Tag Archives: eurovision

2011: One final look back

Yesterday’s blog post, concluding my review of the year, was intended to be my last for 2011. However, I’ve been cajoled into doing one further post that takes into consideration my personal travels through the last 12 months. Roughly speaking, this is the path I’ve taken:

Six Feet Under. Anti-Valentine Party. Birthday. Frankenstein’s Wedding. Elbow. iPhone. Doctor Who Party. First Quizzing event. Eurovision Party. Sufjan. Degree completed with a First. Avenue Q. Chris Barstow’s 30th. Chris Barstow leaves for Japan. That Day We Sang. Mastermind. Move to Manchester. Greenbelt. Kaisers at Kirkstall. Masters started. Masters stopped. Data-entry tedium. Graduation. New job at MMU. Labour doorstep. Movember. Stepping Out. Petra’s funeral. DJ-ing at Pop Curious again. Christmas. About to move again.

2011 in 10 “things”:

1) My OU graduation and the day of great pride for me and my mum
2) Stella Duffy wearing the “I AM NOT CAROL ANN DUFFY” T-shirt
3) The “wedding dance” in Kirkstall Abbey with Rob Butler and Debbie Gibbs
4) The Six Feet Under blog collaboration with Jon Hickman
5) The three-headed Greenbelt Literary Quiz with Ben Whitehouse and Andy Tate
6) Being back in the Black Chair
7) Calling Chorlton “home”
8) Smiths Night with Debbie and the Chrises
9) The joy of live music with wonderful friends
10) Those many quiet moments with the ducks at Kirkstall, and in Alexandra Park

And what of those who’ve helped make the good times good in 2011, lighting up my life face-to-face or via illuminating and entertaining discussions in the Twitterverse? The Special Guest Stars? I can reveal that, in no particular order, with Twitter usernames in brackets so you can follow them if you know what’s good for you, here are just some of them. They’re all very special indeed:

Ben Whitehouse (@benjiw)
Rob Butler (@theninthdoctor)
Debbie Gibbs (@plainnorthern)
Jon Hickman (@jonhickman)
Mary Costello (@maryecostello)
Chris Styles (@iamdresden)
Chris Fitzpatrick (@saxonwhittle)
Chris Barstow
Andrew Tate (@cloudatlaskid)
Stella Duffy (@stellduffy)
Nick Jones
Simon Best (@simonpjbest)
David Gilchrist
Jason Prince (@Jason_Prince)
Jenny & Matt Whitham (@Jenny_Whitham & @mattywhitty)

Oh, and my Mum. Obviously. Love to you all and here’s to happier times in 2012.

Chris x

The haiku return

Apologies for my long absence from here – but now I’m back, spurred on by the fact that Eurovision 2010 is now just a matter of weeks away.  And what better way to prepare for this year’s contest than by previewing this year’s 39 entries in haiku form?  Well, quite.  As with last year, I’ll be doing the haiku in semi-final order of appearance, saving hosts Norway and the Big Four (including the United Kingdom) until last.  Given the staggering mediocrity of both the song and performer chosen to represent us this year, it would ill befit us to be disparaging about the rest of Europe’s efforts.  Although rest assured that anything truly dire will be skewered in seventeen exquisite syllables.

So, without further ado, here are this year’s first two haiku.  Starting with Moldova:

Eurovision 2010 Haiku #1: Moldova

Ian Waite from Strictly
In saxophone invasion
With bling violin

Eurovision 2010 Haiku #2: Russia

A slim Renato
Fails to save his love but adds
Scary yodelling

Eurovision Final and IDAHO 2009

I was going to give a full review of the final, but after watching it I finally got wind of what had happened in Moscow a few hours earlier, when a gay pride march in Moscow was brutally broken up by police as part of Mayor Yuri Lukhzov’s continued homophobic stance. Among those arrested was veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. So instead, I’ll do a much shorter review of the final, but start with links to an account on the Pink News of what happened:

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-12472.html

Tatchell was released a few hours later:

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-12479.html

Hmm, sounds suspiciously to me as though Graham Norton and Andrew Lloyd-Webber were treading a bit too carefully here – on the other hand, the incident received virtually zero coverage on the TV news in this country, so it would have been easy for the Moscow authorities to suppress the story (after all, they’ve had a lot more practice over the years). And nobody boycotted the evening either – instead it went ahead without any glitches. I’ve already commented on the twenty countries who qualified from the semi-finals, so instead I’ll just quickly focus on the five automatic qualifiers.

