Thank You

I would like to thank Hass for providing a daily account of events in Baku during the past few weeks, and I know we will all forgive him for the occasional typo.  Having been in the press centre at past Eurovisions, I know first hand how difficult it can be using unfamiliar computers and keyboards.

I also want to thank Hass and David for remaining calm throughout the ticket saga and ensuring that everyone received tickets for the three live shows.  Yes, some people did not make it to the Monday rehearsal, but these tickets were not part of the paid package and were totally unexpected.

As well as Hass and David, and Simon who was also working hard behind the scenes to ensure tickets were received and distributed, I would like to thank all of our members who travelled to Baku for their patience and understanding throughout what turned out to be a very stressful few days.

Gordon Lewis (Editor-in-Chief)

Vision – the OGAE UK Magazine

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Baku Blog Day 14

Vision magazine editor Hassan Yusuf reports from Baku, Azerbaijan, home to Eurovision 2012.

Well only a few hours left for the musical event of the year!

The team thinks it´s either Italy, Spain, Moldova or Ukraine.

We´ll soon find out.

And the winner is…..

SWEDEN!

Well done to Loreen on a runaway win. So sometimes the favourites do win.

It was very sad however to us in 25th place with 12 points. I think Engelbert did a great job, and deserved much better. However, this is Eurovision where things make little sense! But what a great contest it was.

This has been an exhausting Eurovision.  Parts of it were great – parts of it frustrating.

This is Hassan Yusuf signing off. See you next year somewhere in Sweden!

Baku Blog Day 13

Vision magazine editor Hassan Yusuf reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan – home to Eurovision 2012.

It’s Friday May 25th! Nearly there! I’m nearly Eirovisioned-out!

Yesterday afternoon, before setting off to get ready for the live performance of the Semi-Final Two, David Elder and myself had a five-minute interview with Italy’s singer, Nina Zilli. An article based on the interview and press conference will appear in the post-Eurovision issue of Vision, out in July. I’m hoping she’ll turn out to be winner, if it’s not Engelbert. She came off as very down to earth, has a good idea how the contest should progress – and has an interesting history.

So last night we had the live performance of Semi-Final Two. Those of us who gave predictions all got seven out of ten. For my predictions, I was surprised to see Malta and Lithuania get through. Pleased for Macedonia though. But so sorry to see Netherlands out. But pleased any more the viewing public won’t have to endure this year’s Georgian entry.

Anyway, those that got through:

Lithuania (to sing in position 4)
Bosnia (5)
Serbia (24)
Ukraine (25)
Sweden (17)
Macedonia (22)
Norway (12)
Estonia (11)
Malta (21)
Turkey (18)
Back to today, the Big Five and Azerbaijan are having their second press conferences. Just had time to hear Engelbert again. He states that he was very proud to have been asked to represent his country. If he had been asked in the past, he would said ‘yes’ immediately. He thinks the contest is great – but there’s no let up in rehearsals – everything is being tweaked to make it perfect.  He had a meeting with the Azeri singer, Sabina – and thought she was a great singer. He also met Jedward, who are destined to a bright future. Elvis Presley was a good friend of his – and showed us a lucky charm that the King gave out to his close friends. Someone asked if Elvis learned anything from him – he replied he learned from Elvis, not vice-versa!

I also attended the meeting of Presidents and representatives from the OGAE organisations. A few new countries became official members. The problems with all the fan seats were explained to us – basically one big screw-up from the authorities. Big headaches galore. All names and passport numbers have to be printed on the ticket for the grand final for security reasons. Naturally – loads are incorrect so have to be reprocessed. What fun.

A large number of UK members were seated right behind the stage last night. Interesting view actually seeing things from ‘reverse’. The hall looks great from that angle.

I hear lots of shouting in the press conference – it must be Spain. The Spanish fans are a loud lot – but enthusiastic. If the UK or Italy doesn’t win – then the prize must go to Spain.

The first dress rehearsal for the grand final will begin shortly. I’ll be watching it in the press hall on the big screen. As usual, just a few quick words as the action happens.

And we’re off! Dance act to start things off. Lots of fluorescent jackets. Someone’s flying. Female traditional dancing.  Drummers. Blokes dancing. It’s Ell & Nikki from last year singing their winning song. Oh dear, break down. We have audio – no vision. No audio again.

United Kingdom: Engelbert Humperdinck. The screen went dead. But probably fab.

Hungary: Compact Disco. Still a dead screen. But probably fab.

Albania: Rona Nishliu. Part vision. No audio. She looks great though. Fab.

Lithuania: Donny Montell. And we’re back. Just as he’s finishing.

Bosnia: Maya Sar. Bosnia always get through to the final – but many were surprised to see this go through – as it a very understated performance. Good ballad though. She looks elegant in black.

Russia: Buranoskiye Babushki. It’s those grooving grannies. All in their red outfits. It’s a load of rubbish of course, but you can’t but cheer along.

Iceland: Great Salome & Jonsi. Something sensible now. An Icelandic folk song. Greta knows hows how to handle a fiddle. Fab,

Cyprus: Ivi Adamou. Time for a bletter. Table dancing. Great Amazon dancers. Best Cypriot song in ages. Ivi is the only non-Brit Cypriot that has managed to get Cyprus into the final. Fab.

