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.

 

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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!

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.

Baku Blog Day 4

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

Disclaimer: Please not that this blog is being written live – often as things happen – so a few mistakes, typos, missing words may creep in. Just go with the flow.

Okay, so it’s Wednesday May 16th. It’s approaching 11.00am here, where we’re expecting the first act of the day to appear on stage – Slovenia. Today we’re going to see the last ten songs of semi-final two.

Outside the Crystal Hall they seem to be putting the finishing touches to the road leading to the venue – workers have been slabbing all night long. It’s looking quite fab outside. And things seem to be settling down here in the press centre. Nothing is running on time – but then that was the same last year in Dusseldorf – and if the Germans can’t run on time, who can?

As I look onto the big screen I see the Slovenians getting ready to rehearse. Eva Boto is their performer this year singing Verjamen, which translates as I Believe. The song is a powerful ballad. Even though Slovenia is an ex-Yugoslav state, it’s not really considered a Balkan country, so can’t really rely on their ex-partners for votes.

Eva seems to be wearing a wedding outfit with a forest of flowers weighing her down. All her bridemaids are dressed in white gowns. All very pure and virginal. Just think vampire brides from an old Hammer film.

It’s another year of the strange outfit – and just as well. What’s Eurovision without unusual and trend-busting garb? They probably found them in Primark.

Their camera rehearsal went well. Good use of the wind machine. Not too impressed with her backdrop – just blue and red lighting. Eva is apparently just 16 years old. She has a great voice for so one so young. Her song is decent enough but might struggle to get through this tough semi-final.

Grrr… just had a computer crash. Lost most of the morning’s work. Never mind – these things happen with technology. So I’ll just repeat myself and update more often!

So where were we up to? Croatia. Nina Badric is one of the Balkans biggest stars – the region has a habit of sending their best to Eurovision.  Her video had her dressed all in white – well her song is entitled Nebo – which translate as Heaven. I thought her act might merge with the Slovenians – but she’s dressed in black – in one of those short at the front, long at the back outfits. She’s also sharing the stage with a rather long bedsheet.

Nina is a good singer, but not sure if her song, which she wrote, is powerful enough to get to the final. However there are quite fellow Balkan states voting in this semi-final where Nina is as well, so nothing should come as a surprise.

Time to get off the fat arse and walk down to the arena to see Sweden perform – but first, the Slovenian press conference.

Eva Boto got loads of good luck messages from her friends (bet they’re all jealous). She says that everyone should follow their dreams as she’s doing. She’s having a great time meeting all the other performers and thinks the Turkish singer, Can Bonomo, is cute.

She reveals that Eurovision is an important event in Slovenia and hopes she will do well in her semi on May 24th. For a 16 year-old, she appears very well-grounded and charming. I find most 16 year-old girls in north London to be loud-mouthed chavs.

Loreen for Sweden was great on stage – she performs on a special small platform. She’s a very frantic mover. Those sitting in the front rows when she performs in the semi-final and final (of course she will qualify) will experience an Azeri winter…

The Swedish press conference was quite busy – but then Loreen is one of the favourites to win. She was joined on stage by Melodifestival organiser, Christer Bjorkmen.

Despite her resemblance to Kate Bush, she insisted that she wasn’t influenced by her at all. Her frantic dancing is unique to her. She also revealed that her Moroccan background probably influences her style of singing – as the energy and angst comes from within.

Even though Loreen may be up in the odds, Christer Bjorkmen mentioned that  predictions are worthless – as France was forecast to win the contest last year but came nowhere near the top positions. They just want to qualify for the final from their semi first.

And apparently no one should mess with the backing singers. Okay – noted.

Georgia had a rather good rehearsal. I don’t really like the song – but their stage act is definitely memorable. The ethnic parts of the song really stand out, but as soon as he opens his mouth – time for me step back. But Georgia do have a habit of getting to the final – and that show probably needs something like it. I thought the gold glittery loudspeaker was a bit much though. As one of my colleagues suggested – for a moment he looked like Liberace’s punk rock love-child…

One of my favouite songs was on next – Turkey. After failing to get through to the final last year – for the first time since the semi-finals were introduced, the Turks have come back in full force. They chose an ‘alternative’ music star to represent them – Can Bonomo. He has become famous in Turkey doing commercials while his album became a big hit. His act on stage seems to feature five Turkish male dancers – probably a first for the Turks. As the song is a seafaring ditty, they’ll get a nice sea-themed backdrop – with pyrotechnics at the beginning and end of the song.

