World of Chig   

Oh. My. God.

The bassist of Chig's favourite band in the whole wide world is dead. This, below, appeared on the official website of BrainStorm (Prata Vetra) yesterday. My sincerest condolences to lead singer Reynars (host of Eurovision last year and 'My Star' of Eurovision 2000) and the rest of the band.

"We refused to believe it till the last moment but now it’s approved. Our closest friend and the bass player of BrainStorm Gundars Mausevics (Mumins) tragically passed away in a car accident. Our deepest compassion to relatives, friends and supporters of the band. All the closest events with Brainstorm’s participation are cancelled.

The farewell of BrainStorm’s bass player Muminsh (Gundars Mausevics) will be on 28th of May, 4.00 p.m. at Balozu graveyard in Jelgava. There will be specially organized bus to Jelgava at 3.00 p.m. leaving from Akademijas squere Nr. 1 in Riga."

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17.28 I am in the business lounge at Istanbul airport. I was originally scheduled to fly from here to Frankfurt at 13.55. but I have been bumped onto the next flight, due to ovebooking. Lufthansa tried to soften the blow with 300 Euros compensation, which I eagerly went for, but it turns out to be vouchers for Lufthansa flights, which I probably won;t use, so if you want to buy them off me...

I can;t write any more now. This is a metal keyboard with a rollerball and click button. It;s taking me ages.

It has been a fantastic ten days in Istanbul, right up to the final night last night (Sunday). Why do you always meet the most interesting people on the last night of your holiday....

And as I fly out of Turkey, Tony Blair arrives (in Ankara, not here). Must be some sort of special day in Turkish airports for people born on 6th May.) Meet here again soon.

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Money where my mouth is

Right then, it's 19.42 here in Istanbul. I have to meet the man who is buying my spare ticket in 18 minutes time, so it's prediction time. Although I felt pretty smug at getting 8 out of 10 qualifiers on Wednesday, I must warn you that past form is no indicator of future success. When it comes to predicting the Eurovision winner, Chig's last two efforts have been dismal failures;

2003: Latvia - Hello From Mars - F.L.Y. (Finished 24th, with just 5 points from Estonia.)
2002: Belgium - Sisters - Sergio & The Ladies (13th, with 33 points)

This year, I'm sure my predicted winner will do a lot better, and may actually win the damn thing. I therefore predict that the smiling face we'll be seeing at 1am Turkish time is that of Zeljko:
1st Serbia & Montenegro
2nd Cyprus
3rd Ukraine
4th Sweden
5th Malta

Last: Romania

UK's position: 15th-20th

I have actually placed bets on Serbia to win, Cyprus and Ukraine to be in top 4, Romania last and UK 17th-20th (as Paddy Power's categories didn't quite coincide with my prediction. We'll see...

Good luck James Fox. It'll be a competent performance, even if we don't get many points for it.

Good luck Lisa Andreas, you CAN win, and I'd rather go to Nikosia than Belgrade, to be honest.

Everyone else, enjoy it! 19.57 and I'm off!

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But how will I spot Chig on the TV tonight?

Easy, because Chig will be wearing another copy of THIS t-shirt, as modelled by Foxy James himself, when I gave it to him at the press conference. Apparently, a picture very similar to this appeared on the official website, but I can't find it. If you do, could you tell me the link? Ta. I have one t-shirt for myself and one for a friend too, so if there's a camera anywhere near us, you shouldn't miss us!

I had these t-shirts made last week, back in Birmingham. Please note that they are in Turkish and Welsh colours. Oh, it's not just thrown together on World Of Chig you know! (Although you could be forgiven for thinking so most of the time.)

I will be in a group of four. As you look at the stage, we are on the left, on the raised seating, near the back of the hall. Or, as the performers see it, in the far right corner, on the right hand side, not the back. I'll be with two London skinhead friends, who I hope will have the Union flags, and a Norwegian guy who I haven't met yet, but who bought my ticket this week off the interwebnetthingy. He may, I suspect, have a Norwegian flag

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Good to read an article about Eurovision on, but there are two errors I should point out:
1) Jonsi did NOT ridicule Deen. That's just nonsense. He sang his song, accurately, word-perfect, that's all.
2) UK people can't vote for James Fox anyway, so there's no dilemma over patriotism.

There's something on too, but I don't have time to read it!

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Txts from home

My Mum's tips for tonight (after forcing her to listen to the album I left her!)

'It's tough. Hope it's not Turkey again! I like Bosnia [Chig's note; Go, disco mother! This is a shock!], Belgium, Denmark [Er, hello! He went out on Wednesday!], UK! Greece, Sweden.
Outsiders: Cyprus, Ireland, Iceland, Malta, Netherlands, Russia, Slovenia (someone's not paying attention here!) and Ukraine.

Mike's prediction:
1 Ukraine
2 Sweden
3 Cyprus

Mike's bottom 3:

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Tonight's the night

Ah yes, talking of Rod Stewart, that title reminds me that I didn't post my 'suggested listening' for Istanbul, so here goes

'Istanbul, Constantinople' The Four Lads / They Might Be Giants, et al.
'Young Turks' Rod Stewart
'She Took My Soul In Istanbul' Marc Almond
'My Istanbul' Mizan (Came last in this year's Austrian preselection, with a measly 1 per cent of the televote!)
'Two Hearts Beat As One' U2. (Symbolises the European and Asian parts of this city. 'I don't know which side I'm on' can be very true here, especially if you're ferried around to parties on a boat, as we were on Sunday!)
Anything on EastWest records.

