Lisbon, Fado and Eurovision

I’ve had a lot of time to write on buses in this past week. But, a lot of time does not necessarily equate to a lot of output. Instead, I simply chilled and slept as I travelled from Murcia to Madrid and then onwards into Portugal and Eurovision.

I write this from a small terrace outside a tiny supermarket at the top of a hill in Lisbon. I’m drinking a can of Sagres, a treat having just walked up a monster of a mountain lugging my current life possessions as I go. Yes, it’s been over a month now that I’ve been living out of a suitcase. Mad-dog woman has yet to vacate the villa in Spain. It’s making me resilient but possibly a bit homesick. 

This little terrace is great though. I’m sat with old men who are chatting amongst themselves. Their skins are all sun-weathered and they are all smoking the dregs of roll-ups. They’ve been puffing on the same butt for twenty minutes at least. 

From across the road, I can hear a woman singing. The houses here are stunning, painted in beautiful pastel shades or artistically tiled. And I suspect this isn’t even a posh area. They all have ornate iron balconies and some sport flower baskets. Is this the famed Fado that the woman sings? It sounds sad enough; as if she mourns for a lost lover from her past. The men stamp their smokes out and clap as is customary when she finishes. 

Tonight I head to the first Eurovision semi-final. Current betting suggests we might all be heading to Cyprus next year. Every now and then, a fan of the contest, draped in the flag of their country walks by. It feels odd – two strong cultures clashing and not entirely meeting. I’m sure that the city of Lisbon welcomes the extra fame and tourism that the contest will bring. Fans of Eurovision could do well to take a minute to sit and watch the world go by. 

 

Back to school with the FB LSC group

Today I went back to school for the first time in over 25 years to learn a bit of Spanish. At 08:00, when the Enforex school opened the doors on us new starters, I was standing firmly outside of my comfort zone on Alicante’s esplanade. Initial assessment confirmed that I’m an absolute beginner (I took a test and guessed a lot) but my anxiety and nervousness soon crumbled as I got into the swing of things. By the time that five hours had passed I had to concede that I’d enjoyed the whole experience – and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s instalment.

 

For over a year now, I’ve been part of a closed Facebook group. FB LSC looked like lots of fun when I heard about it back in 2017. The idea’s a relatively simple one – a group of people keen to hear new music and to be pushed out of their comfort zones get together virtually to listen and comment upon new tunes nominated anonymously by others in the group. It all takes the form of a monthly song contest and (one of the immediate pulls for me) the scoring is based on the Eurovision point system. 

After getting the hang of things by awarding my points in one contest (FB LSC 24) I was able to nominate a track in the next. I thought I was playing it safe going for a solid number from the back catalogue of The Lovely Eggs but it didn’t register much interest from the other panel members and limped home in 15th (out of 19 songs) place. The winners of that contest by some margin were The Babe Rainbow, a band I’d not heard of before but was happy to be introduced to. 

The LSC was founded by Conor Fanning. He still participates in the contest and was happy to provide a bit of background.

“I initially set up the group on last.fm. I cannot take credit for the idea as it is based on the Eurovision voting structure and there are other versions of this idea on the internet. The reason I set it up was I missing a social connection with fellow people who were passionate about music. Through the medium of last.fm I felt it was appropriate. What came from it was not simply just a means to express individual taste but also to form a community. During those days we were on average between 25-30 participating members. And the group as a whole had up to 400 members. The community aspect built from the live shows, people would comment and chat live as the songs were posted. It was a fun environment. It was particularly enjoyable for those who were open-minded to other genres and people’s negative comments on their entries. There were some members who appeared to take these personally sometimes and left the group. What was interesting was you would usually see a band of supporters actually emerge to encourage members like this to not take comments personally. The group also offered a general forum for discussion topics and lots and lots of games. This was a very active space that allowed members participating or new and old members to build a community-like environment outside of the contest. I honestly put a lot of heart into that group on last.fm so when last.fm removed the group function I was rather bummed out. The group on Facebook – I’m not involved with the administration side of it. I was actually asked by Martin for permission to carry it over to Facebook.”

