Eurovision’s Greatest Hits, Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 31st March 2015 – BBC1 Good Friday, 3rd April 2015

Eurovision's Greatest HitsThis year marks the 60th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, it was in 1956 that the 32-year-old Lys Assia won the first contest for Switzerland, with the song Refrain. Since then our beloved contest has been through many phases: in, out; defining popular music, irrelevant to popular music; formal, fun; professional-based, fan-based; orchestra-led, backing track-led; respected, disrespected. But it’s survived 60 years, and no matter what your reservations are about it, it’s here to stay because it changes with the times. It’s war without tears; it’s live and unpredictable; it’s a remarkably inexpensive entertainment that fills a number of TV and radio slots for the broadcasting companies; and, on a personal level, it’s something I started following when I was 7 years old and I’m not going to stop now!

Hammersmith ApolloTo mark the event, the BBC have produced Eurovision’s Greatest Hits, recorded yesterday at the Hammersmith Apollo and being shown in 26 countries around Europe (and in Australia). In the UK and Ireland it will be shown on Good Friday; other countries may vary. There was a 50th anniversary celebration programme called Congratulations, which was never shown in the UK. I managed to obtain a DVD of it, and I thought it was rather good. However, last night, we spoke to some friends who attended both and thought that this 60th anniversary show was way better.

Graham Norton and Petra MedeI was joined by Northampton’s own Mr Flying The Flag himself for the trek into London. We were going to start off with an early meal and drink at a nearby pub, which was quiet when we arrived but was soon teeming with Eurovision fans. Never one to miss out on a social Eurovision occasion, Mrs Chrisparkle joined us once she had finished work. I just about had time to say brief hellos to a number of friends scattered around the place, and also had a good long catch up with Ray Caruana, lead singer of Live Report, who performed the UK’s entry in 1989, the 2nd placed Why Do I Always Get It Wrong. If you want to hear raw and hilarious anecdotes about the highs and lows of the music industry, Ray’s your man!

Electro VelvetThe layout at the Apollo was primarily standing places downstairs but with seating in the circle. Always a front stalls man, I instinctively went for the standing option, and we got reasonably near the stage so that we could at least see the faces properly, although the rake benefited you standing a little further back than you might imagine. My initial impression of the stage was that it was full of colour and light, and that it promised much in the way of excitement. As the show progressed, the backdrop changed for each act and many of the accompanying images and patterns were totally stunning.

Emmelie de ForestThe show was presented by Graham Norton (most of us know who he is) and Petra Mede, host of the 2013 Song Contest in Malmo. They worked together brilliantly. Of course, their badinage and comments were all scripted but nevertheless they are naturally funny people and managed a perfect blend of paying respect to the skills and achievements of the performers whilst taking the Mick out of other performers, themselves, each other, the audience and everything else under the sun.

Anne Marie DavidSo what of the performances? Well before the recording actually started we were treated to a very special warm-up, this year’s UK entry by Electro Velvet, Still In Love With You. This song has had a rather inauspicious first few weeks, being snuck in to the British viewing public’s attention with a quick push of the Red Button, not even having a proper TV programme to launch it. Initial reactions, as far as I could make out (we were on holiday at the time) were not great. Mrs C and I logged on to the internet on the Sunday morning in a park somewhere in Tenerife to have our first listen. Her first reaction was that it was not bad. My first reaction was that it was not good. Since then I have warmed to it slightly, but I still have considerable reservations about it. There’s no doubt it’s a jolly tune, and a good pastiche of the 1920s sound. It would be perfect for the Strictly Come Dancing Charleston round. But it’s a long way from being a credible,Herreys contemporary piece of music, which is what I was hoping for and which nowadays is the key to Eurovision success; and although the words are in keeping with the music and style, they are drivel. They make Eric Saade’s rhyming possible with impossible of almost Poet Laureate status. When Alex starts doing the scat sounds I just cradle my head in my hands with embarrassment. Nevertheless, in a year of worthy ballads, it’s different. I think it will be on the right hand side of the scoreboard at the end of the night, but it’s not a nul-pointer; just can’t see the international juries being impressed though. In order to give it any chance at all it needs a great performance – and, last night, you have to say, it got one. I was very impressed at their singing, their confidence and their style. You could feel the wave of relief working its way through the Hammersmith Apollo as you realised they actually knew how to perform.