Any more suggestions?

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Friday controversy, scandal and gossip

Merhaba! Forgot to tell you we all had a day off yesterday, so there was no need to come anywhere near the venue (it takes me 50 mins from my hotel, so it's not something I'd do casually.

I spent a lovely, relaxing day, being a tourist at the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, eating and drinking outdoors and meeting up with friends. In the evening, we went to Belgium's party and then a combined one from Ukraine with Serbia and Montenegro. We were treated to the five song set that makes up the whole Wild Dances routine. The energy of Ruslana and her dancers is unbelievable.

Gossip here today on two main issues:

Firstly the above mentioned Ukraine is 'leaked' as the runaway winner from the semi-final on
If the figures are right, and they could be made up, I warn you, there was no competition; Ruslana must have received 12s, 10s and 8s from nearly every country.

Secondly, there has been an official revision to the scores from the EBU. There were two unforgivable cock-ups in the compilation of votes, which was all done centrally this year, and I imagine head will roll at Digame, the German-based voting partner who were supposed to run it.

Monaco's televote didn't work, so the system allocated votes at random! Croatia gave points to themselves, so the figures had to be revised. They are saying it doesn't alter the ten who got through. They would, wouldn't they? However, it means Israel now climb to 11th, above Estonia but on the same points. Slovenia slump to second last, with only five points. We're hearing suggestions that Turkish TV went to the ad break at the wrong time and only showed a fraction of Slovenia's song. To be continued...

How was Paddy O'Connell on BBC3? Feedback I'm getting here is all negative. Did he really talk over lots of intros, including the beautiful, long Serbian one? That's a disgrace, if it's true.

Right then, it's 14.40. Twenty minutes until the start of the first dress'll see if the UK's song just gets forgotten as the Cypriot song follows it now. Still, nice to see two UK songs and singers together in the final. We now have a battle between England and Wales. Must go and take my seat...

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Pointless prediction

Phew! Got those reviews posted just in time. Now it's time to predict who will get through from the semi, so......drum rolls.... off the top of my head, the lucky ten will be, roughly in this order:

Serbia and Montenegro
Bosnia and Herzegovina

If I had my way, it would be (in order):
Serbia and Montenegro
Bosnia and Herzegovina

I will be waving the flags of Belarus (for musical excellence and to support a newcomer) and for Bosnia and Herzegovina (in support of poofery)

Enjoy the show! Going to get my seat now. I am accompanying a Scots friend in a kilt.

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Semi-finalists reviewed at last!

Better late that never, eh kids? It's 20.05 as I sit here in the Media Tent, less than two hours before the Eurovision semi-final starts, and I've just realised I haven't published my reviews of the songs for tonight. I've been carrying the disc around for ages, so here goes. Bear in mind that this was written ages ago, before any rehearsals.

“Is it May already? Settle down me hearties, as….” Oh bugger, I forgot, Wogan isn’t doing this bit, is he? Oh well, snuggle up with a wee dram or a cup of cocoa with cuddly Paddy O’Connell on BBC 3, as 33 countries prepare to broadcast the first ever Eurovision semi-final. 33 countries, because France, Russia and Poland (three of the largest populations) can’t be bothered. But, I hear you cry, surely it’s in the rules that you have to show the semi? Why yes, it is, but these three won’t be watching, so they’re not allowed to vote tonight either. When pressed for an explanation, a French TV spokesperson said, “Nous sommes La France. Nous pouvons faire ce que nous veulent. Vous avez un probleme?” He then shrugged his shoulders, muttered something about ‘les rosbifs’, adjusted his beret and rode off on his bicyclette, slinging his string of onions over his stripey shirt as he disappeared up the Champs Elysée. Possibly.

SF01 – Finland – Takes 2 To Tango – Jari Sillanpa:a:
Queen alert! Well honestly, it’s a chubby bloke dancing around with angel wings on his back, throwing his arms up in the air, screaming ‘Hallelujah!’ Jump to your own conclusions. Get ready to fling your arms in the air as you proclaim ‘Hallelujah!’ in a camp, yet biblical way. Jari is clearly not the butchest man in this year’s competition, but he's not the campest either. He gives it all he’s got, complete with angel wings taped to his back in his national final performance. Shame he looks like Chris Moyles, but you can’t have everything. Will win the vote in gay pubs across the land, if it gets through the semi, which it should, especially with this favourable draw. The song is explicitly gay, as it talks about angels and devils caressing each other and holding each other tight. As all angels are male, this is clearly alluding to some homo orgy.

SF02 – Belarus – My Galileo - Alexandra & Konstantin
An absolutely, charmingly bonkers song from one of this year’s three debut countries. It’s worth pointing out that they are singing in English, because you honestly wouldn’t know. Sixth form poetry put through a mincer produces such astounding lines as,
“I’m not a stay-at-home and heady, is the quest and venture mode”. Oh yes!
“Circles grow,
But you,
You’re the pier,
Centre in my life,
My Galileo,
I rotate to you,
I’m here.”

I’m really looking forward to seeing these two in the flesh, and if Alexandra is not an even more demented Belarussian version of Lene Lovich, I’ll be very disappointed.

SF03 – Switzerland – Celebrate! - Piere Esteriore and the Music Stars
I hate this with a passion. But it's so catchy, like a bloody Tweenies song, that I could see this cutting through the pack and winning the whole damn thing. Then I would feel sick.