At their press conference, Can came off really well. He announced it was his birthday – to which everyone in press conference sang him Happy Birthday, He’s now reached the grand old age of 25.

I asked him about his song – as it’s a story about a lonely sailor, has the sea played a significant part in his life. He revealed that while he was never a sailor, he grew up on the western coast of Turkey in Izmir – so his two great loves was the city and the sea.

He was asked a somewhat political question – as he comes from a Jewish background, what did he think of the political situation between Turkey and Israel. As far as he was concerned, he’s a Turkish citizen and is proud to represent the country. Music is universal – and can be enjoyed no matter where you come from. The conference host then asked the press to avoid political based questions. Bit of a shame, because as we know politics plays a big part in the contest whether we like it or not.

But Can came across as a confident young man, with a decent future ahead of him. The song is expected to sail (pun intended) into the final.

For those of you reading this early evening in the UK, the rest of today’s blog will be finished hopefully by the end of the evening (UK time). Having that computer crash earlier has stopped my ‘live’ reporting, so I’ll have to catch up later as it’s nearly 10.00pm here in Baku and the press centre is about to shut.

And here we go again with the rest of the acts. Have to rush through them – and it would help if I could read my own hand-writing!

Estonia next with Ott Lepland singing Kuula – which translate as Listen. Only saw a bit of his rehearsal – it looked like a straightforward performance – the song isn’t set up to have flashy effects or frantic dancers.It’s a pleasant ballad. At his press conference someone mentioned that it had been ten years since Estonia won Eurovision – had he noticed any difference? He replied that he had – the contest is now much bigger and tougher.

Besides winning Estonian Idol in 2009, he also sang a duet with his grandmother – another well-known singer – these and getting to Eurovision have made him most proud.

Asked about his chances at Eurovision, he replied that everyone had an equal chance of winning. He seems like a generally nice guy, so it’s safe to vote for him.

Alas I missed the Slovakian rehearsal and press conference – but I did quickly glimpse Max Jason Mai on stage. There seemed to be lots of frantic camera angles for his hard rock song. I’m not really into hard rock – but it is good to see the genre at Eurovision. Hard rock songs have got into the final before, but this might struggle.

Norway were next. Managed to catch Tooji on stage singing Stay. What a lively number it is – and with a Middle East influence to boot. Expect lots of dancing and pyrotechnics. It’s a fine pop song that should do well.

Tooji, at his press conference really turned on the charm. Many have compared him to Eric Saade, who came third for Sweden last year – Tooji takes it as a compliment. He said on stage he likes to create a new character when performing. Stay was inspired by Persian rhyme (he’s originally from Iran).

He mentioned that he once worked for MTV, but to bring himself down to reality, he took up various causes including child-protention and asylum seekers.

But the lad does know how to have a fab time. He got everyone in the press centre to dance along with him. I had to give up half way through – couldn’t remember the moves – but you’re never too old to move it and grove it. How very hip (replacement).

He’s always been a big Eurovision fan and one of his favourite songs is Oh Ah, Just A Little Bit More from the UK’s Gina G. The boy has good taste. Feel free to vote for him.

Bosnia & Herzegovinia were next – only glimpsed  Maya Sar on stage, but she just seemed to be playing the piano. Being so late in the day, her press conference was poorly attended, so it didn’t last long.

She described her song as a love story between two people who really don’t know where to go next with their relationship. She’s been at Eurovision twice before – first in Istanbul 2004 as a backing singer, and again last year in Dino Merlin’s band. She was in Dino Merlin’s band for many years but decided to branch out on her own. She’s certainly talented enough to have a solo career.

Last act of the day went to Lithuania. Donny Montell (real name Donatas Montvydas) sang Love Is Blind. Again missed his rehearsal and again, the press conference was poorly attended – at 9.00pm.

He came off as a confident young man, quite well grounded. So far there doesn’t seem to be a nasty character that you love to hate. Anyway Donny revealed that his father is also a musician – but in a hard rock band. They tried to work together, but their different genre of musical styles never worked out. Rather, his musical influences are Michael Jackson and Freddy Mercury from Queen.

