was where we would be watching the live show of SF2. It took us a good half hour to get in because of security, but that was still early enough (7:45) to get a good place to watch the show. Queues for the drinks and toilets were stupidly long, so it was a dry and legs-crossed night, but very enjoyable – but also surprisingly cold! The Eurovision Village was based at the Praça do Comércio, which is adjacent to the water’s edge, and when that late-night wind whipped up – boy was it nippy!

Alfama District

Alfama District

HRH took Friday off (feeble millennial that he is) so we decided to go for a wander around the Alfama district and had lunch at the Arcaz Velho on Calcada do Forte. We sat on a corner street table and had the most delicious tuna steaks, proper home-made custard desserts and a decent Galao. Later we decided to meet up with M’Learned Friend for a few drinks in the Village before going on to a nice dinner somewhere. On our way out we met Marty Whelan, the Irish commentator – he and M’Learned Friend go back yonks – and we had a charming chat with him and his wife and daughter whilst they were waiting to get served, slowly, in a restaurant. In terms of speed of service, Lisbon isn’t quite the Boris Becker of restaurant capitals. For dinner we ended up at Le Petit Café in Largo São Martinho, and it was excellent. Always a good sign when you ask the waiter for a wine recommendation and he suggests the cheapest wine on the menu – and it’s delicious enough for you to buy three bottles in all.

Saturday Family Show

Saturday Family Show

Saturday was the big day, in Eurovision terms of course, and we had seats reserved for the Family Show (in other words the final afternoon rehearsal) for which we were joined by none other than the doyen of BBC4 Eurovision coverage, Dr Eurovision himself. The view of stage, screens and arena was second to none and we got a really good feel for what Europe would be watching later that night. Dr Eurovision had to leave before the final song, muttering something about a Turkish Television interview and Sky News. He’d been on his phone throughout the whole Family Show anyway, presumably fending off media enquiries and setting up other meetings. Fascinating to see how what started as pure fandom on his part, and then became the basis for his thesis, has shaped a significant element of his career with the result that he can’t just sit back and watch the damn thing anymore. Mind you, he loves it.

Ruslana

It’s Ruslana

Our friends Mr and Mrs Flying-the-Flag were in town, taking a quick trip into the capital from their holiday getaway in deepest Estoril, so we met them for a beer and a steak and chips; but by 5pm we could already see the queue to get into the Eurovision Village was getting longer. By 5:30 my enthusiasm had won me over so we started queueing, and in fact it wasn’t too long before we got in for the 6pm show with Ruslana. Yes, Xena Warrior Princess is still thwacking out the Wild Dances and Dancing with the Wolves (nothing to do with Molineux). The queues for the bar were already ominously long but it’s a long Eurovision night without some libation, so HRH headed off to join the back of the queue and we agreed to keep in mobile contact as to his progress. This was shortly after 6.30pm. At about 7.40pm he thought he’d got close enough to the bar, so I joined him. We were thronged by a pack of thirsty people pressing hard up to a counter, behind which were a few laissez-faire Portuguese, tending to customers provided it didn’t get in the way of their private conversations. The queue wasn’t moving anymore, and the show started at 8pm. Mrs C was now also engulfed in a sea of other Eurovision punters and didn’t expect us to find our way back to her before midnight. But I remembered where she was, and once we’d finally got served, and took the perilous path back to the big screen, we got there just in time for the fourth song to start. That’s one helluva long queue – and shows how totally inadequate the provision was in the Eurovision Village.

T-shirts

Tasteless T-shirts I photographed in Jerusalem in 2016

Israel won; I was a bit disappointed, as it’s very silly and messy. Even if it is about the #metoo generation it also contains muthabuckas, Pam pam pa hoo, prram pam pa hoos, and Cululoo, cululoos. Curiously, the stupid boy that Netta rejects in her song is probably Mikolas in the Czech Republic’s Lie To Me, dripping on his wood bamboo, with his camel in the mood and standing in a puddle. Honestly, some of this year’s lyrics are execrable. I’d hoped that wholesome girl from Cyprus would win; the prospect of a week at a sunny hotel in Limassol was rather enticing. I can’t see us going to Jerusalem for Eurovision week though. We went there on a cruise a couple of years ago and we’ve never been anywhere so tense (and that includes Hanoi, and the Uzbek-Afghan border.) It’s stunningly beautiful, but scary; and if you show one hint of touristy, dithery weakness, that’s the cue for some ruthless shopkeeper or restaurateur to rip you off mercilessly. Tel Aviv – that would be different. But – currently, at least – that’s not looking likely.

On a tuk-tuk

On a tuk-tuk

Our Sunday was spent back up in Alfama, lunching at the Allfama restaurant – very nice; then doing an hour’s tuktuk tour, seeing some of the historical sights. That was good fun. Dinner was at the Portugalia Cervejaria, a 1920s beer hall, with some of the Radio International crowd and the Americo-Irish Canadian Kiwi, which was chaotic but tasty. Then back to bed. Then early to rise for that dreaded plane back to the UK…

Rasmussen

Denmark’s Mr Rasmussen nobly braving the snowy set

So a final few thoughts; best Schlager song (only Schlager song?) in the contest was Azerbaijan which didn’t get through to the final due to silly staging. Azerbaijan, Romania and Russia all lost their 100% qualifying record (quite rightly, for the other two, IMHO). Norway won their semi then faded drastically after being given position no 7 to sing from. UK and Finland both did poorly in the final results, and were both performed after a commercial break; in fact three of the bottom four songs didn’t have to qualify, which always speaks volumes. The Top 3 were all from Semi Final One, and you have to drop down to 7th place (Sweden) to get a song from Semi Final Two. After Cyprus, Ukraine provided the best singalong opportunity in the final, but was also shafted by singing first. Denmark still won the day for me, with their heroic Viking stomping. The four hosts were good – the lady in the black dress who stood on the right, Filomena Cautela, was hilarious. The staging was exciting, as was the voting, although, visually, the final result was very confusing on the TV screen as they didn’t switch back to a view of the scoreboard, and it was a while before we were convinced that was indeed Israel who had won.

On the whole, a very good year. Every year, fans typically say, “this year is the worst ever” but in fact the quality this year was very high. Remember – after 1st September, songs newly published become eligible for next year’s contest. Get writing!!

Eurovision 2018 – The Preview

Apologies, gentle reader. Normally I provide you with an in-depth analysis and revelatory insight into each of the current year’s Eurovision songs, but this year time, other commitments and real life have bitten into my schedule and I won’t be able to offer this service this year. I know you have a choice of Eurovision Opinion Providers and if you do find it necessary to ask for a refund, my solicitors are instructed to consider each case on its own criteria.

Instead I offer you a snappy(ish) blow by blow account of each entry in order of performance, and we’ll see where it takes us. These are based on the original videos, I’ve not been watching the rehearsals. You’re still going to get my five-star rating for each song. I’m sure that’s a comfort.

Semi Final One

Azerbaijan – Aisel – X My Heart *****
AiselWho’d have thought the best schlager in this year’s contest would come from Azerjeben? Not only is this a bright, up-tempo effort from Aisel (not AySel – they’re clearly limited for girls’ names in Azərbaycanca) but it also has some of the best inappropriate lyrics in the contest. Next time you have to prove your mettle to someone, announce that you’re stronger than cannonballs and watch the reaction. Like Tigger, it’s bouncy, trouncy, flouncy and pouncy.

Iceland – Ari Olafsson – Our Choice *
Ari OlafssonWhereas this is more like Eeyore. Ari takes on the pain of the world and explores it through the medium of coma. There’s no doubting his musicality – apparently he’s off to the Royal Academy of Music in September – but this ploddy three minutes never engages the listener. About as inviting as a plate of buried cod.

Albania – Eugent Bushpepa – Mall ****
Eugent BushpepaSgt Bushpepa emotes his way through an anguished song of yearning (that’s what Mall means – nothing to do with comfy shopping) whilst his Lonely Hearts Club Band whack out a strong meaty accompaniment. Forget your Hungaries, this is where this year’s classy folk rock is to be found. He does look a bit angry sometimes but it’s a blessed relief after the vanilla-lite of Iceland.

