Baku Blog Day 5

Vision editor Hass Yusuf reports as the action happens in Baku, Azerbaijan – home to Eurovision 2012.

Disclaimer: Please note this is being written quickly as things happen so typos, bad grammar and mistakes will probably creep through. Just go with the flow and embrace the Eurovision goodness.

Okay, it’s Thursday 17th May 2012 and today we’re going to whizz through 13 acts from semi-final one. They’ll be performing their second rehearsals and press conferences. Montenegro is up first – but there’s still half an hour to go before proceedings start, so let’s talk about a bit about Baku.

Society here acts a lot different to here than in Western Europe. From 11.00pm to 1.ooam you will still find families out in the street! I spotted at least three fathers with baby buggies past midnight. I know some cities open 24 hours, but this is still a bit strange.

Peak hour at a certain American fast food joint seemed to be 11.00pm. Not complaining of course – as a Londoner, I take these things for granted – but I just wonder when these people sleep!

The answer is of course obvious. As the country is in a different time zone to the rest of Europe, Eurovision always starts at midnight here. Everyone has obviously adjusted their body clocks to watch their favourite TV show – all year round!

Anyway, everything for this year’s show is slowing pulling into position. The interiors of the Crystal Hall seem to be finished. New equipment is arriving and being placed every day – you never know, the Azeri claim to produce the best Eurovision ever may come true. However the UK Health & Safety Executive wouldn’t know where to start here! But it’s nice living dangerously for a little while.

Case in point – yesterday at the Turkish rehearsal, an assistant fell between a gap from the main stage to the catwalk. She emerged okay, but it was an accident waiting to happen.

There’s a nice buzz in the press centre, though just having one big screen with low volume is a bit naff though. Previous years we’ve had TV screens at the end of each row. But never mind, we’re used to roughing it. Probably spent all the money on all the London-style black taxi cabs – where the drivers have no idea where the Baku Crystal Hall is.

Anyway, we’re off. Here’s the scary Rambo Amadeus looking like a mad monk trying his best to make viewers switch off even before the contest has started.  Actually Rambo is quite a diverse and clever chap. His wild act tries to tell a story of governments and evil bankers oppressing the common man. The trojan donkey on stage looks a bit tacky – but has probably got something to do with irony. I really can’t see this getting through – but it certainly would make the final more interesting.

Iceland next – now this is a ‘proper’ song – a good sounding ethnic/folk song. The performers – Greta and Jonsi – all dressed in black and looking quite dapper, have good chemistry between them. Their voices also compliment each other. It has a decent chance of getting through.

The first press conference of the day was for Montenegro, but I decided to go and watch Greece – who have produced the ‘perfect’ Eurovision act – on stage. They have a young good-looking singer, lots of frantic dancing – modern and traditional Greek – and all with a disco-style track. This should get into the final with ease.

Latvia are now on stage singing their Beautiful Song. This really is a cheesy song, but very catchy. But there isn’t anything on stage to make it memorable, so there’s a good chance of it not qualifying for the final. I quite like it personally, but fear the worse for Anmary.

I caught the end of the Icelandic press conference where Greta and other musicians gave us a classical mini-concert. Then Jonsi sang his 2004 Eurovision entry – then everyone sang the 1991 entry. There’s nothing like a personal performance.

Dashed over to the arena to see Rona Nishliu of Albania perform her powerful song, Suus – which translates as Personal. I don’t  personally rate the song that highly, but boy, can she belt it out! If any song will give you goose-bumps, it’s this one. It really deserves to go through to the final. On stage it’s just her all alone but she manages to fill the whole arena with her powerful voice.

I didn’t go to the Latvian press conference – but we did hear Anmary singing the Johnny Logan song she mentions in her Beautiful Song.

I did go the Albanian press conference though – as I was so impressed with Rona Nishliu’s performance. No hands went up when the floor was opened up for questions, so I thought I had better say something – you can hear tumble weed sometimes at these events – so I said for such a small figure it’s amazing how she manages to fill up the whole arena with her voice and presence, but why did she decide to appear on stage by herself (well it seemed like a simple question). She thanked me for the compliment, and as the song is very personal to her, she say it would be more effective to avoid distractions on stage. The lyrics to the song are very important to her.

She came across as a humble person – and showed her singing talent by singing I Will Survive to the press.

Every year in Eurovision you come along to rehearsals and you come across a song and performance that somehow escaped you – and this is it for me this year. It so deserves to go through.