And he asked one simple question: Who has never once felt that love is blind?

And with that thought I’ll be back tomorrow, where acts from semi-final one will be having their second rehearsals.

No juicy gossip yet. Well none that we can print without being sued!

Baku Blog Day 3

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

Disclaimer: Everything is being written live as things happen – and quickly, so a few typos and mistakes may get through, so just go with the flow – and put in any missing words that aren’t there.

So, here we go again!

It’s Tuesday May 15th, and another day of Eurovision madness. Today we see the start of rehearsals for semi-final two. Starting off things is a big hitter – Serbia. One of Balkan’s biggest stars, Zeljko Joksimovic is back again. He came second in 2004 and will do very well again – definitely a class act. He’s just had his sound check – and sounds good to me. A camera rehearsal is next.

But while we’re waiting for that let me tell you more about the city – it’s probably the most prettiest city Eurovision has been held in. Haven’t seen much of the outskirts, but everything within the city centre and tourist parts is well maintained and clean. Lots of greenery and fountains – and Fountain Square is very impressive. The views from the venue are fab – on a good day you can see right across the Caspian Sea to a panoramic view of Baku. Crossing some of the roads is a challenge though. Just follow the locals as they zig-zag around moving vehicles. Makes life far more fun!

Serbia just had their camera rehearsal – and it’s what you would expect from  Zeljko – him standing in the middle surrounded by a group of musicians. Simple and effective. This will sail into the final – well within top ten placings. In another year, it might even win – but there is such strong competition this year.

Next up – we have another ex-Yugoslav state – Macedonia (I’m not going to bother with that FYR nonsense).  They’ve got another big star representing them – Kaliopi. She’s quite a powerful singer and looks like the type that doesn’t take prisoners. They’re having audio problems with the link up to the arena, so we’re just getting vision but I’m getting a feeling of angst and passion. The sound is back again and she sounds great. You can tell she’s a professional. This certainly deserves to go through to the final.

There’s a nice buzz here in the media centre with various camera crews wandering around interviewing journalists. There’s a lot of waiting around for press conferences.

And here’s the Serbian one. Zeljko has revealed that this is probably his last Eurovision as a performer, but he will no doubt be involved in composing future Eurovision hits. He and his band gave the press conference a little mini-concert to much applause.

Popped over to see the Netherlands act on stage – it looks like ‘Indiana’ Joan Franka will be performing her song in traditional Native American garb. She’s surrounded by cauldrons of fire, so anyone sitting near the front will definitely feel the heat. She sings a very catchy tune – but the Netherlands have only qualified once for the final since the sem-finals were introduced a few years back. But Joan has a good chance this year – she is quite memorable. But nothing is certain with the Dutch.

While I was around the stage area I took the opportunity to wait for the Maltese act. It is interesting to see what goes on stage in preparing for each performance. Floor managers follow the performers around the stage to make sure they can be seen by various cameras. There are assistants making notes – and a few non-essential personnel standing around trying to look important.

And talking about the stage, I’m beginning to wonder if journalists are welcome here – not content in trying to starve us and make us walk half a mile to get to the venue, the walk from the press centre to the arena is fraught with danger – pitch-black corridors, barriers, loose wiring, uncovered man-holes and security men. But it all adds to the fun of the whole experience.

The interior of the Crystal Hall isn’t quite finished yet, but various workers are trying to make the place perfect – and I’m sure it will be by the time semi-final one next Tuesday.

Getting back to Malta, they’re represented by Kurt Calleja this year singing a somewhat tradition pop song. Think SAW mid-1980s. Not really my cup of tea, but the act is quite snappy and comes off well. Malta must win the contest one of these years as they’re very enthusiastic about the contest but – not this time alas.

Good news for those of you concerned – they’re finally offering ‘proper’ food at the press centre. Just filled rolls and small salads. Not as good as the excellent food in their restaurants, but it’s a start. The food in Baku is very similar to what you may find in the Middle East and Turkey. All quite tasty.