Belgium – Sennek – A Matter of Time ***
SennekAccording to Wikipedia Sennek works for Ikea (she’s probably known as Laura Groeseneken there) so I’ll resist jokes about fit Verse A into Hook B. But this song does feel quite manufactured to me, rather than a lovely organic thing of its own. I always think I’m going to enjoy it, but then I end up enduring it. Sennek’s long lanky hair can sometimes give her Princess Fiona ears which take my mind off the song for a bit. It’s not that bad though. Does it remind anyone else of Reynaert’s majestic Laissez Briller le soleil? (not visually, obviously, that would be silly.) That was Belgium too. I think we should be told.

Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me **
MikolasDisclaimer: I wrote this before Mikolas came a cropper on his backflip in the first rehearsal and I absolutely take my hat off to him for carrying on when doubtless he’s in a lot of pain. /Disclaimer>
Before writing this little paragraph, I’m going to watch the YouTube again to see if I can make three minutes without turning it off. Well, credit where it’s due, I did. This is a song that makes me feel very old. The lyrics need to come with a glossary (I still haven’t worked out what GGY means – although I do understand the concept of a wood bamboo, and the camel grossed me out) and I guess they have plans to remove the four-letter words. I like the Epic Sax Guy-inspired rhythm and Mikolas is obviously a talented chap – and I’m totally prepared to accept that the smug poseur character singing this song is an act. But it does irritate me. When his voice goes down into the lower register it sounds really sleazy. A good Eurovision song needs instant impact and this certainly has it. Just don’t hear it a second time.

Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaite – When We’re Old ****
Ieva ZThis quiet, unassuming little song is normally the kind of fodder I’d just skip and move on. But the lyrics are so heartfelt and its nature so charming – plus I am indeed getting old – that its message got to me. Ieva’s married surname of Zasimauskaite-Kiltinaviciene needs a sentence all to itself. They’re going to have to stage it wisely; too much will kill it, too little will feel too stark. But it’s a yes from me.

Israel – Netta – Toy **
NettaHere’s the one that everyone’s talking about. For the first few seconds of the video Netta sounds like she’s trying to discharge something disgusting from her nasal orifices and then she goes into the farmyard impersonations. There’s no doubt this will make that all so important initial impact, and for it to work I think they’ll need to play up the humour. I read someone’s comment that Netta looks like the school bully and combined with the rather cruel nature of the lyrics, I feel that’s a great description. When she finally gets around to singing “I’m not your toy you stupid boy” it’s fab. It’s just the other bits that turn me off. Feminist icon or grotesque, you decide. What do we think of the word muthabucka? Not convinced. Is the woman in the pink rain poncho with blue hair based on the Victoria Wood character looking for her Kimberley?

Belarus – Alekseev – Forever ***
AlekseevA classic example of a song written in English by a non-English speaking lyricist. You can always tell when the music requires the stress to be on the wrong syllable in a sentence: “Windows wide opén, flying so high, both of us roaming through magnificent sky…” Alekseev looks like a moody lad, like a singing James Acaster. In the modern tradition, it’s a trifle whingey, but it has a lush orchestral arrangement, and, despite myself, I rather like it.

Estonia – Elina Nechayeva – La Forza *
ElinaThis year’s popera entry – there’s nearly always one – and it’s a full in-your-ear extravaganza. Sung entirely in Italian, because, as we know, Estonia’s full of Italians, Elina belts out the arpeggios till all the stray dogs in Tallinn come running. Oh, and she’s got one of those Eurovision dresses, you know the type. I don’t care how expert her singing is, it’s everything I hate about Eurovision.

Bulgaria – Equinox – Bones ***
EquinoxI love the bones of you, say the Liverpool half of the family. Equinox go on one better, loving beyond the bones. That’s a helluva lot of love. A rather creepy official video that looks like an out-take from a sci-fi show enhances the moody gloom of this rather anthemic and persistent little song that can get under your skin, if not quite beyond the bones. Like a few other good songs this year it might not be quite substantial enough to go the very top but this won’t be a disgrace by any means.

FYR Macedonia – Eye Cue – Lost and Found **
Eye CueTalking of disgraces… No that’s too strong. Disappointments, maybe. It has a great start – you think it’s going to be a bit like No No Never, but then it acquires an ungainly rhythm of faux-funk, and ends up just pappy pop. The old cliché was that three tunes in a song, you can’t go wrong – here’s proof that’s not true. Not a lot to enjoy here.

Croatia – Franka – Crazy **
FrankaTemptress sex kitten cross garter’d like Malvolio (not in yellow, thank heavens) pouts while man with bad skin condition dances around her. I can just about take this until she starts talking. Three points for spotting the obligatory annual “diamonds and pearls” lyric. Oh and then she swims underwater in a wedding dress. You couldn’t make it up really. She looks like a lovely girl but it’s not a song I can take seriously. Next?

Austria – Cesar Sampson – Nobody but You *****
CesarSo here’s a thing. Gospel in Eurovision normally sticks out like Mr Naef in a beauty contest, but this hint of gospel works really well, IMHO. From the same writing/production team behind the Bulgarian song, and I know who got the better deal. Cesar is a terrific singer and this is a strong, assertive and surprisingly catchy ballad. Not a huge amount more to say – it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Greece – Yianna Terzi – Oniro mou ****
YIannaYianna laments her undying love for her fella while he (presumably) undergoes an SAS Who Dares Wins trial all by himself. Then, rather weirdly, he pulls her out of the earth. They do things differently in Greece. Highly dramatic, incredibly effective, turbulently Greco-ethnic. If you ignore the silly video and close your eyes and dream, you could be transported anywhere you like. In the Peloponnese peninsula, preferably.

Finland – Saara Aalto – Monsters *****
Saara AaltoHere’s another official video that doesn’t enhance its song in any way, but the song is strong enough to survive without it. In the past always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Saara Aalto is going to get on that stage and smash it. Very singalong, instantly appealing, plenty of quirkiness and monsters under the bed – even the six year olds watching will appreciate that. I hope they resist the temptation to go over the top on the staging.

Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan – Qami ****
SevakNot the Armenian for a bar of soap, Qami means Wind, so I’ll let you insert your own joke here. Rivalling Cesar from Austria for the Best Male Vocalist award, Sevak spreads his arms and whirls like the slowest Dervish this side of Yerevan. This atmospheric ballad moves along at a nice andante, and builds for strong finish. Wind, wind, where did you take my warm memories? Didn’t know it was a song about dyspeptic amnesia. Fully deserves to qualify.

Switzerland – Zibbz – Stones *****
ZibbzSo many times in recent years Switzerland have been among my favourites yet have failed to make any impact on the contest. I hope that doesn’t happen again – but I fear it may. Coming a very worthy second to France’s Madame Monsieur for the Best Duo Award, Coco releases some great rock chick attitude and this is definitely one of the funkiest chunes this year. Trouble is, no one votes for Switzerland, do they?

Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy – Together ***
RyanNow for something a little less funky. Inspired by Uncle Gary’s Eurovision appearance seventeen years ago, here comes Ryan O’Shaugnessy with a gentle song about an unexpected relationship break-up. I know many people who rate this quite highly – I can’t help but think they’re inspired by the artistry of the excellent video more than the bare bones of the song, which is a trifle whingey in the modern tradition, and a little introverted for my taste. Perfectly pleasant, though.

Cyprus – Eleni Foureira – Fuego **
EleniEleni is a classy dame but she looks like she’s too good for this song – and I think she’s right. Trying to outdo Aisel in the silly lyrics stakes – someone control that pelican, would you? It’s full of Ivi Adamou-style repetition and I don’t think it’s anything like as good as it thinks it is. One of those triumph of style over substance type songs. Nice feathers though.


Semi Final Two

Norway – Alexander Rybak – That’s How You Write A Song *
Alexander RybakMr Rybak has been responsible for so many excellent recordings over the past few years including his winning (in many ways) performance of Fairytale in the 2009 contest. So it seems such an awful shame that he returns to ESC with this utter drivel. Normally I really enjoy songs that are about the writing process, they have a real inventive and creative edge. Not so this time, this is a cynically envisaged, purpose-built model designed purely to show off Mr R’s incredible showmanship. It’s got a hook you can’t get out of your head, dammit, and if it was that easy to write a song, we’d all be doing it. No! get thee behind me Alexander! Working on the theory that Jamala and Salvador won by being the biggest stand-out anti-personalities with songs just bad enough to win, I reckon this will be Rybak’s year again.