SF04 – Latvia - Fomins and Kleins
Thought this sounded quite good until I saw them and they put me off. Standard rock song sung by a Rod Stewart type blokey. The fact that it's in Latvian (although they have released versions in severeal languages, including Belarussian, but not English), will mean this fails to qualify for Saturday.

SF05 – Israel - David D'Or
One of the most remarkable voices ever to come from the mouth of a man; incredibly high-pitched. It's a very Radio 2 type song. I just can't make up my mind about this one.

SF06 – Andorra
Jolly pop with too many words. Welcome to the party. Next!

SF07 – Portugal – Foi Magia (It Was Magic) – Sofia
Oooh, a promising intro! Those string stabs sound like something off ABC’s Lexicon Of Love album. Could we be in for a Trevor Horn-like three minutes of perfect pop? (More of him later.) Sadly, no. It’s downhill from then on as Portugal succeeds once again in entering a song that only appeals to Portuguese speakers. See you in next year’s semi! I didn’t even need to mention Portugal’s support for the war in Iraq. The song has scuppered their chances already. The real tragedy is that Portugal had a really good song in their final, by a real spunky hunk called Goncalo, but the cloth-eared muppets didn’t vote for it.

SF08 – Malta – On Again…Off Again – Julie & Ludwig
No, not Herr Beethoven, but this song does indeed have classical pretensions. Basically, it’s a very simple pop song by her, with him singing in an opera stylee over the top. Then, what do you know, SHE does a Charlotte Churchy bit while he’s singing. Very versatile, very catchy, very gimmicky.

She’s possibly trying to tell him when it’s safe for them to shag, or is it about condoms? Who knows? Just the right side of mad. Will gather votes from across Europe and across the generations, and will, once again, come agonisingly close to giving Malta their first victory.

SF09 – Monaco – Prenez Soin de Notre Planete (Take Care Of Our Planet) – Maryon?
Monaco take a self-imposed break from Eurovision for 25 years and then come back with this, which could have been from around the time they left. It’s nice, it’s poppy, it’s dancey. It’s forgotten by the time the next song comes on. There won’t be a battle of the French songs, as this is unlikely to join France, who are already in the final.

SF10 – Greece – Shake It – Sakis Rouvas
Given half a chance, I’d do more than shake it. Fit as a butcher’s dog that does sit-ups. Who cares about the song? Greece originally intended to send the winner of their version of Fame Idol For A Night Knocks, or whatever it’s called, but plans were hastily dropped when the series was won by a fat bloke called Apostolos. ‘You can’t do disco songs’, cried the bigwigs, ‘so you can be a backing singer for this fit bloke who we’re bringing in to replace you instead’. Astoundingly, he has accepted this. Has he no pride? Sakis likes showing off his abs and his armpits, which is absolutely fine in my book. Carry on. Rumours abounded that Trevor Horn had composed three songs for Greece to choose from this year. This is clearly not one of them.
Rhymes ‘fire’ with ‘desire’? Yes!
“I would trade my life, for a night with you, driven by desire,
Make that move on me, it’s time for you to see, that my world’s on fire.”
Key change? NO! But there’s a moment when you think one’s coming. Opportunity wasted.

SF11 – Ukraine – Wild Dances – RuslanaShouting! Echoes of Rasputin! A woman who looks like a cross between Posh Spice and Xena the Warrior Princess! All combined to produce a brilliantly unusual song which I absolutely love.

SF12 – Lithaunia – What's Happened To Our Love?
What's happened to a decent song, more like? Absolute drivel, even with its Spansih touches. We have enough of them this year, thank you very much. No way this is qualifying.

SF13 – Albania – The Image Of You (previously called Imazhi Yt (Your reflection)) – Anjeza Shahini
“You are the band” or “You are the phlegm in my pea soup”. Like Belarus, the charm of this song is in its sheer madness. It is all things to all people. Starts off slow. Stops. Turns into a great disco song. Has rock guitar in the middle eight. Goes wild at the end. Perfect, except that it’s five minutes long. They’re new to this whole thing, the Albanians. They clearly didn’t read the EBU rulebook before their national final. All will depend on how they edit it down to three minutes, but in its epic version, I think this is wonderful. My second favourite.

SF14 – Cyprus – Stronger Every Minute – Lisa Andreas
You think she's launcing into boyzone's 'No Matter What' at the start, and then the song becomes either the toilet break or a stunner, depending on your point of view. If she can do this live (and she's only 16, and from Kent), this could do really well.

SF15 – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – Life Is A Book - Tose
Red rubber vest? Good lord. Not what we expect from FYRoM, but that's what he's wearing in the video. THis is really repetive and makes its point in the first minute, before just retreading the same ground. No doubt they will spoil his chances by NOT having him wear a red rubber outfit in Istanbul.

SF16 – Slovenia – Stay Forever - Platin
Gimmick – getting married the day after the semi-final, with Sertab Erener as their maid of honour. I've really grown to like this since I dismissed it as 'bland' when they won their national final. We didn't even notice at the time that Simon slipped an engagement ring on Diana's finger while they sang their reprise. Now I know they mean it, the song seems much more meaningful.

SF17 – Estonia – Tii – Neiokoso
Follow me, we’re sorry.
Better get moist.
Sorry Malta.
Wear a big doily, be horribly oily
Shut up your boys’ schools.