And talking about Turkey, it turns out that Joan Franka from the Netherlands is half Turkish. She can’t actually speak Turkish but did a promotional tour in Istanbul. As the Netherlands and Turkey are in the same semi-final, the Dutch should receive Turkish votes. Joan’s press conference went really well – she comes across really well and likeable. Her song is a story about her first love – aged six – where she and her ‘boyfriend’ played Cowboys & Indians – hence her Native American outfit. But she does wear feathers in her hair to signify her free spirit. Many punters have a good feeling about this song. Fingers crossed that it will go through to the final as it really does deserve to – you can’t get more toe-tapping than You And Me.

With all this to-ing and fro-ing I seemed to have missed the Belarussian performance and press conferences for Macedonia and Malta. It’s very easy to miss a few countries completely when there are three things to do at once. But it’s always a nice surprise to see them during the dress rehearsals.

I tell a lie – haven’t missed Belarus – here they are on stage – obviously everything is running late. Hard to believe I know.

Belarus are represented by Litesound singing We Are The Heroes. And they will be in the unlikely event of them getting through to the final. There’s nothing wrong with the song at all – but the competition is tough. But their song is a decent pop/rock anthem – very Britpop actually. It’s got a catchy beat, so you never know. It’s always good to see rock bands in a Eurovision final. Makes a nice change from all the solo artists.

Litesound are fronted by two brothers, and the band is really going for it. Thought I would go to the arena again to see them live – and I need the exercise – and besides it’s good fun avoiding all the loose tiles.

The lead singer seems to wearing a see-through netted bodice. Not many blokes can get away with that. My estimation of the song shot up seeing them on stage – really came off well – and expect some interesting body contortions. They also win the prize for best microphone stands.

Once they finished their rehearsal I decided to wait around for the Portuguese act. Filipa Sousa is a great singer, but singing a fado song – no matter how good  – will not win her Eurovision. However that doesn’t stop it being a good song. She was rehearsing in casual wear – looked like a plastic yellow dress, but her outfit was brought onto the stage for a colour check. For those of you who are interested, she’ll be wearing a sparkly gold number. Anyway the performance is very moody – full of angst – with lots of slow walking. It really is a nice song, but will have limited appeal, so it’s doubtful it will get through to the final – but Portugal have defied the odds before, so you never know. If there’s one country that Eurovision fans would love to win – it’s Portugal.

I missed the Belarussian press conference (where there was talk of lots of brotherly love) to see one of my favourite songs being performed on stage – Ukraine. Their singer, Gaitana – but I call her Giganta – really knows how to belt it out! Be My Guest is the perfect football anthem. Not sure if Euro2012 will still go ahead in Ukraine, but this will more than make up for it. Giganta is accompanied on stage by four male dancers – four of which are wearing strange ‘football skirts’. They’ve also got four screens – as similar to Blue last year. It might be a mite over-produced – too much happening – but the flash-mob graphics are fun.

Ukraine always qualify for the final – no matter what they offer – but this could be a potential winner. As they say on the terraces – “Come on Giganta!”

The last act of the day is currently on stage – Bulgaria – which unfortunately, if we’re honest, is just making up numbers. Sofi Marinova is a decent singer, but this techno-pop number isn’t special enough.She’s got a cat-print outfit on which does nothing for her either. Feel guilty not having anything good to say, but it’s a tough life. She’s also being brave appearing on stage just by herself.

Filipa Sousa from Portugal was a real sweetie. Her style of fado is from Lisbon apparently. And despite it sounding all sad, it is in fact a love song. She defended not singing in English, because the meaning of fado just wouldn’t translate properly. Personally I would prefer to hear all the songs in their native languages. Fingers crossed for her to qualify.

The Ukrainian press conference was a real hoot. Gaitana is quite a character. Her father is from the Congo. She unfortunately suffered racist abuse from a politician in the Ukraine – but she said she had to rise above it. She tried to replace hatred with love. She doesn’t want people to think Ukraine is a bad place – and wants everyone to visit her country regardless. Her name means ‘goodness’ – and she tries to live up to that. She definitely is a striking person – and will score many goals on her way to the final.

The last event of the day is the Bulgarian press conference. While I don’t like her song much, Sofi Marinova is a very pleasant lady. Turns out she’s from a gypsy background and is very proud of her heritage. She gave us a rendition of a famous gypsy song. She has a tattoo of a rose on her arm – apparently this is to disguise the name of a ex-boyfriend! She decided to sing on stage by herself to make a change from the many duets she done.

And that’s it for today. Getting out early tonight – it’s just 8.00pm. Back tomorrow with the second half of the semi-final two acts.