France: Anggun. It’s those bare-chested gymnasts now. Anggun looks good and sounds fab. She’s wearing a gold bodice. Very nice. Everyone’s leaping over her. Get down girl! Fab.

Italy: Nina Zilli. Pure class. Italian styling at its best. The 1960s are back. It must win. Send me to Italy next year! (Or Manchester of course.) Fab!

Estonia: OttLepland. Time for another great ballad. Great moody and powerful performance – but the audio is off again. So much for new technology and camera links. Still fab.

Norway: Tooji. No sound – but frantic dancing with back-flips galore. Sound is back. Nice Middle East tune.

Interval/Green Room/commercial break.

Azerbaijan: Sabina Babayeva. The ballad isn’t bad, but all eyes might be on that dress. It’s that strange seated bloke again. Great rid of him – she doesn’t need him. Singing in position 13, won’t be unlucky for her.

Romania: Mandinga. A favourite. Great salsa sound. And great dancing. nothing more to add really. Fab.

Denmark: Soluna Samay. She’s done her hair. Simple routine on stage with her band.

Greece: Eleftheria Eleftheriou. Time for something uptempo. Ethnic pop sound. Ele knows how to wriggle it. Aphrodite personified. Fab.

Sweden: Loreen. More manickness. Apparently this is a runaway favourite. Sweden is fab. I’m sure they won’t block book hotels. She does give a great performance though. Not your ‘usual’ Eurovision performance. Fab.

Interval/Green Room/commercial break

Turkey: Can Bonomo. It’s the batman sailors. Clever routine. Can’s got a great personality which helps the song along. Fab.

Spain: Pastora Soler. More class again. Best Spanish song in, well, decades probably. She in light powder blue – looking like an ancient greek goddess. What a voice! The press hall start applauding. Out comes the wind machine. Perfect performance. Could win it. Fab.

Germany: Roman Lob. Another favourite – written by Brits, hence it’s Britpop sound. Would be better without the band on stage – but Roman knows how to deliver. Great facial expressions. Fab.

Malta: Kurt Calleja. This is a pure pop number. Dated pop number. Still, it is good fun – and Kurt knows how to groove it. Eurovision in Malta would be great – but maybe another year.

Macedonia: Kaliopi. She certainly knows how to rock it. The key change makes the song. Fab.

Ireland: Jedward. Shower-porn.

Serbia: Zeljko Joksimovic. This man can do no wrong. Great ethnic Balkan sound. Fab.

Ukraine: Gaitana (Giganta). Another favourite. Just a great football anthem. So much movement and energy. Roll on Euro 2012! Fab.

Moldova: Pasha Parfeny. What a great ending to a great Eurovision. Pasha is a great character. A nice mash of a showtime tune with a bit of ethnic Moldovan sounds mixed in. A happy ending for all. Fab

So, who is going to win? So many songs can do it.

In with a good chance: Sweden, Spain, Italy, Ukraine, Serbia, Russia, Romania.

Could also do it: UK, Turkey, Greece, Moldova, France, Germany, Estonia, Cyprus, Norway, Azerbaijan, Denmark.

Probably won’t do it: Hungary, Albania, Lithuania, Bosnia, , Malta, Macedonia, Ireland.

Maybe back later with the predicted definite winners from the team.

Baku Blog Day 12

Vision editor Hassan Yusuf reports from Baku, Azerbaijan – home to Eurovision 2012.

Not much to report today – we’re all waiting for the live Semi-Final Two show which starts here at midnight.

Security seems to have been increased an extra notch. I swear half the population is employed in the security services. Still, better safe than sorry.

Had a wander in the old city earlier – very nice. Baku was obviously an old port protected by high walls. There’s a rather long tower that will probably offer great views of the city. The sea front here is also very nice.

The show tonight will be quite exciting – there are fours songs that I really want to go through – Netherlands, Ukraine, Turkey and Estonia.

Alexander Rybak, Norway’s winner from 2009, is giving a press conference. I really can’t be bothered. How many times do we have to listen to Fairytale?

May possibly do a quick interview with Italy’s Nina Zilli for Vision magazine this afternoon.

I may be back tonight with the results of the lucky ten that have got through to the final, along with their performance placements.

Baku Blog Day 11

Vision editor Hass Yusuf reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan, home to Eurovision 2012

Technical difficulties solved. Naff PC – but plenty of working ones in the press centre.

So anyway,  nine out of ten correct predictions wasn’t bad. Delighted that Hungary through, even though I would have preferred Switzerland to Denmark. Other than that, no big surprises.

The ten countries that made it through to the final were:

Romania (to sing in position 14)
Moldova (26)
Iceland (7)
Hungary (2 — eeekkk! Bad luck guys)
Denmark (15)
Albania (3)
Cyprus (8)
Greece (16)
Russia (6  – one for each granny)
Ireland (23)

Tonight at 6.00pm Baku time will be the first dress rehearsal for Semi-Final Two. I will be reporting from the press centre watching all the events from the big screen.

But before that we’ve just had the EBU press conference.

Pointers: There was significant difference for two songs from the juries and televoters. But both set of voters more or less agreed on the other eight songs.

Albania could not show the programme live as there was a bad accident in the country that the national broadcaster had to concentrate on.

During the Romanian performance, the lead singer lost her playback so was singing without the aid of the music going through her ears. But as they got through, no harm done. But technical difficulties like these do happen during live shows.

There was a 80% live stream increase from last year.

