Monday, 29 February 2016

Norway 2016 - MGP Reprises - In Sign Language


After last year's ridiculously entertaining signers at MelFest, it looks like the Norwegians fancied a go of their own, and lined up a conveyor belt of ever more entertaining sign language translators to explain the songs that were being reprised over their shoulders.

They get incrimentally better and better, although our fave is the game old girl who's having a right rave to Feel Da Rush! They look like they're having far too much fun, and on occasions I'm not entirely convinced that they're actually signing - come on, they're just dancing, right. Especially that lad in the leather waistcoat!

If there are any Norwegians with hearing difficulties out there who can conform or deny this, then please do fill us in!

Hungary 2016 - Gergő Oláh – Győz A Jó


The Hungarians offered perhaps the biggest surprise package of the year, as A Dal finally became the one to watch after so many years slight misfires. Almost everyone liked at least three songs in their final, and nobody is too terribly disappointed with the result. Well, he was a bit of a beefcake, after all.

That's not to say the show wasn't without its stranger moments. Somehow I'd managed to avoid seeing the boy Gergő here in the run up to the final, so what joyous riches he dealt me as I sat gaping at the screen, completely unaware of what was about to unfold. It started traditionally enough - moody looking lad ululating slowly in a lively suit, until the skip beat kicked in and four muscly dancers leapt onto the stage to do a bit of formation leg dancing.

At the two minute mark, the breakdown encouraged the whole lot of them to swing their pants about in a glorious fashion before something quite unexpected happened. I won't give it away if you've not seen it, but viewers of a certain age will be reminded of the old time music hall act Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

Oh, and you'll probably have to sit through an advert for Hungarian Tescos first if you click the link, but treat it as a cross-cultural experience.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Latvia 2016 - Riga Beaver - Let It Go (Interval)


The biggest Eurovision cult figure of the last two years is undoubtedly the Riga Beaver. What started out as a furry warm up man for a studio-based final soon became the coolest thing in all Eurovisionia for those in the know, and for tonight's Supernova final he was in tip top form.

It started strangely with a class in how to make a snowflake, and got more unlikely still with a freestyle reggae session. But the icing on the cake was the truly beautiful moment when he dragged a tiny fairy girl on stage to sing just about the best version of Let It Go you ever heard.

Watch in awe as he flutters around the stage with a magic wand in his hand, and coo with delight as you begin to notice that the wee tot knows every last word and action of the song. Watch the whole thing through for maximum fun, but skip forward to 12:54 for the Frozen moment. I don't think we'll see anything more perfectly joyful as this all year.

Now, let's get that campaign going to get the Beaver reading out the Latvian votes in Stockholm!

Moldova 2016 - Doinita Gherman - Irresistible


We make no secret of the fact that we're massive fans of Doinita Gherman here at Apocalypse Towers. We've followed her through thick and thin, and harbour deep wishes for her to finally one day stamp about on the Eurovision stage proper. And even though we reckon her last couple of attempts have had the edges of pure unabashed lunacy sanded off from them, there's still always something for the casual observer to enjoy.

Witness Irresistible here as a case in point. What may one the face of it be one of the most normal and mainstream songs that she's presented, when it came to the stage show, she left nothing in the locker.  A troupe of unhinged dancers all swathed in post apocalypse white and wearing big old crash helmets? Check! Giant mirrored shields covered in mirrors deflecting the spotlights and blinding the first ten rows of the audience? Check! Barking mad amazonian woman in leather stamping and shouting like a dangerous dervish? Check! What more could you possibly want?

Sadly she didn't quite make the grade, and the good people of Moldova chose something of a dreary mid tempo plodder instead. But it will happen one day, you mark our words. And then the whole of Europe will know the power of Queen Doinita! Oh yes! (I'm off for a lie down in a darkened room...) 

Sweden 2016 - Panetoz - Håll Om Mig Hårt


I hate the concept of guilty pleasures. It's just a ponced up excuse to enjoy things that you actually really like, but that perceived cool just will not allow under normal circumstances. Why can't you just like what you like and be damned with it. But there are still some thing that you really shouldn't find yourself enjoying where you can't help but loving every last bit of it.

Panetoz, for instance.

