The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 17

I’ve lived with a Welshman for the past 15 years.

In that time, I’ve been introduced to various aspects of his home country’s culture – especially the music. The choirs, the indie-ish pop and most importantly, Can i Gymru, the Welsh language preliminaries for the Pan Celtic Song Festival, broadcast on S4C every St David’s Day.

It’s probably not appointment telly for every Eurovision fan out there but it was the event which sprung to mind on first hearing of this year’s Georgian entry. Coupled with Wales’ success (a silver medal no less) in the first Eurovision Choir of the Year competition, forgive me if things were going all Celtic round my eardrums instead of Georgian.

This isn’t my first time at the Eurovision rodeo. I know not to take polished studio recordings of an entry as any indication of success once it transfers to rehearsal week. Flipping that coin over, I was so convinced The Common Linnets and their Calm After the Storm would bomb after being so thoroughly bored by it in preview season that the subsequent toastiness of my fingertips has taught me to look at the Eurovision line-up in the broadest picture possible.

While an art video presenting For You in some form of disused silo is never going to be the most exciting thing in the world, it’s clear that when these boys get on stage and do this live, there’s real potential for a spine-tingling combination of close harmony, control and power which could get the right people sitting up and taking notice.

There’s always one song in rehearsals which comes out of nowhere like an Agatha Christie plot twist and this could be the one. It won’t light up the world’s charts, it won’t get a 7th Heaven remix and nobody will be humming it in the street the Sunday after the final. But it could also provide one of those all-important Eurovision ‘moments’ – and we should never underestimate the power of those.

The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 16

Iceland sort of did it in 2005 and nobody else has come even close to doing so until this year’s entry from FYR Macedonia.

With Eurovision having a strict three-minute max rule on the songs, one thing I’ve always been fascinated about is the concept of a country trying to do the Contest equivalent of Bohemian Rhapsody. That is, steer a composition through as many different genres as possible, retain its melodic integrity without ever sounding contrived and – thanks to the rulebook – doing all that in around half the time it took Freddie and friends.

Eye Cue’s Lost and Found is about the closest I’ve ever heard and it’s enjoyable enough, switching from off-the-peg pop to something with a hint of reggae and then something else a little rockier. I really like this and it stays just the right side of contrived. I’d also love to see it do well but there’s a concern about the way this meanders from one style to the next.

It knows it’s going to get there but there’s no sense of urgency in doing so. If the transitions were a little slicker and played around with a few more genres (imagine this going full-on popera at the end) then it would be a full-on contender for the title. Let me be clear, this is still a boss pop song but the listener deserves to hear the chorus at least one more time before those three minutes are up.

One thing we don’t have to worry about is Eye Cue’s ability to pull this out of the bag live. Reports from the first public performance of Lost and Found had thumbs up all round and they’re a tight outfit (even tighter than the pink thing worn in the video) so there’s still potential for the live chops to impress in Lisbon.

The only other note of concern relates to FYR Macedonia from last year. Dance Alone was such an irresistible package when laid in the table before us in the form of a promo and studio version. Come Kyiv, seeming budgetary restrictions from FYROM telly saw it performed in the most basic way possible which did nothing for the tongue-in-cheek style of the song.

This song deserves the sort of staging that shows off its gradual gear changes. It doesn’t have to cost the earth to achieve that either. Eye Cue deserve to do well – not to be left lost and foundering.

The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 15

It takes a brave soul to wear a roll-neck jumper. Even a black one. The moment that collar makes contact with your chin, woe betide any excess fat you may have dangling south.

Luckily for this year’s French entrants, they have no such concerns. Being French, they are automatically sophisticated, slinky and a tiny bit sexy – perfect for the stripped back gear they’ve got on to sing this.

Mercy comes from the most involved French national final in years which saw some perfectly brilliant pop navigate a course through to a final where Madame Monsieur charmed the public if not the juries. That said, there was so much quality on show, whatever wound up winning had the potential to do decent things in Lisbon.

It’s always interesting to see a Eurovision song tread the line between commenting on world events without worrying the ‘no politics’ rule. With this being a comment on the plight of refugees who risked their lives – losing them in some cases – in an attempt to reach the comparative safety of mainland Europe, it would take someone particularly stone-hearted to go through the lyrics with a chunky red marker.

The preview video makes this message even more stark as sympathisers are filmed in key locations around the continent, wearing either the silver foil blankets which provide warmth in a crisis or the life jackets that symbolise support in a crisis.

That makes the perfect visual accompaniment to this sombre anthem. It could have been bombastic, overblown and preaching in its delivery but instead delivers its message with admirable restraint.

Mercy may be just that little too simplistic to bring about France’s sixth victory in total and its first in 41 years. While this is undeniably a great blend of electronica production and considered songwriting, the lack of bangs and whistles may make this go over the heads of Eurovision’s Saturday night voters.

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.