Why Es Devlin would be my dream stage designer to carry the UK through the Eurovision Storm

So it’s SuRie for the UK. With Storm.

It’s almost a week since the bookies were upset in Brighton and blogposts with another characters to populate a dozen Perry & Croft sitcoms have been penned since. So this isn’t a review of the You Decide show (which was thoroughly enjoyable, we sat in the stalls, everyone I was with was *beaming* during SuRie’s initial performance) or a summing up of Britain’s chances in Lisbon (although a beefed up chorus could make this a rather special song for the scoreboard). No. This post is none of those things.

In many ways, it’s a wish.

Last year, Netflix uploaded a documentary series focusing on designers of different disciplines. Called Abstract, it examined the processes that goes into creating trainers, cars, buildings, typefaces, illustrations, buildings, all sorts. Well, not allsorts – unless they’re saving Bertie Bassett for series two.

I gobbled this series up. Design is something I’ve always been passionate about. If you want to keep me amused on a drizzly day, direct me into an empty room with an IKEA catalogue, the Made.com app and some colour charts and I’ll have everything planned out for less than a grand within the hour. Until I change my mind again and decide that one wall should be shocking pink surrounded by muted grey on all sides and perhaps a black ceiling. But I’m drifting. I need a Storm to haul me back in.

One episode in Abstract’s run featured stage design. As with all other instalments, one designer is the focus of the show, their life and work informing the content. The stage designer Abstract homed in on was Es Devlin and ever since I gobbled up every moment of this fascinating programme, I’ve thought one thing. This. Woman. Needs. To. Stage. Our. Eurovision. Entry.

Of course, when you consider Devlin’s CV, you wonder if Eurovision would ever interest her. The closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics (where the spokes of the union flag radiated out from a central dais featuring the capital’s skyline) was one of hers but although it’s her most high profile work it feels the least indicative of her style, almost as if her ideas were diluted by committee (surely not…).

Instead, it’s important to look at the other stuff Es has put before us (as long as you had the tickets in your mitts to see it).

Years before Shady Lady, she was putting individual band members in gauze-covered boxes and projecting images on to them. She mapped out entire buildings with digital projection in the mid ’90s, when nobody else was doing it, making the toughest of plays to stage easier to penetrate for both director and audience.

The pair of giants which made a memorable backdrop to Take That’s tour a few years back? That was Es. Those smokey eyes of Adele that stamped a moment on Adele’s live performances? Another Devlin special. Beyonce projected onto huge revolving slabs of geometry? Yup, that’s our Es again.

I may be over-Es-ing the pudding but this is a woman with a seemingly supernatural sensibility of marrying music, graphics, light, setting, performer and performance into an irresistible dish to be lapped up in once sitting. A marriage that’s meat to a Eurovision entry which needs both juror and casual viewer to sit up, absorb and find that they haven’t noticed the tea dribbling down their jowels three minutes later, it’s all been so wonderful.

Watch this episode on Netflix if you can. It should hopefully make you see why Es could take this year’s entry and turn it into something even more engaging. I doubt there’d be an umbrella in sight. There would be one lyric, one syllable, one musical phrase that lingers with her, inspiring a colour, a shape or theme that eventually emerges into a fully formed staging that would transform Storm into something you absolutely, definitely wouldn’t NOT want to vote for. And I’ve already said it – but have to stress it – I bet there wouldn’t be a cloud or brolly in sight. As well as the kinetic energy and the wow factor, another thing Devlin brings to her work is a helluva lot of humour. Imagine turning Miley Cyrus’ tongue into a shocking pink helter skelter which said Cyrus then slides down to make her entrance. Brilliant stuff.

As wishes go, this couldn’t be more academic. An Instagram post by Black Skull, the creative team behind the UK’s Eurovision staging since 2015, confirmed that they would be on Storm duty in Lisbon (as they were in Brighton). And that’s no bad thing.