Martin takes over the story:-

“I’ve been involved in the contest since 2010 and the fifth contest back when it was on the old last fm site.  At that time we were few in number.  Conor was the founder and Jens has been involved since the inception I think.  For me it’s provided a group of people who are passionate about an exceptionally wide range of music.  It’s opened my horizons to genres that I would previously never have even considered exploring.  It’s allowed me to look outside of the English speaking world and find some incredible artists from other nations.  It’s inspired my love for nordic female led folk/acoustic music and spurred me on to explore electronica in much more detail than I had previously.  To top if off, as well as being an excellent vehicle for musical discovery, it is peopled by a bunch of thoroughly decent folks.  There is no nastiness and everyone is free to disagree with each other on the songs.  When that happens it is nearly always done respectfully and it is good to get other perspectives.  I’ve been one of the hosts now for a long time and when Last fm ruined itself and got rid of the social aspect it was me that started up the facebook group. Jens and I then oversaw the migration to here from last and even prompted a few people to actually set up their first FB accounts just so they could stay involved.”

It’s fair to say that the track record of the tunes I’ve entered to date hasn’t been spectacular. Winning is obviously for muppets but I’m yet to come close. I’ve not even scraped inside the top five and one or two of my entries (which shall remain anonymous) have been placed last (although not with nil points). I randomly entered a song by Nahko that I was somewhat ambivalent about and his musing on dragonflies came in sixth overall – my best effort to date. A PR company has just sent me details about his new track; Hamakua resonates with me more. 

 

 

To get a sense of the latest LSC playlist, you can look here on YouTube. 

 

 

Why don’t you take a step outside of your comfort zone today, challenge yourself with something new and throw yourself into this fine bit of social network fun? To join, search for LSC General group on Facebook and request membership. Martin or Jens will then sort you out with what you need. Or, if that sounds too complicated just speak to me. Hasta pronto.

ESNS – A Wednesday review

I’ve arrived safely in Groningen. It’s been a long day of travel, sometimes fraught with fear of missing connections, yet somehow I’ve got here ahead of schedule. In truth, I could do with sleep after checking into my lovely digs but there’s an action-packed evening of bands to see on Eurosonic’s Wednesday and I’m up for that challenge.

I flit from venue to venue, confident in the layout, having largely.got my bearings last year. The main result – Sean sees lots of great ‘up and coming’ music and by the end of the evening is a little bit drunk.

(To read on click on page 2)

 

Eurovision – The Final Countdown

Flashback – I am sat in a school assembly. The Deputy Head spins a record and encourages us all to sing along to the words. The words are projected on an overhead projector. We all know the tune. It’s mass karaoke before karaoke was widely known about. ‘A little loving, a little giving, a little peace‘, we all sing as we attempt to emulate Nicole from Germany and her winning Eurovision entry. 

The borders and the countries have changed in the 58 years that Eurovision has been running – but the message from Nicole shouts out stronger than ever. It’s just such a shame that, by and large, the lyrical content for songs in this years Eurovision is so dire (Iceland’s entry is at least naively different). 

I’m reminded of that game you sometimes see on fridges at parties and wonder if there is an Eurovision equivalent. A box of metallic phrases and words that can be rearranged into any order and stuck to your fridge in an effort to help struggling songwriters come up with their lyrics for their songs. In 2014’s bag of words,we have lots of ‘hearts’, ‘tons of ‘time’, a few ‘storms’ and a supply of ‘worlds’ and ‘universes’. Painting by numbers.

 The Easter weekend is nearly over. It’s almost time to head back to work at which point ‘normal’ service will resume for this blog. I’ll cover the local, the national and international that’s caught my ear. I hope that this Eurovision diversion hasn’t been too painful. Just another ten to go.

 

28. Netherlands – The Common Linnets – Calm After The Storm

The Dutch go all Country on us and give us a song that wouldn’t sound out of place if Bob Harris played it. I don’t know how many ‘highways’ there are in Holland but this is driving along one of them complete with slide guitar. I like the fact it sounds unique amongst the Europop but the tank runs out of petrol before we get to Copenhagen and we need to hitch a lift. By which i mean, it’s pretty boring.

 

29. Norway – Carl Espen – Silent Storm

See what I mean about the use of the word ‘storm’? This is a rock/pop ballad and it’s duller than Dutch dishwater. Carl tells us that he has a ‘silent storm inside‘ him. I reminded of the phrase ‘silent, but deadly’ and can only suggest that he changes his diet before arriving in Denmark if he wants to impress Ruth Lorenzo.