Baku Blog Day 2

Day 2

Monday 14 May

Vision editor Hass Yusuf reporting live from Baku

Disclaimer: Please note that this blog is written live, so typos and mistakes may appear – but will try to correct later on.

Getting to venue was another shambolic experience this morning – even the official black cab drivers have no idea where the Baku Crystal Hall is! In fact 90% of taxi drivers we’ve used for the last few days don’t know where anything is – they’re always stopping to get directions. And there’s no access to the road to the venue, so it’s a fairly long walk to get to the Press Centre and Crystal Hall. Hopefully that’ll be sorted out before the three main shows start, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  And everyone should allow three hours to get to the venue – seriously – traffic is usually terrible. Police cars often drive up and curse motorists with their loudspeakers. No kidding.

Never mind – here’s Israel on stage now to cheer me up. Definitely one of my favourite songs – it’s got a slighty 1960s psychedelic beat to it. They’re not a particularly good-looking band, but the music is fab. It’s another late start – but not as bad as yesterday. What an adventure this Eurovision has been so far!

Ahh.. here’s San Marino represented by Valentina Monetta. She is a Facebook friend – as is everyone else apparently! If you like your songs cheesy – then this is for you. It probably has no chance of getting through to the final, but it would be such a laugh if it did. It’s actually quite a nice performance by Val – and she has a great backdrop.

Her rehearsal did drag on though. Normally in these first rehearsals you have one sound check and at least three camera rehearsals. You’re luckily if you get one camera rehearsal here in Baku. There were frequency problems with her apparently – her singing wasn’t that bad!

The UK isn’t voting in semi-final one so we can’t vote for San Marino – because it’s the sort of song that we would vote for – as we do admire the underdog – even if the song is…

As her song is all about the internet, Facebook – and apparently cybersex, according to the lyrics – it’s almost tempting to ask her at the press conference how many pokes she’s had while in Baku. But too rude? Yes. You’ve all got filthy minds.

Cyprus are now on stage. No one’s actually heard Ivi Adamou sing the song live, so this should be interesting. This is probably one of the best Greek Cypriot songs in ages.

Oh, I see movement – they’re all lining up behind each other – and up emerges Ivi. She’s just going through a sound check. She’s not looking as glamorous as her official photos – probably arrived in Baku two hours ago. She sounded fine though, but seems to have developed an accent since her video. I do like La La Love  – but the Greek vote will probably go to Greece, so Cyprus may miss out in the final – and alas all the Cypriots in North London won’t be able to help.

Anyway, here comes the camera rehearsal – she’s standing on a platform and four female dancers are flinging themselves around her. It’s coming across really well. You never know – it could go through – and it deserves to. A good catching modern number with a good dance routine. And another great graphic backdrop. I approve. And she’s making good use of her wind machine. There’s nothing like a good wind machine to creat that right mood.

Didn’t catch most of the Danish rehearsal – too busy at the San Marino press conference. Valentina speaks very little English – so she obviously just learnt how to pronounce the words to her song. The writers of the song were also on stage – which of course includes Ralph Siegel , who announced that this was his 20th Eurovision – and he has been entering songs since 1972. Siegel was inspired to write the song after he joined Facebook and suddenly found himself with more friends than he knew he had. The song was entered to various national selections, but was picked by San Marino. Then they sought the service of one the country’s top jazz singers, Valentina Monetta. Siegel also mentioned that he’s proud of his Eurovision connection – even though some people like to put the contest down, it rises above it all.

I can hear the Cypriot press conference in the background – which was supposed to be broadcast on the big screen in the press hall, but I forgot this is Azerbaijan where things only work if it fancies it. I’ll catch the Cyprus press conference next time, but I’m told Ivi was lovely – chatty and confident.  One of her backing singers apparently sang for Cyprus in the early 1990s.

Everyone seems to be waiting for the grannies from Russia at the moment. And last on this evening we have the return of Jedward. This is definitely the more fun semi-final.

Soluna from Denmark had a good press conference – she appears quite intelligent with a nice personality. I don’t particularly like her song, but if someone appears nice, then they get my support regardless.