France sent Patricia Kaas, a woman with a long and very successful career (16 million records sold) and who sang a smoky chanson that felt decidedly out of place in Eurovision, but was nonetheless all the more refreshing for that. Russia, clearly determined not to host the contest in 2010, had a woman wailing in Ukrainian whilst being computer-aged on large backdrop screens. Germany had a poor man’s Ricky Martin with Dita von Teese providing minor distractions, whilst Spain went for an upbeat number that sounded just a bit too much like other upbeat numbers that had come earlier in the night. And then there was us, Royaume Uni, Jade putting in a sterling performance of It’s My Time, a ballad I dismissed as trite and hackneyed when premiered in the final of Your Country Needs You four months ago. This week, however, it’s grown on me – and the weeks and weeks of promotional touring had clearly grown on the audience, as Jade got one of the biggest ovations of the night.

After an intriguing interval performance involving people throwing themselves about on watered sheets of perspex, it was down to the scoring. These days, with forty-two countries casting their votes (including the ones who didn’t get through the semis), only the 8s, 10s and 12s are read out, the minor votes flashed up on screen in order to save time. An opening gift of 10 points to the UK from Spain gave an indication that this would not be the humiliation that we’ve experienced in the last six years. But their 12 points to Norway also gave an indication as to how the scoring would proceed. Indeed, after the first half-dozen or so sets of points had been doled out, it was already clear that Norway were heading for a runaway victory.

Nobody, however, could quite have predicted just how far away Alexander Rybak and his Fairytale would run. His final score of 387 didn’t so much break the record as smash it, a full 169 points clear of second-placed Iceland. Jade, meanwhile, finished a very creditable fifth with 173 points, our best total since 1998, and our first top five finish (or indeed top ten finish) since Jessica Garlick finished third with Come Back in 2002.

So, next year it’s Oslo, as the good ship Eurovision will berth in a liberal, gay-friendly country, thank goodness, leaving me very much inclined to go (I’ve never been to Eurovision before, only ever seen it from my living room). For the gays and lesbians of Russia, however, the continuation of a persecuted existence now the party has left town, one that could have marked a watershed moment for them – instead, the simple desire to express their identity was met with the sort of sickening police brutality that reminds you that the struggle is far from over.

And of course, the struggle also goes on in many other countries, which is why it’s important to mark the fact that today is IDAHO 2009 – the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Gaysdotcom have posted this moving video with one very simple but very powerful message on YouTube:

Now go and research the attitudes towards and laws on homosexuality in the countries of the contributors. Some of it makes for depressing reading. Like I say, the struggle is far from over.

Chris

Eurovision Semi-Final 2 – Review

Semolina. So here we are again, with the second half of the qualifying from Moscow. After a man with an enormous balalaika and some accordionists with stuck-on beards reinterpreted classic winning songs (along with a line of men in bearsuits), the decidedly scary hosts were back to introduce tonight’s nineteen hopefuls.

First up were Croatia, a duet between a man looking like a cross between Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams, and a woman looking like Lauren Laverne. Their combined vocal talent was considerably less than the sum of those parts. Once the rest of Europe had taken its fingers out of its ears, it was time for Ireland, who instead of sending a turkey instead sent the Nolans trying to be the Bangles. Latvia had a song about a traffic jam that was more of a car-crash, performed by a failed punk who appeared to have taken fashion tips from Ricky Wilson circa 2005. Serbia had also pressed the wacky button, although their offering (a growling man with finger-in-socket hair, with Nick Cotton from Eastenders on accordion) was good-bad rather than bad-bad.

Poland’s answer to Leona Lewis was on next, but her power-balladeering was about to pale in comparison with the night’s big draw, Alexander Rybak representing Norway with his Fairytale. I have it on authority that, despite the object of the song’s affections being female, Alexander has been getting very familiar with last year’s winner Dima Bilan. Cheekbones to die for as well. Ahem, anyway. Cyprus gave us a young girl on a revolving light box, whilst Slovakia actually made Croatia sound bearable with their tonally-challenged couple. If Denmark’s entry sounded a lot like Ronan Keating, that’s probably because it was written by the man himself. It might as well have been performed by him (after all, transnational representation is nothing new in Eurovision). Instead we had Brinck, a Ronan clone. A “Clonan”, maybe. Or maybe not.

