In recent years The Eurovision Song Contest has staged a series of parties at select cities throughout Europe to build up excitement and momentum ahead of the event itself and to extend the Eurovision season a little bit further than one stellar week in May. This year, parties were held in Moscow, Riga, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam and London, where is where this week’s enormously talented guest blogger saw a whole host of Eurovision artists old and new performing their memorable songs. Take it away VIP guest Christoph Fischer …
Thanks for having me on your blog. I’ve got big shoes to fill here, but I’ll try to make it as entertaining as possible.
It’s fantastic to see how Eurovision strives to become an ever more global and interactive event. Gone are the days of a small selected audience in a minor theatre hall. I have been to Eurovision once (in 2013) and began to realise how many side-events, parties and shows are being organised around it – many long before the contest even starts.
So this year I decided to join the pre-hype for Eurovision and attend one of the five huge parties that invite the 2016 participants to perform live on stage. Moscow, Riga, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam had already held their parties and this was the last one before the delegates head for the actual contest in Stockholm. It was a good excuse to go to the vibrant city that is London and it’s always such an odd feeling for me to find large groups of hard-core ESC fans, a rather specialised music market. Trust me, in rural Wales, where I live, the appreciation and enthusiasm for it is slim.
I splashed out for a VIP ticket, tempted by the exclusivity the name implied, and eager to get a shot at the promised “meet-and-greet photo opportunities” with the ‘stars’. Laziness was the other factor – I wanted to get a seat since the doors opened at 5 pm and closed at 2am… I’m old.
As a VIP I joined a very short queue for the early entrance option, got my gift bag and VIP pass before entering the venue. Nicki French, UK representative of 2000 (and a one-time dance and drinking partner of mine – there’s another long story) greeted everyone together with Joe and Jake – the UK act for this year. Professional photographers took pictures of all VIPs posing with those three. I have to hand it to those guys – they did a great job. The welcome was warm and fun and there was time to chat briefly and wish them well. A promising start. The Cafe De Paris has an oval shape with a VIP gallery overlooking the stage and the dance floor. I positioned myself advantageously on the balcony near the stage.
As the hall filled the DJ played an eclectic mix of classic and odd Eurovision hits: Winners, high-pointed second places and nil-pointers all got these hard core fans going. You could tell it was going to be a great night with so much enthusiasm and good will to have a good time around.
First up was Ireland – a song I hadn’t rated so highly but Nicky Byrne delivered a convincing performance that swayed me. He sang first because he had to head off to Heathrow to catch a flight but he stayed focused and calm throughout. He also came across as extremely likeable – patiently posing for selfies on his way in and keeping a humble attitude in the chats – a far cry from the big-headed pomp that sank Engelbert’s PR campaign. It was mentioned that Nick started his phenomenal Westlife career in the very Cafe De Paris in 1998, the perfect place to launch his solo career.
Kaliopi from Macedonia is a Eurovision veteran and she owned the stage. The audience loved her before she even grabbed the microphone. She’s got a phenomenal voice and a charismatic bubbly personality – it’s hard to dismiss her, despite the somewhat weak song in my opinion. Macedonia will do well in the semi’s at least.
Poli Genova from Bulgaria was another huge surprise for me. I remembered her in ESC 2011 – almost helpless, squeezed in a unlikely designer frock which was in sharp contrast to her leather rock attire and punk hair cut from the preview video. I hadn’t rated her new song in my many YouTube marathons of 2016 songs but after a few minutes of her on stage I was as much in love with her as the rest of the audience. Nobody could escape her upbeat personality – or the catchy chorus as sung by the entire audience. It has huge potential to make that all important instant impact.
Really rocking the stage also was Destiny, who won Junior ESC for Malta last year. That girl has a voice to die for and is a big bundle of energy. After reprising her song she introduced Ira Losco. The two did a short duet of the song that ‘should have won’ for Malta in 2002. I’m still not a big fan of the new song – despite liking the Swedish song writer Molly Petterson Hammer from her Melodie Festivalen Entries. Something about it doesn’t sit right with me – but I’m the minority here – Ira can sing and grab the audience and the bookmakers have confidence in her, too.