You could write huge tracts of copy explaining why they're not actually very good. They ain't the best singers, their routines are a bid dad-stompy and they can't dress for billio. But there is just something so infectiously charming about their whole demeamour that only a heartless grump could ever truly hate them. I began watching this three minutes last night in a grumble at their badness, but by the end they had me and the missus dancing on the table and singing along in abject delight.

Come on Sweden, see sense. You're not trying to win this thing, you just want to show Europe what a great party you can throw. So what better song to chose than this little belter. No one will ever remember that tedious Molly Sanden drudge in six months time, but they'll be singing along to this forever!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Slovenia 2016 - Vladimir Putin - Putin, Putout (Interval)


Those of you who found a reliable link for Slovenia's EMA tonight may have found their jaws dropping to the floor when it came to interval time. For after a nicely mash up between 2015's Maraaya and Mini EMA winner Lina Kuduzovic came this strange but beguiling little number.

The show's host Klemen Slakonja boldly took a pop at that tiny orange lad who runs that big country that own all the oil over to the East there. No, not that one... up a bit. Yes, THAT one. In doing so he's probably guaranteed himself a radio active breakfast at some point in the next six months, or at the very least a life time of Afghani donkey porn spam on every email address he ever owns from here on in.

Indeed, I'm fully expecting a similar fate for simply showing you this little beaut, so watch it quite before all my teeth start falling out...




Moldova 2016 - Valentin Uzun - Mine


So Even-More-Super Saturday may have been drenched with disappointment, as absolutely none of my favourites got through, but there was still plenty of fun to be had - not least in Moldova, where pretty much every song that was performed looked utterly bonkers apart from the one that won. It was like 1980 all over again!

I've got loads to keep you busy with for the rest of the week, but why not start at the beginning with this lively lad. Valentin here appeared to have brought his pet along with him, and rested it on his head for his entire performance. Even the traditional parpy Moldovan trumpets didn't wake it up. Neither did the practically unclothed ladies that were blowing them, nor the flaming guitars near the end.

But we'll save the best bit of all for you to discover. In all my days covering musics of all genres right across the world, I've never seen THAT happen! Do enjoy! 

More Moldovan antics before the day is out!

Hungary 2016 - Parno Graszt - Már Nem Szédülök


There's a whole barrage of national finals and big important shows tonight, so it's been tricky to establish just which ones to watch. You can kick the night off with the stuttering Moldovan stream if you've got the energy, then finish off lovely with the Norwegian announcement, but there's a whole clump to watch in the middle that all run at the same time, so you'll have a right brain melt trying to pick your fave. But I'd suggest following our advice and watching A Dal for once in your life.

No, stay with me, you'll be glad. Let's face it, you know what's happening in the Scandis, and can easily catch up on watch again if you don't check your tweets. And to be honest, they're all much a muchness. No, it's going to be a much better watch in Hungary tonight. Just look at the variation. You've got Mushu's storming blues punk, Petruska and his gallic jangle, and that lad Freddie and his impressive chest - plus plenty more interesting oddness besides.

But one thing you don't see so much of these days is a good old fashioned bit of local colour. Even dear old Doinita in Moldova has forgone her familiar turbo folko for something a bit more usual. So we're especially looking forward to seeing the White Horses here, a gypsy folk outfit of some note around those parts, singing a proper stomper, with a fair amount of acting in it too. That poor gal looks like she's going to weep in the middle. This almost certainly isn't going to win, but we'll have a heck of a good time watching it all the same.

So remember kids, watch Hungary tonight. You'll thank me in the end.

Friday, 26 February 2016

UK 2016 - Joe & Jake - You're Not Alone


Well that was a bit of a nice surprise. Joe from Ruthin and Jake from Stoke only went and won the UK's Eurovision ticket. As the night went on, it was looking like Bianca had it in the bag - even the bookies had them at a huge odds on punt! But somehow the charm of the cheeky chappies won through, and we're sending something that we won't be too embarassed about to the big show!

Joe looks like he'll be all kinds of fun at Euroclub, too.  This could be a lark!

UK 2016 - Dulcima - When You Go


So, it's the first proper UK final since something like the 1860s tonight, and I suppose I'd better pin my colours to the mast and pick a favourite. Although that's a trickier task than one would first imagine. Despite the initial novelty of having a batch of songs to choose from, they all turned out to be slightly different shades of the same vanilla.

