Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

The quiet before the storm

Day seven in Belgade (Friday)

There is a new energy around here today because we’ve got the preliminary part of the ESC over, and we can now focus on who is actually going to win this bloomin’ thing.  After being here for almost a week I’m not sure I can call it. There’s no way I’d have put Portugal in the mix, but following a great job in the semis it would appear to be the one to watch… still got good odds at 28/1.

I went to the arena today to watch the first rehearsal of the final.  The auditorium was more busy that it has been at any previous rehearsal, which is to be expected as for the first time the ‘big four’ (UK, France, Germany, Spain) and host country Serbia were performing – and also people will be judging all the songs against each other from here on in.

I was up early (again) to do two follow-up interviews with Radio Lancashire and Both went OK. BBC radio 5 Live had also requested an interview – but at 6.50am local time (that’s 5.50am your time). Let’s put it this way, with everything that I’ve done this week I couldn’t quite fit that in!  Also, I was contacted by BBC Northwest Tonight to do a live satellite link-up from Belgrade as their final story of the week, but they didn’t have enough money to pay for Sputnick!

A view from the arena today…


Our hosts, who are now known as Will and Grace, continue to have no obvious chemistry. He’s not so bad, but you should see her face when she’s not on camera – she has a face like a slapped ar$5…


I sat right in front of the stage for the rehearsal today and it was great to see Andy Abraham give an energetic performance.  It actually got a great reception in the hall. But let’s get real, whilst you’ll love his performance, we’ll be lucky to get to the middle of the table – and the curse of the ‘big 4’ might mean he doesn’t crack the top 20 – which would be really cruel!  Go Andy…


Bonkers Bosnia also continues to impress. I’m sure that you all at home see more of the subtlety to the staging (bits to camera) than we do in the arena, but they’ve done a great job passing off something that should be a car-crash as something that is really quite entertaining.  A slight technical difficulty at the start of their performance left Laka (the male singer) trapped in the clothes basket. You can see the floor manager talking to him to give him his cue, and the steadi-cam man to the left him – that’s the first camera angle you see on the female singer…


Still, at least whilst we waited for the technical problem to be fixed she could get on with some laundry…


Boaz for Israel continues to impress. Amongst all the hyperactivity there is in this competition this year, Boaz is an oasis of calm. At times when I watch the song it does make me feel quite emotional… I really hope he does well – it’s not going to win… too many other big guns, I think.


Sirusho is still belting out ‘Quele, Quele’ with an infectious energy. It’ll do very well for Armenia, but there are too many girls doing the same thing this year – and there seems to be only Ani Lorak (Ukraine) who is noticeable because of that awesome choreography.


Portugal has been a sleeper of the competition for many of us – but having seen it on stage a few times it really is very good.  The audience will go barmy for this on Saturday night, so it’ll be interesting to see if the viewers of Europe agree…


And as for Germany, No Angels performed a totally underwhelming song with underwhelmeing delivery and flat vocals – I was being distracted by the wind machines, which surely isn’t a good sign…


One last thought for this post.  I’ve been given an awful lot of free stuff this week, and I can see how people get seduced by all the freebies.  It’s mainly a blatant attempt to coerce good copy from us all, and I’m sure that for some people it works.  For others it will be an opportunity to make a few quid – it’ll all end up on e-bay… mind you, I have an expensive trip to pay for!  Here’s some of my favourite freebies so far…


Nice, eh?  When I arrived at the press centre today to check my pigeon hole, I was given what appeared to be a bag of take-away food…


It looks like that, right!?  It is, in fact, a promotional bag from Azerbaijan with a t-shirt, cd, dvd and other stuff.  Like I said in a radio interview this week – some of these countries are in-it-to-win-it, and Azerbaijan and Georgia in particular are doing all they can to curry votes in this way.  Do you see what I did there – it looked like a take-away and they were trying to curry my votes…

Perhaps there is such a thing as too much Eurovision!

Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

It’s the final countdown…

So how many did you get correct from the qualifiers last night?  The ‘eurovision experts’ here in Belgrade averaged 6/10 which is a little down on our success rate the other night – but then again when they revealed that Croatia had made it to the final before they announced Charlotte Perrelli I was as nervous as I was watching the Champions’ League penalty shoot-out (BTW: nice one Man U!).

 So, here are our final 25 songs… Iceland at 100-1 with the bookies today would seem like a good each-way bet?  Serbia is drifting in the odds, as are Armenia, whilst Sweden and Bosnia continue to rise.