Slovenia’s singer stayed behind a screen for most of the song, and her emergence hardly created waves in the audience. Hungary sent John Barrowman dressed like Mr Motivator, but things then picked up with two more of the big favourites. First were Azerbaijan, with an efficient nth variation on the 2003 Turkey formula, then Greece represented by 2004 runner-up Sakis Rouvas. Whilst Cyprus’s Christina Metaxa’s light box just revolved, Sakis had clearly got an upgrade, as his functioned as a conveyor belt and a giant stapler. The song that denied Sakis the win 5 years ago was Wild Dances, and Moldova produced a carbon copy of this. Sandwiched by these entries was a Lithuanian in a hat impersonating Justin Timberlake.

Best attempt to out-weird Tuesday night’s Bulgarian entry came from Albania, who gave the audience a girl in a ra-ra skirt being molested by a man in a turquoise gimp suit. Although the kink factor in that performance was as nothing compared with Ukraine, who went all out to recreate the video for Relax with a cosmetically-enhanced dominatrix in an S&M parlour with man-slaves in giant hamster wheels. Anyone flicking past might have thought they’d hit upon one of the adult-only subscription channels instead. By way of contrast, Estonia had a Bat For Lashes lookalike with an Estonian-language ballad, before the Netherlands rounded things off with a trio of camp hairdressers and Divine. Their upbeat Eurodisco was resolutely old Eurovision, but perhaps none the worse for that.

The UK had been able to vote in the first semi-final, but not tonight – and the usual paranoia meant Paddy O’Connell and Sarah Cawood reiterating several gazillion times the fact that any attempt to vote would be a waste of money. Mr and Mrs Big Hair then made their final appearance (they mercifully won’t be hosting the final on Saturday night) and then pratted about with the magic button to reveal the winners. Astonishingly, Croatia went through, Azerbaijan and Ukraine less of a surprise. Lithuania, Albania and Moldova saw a continued former Eastern bloc resurgence, before Denmark and Clonan were announced as through. Estonia followed, leaving just two places, with big favourites Norway and Greece as yet unannounced. But then they were, Alexander and Sakis squeaking through and the line-up completed.

So, the final 25 have been decided, and on Saturday night at 8pm (BST) it’ll be the big one. Graham Norton will be commentating, Jade is on 23rd out of the 25 (although hopefully that won’t be her final position on the scoreboard), and there’s a one in five chance that we’ll be off to Scandinavia this year…

Chris

Eurovision Semi-Final 1 – Review

So, here we go. Off to Russia, with its homophobic policies, criminal businessmen and ruthless suppression of journalistic dissent. The perfect venue for a competition that promotes international harmony and has a huge following amongst the LGBT community. Only the contests of 1969 (in Franco’s Spain), 1990 (in what was still Yugoslavia) and 2004 (in Turkey) have been held in countries with comparably iffy human rights records.

Of course, bread and circuses in front of 38,000 is quickly going to quell most of the dissent, and the first act of this particular circus kicked off with a typically weird interpretation of the legend of The Firebird, before the audience was subjected to the first appearance of the hosts. As usual, this was a male/female combination consisting of a Barbie doll and a dodgy game show host with eighties hair and the look of someone who has indulged too much and too long in cosmetic surgery and fake tan. And, as usual, they bulldozed their way through the evening with relentless rictus grins, leaving a trail of mangled English in their wake. “HELLO EUROPE!” he bellowed. “HELLO MOSCOW!” she screeched. Shortly afterwards they were joined by two slightly terrified-looking young girls before the competition got underway.

Interspersed with some over-fussy postcards and large letters that appeared to spell “semolina”, came the acts. Montenegro was a forgettable pop song with a mildly distracting dancer. The Czech Republic had Super Gypsy (vying with Pants Man for the title of Most Rubbish New Superhero). Belgium had an Elvis impersonator wearing a lot of make-up and looking worryingly like he might drop dead from a heart attack at any moment.

Belarus had clearly decided that what Europe needed was more hair metal and acres of white spandex, and Petr Elfimov duly complied. Perhaps aided by the tightness of the trousers, he hit notes almost as high as the Swedish entry, performed by a renowned opera singer with a slightly unnerving resemblance to Ulrika Jonsson.

Armenia served up the Cheeky Girls covering Rachel Stevens’ Sweet Dreams My LA Ex in the style of Siouxsie Sioux, and they were followed by a couple of actually-quite-decent entries from Andorra and Switzerland. Quite decent but, placed mid-show amongst the usual madness, fatally forgettable. Turkey’s Dum Tek Tek was the first nonsense title of the year’s contest, and the umpteenth recycling of their winning entry from 2003. Then came the big Political Statement Song: the Israeli entry, performed by an Arab singer and a Jewish singer. Any effect this has on the peace process is likely to be fairly minimal unless they win (and they aren’t among the favourites), but it was refreshing to have such a straightforward ballad.