The Russian grannies proved to be a sensation on stage – definitely had more TV cameras around. The young ladies perform a bread-baking act to accompany their song – though their choreographer was getting quite frantic with them – someone deserves a slap in the face! You don’t speak to your grannies like that! Anyway, the Buranovskiye Babushki will storm to the final – unless the juries mark them down. The song isn’t really that good, but the act is a fun to watch so that more than makes up for it. The grannies of course sing Party For Everyone – well they certainly know how to strut their stuff!

Hungary seem to have had a good rehearsal. Sounds Of Our Hearts is a worthy product from Compact Disco.It’s got a Britrock sound to it that makes it very appealing – but may be one of those songs on the borderline of qualifying for the final – though it deserves to get through, as it is a serious effort.

And it appears to be one of the few acts that is actually using the catwalk. There’s definitely more to this stage than greets the eye.

Just come back from the Russian press conference – as expected the hall was packed.  The conference was quite long, but unfortunately most of the questions asked were in Russian. Still, eight grannies turned up on stage – as the group actually contains eight performers, two of them will have to sit it out as EBU rules only allow six performers on stage. The grannies are performing all over the place to raise funds to build a church for their local village.

Some of the vocals from the group may not be top-notch, but they can sing in harmony at times – they gave a nice rendition of Yesterday.

Unlike most of the delegations, the Russians are staying on the outskirts of Baku, as they don’t like the noise of the busy city.

Moldova have a lively act making full use of the large stage. And the phrase ‘ride ’em cowboy’ will become evident! Pasha Parfeny is a good performer.

The vocals so far in the contest have on the whole been quite good. I remember in previous years some very awkward squeaks. The technical support for the show seems to be handled by a German organisation – the same who provided the technics for the show in Dusseldorf, so at least that part of the show should be decent.

I appear to have missed the rehearsal for Austria – I’ll catch them next time. Everything is running more than an hour late, with only Ireland’s Jedward to perform,

I’ll take this lull to talk about the opening of the Euro Club – which opened with a whimper. The Euro Club is where various delegations hold their parties – and where this year’s Opening Party will be held. It’s basically a large sports hall which has been converted for Eurovision.

Attendance was very sparse – despite the great Eurovision music. The only people on the massive dance floor were a few young volunteers and some of the British and Irish journalists! Well, we know how to have a good time! No doubt it will get busier soon. But Safura, who represented Azerbaijan two years ago, joined the volunteers on the dance floor, which was nice of her.

Trackshittaz from Austria had a fun press conference. They were the first act to stand on the stage desks. Don’t like their song at all, but the band are fun. As their song translates as Shake Your Booty, they were asked if they’ve checked-out any booties yet and which ones impressed them! They said they hadn’t had a chance to check yet, but probably Russia!

They were also put on the spot about the song being sexist, but they explained that the song is just a bit of fun and they’ll be strutting their booties as well.

It’s getting late here in Baku, but still a few press conferences left. Not many people went to the Moldovan one, so I thought I would ask Pasha about the various awards that he’s won. He replied that they were mainly for musical awards around the region – Moldova, Romania and Ukraine – but he’s hoping to add Eurovision to his tally.

Jedward finally made it on stage – it just looked like the usual Jedward performance. Last year’s colour motif was red – this year they look quite dapper in blue. Their singing was fine, but the backing singers need to tone down a bit. They also have a water feature on stage. Just their press conference left.

And what a riot it was! The twins came in wearing special popcorn-styled outfits – and started throwing popcorn around. It must have been five minutes before they shut up and let the conference host get a word in edgeways. The whole event was just manic – they were asked if they completed in the Olympics what event they would enter? Anything long distant was the answer – because of more camera time! Apparently they’re down to carry the Olympic torch.

Previous Eurovision winner, Linda Martin, has mentored them this year and said they were the nicest people she has ever worked with.

It’s been a long day – back again tomorrow with the start of semi-final two acts.

However, leaving the press centre at 10.00pm really showed how much effort the Azeris have put into the show. The Crystal Hall looks amazing in the dark.

Baku Blog Day 1

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

Disclaimer: Please note, this blog is written ‘live’ – as things happen, so errors and typos may creep in – so just go with the flow

Well here we go – or rather not. Due to some sort of bicycle race all the roads to the Baku Crystal arena were all closed off. Luckily we chanced upon a hotel where the Latvian delegation were staying at, so we hitched a ride with them to the arena. Latvia is now my favourite song.