Brotherhood of ManSo, onto the show proper. If you don’t want to know what happens, I suggest you skip reading the rest of this blog until after you’ve seen the TV show, as it’s full of spoilers. Forgive me, I can only part-remember the order in which these performances took place! We started off with Emmelie de Forest and Only Teardrops; it’s not a song I’m that fond of, but she did a great job. From where we were standing, I couldn’t see her during the first verse – she may just as well have been singing off stage. Suddenly she emerged from below the heads in front of me for the chorus. NicoleSuffice to say, everyone received rapturous applause throughout the whole show (with one exception, more of which later). First of the real big-hitters next, with the diminutive Anne-Marie David, giving us a multilingual version of Tu Te Reconnaitras/ Wonderful Dream, with immense power and emotion. That one really hit the spot. No need for gimmicks and sideshows with this one; a true classic. Next, and looking so different from 1984, came the Herreys with the irrepressible Diggi-loo Diggi-ley, recreating all their original dance moves, although they’re dressed in business clerical grey now. I think their performance surprised a lot of people by how perfectly they’d rehearsed it – the audience loved it.

Olsen BrothersBrotherhood of Man were the only performers from the UK’s illustrious past, with their 1976 winner Save Your Kisses For Me being the biggest selling British Eurovision single ever; as a single it even outsold Waterloo. Before the group came on to perform, the production team wanted to find if someone really knew the dance moves to the song, so that the cameras could linger on them. My competence in this department is restricted solely to the line “Bye bye baby bye bye”, so I kept my hand down. It will be interesting to see how it looks on TV. Mrs C and I met the Brotherhood of Man a few years ago when we interviewed them in Gateshead. It was so bizarre, sitting on their dressing room floor to ask them questions and they were so welcoming and helpful. Of course, Save Your Kisses went down a storm. Nicole, another master (mistress?) of the multilingual Eurovision hit, came out on stage to represent both Germany and Ralph SiegelRosa (prolific Eurovision composer, Uncle Ralph to us all) with A Little Peace/Ein bißchen Frieden, her 1982 winner. Like Tu te reconnaitras, the power of this song is in its simplicity, but whereas Anne-Marie David is an emotional belter of a performer, Nicole still seems part of a more innocent age, all quiet and demure. Prolonged applause at the end of her number caused Nicole’s eyes to get all misty. A Facebook friend described it perfectly as Ein bißchen Weepchen. The Olsen Brothers took to the stage to give us a rendition of Fly On The Wings of Love, their 2000 winner for Denmark, a song we are particularly fond of as we had a sneaky bet on it that won us hundreds of pounds at the time. I think the odds were something like 60/1. It’s still an uplifting number and they perform with an honest charm, and with a great connection to the audience.

Dana InternationalRosa from Spain might seem an unusual choice for someone to perform at this concert, as her song Europe’s Living a Celebration only came 7th in the 2002 contest. However, Rosa sang a medley of Spanish entries, including Massiel’s 1968 winner La La La and Salome’s Vivo Cantando which drew 1st with nearly everyone else in 1969, and she definitely pleased the Spanish contingent in the theatre. Memories were evoked by the presence of Dana International, winner of the 1998 contest in Birmingham, at which Mrs C and I were present in our dinner jacket and evening dress. BobbysocksMs International gave us the crowd-pleasing Diva (ignoring her less stunning entry Ding Dong), and, whilst I thought her vocals in the verse were a tad on the soft side, she still has enormous stage presence, and, predictably, everyone went wild. More memories surfaced with the appearance of Bobbysocks, Elizabeth and Hanne from Sweden/Norway but who won for Norway in 1985 with the unforgettable La Det Swinge. Again we met them at Gateshead, where I discovered just quite how flirtatious Elizabeth can be (as Mrs C frequently reminds me). They still come out and perform as though it was 30 years ago. Full of fun, and I really enjoyed the backing performers swinging away on their saxophones in the background.