Romania – The Humans – Goodbye *
The HumansStatic, dreary, soporific. I wonder if lead singer Liz Truss MP will get permission from Parliament to front the group for a week. I say “week”… she’ll be back Friday morning. Douze points from Moldova, so that’s twelve points in all.

Serbia – Sanja Ilic & Balkanika – Nova Deca *
Sanja-Ilic-BalkanikaIf neighbours FYR Macedonia prove three tunes in a song doesn’t always work, here’s proof that just two tunes in a song can go wayward too. After a long introductory caterwauling, presumably because they couldn’t think of any more notes for the music stave, there’s only time left for two minutes of song. A moderately interesting Balkan chorus, surrounded by blithering nothingness. Nova Deca means “New Generation”, but there’s nothing much new about that horrendous mess.

San Marino – Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening – Who We Are *
Jessika and JeniferFirstly, yes you can sing the chorus of Mans Zelmerlow’s Heroes to the chorus of Who We Are, so that feels pretty shameless. Jenifer Brening – and I mean this as a compliment – must be one of the poshest rappers in the world. It’s like Missy Elliott went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College. It’s Jessika, though, who has to make sense of words like “We are who we are and who we are is who we wanna be”. Right, got that, I think. Lyrics by existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. There’s no lack of effort from the two ladies, but this has all the musical appeal of Bird’s Nest Soup.

Denmark – Rasmussen – Higher Ground *****
RasmussenAt last, a song in Semi Final Two to enjoy! In fact, gentle reader, this is probably my favourite this year. Yes I know they’re just Hokum Vikings, all beard, gowns and stomping, but I find the lyrics remarkably stirring and I genuinely find something strangely heroic about the whole thing. It’s also a fabulously anthemic tune. Be the first to turn around, take the leap and land on higher ground; I will, oh Captain my Captain. At last we finally find out what’s happened with Frodo nowadays.

Russia – Julia Samoylova – I Won’t Break ***
Julia SamoylovaIt was no surprise that Julia was coming back for a second attempt at a first attempt at winning Eurovision; and I reckon this is a much better song than that old Flame is Burning tosh from last year. There’s something about Julia’s voice that has a gurgling quality that doesn’t appeal to me, but I have to say I get quite taken up by this song when it gets to the even in the darkness part. That said, the video of her performance at the Moscow ESC Party was a proper shocker.

Moldova – DoReDos – My Lucky Day *
DoReDosOne of those three minutes that only Eurovision can throw up, and I use that term most deliberately. A glum Moldovan ménage à trois acted out to a folk salsa beat. It looks like the worst ever song excised from the worst ever musical. They try to be funny, bless them. But honestly. Three points if you call them Doritos.

Netherlands – Waylon – Outlaw in ‘em **
WaylonSo Mr Rybak isn’t the only repeat offender this year, as we also have Waylon, the male half of the Common Linnets, and the only person in The Netherlands to be named after a man made fibre. On paper this should be much better than it is. I can see why some people might like it – but Albania beats it hands down. Probably the best part of it is the lengthy guitar outro which has had to be removed to get it down to three minutes.

Australia – Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love ***
Jessica MauboyHaving been the guest artiste at the 2014, Jessica Mauboy returns as a contestant proper; not quite poacher turned gamekeeper but you get the picture. We Got Love is a bright and breezy number that almost soars – but doesn’t quite. The repetition of the words and notes “cos we got love” in the chorus somehow stops it in its tracks. I’m sure it will do well though, and Ms M is a great performer, so Australia has it all to play for.

Georgia – Iriao – For You ***
iriaoAnd now for something completely different. Georgia offer us five chaps with strong choral voices performing folk barbershop to a charming tune that’s got just a hint of Koit Toome’s Mere Lepsed in there somewhere. It’s the kind of song that just washes over you and three minutes later you re-emerge back into reality. In many respects, very enjoyable, and it’ll certainly chalk up a few points.

Poland – Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer – Light me up ***
Gromee and LukasA Polish DJ and a Swedish singer combine to create a very Swedish sounding entry with ear-disturbing (but still enjoyable) distortions and a summer sunshiny beat. The tune never quite breaks free into perfect bliss but it should be enough to get most people up on their feet. Undemanding, and moderate fun.

Malta – Christabelle – Taboo ***
ChristabelleThe taboo in question is that of mental health; and the video in question is an overblown piece of dramatic nonsense. Strip away the layers and you get quite a satisfying pop song with a neat little hook on the mention of animals, animals. I liked this a lot at first but it has quickly begun to pall. Still, first impressions and all that, it could do quite well. Dear old Christabelle’s been hammering at the door of Eurovision for Malta for many years now so it’s good to see her finally get her chance.

Hungary – AWS – Viszlat Nyar *
AWSNow here’s a Marmite song; you definitely either love or hate this one. Traditional Eurovision lovers don’t care for its rocky guitar edginess; those who like a bit of rock seem to rate it highly. I don’t mind a bit of rock at all – but I think this is sheer agony. The title means Goodbye Summer, which seems to have come at the wrong time of the year for the contest. I wonder what Hungarian for Goodbye Chances is?

Latvia – Laura Rizzotto – Funny Girl *
Laura RizzottoIf you were hoping for a spot of Barbra Streisand, think again. Anything funny about Laura Rizzotto’s self-penned ode to misery is either ironic or simply misplaced. It’s a sad account of a relationship breakdown but if it’s meant to be emotional, it completely passes me by. This Rizzotto is all rice and no meat. It’s a shame because she’s an excellent singer and she looks great. However, she wrote it, so there’s no one else to blame…

Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso – Dance You Off *****
Benjamin IngrossoYou’ll remember a few years ago that young scamp Frans sang a cheeky little number for Sweden about being sorry, but he wasn’t sorry. This year another young scamp, Benjamin, sings a very similar song about getting rid of an unwanted girlfriend. His musical style is a little breathy but it’s a great tune and feels to me (old codger that I am) pretty much contemporary in style. His mother is Pernilla Wahlgren, so music obviously entered his system through the umbilical cord.

Montenegro – Vanja Radovanovic – Inje **
VanjaAnother of those songs that sound like they’ve come from one of the glummer stage musicals. The verse builds to a flourish but then the chorus is quite reserved – at first, at any rate. It’s all about how frost paralyses a heart and so love gets frozen out. Sometimes these Balkan songs can sound really powerful and moving, but this one comes across a pompous and over-complicated. Still, Vanja does wear a terrific frock coat, well jel.

Slovenia – Lea Sirk – Hvala Ne*
Lea SirkBy means of contrast, Lea Sirk’s contribution for Slovenia is the ultimate in attitude, with Lea having a wonderful time strutting her stuff and making it absolutely clear that it’s a case of No Thanks to anyone who asks. It’s a spiky, uncomfortable song, devoid of emotion so it’s hard to open yourself up to it. It also has a rather alienating robotic feel to it. Very competently done, but it’s not my cup of tea at all.

Ukraine – MELOVIN – Under the Ladder ****
MelovinLucky last in Semi Final Two is MELOVIN with the bizarrely titled Under the Ladder, and the first thing you have to admit about it is that boy, is it a catchy tune! 21-year-old Kosytantyn likes his stage name to be spelled in capitals, just in case you didn’t hear it the first time. It’s a very likeable entry but I’m just wondering how his voice will come across. From the videos I sense a little immaturity and insecurity there, but I think if he nails the vocals he could do very well.

Finalists

France – Madame Monsieur – Mercy *****
Madame MonsieurAlthough I am a self-professed Denmark fan this year, France’s Mercy has been on my head far more than any other song in the run up to this year’s Eurovision and I think it is the classiest composition, given the full gamine interpretation by Emilie, the Madame half of Madame Monsieur. Crammed with pathos, bursting with simplicity, you’d have to be a very hard-hearted sort not to get carried along with it. It wasn’t my favourite from the French final, but on reflection I think it’s the perfect song for Eurovision and for the first time in Donkeys’ Years there’s a real prospect of a Parisian contest next year.

