Did the turkey get a good stuffing?

Day four (Tuesday) – a somewhat muggy day in Belgrade. 

As I’ve been moving around Belgrade there are places where the presence of Eurovision is prominent – and the logo as been plastered all over the place.  On my way to the press centre yesterday I managed to snatch a photo of the billboards dotted around the city – given that I’ve posted some low quality images (I’m no photographer) the one below isn’t too bad… we were travelling on a tram at the time.

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So far I have not really got a feel for Belgrade, as much of my activities have been based at the press centre and Beograd Arena.  That should change over the next couple of days as there are fewer rehearsals and our commitments free us up. I’m staying in an apartment in old Belgrade, and I have to cross the Sava (via a bridge, you understand) to get to the new part – where the conference facilities and Arena are.  So far we have all agreed that we are being well treated, and the cost of living is generously in our favour. Can you imagine getting a taxi at 2.00am and paying only four quid? Anyway, the main duty of the day (Tuesday) was to attend the final dress rehearsal at 1400hrs.  

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The two-hour run through was much slicker than the first rehearsal, and as you can see (below) we have really good seats – although probably just outside of the camera pan by a couple of rows if you are going to look for me during the broadcasts (we have seats to the left of the stage, second block of seats on the front row – worth paying £250 for a whole-week package!) This was the scene moments before the start: 

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Whilst it might look we have an obscured view,  the cameras do move! I only took a couple of shots – I’ll get more at the next semi-final as that’s the more interesting group of songs, where qualification will be tough!  I adore the Bosnian song, so I wanted to capture a moment of the magical madness on stage…

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There is a stunning set design for Finland, and with all the impressive pyrotechnics it’ll be sure to get to the final (mind you, it’s a complete rip-off of Lordi – the Finnish winning entry from 2005)…

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And so to the events of last night… My last post included my predictions for the semi-final last night – and if I’m right that means that I got 9/10. Not bad!  This ‘Eurovision expert’ seems to have got it right for once (or as I said during an interview with Liverpool radio station citytalk.fm, ‘I know my bacon’).  I have to say that being in the Beograd Arena really does change your perspective on the songs – and it underlines just how crucial performance can be.  We’ve seen a few songs undermined by bizarre staging, and even more bizarre-looking performers… and we’ve seen some excellent performers perform song excellent songs very well! 

Reflecting on the events of last night I think that ALL the right songs got through. I can imagine what Terry Wogan will be saying – that the attempts to stop block voting haven’t worked. Well if that’s what’s being said then personally I think it’s rubbish – the best SONGS got through on the night. The fact that the only Western song to qualify was Norway, for me, is incidental. The semi-final itself was really great – although I am sitting next to a guy from The Netherlands who was a bit crestfallen when they didn’t qualify. Here’s a few observations from my seat in the arena: 

Bosnia and Greece went really, really big in the hall. In fact I think that there is a good chance that Greece will have the edge over hot favourite Russia – did you hear the chants for Greek singer Kalomira? (and it’d be nice to go to Athens for the Contest next year!).  Also, could you tell at home that the Russian song was actually booed within the arena at the start?  You will definitely have heard Dustin the Turkey getting booed – but it has been said that the main portion of that booing was coming from the Greek fans. After the Contest had gone off-air Dima Bilan (Russia) was behaving like he had won the grand final, not the semi-final – and having seen him behaving in a slightly distasteful manner, I’d quite like for him not to win.  

Viva Bosnia!  Viva Kalomira! Better luck next time, Dustin…

 Bring-on the next phase and (if you can cope) semi-final number two!

Runners and riders…

POST LIVE FROM BELGRADE – 6.26PM  LOCAL TIME (5.26PM UK TIME)– TUESDAY 20 MAY 2008 

Ok, so – tonight is the first of the semi-finals, and Karen, Milijia and I (Milijia arrived yesterday) have decided our ‘list of death’, in order to try and make some predictions about that will make it through to the final, and kill-off the songs that we think aren’t up to the grade – yes, I know what you’re saying at home!

Remember – only 10 of the 19 will make it.  Without confering, we have unanimously agreed that these songs will progress to the final:

  •  Israel
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Armenia
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Greece

So that’s seven out of ten!  Not bad – unless we get it really wrong! The ones that we don’t agree on:

Phil and Karen – Norway YES!, Milijia NO!

Milijia – Poland YES!, Karen and Phil NO!

Karen and Phil – Finland YES, Milijia NO!

Karen and Milijia – Slovenia YES!, Phil NO!

Phil and Milijia – Netherlands YES!, Karen NO!

There will be tears by bed… and not by the artists if we’re rubbish at all this! 

Enjoy the show!