 

30. Poland – Donatan & Cleo – My Slowianie

Starting like something out of  ‘Hairspray’ and then heading into M.I.A. territory, these Polish girls at least sound excited about representing their country. It all goes a bit tap dance on a merry go round in a fairground in the strange middle section before the girls come back and translate what they were saying in the first verse. Interesting so doubt it’ll win.

 

31. Portugal – Suzy – Quero Ser Tua

Portugal take us back to the 80’s and give us something akin to ‘Tarzan Boy’ quality, happy pop. This is the sort of tune that’ll get played this summer in beach resorts – the sort of beach resort that I never want to go to.

 

32. Romania – Paula Seling and OVI – Miracle

I played this tune to my 17 year old son, Ollie. He thinks it sounds like a winner, not because he likes it but because it’s the sort of song that’ll pick up votes. Mark his words. “I got a feeling and I want to believe it’s magical“, sings either Paula Seling or OVI. I can assure you that it’s not and in my opinion, it’ll take a miracle for you to win. 

 

33. Russia – Tolmachevy Sisters – Shine

The Tolmachevy Sisters from Russia are “telling all the world to show some love”. I guess this is only if it’s of the heterosexual variety eh Putin? The most interesting thing about this will be to see which countries vote for it and which are about to be invaded. I’m sure that the Tolmachevy sisters are lovely as well. 

 

34. Sweden – Sanna Nielsen – Undo

Sanna’s songwriters have clearly been playing the fridge game as we get both ‘silent’ and ‘storm’ in the first line of the song. Sanna then proceeds to ‘undo’ all of Abba’s great work from forty years ago with a dull piano ballad. Sweden could offer so much more to this. 

 

35. Slovenia – Tinkara – Round And Round

Bonus points for the use of assorted whistles and pipes over the standard Euro dance track. “I’m going to show you how to breathe“, offers Tinkara generously. “Thanks Tinkara – and once you’re done with that, I’ll show you how to sing an interesting song?” I reply.

 

36. San Marino – Valentina Monetta – Maybe (Forse)

Way back when I started this preview,I noted that Austria’s entry sounded like a song that should accompany Sean Connery era James Bond films. This is from that ilk but should accompany George Lazenby era James Bond films. ‘Maybe’ it’ll do well. ‘Probably’ it won’t.

 

37. Ukraine – Mariya Yaremchuk – Tick Tock

Wahey – we’re there. I can’t begin to tell you how happy this makes me feel. In this one, Mariya entertains us by seeing how many words she can rhyme with ‘Tock’. I’ve got a couple more for Mariya. Crock of cock. Seriously though, I hope that this is a good year for the Ukraine. A little peace.

 

It’s harder to pick two songs today. Let’s go home along the Dutch Country roads and then perk ourselves up with Donatan and Cleo from Poland. This video of the tune gives a different edit to the song they’ll be performing on the night. 

 

 

Eurovision – On The Third Day

When I was seventeen, I went on an international youth conference to Israel. I will always remember getting into the strangest of conversations with a small group of Israeli students on that October night. Of the many things we might have discussed in that Jerusalem campsite, we settled on one topic; The Eurovision Song Contest. 

As discussed in earlier blogs, I had a fair grounding in all things Eurovision but my knowledge paled into insignificance compared to these geeks. Bearing in mind that the contest had happened six months earlier, I found it a little unsettling that campfire companions knew the words and the melody to the UK entry that had spectacularly bombed back home. Even more disturbing was the fact that they were able to give me a note perfect rendition of that years entry from Belgium, something that the Belgium entrant on the night had been unable to do. 

I hadn’t stumbled into the Eurovision branch of Israeli Youth either. Such knowledge was widespread and expected amongst your typical teenager. Often on Easter Sundays since (seeing as the main action took place in that neck of the woods), whilst others are munching away at their chocolate eggs, I ponder the much more important questions of the day – do the youth of Israel still hold the Eurovision Song Contest in such high regard or has the subsequent emergence of Dana International dampened their collective enthusiam? 