Germany – Michael Schulte – You Let Me Walk Alone **
Michael SchulteFrom one heartfelt song to another, but for me with much less of an impact. Michael Schulte is rocking his Ed Sheeran look, and it’s suitably whingey and self-indulgent for the era, so I think it might appeal to those suffering with teenage angsts, and anyone who’s missing their parents. There’s no question it’s elegantly written, with its escalation up the numbers in the chorus (one love, two hearts, three kids, four no trumps) but at the end of the day it’s rather schmaltzy, and I feel it’s more admirable than enjoyable.

Italy – Ermal Meta and Fabrizio Moro – Non mi avete fatto niente *****
Ermal and FabrizioOne of the difficulties for some songs that weren’t written directly for Eurovision, is how to cut them down to the requisite three minutes. It killed both Amir’s J’ai cherché and last year’s favourite from Italy, Occidentali’s Karma, all that was left of which was a hollowed out shell of a brilliant song. The otherwise very wordy Non mi avete fatto niente actually benefits from being cut down and the three minute version flows superbly. Like France, it takes a serious subject and gives it a serious and sympathetic treatment without getting maudlin. The two Italian lads are great performers and you write this one off at your peril.

Portugal – Claudia Pascoal – O Jardim ***
Claudia PascoalCongratulations to Portugal for finally winning Eurovision last year with a song that many loved and many didn’t get. The Portuguese always feel more comfortable being represented by a song that has an element of moroseness about it and this year is no exception. Isaura Santos’s song is all about tending the (symbolic) flowers that are all that remain from a lover who’s died, so if you’re waiting for an uplifting song from the Big Five and host, keep waiting. The melody reminds me significantly of the Lightning Seeds Sense, but offers a very different atmosphere. Claudia has a very beautiful style to her voice; similar to Ieva’s from Lithuania, but stronger. The song doesn’t really go anywhere, but I’m not sure that matters. Not a winner, but very nice.

Spain – Amaia and Alfred – Tu cancion **
Amaia and AlfredNot Su Cancion, otherwise Betty Missiego would su(e). Amaia and Alfred were thrown together on Spanish Reality TV and their song reflects the genuine relationship that built between them as the series developed. It’s all very sweet; a little drippy perhaps, but its heart is in the right place. Not the kind of song I’d be likely to play usually, and probably my least favourite of the Big Five + Portugal.


United Kingdom – SuRie – Storm ****

SuRieAnd finally, we hit the 43rd song and it’s the United Kingdom entry with SuRie singing Storm. One thing’s for sure – SuRie is an amazing performer, and with her experiences as part of the Belgian teams with Loic Nottet and Blanche, she shouldn’t be fazed by the big occasion. The song has a nice build and the subtle emotions conveyed in the second verse when she’s talking to her mother and father knock the emotions of the German and Portuguese songs into the proverbial cocked hat. However, I fear it won’t have the necessary initial impact to do well, although I know SuRie will give it a stunning performance. We saw her perform it at West End Eurovision and she’s definitely a safe pair of hands. And lungs.

This never has any particular relation to how the final results will end up, but let’s have a quick look at which songs have received the most looks on YouTube as at this moment now (which is already history) – and the ones that go big are Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Sweden, Norway, France, Austria, Australia, Macedonia, Russia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland, Estonia and Denmark – but exceeding the second placed song by a good ten million it’s that muthabuckin experience from Israel. Make of that what you will.

It merely remains for me to wish you all a happy Eurovision week; don’t overlook the Semi Finals because they’re a vital part of the whole shenanigans. Have a wonderful time and here’s hoping for a 2019 contest from Paris or Copenhagen. (But I fear it will be Oslo.)

Eurovision Song Contest, Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton, 13th May 2017

Celebrate DiversityThis was indeed the 62nd annual Eurovision Song Contest and I’ve been waving them on, man and boy, ever since the 12th. Fifty years of Eurovision… I should be entitled to a medal. Well, forty-nine really, as the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle took me on holiday to Cyprus during Eurovision week in 1974, much to my frustration; in those days I didn’t have the ability to record the show, so it all passed me by. Did anyone famous win that year?

ErrolYou may have been forgiven, gentle reader, for thinking that this year’s Euroshindig took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. Not a bit of it. The real action was at the Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton. Mrs Chrisparkle and I, together with Lord and Lady Prosecco, Mr and Mrs Jolly-Japester and Northampton’s own Mr Flying-the-Flag (and Mrs Flag) were in attendance. The sumptuous and (almost) new Screen 2 played host to another evening of wine, women, song, political intrigue, scandal, dubious taste, and snacks.

Helen BlabyAmong those women was BBC Radio Northampton’s very own Helen Blaby, all bedecked in sparkly sequins. She hosted the evening for us, judging the Fancy Dress contest (the three French girls won) and acting as the Jon Ola Sand of the East Midlands in ensuring our voting procedure took place fair and square. No embarrassing “can we please have your votes;” “I don’t have it” moments for us; although they did run out of Velcro.

julia samoilovaSomeone who didn’t win the Fancy Dress contest was a gentleman in a wheelchair, who said he’d come as Julia from Russia. Nice mickey-taking indeed, although he didn’t get her hair right. You’ll know that wheelchair-using Julia was refused entry into Ukraine by the state officials as she had previously performed at a concert in Crimea without permission – and Ukrainian law states that she could not enter the country as a result. The EBU, who run Eurovision, have no power to override a country’s laws but they were disappointed at Ukraine’s stance. All a ploy by Russia, of course, to make Ukraine look bad; in an attempt to make her performance possible, it was suggested she could perform by satellite from Moscow, but that was dismissed outright by the Russians. Therefore, no Russia this year. In an act of extreme contrition, on the evening of the semi-final where Julia would otherwise have been competing in the ESC, she attended another concert instead – in Crimea. Honestly it’s like putting the Krym in criminal. Julia is already nominated as Russia’s performer for the 2018 contest in Lisbon. Let’s hope she tries to sing the same song and is disqualified on the grounds that it was published before 1st September 2017. As you’ve probably guessed, I’ve no sympathy with Russia on this issue. They should have thought about it before aggressively invading another country.

Moldova SunstrokeThe Errol is a great place to see the contest – it’s so comfortable, with a great sound system, and a great selection of food and drink. We even have our own hashtag – #Errolvision. I love the fact that you can take a proper bottle of wine into the cinema with you. No plastic cups, no trashy junk; it treats you like an adult. For the Eurovision, they do the usual game of “let’s bring out some appropriate food and drink for some of the countries” – so we were treated to (if I remember rightly) falafels for Israel, Babybels for Netherlands, Pinot Grigio (chilled individual bottles) for Italy, Fish ‘n’ Chip flavoured snacks for the UK, Black Forest Gateau for Germany, tzatziki for Greece; there may have been more. And, as hinted earlier on, we also have our own voting procedure where everybody has a douze points sticker and a nul points sticker and they award them to whichever countries they like and dislike most. My douze = Italy; my nul = Croatia; Mrs C’s douze = Germany; her nul = Ukraine (I think). But overall – and this will amuse you gentle reader if you know how this year’s results fell – the Errolvision winner was Moldova (gasp!) and the loser was Portugal (gasp, gasp!)

Francesco GabbaniWhat of the songs themselves? We started with Israel, who got us off to a great start with a song I really like. Mrs Flag said that IMRI of Israel looks just like me. I will love her forever for that remark. Poland and Belarus followed, to no great interest, then Austria, with Nathan sitting on the moon (not the only incident of mooning that night). Armenia – still don’t get it; Netherlands – still too many harmonies; then Moldova and finally we all had something uptempo and flashy to get our teeth into – I’m sure it inspired many episodes of epic sax later that night. Hungary – still sounds morose, then my favourite Italy, which I willed on to do really well and win but… in the end, it just didn’t somehow. There hasn’t been a more obvious runaway winner than Francesco since Alexander Rybak in 2009; so how come it didn’t win? Great tune, clever lyrics, engaging performer, and the naked ape isn’t an out-and-out gimmick, he features in the song. Although making him wear a rainbow bow-tie was silly. That means he wasn’t naked anymore – and that’s just the point.