It was back to the arena again to see Romania – and on the way there, David Elder and myself decided to help clean up the place. Well they really shouldn’t have a bucket and mop lying around. Photos in the next issue of Vision magazine.

Anyway, Romania are really powerful on stage. All the backing singers and musicians ae dressed in white, but the lead vocalist Elena, seems to be wearing an outfit designed by Minni Mouse. Still, it won’t detract from the song. This will sail into the final and is definitely a potential winner. A Romanian victory has been coming for years.

Another favourite are currently on stage as I’m watching them on the big screen – the Swiss act, Sinplus singing their Britrock inspired offering, Unbreakable. It really is a powerful performance. Similar great songs in the past have failed to get through to the final, but fingers crossed for this to go through.

News is coming in of hackers apparently from Iran that have managed to bring down various Eurovision websites including esctoday.com. The site was targeted because it reported a gay pride event. The hackers are warning of something big next Tuesday when semi-final one will be televised. Oh well – cyber-terrorists. Some people just can’t stand seeing others having a good time. And it’s that old chestnut about Eurovision being a gay event. Eurovision is for everyone and is watched by millions of people from all over the world – old, young, gay, straight, fat, thin – no one is excluded!

Anyway, back to reality: Belgium were on stage. Sweet girl, sweet song. And that’s about it really. It’s just going to get lost.

More memorable will be another favourite of mine – Finland. The striking red-head, Pernilla, sings Nar Jag Blundar – which translates as When I Close My Eyes. It’s a lovely ethnic-sounding tune that is easy to hum to. She appears on stage with a cellist in a simple routine. But she is wearing a rather long multi-coloured trail. Not sure if it will actually qualify, but it really deserves to do so. The beauty about Eurovision is the diversity of songs that the contest sometimes offers – we have rock songs from Switzerland and ballads from Finland and Salsa music via Romania. Who could ask for more?

At the Romanian press conference we all sang happy birthday to their lead singer Elena. On stage with the group was the Romanian Ambassador to Azerbaijan – and the seventh member of the group, who can’t appear on stage because only six performers are allowed on stage. He must really be pi**ed off!

It’s going to be an early night at the press conference tonight – even though they’re whizzing through the rehearsals and press conferences, we’re off to the Georgian party at the Euro Club. It’ll make a change from leaving here 10.00pm every night – this trip is meant to be a holiday!

Anyway, another favorite act from Israel is about to perform. I so like the unique sounds that Izabo make while singing Time. It reminds me of psychedelic songs that were produced in the 1960s – but with a new twist. They didn’t give a press conference after their first rehearsal, and I’ll probably miss the one tonight. But as usual for Israel, security is very tight for them. Best Israeli song in decades in my opinion.

San Marino are on stage again. It would be a hoot if this qualifies. It’s way down in the fan betting, but what do we know? It’s a great throwback to the 1980s. Valentina and her mob are dressed in silver and blue. You can now all relax, curiosity satisfied.

Hmm… seemed to have completely missed the Finnish press conference. Didn’t even hear being announced. Where am I?

Have to miss Cyprus and Denmark. Can’t be helped. Back later with a report from the Georgian party, or maybe not.

 

Well it’s five hours later and the Georgian party was good fun. Georgian parties usually are. It was held at the Euro Club and offered all attendees nice snacky food with free wine and some sort of Georgian pure alcohol called ‘cha-cha’, or something like that. Those that mixed their drinks are now suffering the consequences!

Everyone attending was given a copy of the Georgian CD – my one will be a prize at this year’s Eurobash.

Though I’ve got no time for the Georgian song this year (last year they produced my favourite song), Anri Jokhadze is a talented singer. Along with members of his backing group (I think), Anri gave us a small concert. He also sang a duet with Azeri entrant Sabina. But for the second time today we were treated to version of I Will Survive – this time by Anri.

The Belarussian group, Litesound, and the Maltese singer, Kurt Calleja, also performed their entries. Other performers were spotted mingling among the crowds. After the DJ starting playing naff ‘thump, thump. thump’ music – it was time to leave.

The party season has well and truly started now. I wonder which country will be at every single party? I’m betting Belarus.

Anyway, these parties give various countries news items to broadcast at home – it’s all good PR.

After a few hectic days – where nothing worked, things are definitely getting better. Though OGAE members still haven’t been told about ticket collections yet – but that doesn’t surprise me. There are still a few more days left! Once we know – all those coming over next week will be informed.

Back tomorrow with the second rehearsals for the rest of semi-final one and the first half of semi-final two acts.

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