Just some of the phrases that these Spice Girls meet Hiawatha types seem to be singing. That's what happens when you decide to sing a song in a South-eastern Estonian dialect that not even the majority of Estonians can understand. Wonderfully wacky, and the video is really good, but I can't see this getting past the semi.

SF18 – Croatia – You Are The Only One (previously 'Dajes Mi krila' = 'You Give Me Wings') – Ivan Mikulic
The only possible winner from the Croatian final, and it’s another classy ballad; a genre that’s served them well. A really well-constructed song, from a really good singer. It starts slowly but surely and gets to the rousing chorus really quickly (like the UK’s song does too) which I always think is an advantage. (Compare and contrast with Ukraine.) Okay, so he looks like he might be Jimmy Nail’s son, who works in insurance, but looks aren’t everything.

SF19 – Denmark – Shame On You – Tomas Thordarson
Queen alert! This is a bona fide one. Tomas is married to his male partner. with an adopted child, but rumour has it that the video for this was toned down to make it a little more hetero. Just when you thought the Danes were all liberated and stuff. The song, about infidelity, is ‘Denmark goes Spanish’ and is a good attempt, but the Spanish do it so much better themselves. It is very catchy though, and I’d love to see this make it through to Saturday night. I think it will.
Rhymes ‘fire’ with ‘desire’? Yes. “You’re my fire, you’re my desire, shame on you.” Several times.
Key change? Yes, with added whoa!
(UPDATE: Since seeing the rehearsals, I don't think this will get through. They've taken all the life out of it.)

SF20 – Serbia & Montenegro – Lane Moje ('My Lamb' or 'My Sweetheart' – Zeljko and the Ad Hoc Orchestra
Pure class. One of the longest intros in the contest, played on a long pipe by a shepherd who looks like Jesus, eventually gives way to the vocal. Zeljko has a voice like warm, melted chocolate, and despite the fact that this type of Balkan folky music sounds unusual to Western ears, I believe this will have many countries under its spell. A dead cert to qualify from the semi, and a strong contender to win the whole thing, perhaps only to be scuppered by the reluctance of ex-warring neighbours to forgive Serbia enough to vote for them. This is the first appearance for the continuing rump of Yugoslavia under its new name. It was interesting that in the national final for S&M (as we prefer to call it), they had a whole bunch of contemporary pop songs, and this, performed by people dressed in hessian sacks, standing out like a sore thumb. When it was chosen, I thought ‘what kind of impression is this going to give to the rest of Europe?’, but you can’t argue with the quality of music like this. My other nagging doubt was that perhaps it takes a while to grow on people, and won’t get votes on first hearing, but that doubt has been put to bed by showing the video to my sister, who used words like ‘impressive’ and fell in love with his voice. If Europe rejects pop and goes for the big ethnic number this year, this will do it. Not sure I fancy going to Belgrade though. Talking of ex-warring neighbours....

SF21 – Bosnia & Herzegovina – In The Disco – Deen
We move from moody folk music to frivolous disco fluff. Queen alert! In his national final, Deen looked like a hairdresser from the 1980s, with a blond flicky fringe and a strange taste in trousers. Donna Summer would be turning in her grave over this song, but sadly she’s still not dead. It only avoids charges of plagiarism by sounding like so many different songs all at once, two of them by Ms. God-botherer herself. The rhythm track is ‘strongly influenced by’ ‘I Feel Love’ and the main riff is ‘Hot Stuff’. And yet, for all that, it is strangely fab in a bastardised and stolen kinda way, and the video is great.

SF22 – Netherlands – Without You – Re-Union
Sadly, not the Nilsson classic (or Mariah Carey dog-whistling tune). In fact, not a classic at all. Far from it. The Netherlands really let us down this year, with a national final that was devoid of anything good. There was one song that was exceptionally bad too, namely ‘Mississippi Miss’; a cross between Rednex and Steps that made both of them look sophisticated. I feared the worst, but instead the Dutch went for this sleep-inducer. Re-Union is a male duo with an acoustic guitar and a fair amount of yodelling. One of them looks a bit like Noel Gallagher, the other one is probably Steve McManaman’s younger brother. I can’t stand the song, but it does have its fans.
Rhymes ‘fire’ with ‘desire’? Yes.
Key change? Not really. Will yodelling do instead?

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I want to bring you off

This year's Turkeys, Athena, at the Turkish delegation's party on Sunday night. They didn't play, but the DJ played 'For Real' about 6 or 7 times, including twice in succession at one point. This song makes Turkish people very excited.

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Westlife who?

Ireland's dirge for Saturday will now be sung by the Irish 5-a-side football team.

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Lots of normally sane people think that Max from Germany will win on Saturday. I publish the picture above to warn you. Please don't let it happen.

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Bumboy action

Austria's boyband, Tie-Break, perform to type by bumming each other on the table in their second press conference, which they conducted wearing their hotel towels. Some excuse about making the Austrian flag, but it looks more like Latvia's to me. Someone should tell them that the Austrian flag is red, not purple.

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The locals are very friendly

No, I haven't. Just in case you were going to ask. Not with these two anyway. However, it was very nice to wake up this morning in the flat of a genuine Istanbulu and admire the view. You could also see quite a long way from his balcony.

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Eurovision's biggest biceps

Jonsi from Iceland sings 'Sandy' from Grease (not Xandee from Belgium) at his first press conference, in Icelandic. He played Danny Zuko in the Icelandic version of the musical. He is also as fit as a butcher's dog, with features that redefine the word 'chiselled'. Apparently, his second rehearsal (for Saturday) was a blinder.