One wouldn't begrudge Joe & Jake and their chirpy boy pop, while Darline seems to be wowing the betting fraternity. Bianca has the form to pull an interesting performance out of the bag, while the Lund fella is the dark horse, and will either burn bright or crash hard. And of course, we've already seen A Better Man around these parts, but the addition of matey boy from Bad Boys Inc may well swell his chances, as he's the only one on that stage tonight use to working a big hall.

But for me, I think I'd prefer Dulcima to bag it. Yes, I know, it's a bit of a rum do when I'm choosing a pair of nicey-nicey middle-class raggle taggle-buskers out of a field of six, but I fancy that unless they're cloyingly smug on stage (which is a big fear) they'll offer something that the rest of Europe wouldn't necessarily expect on that Saturday night in May, and may be the start of getting some slightly more interesting acts getting involved next year.

Although to be fair, I can't see too many of them reaching the lofty heights of the left-hand side of the scoreboard, anyway...

Thursday, 25 February 2016

France 2016 - Amir - J'ai Cherché


No sooner had the German final finished tonight than the rumour mill went into overdrive claiming that the French song had been leaked out. Local telly had been drip feeding clues over the last few weeks, but no one had expected it to be this part-Israeli, part-Tunisian, part-Morrocan, part-Spaniard melting pot of a human being.

And while he's a bit of a looker, the song itself is a bit of a raggle-taggle shuffle along that everybody will quietly enjoy, but hardly anyone will vote for. However, it's still not been confirmed by French  that it's the actual entry, so there's still time for something a little more go-ey.

What do you lot reckon? Likely contender or delightful also ran?

***STOP PRESS***

Turns out it's quite true, and this is going to be the French entry! So click on the link below the pic above for the live version of the song and watch that boy smoulder!

Sweden 2016 - Frans - If I Were Sorry


For the most part, all of the songs in a MelFest semi these days tend to sound alike. Whether they try to disguise it with nominal genres like metal, techno pop, folk or country, they're all got the same verse/chorus structure, with all the same chords, and sound as though they've all been written by the same people - which for the most part they have been.

So to hear the lad Frans here rattle out his reasonable take on the UK singer-songer niche like a heavily accented Jamie T or a boyish Kate Nash in a hat was really rather a nice surprise.

Now, if I'd heard this on the radio in real life, or seen it on a minor stage at Glastonbury I'd have probably muttered something like "Oh for the love of God!" under my breath. But here in this context it stands out like a refreshing sore thumb. My gut instinct suspects that the boy Zia has got this all sewn up, but I really wouldn't count this unassuming little number out of the running, as it might just spring us a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Sweden 2016 - Swingfly featuring Helena Gutarra – You Carved Your Name


We flipping love Swingfly here at Apocalypse Towers. The bloke may have all the rhythm of a broken clock and a voice like a barking drill sergeant, but there's something completely lovable about the old fella, and his tunes always challenge you to dare trying not to tap your feet.

Me And My Drum is pretty much our favourite MelFest near miss ever, and while You Carved Your Name isn't quite in the same league as that beauty, it's still got considerable charms. The insistent techno flutter behind the vocals gets under your skin like some kind of pleasant disease, while the ballsy voice and jumping about of his co-conspiritor Helena only adds to the song's 'let's do the show here' street party vibe.

Absolutely gutted that this didn't make it to at least Andra Chansen, and even more surprised that it only reached sixth place in an extraordinarily bland semi-final. Ah well, what do those Swedes know, anyway...

Moldova 2016 - Priza - Rewind


Remember us gently Ribbing poor Chris Maroo last night after her low performing turn in the first Moldovan semi last night? Well this poor mob fared slightly worse - in the televote at least. Despite coming a respectable ninth out of twelve in the jury vote with a none-too-shabby 29 point, when it came to the punters, oh my days did it get embarrassing. 

How many did they score on a national phone vote on live, prime time, main channel TV? Thirteen. One-three. A Baker's Dozen. Crikey. Well it was certainly an unlucky number for them, and they must be wondering quite how they managed to score 86 less points than the hapless Ms Maroo - and even 17 phone calls less than the ambling Chriss Jeff. Heavens, there were five people in the band, and they were all seen texting rabidly in the green room. Do these people not have families who care for their careers? Friends who want to help them along their way? Pets?