Spains singer Barei pleased the audience but left me cold. She’s got a lot of energy and is well backed in the betting, too. I’ll believe it when I see it …
Eleftheria Eleftheriou, not only sang her song from 2012, she sang a medley of Greek, Cypriot and Turkish ESC songs. The hall was heaving by then from this injection of old classics and favorites.
Speaking of which – Aminata from Latvia sang “Love Injected”, the eclectic song that finished sixth last year. She wrote the entry for this year’s Latvian entry, too. Her new material is good – albeit quite different from “Love Injected”.
I had the good fortune to sit with a group of lively Cypriots on my part of the balcony and – champagne drenched trousers aside – had a fabulous time swinging the flag and getting the attention of “Minus One”. Their song is not to be dismissed. For rock presented to cheesy music lovers this went down a storm – the howling that’s part of the song in particular really sticks to your mind and might get people to vote when you least expect it. A dark horse indeed – confident vocals and good staging.
Selma from Iceland presented her two songs from 1999 and 2005 – I’m biased here because I managed to speak with her a little later and took selfies. I loved those songs and she came across as such a lovely person.
Not far from where I sat was one of the doors to the backstage area and some of my fellow VIP’s loitered with intent to catch the unsuspecting participants and force them to take selfies. I was extremely tempted by the prospect of doing this, but watching the show was more important to me in the end.
After a break in the programme Montenegro came on. I always had a soft spot for this one. I know it isn’t going to do well. As you said in your blog post – at the right time and in the right mood this is rather enjoyable albeit it is unlikely to get many votes. The lead singers have confident vocal performances and had stage presence, though, and I hope against the odds that they can catch the audience’s attention and make it to the final.
When Zoe came on stage for Austria I knew she would be liked. A classic ESC song with great harmonies, a key change and sung in French – that had to go down well with the queens in the audience. And it did. The ovation lasted so long that Zoe began to cry as the crowd kept chanting her name. I wonder if this can be repeated in Stockholm and can translate to a good score then. In the fan club voting she is comfortably in the top half but in the polls she sits a bit lower than that.
Ovidio, the rocker for Romania, attempted to represent his country last year (with a much nicer song in my opinion) but got the nomination only this time. I don’t rate the song at all but he, too, has a stage presence and noticeable voice. Given Romania’s back record of qualifying for the final – I find it hard to dismiss him. He tirelessly posed for selfies and seemed a genuinely natural entertainer. The lead singer from Cyprus came on stage to introduce this fellow rocker. I know that good PR is part of the game but I love it when it comes off well. I’m curious if Ovidio will deliver.
Now Croatia is a country I love and seeing it doing so well in the polls has been lovely. Yet, the song is a bit simple for my liking. Nina Kraljić came on, almost shy with a most obscure frock. She gave a great vocal but else wooden performance that made me wish I had used this song for my toilet break. I understand she is a big star in her home but to other audiences her quiet sweetness and what seemed an unspoken expectation for admiration might bomb.
Michal Szpak surprised Europe when he won the Polish national final over the hot bookmaker’s pre-selection favourite (Margaret’s “Cool it down”) to win the entire contest – and over Eurovision legend Edyta Gorniak. Sitting on the gallery I’ve noticed that he was one of the few who never looked up and tried to engage with his audience. He stared ahead, sang his beautiful ballad with no falters and then left without much ado. I like the way he paints his finger nails black and generally flirts with androgyny but I had hoped for a little more charisma and interaction with the audience. Still, a great song and a strong contender, I guess.
Sweden’s Frans must be pissed off for being always introduced as little. He’s 17 – if I remember the stuff I was up to at that age, I doubt he is half as innocent as people like to think. Yes he’s cute but the song with it’s theme of revenge and anger contradicts the cheerfulness of the melody imho. He’s sweet and I wish him well, of course, coming from Sweden. They are great hosts and why not go back there next year? I’m slightly biased since I watch the Swedish heats every year and hoped for other songs to be selected. Oh those fickle Eurovisionists…
At last it was time for my pre-contest favorite – Francesca from Italy. In a year with many nice songs but few really great ones, this had my douze points written all over it. Now I’m no longer so sure.
