Day 1

This is Hass Yusuf reporting live from Malmo.

Disclaimer – as this is live reporting, please expect typos, missing words, etc. Just go with the flow.

And so it begins. Well here we are in the screening room at the Euroclub watching the first rehearsals from semi-final one.

Austria first, Good first impressions of the stage. It’s a good start with a good confident performance by Natalia Kelly. She’s definitely shining through her performance. That was a pun by the way, as her song is called ‘Shine’. You can expect more witticisms like that throughout the next few weeks. Her set involves icicle like structures. All very nice, but hardly going to set the place on fire. And if it does, the icicles will come in use. Anyway, good luck to the beautiful Natalia.

While we wait for the next performance, just to let you know that these first rehearsals are being held in the Euroclub. All the journalists are sitting in a small cinema with their laptops on their knees. Not sure how long these laptops can’t last just on battery power!

Estonia next. And another good-looking singer in the shape of Birgit Oigemeel singing Et Uus Saaks Alguse which translates as New Beginning – and she begins with an impressive first sound check rehearsal. She’a vision in black and white… but like a butterfly she emerges all in colour. Dressed in white. This is a really nice ballad and she sings it much gusto. Hopefully it won’t get lost on semi-final one night, because it does deserve get through to the final. The butterfly reference was a sort of pun just then – as if no one has noticed, this year’s motif is a butterfly with the phrase, We Are One. Aren’t we just. Throughout Malmo there are adverts with with butterflies made up of flags from competing counties painted onto smiling faces. All very impressive and adds to atmosphere to the place.

Back to rehearsals, Birgit is performing her last try-out. You can make out more of the stage here – nice impressive backdrops. It’s also a decent size. The organisers have placed human-size cut-outs on the floor below the stage where the fans will be standing. Expect fist-cuffs to get into prime position. Also a good opportunity for a pitch invasion! Well you can’t trust these Eurovision fans. Bring out the cattle-prods I say.

And out comes the dry ice. You can’t have a Eurovision without clouds of dry ice. I like dry ice. It’s a good finish to a good performance.

All going well so far. Slovenia next with Hannah singing Straight Into Love. We could all do with a bit of loving. I’m just muttering away waiting for her to come on stage. And here she is with three male backing dancers. All very lively – the strong is an upbeat electro-pop number. All the performers seem to be in full dress rehearsal – all clad in black leather or imitation. Maybe PVC? Hannah’s top seems to made up of  loose chain-mail. A good act, but will it stand out enough to go through to the final? Well the sexy Hannah should stand out. She’s definitely giving it her all. The dancers all perform their robotics poses well. Lots of back flips, press-ups and the like as well. It’s Eurovision – this is all bread and butter to us.

The cat-walk part of the stage is being used effectively. More opportunities for the fans to grab their heroes. Or jump up and give them a hand. Some of them may need it of course.  But don’t worry, I won’t shame the club by trying to jump on stage. Probably too high for my ageing body. I’ll have to bribe of our younger members instead. If anyone from the EBU is reading this – I’m only joking of course…

I’m listening to Hannah for the fourth time now. I think that’s enough – she’s done a good job. Go and have a rest girl.

One of my favourites is on next – Croatia. We saw the group last night in one of the main squares enjoying the sights of this fair city.

The six-man group are called Klapa S Mora singing Mizerja (Hard Times). And hard times it is. Not that we would know it here in our Eurovision bubble where the outside world remains a mystery to us for two weeks. Eurovision rules – and don’t you forget it.

And here they come – OMG – what fab outfits! They look like matadors wearing long gowns and boots. Only at Eurovision. Fashion statements galore! They lads produce great harmonies here – hopefully the outfits won’t distract. This is my second favourite song in the contest – I’m a sucker for traditional Balkan sounds – and this is traditional as it gets. I hope we get some dry-ice mist.

It’s a simple formance from Klapa – as is the style of the song, there’s no great movement across the stage. Just stand there and sing. It works for me. Still waiting for the dry ice mist though. Probably can’t afford too much of it – hard times after all. But this song helps you forget about it. Excellent!

Lunch break here the Euroclub now.

The first of the Meet & Greet will start soon. Basically the performers are coached from the arena to the Euroclub so we can have a brief press conference with them. Why we just can’t use the Press Centre for these first rehearsals is beyond me. It’ll be far more convenient for everyone. Anyway, mustn’t moan. It’s a thrill just to be here.

These Meet & Greets will naturally happen during rehearsals, so I’ll have to miss something, but I’ll try and be in two places at once as much as possible.

I was expecting fewer journalists this year because of this first rehearsals/Euroclub business, but it’s packed in here. Every year I see more and more of the same faces. It really does feel like a Eurovision family here.

And here we go. Our host is on stage now telling us that Malmo is the coolest city in Sweden. Malmo is apparently the fifth greenest city on the world.

Here’s Hannah — she’s telling us the stage is wonderful and huge. She was pleased with her performance. Good sound quality. She’s singing Shine acappella  – probably not a good idea. Anyway, after that brief intro, she’s going to give two minute ‘speed-dating’ style interviews with four journalists at a time around a mall table. It’s too much like a scrum for my likely. What a naff idea. She’s naturally surrounded by loads of journalists getting in the way and taking photos. Can’t see or hear a thing.It wouldn’t be too bad if they used a microphone! I’ll probably stick the more professional proper press conferences in the Press Centre during the second rehearsals.