RiverdanceEurovision Song Contests can be made or lost by the quality of the interval act. There have been some stinkers. In recent years the only one I really enjoyed was Madcon with Glow in Oslo in 2010. I can’t hear it without engaging in my own “bow and arrow” routine. However, there’s one notable biggie that everyone remembers – no, not the Wombles – and what a delight it was to see a fresh performance of Riverdance, 21 years on from its original appearance in Dublin. Bill Whelan’s music, and the contrasting styles of the girl’s soft shoe and the boy’s hard shoe elements are just so exciting to watch. It’s no longer the wonderful Jean Butler and the flamboyant Michael Flatley on stage – what a chemistry they had – but the tradition lives on with each new casting. It sent us into our interval with our toes tapping.

LordiThe second half started with Lordi, the Finnish monsters who won in 2006, and they must have been moisturising because they haven’t aged a bit. We were always grateful to Mr Lordi and his team, as they helped us to another successful betting experience, and our winnings paid for a week’s holiday to Spain. Hard Rock Hallelujah remains one of the most tuneful examples of Hard Rock ever, and the act is still enormous fun. Another non-winner, Natasha St-Pier, came to sing Je n’ai que mon âme, 4th for France in 2001. It’s a big fan favourite, and Mr Flag loves it; I must confess its tender mercies slightly pass me by. But then I do tend to prefer my Eurovision songs to have as little subtlety as possible.

Natasha St PierDiscord broke into our serene ranks with the announcement of Dima Bilan from Russia, as the majority of the crowd started to boo. Booing is one of those marmite activities, many people detest it absolutely, others (myself included) see it as a manner of making a protest that can be justified under certain circumstances. Yes, it’s disrespectful to the performer, but sometimes it can be the only way to make important feelings known. Anyway, they weren’t booing Dima Bilan himself, they were booing the whole abstract concept of Russia, from human rights to activities in Ukraine and everything in between. Well maybe some were booing Dima, I’ve not met him but everyone I know who has, doesn’t have a good word to say about him. Dima BilanAt his best he is an amazing performer and entertainer – I loved watching him at the ESC Winner’s tour party at Scala back in 2008 – but at yesterday’s show he slightly over-egged his pudding and put just a bit too much into his Believe/Never Let You Go medley. Maybe it was an understandable reaction to the booing. Weep not for Dima, he’s doing just fine. After a couple of retakes and some strong admonition from Mr Norton, I doubt whether you’ll hear the crowd’s boos on the TV anyway. It was all just a moment of pantomime really.

LoreenThings hotted up for our final three acts. Loads of sheets suddenly appeared at jaunty angles on the stage as though some manic painter and decorator had prepared the area for slapping on some emulsion. Maybe there would be a surprise appearance from Sertab? But no, it was to get ready for the one and only Loreen, and a magnificent performance of Euphoria that had everyone riveted. Then “Mr Eurovision” himself, Johnny Logan, came on to do a three-part mixture of What’s Another Year, Why Me and ending up with Hold Me Now. Johnny LoganHe’s another performer with an amazing stage presence. Finally, it was the person I reckon at least half the audience had come to see – Conchita Wurst, last year’s winner, in a stunning dress and bearded like the pard. Rise Like a Phoenix was a very suitable way of drawing this fantastic celebration of 60 years of Eurovision to a close.