 

 But I’m waffling again. Today is all about songs 19 to 27 in the 2014 Eurovision rundown. There are some classics here and appropriately we begin with:- 

 

19. Israel – Mei Finegold – Same Heart

Strangely, this does sound very similar to Heart, the 80’s ‘rock’ legends. I think Mei probably needs to book an appointment in with a medical practitioner pronto. Opening with ‘You fill me up with poisoned love’ (not healthy), she then tells us, with an air of disappointment that ‘we don’t beat from the same heart‘ (normal, quite healthy). File under poodle rock.

 

20. Iceland – Pollaponk – No Prejudice

Yes, yes, yes. Cartoon, bubblegum pop punk with a lyric that captures the naive spirit of Eurovision perfectly. Pollaponk instruct us that we should ‘do away with prejudice, cross this problem off our list’. It simply doesn’t matter to Pollaponk if ‘Perhaps you’re thinner, or one who likes your dinner‘. When the funky guitar kicks in after two minutes, I am a convert to their version of equalities. Bonkers and brilliant. Will probably get nil points.

 

21. Italy – Emma – La Mia Citta

We’re back into poodle rock territory. This opens with the guitar riff from Billy Idol’s White Wedding. I bet that Emma is draped over the back of a motorbike adorned in a studded leather jacket in the video to this one. Her long, permed black hair will be blowing in the wind machine. Probably chosen by the Mafia.

 

22. Lithuania – Vilija – Attention

This is a bit dancey, a bit rocky and a bit souly. It’s also a lot shit. Vilija demands for our ‘Attention – a little bit‘. I’m sorry, you are making impossible demands on me there. 

 

23. Latvia – Aarzemnieki – Cake To Bake

The Latvians have given us an earworm. Singalong folk music on an acoustic guitar that builds into a chorus of mates singing about the delights and difficulties of baking a cake. Aarzemnieki (tip – change your name to something simpler like Abba?) tells us that he’s a master of doing difficult things such as finding Atlantis, talking to a unicorn and moonwalking on a Milky Way (don’t try this at home – your chocolate will squash) yet he doesn’t know how to bake a cake. Enter his hippie friends who think it’s a ‘piece of cake‘ to build a cake. And we all got stoned together. Eurovision heaven.

 

24. Moldova – Cristina Scarlat – Wild Soul

Another one to file under poodle rock. I am sure that in real life Cristina is a lovely person but when she sings lines like ‘I have no feelings of mercy‘ and ‘What am I? Am I human‘, I think the wise thing to do is to pass on by in an orderly fashion. Best not to rubberneck as we do. 

 

25. Montenegro – Sergej – Moj Svijet

Bonus points for Sergej for singing in a language that I don’t understand. And not resorting to ‘poodle rock’. This is a classy ballad with some form of pipe-based instrument leading the way. It invokes images of Tolkien and faraway lands. I bet Sergej looks like a hobbit. 

 

26. Macedonia – Tijana – To The Sky

More soft dance rock here. ‘Where do we go now? To the stars?’ queries Tijana. Since you’re asking, I reckon getting the first flight back to Macedonia is a better bet.

 

27. Malta – Firelight – Coming Home

 Already we’re at the end of today’s offering and it’s time to open your Easter bag of Maltesers. I’m not sure what to make of this one. Acoustic guitars, harmonicas and a Europop beat. I think Firelight are trying to inhabit that unhappy space somewhere between Mumford and Sons and Ellie Goulding. It can only possibly end in tears. It does. 

 

Again today, the two videos pick themselves. Let’s all share Pollaponks vision with less enlightened friends whilst joining Aarzemnieki around the Aga in their stable? 

 

 

 

Eurovision – part deux

I am still alive but I might need a bodyguard. Yesterday’s Eurovision post was delivered at great risk to my own personal safety. Much maligned in the U.K., we can get away with pithy comments about the contest. Our collective arrogance swells because we’ve given the world the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and One Direction! I will not be surprised if a price is already on my head from one of the former Soviet bloc countries that takes this a tad more seriously. 

