Who knew, it’s Baku!

(picture the scene – I’m was writing this in Heathrow terminal 5, waiting to get my connection back to Manchester… and then Euro-flu took hold when I got home so I’m posting the final update for the year uncharacteristically late. Sadly, no pics –  camera lead is still missing!)

Another year, another Eurovision Song Contest. Another great winner!

Whilst Azerbaijan had never led the betting at any stage, their odds had shortened during the week. A decent song with great staging and a place in the running order that would have given them a bounce all played out to their advantage in the end.

I would never have imagined that they would win – but I’m really pleased that they did. I was getting a bit grumpy with Greece and Ukraine challenging for the lead. I like the Ukraine song, but I didn’t want it to win because of the sand art. Again, it was visually very effective, but felt a like a distraction form the song than an enhancement.

Didn’t Ell and Nikki look genuinely shocked by their victory – which made it even nicer to watch.

And how fabulous was the stage for the scoring – OMG!  That was something that was kept secret from everyone – no one in the press centre knew that the green room was going to be revealed from the start (we knew the green room was behind the stage). It was also a pleasant surprise to see a GIANT scoreboard on the LED backdrop. Last year in Oslo I could barely see the screen, so it was refreshing to not have to strain to follow the action.

The top 10 reflects a more diverse list than any of us ESC scholars could have predicted – but the field was wide open. I think my ‘Napkin of Death’ gave me 5/10 – the early promise of my predications seem to fall away (kiss of death, I tell you!). The final scores were bunched together – and how nice with four juries still to vote to see both Sweden and Azerbaijan still challenging each other for the win.  Jedward did a great job, and great to hear their commentator tell them that Ireland were proud of them. As a consequence of them not winning it meant that Karen did not have to stay for the winner’s press conference – although she will be filing her article for The Irish Times today. Reports suggest that they have been mobbed at the airport back home – great to hear. Even though their Eurovision Song Contest has been a genuine success for them, they really are Marmite, aren’t they… you either love them or hate them!

Blue did OK. The early signs looked good as we topped the leader board – but eventually we fell away to finish a slightly disappointing 11th place. Not quite the result they were hoping for to re-launch their collective careers.

As my friends and students know, I am a HUGE fan of the Swedish Melodifestivalen – which selects their entry for the ESC. I have been an advocate of Eric Saade’s “Popular” since the early rounds of the contest back in February. The thing is that I’ve been listening to it since then and by the time I arrived in Dusseldorf and saw Eric perform I was expecting more. I was slightly underwhelmed by his vocal performance throughout the ESC.  If you listen to the recorded version of the song he does a cracking end note in the higher register of his voice – he didn’t go anywhere near it during the ESC, which was a disappointment for me. Whilst I might have been a bit grumpy about that the rest of Europe (perhaps not hearing it for the 200th time!) seemed to love it. Last year – when Sweden failed to make it to the ESC final – it was a huge national embarrassment to them, and so with this best placing at the ESC since 1999 it looks like schlager is back, b-a-c-k, BACK!

Last year when I got back I was a bit grumpy about everything – but this year I leave Dusseldorf with some good memories of the city and of the Contest. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Karen for all that she has done for me this week, and over all the years to add the extra ingredients to my experience. The ‘New Europe’ panel on “Feeling European” – which incorporated my paper – paid for my travel and accommodation, and I am grateful for that. I am also thankful to Karen for using her influence with the EBU to get me my accreditation this year. It has been much harder for people to get into the press centre this year – and I had initially been declined by the BBC.  I am happy to have represented the ERN at the Eurovision this week, and Karen did a great job during a very busy week to pull the two events together.

I know at the end of the blog last year I stated that things would be different if I went to ESC2011. Well, they were different for sure!  Travelling 90 mins each way to and from Cologne was a bit draining – but all in all the experience of being at the centre of the ESC means that for a little short term pain there was a long term gain… I mean – did you see the programme last night – I was there, and it was awesome.