Jacques HoudekDenmark came and went and then it was Portugal, that slow burner that would either do incredibly well or fade away into obscurity. Salvador’s eccentric delivery made a few people laugh in the Errol, and once they realised it wasn’t going to go uptempo, most people just talked through it. Not what the typical Brit thinks is a typical Eurovision song, therefore they weren’t going to show any interest in it. Did they learn nothing from Jamala? Apparently not. Azerbaijan created some scornful cackling at the horse’s head. As for Jacques from Croatia, the Errol audience burst into hysterical laughter at the pompous and ludicrous delivery of the Z-lister from Zagreb, the homophobe from Hrvatska. Many of them voted for it, thinking it was a comedy number.

Lucie JonesAustralia, Greece, Spain and Norway all came, all went and there wasn’t a lot of interest – apart from the one Australian member of the audience who of course HAD to come down to the front whilst Isaiah was on and wave his wallaby at us. Then it was the UK – and we are of course pre-programmed to hope and expect the best and demand that the rest of Europe will respectfully acknowledge our national superiority and festoon us with high scores. Lucie, as we knew she would, performed brilliantly; I think she heightened expectation by having perfected a superb delivery of that song which made us all forget that the song itself is, basically, quite forgettable; and clearly that’s what the majority of the televoters thought too. Not so bad from the juries though, and it’s always a shame to see your country slowly and inexorably drift back to the right hand side of the screen.

Ilinca and AlexCyprus: yes okay; then Romania; and the Errol was soon filled with voices reflecting the lilting sound of rapping yodel. We all enjoyed that one. Germany did really well (IMHO), Ukraine had a shocker of a song, Belgium stood like a Brussels sprout left out in the rain, Sweden went on despite saying he couldn’t, Kristian from Bulgaria gave us an absolute belter, and everyone ignored France because by that stage you’re just adding up and working out your votes.

Jamala and the MoonA bright spark in an Australian flag decided to brighten up proceedings whilst Jamala was performing yet another dirge by jumping up on to her podium and revealing his arse to 200 million people. Jamala was a trooper, she didn’t flinch one moment. I expect she’s seen better before. Still at least she got a visual souvenir of the arseholes she sings about in her song 1944. Turns out he wasn’t a drunken Aussie, but a regular Ukrainian prankster by the name of Vitalii Sediuk, and he might be facing a fine or up to five years behind bars, according to the Ukrainian Interior Minister, who goes by the name of Arsen Avakov (you couldn’t make it up).

Salvador SobralPortugal won, massively; with Bulgaria in second place and Moldova in third. Portugal’s first win since they started competing in 1964 has been met with pretty much universal approval, even though there are still plenty of people who Just Don’t Get The Song. Not only Portugal’s first win but the best ever placing for the top three countries; and the winning song is the first to be written exclusively by a woman/women – so maybe they did end up celebrating diversity after all. Salvador peed a number of people off by using his winner’s speech to denigrate throw-away pop, and on reflection I think he spoke out of turn. Maybe if he’d spent longer in the ESC bubble he might have realised how some people would have taken it the wrong way. Still, there’s no disguising his success – and his big reception on return to Lisbon airport proves his current popularity.

keep-calm-and-welcome-to-lisbon-6Mrs Chrisparkle and I had made a secret pact that if either Italy or Portugal won we would almost certainly go to see the show there next year. It will have been three years since the sea of fans in the auditorium in Vienna parted to make way for Mans Zelmerlow to walk through and we were almost trampled to death by big blokes being forced on top of us; just about enough time to forget the pain and fear and endure it all again. Till then, hope you had a great Eurovision season, and don’t get too upset with the Post Eurovision Depression – plans for next year are already afoot!

P. S. I had Portugal at 11/1 win and Moldova at 100/1 each way, and combined with a few little bets about which countries would qualify, that meant I scored a £200 win from those nice people at Skybet!

Eurovision Semi Final Two 2017

So we reconvened at the appointed hour to witness the solemn ceremony of selecting the final ten to go through to Saturday’s Eurovision Grand Finale. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were accompanied in this challenging but ultimately rewarding task by the likes of Lord and Lady Prosecco (true to their name), Mr and Mrs Jolly-Japester (same applies) and HRH the Crown Prince of Bedford (one doesn’t comment on the behaviour of royalty). Again we each chose the ten songs/performances that we most enjoyed, rather than the ones we thought would get through.

Serbia 17Serbia – Just as it was about to start I popped a bottle of prosecco and it went all over my trousers and socks. By the time I’d mopped it off the table, the carpet and my leg, the song had all but finished. I know I don’t like it much though – it’s too much of a steal from other songs. HRH noted there were two topless male dancers. Given Tijana’s see-through dress, I’ll just leave that with you. Four of us (Mrs C, HRH and the Prosecco pair) decided to put it through to the final.

Austria 17Austria – We remember Nathan as a happy chappy from the London party. Interesting staging, giving a whole new meaning to mooning. He delivered it superbly as we expected. But is there something lacking from this whole thing? Apparently not, as we all sent Nathan through apart from a grumpy Lord Prosecco.

Macedonia 17FYR Macedonia – Mr Jolly-Japester thought her name was Jana Bigchester – clearly his Freudian slip was showing. Jana romped around like a sex kitten, all tinsel and Madonna-like, wearing the epitome of f*ck me boots that Mrs C would die for. Unfortunately, with all this, a rather beautiful and charming song got totally lost. Nevertheless, six of us appreciated her splendid effort, with only Lord Prosecco being grumpy again.

Malta 17Malta – Breastlessly? enquired Mr Jolly-Japester, clearly on a roll. Well, not entirely, came the group response. Hurrah for Claudia finally making it to Eurovision, and most of us agreed that it’s a strong song, if a trifle old-fashioned. Five of us gave her the thumbs up, only HRH wasn’t impressed with her cleavage and Mr J-J just got too bored with the song.

Romania 17Romania – It wouldn’t be Eurovision without something totally ridiculous that just might set the world alight. Time then to meet Ilinca and Alex, two lovely people whom you both want to cuddle. Highly impressed with her performance, Mr J-J noted there was no end to what she was capable of with her throat. The song is total rubbish but they give the audience three minutes of sheer delight. One of only four songs that all seven of us put through to the final.

Netherlands 17The Netherlands – I explained to the gathered crowds the story of how this song was written and succeeded in puncturing the mood completely (Google it if you don’t know). The girls are lovely and it’s beautifully staged but for me it’s as dull as ditchwater. Do you remember how they criticised Mozart for having too many notes? For me this has too many harmonies. Nevertheless, four brave souls – HRH, Lord P and the J-Js all gave it the nod of approval.

Hungary 17Hungary – Lord Prosecco drew this in the office sweepstake so we were all very excited for him to hear it. Oh dear. Nice dancer. Nice violinist. Shame about the song. Mr J-J thought it sounded like an ode to constipation. We know a Hungarian who is genuinely embarrassed by this song. As the late Terry Wogan once said (of the Austrian entry in 1977) “different, but not sufficiently different to make a difference.” Only Lord Prosecco (with an eye on his sweepstake) and Mr J-J sent it through to the final.

Denmark 17Denmark – Eurovision by numbers, and quite dull. Anja went to school in Winmalee, New South Wales, where Mrs C’s best schoolfriend works as a teacher. She probably taught Anja. I’m full of riveting facts, me. Halfway through we stopped listening and started talking about Jeremy Corbyn. Only Lady Prosecco selected her to go through to the final.

Ireland 17Ireland – I think this was the time when the level of our conversation truly descended, unlike Brendan’s testicles. Three minutes asking ourselves searching questions like: What is he dying to try? Does it involve the local priest? What on earth is he doing out this late at night? What the hell are Ireland playing at? To be honest, I rather liked his balloon. Only one of us voted for him to go through: HRH, and I doubt it had anything to do with the song.

San Marino 17San Marino – Lady Prosecco had already condemned this to oblivion before Valentina and Jimmie had opened their mouths. Valentina was so hyper, Mrs J-J assumed she’d been taking speed. Did I hear the line: “I can see the future is bright, I’ll take your booze away”? Harsh. Very cruise ship; but some cruise ship entertainment is really good. Some. One of two songs that none of us voted for at all.

Croatia 17Croatia – I just can’t take this seriously in any way. I giggled my way all through it, and not in a good way. The ultimate “Look at me, I’m a star” song. I know I’m in no position to comment, but really, a man of his proportions should not wear a leather jacket. Skin tight. Fully done up. Once you’d finished laughing at his duet with himself, there was the blissful hilarity of the duelling strings, the violinist and cellist battling out to the death to see who could leave the stage with any vestige of dignity left. This was the other song that was a nul points from all of us.