With experience comes learning and the stupendous staging of Lucie Jones’ entry last year shows that these lads have been taking notes. They’ll no doubt want to top Kyiv in Lisbon and there’s no reason to think they’re not capable. But if inspiration does take a while to thunder from the heavens, hopefully one of them will have Es on their Rolodex and they can invite her round for tea, custard creams and an ever so helpful brainStorm.

 

 

 

We review the UK’s Eurovision: You Decide hopefuls – on a shiny podcast

Oh, January, how we love thee. Or February sometimes.

It’s when we have the opportunity to listen to the tunes the BBC have in mind for the UK’s big Eurovision adventure in early spring.

It’s important when reviewing such stuff that you ask someone not so close to the action to give their views too. So, in the audio below, you’ll find my other half, Glyn, and I listen to all six and offer some opinions too.

It’s safe to say Glyn had a clear favourite. I’m still open to persuasion.

Excited? The UK reveals its 2018 Eurovision hopefuls TOMORROW

They say it’s the waiting that can kill you.
That’s possibly true if you’ve been bitten by a deadly snake in Blackpool, death is certain within 20 minutes and the nearest vial of antidote is in New Zealand.
Otherwise, it’s just anticipation that you’re dealing with and that’s certainly something which has been ramped up around UK Eurovision fans this lunchtime.
Mainly due to this tweet.

What a smashing bolt from the blue.  We will enjoy a two-week window between knowing the songs and voting for our favourite in this year’s UK final. That’s instead of the four-day gap we’ve known in recent years after Ken Bruce introduced them on his Radio 2 show and Mel Giedroyc announced them in a slightly different order on the stage of the final itself.

So now we have to wait. It could be less than 12 hours (a midnight reveal) or a commuter friendly 8am. We havne’t got long to find out.

Until then, we just have Mans’ teasing words to go by.

Flute. We can live with that.

Hooky. That’s the spirit. More please.

Clubby. Hmm, could go either way.

Ed Sheerany. Erm….

Yes, we can all hear that bubbling in Yerevan

Any Eurovision fan will tell you those post-Christmas blues are a load of old tosh. If anything, for us, January brings a succession of 7AMs on December 25 as the line-ups for each national final start trickling through the WiFi.

Here we are, just over halfway through the first month of the year and already the song for Albania is in the bag, Norway has revealed its longlist (including something from 2009 Eurovision champ Alexander Rybak we’ll come back to in a later post) – but it was something in the latest chunk of tunes unveiled by Armenia in the past 24 hours which has seen the first wah-wah twitching in the trophy antenna for 2018.

Asmik Shiroyan possesses the rather impressive lungs behind You & I. It couldn’t be more different to the French entry of the same name from 2012, or indeed the almost-the-same-named Dutch song in the same year. In fact, when listening to the tunes Armenia has sent to this competition since their 2006 debut, it’s an interesting curveball from the expected blend of ethnic sounds and EDM production.

If this does go on to be Armenia’s representative in Lisbon, it will (arguably) be the most Western-sounding song they’ve ever sent. While that’s not necessarily the best way to win this competition, there’s enough widespread appeal in this tune to give Armenian telly its first ever top three placing. Not jumping the gun of course. It is only January and there could be even shinier new prezzies under the tree tomorrow.

L’amour doesn’t have to be bleu (OR How Eurovision Can Stop You Having a Blue Monday)

Scientists (yes, scientists) have spent long hours totting up figures on the back of a fag packet to deduce that today – Monday, January 15 – is Blue Monday.

If their sums are right, you woke up today feeling more miserable than the cumulative disappointment measured across all members of Pheno Men when they failed to secure a single point on Saturday’s Destination Eurovision. But surely nobody could be that glum?

Still, it pays to organise a preemptive strike. They can be game-changers.

Just in case Blue Monday has turned your soul a maudlin shade of lapis lazuli, Whoops Dragovic is here to help. They say it takes a village to raise a child, so access to lots of Eurovision pals on your Facebook feed and a wee bit of pre-planning could possibly be enough to raise a grin on this most non-Friday of days.