The programme booklet was able to be downloaded as a eBook for the first time.

An archive project is set to be ready by 2015 to celebrate 60 years of Eurovision.

Dates for next year’s show are May 14, 16 and 18. But these will have to be confirmed by the host broadcaster. (If not the BBC, them RAI please.)

As for the future of Eurovision – there may be a time when it may need to be scaled down – especially if a small country has to host. We have been spoilt in recent years that rich countries have been able to host.

And we’re off – with just a short introduction from the hosts.

Serbia: Zeljko Joksimovic.  Starts off in blue – all moody. Zelj is in black. White t-shirt – obviously not dressed for the occasion. Arms spread white showing off his M&S t-shirt. Musicians getting into the act. Excellent. Will walk it to the final and challenge a top spot. Thumbs up.

Macedonia: Kaliopi. More blue. She looks intense. All in black. Great voice. I like her. The song gets more uptempo. Total professional. Thumbs up.

Netherlands: Joan Franka. It’s Indiana Joan. She looks fab with feathered headgear, playing guitar. Jolly song. We all love her. Good backing musicians – always good to see the accordion in use. And a fiddler.  Thumbs up.

Malta: Kurt Calleja. Here’s Mr Smoothy. Guitarist trying to upstage him. In fact the whole band are. Groovy leg movement. Acrobatics. Female drummer. Good female backing singer. Not for me. Heard it a million times before from Malta.

Belarus: Litesound. Blue background again. Saving money on colour. Great band – whoops – music has stopped. Technical difficulties. Starting again. Stopped again. Third time lucky? Still blue background. Dig those microphone stands. The lads are the nicest in the contest I’m told. Down to earth and will talk to the fans. How can they get their bodies at 90 degree angles? Won’t spoil the surprise. Good song. Thumbs up.

Interval/Green Room/commercial time

Portugal: Filipa Sousa. Blue again! She looks sexy – thigh length split sparkly gold dress. She singing her fado song with great passion. The backing singers all look and sound great. If only the rest of Europe appreciated this style of song. Doubtful it’ll go through though *sniff*. Thumbs up.

Ukraine: Gaitana (Giganta).  Blue yet again. Time for footie. Four mini screens behind her adding to the action. She’s in silver. Strange outfit. Tassels galore. Shake it girl, shake it!  But slow down – I can’t keep up! Love it! Thumbs – and more – up.

Bulgaria: Sofi Marinova. White light start this time. She’s wearing white to match – short dress with golden girdle.  And white thigh-length boots. We like. Shame about the song.

Slovenia: Eva Boto. Back to blue. Oh yes, it the House of Hammer Vampire Brides. But they are all lovely. Plenty of tight bodices. And the song isn’t bad – a moody ballad. Wind machine at work. Thumbs up.

Croatia: Nina Badric. Bit of a slow start. Black outfit – short at the front, long at the back. Oh it’s those male dancers with the skirts again. And black boots.  Here comes the bed sheet. Hope no one is falling asleep. Nice – but making up numbers.

Sweden: Loreen. Here she is – a predicted winner. Flashing spotlights galore. Wind machine in full force. She’s still in her Hecate outfit. She can’t sit or stand still! It’s snowing. Here comes a dancer to give her a leg-up. He’s joining in the action. How very fab. Thumbs up.

Georgia: Anri Jokhadze. The mad monk returns. Help us all. This will probably go through because of friendly voting, but the song isn’t my cup of tea. Great performance though. Those space age outfits the females singers are in more than make up for the song – just. He’s playing the piano now. Is it over? Yes. Whew.

Turkey: Can Bonomo. Bit of a delay. Hello sailor. cheeky chappy. Dancers with capes build a ship. Very clever. Someone’s a Batman fan. Great ethnic sound. Lots of energy. Thumbs up.

Estonia: Ott Lepland. It’s gone dark for Ott – for his very moody song. Simple but effective performance. Really hope this goes through. Thumbs up.

Interval/Green Room/commercial break.

Slovakia: Max Jason Mai. Flashing lights! Oh dear. Jealous of hair though. Showing off his chest again. Again jealous. As far as hard rock goes – this is great though. Something for everyone in Eurovision. But not for me – even though I have grown to respect it.

Norway: Tooji. Here comes the hoodie. Lots of dancing. Pure pop. Heard this song so many times in the past – but the occasional Middle East sound makes it a bit unique. Great energy though. The sudden stop near the end will confuse the clappers.

Bosnia: Maya Sar. A spotlight on Maya who’s just sitting at the piano. Decent love song – that builds up to a nice chorus. Might struggle to get through to the final though. Though the Balkan vote will help her. She’s up on her feet now to make the most of the wind machine. Slow finish.

Lithuanian: Donny Montell. Back in blue. Donny’s wearing his bling blindfold. Great voice. He looks like 12. Here comes the key change. Off comes the blindfold. Back-flip. Imaginary guitar playing – either that or he’s being rude. Great backdrop. And by strange coincidence, the blind journalist opposite me is leaving.

Back to the three presenters.

Oh no – the interval act – Dima Bilan is back. Time for a cup of tea. But hold on – we seem to be treated to a mini-concert of previous winners. Here’s Marija Serifovic from Serbia now. Alexander Rybak from Norway. Lena from Germany. Now they’re all singing Waterloo by ABBA along with Ell & Nikki, last year’s winners from Azerbaijan. I would’ve preferred something more ethnic as semi-final one – but this is a nice effort.