So, the Contest is off to Baku next year – and I’m sure Azerbaijan will do a great job. Will I be there?  Let’s not think about that just yet.  Instead, let’s congratulate Azerbaijan one last time – and let me thank you for reading along over the last 10 days.

That’ll be Dusseldorf then…

Time to ‘feel your heart beat’…

It’s been a really quick week.  I’m a little exhausted by now, and I’m still battling this bloomin’ cold that’s been lingering since Wednesday.  I will not succumb! The academic events have all now finished, so the ERN and the ‘New Europe’ activities can give way for all things giddy and Eurovision from now on!

Last night members of the ERN had great seats for the jury final.  We were sitting in block F – which was at the front of the arena, and we were at the back so we had a great view.  So far this week I haven’t had anyone sitting immediately behind me, so I’ve been jumping up and down to the songs that I like, without fear of blocking someone’s view behind me.  I wish the guy  who sat in front of me last night was similarly courteous – he took multiple pics of every song. It was getting on my nerves by the end of the night, but hey – I’m seeing it again tonight so I didn’t say anything. BTW: apologies that I can’t spice the blog up with some nice pics from the final – I still can’t find the lead for my camera.

The atmosphere was amazing. The arena was the fullest it has been and the home town cheering is like a wall of sound. Not to give anything away, the opening sequence is great. The vibe is excellent and it’ll get your euro-party off and running.

Don’t ask me to predict a winner. I want it to be Finland – but will singing from first position be a help or a hindrance? France and Ireland are neck and neck with the bookies. I’d rather it was Ireland because it’s 10/10 for effort and effect. I tell you, I’m not a fan of Jedward, but how they have handled themselves this week shows them to very good effect. Hey – if it is in Dublin next year  I could travel from Liverpool in pretty much the same amount of time that it has taken us to get from Cologne to Dusseldorf!  Great news is that we are now renting a people carrier, so it only takes us 50 mins to get here – hooray/sound of Eurovision harps.

Seeing the ‘Big 5’ in the mix for the first time was interesting.  Naturally the partisan crowd create a bit of a hullabaloo when Lena (Germany) steps on stage to defend her Eurovision crown. It looks stunning – and the song is so different from anything else that it could do the unthinkable. The UK have a strong showing from Blue – and a huge cheer from the crowd. Their styling has been changed and it’s a bit dodgy, but the performance was very good… but not as good as Ireland (gulp). France has been leading the betting odds for months, but I just can’t see it winning – great though the song is.  It reminds me of that Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman track “Time To Say Goodbye”, and I’ll have you know, fact fans, that it is the best selling song of all time in Germany. Italy are back, BACK, B-A-C-K for the first time since 1997.  I like the song, but he gives nothing to the audience in the arena, so I hope it looks better on the telly. By the time Spain take their turn you will have refreshed your drink on enough occasions to think that it’s wonderful. In the cold sober light of day you’ll probably reconsider!

Before dinner tonight we’re doing the mega (Jedward’s favourite word, BTW) NoD. Here, in the meantime is my top 1o (remembering that it’s who we think will be in the top 10, not necessarily our faves):

  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Estonia
  • Russia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Azerbaijan
  • Georgia

My 10 faves are (in no particular order, except Finland):

  1. Finland
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Azerbaijan
  4. Germany
  5. Italy
  6. Denmark
  7. Sweden
  8. France
  9. United Kingdom
  10. Hungary

Before the final recap of the songs for the final, I’m sending hugs and Eurovision love to my original Eurovision partner in musical crime (yes, insert your own joke there!), Rachel Rolfe – it isn’t and it won’t be until we do again. You get me?!