Ruth Lorenzo is representing Spain in the contest. She once came fifth in the U.K’s X factor, largely because (as far as I could tell) men of a certain age and disposition were attracted to her Mediterranean charms and ample cleavage. Ruth is hoping to use that link to get ‘douze points from us’ in Copenhagen in May. She won’t be getting my vote though. Ruth once appeared at a Leicester City Football club fans village thing in advance of a friendly against Real Madrid. She mimed to a backing tape for one and a half songs before the local talent of Jersey Budd and The James Lewis Band blew her off the stage. One of her bodyguards knocked me over in her rush to get away. 

Do excuse my wittering. There are songs to review.

 

10. Estonia – Tanja – Amazing

This is far from amazing. In fact, all it is good for is a game of ‘count the clichéd lyric’. Tanja sings about how amazing it is to be weightless over the top of an Eurodisco pop track, produced in a bedroom. I bet Tanja is a bit chubby. 

 

11. Spain – Ruth Lorenzo – Dancing In The Rain

See above. It gets points in my book for being the first song I’ve reviewed so far to not be completely in English. The first Spanish verse sounds exotic and sexy but then the English begins and we learn that ‘life gets you every time’. Thanks for that Ruth. It’s pedestrian and procession like. Watch out for her bouncers.

 

12. Finland – Softengine – Something Better

In truth, I was hoping for Something Better. This is on the rock spectrum and sounds like it’s sung by somebody who makes a better living in a Frank Turner tribute band. The best that I can say about this is if I heard it a million times I still wouldn’t recognise it.

 

13. France – Twin Twin – Moustache

Can we go back to the piano ballads of yesterday please? This is French disco rap pap. The chorus bursts into English when Twin Twin tell us that they ‘wanna have a moustache‘. One that’ll do well in the gay Eurovision circles no doubt.

 

14. United Kingdom – Molly – Children Of The Universe

Yeah – we cheer collectively much like we do at the start of the football World Cup. We know that we have no chance of winning even though we buy our slot in the final. I’m sure that Molly Smitten-Downes (from Leicestershire) will give us 110% and she’ll sing her heart out.

 She’s supported Jake Bugg, Tinie Tempah and Basshunter so she’s learnt from the best. And Dean Jackson is her biggest fan. In truth, the song isn’t too bad. It begins very Lana Del Ray and I like the poetry of ‘I’ve been tired of this thinking, so I drowned it out by drinking‘. But, it quickly descends into lyrical nonsense as we learn that we’re ‘children of the universe, dancing on the edge of time.‘ Still, better than most though. 

PS – I realise the picture isn’t Molly!!

 

15. Georgia – The Shin And Mariko – Three Minutes To Earth

Sometimes Eurovision throws up something so bewildering and quirky that you can’t help but delight in it. Georgia’s entry is one of those. Beginning with a yodel that transforms into a vocal warble, this tune seems to be about a skydiving. It tries to be acoustic prog-folk over some classical guitar noodlings. Then, it calls on Bowie’s ‘Starman’ before the realisation hits that this parachute isn’t opening and we’re about to crash and die. Delightful.

 

16. Greece – Freaky Fortune Feat. Risky Kid – Rise Up

Risky Kid is a rapper. On the evidence of this offering, he should change his name to Safe Young Man. This dose of trumpet-led Euro pop swings along without really going anywhere. 

 

17. Hungary – Andras Kallay-Saunders – Running

This is horrible which probably means that it’s a favourite to win. More bland ’emotive’ Euro rock pop as Andras tells us all about a girl who is facing up to some pretty difficult times. ‘She keeps on running, running, running from this crazy life’, we’re told. And we weep at the magnitude of it all. 

 

18. Ireland – Can-Linn (feat Kasey Smith) – Heartbeat

What? No Jedward? It’s a travesty. In their place, we don’t even get that old soak, Johnny Logan. Instead Can-Linn do their best to sound like every other bland AOR track in this years Eurovision – except this has a bit of Celtic Fiddle to distinguish it from the rest. It won’t win. How many Eurovision songs have been called ‘Heartbeat’ in previous years I wonder? 

 

And, with that Day 2 of my Eurovision Easter egging draws to a close. Tomorrow will have some true highlights. Mum’s gone to Iceland and come back with a quirky punk gem whilst Latvia will be having a cake fight with Belarus. 

The two songs to highlight by video today again pick themselves. I have to support local girl, Molly… and The Shin and Mariko from Georgia is a madness that deserves extra prominence. 