Basically, Whoops asked a broad church of fans, be they well known bloggers or chums of mine who have been known to whistle a Contesty tune from time to time to tell us the Eurovision song which never fails to lift their spirits. As you’ll expect from such a diverse congregation, the styles and the explanations differ but they all share the same joyful resolution.

Hope they do the job for you too. Start twitching your smirking muscles around… about…

Now.

Dance With Me performed by Zoli Adok
Hungary 2009
Nominated by: Glyn Ellis Hughes

This may not have qualified but it’s a winner in my eyes.

An unapologetic attempt at Disco – rhyming the words floor, Singapore, sore and core without a shred of shame. I defy anyone to get on a treadmill or run round a park listening to this and not start throwing your arms about.

It’s a wonderful song to exercise to. I’ve had plenty of strange looks in hotel gyms to prove it. Don’t care, it’s a pure joy.

Glyn Ellis Hughes is a pint-sized Welsh heartthrob, bon viveur and cat lover. Follow him on Twitter @glynellishughes

Chce Znac Swoj Grzech performed by Kasia Kowalska
Poland 1996

Nominated by: Paul Marks-Jones

Yes I know it doesn’t smack of cheer, but bear with me. Its actually an ideal song for three reasons.

1. It’s in Polish so you can sing along and pretend you know all the words – this makes you feel pleased with yourself.

2. It has lots of waily bits so you can really belt it out with hairbrush in hand and emote infront of the bedroom mirror – surely that makes anyone feel good.

3. When you’ve finished in a heap of dramatic emotion you realise nothing can be as bad as whatever ‘that polish bird’ is going through and so you feel instantly elated.

Paul Marks-Jones is a former president of OGAE UK and remains excellent at organising things.

Meiecundimees Üks Korsakov Läks Eile Lätti performed by Winny Puhh
Estonian national final 2013
Nominated by: Roy Delaney

I fell in love with this sprinty little tune the moment a trusted pal sent me a sound file with a note stating simply: “I think you need to hear this”.

Little did I know the unhinged visual splendour that would develop with each new performance, until our hairy heroes missed out on a place at Eurovision proper by mere fumes at Estonia’s excellent Eesti Laul back in 2013.

From that day on they’ve been my favourite band on the planet, in all their bonkers majesty. This video still remains the absolute peak of all human activity. Be warned, you might cry.

Roy Delaney is saving the universe one Eurovision gem at a time via the site ESC Apocalypse. You can also follow him on @ESCApocalypse

Chanteur de charme performed by Gérard Lenorman
France 1988
Nominated by Martin Faulkner

A guaranteed misery-buster, you say? Perhaps not the most conventional choice, but Gérard Lenorman’s wistful ode to old-school crooners and their soppy but sincere sentiments always hits the spot for me.

The melody swoops and sways, each hopeful leap to the high notes – as strained as Gérard’s delivery may be, especially live, you know he absolutely means it – transporting you to a safe place miles from the slog of the everyday and reminding you that it’s OK to wish away your troubles, to believe in fairytales, to be a romantic old fool, to dream.

Martin writes about the contest at www.escgo.com and can be found on Twitter at @faulknmd

Amazing performed by Tanja
Estonia 2014
Nominated by Philip Hammond

Shortly after my partner died, the lyric “you know there’s nothing I wouldnt do, I’d break the curse of time to be with you”.

Very true – and the idea that I can do that (through the medium of music) makes me smile and deliriously happy.

Philip Hammond is the brains behind Eurovision Is My Boyfriend and there’s a good chance you’ll have spotted one of his t-shirt designs among the crowd at big Contest-related events.

Born in Bielorussia performed by Anastasiya Vinnikova
Early version of Belarus 2011
Nominated by: Ewan Spence

Lots of songs can be fun, but what you need is a song that invades you. What you need is a song that takes control of your limbs and heart, that makes you throw shapes, that makes you sing (badly) along, and is an utter earworm you would never play on Desert Island Discs.

Step forward ‘Born In Bielorussia,” the failed first entry from Anastasiya Vinnikova. Belarus’s Eurovision team never banned it because of the similarities to the seventies, or the pre-deadline performance. No it was banned because the power to infect broke the Geneva Convention.