Back later with predictions.

And due to the wonders of time-lapse typography, here we are!

These are the ten songs from tonight dinner table team of songs that we think will go through – not our favourites.

Hass Yusuf
Serbia
Netherlands
Ukraine
Slovenia
Sweden
Georgia
Turkey
Estonia
Norway
Bosnia

David Elder
Serbia
Netherlands
Malta
Ukraine
Slovenia
Sweden
Georgia
Turkey
Estonia
Norway

Liam Whelan
Serbia
Netherlands
Belarus
Ukraine
Sweden
Georgia
Turkey
Estonia
Norway
Lithuania

David Ransted
Serbia
Netherlands
Ukraine
Slovenia
Sweden
Georgia
Turkey
Estonia
Norway
Bosnia

Robin Scott
Serbia
Macedonia
Netherlands
Ukraine
Slovenia
Sweden
Georgia
Turkey
Estonia
Norway

We all agreed on eight songs, with conflicting views over Macedonia, Malta, Belarus, Slovenia,Bosnia and Lithuania. No votes for Portugal,Bulgaria, Croatia, or Slovakia.

Personally I would love to be wrong – would much rather Macedonia goes through rather Georgia.

Let’s see what’s happens Thursday evening!

Day 10 Message

Due to unexpected technical difficulties, Hass Yusuf has not been able to post a blog today.  He may be return after the semi-final and should be back tomorrow whatever happens.  Please keep checking for the latest news straight from OGAE UK’s man in Baku.

Baku Blog Day 9

Hi all – having technical problems creating a new Day 10 blog: Tuesday May 22, so I’m just attaching this before the Day 9 stuff.

Not much happening today – the Semi-Final One live show starts here in Baku at midnight. Will try to report back later with prediction results – and any shocks. If those grannies don’t get through…

 

Vision magazine editor Hass Yusuf reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan, home to Eurovision 2012

Disclaimer: As most of this blog is being written as the action happens, spelling mistakes, bad grammar, missing words may creep through, so just go with the flow.

Day 9 already! Today will be a bit more relaxing as there are no rehearsals – except for the two dress rehearsals for semi-final one – and they start at 6.00pm and midnight local time.

Anyway, back to last night. After the UK press conference when Engelbert Humperdinck amused us all, I went along to the Italian press conference. If Engelbert doesn’t win it for us, I quite fancy going to Spain or Italy next year – and I’m pretty sure the wonderful Nina Zilli singing L’Amore E Femmina (Out Of Love) will do for the Italians.

She was sent to the States as a young girl to learn English by her parents – and her biggest musical influences were stars like Nina Simone (who she was named after), The Temptations and Chuck Berry to name a few. When she was 18 she wanted to practice her singing at bars and such, but wasn’t allowed to until she was 21.

Despite the title of her song, she doesn’t really see it as a feminist song. So why did she change her song for Eurovision? Many think her original entry Per Sempre was superior (it was slightly), but she felt that L’Amore E Femmina (Out Of Love) had more appeal – especially sung in English. Personally I think both songs are class acts.

She thinks the stage is cool – as I think she is! Just think if she wins – we’ll be going to an EU country – no visas, no hotels being block booked. Lovely.

There are rumours that the Italian broadcaster, RAI, don’t really want to win and host the contest next year. That’s all nonsense says the Head of Delegation. When you enter Eurovision, you must have a plan to host it the following year, and the Italians will honour that agreement.

After that press conference we had to make a quick exit to attend the special Ralph Siegel 40th anniversary meal. This was special four-course meal to celebrate Siegel’s 20th Eurovision entry and his 40 years of composing songs for the contest.

It was lovely evening which featured a group of Azeri children singing, a traditional band, Valentina Monetta – and a video montage of all his hits. I had forgotten how many great tunes he has written. Some great classics. Ralph also gave out various awards to all his helpers over the years. He also revealed the winners of an internet contest where fans were encouraged to produce their own video for The Social Network Song.

He came across as very humble and amicable. May his long career continue – and I would love San Marino to qualify – Valentina is lovely, but I fear it may lose out – but you never know with Eurovision! Fingers crossed.

And that might be the blog for today. The rest of it will be spent trying to sort out the tickets for OGAE UK members! Might get to see a bit Baku one day. Though the taxi journey to Ralph Siegel’s hotel last night showed how many of the poor live – narrow streets, slum-like buildings. Not everything is new or ‘amazing’ – just real life.

Probably back tomorrow or later – with predictions as to the lucky ten acts that will go through to the final from semi-final one.

Well it’s being hours since I wrote the above. Been waiting with OGAE UK ticket co-ordinator David Ransted for hours, wasting the whole day at the press centre waiting for our tickets to arrive. The whole ticket process this year has been shambolic to say the least – and Ticketmaster have been rubbish. Still, no one is really surprised. Baku and Azerbaijan seems to be an interesting place – but the organisation has on the whole been dreadful. Probably the worst Eurovision regarding tickets in my experience. But on the plus side, the shows will be great, so I guess that makes up for all the background mess. And Baku has been a great place to visit. The good thing about Eurovision is that you do get to see places that wouldn’t usually be on the radar.

The press centre is slowly filling up as everyone gets ready for the first full dress rehearsal for semi-final one. May have to watch it on the big screen in the press hall rather than the arena, so we can sort out the tickets when they arrive. What a burden, huh? We may moan, but it is a privilege to be here in the Eurovision bubble to experience the whole extravaganza!