One can only assume that something went awry with their number on the night. Although when we say 'assume'. we probably actually mean 'hope'. Because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about, poor loves...

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Moldova 2016 - Chris Maroo - Tonight


Anyone lucky enough to get a decent stream for the first Moldovan semi tonight would have enjoyed this spirited little number. Although when we say 'enjoy', we actually probably mean 'ran in terror'. Because boy this was bad. So bad that we're not entirely sure how me missed it in our first sweep through the qualifying round performances.

It's not so much a song as a nice lady having a nice time at the karaoke bar. It's her first go on the machine, mind, so she's not entirely sure how to project to the microphone yet. As such, she got the scoring you'd imagine. Not one of the grim looking jurors gave her a single point - her nearest rival getting a respectable 21 of them. And when it got to the televote she only got a measly 99 people to ring in for her - although I'd expect at least 78 were her mum. But somehow she managed to bag a point in the vote as inexplicably two acts got less punter love than her - Chriss Jeff managing and embarrassing 30, and poor Priza only harvesting a seemingly inexplicable 13. You could see them voting for themselves in the green room - how could that possibly be?

But the real loser tonight was our pal Sasha Bognibov. He must have been sitting at home, shouting at the telly, saying: "How in the name of all that is great and good did this get onto the live show and not me?!" And we have to agree that he has a point!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Cyprus 2016 - Minus One - Alter Ego


New just in: Cyprus have turned to the rock for this year's Eurovision entry. Or at least according to the rank and file fansters. But one close listen will tell you a whole different story. There may be guitars and serious gurns to the camera from a pug ugly drummer, that much is true. But that's just about where it ends.

While about their ordinary day jobs, the only prefix you could attach to the Minus One's 'rock' is 'pub'. And that's at a push. Indeed, so pedestrian is their usual ouvre that they've shipped in an exotic foreign songwriter of this parish to try and make themselves sound just a little bit interesting. Just. That man? One Thomas G:Son. Oh yes, him.

So what they've ended up delivering is a song that wouldn't be out of place in the lower reaches of a MelFest semi-final, but smoothed some slightly fuzzy guitars over it, and set the drum machine to 'Phil Collins', and have tried to palm it off as meaningful rock. Not on my watch, sunbeam. 

And another thing. Any songwriter who still uses the lyric line "morning light" in a song deserves the tar and feather treatment. That would look lovely in among those lovely flowing locks, Mr G, son...

UK 2016 - Fable - Human Pretending



This morning's big BBC reveal gave us six semi-decent songs. Nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing  to get the left-hand side of the scoreboard into too much of a panic either. What it needed was a big old belter of an edgy pop tune. Something like this, perhaps...

Yep, this is the song that ex-Orbital brother Paul Hartnoll put together for the uber-hip Brighton chanteuse Fable, and it couldn't be further from from the jangly safe half dozen we were dealt this morning. Gosh darn it.

So would it have won for us? Most probably not. But would it have given us something to be proud of, wherever it came in the table? Well, I'll leave that for you to decide. #missedopportunity, as I believe the youth say these days.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Estonia 2016 - Kristel Pärtna & Oliver Kuusik - Addio a Leri (Interval)


It's clearly been the season for the clever interval acts this term. Smart mash ups of past glories have abounded across the continent, but none cleverer and more achingly well done as this.

Elina & Stig's not-quite murder ballad converted into high opera, anybody? This is a thing of utmost beauty!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Finland 2016 - Chisu - Tipi-tii / Tähdet (interval)


I've always had a love/hare relationship with Tipi-Tii. Marion Rung's insistent second entry for the Finns is one of those songs that gets under your skin and always used to get me murderous. But as time has gone on I've begun to get really rather fond of the old bird. However, I never imagined that I'd ever see it performed like this.

When local pop icon Chisu started gyrating with her pals in a slinky white pantsuit I wondered why the heck it was there - until I twigged exactly what it was she was singing. Poor Ms Rung would be turning in her grave if she wasn't actually still alive. 

The second half of this performance featured some other song that I didn't recognise (but I'm sure you'll put me right if I've missed an obvious connection), but it was for the first half that I'll always truly have strangely enjoyable nightmares. It gave a rather ordinary third Finnish semi a better reason to remember it than most of the songs, and it almost took my mind off the terrible waffle-like garment one of the Icelandic hostesses was wearing directly afterwards.