All together now, “round and round we go…”

Ewan Spence runs ESC Insight, the most analytical of all Eurovision sites which features a regular and popular series of podcasts. You can follow him @ESCinsight

Enséñame a cantar performed by Micky
Spain 1977
Nominated by: Andrew Brook

If you thought that Micky’s performance of Enséñame a cantar at Wembley in 1977 was the campest thing on earth, wait until you see the preview video.

I can’t work out whether this is an intentional send-up or if it is just pure, innocent fun, but it works on both levels. If Franco hadn’t died two years previously, Micky’s performance would surely have finished him off!

You can listen to some of Andrew’s own compositions on his Facebook page

La Det Swinge performed by Bobbysocks
Norway 1985
Nominated by Martin Palmer

“Let the music live, never let the rhythm stop

Can you feel that you’re alive right here and now?

Do you feel how much you want to dance?

Oh… and do you hear your heart beating on and on?

Let it swing, let it rock ‘n’ roll

Let it swing until you lose all control

Oh hi ho…

Let it swing, let it rock ‘n’ roll”

Just the mention of the winning Norwegian title La Det Swinge makes me smile instantly and I rehear the song in my head from initial sax to joyous adulation.

How could anyone not be happy hearing Bobbysocks sing? Punch the air!

Martin Palmer runs the LMBTO Eurovision documenting both his travels and his opinions. You can follow it here.

Conquistador performed by Da Vinci
Portugal 1989
Nominated by: Mark Shone

Not the strongest Eurovision song ever, nor my absolute favourite entry, but my go-to for a vintage song contest uplift.

The surging intro, anthemic chorus, key change and shameless listing of overseas territories in lieu of meaningful lyrics is pure joy. And I love the singer’s big hat and the backing dancers’ innovative routine.

On a personal note, it also reminds me of good times with like-minded chums at fan meet ups.

Mark Shone is a UK-based fan of many years standing. Follow him on Twitter @sparkle150578

Hallelujah performed by Milk & Honey feat. Gali Atari
Israel 1979
Nominated by: Jon Jacob

Israel’s winning song from 1979 is a thigh-slapping hand-clapping crowd-pleaser tugs at the heart strings.

Its simple melody is memorable meaning its an uplifting thing to belt out in amongst a crowd of tired drunk middle-age Eurovision fans. For me, it’s the shameless key changes, the cheeky brass counter-melodies in the third chorus and the joyous descant in the final reprise that bring tears to the eye.

It’s not that Hallelujah makes the world a better place. What the song achieves is to remind us of our own often latent individual ability to make it a better place.

Jon Jacob is @ThoroughlyGood on Twitter. He writes a Thoroughly Good Blog about classical music and, for a few weeks of the year, Eurovision too.

Era Stupendo performed by Paolo Meneguzzi
Switzerland 2008
Nominated by: Andrew Dineley

How does one pick? I looked at which Eurovision song had been played the most in my iTunes library. It turned out to be a song that tragically failed to qualify.

Era Stupendo is one of those songs that would easily pass the casual listener by and this included me on the night.

It was only later that my love for the track grew – in quite a similar way to the song itself. It starts off rather subdued and uneventful and builds to the most beautiful crescendo that never fails to uplift and make me smile.

Andrew Dineley is a graphic designer and long-time contributor to Classic Pop magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @disheedee

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this most cheery of lists (I am aware there are no women on the list – I did approach as many as I could but didn’t get any response) but it doesn’t have to stop here. Please tell us the Eurovision song that never fails to cheer you up in the comments below. We want to have enough ammo to smash Blue Monday out the park and make most of Tuesday rather cheerful too.

 

 

Noée a été volé! Sunday morning with the first French semi of the year

 

I was otherwise engaged on Saturday evening. That meant while thousands of us enjoyed the novelty of a non-UK final being broadcast on PROPER telly (825 on the Virgin box, no less) as a live event, it was a treat simmering on the windowsill of the TiVo box for me to nod my bedhair to first thing on the Sabbath.