Conchita WurstBut not quite – as there was a final flashback of a few other amazing winners. Anne-Marie David gave us some Hallelujah (nearly – but not quite – my favourite Eurovision winner of all time), the Herreys sang that old Italian favourite (that didn’t win) Volare, Bobbysocks did their version of Making Your Mind Up (and yes, it did involve Velcro), and Conchita and Dana paired up to end the evening with a rendition of Waterloo. What a show it was – exhilarating, moving, funny, and yes, even musical too. Congratulations to the production team – as the old Not The Nine O’Clock News guys would have said on Points of View, “Well done the BBC. Another winner!”

I took the first two photos and the Riverdance one.

The other excellent photos from last night are by courtesy of Dizzdjc on Flickr.

Eurovision 2014 – The Grand Final – Two Days Later

Hello again, gentle reader. Well normally, I don’t write a post-final blog, because usually it’s all wrapped up and done and dusted by now. The excitement withers on the vine, people go back to work, summer holidays are considered and life goes back to normal. Raking over the coals at this stage normally feels a bit redundant to me. But this year – no. Conchita Wurst’s victory for Austria was – for me at least – so unexpected because of perceived eastern European prejudices. So this needs a bit more consideration. This was also a year where a lot of the general rules about Eurovision were proved right. I’m going to work my way up the table and see where it takes us.

Twin TwinFrance – last place. We spent the Eurovision weekend at a Mansion party in North Wales with seventeen other like-minded people, and one of our activities was to draw a country at random, then go into Ladbrokes in Llangollen and put a £2 bet on it – any bet we wished. Whilst she was there Mrs Chrisparkle decided to go off-piste and put a fiver on any country getting nul points. 5-1 odds; not bad. So as Saturday night’s contest was proceeding and fewer and fewer countries were left with nul points, France was looking like her only hope for cash beyond the dreams of avarice. Cruelly she was dealt a blow when Finland gave them a point, and then later on Sweden did too. Two measly points. I’ve been an advocate of the French song for months now. I didn’t like it at all on first hearing, and Twin Twin’s performance when it was chosen in the National Final was a bit merde. But I loved the video and still think the lyrics are really clever. Have a read if you’ve haven’t already. But on the night it was very messy, very manic, very rushed and really amateur. It came over as a thoroughly joke entry – and although Eurovision is known by many for its joke entries, they rarely do well. So Rule 1 proved – joke entries never win.

Dilara KazimovaSlovenia – 25th, a pretty harsh result for a pretty good tune. Eight of their nine points came from Montenegro, the ninth coming from Macedonia, so if it hadn’t been for neighbourly voting, they would have been bottom of the heap. San Marino – 24th, Valentina might have hoped for better than that, and she certainly did herself proud with her performances. In a long show, people get a bit tired by the end, so performing in 25th place probably didn’t do her any favours. Malta – 23rd, very unexpectedly low result for a much-fancied song. The UK awarded Malta ten points, it being the UK jury’s favourite entry, but the UK always has a bit of a bromance with Malta. It obviously didn’t do much for the rest of the continent. Azerbaijan – 22nd, far and away Azerbaijan’s worst ever result, their previous worst being 8th in 2008. 22 of their 33 points came from a top placing by San Marino and a dix points from Russia. For what it’s worth, this is the first time the UK have finished higher than Azerbaijan. But then, it was a jazz tune, like “Heute in Jerusalem” or “die Welt dreht sich verkehrt”, and who remembers them? Rule 2 proved – jazz entries never win.

GreeceItaly – 21st place; also with 33 points, and also receiving a douze points (from Malta, neighbourly voting) and a ten from Albania. Emma’s song unfortunately car-crashed; certainly everyone sitting near me at our party couldn’t believe how dreadful it was. Greece – 20th. Big shock as far as I was concerned, and one of Mrs C’s favourites too. It’s a great feel-good song – simple yes, and a bit repetitive, but enormous fun. However: Mistake No 1, the guys did not make good eye contact with the camera, so didn’t communicate with audience at home; Mistake No 2, they over-gimmicked it with the trampoline, which resulted in Mistake No 3, choreography has to be slick, not wobbly. But above all, it proved Rule 3 – rap entries never win.