Hurrah! The tickets are here!

Rather than go into the arena to watch the show, I’m going to blog away and give a hand sorting out the tickets.

It’s late. It’s Azerbaijan.

And were off – here are our hosts. It’s him, Eldar,  who won for them last year accompanied by two female presenters, Leilar and one whose name I never caught.

For a dress rehearsal, they seem to be dressed very casual. Tesco rejects.

Here’s Montenegro. That mad monk Rambo Amadeus. Acrobatics. Signs, Trojan donkeys. Bad bankers. Confusion. Help.

Iceland: Greta and Jonsi. Normal order of the universe restored. Mountains. Good chemistry. Violins, Moody looks. Thumbs up.

Greece: The lovely Eleftheria. Unusual outfit. Legs. Lots of dancing – some traditional Greek. Wind machine. Thumbs up.

Latvia: Anmary: Boring outfits – going to wedding to someone they don’t like. Good interaction with backing singers. Amusing and decent song. More wind machines. OK.

Albania: Rona Nishliu. Alone on stage. Now – that’s an outfit! A gust of wind and she’ll be off! Lots of angst.  Tears. Great performance. What a voice. Thumbs up.

Interval/commercial break. Will show scenes from Opening Party.

Romania: Mandinga. Great energy. She’s sex on legs.  And more legs. Bag pipes. Legs.  Accordion. Legs. Trumpets. Legs. Drums. Legs. Fab tune. Thumbs up.

Switzerland: Sinplus. It’s gone all blue. Now red. Green. Female guitarist. Britrock at its best. Thumbs up.

Belgium: Iris. Sweet girl. Sweet song. But too forgettable.  ‘Nuff said.

Finland: Pernilla. Moody. Cello. Red hair. Matching Lipstick. Green outfit. Haunting song. Ethnic. Wind machine. Fab. Thumbs up.

Israel: Izabo. We’re back in the groovy sixties. Cheesy dancing. Lots of fun. Best Israeli song ever. Thumbs up.

San Marino. Valentina Monetta. Facebook friend. We like her. We like Ralph Siegel.What would we do without the internet. Go, girl, go! Very jazzy. Pure cheese. What’s that airplane pilot doing there?Thumbs up.

Cyprus: Ivi Adamou. All in silver. Dancing on table. Amazon female dancers. Bouncy. “Feel the energy”. I am. More sex on legs. Thumbs up.

Denmark: Soluna Samay. Nice girl. Boring song though. But a contender apparently.

Russia. Grannies. Dancing. Baking. Slippers. Thumbs up.

Interval/Green Room

Hungary: Compact Disco. Great band. Memories of the 1980s. Not Thatcher. Class act. Thumbs up.

Austria: Trackshittaz: Pole dancing. Bright bums. Speechless.

Moldova: Pasha Parfeny. Great energy. Great showtime-style sound. Busy and bright. Fab. Great outfits for female dancers and singers. Thumbs up.

Ireland: Jedward. John jumped over chairs for me. Boys in Cybermen outfits. Fountains. Hair different(!). Dancing. Shower. Thumbs up.

Three presenters back. Vote, vote, vote.

Predictions later!

And here they are. From our small team here. These are the countries that we think will get through – not our favourites. We’re voting with our minds, not hearts.

Hass Yusuf:
Iceland
Greece
Albania
Romania
Switzerland
Cyprus
Denmark
Russia
Moldova
Ireland

David Ransted
Iceland
Greece
Albania
Romania
Cyprus
Denmark
Russia
Austria
Moldova
Ireland

Robin Scott
Iceland
Greece
Albania
Romania
Switzerland
Cyprus
Russia
Austria
Moldova
Ireland

David Elder
Iceland
Greece
Albania
Romania
Cyprus
Denmark
Russia
Austria
Moldova
Ireland

Very similar views here! We only disagree on Austria, Switzerland and Denmark. We would all like Hungary to go through, but don’t think it will happen.

Baku Blog Day 8

Vision magazine editor Hass Yusuf reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan, home to Eurovision 2012.

Disclaimer: This blog is being written mostly as the action happens, so various errors will probably creep through – just go with the flow.

Well last night I left you dangling with anticipation of the Engelbert Humperdinck’s first rehearsal! But first we have to discuss another potential winner – Spain. Pastora Soler is by far one of the best singers in the contest – and her ballad, Quedate Conmigo (which translates as Stay With Me) is extremely powerful. Even if the song wasn’t any good, she would bring out the best in it. And Spain have a great draw – position 22 on the final which will be fresh in everybody’s mind. By far the best Spanish entry in many a year. Ah… Madrid or Barcelona next year.

So – it was time for the Hump. All that I’ll say is that this was a first rehearsal. The song quality still needs to be sorted out – his voice is being over-powered by the music. But they’ll see all this when they view the playbacks. I’m confident by the second rehearsals this afternoon everything will be pitch perfect. The backdrop is very nice and follows the song when Engelbert goes into his key change. And expect fireworks on stage. Near the end of the song we’re treated to a lovely firefall effect – then three massive Catherine Wheels swoop down and surround the stage. The firefall effect is perfect – but the Catherine Wheels are a bit OTT. They really aren’t necessary. But I guess as we’re on first, so some sort of impact needs to be made. But I would’ve thought the song would’ve done that – as it is a great product. One of the best UK entries ever.