Non-competing moment of the year so far!  

Friday, 19 February 2016

Bosnia 2016 - Dalal & Deen featuring Ana Rucner & Jala - Ljubav Je


It seems like ages since my favourite little Balkan country was last in Eurovision, and although I was glad it see them back, the news of a returning old boy (or girl) always fills me with worry. All too few recent returnees have relived their former glories to any major success. Indeed scarcely any of them have trawled their bones out of their semis, leaving them foundering indignantly on the rocks of diminishing returns.

So, has our lovely Deen and his many mates provided us with anything decent this time?

Hmm, the jury's out. It starts nice and moodily, with Ms Rucner sawing on her skeletal cello, but when Deen and Dalal kick in, it starts to plod quite heavily, and no amount of familiar Balkan time signaturing and regional pipes can evoke any feelings of power. Things did raise briefly when the beardy rapping lad skulked on, but I was always a fan of a bit of South East European hip hop. But then it's just back to the plod until it ends a bit suddenly.

So overall it's come out a bit lumpy, unfortunately. One of these kinds of songs always does well every year, but we've not heard much from any of their neighbours yet, so they may yet be trumped on the fist pumping Balkan power ballad stakes. What a shame - let's just hope it looks a bit better when they're not stymied by having to perform on different levels of Sarajevo City Hall.

Slovenia 2016 - Nuša Derenda - Tip Top


You'll have to help me here. I can't decide if this is utterly fabulous or incredibly, painfully rubbish. I know you'll have an opinion. 

We like the girl Nuša in this parish. We had a couple of terrific nights out with her in Copenhagen back in 2001 (not that we're name dropping or anything), and she's a really good egg. But is a hi-nrg disco Bond theme really the kind of thing she ought to be revisiting old haunts with?

Even taking the singer out of the equation, there's a lot of me that enjoys this over-blown little number. The John Barry pastiche orchestration is both cheesy yet pretty well done, her voice, obviously, is pretty strong, with a lovely edge of maturity only enhancing her familiar power pipes. But that title. Oh that title. It's very in keeping with the recent run of near rhyming couplets that always make you cringe, no matter how good the actually song is. 

Oh I don't know. It's probably rubbish, but there's something about it that I just can't hate. I must be losing my touch.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

UK 2016 - Kezia Gill - Glory Days


So you're trying to convince a major organisation to select you for an international performance. You think long and hard about the things that might enamour you to them, and try to work out exactly how you can write a song that will both appeal to their inner soul, and the hearts of the wider nation, and continent, beyond. So it's probably not the best idea to tell that organisation that they've been doing their job wrong for the last 19 years. 

Eurovision songs about Eurovision are almost without fail a bag of monkey balls, and ones that are moaning about their country not doing very well frequently litter the first sweep of the toilet entries every single year. Although to be fair, most of them are Swiss. Still, we get our fair share, and they're nearly always very much like this.

They usually begin with a terribly dated intro, slide gracelessly into an over wordy lyric about the old times and how we were good once, and they more than often come presented a two-bob video shot in the studio of the back alley wedding musician that usually writes them. And on top of that they always, always smugly imagine that they're the first person ever to have come up with the idea, and get terribly indignant when they don't make it to the telly.

Come on people, look around you. Our final selections are usually pretty poor, but they're never anywhere near this poor...

Poland 2016 - Margaret - Cool Me Down


I've long held a theory that aliens could accidentally crash on this planet with no prior knowledge of the Earth's existence, and still be able to identify a song as Swedish if it was the first tune that was ever played to them. This song underlines that theory perfectly.

Margaret here is a top Polish pop star, famed for singing in that kind of flat nasal street style beloved of the likes of Rihanna and her ilk. Neither of which lend to immediate thoughts of Scandic sort. Like them aliens, I had no prior knowledge of this song, but the second I heard the chorus I instantly knew that it had grubby little Swedish fingerprints all over it. After years of following this contest you just know. And sure enough, after a tiny bit of digging I discovered that, yes, it was part-written by a Swede. But wait, you say, isn't it also part-written by that Arash of Azerbaijan? What, the Iranian lad who moved to Sweden at the age of ten? I reply. Got them bang to rights!