Norway 17Norway – After the overweening, overblown musical flatulence that preceeded it, JOWST’s little song whispered in on a light breeze with just a slight whiff of Jarlsberg. Mrs J-J said she got Ed Sheeran vibes; I’ll have to take her word for that. Maybe it was just because it followed two totally dreadful entries, but all of us sent it through to the final.

Switzerland 17Switzerland – Miruna was wearing what I can only describe as an oversized mango smoothie, perched atop an enormous desk caddy, also in fetching mango – thoughtfully they’d removed the pencils. Later on, they wheeled up a pink piano with a pink pianist to provide colour contrast. It was like watching a block of Neapolitan ice-cream. She’s got a great voice – but we hardly noticed the song. The Proseccos and Mrs C put it through.

Belarus 17Belarus – Not Michael Holliday’s version of The Story of my Life, much to Lord Prosecco’s disappointment. Arciom and Ksienija looked like little rays of sunshine. So happy. So lacey (at least, I think that’s what that material is). It took me ages to realise they were on a boat and not merely accompanied by two giant hamster wheels. Their song, in pure Belarussian, was also very happy. And felt much longer than three minutes. Only Mr J-J voted it through.

Bulgaria 17Bulgaria – Kristian Kostov (not, as Mr J-J had it, “Tossed-off”) impressed us all with his superb voice and beautiful song. Well, nearly all. “Am I the only one who thinks this is boring?” asked Lady Prosecco. “Yes,” we confirmed. I thought it was sheer class from start to finish. Will it carry off the Grand Prix on Saturday night? Not sure. Could be a chance of so near and yet Sofia. Only the low boredom threshold of Lady Prosecco prevented it from being a clean sweep of yays.

Lithuania 17Lithuania – From the sublime to the ridiculous, featuring the winner of Lithuania’s Got Talons. When one of our party (who shall be nameless) described Viktorija’s coiffure as a “prickly bush”, we had to halt the recording for some time in order to recover. It was also noted that if Viktorija shoved her finger nail into his underpants, it would have been the longest thing down there. Rubbish song, so who cares? Bizarrely Mrs J-J, in a fit of kindness, voted it through.

Estonia 17Estonia – Two to go, and my second favourite of 2017. Another example of jacket jealousy for me as Koit marched across the stage with enormous authority which crumbled when he gave the camera his “Ed Milliband” look. They were singing about how they’d lost their Verona but they were in each other’s arms and looking happy – had they sneakily found it again but told no one? Loved the harmonies though, and this was another song that we all voted through to the final.

Israel 17Israel – I’d always thought this was a very good underdog this year and IMRI absolutely nailed the performance. Terrific vocals, smart looking guy, and an enjoyable song. I’d be happy to see the contest in Tel Aviv next year. Universal approbation throughout as this was the fourth song that we all voted for.

So how did we all do? We all got a mixture of 5 or 6 right (I scored 6) except Mr Jolly-Japester who scored 8 and thereby wins a cutting of Viktorija’s prickly bush for bedding purposes. By contrast, if I’d stuck with the eight songs that I predicted would stumble at this hurdle in my earlier preview blog, I’d have scored 7/10. Belarus, Netherlands and most particularly (guffaw) Croatia were my stumbling blocks. Ah well. We’ll all be watching the big show from the luxury of the Errol Flynn Filmhouse on Saturday night – and wherever you are, I hope you have a great Eurovision night and may the best song about a dancing naked ape win!

Eurovision Semi Final One 2017

For various reasons that you don’t need to know about, gentle reader, I haven’t done a run down of how we viewed the semis since 2014. Time to put this right methinks. For Semi Final One it was just Mrs Chrisparkle and me on the couch with some nuts and a 2008 Veuve Cliquot. Metropolitan elite? Youbetcha. We decided to assess the ten songs that we would put through to the final on the basis that they were the ones we enjoyed the most, not the ten that we thought would go through. I say that now, because we didn’t do very well…

swedenSweden – I’ve been steadily going off this song ever since I saw Robin perform at the London Party. He did his trademark false start at the beginning when someone off camera takes his microphone so that he can adjust his… well I’m not sure what he adjusted because the camera didn’t show it, so that was a waste of time. One of many guys whom we despairingly noted were wearing trousers too short and no socks. You would have thought someone like that would be able to afford a proper tailor. They stole Kurt Calleja’s pointy toe dance. In the end we both put it through as qualifying, but somewhat begrudgingly.

georgiaGeorgia – By the same token, I’ve been steadily warming to this song over the past few weeks, with its James Bondesque quality. She looks really scary… and I wondered if Mel Giedroyc’s comments about her being so nice were somewhat ironic… The main thing is that she sure delivered that ballad with some power and we both really enjoyed it, both putting her through to the final.

australiaAustralia – As Isaiah plodded through his ploddy number I felt my eyes beginning to droop… No socks, but I really coveted his frock coat. Would it look out of place down the local pub? Isaiah did some emoty bits that were really quite painful on the tympanic membrane. Just came across as dull I’m afraid, and neither of us put it through.

albania Albania – First true shocker of the night. Lindita started all wobbly – hardly surprising in those shoes. Mrs C said she was wearing a net curtain, and it’s true that her rather otherworldly appearance really put us off appreciating what little song there was. It ended up being my 18th favourite of the night – and neither of us put her through.

BelgiumBelgium – Here was the first test of true Eurovision performance. A song that’s great on video, but Blanche channels her inner Edvard Munch as she’s welded, terrified, into position in front of the camera. Bizarrely she occasionally gave us a flash of her slightly happier mode, but her performance was truly drab. To a native English speaker her accent is very disturbing, almost maniacal. I really hated it. As a result, I chose not to put her through. Mrs C, on the other hand, remembered how good the video was and just gave her the benefit of the doubt.

montenegroMontenegro – At last something to enjoy wholeheartedly. Slavko is a real Mr Showman and decided to go for it in the fullest camp mode, which is really what the song deserves. With his flying ponytail and one denier blouse, no one was going to sleep whilst he was on. I quite like the song; I think it has an old-fashioned disco sound to it that could easily be an album track on Saturday Night Fever. His trousers would go well with Isaiah’s frock coat – just saying. We both had it sailing through to the final.

finlandFinland – Good idea to have the piano just gently smoking, unlike the full inferno of The Makemakes a couple of years ago. Leena absolutely nailed the vocal with its thrilling simplicity. This was the first time that Mrs C had got this song, and she really loved it too. Pure class, raw, tough emotion, this performance was out of this world. It was my favourite of the night and we both had it qualifying with ease.

azerbaijanAzerbaijan – In comparison, this is utter rubbish. She performs the song in front of a blackboard with most of the lyrics written on it, because otherwise it’s even more impossible to understand. A man with a horse’s head sits atop a stepladder. Get off your high horse, I shouted. He didn’t answer. Maybe he’s a chesspiece; maybe it’s a fanwank. Absolutely dreadful and neither of us put it through.

Portugal Portugal – This was always going to be the biggy of the night, whether it would crash and burn or soar into the sky. For me, it really soared. There’s no question that Salvador has a comparatively eccentric delivery but it gives you an extra insight into the personality behind the voice, so that you’re appreciating this rather awkward, maybe emotionally clumsy guy finally bursting forth with a quiet love song. Vocally, he was absolutely spot on, and the concentration from the audience meant you could hear a pin drop. Mrs C’s always had her doubts about this one, but I could easily see it winning on Saturday night. I put it through without hesitation, she put it through with hesitation.

Greece Greece – This song is definitely derivative of something, but I can’t bring it to mind; the chorus, of course, is pure Cascada. Personally I think this is three minutes of sound and fury signifying nothing. Is it shallow of me to say “nice legs”? The dancing lads have obviously been inspired by Jedward’s Waterline performance. It’s good enough to qualify but not good enough to ever become anyone’s favourite. We both put it through.

PolandPoland – Another net curtain, noted Mrs C, who then went on to deconstruct its fire, desire, higher, wire lyric, and found it extremely wanting. It’s an immensely tedious song and Kasia tried to oversell it, which was painful when there was precious little there to start with. Definitely a no from both of us.