Denmark are about to begin their first rehearsal on stage. At least we have a decent cinema screen to watch everything here. Emmelie de Forest is the singer – dressed in white she accompanied by backing singers and marching drummers (who also play the flute). Only Teardrops is a powerful anthem. It’s just got a big roar here in the cinema. This is definitely a possible winner. It seems to tick all the boxes to win. The act seems similar to the one she performed at the Danish national final. Starts off on the floor on her knees, gets up turns around to reveal her microphone equipment coming out of her back.

If Emmelie wins, she’ll become the fifth performer to have won the contest barefoot. Trivia question: can you name the other four? I’ll reveal who they are at the end of today’s blog.

There are some smart accessories on display her. Emmelie is wearing some elaborate ear-rings (that don’t really match her bracelets) while one of the drummers sports a smart watch. You deserve to know these things.

A very polished rehearsal – and here come the pyrotechnics – a nice waterfall effect. This, so far, is the song to beat. It’s a shame that Copenhagen will be so expensive!

Waiting for Russia now. I see lots of balloons being set up. Oh, they’re light globes. Not sure of the significance, but I always question why acts have to bring on props – unless absolutely necessary – especially when you can do  great effects with lighting and graphic display backdrops.

Anyway Dina Garipove, singing What If, is a vision in pink. This is somewhat of a traditional Eurovision ballad. Nothing wrong with that of course. It’s quite a powerful song that should do well for Russia. Quite a contrast to last year’s Grannies. I’ve changed my mind about those globes. I quite like them now. Creates a nice ambience to the performance. Understated, but works perfectly. Ooops, one of the backing singers was meant to give Dina a small white balloon, has just dropped it instead. Tempted to make a joke about dropping balls, but I shall resist.  Hope it’s not an omen…

Dina is currently having a serious chat with the floor manager – obviously wanting a few changes.Didn’t notice any problems myself, but there’s  lot of discussion t the moment.

She’s obviously isn’t going to wear her pink gown on the day – she just had a colour check on her outfit that’ll be wearing for the final – a white/silver number.

A last rehearsal for Dina now. Ah, I see the idea about the small white balloons. Two backing singers get Dina to touch and bless them, who then throw them into the audience. Are they mad? They’ll be a scrum for them. There’ll be chaos in the arena! They’ll have to call in the army!! Think I’m kidding, huh? Expect to see them on eBay on Sunday 19th May.

We’re just waiting for Ukraine. They’ve just made a colour check on her outfit – and headgear. It’s going to be a great show! I have good feeling about this song. One of my favourites. It could do really well.

OMG. She’s being carried on stage by a giant of a man. But she’s knocked off her microphone equipment. Thank god for first rehearsals!

The song is called Gravity and sung by the powerfully lunged Zlata Ognevich. Ukraine always deliver – and this year is no exception. The gentle giant doesn’t do much of anything after his initial appearance – which is a shame – might as well make more use of him. He must be tallest person in Ukraine. But back to Zlata – she could very well deliver the contest back to Ukraine. Again, it’s one of those songs that tick all the boxes of a winner. Zlata spends the whole of the performance on a rock – which is just well considering the outfit she’ll be wearing on the day. The performance is causing a few titters in the screening room. I do think Zlata is brave to spend all her time perched on a rock without too much room for movement though — we might see the title of her song in action!

Zlata seems exhausted  and bewildered -her hair is al over the place – but it’s worth the effort! There’s a sort of eerie fairy-tale theme to the act. I like it. Just give her some hair spray on the night.

And the final rehearsal of the day belongs to the Netherlands – with their superstar, Anouk, singing Birds. This is a another favourite of mine. A lovely haunting song sung expertly by someone with a great voice. A very understated performance. It’s a simple set up for the stage for this act. Anouk just stands there and sings. If you look carefully you can see three backing singers. Will this finally be the song to get the Netherlands back into the final again after so long. Not much more to say here really. Thumbs up.

Right-o that was the last of today’s rehearsals. Tomorrow we’ll see the remaining eight songs for semi-final one.

Downstairs t the Euroclub, the meet and greets are continuing. My colleague, David Elder is taking photos of these interview for the next issue of Vision magazine.

The Russian singer, Dina, just came on stage. Answered a quick question about winning the Russian version of The Voice, then off the stage for some speed-dating questions. To big a queue for me to get involved. I’ll see her and others at the proper press conferences in a few days time.

But before I sign off — here’s Anouk from the Netherlands. We heard that she was a bit of a diva and wouldn’t turn up today, but here she is. And good for her. She says she had a good rehearsals and is looking forward to the rest of the contest. I like it when my favourites performers turn out to be nice people with a good attitude.

Okay, that’s all for today. More tomorrow.

Here are the answers to the trivia task I set you earlier – the four barefoot Eurovision winners were: Sandi Shaw (of course), Sertab Erener Dima Bilan and Loreen.