Everything is running very late – the first act – Montenegro, hasn’t even arrived yet! Anyway, the press arena is nice and big, though just one big screen on the wall rather than small ones at the end of each row of desks.

From what we can see, the stage is big, but the image is a bit dark at the moment to see it at its full glory. I have yet to experience that first ‘wow’ experience. The motto for this contest is ‘Light your fire!’, I’m ready to feel the heat – eventually.

And due to the wonders of time-lapse typography, here’s Rambo Amadeus for Montenegro on stage now. Just doing his sound check – which we can’t seem to hear in the press centre… ahh, but here we go.

“Let’s go!” shouts out Rambo …. silence. These rehearsals are fun. But here we go. Rambo strikes an imposing figure on stage. He’s got a backing group of musicians and dancers who will try to spruce up the performance. Rambo’s song isn’t for everyone’s taste, but even he looks bored at the moment. But I’m assured that’s his normal expression.

I made my way to the arena to catch his last rehearsal, but too late – it’s a bit of a walk – so didn’t get to experience that wow factor when setting eyes on the stage. It looks interesting – made out of abstract shapes.

But Iceland soon came on – Greta and Jonsi were on great form – and their backdrop was marvellous – great shots of mountains. Makes you feel like flinging your clothes off and roaming around like nature intended. But fret not – I resisted the urge.

At the Montenegro press conference, Rambo displayed his dry sense of humour. I couldn’t get to ask him a question – but I wanted to know if there was any sense to his unique style of music – or was he just out to shock people. Someone did ask a similar question, where he stated that we all had to ask serious questions of the near and distant future.

His video featured a donkey – and a donkey plays a part on stage as well – but not a real one of course – no one wants a ‘Blue Peter baby elephant’ experience do they? Though might be fun.

At the Icelandic press conference, Jonsi said that this experience was just as nerve-racking as his first Eurovision in Istanbul in 2004. Poor lad – he always seems to travel to the most Eastern parts of Europe to perform!

Greta’s song is actually bast on true story – and her dress on stage has been specially designed to reflect that story. They also decided to sing the song in English to achieve wider appeal.

Managed to catch Greece perform via the screen. Eleftheria Eleftheriou looks fab and performs well. She should do well for her country (though she was born in Cyprus).

At her press conference I asked her about her promotional tour – and whether she really found it that useful. She said it was useful, but being in Baku is what really matters.

She’s actually a sweet young girl – I just helped record an interview with her for Robin Scott who’s working for esctoday.com this year. She’s had a busy time during her short career – been on the Greek version of X Factor and has even toured with Sakis Rouvas – who of course represented Greece twice at Eurovision.

Missed the Latvian rehearsal and press conference – but with two or three things happening at the same time, some things are bound to be missed. But everyone rehearses twice, so you can always catch them the second time round. Also missed the Albanian rehearsal – though it’s not a favourite of mine.

Just seen a potential winner – Romania. Great performance and busy back-drop will easily see them into the final from their semi-final. Even three securities guards were spotted wriggling their, er…booties! Security here by the way is very tight with guards around each corner. Nothing gets past them.

The Swiss are now on stage with Sinplus singing Unbreakable – which I rate highly. Not much chance of winning, but I like the britpop sound. Switzerland’s record of getting through to the final hasn’t been that great in recent years (just about managed it last year – then came in last), but this deserves to go through just to offer some diversity. The two brothers and their band have just delivered a good performance.

It’s been a strange old day so far – everything has been delayed and nothing is perfect yet. No food in the press conference except for fruit – but incase you think they just want to keep us healthy, the only other option is very sweet pastries! Hopefully proper food will be available tomorrow otherwise we’ll be asking for food parcels!

These press conferences can be a bit bland at times. There aren’t many journalists here at the moment, so questions are a bit sparse. But it’s not easy trying to think of something to say that hasn’t been asked before – and this probably isn’t the place to ask anything controversial. But Mandiga from Romania have told us that their song has been received positively – they travelled via Istanbul and were surprised to find many of their fans on the plane. They just wanted to touch the band. Some fans can be a bit much, can’t they?

On stage now is Belgium represented by a young singer, Iris. Her song is pleasant enough, but will probably get lost by the more ‘louder’ songs in semi-final one.