Enjoy the show one and all, and thanks for reading once again this year – hope it’s added something to your day over the last week.  I’ll do one last post before I leave Cologne tomorrow, but for now, here are the songs to make your heart beat…

😀 xx

1. Finland

2. Bosnia & Herzegovina

3. Denmark

4. Lithuania

5. Hungary

6. Ireland

7. Sweden

8. Estonia

9. Greece

10. Russia

11. France

12. Italy

13. Switzerland

14. United Kingdom

15. Moldova

16. Germany

17. Romania

18. Austria

19. Azerbaijan

20. Slovenia

21. Iceland

22. Spain

23. Ukraine

24. Serbia

25. Georgia


8 out of 10 cool Eurovision cats…

I was keeping it in the family last night.  My ‘secretary’ – who came to my rescue – was my sister Helen. Ain’t technology marvellous – sitting in a Greek (suitably European) restaurant and relaying the NoD to the blog via Kendal back in the UK.  Big sisters can save little brother’s lives once in a while, so it was good to post that info. It was also my mum’s birthday, so it was good to talk to her and catch-up from Dusseldorf.

NoD update: 8/10 is really quite good, considering that it was the more interesting semi of the two. Rux is right – I got distracted by Moldova’s hats and the sketchy staging.

All in all we now have 25 songs, and once again we have a good final (more on that later). I am sitting in  the press centre without my camera cable, so I can’t post any of the images from last night. Pity – as the Jedward staging looked impressive, didn’t it. The UK couldn’t vote for them last night, but it will be interesting to see who we give out douze to on Saturday night, as we have atendancy these days to give Greece 12 points. Ireland might just get them this year.

I have been at one of the ERN events this morning for a panel discussion about Eurovision. It was an early start after a very late trian home last night. Jedward’s mentor for the ESC, Caroline Downey, was one of our invited speakers. She was a star – obviously knows her Eurovision bacon – and is a good contact to have. She spoke about her approach to bringing Jedward to the Eurovision stage – it was all very interesting, and she was lovely. Karen has met Jonathan and Edward twice this week and the reports back are they are hyperactive but lovely people, not irritating at all.  A bit like an excitable children who have eaten half a bag of Haribo!

It’ll be nice in Dublin next year.  I’d prefer to be in Helsinki…

We’re off to the Jury final tonight.  Not to explain the obvious, but this is the broadcast that the juries watch to cast their votes. The international juries, as some of you will know, are music industry professionals who are judging the musical merits of the songs. On occasions the jury and the public vote do not align – but overall it is seen as a good way to ensure that there is variety and a focus on music rather than spectacle and all that jazz.


The return of the napkin of death

My secretary is typing this in whilst I am having dinner in a restaurant without a wireless connection!

Some of you have been asking so here are the songs that I think will get through tonight:

Bosnia and Herzegovina










I`ll report back tomorrow, hope you all enjoy the show.

Go team Jedward!!!!

Seconds out…

Thursday was always going to be the more competitive of the semi-finals.

There are a batch of good songs, good looking men, two sets of twins and a returning winner -Dana International (who I met in 2008, when in Belgrade – go on, look back on the blog!).  And yet today, in the semi-final dress rehearsal I did find my mind wandering.

I’m battling a bit of a cold, but I can’t let that interfere with a busy week. The dress rehearsal was sketchy – as it was on Monday.  A few long delays whilst the technical difficulties were solved.  The huge LED screen which is the backdrop for the impressive stage failed today – can you imagine if that happened on the night!  It was fixed in due course and the rehearsal continued.  Below is the existing footage once again, with my pithy insights.  I said pithy…


I like the song, but I don’t like it when I watch it. It should get through, but then again?

02. Austria

It’s really impressive that Nadine starts (for a prolonged period) singing without a backing track.  Especially because she did it  note perfect today.  It wasn’t on my radar before today, but she was channeling Christina Aguilera in what was a great vocal display.  Like Lithuania the other day I think this will go through, as there aren’t many diva ballads this year – and this is quite a good one. Great backing vox also. It’s the kind of song that Alexandra Burke might have sang as the finale song for the X Factor a few years back

03. The Netherlands

I quite like this (not quite a guilty pleasure), but the staging is dull, and the lead singer needs to wash his hair.  No, really…

04. Belgium

Again – brave to do acapella, but adios amigos…

05. Slovakia

These girls are a bit like Jedward (ahem). One can sing and one can’t. Unlike Jedward this will struggle to get through as the vocals were ropey today. If they get it right on the night it might go through.

