Weaver's Week 2011-05-15
Good evening Dusseldorf! This week's Week is coming a day early, on the grounds that if we wait until Sunday, all of this will be completely irrelevant. The country names are linked to places where their entries can be bought as MP3 files; here's the CD.
Semi-final 1, BBC3, 10 May
Well, that's Sara Cox introducing herself to the viewing hundreds, and that's Scott Mills on the mike. Outgrown Search for a Sexxbomb? Not cool enough for Bamzooki? Eurovision semi-finals it is. There are three hosts this year: a newsreader, a vicar, and a woman in a purple rug off the back seat of granny's car. She's a comedian, apparently, and begins proceedings by punching the vicar in the mush. Vicar? Oh, that's Stefan Raab.
What's the three-person equivalent of a monologue? Thank goodness for Scott talking over the top of these lot, they do go on a bit. Anyway, the people of Britain are voting in their hundreds tonight, call 09015 2222 and the number of each song. Calls cost 15p from a landline, and don't bother sending an SMS, because it doesn't work.
Finally! Song one, Poland. Never thought we'd get there. Well, technically it's the entry by state broadcaster TVP, but everyone refers to the country rather than the broadcaster, so we'll do the same. Magdalena Tul and her backing dancers have been the victims of an explosion in a washing powder factory, and we're a little unconvinced about their collective ability to hold the song in key. It's an uptempo disco number, not really anything special. The semi-final draw effect works against early songs, and this has no chance.
Number two, Norway. Stella Mwangi has a sort of African beat mediated through decades of European experience, and we wouldn't have been surprised if France had offered it first. The singer has a weak voice, especially when compared to the backing track, but it's bouncy and it's got a tremendous earwig quality: if this qualifies, and if it gets a late draw on Saturday, the sky's the limit. They're releasing stage glitter already!
Albania next, Aurela Gace invites us to feel the passion. She sings with lots of passion, but we find it went on a bit. The main stage is a raised circular platform with sloping sides, probably about three feet above the audience, and perhaps the size of a football pitch's centre circle. Behind it is a video display wall, not the individual mini-monitors we had last year but the squillion-light wall from Moscow a couple of years back. The floor also displays video patterns.
"Boom boom" go Armenia, who have sent Basil Brush. No! It's Emmy, who is appearing as a boxer, entering the stage from in a boxing-glove chair. It's the first disrobing of the night when she removes her red robe, and her four male backing dancers also remove their shirts in short order. The song ends with the dancers making a boxing ring from out of their belts. More Euro-standard disco, a lyric that doesn't have much meaning. Could go places, and this *is* diaspora-friendly Armenia.
More Box Clever than box clever.
Turkey have song 5, and Scott reminds us that they came second last year. Yuksek Sadakat is the singer of a Scary Rock band, complete with on-stage fire and a contortionist inside an Atlasphere trying to find the key. It's Euro-rock, but not the loud and offensive sort: there's a tune in there, like Lordi a few years ago. Like Magna last year, really. Feels like it could go through, but it'll be tight.
At this point, Europe takes a commercial break, and the BBC's woman on the spot previews some of the features they'll be bringing us later in the show. But first, Coxy shows us how to get from the arena to the commentary box. Yes, it's Sara Cox's Guide to Climbing Some Stairs. There's a BBC3 theme night in there, mark our words.
You wouldn't catch Jet putting up with this.
Serbia appear next, Nina sings a song translated as "Magical". And, thanks to the magic of Eurovision, we're taken back to the 1971 contest, when everyone had suddenly discovered that colour television allowed one to show colours, and they use every one in the book: backing singers in pencil dresses in bright colours, and an entirely disconcerting coloured tunnel effect on the video screen. Consider this a Spew Warning, and not just from the video effect. The song is also a throwback to 1971. Er, no.
Another former winner, Russia, is represented by Alexej Vorobjov, winner of The X-ski Factor, with a song part-written by Red One. Scott suggests that we sing "Just dance", and we'll get the gist. He's quite clearly entering into a Battle of the Quiffs with Jed and Ward. It's always good to see past friends from Harry Hill's TV Burp, and this performance has a cameo from The Amazing Scene-Stealing Door. Qualifying, because it's Russia; not much on Saturday, because even the gimmick's not very good.