Also on stage was a guitar player (as like the video) and two ballet-dancers telling a subtle love story. Choreographer Arleen Phillips was on hand to made sure of no slip-ups.

At the rehearsal we came across a film crew from Channel Four News, who seem to want to do a hatchet job on the country. Hardly in the spirit of Eurovision.

Anyway – after the Hump had finished – we dashed into a London-styled back cab to get back to the hotel. Naturally the driver had no idea where to go, even though the hotel is situated near a major landmark – Fountain Square. He took us to two different addresses even though we had a map! Seriously – for those of you who are coming over this week – just be aware that they don’t know where anything is! And certainly not the Baku Crystal Hall it seems. The trouble is most of them don’t even speak the local lingo – most appear to be Georgians. Eventually we gave and walked when he went down a narrow street that was at a standstill.

The Welcoming/Opening Party is usually the party that everyone wants an invite to. This year it was held in the massive Euro Club. It just seemed like a normal night really – various performers got on stage and sang (mimed) their entries. But there were plenty of camera crews. I was dressed in my Carnaby Street made Union Jack jacket and along with Elaine Dove who was wearing a long Union Jack dress – we walked around media-whoring, giving interviews (spreading the word of the Hump) and posing for photos. It was nice to see many delegations mingling freely with the crowds. Apparently the Hump walked in and walked out ten minutes later.

The bar was free for beer and wine – but had to pay for soft drinks – or not depending on who served you. But there no food easily available unless you sat in the special VIP area – so overall on the scale of previous Welcoming Parties, I’ll give it four marks out of ten (it should really only be three marks, but I don’t want to be mean). Still, it was good fun – but a trip to McDonalds was called for later on as everyone was starving! But how strange to see families out at 2.00am in the morning. When do these people sleep and get up?

Joining us yesterday was David Ransted, OGAE UK’s ticket co-ordinator. We’re still trying to sort out delivery and distribution of tickets to all members coming over. Watch out for info on your emails please. Things may be a bit tight – but that’s life here!

Right: Rehearsals have just started for the last five semi-final acts. Estonia are on first – with the popular Ott Lepland singing Kuula. The scally wag threw his voice at the end of one rehearsal to keep us on our toes. His song is proving to be popular among fans. A very simple tune but sang with a bit of angst.

In complete contrast next we have hard rock from Slovakia. First time I’ve seen Max Jason Mai perform Don’t Close Your Eyes. It’s good to see this genre in Eurovision even though it’s not really my cup of tea. But I think it’s important for the contest to offer diversity. They’ve placed traffic cones on one of the catwalks to stop him wandering off too much. Max also seems to have shaved his pubes so that he can pull his jeans down as much as possible without having a wardrobe malfunction or being arrested.

As expected this was an energetic rehearsal – but it went well. I would like to see the country in the final again.

Next up is Tooji for Norway. Pure pop his time. This is a busy act with lots of dancing – quite a good routine actually. Lots of envious hip gyrations. It’s never a good idea to sing and dance at the same time, but Tooji manages it quite well.

And in complete contrast we next have Bosnia & Herzegovina with Maya Sar singing the love ballad Korake Ti Znam – which translates as I Know Your Steps. Bosnia always seem to progress to the final no matter what, so this should do it as well – despite the understated stage act. Great singer though.

Just been to the Slovakian press conference – where the band on stage were joined by a muppet version of Max. Anyway Max revealed that he was far happier with this second rehearsal – except for his hair. Apparently he slept badly on it but isn’t really having a bad hair day. He would prefer however to be allowed to play live music on Eurovision rather than just a playback. But only live voices are allowed on stage. He would like to be able to run around a lot more, so even this big stage isn’t enough for him.

Anyway, his favourite song of the contest is Rambo Amadeus’ Euro Neuro. Hardly a surprise.

The last act of semi-final two is now on stage. Donny Montell is singing Love Is Blind for Lithuania. He’s wearing a bling blindfold – off it comes – does a backflip and away we go. Good backdrop – not sure if it will qualify though.

Back after lunch – and it’s time for the UK again. Whew! So much better! The sound system has been sorted out – and no fireworks in this rehearsal – but they may be back. Engelbert is definitely showing his professionalism. As the UK are on first, the Hump will be the benchmark for everyone else to beat.

France are on stage next – and how nice of them to advertise the Olympics for us – they’ve got three gymnasts on stage. A lot better rehearsal for them as well. Smashing song as well.

Just a quick word about Italy – she’s still going to win it if Engelbert doesn’t. Her stage act is simple and effective and she looks – as we would expect from an Italian – beautiful. She’s walking around a bit more on stage now – but she looks very much in command.

Just come out from the UK press conference. It went extremely well – Engelbert has such a great sense of humour. One journalist from Sweden said that before Eurovision she had never heard from him. Well that set him off and he used the opportunity many times that he was known all over the world – other than Sweden.

He was immensely proud to represent his country – and would’ve done Eurovision before if he had been asked. Apparently he’s sold over a hundred and fifty million albums – and sang with the greats such as Elvis Presley – who no one in Sweden has probably not heard of. He was also happy to be in the charts again with Love Will  Set You Free.

He came off as a very likeable person – but you really wonder what he thinks about the whole Eurovision experience.