06. Ukraine

Mark my words, you will not remember the song after you hear it on the night. Why?  Because – and whilst it is a clever concept – the backdrop to the performance on the LED screen is a female artist who does ‘sand art’. It’s really clever – but you will get absorbed in that rather than the song.

07. Moldova

“So Lucky”?  to sit through this – not so sure.  The band wear those cone hats that the Pet Shop Boys used way back in 1993.  And then there is a woman on a unicycle. I’m sorry – I don’t watch Britain’s Got Talent because I don’t want to see random acts like this! Going home… them, not me!

08. Sweden

My friends and students know that I likes me a bit of schlager, and I follow the Melodifestivalen (the Swedish process to select their entry) religiously for six weeks each year.  This is the best of the bunch this year, but he just doesn’t have a very strong vocal.  The Melodifestivalen backing tracks masked his vocal inabilities, but the Eurovision stage is very unforgiving (as you probably noticed!). That said, excellent choreography – and the ‘smashing effect’ will look stunning when you see it.  Surely (kiss of death) going through?

09. Cyprus

Effective concept on stage – but is the song memorable enough?

10. Bulgaria

Great set of pipes, but one of many female artist who just screech their way through a song. Adios…


Not their year, again…

12. Israel

An icon of the ESC returns. Well-loved is Dana international, but there is a feeling that this song is a disappointment after her winning song “Diva” took the title back in Birmingham in 1998.  I like the track, but I expected more.  That said, she is the only artist (other than the Danish lead singer) to use the entire stage. Given that she alone changed gender politics and amplified sexuality within the context of ESC, I’d like to see it go through.

13. Slovenia

14. Romania

Going through for sure. Romania finished in third place last year and have a great track record in the Contest over the years. Right, Ruxandra? :D. The lead singer if from the UK – and he had, well, let’s call it a moment of madness, when he posted more than his holiday snaps on the web…

15. Estonia

A youthful artist and track. I thought the staging might be a bit out of date. Having seen it today it is a carbon copy of their national final performance, but it has been done well, and I think it’ll go through and do well.

16. Belarus

Anyone know the address of the Belarus Tourism Board?

17. Latvia

Any song which uses the word ‘thigh’ in the lyrics must be sent home.

18. Denmark

As I arrived at the press centre today these guys were in the security queue in front of me.  They are surprisingly ‘ickle. Telly really does wonders for some people! Nice guys  – and a fantastic performance should see this sail through.  You will love it. The second song of the night to mention diamonds and pearls (there are a lot of doubles this year). That’s a euro fact, readers!

19. Ireland

The smart (ahem) money is on this to win. Erm. Well. It’s 10000% better than you think it’s going to be. The staging is *stunning* and Jedward will do Ireland proud. If we’re off to Dublin, that’s cool. But there are better songs in my opinion.

Be watching on BBC3 on Thursday night at 8.00pm.

Napkin of death later. Night from DD….



Ice, Ice baby!

The venue was busy, considering it was the first semi-final (it has been quiet in previous years, and this wasn’t exactly the most competitive of semi-finals)…

Big story of the night for me – how great was Iceland last night!

I am man enough to say that I actually teared-up during the song – it looks stunning on stage – and I hope that you thought it was just as good at home.  If I was a betting man – blah, blah… Hope you enjoyed the show.

Azerbaijan was similarly effective when the water fall of fireworks began – we didn’t see that in the dress rehearsal…

Hungary kept some men I know very happy by going through…

And,  7/10 for the napkin of death isn’t too bad, is it.  Credibility almost intact!

There’s been a bit of a to-do in Eurovision towers because loads of countries lost their audio feed from the commentators. The EBU hastily arranged a press conference here in the press centre to discuss, what is in fact, a huge cock-up. Seems like there was more drama last night when Turkey didn’t get through – but how marvellous that Finland, Iceland and Switzerland did.