Hello, Switzerland. Anna Rossinelli has been "In love for a while", it begins with a ukelele solo and a bubble machine on the stage. It's a lovely sweet song, even if it goes into "na na na na na" territory before half-way. Just before the postcards, we're seeing a very quick shot of the next performers. The clips are from various touristy sites of Germany, illustrated with model villages, showing some people from the competing country, and conclude with a message in the language of the next country. Or, for Switzerland, languages. Back to the song, it's a bit too nice, but it'll be in the qualification shakeup.
Georgia are back, with what Scott calls "humanity's darkest hour". Eldrine are the performers, a light-goth band who fire up the wind machine from the get-go. Shiny warning for the light show here, folks, it goes a bit mad from time to time. It's more lively than Turkey's effort, and there might not be room in the final for both of them.
Song ten, Finland. Paradise Oskar sounds like a cousin to the Georgian entry, but it's actually a charming little lad, going for the Cute vote. Or the Patrick Kielty lookalike vote. The song will help, it's a Save The World song, illustrated by a picture of the Earth rising behind the singer, and the camera pulls back ... and pulls back ... and pulls back. That's the gimmick, that's qualifying.
Malta's Glen Vella has tried five times to enter this competition, and always been knocked back. After many years of disappointment (and Malta really try hard), they'll want a final qualification in Valetta tonight. Not with this Thunderbirds puppet. Eighties throwback disco, he loves us all. What's Valetta like at this time of year? Tell you in 2013.
San Marino next, and Senit is their representative. The song is called "Stand by", and if we were making cruel jokes, we'd say that it's what we wanted the television to do. But that would be a fib: it's a moody number, soulful and turning the staging into a mountain of dry ice. It's just a bit forgettable, and with six plausible qualifiers already, she might yet miss out. But this is why we have Voting Lines Open Now: call, register a Like for San Marino, then move on to something else. Democracy for the The Facebook generation.
Unlucky 13 for Croatia, another country that takes Eurovision really seriously. The song is called "Celebrate", which can only bring to mind the disaster that was Piero and the Tweenies, no points in a field of 22. Daria's the performer, and she's dyed her hair blonde and ditched the specs since we last saw her. There's a fairly obvious "magic" trick, and the singer's the first to dismount from the dais and walk a little way into the crowd. All a bit Eurostandard, but then it is Croatia. Might just make it.
Iceland present the night's sob story, Sjonni's Friends perform a song written by Sjonni, who died in January this year. Six middle-aged blokes in waistcoats and playing an oopah-band song: it's almost a works outing for the Matchroom Mob. Or the blokes from Glee. Or Texas Lightning from a few years ago. Might just do it.
We're on a break, and Coxy's talking to Blue. We note that the Tw*tter trending tags include #bbceurovision, the Dutch tag #songfestival, and terms relating to the Norwegian and Turkish entries. "IJsland is erg aandoenlijk", apparently.
15! Kati Wolf represents Hungary, and before her song – and before every song – there's a ten-second heartbeat motif, apparently to raise the tension, but really to annoy the hell out of Europe. Get on with it, it'll be ten minutes of our life you're wasting by Saturday night. Lots of screeching, Kati's wearing a shower curtain, lots of flying laser beams, and three people wearing white trakkies are jumping about the stage for no adequately explored reason. "What about my life? What about me?" she sings. What about a decent song, mush? Mid-90s dance won't take her through.
Here come the nutters. After a run of remarkable success, Portugal have sent a comedy troupe, performing a song about unemployment in their home country. Homens da Luta perform "The struggle is joy", look like the Village People on a protest march, and with a reversible placard in each hand, that's sixteen languages they cover. Completely bonkers, probably a bit too bonkers to go through. "Is dit serieus portugal?" writes one Tw*ttererer.
Lithuania are next up, and Evelina Sasenko's song is performed in Lithuanian, English, and sign language. We had Swahili from Norway, now we have signing singing. And what appears to be a Jade Ewen copyist. Her song is so dull that the BBC caption for the phone number has fallen asleep and doesn't appear for several seconds.