MoldovaMoldova – After the bland void of Poland, this was a much-needed kick up the brass. Epic Sax Guy and his mates are back, with a brand new sax motif that will disrupt your sleep patterns. They present it so slickly, and, although the repetitive lyrics aren’t up to much, its sheer cheerfulness makes you love it. We both had it qualifying, no question.

iceland Iceland – My notes read “tits and shoes”. Will that do? OK, I’ll develop that argument a bit. The song is another of these immensely tedious numbers but Svala has put enough thought into her appearance to take our mind off it. To be fair, it was a very good performance, but for me it can’t mask a paper-thin song (geddit?) It’s a no from both of us.

czechCzech Republic – I’ve always had a soft spot for this song, it has a warmth about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Sadly Marta’s bacofoil look is totally at odds with it, and the background image of clips from the video, featuring semi naked people doing what looks like clumsy contemporary dance, just comes across as a little bizarre. Killed by its poor staging, we didn’t put it through.

cyprusCyprus – I quite like this song too but it’s beginning to wane, and Hovig’s performance didn’t help it for me. I thought his vocals were a bit off at times and it was just a bit soulless; not to mention sockless. Good enough to get through though.

ArmeniaArmenia – It’s atmospheric, but is it art? I don’t get this song, and I don’t get the appeal of the performers. Attitude is all very well but here it triumphs over substance; and for me entertainment and enjoyment levels were fairly low. We didn’t put it through.

sloveniaSlovenia – Is it true, what they said, that Omar is a busker on the London Underground? That’s ridiculous! As soon as it started, we both looked at each other and said “what is that tune, I really have heard it before” – and I’ve been trying to identify it for weeks now – then it came to me: Any Other World by Mika. Omar gave a great performance of a ballad that owes a little too much to musical theatre, but for us it was good enough to qualify.

latviaLatvia – I think I laughed for at least the first twenty seconds at Agnese’s hairdo and dress sense. Whatever that is on her head, I reckon she can get 6 Music on it. Who said the influence of Bjork is dead? It’s not a bad song but the performance was a bit lightweight and overall I don’t think it worked properly. However, I had it scraping through into the final, whereas Mrs C did not.

On the basis that we voted for the songs and performances we liked, Mrs C got 6/10 right, I only got 5/10. However, taking the songs that I thought would go through from my preview blog of a couple of weeks ago, I did a little better with 7/10. These Eurovision semis are hard to call! Anyway, we’ll be having another go on Thursday night, and with a few more people around for extra input. Enjoy Eurovision week!

Eurovision 2017 – The Grand Final

These final six songs are already guaranteed to be there on the Saturday night without any further possibilities of elimination. As the performance order is not yet decided I’m going to take them in alphabetical order. As usual, each preview will have its own star rating and its bookmaker odds courtesy of oddschecker.com, as at 24th April. Stick with it, you know you want to.

France – Alma – Requiem

FranceLast year France came up with an absolute smasher of a song that was far and away my favourite for 2016. Well darn me, they’ve very nearly done the same again this year, with a thoroughly entertaining treatise about the ins and outs of love delivered superbly by the bewitching Alma who captured my heart at the London Party. She saw me out of the corner of her eye, gave me a huge smile and dedicated her entire performance to me. (Well, two out of three ain’t bad.) I was uncertain about her vocals at first but she can really sell this song and it ought to do really well. The video takes the concept of dancing underneath the Eiffel Tower to a new level. 20/1 – 33/1. *****

Germany – Levina – Perfect Life

GermanyNow here’s a song that splits people. Levina redefines what constitutes a perfect life with her look at making mistakes and learning from experience. It’s a relentlessly catchy arrangement and she sings it beautifully; the only thing that maybe doesn’t quite make the grade is how the lyrics seem to end up at the same place where they started. Nevertheless, I think this is a vastly underrated song and Germany’s best entry since Cascada. 100/1. ****

Italy – Francesco Gabbani – Occidentalis Karma

ItalyIf you’ve not been anywhere near Planet Eurovision over the past three months you won’t have yet encountered the source of this year’s hype, Francesco Gabbani’s San Remo-winning satirical take on how the west look to the east for some easily digestible spirituality. Ever since it won it’s been the one to beat, and Francesco’s fantastic performance at the London Party did nothing to weaken his chances. The only downside is how brutally they’ve cut the San Remo version to make it fit inside Eurovision’s stipulated three minutes; but what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve, and anyone hearing it for the first time on the Saturday night won’t know what they’re missing. Since the original video was posted on 9th February it’s now had more than 100 million looks which is unheard of for a Eurovision song. Unquestionably this year’s best entry; funny, dancey, uplifting, and there’s an ape. Clear favourite. 10/11 – 11/8. *****

Spain – Manel Navarro – Do It For Your Lover

SpainThree superb songs, then along trundles Spain. Whether you think Manel won the Spanish selection by fair means or foul (foul being by far the popular vote), he made himself no friends with his reaction to the audience’s reaction (not very dignified), and Spain ends up being represented by three minutes of repetitious tedium that last a lifetime. To be fair, it starts quite promisingly, but then rapidly falls apart. Spain’s like that – for every Pastora Soler there’s a Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, and I’d estimate this as one of Spain’s worst entries of all time. When you get to my age there’s no way you can do it for your lover that frequently in so short a time. 100/1 – 200/1. *

Ukraine – O. Torvald – Time

UkraineTime is what the writers of this entry should be doing for crimes against music. O. Torvald – subversive name for a group – have a lot of energy on stage and were entertaining to watch at the London Party but the song is execrable. I don’t think we’ll be in Kyiv two years on the row. 50/1 – 125/1. *

United Kingdom – Lucie Jones – Never Give Up On You

United KingdomLet’s look at the positives. Lucie is a tremendous singer and performer and was by far the best contender at the UK National Selection. She’s been touring in Rent to fantastic reviews so holding her own on that stage should be well within her grasp. The song is plaintive and heart-warming but sadly not memorable. It’ll need a good spot in the running order and fabulous staging to have the remotest chance of getting noticed. My guess is that it’ll be everyone’s 15th favourite song, so nul points (or not far off that) wouldn’t at all surprise me. 25/1 – 66/1. ***

In previous years, I’ve analysed the number of looks each song has received on Youtube’s Official Eurovision channel but there doesn’t seem much point as there’s a large discrepancy between how long some of them have been uploaded – so it doesn’t make a fair comparison. For what it’s worth my favourite is Italy, with Estonia second and France and FYR Macedonia battling it out for third.

Have a great time watching the show on May 13th, wherever you are – at home with some crisps, at a party, or in Kyiv. May the best song win!

Eurovision 2017 – Semi Final Two

So here we are again, gentle reader, with a look at the eighteen songs that will battle it out in Semi Final Two. It was going to be nineteen, but there was a little ongoing skirmish between Russia and Ukraine because the Russian singer had appeared on stage in the Crimea, which just so happens to be land belonging to Ukraine that Russia have invaded and as a result, and in the spirit of Celebrate Diversity, Russia have told Ukraine they can shove their music contest up their Dnieper. Will Russia be back next year? And moreover, who will there be for the crowd to boo now? 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 14th April) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. On y va!