BTW: I meant to say – we’re all very excited that Spidercam is back, b-a-c-k, BACK!  You will no doubt be enjoying fab vision mixing – and everytime you see an infinity shot/360 angle – that’s thanks to the super-powers of Spidercam!  Wind machine be gone, I have a new arena i-spy game…


But that was all *so yesterday* – what about the second semi-final? More to follow….

10 of the best, or 10 of the rest?

I’m not sure how the weather is in the UK,  but it’s absolutely baking hot again here in Cologne.  I’m just off to the press centre, and to the first semi-final, so ahead of tonight, here is my ‘napkin of death’…

(Remember, we are predating who we think will go through, not necessarily our favourite songs)

  • Norway
  • Armenia
  • Turkey
  • Russia
  • Switzerland
  • Finland
  • Iceland
  • Hungary
  • Lithuania
  • Azerbaijan

At dinner later the Dusseldorf jury (that’s us lot) will compare notes, so I’ll let you know how we do later on.  Enjoy the show!



Going through, or going home? Semi-final 1 and the ‘Napkin of Death’

Yes regular readers,  like waistcoats way back @ ESC2008 in Serbia, the “Napkin of death” is back, BACK, B-A-C-K !

For the last three years my euro chums and myself have tried to predict what is going to make it through to the final, and which ten songs will make it through from each of the semi-finals. We usually do this over dinner on the evening of the semis, and in the absence of paper back in Belgrade (Serbia) we used a napkin to eliminate the dross. As I type I’m watching German Big Brother (no, really) so I am tempted to evoke Davina McCall and say “who wins – you decide”, but for the purposes of the metaphorical napkin, it’s us!

ESC2011 is a good year for songs, but the first semi-final has a few howlers. Because of this I am actually struggling to find 10 songs to make it through. See what you think…

01. Poland

She’s got energy, and a good voice, but it all seems a bit busy on stage.

02. Norway

At the start of the ESC2011 season this was the favourite. Back when it was cold and snowy this little piece of sunshine seemed even more appealing.  Stella looked confident on stage today, and it really is a feel-good track.  She’s also the daughter of Eurovison royalty: Joelle Ursall represented France in 1990 – one of my all time faves, but can Stella do as well as her Mum?

03. Albania

She’s channeling American singer Pink, but it’s all a bit pitchy.

04. Armenia

Amongst some of the worst lyrics in the Contest, “Boom Boom” reminds me a bit of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Shakalaka Baby” from Bombay Dreams. Armenia have a good track record in recent years, so this should go through.

05. Turkey

Turkey have settled on a formula – and this is pretty much a re-boot of their entry last year, which finished in second place. This is a certainty to make it to the final, but the staging – as you will see – is an academic paper in itself!

06. Serbia

Great vibe, and visually the staging is stunning – it especially looks good on television.  What sometimes doesn’t translate on the Eurovision stage is a performance that is overwhelmingly styled to be retro – which this is. Great energy and a great voice, but I’m on the fence if it will go through.

07. Russia

Now my first dilemma of the Contest this year. Alex Sparrow and Swedish singer Eric Saade seem to be busting the same moves. The choreography of both is the same, so it they both make it to the final they might just cancel each other out.  Good performance today, and I met him yesterday so I might be a bit biased!

08. Switzerland

Fab performance of this today – although she does seem to be playing dress-up, as she looks like she’s wearing her mum’s old frock. Smooth vibe and great vocals – I really hope this gets through.  Best thing Switzerland have sent to ESC in years.

09. Georgia

The most rock-oriented song that Georgia have since their debut a few years back. Again, this track feels like it’s going to be cancelled out by Turkey.  That said, she did a great vocal today – but I’m just not sure we needed the MC-ing.