Azerbaijan are the penultimate performers, one of Ell and Nikki has roots in London, and the performance begins with the singers and backing dancers all lining up and waving their arms about. Very GCSE drama. It's another explosion in a washing powder factory, and it does get better. It's soft rock, the sort of thing Annie Lennox might push out in her sleep, and we do actually rather like this. Going through, obviously: the late draw and diaspora ensure that. For the overall wonning? Well, here's a Dutch tweet: "Wooooo Azerbijan is GOODD!"
And finally! Greece have Loucas Yiorkas and Stereo Mike. One of them is a loud rapper in the vein of 50 euro cent, the other is a baritone (or tenor) performing well within his range. And there are some dancers in sharp suits. "Griekenland met DJ Fallaffel". Probably going through for being Greece and last, but they so clearly don't want to host this next year.
Right, back to the hosts, who remind us how to vote. Lines are open for another 15 minutes, so they close at 9.48, after 100 minutes of international televoting. During the break, we see Scott backstage at the Blue rehearsal. Gosh, was that a recap in the 4:3 safe area? And does that mean the BBC3 logo is offscreen for people with badly set-up sets?
While the rest of Europe enjoys the interval act of drumming, the BBC shows us an interview with Jedward, building up their rivalry with Blue. Well, we say it's an interview but Scott manages to be Mister No Questions, just waving his microphone about. Sara Cox is talking with The Twins from Slovakia, who we'll see on Thursday, and the singer from Romania, who is actually from Newton Aycliffe. Elsewhere, Manchester City have beaten Tottenham to confirm their top-four finish, Luton have booked their place in the Football Conference play-off final, Rangers beat Dundee Utd, and Hamilton are down. And viewers to The Apprentice You're Fired on BBC-HD will have to wait because this contest is over-running badly.
We haven't even had the Big Five preview, or the news from the pink room. Or the address from Jon Ola Sand, TV's new Mr Eurosong. Going through: Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Switzerland, Hungary, Finland, Russia, and Iceland. End of the road for Norway, there's a vacancy in Portugal for a decent song, Turkey are rocked off the road, and Poland miss out. It's also a death-knell for the myth of German efficiency – they're just as good at running late as anyone else.
Tuesday's semi-final was marked by technical glitches: most national commentators were unable to commentate until about half-way through the show. This wasn't a problem for UK viewers, where Scott Mills was working in the BBC Euro-Cupboard.
For Irish viewers, though, the programme went on with Marty Whelan holding his peace. That's until he called Donnybrook on his mobile phone and got himself patched on air. Mobile phones don't sound as good as regular lines, and RTÉ had to put up captions apologising for the poor quality of the sound. There's poor-quality sound coming out of your television set. And then the commentator speaks up...
As it's Thursday, and Ireland are competing, we're going to do our usual and listen to the RTÉ Radio 1 commentary. Last year's host Maxi has had to retire through poor health, and we wish her well. Shay Byrne and Zbyszek Zalinski are both in Dublin, so no danger of the line going down. Listeners and viewers in Ireland! Call 15137172 followed by your song's number, or SMS that number to 53125. Calls and SMS messages each cost 60 cent, and a maximum of 20 votes per line.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are sending Dino Merlin, the bloke who wrote their national anthem, except that it fell out of favour and was replaced a few years later. It's — well, it's got a good beat, and a good tune. It's a far stronger start than Tuesday. We're actually running about four minutes earlier than Tuesday, the presenters' opening spiel has been cut short.
"We're trying to get to Mariah Carey" is the warning for Nadine Beiler, the singer for Austria. It's tremendously middle-of-the-road, a big power vocal exercise that, yes, has the singer showing off her remarkable vocal range towards the end. Doesn't do much for us.
While the Irish commentators are talking about Nadine's tight black dress, we're up to the entry from the Netherlands. 3JS look like a band from the local bar, according to Zbyszek. If we remember rightly, the Dutch have never got out of the semi-finals since they were instituted. Can't quite see this changing, the song sounds like the first half of an epic number by the Simple Minds – perhaps it's the cliche-strewn lyric – but has to stop after three minutes. The second part could be better, but we'll never hear it.