The next entry, from Bulgaria, could be described as many things, but straightforward would not be one of them. Its male singer, like Petr Elfimov, giving Sweden’s soprano a run for her money in the top-C stakes, the performance was further embellished by dancers on stilts and a woman with hair last seen on Jennifer Rush in 1986. Any fears that Eurovision might have become too bland, too homogenised and, worst of all, too professional, were assuaged.

A low-key ballad from Iceland provided much-needed relief, before the Macedonian entry gave the audience two frizzy-haired rock twins and a man who was probably their dad. Relatively conventional dance-pop ensued for the next couple of entries from Romania and Finland, and then came Portugal.

Portugal are one of the perennial underdogs of Eurovision, having entered more times without winning than any other country. A sweet folk-pop number, performed in Portuguese, looked like it probably wouldn’t do anything to change that. But then, right at the end, the lead vocalist was clearly so overcome by the occasion that she started to cry. In a way, it was a far more shocking moment than Bulgaria, Belarus or any of the other more out-there entries had managed to provide: someone for whom performing in front of a global audience of hundreds of millions was a moment of amazing, overwhelming import.

A singer for whom the experience is familiar is Chaira. Having come third for Malta in 1998, and second in 2005, here she was again, hoping to go one better once more with another full-on power ballad. After she departed, this left just one more entry, Bosnian band Regina, big enough in their home country to support the Rolling Stones, and with what felt less like a call than a flag-waving rallying cry to the masses.

The masses then cast their vote and, after an interval act featuring fake lesbians taTu, the results were revealed (in no particular order – the exact outlay of the semi-final votes won’t be revealed until after the final). A whirl of flying envelopes, a great deal of pratting about with a “magic button” and bizarre pronouncements (“Who will give more for the next winner?”; “You can’t imagine what an allergy we have here, ladies and gentlemen”) produced the following outcome:

A clean sweep for Scandinavia, as Sweden, Iceland and Finland all made it through, whilst Armenia, Romania and Bosnia also qualified. No surprises as Turkey made it through, nor Israel or Malta. The real, and very pleasant surprise, of the evening though was the qualification of Portugal. Clearly the audience had been moved by those tears, and hopefully also by the song itself.

So, ten are through, and another ten will join them on Thursday night. Among the competitors are hot favourites Alexander Rybak (for Norway) and Sakis Rouvas (for Greece) – whether the second semi-final produces the eventual winner remains to be seen…

Chris

Eurovision Semi-Finals

Yes, the first of the three big nights is almost upon us! 18 countries compete in tonight’s first semi-final (in which the UK gets to vote), then 19 in Thursday’s second semi-final (in which the UK doesn’t get to vote), with 20 countries in total going through to Saturday night’s final to join hosts Russia, plus the “big four” of France, Germany, Spain – and good old Royaume Uni. All three stages will be broadcast by the BBC at 8pm BST.

Those of you wishing to enhance your Eurovision experience with my individually-tailored haiku for each entry, haiku 1-18 cover tonight’s semi-finalists (in performance order), with haiku 19-37 covering Thursday’s semi-finalists (again in performance order). Haiku 38-42 are for the automatic qualifiers for Saturday.

And here’s one more haiku, in anticipation of Graham Norton taking our commentary in a more positive direction than his predecessor:

Xenophobic moans
From Irish institution
A thing of the past

Here’s hoping…

Chris

Eurovision Haiku #42: United Kingdom

British hopes rest on
Jade’s big Moment and Baron
Greenback’s ivories

Eurovision Haiku #41: Spain

Walking in the woods
In platform heels is really
Not recommended

The One That Got Away

Well, we’re nearly at the end of the haiku for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. In fact, there are just two more to go, including one for the United Kingdom entry. Those will come tomorrow, but first I’ve decided that, for the sake of completeness, I should also do a haiku for the Eurovision entry that won’t be heard in either of the semi-finals on 12 and 14 May, or in the final on 16 May. Namely the one that upset hosts Russia so much that they demanded the country in question field another entry – which that country flatly refused to do. They didn’t want to put in, so they decided to pull out instead. Here it is:

Eurovision Haiku #0: Georgia

Harmless disco spoof
With comedy hair – clearly
Not political

Eurovision Haiku #40: Germany

Ricky Martin meets
John Barrowman – with big lips
He sings “Let it swing”