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You must, must, must tape tonight's semi-final, even if you're planning to buy the DVD of this year's Eurovision double bill. (The first ever Eurovision DVD is released on 7 June in Turkey - I'm guessing it's the same all over Europe.)

There is, however, one part of tonight's show that won't be on the DVD. The title explains itself:

ABBA - Our last ever video.

We were priviledged to see the world premiere of this 5 minute film last night in the press centre, a few hours before it was shown to the public in the second dress rehearsal. Svante Stockselius, the EBU's Eurovision big cheese, said that they had approached ABBA to get together for this year's 30th anniversary of Waterloo's win, but they had said no. However, the band themselves mentioned that they had an idea for a project. A Swedish director then took charge, with some assistance from all four ABBA members, and an appearance from Rik Mayall! I won't say any more, because it would spoil the surprise, but tape it when it is shown as part of tonight's show, because you will want to play the dialogue a few times. It's hilarious, it's cute, and it draws a nice, neat line under ABBA's career. Svante, who just happens to be Swedish too, was clearly quite close to tears over the film itself and the reaction in the Press Centre. We loved it, and so will you.

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16.00 report

So much to discuss! The third and last dress rehearsal is going on right now. We watched the first on in the hall yesterday, didn't see last night's second one at all, and I'm watching this third one on the monitors to see who comes across best on the TV.

Reports from friends last night were praising Cyprus again. I've just watched Lisa on the TV and once again it sent shivers through me. To my friends in the UK who are reading this, you have the chance tonight, for the first time ever, to vote a British singer and a British song (for that's what Cyprus really is) into Saturday's final. On Saturday, we may have a British winner after all, and I feel sure that the Kentish Sparrow (as I've decided to dub Lisa Andreas) will finish quite a bit higher than the boy from Bargoed.

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Can I be bridesmaid?

Chig tries to gatecrash the wedding of the year, as Slovenia's Diana and Simon prepare to get married on a boat on Thursday.

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L'enfant et l'oiseau

The superbly talented Jonatan Cerrada with his grandmother Marie Myriam, France's last winner, from 1977.

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Reports from the first dress rehearsal

Cyprus and Serbia & Montenegro will be the two songs that stroll casually into the final on Saturday, if the reaction of us and the crowd is anything to go by. I always thought Lisa Andreas would do well IF she could cut the mustard live, and my God she can. Absolutely captivating, it sent a shiver right through me. I can see this winning on Saturday too.

Of the others, Greece should get through. It's a great show, but a highly over-rated song. In the hall, the vocal mix wasn't right, so we could hear more backing singers than Sakis on some lines. Consequently, I think we were hearing the harmonies rather than the tune and it sounded wrong, but I don't think it was his fault and that kind of thing can always sound better on TV.

We were amused at the end when they revealed a phoney list of ten countries who qualified for Saturday night. They read out the name 'Portugal' and I can assure you that you won't be hearing the announcers saying that word at the end. In fact, you'll be seeing Portugal at the very bottom of the scoresheet. They have managed the impossible. They've taken the worst song of the 36, and they've made it appear even worse on stage. Poor old Sofia has been down to her local carpet warehouse and snapped up a few offcuts of a revolting cerise floor covering. Then someone has made a dress out of it and slung the offcuts in a heap over one shoulder. It's not so much a crime against fashion, but a crime against humanity. I hear she's really nice as well, and speaks good English. Such a shame.

Ruslana for the Ukraine is a spectacular performance, and will get through to Saturday, where she's worth an each way bet. Our worry is that the song didn't come thorough clearly enough. But hey, this is the Eurovision Performance Contest now, isn't it?

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Dress rehearsal time

14:40 It's strange to think that ALL the technical rehearsals are all over, and it's only Tuesday. The 14 countries definitely in the final had their first rehearsal on Sunday and their last one yesterday, so it's all done.

I am now off to the 15:00 dress rehearsal (of the semi), so I'll see Ukraine at last, They had done both of their rehearsals before I arrived and everyone is talking about them. I can't wait.

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¡Hola Ramón!

(Yes, I know that headline is wrong. See Comments if you can help me correct it.)

The whole trip has been worthwhile already...

Taken Monday lunchtime, at Spain's second conference.

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Andy's questions

Answering Andy's questions from the comments box:

How hot is it? Does it get cool during the evening?
Scorching on Saturday and Sunday, but not uncomfortable. Much more grey this morning, but warming up nicely now (14.30), although showers are forecast later. I understand it poured with rain one day last week and some huge 'balls' on the stadium roof all fell off. Health and safety leaves a lot to be desired around here.
I didn't carry a jacket with me at all yesterday and we were on a boat, then at a party by the Bosphorus until 1am and it didn't get cold at all, but if I were you I would prepare for it to change, just in case.

Is there any problem getting cash out of machines?
No idea, I'm afraid. I can only vouch for the cashpoint at Frankfurt airport dishing out Euros effectively on a Switch card. I haven't tried it here yet.

How is our boy doing?
He was shattered when I spoke to him on Saturday night, understandably, as he had flown out early that morning, but he had a good night's sleep and was perky and refreshed at the party last night, satisfied with the rehearsal (which none of us were able to see as it clashed with the do and we had a boat to catch).

And can you collect a few extra tickets for the aftershow party?
If you tell me who to sleep with, I'll try to oblige, but please don't say Svante as I don't fancy him.

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Has it only been two days?