Sergej CetkovicMontenegro – 19th, surprisingly low for a song that puts one in mind of Lane Moje (even though it’s nowhere near as good). With more Balkan countries participating this would probably have climbed at least another six or seven places; as it is, only four countries voted for Montenegro, all of them from the south east corner of the continent. 24 of their 37 points came from two douze-points, from Armenia and Macedonia. Sergej’s voice was stunning but when we saw him perform in London we were amazed how dull he was on stage, and I think that may have affected his votes on Saturday, and proved Rule 4 – singers with no charisma never win.

MollyGermany – 18th, a better result than I thought the song deserved. United Kingdom – 17th, a disappointing result for Molly. Whilst I never really rated the song that highly, and also thought that Molly was something of an under-performer, I took comfort from the fact that she was a relatively safe pair of hands and wasn’t going to do a Gemini/Bonnie/Blue/etc with the vocals. She also suffered from being last up in the running order. By the time you get to this stage of the show you’ve already decided who you are going to vote for and you stop listening. Look at the surprise last place for Ireland last year. Molly proved Rule 5 – since televoting was introduced, the songs performed last never win.

PollaponkBelarus – 16th, a mid-table-ish score for a mid-table-ish song, twelve points from Russia and no points from any country further west than Montenegro. Iceland – 15th, reasonable result for the colourful Icelandic guys, but the title, “No Prejudice”, like “No Dream Impossible” and “No One” proves Rule 6 – no song with “No” in the title ever wins.

BasimPoland – 14th , No 1 with the UK televoters and No 25 with the UK jury. Talk about polarising Poles. More smutty than sexy. Switzerland – 13th, the first of this year’s songs that we can say ended on the left hand side of the scoreboard. I really warmed to this song and performance over the past few weeks. It received votes from both Ireland and Armenia, evidence that it had continent-wide appeal. Romania – 12th, for some reason, according to my scorecard, my favourite song of the night; not sure how that happened. Considerably less successful than when Paula and Ovi sang Playing with Fire, but then it’s a considerably worse song. Finland – 11th, second favourite with the UK jury; fair result for a fair song. Spain – 10th, highest placing for one of the big 5 countries; much lower than I was expecting but they only received one twelve points – from Albania. Their Portuguese friends, who could normally be relied on for support, didn’t score them at all. Denmark – 9th, so glad this didn’t get higher as those silly lyrics get my goat. That big flag unfurling to reveal the word “love” made my stomach turn. It also proved Rule 7 – no songs revealing a flag with a word on it ever win.

Tolmachevy SistersNorway – 8th; I know we were meant to gain some deep-seated satisfaction that a big manly chap can reveal his inner vulnerability by singing a tender song about mental anguish; but all our party could say to this was “oh purrrlease….” Russia – 7th. There are a number of people, myself not included, who think it is never justified to boo, as it is discourteous to the performer. Whilst I would only advocate booing a performer if they have done a really lousy performance – and I mean really really lousy – and you’ve paid a lot of money to witness it (yes it’s happened a couple of times), I see no reason not to take the opportunity, with 180 million people watching, to let the rest of the world know that you disapprove of their political regime. I don’t think any boos were reserved for the performance of the Tolmachevy Sisters, and that’s quite right. But yes, boo at the mention of the word Russia, why the hell not. It delightfully proved Rule 8 – no countries who have invaded another country within the last twelve months ever win.

Mariya YaremchukUkraine – 6th, getting a higher position than Russia with mildly rewarding one-upmanship. Paper-thin song rescued by sexy girl singer (if you fancy girls) and sexy boy hamster (if you fancy boys. Or hamsters.) Doubtless this benefited also from some sympathy votes. With 113 points this was the highest placing of any song not to receive any douze points. It may be pretty obvious, but it has to be said: it proves Rule 9 – no song featuring a hamster wheel ever wins.

