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.