I feel like I've been here in Istanbul for a couple of weeks already, but it has only been three nights and two days. I'm having a fantastic time, the highlight so far being last night's official Eurovision reception at a palace. It was mindblowingly spectacular.

I've just been interviewed on camera by Austrian TV, asking my opinion on Tie Break. Don't worry, I was guarded. He had to ask at the end if they were my favourite though, didn't he? I laughed and said 'No'. When the camera stopped rolling, I chided the journo and said, 'How could you ask me that? There are 36 songs!' I didn't mention that Austria is around number 33 in that list when I rank my favourites.

I have also had a couple of my pictures published today in the French Eurovision fan club magazine. Both pictures of James Fox, which haven't been published anywhere else AND a photo credit, which is nice.

James Fox told me last night that he was very satisfied with his first rehearsal yesterday. He has his second in about 4 hours' time, after which is his first press conference. I will be giving him a little present, so will be caught on camera as all the conferences are filmed. I have also been primed to ask a question to one of the UK backing singers, who has a parental connection to a famous pop name. All will be revealed later...

I can't possibly do up-to-the minute reports as I don't have a laptop in the rehearsals. However, you should be reading the livejournal at for up-to-date info from rehearsals. My friends are doing a sterling job sitting in the hall reporting, and have hardly seen daylight for six days.

Tonight's parties are Israel (not going) and a joint France and Monaco effort. I will definitely go to that one. Hey, I've done photos for their magazine! Marie Myriam, France's last winner, from 1977 will be presenting, along with Christer Bjorkman from Sweden. Monaco and France will perform their songs.

I'm currently wrestling with Nero, in order to get some of my photos on here for you lovely people too see, so back later.

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Merhaba from Istanbul

Yikes! Looks like Blogger has had a redesign today, which could easily confuse a man who has been up for 38 hours non stop. I am a complete zombie. but I've made it to the Media Tent and got my badge. No one's going out clubbing tonight, which is probably just as well. I need to sleep.

My hotel, which I only booked because it was cheap, turns out to be an absolute gem, and not the hovel I was half expecting. The receptionist is gorgeous, friendly and helpful. All the policemen at the airport were pretty fit too. I think I'm going to enjoy this week...

And to think I was worried about al=Qu'aida and the plane flights. It's clear that if I die on this trip it will be death by taxi. I've already been treated to an incredibly fast race around the city, stopping for nobody.


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Istanbul - Chig's first pictures

Tomorrow is not Chig's first trip to Istanbul. I went there back in Spring 1980, when I looked like this:

Hilarious, huh? That photo was taken in Athens, at the Posidon Cafe. I was on a schools cruise on the SS Uganda, which made such an impression on me that I still remember the dates; 22 March - 5 April 1980. We were in Istanbul (as with all the other places) for just one day. It rained. Hence there are no photos of me there. When we came back to school, I won a prize for my photos of the cruise, so I would now like to share with you my ENTIRE set of photos taken in Istanbul. All three of them. Remember, it was raining. Dismal, aren't they? The first one is labelled in my photo album, helpfully, as 'A mosque'. The second and third are more easily identified as the Blue Mosque, which I now know is called the Sultanahmet Mosque. I will be staying in a hotel about 50 metres from this mosque from tomorrow.

Reports from Eurovision's first rehearsals yesterday revealed that Ruslana from Ukraine broke the glass stage, so the schedule overran so much that the Greek press conference (at least) was cancelled. The internet connection wasn't yet up and running in the Media Centre, so fingers crossed that it'll be fixed by Saturday, when I hope to be back here with first impressions. Enjoy the grey pictures. See you in Istanbul!

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Eurovision 2004 - The Finalists

Here at last, Chig's 'guide' (not that it's much use) to the 14 songs which have already qualified for the Eurovision final on Saturday 15 May. They will be joined on the 15th by the top ten countries from the semi-final on Wednesday 12th. The semi will be shown live on BBC Three - hurrah! Without Wogan - double hurrah! With Paddy O'Connell instead - treble hurrah!

Reviews of the 22 songs in the semi-final will be here soon, in between packing and panicking (for no real reason) before Istanbul, and somehow squeezing a birthday and some shopping into Thursday too.

Mike is also doing his reviews, in a different order, so why not read his too? Some of our comments, I warn you now, are exactly the same, but were written completely independently. We do sometimes think frighteningly alike on musical issues. And yet, sometimes not.

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01 - Spain - Para Llenarme De Ti (To Fill Me With You) - Ramon

Just the kind of song (and performance, hopefully) that we need to get the contest off to a fantastic, rousing start. For the third year, Spanish TV used its talent show, Operacion Triunfo to choose their entrant. Just like Beth last year, Ramon didn’t actually win the series, but won the Eurovision selection afterwards. Ramon comes from Gran Canaria. Like all Canarians who actually live there, he probably doesn’t hang around the Yumbo Centre, which is a shame. He has beautiful eyes, a hairy chest to die for and looks like someone who grew up doing a bit of boxing before he realised he could sing. Bloomin’ gorgeous. As an added bonus, his song’s not half bad. Fairly predictable Spanish pop, but with more of a South American flavour than last year’s Spanish effort from Beth. The video starts promisingly enough, with him looking like a cute lost student, wandering through the streets of Palma, or wherever. Then it gets better, as he goes through a range of sexy clothes; a red shirt, a white one, a black one. Shirts hardly on at all, shirts which allow him to stroke his beautifully hairy chest. Then he stands on the beach, stands on rocks, swivels and thrusts his groin around in a way that makes Ricky Martin look like Mary Whitehouse. Pure sex. And then, just when you think he done... Woosh! He bursts forth out of the sea in what is now a see through white shirt and trousers. Woosh indeed! Shake that tush, mi amigo! I think I may need a lie down after song number one, which is fortunate, because sleeping is certainly an option during...