The Common LinnetsTop Five: Hungary – 5th. Great song that came over so well on stage; its subject matter is challenging if you want to consider the lyrics, or rather elegantly danced through if you want to consider the stage show. For me Hungary is THE most consistently brilliant contributor to our beloved contest this decade. Given that Hungary have no “natural allies” in the ESC this was a superb result. Armenia – 4th, the big betting favourite still managed a good result despite ropey performances in both the semi and the final and offering us what is basically a dully repetitive song. Sweden – 3rd; fantastic performance from fan fave Sanna, did more than justice to what I still think is quite a tedious song. The Netherlands – 2nd; their best result since Ding-a-dong, 39 years ago. No one noticed this song until its semi when suddenly I-Tunes went red hot over Europe with Common Linnet downloads. If they’d sung the first verse more in tune on Saturday night, maybe it was theirs for the taking. The duo was named after a Dutch songbird. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you. Rule 10 – no singer or performer named after a bird ever wins.

AustriaWhich takes us to: Austria – 1st. An utterly extraordinary achievement on the part of Conchita Wurst. Whilst it was not my favourite song of the year (I find it a little dated) it’s certainly classy and anthemic. Nearly everyone has likened it to a Bond theme, and you could certainly imagine it on the silver screen with the iconic 007 credits. Visually it was a stunning light show, that really reflected the lyrics and the performer, and left a superb final impact. But it’s Fräulein Wurst to whom we have to pay most attention. I was amazed that she garnered so many votes from east of the Oder-Neisse line. With petitions from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine not to show her song lest it corrupt their youth, and stories of transmission blackouts when she was on, I really expected her support to collapse in the old eastern bloc. But the Russian televoters put her third, as did the Ukrainian jury, and the Belarussian public voted her in fourth place (despite the fact that the state-obedient jury members individually had her finishing no higher than 20th). We know that it’s governments who wage war, not people; maybe in the same way, it’s governments who peddle in prejudice, rather than their citizens. Certainly, the public in these countries did not shy away from voting for Austria – just as some westerners chose to boo Russia to show their disapproval of its regime, it appears that many Russians and their neighbours also chose to go against the party line. Whatever, the result was a complete slap in the face of prejudice, and a tacit approval of living life your way, because it’s your life.

ConchitaI have to come clean here, as there’s no point my not being honest. When I first encountered the phenomenon that is Conchita Wurst two years ago, when she was seeking the Austrian ticket with the song “That’s What I Am”, I found her appearance simply too challenging. I’m not particularly forgiving if I perceive prejudice in others, and I always try to be as unprejudiced myself as possible. But Conchita just proved a beard too far for me. I could not reconcile that beautiful face and elegant, sexy, appearance, with ten days’ growth. It freaked me out – I could not look at her. It took a conversation with a friend who is also an ESC fan, when I admitted that I couldn’t accept her appearance, for him to point out the prejudice I was displaying.

“But her beard”, I stuttered, “it’s almost over-visible. It’s blacker and more striking than any other guy’s beard”. “And do you think that’s a coincidence?” he asked, “of course it’s striking. It’s the most deliberately striking-looking beard in the world.” The penny started to drop. “You mean he’s proving a point?” I responded lamely. “Now you’re getting it” he replied. And at that point I realised that Conchita’s appearance is not an awkward, distasteful combination of two very contrasting looks, but a deliberately assertive and positive visual statement that you can be what or who you want. I’ve discovered since then that Tom Neuwirth’s original attempts to get on a TV reality show were scuppered when he was told at the auditions that he had an amazing voice but that it was far too feminine for a man. So he came back the following year dressed as a glamorous woman, but with this splendid jet-black beard, as if to say, “here I am, the woman you want me to be, but inside I know I am a man, and here’s the proof”. And that’s a totally splendid position to take.