Most of the performers are rehearsing in casual gear, so you can’t really gauge how well they will be received by the viewing public. We’ll have a better idea with the dress rehearsals. They do however bring their outfits on stage to get a colour check.

Getting to see more of the stage from different camera angels. It looks more and more impressive with a catwalk and even a  small separate stage where the presenters will no doubt be doing their bit.

The Green Room is a rather strange position this year – it’s in special section within the seating area on ground level. The Crystal Hall is also located on the seafront and we’ve got a great pamoramic view of the Caspian Sea and the city opposite.

It’s turning into a rather long day – the last press conference from Finland is on at 9.00pm. The Euro Club opens tonight, so will obviously need to check that out. It’s been a rather slow start so far, but things are slowly falling into place. Transport to the arena is still a struggle, but that might be sorted out with regular coaches soon.

Shame there’s no juicy gossip to report. Maybe more luck tomorrow…

OGAE UK Baku Blog Arrival

Vision Editor Hass Yusuf reporting from Baku

Well for you early birds, I’m starting the blog a day early with first impressions about Baku.

Flew in via Turkish Airlines (decent service with great food) from Heathrow, stopping at Istanbul before the second leg of the journey to Baku. Accompanying me was the usual suspects: David Elder, Robin Scott, Andrew Main, Paul Jordan and of course Elaine Humperdinck-Dove. We came from all corners of the UK – London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. How very ‘cosmopolitan’.

Everything at Baku airport went smoothly. Once you got your passport checked, you were sent to a different section where you filled in your Visa application form (if you previously hadn’t applied for one). If you’re unsure about any categories, just write down ‘Eurovision’. Even your date of birth – just kidding of course! You then had to hand in your form along with $118.

Once you pick up your bags and exit into the main airport area, turn right to find an exchange bureau. They offer a decent rate – best to bring dollars if you want to exchange cash – and there’s also an ATM machine.

During this arrival process, Eurovision volunteers were on hand to give you a hand. Now normally in past experience they just smile and point you in the way of taxis or trains – but here in Baku, they went a step further – escorted you to the right visa application area, exchange bureau, etc. They even got hold of taxi drivers. General thought was that there would be dedicated transport laid on, but that wasn’t the case here.

The taxi journey into to town took about 20 minutes. General thought later on, when compared to another taxi journey, was that we might have been slightly ripped-off. So avoid unshaven taxi drivers with gold teeth. In fact you should avoid anyone with gold teeth regardless.

For those of you concerned about my welfare, I’m staying in a rather fab 4-star hotel with David Elder and Robin Scott. As is befitting an editor for Vision magazine I appear to have been given the best room available – even have a jaccuzi! Far better than a fart in the bath.

First impressions about Baku – very impressed so far. There seems to be massive building projects all over the place – and they’re not skimping on design or cost. There are some magnificent designs with buildings in all different shapes and sizes – but nothing tacky. It appears to be very Westernised.

The people appear to be on the whole very friendly – and all fashion savvy – except for unshaven taxi drivers with gold teeth.

Another taxi adventure occurred when we attempted to go to the Eurovision venue – The Baku Crystal Hall to pick up our accreditation badges. The hotel booked the taxi this time, so no rip-off, but he had no idea how to get to the venue. After going down dirt tracks and stopping and asking various security personnel, we eventually got near the place. After a brisk walk in the nice warm weather (is the UK still under a cloud?) we eventually got to the accreditation booth a small distance from the Crystal Hall itself. There wasn’t a big queue, but serving one customer at a time, will take forever once a big influx of journalists arrive.

Not knowing where we were we hopped onto a bus going in the general direction of the old town where our hotel was located. Once getting off at the main Fountain Square area we chanced upon a young Eurovision volunteer who  us to our hotel. So far these volunteers get ten out of ten – and we’ll reserve judgment on taxis a while longer. Hint: best to use ‘official’ Eurovision taxis – you can’t miss them – then look like London black cabs and decorated with the Eurovision logo.

Anyway, going back to the accreditation booth, once we received our accreditation badges, we were given a press release saying that “due to logistical activities around the press centre”, doors would open tomorrow rather than today for the press. Sounds as if something isn’t finished yet! And apparently there’s a press conference at 11.00am on Sunday morning to update journalists on various matters. Fine – except rehearsals are meant to start at that time! Maybe not  – full report tomorrow…