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02.United Kingdom

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06.Bosnia and Herzegovina

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11. Iceland

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12. Turkey

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13. Portugal

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14. Latvia

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15. Sweden

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16. Denmark

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17. Georgia

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18. Ukraine

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19. France

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20. Azerbaijan

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21. Greece

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22. Spain

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23. Serbia

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24. Russia

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25. Norway

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 Who wins?  YOU decide...

Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

Dress to Impress

Some images from the Beograd Arena and the dress rehearsals today (Thursday) :

A cloudy day today


It really is a beautiful stage…




Look out for this performer during the start of the semi-final … funny to see the guy inside! 


The wonderful Charlotte Perrelli struts her stuff for Sweden… 







Iceland is a hot song…



The hosts do one of their wooden links…


Turkey rocks-out!


 The Ukranian singer Ani Lorak has a stunning visual and a winning performance…




 And perhaps the most important performer in the semi-finals or the final…. THE WIND MACHINE!


Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

“You can see better than that at Butlins…”

Day 5 in Belgrade (Wednesday) brought with it the first rehearsal of the second semi-final.  Ask anyone in these parts and they’ll tell you that this is more competitive than the first, and the more difficult to call.  I was really looking forward to this semi-final as it has a really strong opening, with the first four songs seeming like sure qualifiers – Iceland, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine.  Many of my friends know that I’ve been gushing about the Swedish entry since February (as has pretty much every Euro-fan on the planet), before Charlotte Perrelli won the Melodifestivalen to represent her country. Look on my iTunes alone and I’ve listened to it over 150 times! 

So, with eager anticipation the dress rehearsal got under way at 1500hrs local time (1400hrs UK time). The arena was busier than it was for the previous rehearsals, due perhaps to the added interest in this group of songs. Technically a better rehearsal, and on performance alone the first four songs did not disappoint (although Charlotte wasn’t going at it full throttle – and why should she, it’s the dress rehearsal). 

I have no pictures to illuminate the proceedings as I forgot my camera – so I’ll be sure to get some at the final dress rehearsal on Thursday afternoon. As we did for the first semi-final, here are the songs on which Karen, Milija and I all agree should progress to the final: 

  • Iceland
  • Sweden
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • Switzerland
  • Bulgaria
  • Hungary

 On Tuesday night I didn’t post the songs that we agreed would not make it, so here are our unanimous songs from our ‘list of death’: 

  • Lithuania
  • Czech Republic
  • Belarus
  • Croatia
  • Denmark
  • FYRO Macedonia

 Our split decisions are as follows: 

  • Karen and Milija Albania YES!, Phil NO! 
  • Phil Latvia YES!, Karen and Milija NO! 
  • Phil and Karen Georgia YES!, Milija NO! 
  • Phil and Karen Malta YES!, Milija NO! 
  • Milija Cyprus YES! Phil and Karen NO! 
  • Milija Portugal YES! Phil and Karen NO! 

As you can see we’re not aligned as much as we were on Tuesday for the first semi-final, so it makes it all the more interesting. Oh, and just to explain the title of this post – sitting behind me at the dress rehearsal were a couple from the UK whose conversations I could occasionally hear between songs. They compared notes on the styling of the singers, proclaimed various levels of success as they saw it, but the best observation they made (and the funniest thing I heard all day) came after Latvia’s daft pirates performed ‘Wolves of the Sea’. She turned to he and muttered the prophetic words (which will make sense if you watch the semi-final on BBC3 at 8.00pm on Thursday night) ‘you can see better than that at Butlins…’ 

Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

Have we got news for you!

As I told you the other day, Karen and I were filmed for Irish television news which was broadcast last night (Tuesday). We’ve heard the amusing news that whilst Karen was very well received for her comment and journalistic insight into ESC2008, I was mistaken for a singer performing for an unknown country!  Now that’s hilarious!

Karen has also highlighted that the Irish reporter Gareth O’Connor who is covering ESC here in Belgrade has commented on us on his blog, which you can view at

 I’m off to do my vocal exercises and blag myself a country for next year…

Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

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.


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.  


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: 


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…


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)…


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, ‘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!

Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

Runners and riders…


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!

Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

Let the rivers run…


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… 


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… 


 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… 


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… 


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… 


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

Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

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.


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!


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.


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!


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…


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.



 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!


Phil with ‘our Andy’!


Phil with Boaz – the Israeli singer

So that was a wonderful second day in sunny Belgrade.


Eurovision 2008 Uncategorized

Irelande Douze Pints…


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!


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!


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…’