 

Baku Blog Day 7

Vision magazine editor Hass Yusuf reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan, home to Eurovision 2012.

Disclaimer: Please note as I’ll be writing this blog quickly – usually as the action happens – errors may creep through, so just go with the flow.

So it’s Saturday May 19th – and some of us have been here eight days already! Yes, it seems like a lifetime.

It’s just gone 11.ooam in Baku and first on stage today is Slovenia. Eva Boto and the House of Hammer Vampire Brides are doing a grand job. Still not sure about Eva’s outfit – endurance beyond temptations with anyone with a watering can passing by. She must be weighed down by a ton of roses. But we mustn’t forget that this is a singing contest not a fashion catwalk! And as far as the song is concerned it’s a very pleasant ballad sung with great angst. Well done her and the vampires.

Today we’ll be hearing the second rehearsals for another five acts from semi-final two – then in the late afternoon we’ll have the first rehearsals for Azerbaijan and the Big Five – including the UK of course. Tomorrow these six will have their second rehearsals with the remaining semi-final two acts.

Croatia seem to be enjoying themselves on stage now. Black and white is  the motif for this act. But thigh-length split skirts seem to be the rage for male dancers this year – first Ukraine and now Croatia. I wouldn’t have the nerve. It’s a decent song – but might struggle to get through into the final.

A favourite to win is on next – Sweden. Loreen seems to be as manic as usual. Think one of the three witches from the Scottish play. Scary stuff. I don’t care what anyone says, I still see Kate Bush on acid. Am I allowed to say that? Fab act though.

The stage is now being cleared and prepared for the Georgian act. Okay – this is getting to be more fun. The backing singers are dressed like extras from Barbarella – very nice. Am I beginning to like this song – I hope not. I have enough favourites as it is.

The Turkish performance reveals a bit more about their show – a nice clever way of portraying a ship… At their press conference Can Bonomo talked a bit about his tattoos – one has the name of his late mother and he also has another one on his hand – which he thinks is cool, as Chris Martin from Coldplay has one there as well.

The rehearsals for Azerbaijan and the Big Five will be starting soon. I’m not going to many press conferences today – the UK doesn’t have one today – as everyone has to get to the Opening Party.

Germany are on next. I didn’t really rate this song at first – but somehow became one of my favourites. It is strange how some songs have a habit of doing that. The song, Standing Still, is written by Brits and sung by Roman Lob – it is so Britrock.

The talented Ronan is on stage with a band – and as to go with the style of the song – a great ballad – is very understated – which makes a nice change from the big set pieces by other countries. But I somehow feel it would’ve been better for him to have been alone on stage – more in keeping with the song. This must be my favourite German song in decades.

His performance outfit is being bought on stage for a colour check for the cameras. Grey shirt and beige trousers. Don’t do it Ronan, don’t do it! Hard times in Germany if they have to resort to Top Man. Not that there’s anything wrong with Top Man of course. I may have frequented there myself when I was a hip youngster.

France has had a good rehearsal – but maybe a too busy. Anggun has two backing singers and three acrobats supporting her. The wind machine is in full force to blow her chiffon trail elegantly. Not really sure if it works for the song – but it is a powerful performance. Another cracker from France.

Next on stage was my favourite song of the contest – Italy! Nina Zilli delivers a superb performance aided by three backing singers. This will be the song to beat. The act is very simple – so it will stand out.

Having to miss the French press conference to see Sabina from Azerbaijan perform. A round of applause erupted at the press centre after her first camera rehearsal. Not my favourite song, but she certainly know how to deliver this powerful ballad. Her dress seems to be changing colour – or it could be special lightning. She’s joined on stage by a cross-legged male singer and three female singers all dressed in white – but they’re standing up. The male singer is apparently some famous singer who always performs seated.

Spain next and then the UK. It’s a shame that the countries aren’t rehearing in the order of performance, otherwise Engelbert would’ve been first. The Germans obviously put down their towels first…. (don’t we love stereotyping?)

Oh lovely – the screen has gone dead just as Spain were about to perform. Off to the arena then.

Won’t have time to comment on the Spanish or UK performances until I get back from the Opening Party – as we’ll have to make a quick getaway for the party.

Baku Blog Day 6

Vision magazine editor Hass Yusuf reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan, as all the action happens at Eurovision 2012

Disclaimer: This blog is being written quickly as things happen, so a few errors, typos, missing words, bad grammar will probably creep through. Just go with the flow…

Well it’s Friday May 18th and some of us have been here a whole week already.

In the press centre we’re waiting for the first act to arrive on stage – everyone’s favourite grannies  from Russia. Today will feature the second rehearsals and press conferences for the last remaining acts from semi-final one and the first half of semi-final two – 13 in all. Tomorrow we’ll see the rest of semi-final two and the Big Five and host country acts. Hurrah. The Hump and the UK delegation should be arriving in Baku sometime today.

Now that we’ve worked out where to catch the special Eurovision buses and shuttles to the venue, it makes life much easier. Despite the manic traffic, this really is a great looking city – you can tell where all the oil and gas money has gone.

They’re still laying down tiles outside near the Crystal Hall, but everything will look super by the time the live shows start next week. The view from the venue is superb. This is going to be a great Eurovision. And they’re offering us a better selection of food at the press centre as well. Who could ask for more?