What's even more interesting is that in the last hour or so, Poland have flown up in the betting, from middle ground outsiders to a spot jostling among the contenders. Are the gambling folks second guessing that this one is getting through? Or has someone made an arrangement somewhere down the line? Keep a close eye on this one, it could get interesting...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Ukraine 2016 - Japanda - Anime


I can't tell you how disappointed I was with Japanda's appearance in the second Ukrainian semi on Saturday. Now you may be thinking: "Colourful costumes, Japanese style, dancing bloody pandas - this is right up your street!" But no. If you've ever seen any of their other work you will share my disappointment.

Anime was a slow, ploddy, hook-free morass of a song, limply based of the Japanese J-Pop style. Previous tune Tamagotchi, however, was a riotous explosion of colour and sound that made you grin from ear to ear quite involuntarily. If you don't believe me, click here to see what you could have won...

Now of course, those not so well versed in the pop stylings of the Far East have been quoting Dolly Style as their only reference with regards to Japanda. Boy do you have a lot to learn. Both acts are a pale imitation of the queen of all colourful pop Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Just watch this and discover what you've been missing all your lives. But be sure to have a couple of pairs of sunglasses handy, as it's quite possibly the most visually lively video of all time!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Latvia 2016 - Samanta Tīna - The Love Is Forever


Ms Tīna is well known among Latvia watchers for not only having had more than a few goes at this, but also for providing us with a few snide chuckles along the way. So when her entry in last week's first Supernova semi was a bit, well, usual, we had concerns that maybe she had grown up a little and got all serious like.

We shouldn't have worried.

Yep, because tonight she confounded all expectations and delivered a performance of such bewildering strangeness that it's difficult to put your finger on exactly quite what happened. It started off strangely enough. All dressed up like a disco Nefertiti, pulling strange gurns to the camera, amd seemingly unable to stick with a single song concept for more than a few second,myou really thought it couldn't get any stranger. But then it did. Big time. We won't spoil the surprise for you if you've not seen it, but you really won't see it coming. And from there on in the bonkesness magnifies, before an ending of such stultifying comedy that you'll start to wonder if this wasn't all some crazy in-joke that none of the rest of us were party to. 

But you know the strangest thing? It only went and qualified for the next round - via the jury! This season gets weirder and weirder!

Estonia 2016 - Cartoon featuring Kristel Aaslaid - Immortality


Now here's a curious thing - and I'm amazed that there hasn't been more of a hoohaa kicked up about it. On the face of it this was a bold and interesting move. Motion capture your real life singer, and plunge the animated version of her into an amazing cartoon landscape. Occasionally tease the audience, letting them think you've gone back to the studio, then make things get even more unhinged on screen. Then at the end, reveal the real human singer in the same outfit, just to connect it to real life.

Great in theory, but give it a little extra thought and a whole hatful of potential problems begin to rack up. The first, and most simple one being - who are they going to do this in a more live situation in the Eesti Laul final. It's a slightly open secret that they record all the semi-final songs a couple of weeks in advance, with only the voting bits being shown live. But in a big live show in front of a hefty audience? Well that could prove a lot more tricky. And then there is the problem of the mo-cap itself. Those that attended the Semis in Estonia report that this was all done well in advance, and for the most part Kristel just paced about on stage, singing live, but waiting for her visual cue.

So it was the mostly-animated, prerecorded visual performance that the home voters were spending their pennies on, albeit with live vocals. How is that going to work if they're lucky enough to get to Stockholm? Will the EBU stand for it? Or will it usher in lots of acts suddenly singing along to cartoons on a big screen. It's the beginning of the end, I tells you! Even if it did look pretty cool.

This one's going to run and run, one suspects...

Estonia 2016 - Mick Pedaja - Seis


You always come to expect something groundbreakingly exciting or achingly minimal from the Estonians, but last night's performance from Mick Pedaja knocked me aside with it's beautiful simplicity. Someone at ETV has clearly got a new box of lighting effects, because there were a few unusual bits and pieces in the first Laulish semi-final, but this one was the most hauntingly effective.

I won't give the whole game away, but expect a lone, back-lit figure on stage, with some of the most gently fragile lighting and camera effects we've ever seen at this show. They song's a really heartbeat slowing breathtaker too. Wowsers.