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02 - Austria - Du Bist (You Are) - Tie Break

The only tie-break they’ll be taking part in will be for bottom place, with this boyband fodder which is so weak it wouldn’t even be considered for the Westlife ‘Rejected B-sides’ album. (It’s coming sometime, surely?) It certainly wouldn’t have made it through the semi if they’d had to qualify, and for that this trio will forever be indebted to the madness of Alf Poier which got them here. This year’s only song in German, language fans. The three boys all got to the last 20 in the Austrian Pop Idol. Ooh, big deal. Okay, they look cute/sexy enough, but that will have to overcompensate severely for how weak and thin this song is. The Austrian preselection was absolutely rubbish, with bad songs, badly directed. This was actually the best of a bad bunch, but millions of the people who thought they would just check out the songs and were swayed to stay in for Ramon, will now be halfway to the pub.

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03 - Norway - High - Knut Anders Sorum

Only three songs in, and two classy songs already. Si! Ja! The early viewers are now being spoilt again. It’s a Eurovision rollercoaster already. This is beautiful, sweeping, majestic, classy pop. Slightly reminiscent of another Scandinavian track that was actually a #4 hit in the UK; Andreas Johnson’s ‘Glorious’, but in feel rather than tune. Knut (please don’t spell it wrong) looks very attractive to me, a confident singer but with an underlying cute-puppy-dog-ness. Hang on! Isn’t that what we said about Norway’s Jostein last year? The are clearly breeding cute puppy men.

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04 - France - A Chaque Pas (At Every Step) - Jonatan Cerrada

Jonatan is very young, very cute, very camp. He is Belgian and won the French TV version of Fame Operacion Idol Knocks, or whatever it’s called. Guess where Belgium’s 12 points are going this year? Durr! It’s at this point every year that I have to declare my love of anything Francophone, but this should please a lot of people anyway. Lyrically, it’s beautiful, and he squeezes every ounce of meaning out of the words with his clear pronunciation. The beautifully shot ‘boutique hotel’ video brings the song to life wonderfully. Won’t necessarily do that well, as, for a rare change, the French singer is not a woman. You may have noticed, there are a lot of men around this year. In fact, we’re four acts in, and we’ve had six male singers and no chanteuses at all so far.

05 - Qualifier from the semi-final.
06 - Qualifier from the semi-final.
07 - Qualifier from the semi-final.

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08 - Germany - Can't Wait Until Tonight - Max

Poor old Germany. A solitary island at the moment, in a sea of seven songs coming from the semi-final. They have no idea until next Wednesday night which three songs will come before them, or which four will follow. But let's not feel too sorry for them. I really can't stand this. Please don’t expect me to be charitable. The song degenerates from a vaguely bluesy, lounge bar track into a screaming mess. Max Monobrow, in his 'jazz' black polo, looks like the veins in his neck are going to explode when he sings the high notes and … I can’t think of anything nice to say, so I’ll stop there.

09 - Qualifier from the semi-final.
10 - Qualifier from the semi-final.
11 - Qualifier from the semi-final.
12 - Qualifier from the semi-final.

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13 - Belgium - 1 Life - Xandee

Crikey! It’s a woman! The first guaranteed sighting of a woman on lead vocals, and we’ve passed the halfway point already. There had to big a big, gay, ‘punching the air’ Eurodisco song, didn’t there? Thankfully Belgium come to the rescue, seeing as no one else bothered this year. They’ve provided us with a gay anthem that will finish about tenth and leave gay men moaning for the next decade about how she was robbed. (See Gina G, Paul Oskar etc.) I thought this was pretty formulaic stuff, but I must admit my opinion of it rose considerably when I saw the performance from the national final. (Luckily, that’s the video too.) They really give it some welly, to use a technical term, and the energy is infectious. If only one of the dancers wasn’t reminding me of 2 Unlimited.
Eurofact: Belgium had another song in their final this year, called ‘One Life’, hence the numeric title of this ‘1’ to differentiate.
Eurofact 2: Xandee has already recorded a Turkish version of this and sung it on a Turkish TV show. Expect massive points from Turkey.

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Interval (and ad break for those countries watching on commercial television).

14 - Russia - Believe Me - Julia Savicheva

Blimey! Women are like buses. [I’ve removed a very bad taste joke from here, but you can insert your own.] You wait all that time, and then here’s another one.
Last year, we also had a Julia from Russia. She was one of those t.A.T.u twins, and she was nothing but trouble, so let’s hope that this one’s nice, at least. First impressions imply otherwise though, especially if you are concerned about eating disorders. Julia clearly isn’t: “Bulimia? Just don’t care,” she sings, heartlessly, in the opening line, before you realise it’s just a pronunciation problem. She has a problem with the word ‘shoulder’ too, but let this not detract from the fact that this is a cracking good pop song. Julia stands on stage in the video, strumming her guitar like (to quote my friend Andy) Olga Lavigne. She’s receiving adulatory applause from the audience, and has a really exciting pyrotechnic display too, until you realise that it’s all cut’n’paste. The audience is there for someone else, and when she’s performing, there’s no evidence of an audience for her. Weird.
Love the track though – it’s very catchy, and if she brushes up on her English pronunciation, this should be top ten.