Conchita WurstBut back to this year’s result – and ignoring all the side issues, Conchita Wurst has been the only performer I think this year to have delivered consistently faultless vocals through all the rehearsals, the pre-show concerts, and on the main shows. When we saw her at the London Preview Party she had more charisma than almost all the other contestants put together. You cannot take your eyes off her when she is performing. I’m one of the few people I know who haven’t met her – you probably have – but by all accounts she’s one of the nicest blokes you could meet.

Now – I really can’t decide, next year whether we should go to Austria, Vienna presumably, to see the contest in the flesh, or stay in the UK. Not been to the contest in person since Birmingham in 1997, as we normally like to hold or attend parties. But it will be the 60th show, and I reckon that’s going to be something special. Advice welcomed!

Eurovision Semi Final Two 2014 – The Morning After

Eurovision Semi Finals are like buses in remote rural villages, aren’t they? You don’t get any for a year, then you get one on a Tuesday and then another comes round on Thursday. With Lady Duncansby and her butler William still on manoeuvres on Exmoor, we had the honour of welcoming a royal guest for the second semi, as HRH the Crown Prince of Bedford was in attendance. As our splendid bottle of Corbières slowly got quaffed, and he watered down countless cans of Coke with generous additions of Jack Daniels, we took our task of deciding which ten of the fifteen songs would go forward to Saturday night’s final immensely seriously. And as usual, our judgement was sometimes weighed in the balance and found wanting.

MaltaMalta – One of Mrs Chrisparkle’s big favourites this year. At first I thought Michelle’s voice was going to drown out Richard’s but then it all fell nicely into place. Great performance, we all liked the way it built and then got dead anthemic. Slightly hopeful for my 100/1 each way bet for Saturday. We all put it through.

IsraelIsrael – Another really strong performance of a song that I liked from the moment I heard it. I thought Mei toned down the scariness that I had seen from her previously, and there was a fantastic money moment when she strode out purposefully from the back of the stage. I gave it my top marks of the night. Again, general approval from all present, and we all sent her through to Saturday.

NorwayNorway – It’s taken a long time for this song to grow on me – albeit ever so slightly, and I enjoyed Carl’s emotional delivery. Mrs C almost nodded off though, and His Majesty was stifling his yawns. Collectively the three of us are too shallow for this kind of intensity; we prefer throwing shapes in a disco rather than an introverted study in gloom. In the end we all concluded that it just didn’t do it for us, and we sent Carl’s silent storm back on the first ferry to Tromso.

GeorgiaGeorgia – Is there a polite way of saying “utter rubbish”? Actually that probably is the polite way. From that opening sub-yodelling, through Mariko’s manic yoga moves to the inanely jolly parachutist, three minutes to earth became three minutes of nightmare. I did laugh at the parachute though. He should have bailed out ages ago. The Crown Prince had to gather his jaw off the floor where it had dropped in bizarre amazement. It was a no from us.

PolandPoland – How would Warsaw’s Christmas hit transfer to the stage from its video of boundless cleavage? By having a generously proportioned young lady getting progressively wetter as she plunged herself over a washboard, that’s how. Oh, was there a song going on as well? You’d never know, as it’s another one of those paper-thin offerings that are beholden to the Gimmicks Department. It didn’t do anything for Mrs C; and HRH was never going to be in that subset of viewers hanging onto that washerwoman’s every droplet. Big fat zero from us all.

AustriaAustria – The much awaited arrival of La Conchita brought a wave of happiness to our TV screen. We recognised her dress as being the one that Mrs C had dropped off at the Heart Foundation shop a couple of weeks ago – nice to see it being put to good use. As usual a note-perfect performance, that looked and sounded stunning. I still think the song’s a bit dated, but who cares? Three people in awe all sent it through to Saturday with their blessing.