She delivered a very focused and professional performance but it didn’t seem to have a massive impact. More an introverted artist than an extrovert performer, she accompanied herself on the keyboard for her second song – not one that rocked the hall either. It’s a beautiful song that does well in the fan polls but less so in the betting. Italy would have won a Jury vote in 2012 and the popular vote in 2015. With the upcoming changes in the voting procedure this year, this is one I will be keeping a close eye on.
Justs from Latvia also interacted little with his audience and relied on the strength of his song and voice to get a rise out of us. Strong vocals, a distinctive sound and voice and a powerful build up helped him to take the crowd with him eventually. If people stay with him long enough and don’t switch off he could do very well in Stockholm, or sink hopelessly. The song echoes last year’s a little and that could swing both ways.
Greta Salome from Iceland with her infamous fiddle had been to the London party before and the regulars at the venue welcomed her like a celebrity. She bravely asked a member from the audience to sing Jonsi’s part of their duet “Never forget’. The guy who volunteered (really?) did actually an OK performance. Then she sang her new song “Hear them calling”. She stressed that it had a ‘strong message’: that we are all good enough and winners. I need to listen to the song a few more times maybe before I get that- or get the song – but people went mad for it, too.
At last the long awaited and often referred to Amir from France came on stage to a very flirtatious hostess Nicki French. I didn’t get the song nor Amir before that night and slightly resented the hype around him. Within minutes he had won me over with his charm and his infectious energy. Powerful, interactive and blessed with a catchy chorus, this is Europe’s best hope to keep the contest 2017 in a gay friendly country (i.e. not Russia). In tribute to his second home, Israel, he delivered an energetic performance of Golden Boy from 2015. Poli from Bulgaria left the green room and hung out near the stage dancing to Amir’s songs. When he was asked to sing another song he sang the chorus of Poli’s song, who then came on stage to sing it with him. She grabbed the microphone afterwards and got us all to sing the chorus of Amir’s song. We were one big happy family.
The Albanian song was an odd choice to bring on so late in the night. The audience was hyped up and their entry, Fairytale”, turned into a small anti-climax. It was cheered on mostly by a group of Albanian waitresses from the cafe.
Kaliopi from Macedonia came back on stage for the third time, to sing her Eurovision song from 2012 to a more appreciate yet nervous crowd, waiting for the climax of the evening – the UK’s own Joe and Jake.
People like “You’re not alone” – it’s catchy and sung well. As the UK is my adopted home country I always want to do them well. I just wish there was more of a theatrical streak to the boys. The act just doesn’t stand out enough. Scott Mills came on stage to introduce them and to fire up the audience and sadly, it seemed needed. “You’re not alone” was the best song in the UK final and I do wish them well. I also wish them a favourable starting position and ideas for a great stage show….
After over five hours in the venue I was exhausted. Many people left to catch the last trains home while the DJ spun a series of dance and techno remixes of selected songs for 2016. For a pre-Eurovision party those were legitimate choices and the dance floor was packed. On the other hand, there wasn’t the same kind of enthusiasm visible as in the warm-up at 5pm. I opted to hang out near the exit where fans could try and corner one of the performers for a selfie and a quick chat.
Justs from Latvia was my first victim but he seemed to have a tough time, being pulled from one group portrait and selfie to the next. He looked overwhelmed and uncomfortable – I don’t blame him. We behaved like celebrity stunned queens and papparazzis.
Selma was my other victim and the celebrity I had most hoped to catch. She was utterly charming and happily posed with me. I had definitely gotten my money’s worth.
Would I recommend these shows to others? Yes! Every year I dismiss songs that end up doing well on the night. The X-factor is hard to judge prior to the performance of the night. These shows give you a better clue of the potential. Remember, Conchita and The Common Linnets were neither hot favourites to win the contest in 2014 and then they walked it after great semi-final performances.
Eurovision is such a big spectacle – these parties are a wonderful way to become more intimate with the participants and they bridge the long wait between selection of the songs and the event. What a fab way to make it a Eurovision Season.
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers, he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. In 1993 he moved to the UK and now lives in Llandeilo in West Wales. He and his partner have several Labradoodles to complete their family.
Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. His first historical novel, The Luck of The Weissensteiners, was published in November 2012 and downloaded over 60,000 times on Amazon. He has released several more historical novels, including In Search of A Revolution and Ludwika. He also wrote some contemporary family dramas and thrillers, most notably Time to Let Go and The Healer.
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