Belgium. (washes mouth out with soap and water.) Witloof Bay are this year's entrants, there's six of them, they're dressed in formal evening wear, and they're performing a capella. Eurovision is littered with the discarded dreams of broadcasters people who thought this was a smart move. This song sounds a bit like "Hit the road Jack", it turns into a passable jazz number, but three reasons why it won't go through. It's Belgium, it's up early, it's a capella.
Viewers to the BBC coverage saw Twiins do their party trick with Sara Cox on Tuesday. They're representing Slovakia, and not only have they suffered from an explosion in a washing powder factory, but their skirts have shrunk in the wash. The song is a sweet confection, very undemanding, and with some lovely harmonies. Possibly a bit too sweet for the European taste, but this has Huge written all over it. Definite possibilities.
During the first commercial break, one of the hosts is talking with fans from the qualified countries.
And now, Eurovision is graced by the presence of Mika! We could be brown, we could be blue, we could be — what? There's *another* Mika? Mika Newton? And she's a woman? Remarkable. The gimmick here is someone in a purple dress drawing in a tray of sand, and the picture being projected onto the giant video screen behind her. All this time, the eagle-winged Mika sings about something. We're not sure what. Very atmospheric, and would ace the Eurovision Artsy Contest. Unless the BBC sent The Hare.
Moldova next, and Zbyszek is giving a coded message to the Polish diaspora. "It's a bit of a visual extravaganza", so that'll work well on the radio. We've got Zdob si Zdub, the blokes from the drumming granny a few years ago, now with huge black traffic cones on their head. We've got a faintly sub-Def Leppard sound, and we've got quickly-flashing lights that might make the radio the preferred option. Oh, and there's someone on a unicycle, for no adequately explored reason. Giving Ukraine a run in Don't Out-weird the Hare, there.
Right, it's Sweden next. Erik Saade wants to be "Popular". Apparently, he looks like a celebrity chef in Ireland, one we've never heard of. We say he looks like that well-known insect singer Cricket Martin. More flashy lights, and Eric is protected from his backing dancers by some safety glass. There are a couple of backing vocalists standing at the very edge of the dais, and we wonder just how much of the vocal they're providing. Will he be unable to break glass and remain stuck in his safety glass prison and left to rot? Don't be offended by our frank analysis: quite possibly.
Cyprus are represented by Christos Mylordos and his backing band, and they're using both the main stage and a smaller dais in the middle of the crowd. The small stage has a woman playing a squeezebox, then the main stage has five men in black vests singing a mournful song and swaying in the wind, in line with the backing video. More great presentation. Oh, not a squeezebox, but a ball and chain for the woman to swing round her head. We have absolutely no idea what's going on here.
And now the woman with the chain has to yield the central spot to one of the hosts. Shay explains how the voting works, and promises we'll recap it another eight million times.
Bulgaria have sent a song inspired by Avril Lavigne and Pink. It's performed by Poli Genova, a group whose singer would pass for Pink. At a bit of a distance, and if you weren't looking closely. We half expect the song to burst into a Katy Perry number at points, it has rock-out moments but it also has piano moments. The singer leaves the main stage and goes a little way to the smaller dais. Hmmmm. This has promise. Especially if the singer suffers a greater wardrobe malfunction.
Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of) are next, Vlatko Ilievski is one of the country's most popular singers, but then the country has fewer people than does Birmingham. His backing singers have turned up in a white-and-red uniform, he's in a suit without a tie. Almost inevitably, there's a squeezebox-and-megaphone interlude, before the whole thing ends with the Greek version of Riverdance.
Jedward are due onstage at 9.16, we're advised: that's 25 minutes away. The first former winner competing in the competition this year is Dana International, performing a song called "Ding dong". It's another Hebrew-English mixture, and though the crowd love it, it's quickly clear that Israel's message to the continent is "never go back". You can't recapture the spark, not after fourteen years.
Onwards and upwards. Ten years of tugging on their ears have given no luck to Slovenia, who this year have sent Maja Keuc performing "No one". The song starts slowly and builds to a tremendous climax; we're reminded of Anastacia for some reason. Crushing. Apparently, it's not a metallic bra, just a metallic fabric.