Let the rivers run…

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As many of you will know, I delivered a conference paper at the first Eurovision conference back in February 2008. It took place in Volos, Greece, and for the first time academics from around the world got together to discuss the many fascinating ways of studying the ESC (I know – go figure). It was an excellent experience for me, and not to gush too much, a life changing one for me personally.  How nice to be surrounded by a healthy perspective on all things Eurovision, whilst at the same time an opportunity to indulge in our many various levels of Eurovision interest and fandom.   That conference was the genesis for me sitting in this press centre in Belgrade sharing my experiences with you.  My conference paper was on the branding of the ESC since 2004. This year the national (host broadcaster) theme sees the Eurovision as a ‘confluence of sound’. Now, if you ask anyone what on earth this means you’ll get puzzled faces, so it’s ironic that there is no getting away from the logo and the strap line – indeed the photo above is what I’m looking at as I type. It’s all to do with this… 

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According to the official program, the concept of the confluence of sound comes from the confluence of the two rivers within Belgrade – the Danube and the Sava – which, apparently, creates a third energy ‘and a creative platform on which the genesis of the visual concept for the ESC in Belgrade takes place.’ So that clears that up, right?!  You will notice on Tuesday night that the stage design reflects this theme – and the two rivers meet to provide the performers with an opportunity (in many cases we saw in the dress rehearsals today) to walk what looks like a catwalk.  So there we go (and see below). Anyway, Karen and I arrived at the press centre today at the crack of noon. Karen had done a live radio interview with RTẾ’s morning Tubridy show, so with the time difference (we’re 1 hour ahead) we made our way via the free local transport to the press centre.  As I have already indicated, Karen is very well connected with the Irish delegation, and no sooner had we arrived than she had been accosted by reporter Gareth O’Connor to do a piece to camera for a news item that will be on the Six O’clock news on Tuesday evening on RTẾ.  Karen caught the action… waistcoats are back, back , back in Belgrade… 

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 My picture of Karen shows how this blog is going meta-media!  She’s too cool for school – look at her with her shades on… 

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After that unexpected media moment we headed to the press room to work on our copy – Karen for her articles, and me for this blog.  A couple of hours later (after I’d cracked how to upload the pictures for the previous posts) we had another light lunch and headed for the arena for the first dress rehearsal of the first semi-final (there are three in total for both semi-finals ).  Can you spot the confluence of sound in the stage design… 

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And yes, as you might be able to see from the photo above, the arena for the late afternoon dress rehearsal was half empty.  We could tell that this might have been the first chance that the presenters had had to do a run-through as they were a little wooden, and there were a few technical errors that interrupted what should have been an ‘as live’ run through.  Still, there was lots to enjoy – and the good thing from my perspective was that there are more songs that I like than can progress to the final – of the 19 songs only 10 from each semi-final can progress to compete for the Grand Prix de la chanson Eurovision. There were outstanding performances from several countries: 

Boaz for Israel (my showbiz mate) offers a refreshingly straightforward performance, where the song is central to the performance.  

Norway was vocally strong – but, whilst it’s a great song, it’s perhaps not a eurosong. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina got one of the best reactions from the audience. The song is great, and he staging is absolutely barking – the performers wear wedding dresses, there is a washing line, and the female singer looks like Helena Bonham-Carter in Sweeney Todd! 

We may also have seen a winning performer today – Dima Bilan for Russia. He is in-it-to-win-it, with such a swagger to his performance (he’s on his knees at one point – looks like he’s literally begging for votes), and is joined on stage by a figure skating Olympic champion (no really!) and, most exciting for some, a 400 year old Stradivarius violin (no, REALLY!). The song is a little dull for my liking, but in terms of a Eurovision package it’ll sail through to the final and will finish top 3 for sure.  That said, I am the kiss of death when it comes to judging this Eurovision lark – expert indeed! 

And if you’re after a bit of eye candy, Greece have sent an Greek American singer, Kalomira who is a cross between Britney and Christina, so for the proposes of the blog we’ll call her Britina. Great song, great performance – and sure to be in the final for a top 10 finish. 

So, that’s my pick of the crop for the first semi-final, which I’ll be seeing again on Tuesday night. You can see it on BBC 3 at 8.00pm.  I have really good seats to the left of the stage, so keep your eyes peeled.  Now if I could only find a big foam finger… Last note from Monday in sunny Belgrade was my live radio link-up for BBC Radio Merseyside. The Billy Butler show were keen to get my feedback on the first semi-final, and we talked at length about the UK entries of the past and the UK attitude to Eurovision.  They liked me so much they I’ll be doing another interview for their breakfast show later in the week. 

Once again, Karen caught me in action… 

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Like I said – waistcoats are back, back, back… and that was day 3 in Belgrade!

All hail the diva

My second day in Belgrade saw an early start for Karen and myself as we were eager to attend the press conference of the Israeli entry, cute twenty year old singer Boaz – winner of Israel’s version of Pop Idol.  Boaz was ushered into a swanky hotel in a more upmarket region of Belgrade than that which we are frequenting!  To those of you who are not aficionados of the Contest, the main interest for Karen and myself (and probably many at the conference) was the writer of Boaz’s song… none other than Dana International, who won the Grand Prix back in 1998 – the last occasion on which the UK hosted the ESC in Birmingham.