10. Finland

OMG – the staging of this is the best of the day. Simple song, well sung, great hook – you’ll all be able to sing along with you ‘da-da-dums’ by the end of the song. There are times when simplicity at Eurovision speaks volumes, and this is a fab example. If I was a betting man…

11. Malta

Taxi for Malta…

12. San Marino

Having over-indulged on the hospitality (free wine) of the San Marino delegation on Sunday night it was a slightly slow start to Monday morning! Senit played a blinder last night, but today she seemed a little jaded. I love the song, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if Senit makes it through, because I think she’s on the knife edge.

13. Croatia

Well – it’s all going on here. Daria has: (i) Stephie Graff’s nose, (ii) Norah Batty’s tights, and (iii) it looks like Daria has been joined by the girls from the typing pool on backing vocals!  This song was originally supposed to be called “Break A Leg”, but the they had to change it. Will they be celebrating?

14. Iceland

Following the death of Sjonni Brink in January, his friends decided that they would form a group to perform his song, and they made it through the Icelandic selection to give us the most poignant story of the Contest.  As Karen said today at the dress rehearsal, the lyrics make it even more poignant. I was quite emotional as I watched his friends represent his memory. I hope you are equally entertained and moved by a lovely performance – it would be fitting for it to make it through in Sjonni’s memory.

15. Hungary

One of the hot faves – there’s just something not connecting on stage.  The track uses powerful backing vocals – a bit like on the Pet shop Boys “Go West” – but on stage, using only six performers, it’s hard to recreate that. She’s a fan favourite – but is that enough?

16. Portugal

Flight straight back to Lisbon, please…

17. Lithuania

Portugal did well to qualify for the final last year with a ballad like this song.  I quite like it – we don’t really have any other ‘diva ballads’ in this semi-fianl, so perhaps it’ll stand out. Not sure it’ll go through – I’m on the fence…

18. Azerbaijan

These two (Ell and Nikki) are working it like the rent is due tomorrow around the press centre. It’s a great song. Pity that Nikki can’t hold a note – although her looks will probably compensate?  He looks like he should be presenting Blue Peter, but has a cracking voice. If I was a betting man I’d but some Euro on this. Surely going through?

19. Greece

OMG – Greece have lost the Eurovision plot. This all too earnest, isn’t it?  I know my Euro-pal Rachel Rolfe will love it, but for the first time in years I think that Greece will not qualify for the final?

So, when you see the semi-final on BBC at 8.00pm on Tuesday, see what you think. Before then I’ll publish the napkin of death. And just note – the second semi final is the more competitive than this one.







The heat is on…

It’s not just the Contest that is hotting up. The weather has been a scorcher.  Moving around the two cities, and between the press centre and the arena, you can feel the heat.  Upwards of 29/30 degrees today.  Luckily, the press centre is well ventilated – otherwise there would be blood, sweat and tears both backstage and in our working area!

Today (Monday) saw the business end of the week begin – it was the first dress rehearsal of the first semi-final. It’s the first full run through of all the acts back-to-back. As a result the press centre was noticeably busier…

At 3.00pm the usual German efficiency seemed to have evaporated with the heat, as quite uncharacteristically the dress rehearsal started late. It’s important that the three rehearsals are treated “as live”, so that the timings are kept to schedule, in preparation for the broadcast on Tuesday evening.  BTW: you guys can follow the action on BBC3 at 8.00pm.  Make sure you tune-in… there will be a quiz!

From our allotted seats, here’s (I’m sounding like a broken record already) the stunning stage…

Is it me, or does it look the the Starship Enterprise a wee bit?  That’s the front of the arena, here’s the rest of the huge arena (66,000 seats)…

I’ll review the songs for you in a short while – so you can watch with an informed eye and ear tomorrow. But in keeping with the sci-fi theme, here’s an image from the Azerbaijan entry.  I think it looks like the spaceship in E.T. …

All in all it was a smooth dress rehearsal, with only a slight wobble as the Icelandic entry took their places: the stage hands had a delay and couldn’t quite assemble their set in the allotted time.  A slight pause and we were back in action.