Serbia – Tijana Bogićević – In Too Deep

SerbiaWe start off with a song that many people rather like and that the bookmakers also fancy. She’s not quite Tijuana, but she still has some brass to present a song that starts like About You Now by the Sugababes, goes into a chorus like Katy Perry’s Firework, and spends the rest of its time sounding like Nina’s Caroban from 2011. Tijana was actually a backing singer for Nina so maybe she’s staying with a winning formula. Except that Caroban only finished mid-table. They’ve even nicked the title from Genesis. Is nothing original? My verdict: meh. 25/1 – 100/1. **

Austria – Nathan Trent – Running on Air

AustriaI thought this was all a bit cheesy and simple and phoned in until we saw Nathan at the London Party, and I tell you gentle reader, the man is a total star. He sang Running on Air a capella due to a technical issue and, unfazed, he really proved his worth. Plus he has an enormous connection with the audience (Matron!) If he can project that to the people at home this could do very well. As refreshing as a St. Clements, although essentially as insubstantial. 66/1 – 200/1. ***

FYR Macedonia – Jana Burčeska – Dance Alone

FYR MacedoniaHold the front page – FYR Macedonia in “great Eurovision song” shock! The gorgeous Jana (who also aced it at London) takes out her hair and washes off her makeup in the expectation of a life without love to the sound of a song that would have been a hit for Bananarama. It’s got a clever video too, where old Jana looks back at young Jana through virtual reality glasses, emphasising its message of enjoy life while you can. I really love this song and can’t stop singing it. Best Macedonian song evah! 25/1 – 80/1. *****

Malta – Claudia Faniello – Breathlessly

MaltaFinally representing Malta at the 9th attempt, Claudia Faniello is a great singer with wonderful stage presence and whilst this is a fine song, I don’t think there is any one aspect of it that will make it stand out sufficiently to get noticed. When Claudia was at the London Party she sang a medley of her previous songs – if only Caravaggio had made it. Another clever video, where an evening out goes seriously wrong, in reverse – his fault for using a mobile whilst driving. It would be great if Malta were to win one year… don’t think it will be this year though. 100/1 – 200/1. ***

Romania – Ilinca feat. Alex Florea – Yodel It

RomaniaEvery so often Eurovision throws up (and I mean that significantly) a mixture of genres that usually clash and burn. Rap has featured a little in Eurovision ever since Kolig Kaj fell in love with the telephone operator, and yodelling, whilst scarcer, hasn’t really achieved anything since the Pepe Leinhard Band in 1977; mind you, that was a good song. Yodel It is a truly dreadful embarrassment to modern music. But – and it’s a big but – we saw them at the London Party and my goodness they perform brilliantly. The most endearing couple on stage, they could make you believe that yap is the only way forward, and there will be millions round the world simply beguiled by their charm. Ignore this at your peril. 20/1 – 33/1. ***

Netherlands – OG3NE – Lights and Shadows

NetherlandsOG3NE. Not an enigmatic compass point or a half-completed postcode, but a convoluted way of saying O Gene. Graduates of the Junior Eurovision, the three sisters perform a song written by their dad about their sick mother. The lyrics are moving and heartfelt and may well twinge the emotions of the juries. However, musically, the combined melody and performance is the blandest thing I’ve encountered since the beige safari jacket. Nausea overload. 40/1 – 50/1. *

Hungary – Joci Pápai – Origo

HungaryFrom the blandest song in the contest to one of the most characterful. Joci gives us some authentic Hungarian gypsy vibes in this year’s least Western sounding song. (Are you sure? question Belarus. Yes, I reply.) But this is none of your happy gypsy wedding music, it’s got a very haunting rhythm and melody which suggests sadness and angst. In fact, it’s a very serious and dour account of being betrayed because of your race and knowing that only God will stand by your side in the fight for truth and justice. Not many laughs, then. Goulash, anyone? 33/1 – 40/1. ***

Denmark – Anja Nissen – Where I Am

DenmarkStrong woman sings brassy song about how being a strong, brassy woman gets you nowhere in the love stakes. Anja’s a terrific performer who won The Voice Australia a few years ago, so she can certainly be relied upon to belt out the song. Trouble is, the song isn’t that great; it’s a bit shouty, and I find it quite tiring to concentrate on. I’m sure it will qualify but I don’t think it will trouble the leaderboard on the night. 33/1 – 40/1. ***

Ireland – Brendan Murray – Dying To Try

IrelandBrendan Murray was internally selected to represent Ireland this year and his song is a sweet, gentle ballad about taking that risky step into a first love affair, entirely appropriate for a singer who is 20 going on 14. He’s got plenty of experience for his young years and I am sure he will make a splendid stab at it; but again there’s not a lot here that stands out apart from the purity of his rather feminine voice. I confess it doesn’t really do anything for me. 33/1 – 66/1. **

San Marino – Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson – Spirit of the Night

San MarinoNow we’re off to the land with more cars than people, it’s San Marino and their annual Ralph Siegel-penned, Valentina Monetta-sung entry, Spirit of the Night. Valentina’s fourth appearance in the contest makes her the equal the record for the most frequent female performer at Eurovision, alongside Elizabeth Andreassen and Sue from Peter, Sue and Marc. This time she’s partnered with American actor/singer Jimmie Wilson. It’s a pleasant little number with a racy façade but not much going on beneath the surface. The eponymous spirit is more Ovaltine than tequila slammer; still it means well and does nobody any harm. 100/1 – 250/1. **

Croatia – Jacques Houdek – My Friend

CroatiaAnother song chosen internally, which comes as no surprise to me as I cannot imagine anyone voting for this nonsense of their own volition. Did you know that opera singers are always identifiable by their spectacles? One of the most cringeworthy things I’ve ever had the displeasure to listen to. Please make the strange man singing to himself go away. No, just no. 66/1 – 150/1. *

Norway – JOWST – Grab the Moment

NorwayNorwegian singer Joakim With Steen shortens his name to JOWST, so don’t expect him to arrive on stage on horseback with a long pole. He’s accompanied by Aleksander Walmann as a mysterious keyboard artist and backing vocalist, which lends an air of intrigue. This song probably has more words per square inch than any other this year. Nice bouncy delivery and it’s an enjoyable way to waste three minutes, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. 66/1 – 100/1. ***

Switzerland – Timebelle – Apollo

SwitzerlandBack to the land of anonymous female ballads that don’t have much to distinguish themselves from the others. Actually Timebelle are a group, but the focus is fully on vocalist Miruna. However, let’s face it, it’s no Sebalter. Nor Sinplus. Nor even Takasa. The song is fairly tedious and nothing drives me to keep listening for the full three minutes. Sorry! 66/1 – 150/1. **

Belarus – NAVI – Story of my Life

BelarusThe other ethnically-charged entry this year (along with Hungary) and the first ever Eurovision song to be performed in the Belarusian language. Arciom and Ksienija are a personable young couple who sing this positive ditty about life being good and at first it seemed that it was going to be a surprise favourite this year; now, I’m not so sure. Kudos for giving us something different though. 66/1 – 150/1. ***

Bulgaria – Kristian Kostov – Beautiful Mess

BulgariaHere’s this year’s dark horse. Young Kristian performed at the London Party like a dream, and if you take the time to listen to the song lyrics, it’s absolutely beautiful. A first class ballad, delivered impeccably. Certainly a classic of the future, and by rights it should be up there with a chance on the night. Second favourite. 5/1 – 6/1. *****

Lithuania – Fusedmarc – Rain of Revolution

LithuaniaFrom the sublime to the ridiculous. Three minutes of total nothing. Lead vocalist Viktorija prances her way over the stage but nothing can disguise the thinness of the song. 42nd out of 42. 80/1 – 250/1. *

Estonia – Koit Toome and Laura – Verona

EstoniaKeeping two of this year’s best entries till last, repeat offenders Koit and Laura join to deliver a duet about how they’ve lost their Verona (you can provide your own personal definition) with true enigmatic style, elegance of performance and benefiting from a truly singalong melody. Firm fan favourite, it’s instantly appealing but it also allows you to fill in the characters’ back story for them. I think this is magnificent. Oh, and I love their slightly stagy recriminative looks in the video. My second favourite this year. 33/1 – 66/1. *****

Israel – IMRI – I Feel Alive

IsraelAnd Semi Final Two ends, not with a whimper but a bang. IMRI (apparently you have to give him capital letters, it’s the law) delivers a dancey, singalong, feelgood song that will have you up on your feet on the beach at Tel Aviv within seconds. He shouldn’t be fazed by the experience, having been a backing singer for both Nadav Guedj and Hovi Star. It’s got “summer hit” written through it like a stick of Haifa Rock. Sailing through to the final. 50/1 – 150/1. *****

And there go all the songs for Semi Final Two. To which eight songs will we saying thanks, bye? Lithuania, Malta, San Marino, Ireland, Belarus, Switzerland, Netherlands and (if there is any justice) Croatia is my guess. Remember to watch the second semi-final on BBC 4 at 8pm on Thursday 11th May – this time viewers in the UK cannot vote, so it’s all just for fun. Ten songs will go forward from both semis to the Grand Final on 13th May along with six others – the Big Five and last year’s winner, Ukraine. See you tomorrow for that final countdown – and there are some good ones still to look forward to!