Hotel FM are from Romania, as we noted on Tuesday their singer is from County Durham. They're quite clearly going for the ABBA memorial vote, with a song that bears more than a passing resemblance to "Waterloo" – similar tempo, similar chord progressions, similar fashions to the 1976 edition of "Top of the Pops" we saw earlier, even a bloke banging away at the piano. Might yet be in the shake-up come Saturday.
We're thirteen minutes away from Jedward, and that's time for a commercial break. Euroviewers hear more mashed-up bits of Eurohits, the BBC show clips of Blue and Lena jamming together. But not "Waterloo" sung to the tune of "Smoke on the water".
We'll get back to the show, shall we? Estonia are song 15, Getter Jaani is the youngest performer of the night, she's singing about Manhattan while dressed in a pink harlequin dress. And performing magic, the old hankie-into-a-cane trick. After an inauspicious start, the song reveals itself as a primary-coloured disco stomper with a few dodgy lighting effects.
Next up are Belarus, Anastasia Vinnikova and her backing dancers are performing a song called "I Love Belarus". We didn't expect a huge following for hippie/crusty bands in Eastern Europe, and their song – a disco stomper that repeats the title as often as possible – sounds nothing like the Levellers' 1993 hit single. It does sound an awful lot like Ireland's 2009 entry "Et cetera". What? It's an appeal to the Belarussian diaspora? Only one problem there.
Latvia have sent Musiqq, with a song performed by two blokes sitting on bar stools. One of them is dressed in braces and a bow-tie, and Zbyszek reckons he looks like someone called Justin Beaver. The other has big glasses and a bigger hat. Snotty bratty punk? No, sadly, it's an unexceptional contemporary dance tune with a showing off high note at the end. If it squeezes through, it'll be because it's 17th in the draw.
Four minutes to Jedward, but first it's Denmark. "A serious outside bet for the title, fronted by a Sir Billiam of Idol look-alike" is Shay's description of the band A Friend In London. This is the soft rock contender for the second half of the broadcast, owing more than a little something to My Chemical Romance circa 2006, albeit without the sharp visual image. This is going places.
And finally, it's Jedward! As we've noted, the RTE commentators are a little excited, and apparently they're shorter odds to win the final (for which they've not qualified) than to win the semi (where they're performing now). Dodgy shiny warning, and song that would sound an awful lot better if there wasn't some Algerian warbling over the top. (Goes back and listens to it again on Friday. Maybe not.) The boys give it everything they've got, but the video screen is tremendously busy, and we're just getting the feeling that they might actually be squeezed out.
And that, children, is that. You can go to bed now, your lads have performed, and don't be scared by their hair. The grown-ups have the recaps and another fifteen minutes of voting to go. On the European feed, one of the hosts is talking at Jedward but not making Scott Mills' mistake of letting them speak. That's why she's hosting the UK show and he's stuck in a cupboard in London. BBC viewers get to see Blue, and not the super-postcard from the Dusseldorf Tourist Board. Or hear the Irish radio hosts discuss the contender wearing a backless shirt and leather trousers, or the strong chances for the French song.
The Irish viewers get another recap, the BBC are talking to many of the performers from tonight and from Tuesday. And we're going to adjust our aerial, because that Algerian is still annoying us. It's no wonder Atlantic 252 failed. Are we ready to do the David Dimbleby moment? The polls have closed, Europe has voted, and Coxy is completely ignoring it and talking to Hungary's entrant.
One of the hosts asks Stefan Raab to name two things that don't go together. "England and penalty shoot-outs!" Ah, the wit and wisdom of Germany's Nick Knowles there. "Germans and humour! Women and technology! Breakdance and classical music!" It's a link into the breakdance to classical music performance that is the interval act. Look, this really isn't going to work on the radio, is it? Ad break. Coxy is talking to more performers, and swaps bad hairstyles with the Serbian entry. While they're on breaks, we'll check the football scores: ooh, disaster for Mr. Lordi, as Rovaniemi lose their match 2-1 to Jyvaskyla.