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Boaz and Dana International

Dana, as some of you will know, caused something of a storm in 1998 – as she used to be a he. She was a deserved winner, and in many ways that victory has changed the dynamic of the contest that we are all experiencing today.  Camp? Kitsch? “Fabulous”. Yes, all three – and we were lucky to viva la diva today (Sunday) – shameless lyric plug there!

Though we were supposedly there to hear about Boaz and his song, in many ways it was Dana’s press conference – she was at her bitchy best.  She held court over the proceedings and poor Boaz (himself not a fluent speaker of English) was very much sidelined – but it didn’t seem to matter. His song is a good song, but I’ll act like a politician and sit on the fence – I’m not sure it will quality for the final. That said, I certainly schmoozed with the Israeli delegation today…  I’m working the room on behalf of you EHU!

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Phil wth Eurovision winner Dana International

 Next it was off to register and collect our accreditation badges – you’re nobody around here if you haven’t got some form of accreditation. As a fan I don’t exactly get access all areas, but I’m grateful to the BBC for giving me this opportunity, so I mustn’t grumble.  The press centre is located in Serbia’s largest conference centre, and is a comfortable venue.

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Karen outside the press centre

Having collected our accreditation badges and had a light lunch at the press centre, in the late afternoon it was time to check out how the UK’s entry Andy Abraham was shaping-up at his final rehearsal before the actual competition gets underway. And you know what, he worked the stage with a great backing band – all vocally very strong. He has a natural confidence and we moves well around the stage in what is a well choreographed routine.  The song is funky and the bright colours of the stage design complement this seasoned performer. On the strength of this rehearsal I think that Andy will do the UK proud and it would be a well deserved top ten placing for him, if the votes go our way. Although we know the score, right!

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Andy on stage during the rehearsals

I must say that the Arena and the stage all look much smaller than they do on television – but such is the magic of television!  I remember being in the audience of Mastermind once – it’s like sitting in your lounge! You’ll find it a visually stunning setting – and I can’t wait for the first dress rehearsals on Tuesday afernoon where I can see the first run through of the first semi-final.

Perhaps the strangest event of the day was a freak hail storm that we completely missed – immersed as we were with Andy’s rehearsals.  It was carnage – the hail had literally stripped the leaves and foliage from trees and plants – it was a bizarre sight as it had been a very warm day. I can’t believe that a picture of monster hail stones has made it to my Eurovision blog…

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Final stop of the day was to attend the welcome party – by invitation only – where the host broadcaster recived their acredited guests and performing artists. It was a stunning venue and it was good to meet with some of the acts and experience the energy  and the buzz of this official launch party. This was made even more enjoyable for the lavish trays of free alcohol and food.

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 It was a marvellous night – although I’ve abandoned any sense of British reserve and thrown myself at my new best friends…Andy and Boaz!

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Phil with ‘our Andy’!

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Phil with Boaz – the Israeli singer

So that was a wonderful second day in sunny Belgrade.

  

Irelande Douze Pints…

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Greetings from sunny Belgrade!  I made it to Serbia with no real delays and met up with my friend Karen Fricker at the airport and we took a cab to our apartment – which is very homely, and will suit us just fine (especially given that taking with people on our first night in Belgrade that the hotels sound less that bijou!).

So, having dropped our bags at around 7.00pm it was time to hit the ground running as we had our first party to get to for shortly after 8.00pm. Karen writes for the Irish Times, and is accredited by RTE, the Irish broadcaster, and she had travelled from Heathrow with members of that delegation, as a result she had been invited to the Irish delegation’s party for their entry, Dustin The Turkey.  Dustin will be performing ‘Irelande Douze Points’, and this party was certainly fuelled by a free bar and Douze PINTS!  There was a great atmosphere and we were treated to a guest appearance from the turkey of the moment – Dustin himself!

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The crowd were on excellent form, and it certainly felt like a baptism of fire attending my first ever europarty.  There was quite an amusing stand-off between the German group No Angels (the name really does say it all!) and the female singer from the Czech Republic and her backing singers… who looked the best was obviously what they were concerned with, but to the rest of us it was who had the biggest implants…

Next it was off to the ‘Euroclub’ nite spot that’s available to all the accredited people at the ESC this year, where, amongst others we saw a performance from hot favourite Ani Lorak, representing Ukraine – who could very well win again this year having just missed out last year.  As you can see from my impressive photography I’m certainly going to be capturing the moment quite well for you over the coming week!

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The funniest moment of the evening came as Karen and I were leaving the Euroclub (wish I’ had my camera out) – the Russian entry Dima Bilan swept through the foyer looking somewhat like a Liberace impersonator and a huge entourage, all of whom were demanding attention, and only impressing themselves… it was so OTT that you could not help but find it funny. Then again, I guess that it’s better if you’d seen it!  Trust us to be leaving as the bookies favourite was arriving.

So, that was (cue Big Brother voice-over man) ‘Day One in Belgrade. After all the travelling and attending various launch parties, the housemates are in bed…’