After two-and-a-half-hours of Eurovision-suitability-type ruminating, four of the nine songs performed have gone forth to the national final. We’ll get to that lucky quatuor in a mo – but first some observations.

UN: If only we Brits had the same attention span as our French chums

Can you imagine a UK heat getting a 150-minute slot, peak-time Saturday night? Mind you, after sitting through the full show, it was easy to picture the disgruntled tweets if the BBC borrowed this format.

“Why, oh why, oh why MUST we have each singer performing a DIFFERENT song before getting to their actual entry? It just makes this interminable nonsense an even longer endurance.’

And that’s before they start on Brexit.

To be fair, the UK heat will feature six songs with the whole shebang sorted in 90 minutes so there’ll be a spot of padding needed there to surround the 18 minutes’ worth of stuff that’s actually in contention. This French heat may have lasted a lot longer than some Contests proper of the ’70s and ’80s but if you want to experience truly meandering live TV, San Remo is about to pop its head over the horizon. This was positively zippy in comparison.

DEUX: The French are effortlessly stylish

See also: ITALY. Are there any squares in France? As a nation, they are so gorgeous to watch. They could fall out of bed into a bin liner, trip through a hedge on their way out of the house then have their hair pecked by crows but still be the most fabulous person within a 10-mile radius. It’s just not fair.

TROIS: Noée wuz robbed

Style and sartorial flair aside, the songs themselves were a mostly enjoyable bunch. The one which stood out for me, however, was a remarkable bit of quirk-cum-balladry from Noée. Her L’un Pres De L’Autre was the only one of the nine which had me humming after its conclusion. Remember Anna Rossinelli’s In Love For a While, the Swiss entry in 2011? Well, it was that after it had turned up for its first day in art school full of winsome confidence, had its first naive submission given a D+ by its tutor and spent dark weeks and months glowering behind the student union with its equally affronted mates, half a bottle of cheap beer and countless Gitanes. I weep for its non-progress.

Sixth? Out of nine? Jeez Louise.

So, anyway. Who DID get through? After international votes from Italy, Belarus and Sweden (Christer ‘Mr Melodifestivalen’ Bjorkman doing the job for the latter), then the three homegrown experts (TWO of whom failed to give Noée a single point, the nice man in Italy gave her 10). The four songs going through to the final are:

4th: Mamma Mia by Louka (30 points)

Surprising qualifier. This really wasn’t up to much. Great for fans of the word ‘Et’.

3rd: Ciao by Malo (46 points)

Only third here but if it can conquer a few mountains and still get to Lisbon, this could of rather well.

2nd: OK ou KO by Emmy Liyana (50 points)

Stuff that doesn’t sound like your typical Eurovision stuff is doing better and better at the Contest these days. This is that sort of stuff. Emmy looks and sounds fantastic too.

1st: Eva by Lisandro Cuxi (66 points)

The most accessible pop tune of the evening. There were shades of Amir’s J’ai Cherché so it helped that the man himself was one of three judges in the studio. We are in the earliest mists of dawn of national final season so it’s daft to hail anything as a winner yet but all that aside, this lad’s got potential.

But so did Noée. Bah.

I’m Afraid You’ve Killed the Barman (AKA All our Gisteren)

It’s lovely to be back doing Whoops Dragovic, it really is.

I know it’s now a blog and not the website of eight years ago which looked like it was held together with sticking plasters and goodwill – but it’s nice to back all the same.

For today’s post, I wanted to do something that commemorated the old Whoops while leaving it as a whacking big stick in the ground from which all things afterwards will be looking forward to Eurovision 2018 and beyond.

So, for everyone who has mentioned it to me over the years (‘it’ being probably the most popular little bit of Whoops Dragovic 1.0), this is for you.

Thank you for all your kind words in the past 48 hours since Whoops was resurrected. The cloying self-indulgence stops here.

And no, the transliterated lyrics don’t work in the same way when you’re watching Ruth sing them in person, do they?