A hundred million, a hundred and twenty five million people might be viewing on Saturday: the radio listenership in Ireland is estimated at about five. We'll thank you, chaps! Scott Mills is talking to Dana International in front of a sponsor's billboard; the radio are filling by playing last year's winning song. The Beeb do show us a brief clip of the interval act, almost a whole two seconds of it. Then the publicity for the Big Five, and a quick chat with Lena who is having so much fun, and introducing the other competitors and plugging the CD, DVD, and high-definition disk. Nothing from the green room tonight.
With the traditional maximum of fuss, but somewhat quicker than on Tuesday, the qualifiers are: Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Ireland — and they're dancing on the streets of Donnybrook already — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Austria, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Sweden.
Well, that's spoiled Shay's night, Slovakia are out already; we're sad not to hear Bulgaria again. Goodbye to Israel, farewell to Macedonia, and how large is the Belarus diaspora? Two people, and they're both in Russia, who don't vote tonight. Fail!
Here's the draw in full:
|01||Finland||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Denmark||Lithuania||Hungary|
This Week And Next
We regret to report the death of George Webley. The BBC local radio presenter was also a band leader, performer, and composer; his best-known work is probably the theme to Have I Got News for You.
Congrats to Nick Hall, Luc Houselander, Simon Brickle, and Jody Smith. They've won a BAFTA Craft award for the web game on The Million Pound Drop Live. Congrats also to Nick Foster, Julian Healy, Peter Johnston, Barry Osment, who have won the Entertainment Craft Team award for their work on The Cube.
Congratulations also to Fighting Talk, named Best Sports Programme at the Radio Academy awards this week. It means that talking about sport is better than any actual coverage of people on pitches. Which in turn means there's absolutely no point in anyone showing the FA Cup final today. Do we get the job at STV, then?
Last Saturday's edition of Britain's Got Talent featured a contestant miming to pre-recorded music. An electric violinist was featured on the programme, apparently playing a cover of a track by classical crossover act Bond. However, instead of hearing the contender playing to a backing track, viewers heard exactly the same tune as on Bond's album. The contestant subsequently confirmed that the album track had been played in its original version, and that her playing should have appeared over the top. But, to the untrained ear, it probably didn't.
We're not going to criticise the violinist here: it's clear that she was woefully misadvised, and has learned a hard lesson in a very public arena. No, this is yet another failure by the producers. Last month, a flustered PR flunkey allowed us to report that the critical panel on Britain's Got Talent have not denied claims that the programme exploits its contestants. Now, it's clear that the producers are prepared to fib to the British public. If this show were on the BBC, such blatant lying would ensure it had been taken off by now.
Ratings for the week to 1 May have arrived, and show Britain's Got Talent remains the most popular game show, 9.25m saw it. Masterchef's final was seen by 6.6m. There was no HIGNFY, BBC1 ran an experimental show called "The Royal Wedding"; viewing figures were down by a million and we don't think they'll be having another edition soon. That leaves The Cube in third place with 3.5m. The Million Pound Drop Live was the biggest show on the minority channels, and achieved 2.05m for both Friday and Saturday shows, a smidge ahead of Great British Menu. The Come Dine With Me street party special had 1.8m tuning in, and Three In A Bed recorded a years-best 1.45m.
Celebrity Juice had 1.95m viewers on Thursday night. That's an awful lot of viewers, and would have made the top 10 of all shows on BBC2, Channel 4, or Channel 5. Britain's Got More Irrelevance had a mere 1.31m, and Talent HD scored 950,000. A League of Their Own and Come Dine on More4 took a million eyeballs each. Down the list, we're pleased to see Cash Cab (UK) score 10,000 viewers at 6.30 in the morning on Quest+1. By reaching the published list, these five-year-old programmes are more successful than Don't Scare the Hare.
Coming up this week, it's that annual exhibition of pan-European culture in the Eurovision Song Contest (Saturday 8pm). Before that, So You Think You Can Dance moves to its new early-evening spot, wrapped around a well-regarded CBBC production. Don't Scare the Hare moves to the spot vacated by Final Score. There's another new series of Just a Minute (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday), a run of Dating in the Dark (UK Living, 9pm Tuesday), and not one, not two, but three news quizzes on Friday evening. Really, we're spoiled. Budget cuts reach game show land, as the top prize in Dave's new quiz is a frozen chicken. That's Compete for the Meat, 9pm Thursday.
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