They seem to organising a fleet of London-style black cabs nearby to take everyone home from the three shows. It’s best to have the name of your hotel written down – and perhaps a map with your hotel marked to show the driver – as they’ll have no idea where your hotel is unless it’s the Hilton – and even that’s doubtful.

Anyway, it’s 11.30am here in Baku and Russia are about to start their second rehearsal. Those grannies are marvellous. They come from a village somewhere in rural Russia – they must think all this is a bit surreal and bonkers.

I went to the stage area to see them rehearse – and as usual they were perfect. The thing about the grannies is that anyone, even old clubbers like myself, can follow the dance movements – just stand still and move your arms and hips slightly. Fab. As usual there were loads of camera crews for them – their publicity machine have it easy! They’re getting coverage all over the world.

Their press conference was packed as usual – most of the questions were in Russian, so nothing to report there. But the young ladies baked some traditional small pie-like pasties. Naturally there was a big scrum for them. Once the queue died down I picked up one, took a bite and spat it out again. Bless them for cooking them, but they were vile. Obviously a required taste.

Compact Disco for Hungary sounded fab on stage. Their entry is rather good – a cross between Oasis and Depeche Mode – a nice 1980s sound. Another act that deserves through to the final.

Austria are an act that I really shouldn’t enjoy – what with pole dancing as part of the act – but it is tongue-in-cheek. Good use of fluorescent material. The two singers make good use of the two catwalks. It’s lively and fun. Will it get through? Depends how many rappers and booty-lovers are watching.

Moldova get around the stage as well – but this is a more fun song. Lots of energy – but maybe too frantic for the song to be properly appreciated. This shouldn’t have any trouble getting through to the final. They’ve changed the dance routine though – there’s no ‘ride ’em cowboy’ sequence anymore. Just as well – as we had enough naughty suggestions from Austria – not that you can have naughty suggestions of course.

At the press conference Pasha and his singers gave us an acoustic version of the song. He revealed that he gets a bit sweaty on stage so he hasn’t performed in his outfit yet. Something to look forward to then at the dress rehearsals. He also said his ear-piece kept on cutting out – I’m sure that’ll be fixed in time or we might have a Jemini moment.

Pasha likes to try to write his songs with music and lyrics at the same time – gets a better feel for it. He was presented with a Moldova mini-icon t-shirt designed by OGAE UK member Ben Morris.

Those cheeky-chappies from Ireland, Jedward were next to perform. The sound was a bit off – but the effect with the special fountain prop works well. If you hear this song enough times you can actually begin to appreciate it.

Their press conference was a real hoot again. They basically took over the conference and hosted it themselves. All the journalists and photographers were huddled at the front of the stage – but I manage to get their attention from the middle of the room – so John climbed over the stage and jumped through chairs to come over to me so that I could ask my question! (If I was 16 and female I probably would’ve fainted.) I asked that as this was the second year they’ve entered Eurovision – if there’s a chance that they don’t win – will they be back again and again and again – as we probably couldn’t take the strain! Not sure what John said, but they may not be back next year as they’ll probably win this one. It was pure manic stuff – but they are lovely chaps. Good skin too. Oh, and they wore specially made sweet-machine outfits. Lady Gaga eat your heart out.

That was the last of the semi-final rehearsals – time for semi-final two.

Serbia are first on – and a faultless  performance from everyone on stage. Just pure class. Nothing more to really add.

I’ve caught up with real-time again – and Kaliopi from Macedonia is now on stage. She sounds great – and the more I hear the song I like it – but it may be touch and go to qualify. But you can’t go wrong with a bit of rock-opera style song.

A fan-favourite Joan Franka is on stage – looking and sounding fab – but I’m having to do OGAE UK club duties for a while.

Back to the show – Malta are now on stage showing off some fancy footwork. Kurt Calleja is a groovy mover. Not much more to say really. All the rehearsals seem to be going well.

Next up are Belarus where Litesound are doing strange things with their bodies. Only at Eurovision.

At the Netherlands press conference the lovely Joan Franka was in top form. She said she had a great second rehearsal and that songwriting is a passion for her. She was inspired by people like Neil Diamond – the 1960s being her favourite musical period.

Next on stage we have Portugal – sounding great as usual. Things are getting a bit samey now. Most camera shots have been perfected from the first rehearsals – and that’s why most Eurovision shows run so smoothly  – it’s rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. But there’s a limit to how many times you can listen to a song and try to get something more out of it.

Rehearsals and press conferences are going on until mid-evening which is really too late compared to previous years – so many journalists have left the press centre to eat or go to the Euro Club for any delegation parties. Switzerland are having a combined party with San Marino this evening, but I will have to miss it. They’ll be plenty of other parties on other nights. I’ve also received a personal invite to a private party from top Eurovision maestro, Ralph Siegel.

Tomorrow  is the special Opening Party which is always worth going to.

Before I sign off tonight – not many people left in the press center, but the Belarus press conference was good-natured. I asked the group, Litesound, how they met up, how long they have been going and who was the one in charge. Obviously they never answered the last part – but the two brothers Dmitry and Vladimir Kariakin started up the group ten years ago and added three other members – one also from Belarus, one from Italy and  the final member from Russia over the years.

The brothers apparently won awards in the States for pop video production and direction. But so nice not to see any big egos here. It would be great to see this in the final.

Had to miss the second rehearsals for Ukraine and Bulgaria which is a shame.

Back again tomorrow. And the Hump will be on stage!