LithuaniaLithuania – This came over as very repetitive and something of a let-down. I was convinced Vilija’s dancer was my friend John from New Zealand, but apparently he was busy so sent a stand-in. I think the song’s tedious. HRH thought it wasn’t bad. The performance was ok. Mrs C spent most of the three minutes googling for pictures of kittens doing management consultancy. Ho Hum. Negatory, rubber ducky.

FinlandFinland – Well, the light show was fantastic, and it looked a-ma-zing on the telly. For me, the song’s got good bits and bad bits, but the bad just outweigh the good. Mrs C was impressed with the overall cuteness of the guys, and the Prince was texting the drummer for a date. It was the first song that we disagreed on, as I didn’t put it through but the others did. It was, however, my favourite of my non-qualifiers, if that makes a difference?

IrelandIreland – “Oh great I love this one” said Mrs C as it started up. We all listened with intensity to fathom out what it was she liked so much. Then it all started to fade away. Still, if the others could lust over Finnish boys, I could find a certain warmth in Kasey’s bosom. It’s an enjoyable song, but, sadly, the performance wasn’t really a match for it. Over the course of the three minutes Mrs C definitely fell out of love with it, as she didn’t vote for it, whereas the Prince and I did.

BelarusBelarus – Cheesecake, or “Ode to a Dessert”. I take this for what it is, a fun song with an upbeat tune and a cheeky rhythm, and I thought Teo did a good job with it. I am advised that this is a big hit with the Crown Prince’s chef, back at the Bedford Palace. It’s bright, it’s sunny…what’s not to like? Nothing, apparently, as we all put it through.

MacedoniaMacedonia – (as it appears that only the EBU are using the FYR bit now) – I’ve always found this an “officially” fab song, but Tijana seemed to hold back to the detriment of the performance. And, frankly, if I may be so bold, the hoodie dancer looked like a bit of a w***er. Mrs C described it the whole thing as “indifferent” and you can’t get more damning than that. HRH was wavering, not for the first time. In the end only Mrs C and I put it through.

SwitzerlandSwitzerland – Here’s a song that it’s just physically impossible to dislike. As a group I thought Seb and his boys were a little static, but the uplifting jollity of the whole thing overrides that. Princey had a right royal bop to this. Mrs C admires the song’s naiveté and charm. She’s not wrong. It was Si, Si, Si from us.

GreeceGreece – Oh no! RiskyVocalist! What are you doing! I was so stunned at how he messed up the beginning that I let out an expletive, for which I issue a retrospective apology to anyone offended. Fortunately the infectiousness of the song quickly took over and we were all singing away, loving it. Or was that just me? Very lively performance, although I’m not entirely sure about the trampoline. It’s only going to give Jedward ideas. Thumbs up from all.

SloveniaSlovenia – His Majesty noted a melodic similarity between this song and the Greeks’, and I think he may be on to something. I’ve always liked this song and think it out-Irishes the Irish entry. I wasn’t much struck on the look of the whole thing though – I didn’t like Tinkara’s Victorian dress much, not that I would fit in it anyway. I also thought the light show clashed with, rather than enhanced, the visual impact of the performance. I know, get me. I put forward these theories during Tinkara’s three minutes and got “whatever” looks from the others. We all put it through.

RomaniaRomania – Mrs C observed that Paula always has a very laid back style of performance – it’s Ovi who has the get-up-and-go. Nevertheless, she’s probably the most established star in the whole contest, with a vocal range as far as Everest. I found myself carried away by the overall happiness of this song and performance, and liked it more than I was expecting. It’s just huge fun. Meanwhile His Majesty was last seen scouring the Argos catalogue for circular pianos. Da da da.

So, with us largely all agreeing on which songs we liked and which we didn’t, two of us got 7/10 and one of us (me, naturally!) got 6/10 – if only I’d fallen for the ravishing charms of the Finnish lads. That’s it from the Northampton jury for this year – however you spend your Eurovision night on Saturday, make it memorable for all the right reasons. It’s going to be a really exciting contest, I haven’t a clue who will win. Thanks for reading!