Eurovision – Part one

I love the Eurovision Song Contest. I realise that such amour sets me apart from a bulk of my friends. But I can’t help myself. Bucks Fizz made my mind up on this and then Bardo pushed me one step further into what has been a lifelong appreciation of the quirks, the drama, the politics and the utter spectacle.

In recent years, I have hosted Eurovision food parties (complete with bags of Maltesers for the entry from Malta). I have insisted that birthday parties and camping trips have had a healthy gap in their schedules so that I can enjoy the contest. If this is hopeless and sad then I am guilty as charged. Diggi Loo Diggi Ley. 

Imagine my delighted squeal, when this week i was sent an advance copy of this year’s Eurovision double CD. This years contest is coming from Copenhagen. Across two semi finals and a final in May, 37 countries are taking part in the extravaganza. And over the next four days of this Easter break, I’m going to give you my views on their entries. Clearly, a considerable part of the Eurovision charm derives from the stage performances and I won’t be seeing this but each day I’ll post videos to two of the more extreme visions of Euro unity – just to whet appetites for next month. 

So, without further ado, “let’s get this show on the road… ”

 

1. Albania – Hersi – One Night’s Anger

A pleasant enough start to proceedings here. A folky start with a sweet female vocal from Hersi gives way to a faux rock climax. I can almost forgive the naff guitar solo plonked in the middle. ‘Keep calm and think twice‘, sings Hersi and I wonder if I might actually be a bit mad. 

 

2. Armenia – Aram – Not Alone

An excrutiatingly dull piano led ballad from the Armenians in which a little bird is encouraged not to cry. It almost goes into a dubstep rock thing towards the end. This isn’t a winner in my book – which probably means it stands a great chance.

 

3. Austria – Conchita Wurst – Rise Like A Phoenix

This is epic, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. It’s straight out of a Sean Connery era James Bond soundtrack. I’m not sure if Conchita is male or female based upon this vocal performance. Shirley Bassey will no doubt be envious she wasn’t born in Vienna.

 

4. Azerbaijan – Dilara Kazimova – Start A Fire

Four tunes in and already I’m losing the will to live. What is it with all of these piano led ballads? Where’s the quirkiness and the bizarre? This tune would struggle to even make an album of Coldplay B sides. Again, this probably gives it a chance of winning.

 

5. Belgium – Axel Hirsoux – Mother

More piano. Axel’s ‘coming home‘ because he’s ‘broken hearted’ and now he’s singing a frankly eerie love song to his Mum. Think Norman Bates humming a tune from The Phantom Of The Opera in a shower and you probably get the picture. Hilariously creepy.

 

6. Belarus – Teo – Cheesecake

Here we go. This is more like it. From an initial ‘Yeah Baby‘ through to mention of Patrick Swayze, this grooves along to a chorus that states, ‘I’m trying to be your sweet cheesecake‘. Pure nonsense. It also has an annoying duck like Kazoo sound. Fun but appalling.

 

7. Switzerland – Sebalter – Hunter Of Stars

Whistling over the top of banjo’s. Upbeat fiddles and handclaps. What we have here is a sub-standard Mumford & Sons – and I think Mumford & Sons are shit. ‘I am the hunter, you are the prey. Tonight I’m going to eat you up‘, sings Sebalter and I’m almost won over by the songs cannibalistic urges.

 

8. Germany – Elaiza – Is It Right? 

A poppy oompah tune. It is very much not right. But, it’s a completely inoffensive three minutes and thus will probably do quite well. Enough said. 

 

9. Denmark – Basim – Cliche Love Song

Clearly, Denmark aren’t keen to host the Eurovision again next year. Basim proceeds to spew cliches in an upbeat pop number that references ‘Katy Perry‘ and ‘putting your hands up‘. They’ll be dancing in the aisles of the sanitorium to this one.

 

 And already, we’re a quarter of the way there. Tomorrow, I’ll give my comments on Ruth Lorenzo’s Spanish entry and tell all about my brief meeting with her in a Leicester car park. And I’ll also be looking at the UK entry from Leicestershire based, Molly. People from Leicestershire always do well in Eurovision (just ask old Engelbert) so I’m expecting great things. 

The two videos for today very much pick themselves. Be astounded by the sinister entry from Belgium and giggle at Belarus’ cheesy cake.