What you guys don’t see – and what I have never seen before – is that as the acts take their place on the huge stage there is a green laser which guides them to their position – they are quite literally on point as the songs begin. Another laser projects the countdown before each song begins. It’s fascinating to see all the stage hands rush the stage and do a seamless changeover – how they do it all within 50 seconds is quite amazing.

I left the press centre 19:10 local time, with Karen off to the Irish reception with Jedward.  As Karen writes for The Irish Times she gets that gig to get the scoop and file a story for them.  Word has it that they are going to win. I just can’t see it, but then what does Edge Hill’s very own “Eurovision Expert” know anyway! John Cater once introduced me to Jennifer Saunders and Tanya Byron as that, and Jennifer Saunders looked bemused and thought he was joking!

After an eventful day I made the long trip back to Cologne. I think we’re getting the hang of it – it took just over an hour today. I’m actually quite pleased with myself.  I know that you know that I’m an intelligent bloke, and I get things done, but if you expect me to get from A to B in the UK I’ll probably get lost.  So to navigate my way back here – on the edge of nowhere, was quite a relief!

The ERN events are being finalised, with Karen doing a cracking job of sorting locations and the final speakers. Toni has asked me to contribute to the event on Thursday at Fachhochschule Düsseldorf, University of Applied Sciences. It’s “ESC as TV”.  My paper that I’m delivering on Saturday crosses over between Eurovision and the ‘New Europe” session and that event, so I’m happy to contribute to both.  More on that later in the week (see more here: http://www.macromedia-fachhochschule.de/esc/home.html).

Right, back to the music…

A tale of two cities…

Greetings from Dusseldorf!

Well, actually it’s greetings from Dusseldorf and Cologne…

Dusseldorf does not have the capacity to cope with the thousands of people that have flooded into the area for the event. And also, we’re not willing to pay *hundreds* of euros each per night for a room in Dusseldorf. So as a result Karen, Milija and I are staying in a lovely house in Cologne (yes regular readers we are reunited once again at Eurovision!). We will be joined by other members of the Eurovision Research Network (ERN) during the week, ahead of our events on Thursday-Saturday (if you’re interested check out the details at www.eurovisionresearch.net).

It’s a bit of a schlep to get to the arena and the press centre (more like 90 mins), but when we do the venue is stunning:

The press centre is similarly impressive…

All in all it’s a much bigger set-up than last year – and actually more impressive (to me) than Moscow two years ago. As always, there is evidence of the event in and around the host city…

…with evidence of ‘brand Lena’ (the returning German singer defending her crown again this year) also around town…

I made it to the arena with a couple of minutes to spare before Blue kicked-off their final dress rehearsal. You will be reminded of my rather dodgy camera work, but here are some images of a confident performance…

For some reason, whilst other countries (as you will see) have taken the opportunity to use the panoramic (stunning) LED screen as the backdrop to their performances, the UK have opted to use small screens behind Blue – which makes them look like they are trapped in a small box (you’ll know what I mean when you see it!)…

But all in all I am the most impressed I have ever been by the UK at this stage of the rehearsals (in my four years at the event). It’s a pity that our entry doesn’t use the huge LED screen to better effect, because as you will see it really has an impact.

At the end of the day we went to the first ever San Marino delegation reception. Senit will represent them with a song that, if you heard it on Radio 2, you would quite like. And she did a great job of covering all her bases with a Eurovision karaoke.

Whilst the catering was a bit dodgy (huge bowls of parmesan cheese and salami, with some bread sticks) the wine flowed, and the Euro ‘celebs’ were working the room.  Here I am with the Russian singer Alex Sparrow…

And here are Karen, Irving and myself engaing in some R and R

So a busy first day in Dusseldorf/Cologne. Monday sees the first rehearsal of the first semi-final.  Word on the street is that Ireland have got this Eurovision in the bag.  I’ll let you know after I see the show on Monday afternoon.