15 - Qualifier from the semi-final.
16 - Qualifier from the semi-final.

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17 - Iceland

A glorious grower. A beautifully crafted song, sung by a man with the most amazingly angular facial bone structure. This song may be this year’s ‘too good for Eurovision’ victim, as I fear it takes too many hearings for the tune to lodge itself in the memory, but there’s no denying it’s classy and builds up and up in a wonderful way, with great strings. Now let’s change just one letter on the caption and move slightly South...

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18 - Ireland - If My World Stopped Turning – Chris Doran

I wanted to like it, I really did. He looked quite hunky in the photos I saw after he’d won in Ireland. Sadly, this song, co-written by ex-Westlifer and jungle husband, Bryan McFadden, makes dishwater seem positively effervescent in comparison. Nicking the whole lyrical concept from ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ as covered by fellow countryman Ronan, it’s basically saying ‘I’d be quite sad if you died’. Mr Doran looks as interesting as a tailor’s dummy in the ‘live’ performance of this, as if he can’t wait to get back to selling insurance, or working at the undertaker’s, or whatever he did before he won ‘You’re A Star’ with this dirge. The song so clearly won because of its celebrity connection, which is a real shame, especially as there was an uptempo number in the final three which was pretty good. Dull, dull, dull.

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19 – Poland – Love Song – Blue Cafe

The Polish national final this year was an absolute disgrace. None of the songs were worthy of going to Istanbul and some of them were downright embarrassing. Take the rock group with the three year-old son of the singer, who actually ‘assisted’ on vocals. It made you realise what a talented little chappy Jordy really was. Dur, dur? It certainly was on us watching it. And so they picked this, but it really is like trying to polish (geddit?) a turd. Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be a poor man’s Eartha Kitt and sing the same line over and over and over and over and over again. And then sing it again.
Eurofact: This song improves marginally if you sing over it; “Crap song, bad song, dull song, goes on and on.”
However, there is one saving grace of this rubbish being at number 19, if everyone’s back from the toilet in time…

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20 – United Kingdom - Hold On To Our Love - James Fox

…because we’re next! Commanding the camera like the true pro that he is, hearts will melt when Foxy James takes to the stage and hopefully the nasty people of Europe will relent and give us some damn points. Then, when he wins, every queen in Blackpool will say, “I knew him when he was in Force Five, you know, with that Kevin from Liberty X, doing cabaret on the Royal Mile.” Seriously though, any points at all will produce much cheering in the hall. If he performs as well as we know he can, this should make the top ten. If they put in a key change (see also Greece), it would finish higher. It’s crying out for one.

21 – Qualifier from the semi-final
The last one of the ten.

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22 – Turkey – For Real – Athena

Are you ready for the ska punk revival? No, I don’t think the rest of Europe is either. The host country’s song is called ‘For Real’, which is Turkish for ‘We don’t want to host this things two years in a row, thank you very much’. Make sure your Granny is out of the room, as the skinhead appears to be singing, “I wanna bring you off” and “Are you in? Are you out?” I don’t think they’re doing the Hokey Cokey. You’ve never seen anything like this at Eurovision before. Imagine Bad Manners circa 1980, but much ruder and you won’t be far wrong. As I was brought up on Madness and Bad Manners, I find this an exciting diversion musically, but lyrically it leaves a lot to be desired. Great video though.

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The sex kitten solo women at the end:

23 – Romania – I Admit – Sanda Ladosi
24 – Sweden – It Hurts – Lena Philipsson

If they’d combined, they could have indulged a fair few straight men’s lesbo fantasies. One blonde one, one dark one (and probably the other way round from what you’re thinking). One who looks like an inflatable doll, with inflatable lips and inflatable breasts, the other with a penchant for rubbing her nether regions with metal poles (or microphone stands, to be accurate). They could also have performed a song called ‘I Admit It Hurts’. The mind boggles.
Sanda looks like Pamela Anderson, with a good pop song that will ultimately get lost in the rush, but surely has a chance of being top ten with this late starting position. As for Lena PH, as she’s known in la Suede, the saucy madam did rude things with her mike stand during her Melodifestivalen performances. Hopefully the Canesten will have worked by May and we’ll be spared such lewd behaviour. The song, as tends to be the case, is catchy pop brilliance. Although I wasn’t convinced that the switch to English actually worked this time, preferring the diggi-loos and ingentings of the Swedish original, I am now converted. My only hesitation in declaring this the winner is whether or not people want to vote for such a negative lyric. Whatever it is, it hurts a lot, and she tells us many, many times.

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P-day +6

So what was P-day, that Chig mentioned a week ago? It was publication day, officially last Wednesday, of the May issue of Gay Times. Included in this issue is a three page article written by Chig, which is mainly an examination of the queer appeal of Eurovision and partly my interview with James Fox. People have said some very nice things about it since it hit the shops last week, but I'll leave you to investigate for yourselves. The May issue's cover is red and white like the Turkish flag, but this may be entirely coincidental. In the article itself, GT have kindly given me a photo credit for the photo of Foxy and Wogan, which is amusing as I didn't take that picture or any of the pictures used this time. Oh well, it's karma for the two articles last year where my photo credit was left off completely...

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We Are Family

Vítáme vás!
Tere tulemast!
Esiet sveicinati!
Sveiki atvyke!
καλώς ορίσατε

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