On suspects that if something this wispy got to Eurovision proper it would get a bit lost in the big noisy pack, but as a standalone three minutes it's an artefact of the utmost musical beauty. Could watch this one again and again and again.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Switzerland 2016 - Kaceo - Disque d'Or


That Swiss final was a bit of a strange one. No decent songs by any reasonable measure, a bland put winner, and a whole load of cover versions for no apparent reason. But it did have this...

OK, so the band are insufferably smug raggle taggle merchants trying to be wacky, but look... the drummer's wearing boxing gloves! And the singer's riding a little unicorn!

Oh please yourselves!

Italy 2016 - Stadio - Un Giorno Mi Dirai


An absolutely smashing thing has been going on all week in Sanremo. At the start of the week you wouldn't given this gaggle of understated old boys a light of hauling in the nobbily trophy and bagging themselves a chance of Eurovision glory. But as the days have slowly rolled by, the wind got in their sails and suddenly they started looking like serious contenders.

And when they walked the covers night the crowd got right behind them and we began to wonder if we weren't going to have a shock on our hands. Indeed, when they did the countdown of the final sixteen to see who was going to be in the superfinal, the normally staid crowd began to chant their name above all the others.

The voting in the final was a proper complicated case of cosines and algebra, and our charming host Carlo Conti kept us hanging on and hanging on for the result, like a never ending Dermot moment in the X Factor. In triplicate. But after an age they were announced as the worthy winners, and looked more surprised than anyone else in the building.

Now, will RAI be brave enough to send this to Sweden? I bloody hope so!

Austria 2016 - Bella Wagner - Weapons Down


Alright, so when I made my first couple of run-throughs of the songs I didn't pay this one much mind. There's something in me that instantly recoils at the regulation Eurovision peace ballad, so I listened to a bit and then skipped on to the next one. But in this game, a strong performance can dredge a regulation performance out of the mire of anonymity - and boy did our Bella manage that in bucketloads!

From the start her cowelled garb, pallid anti-make up and alien expression set the viewer on edge, her strong but fractured voice emoting the song's lyric like she was actually standing there in a warzone like some kind of battle scarred bat. But then when she swooshed back her robe to reveal naught but gauze and bandage, it all started to get a bit intense.

You won't see many singers this season working the camera to a more powerful result, and in the three long minutes Bella swung me from not caring a fig about another worthy battle song to believing every damn minute of it and hoping she was going to win the ticket to Stockholm. She deserved a superfinal place at the very least, although we suspect the Elly V loving jury vote put paid to that. Bella versus Zoé? What an interesting battle that would have been.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Austria 2016 - Zoë - Loin d'Ici


After the incredible highs and lows of the last two years, Austria really need to get back on track and reclaim their traditional mid-table position. But one quick skim down the finalists for tonight's big show yields a whole lot of lower order non-qualifiers and ne'er-do-wells - all bar one song. This song.

OK, so it might not be the most rock 'n' roll three minutes of the year so far, but it's quite possibly the sweetest, reminiscent of all those wide-eyed French chansons this contest used to spit out at the tag end of the sixties, but with a hip, contemporary underlay bubbling on beneath. 

"But wait a minute, you said French?", I hear you enquire. That's right, this song is delivered entirely in the language of love. And no, you haven't tuned into Switzerland by mistake. It's a big risk sending a song warbled in entirely the wrong language for your nation - even wronger than doing it in English. But good heavens, unless she sings like a coughing sealion in the live situation there's not going to be a lot to beat this in any language unless the Austrians have taken more of a dislike to their nearby neighbours than we ever imagined.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Romania 2016 - Hayley Evetts - Brand New Day


OK, so we're used to strange things happening in Romania, but something pretty difficult to comprehend has just happened down Bucharest way. Let's see if we've got this right...

Remember that Hayley Evetts? You know, the sweet one off Pop Idol 2002? Yes her. Well not only has she entered in Romania, but it sounds just she's being backed by an ELO trib act. Yes, we know.

Stranger still, word has it that it's written by one Martin Bayley - who you may remember as the musical airline pilot who wrote pretty much the UK's last decent effort - Jessica Garlick's Come Back.

There's too much maths there to fully understand, but how the heck has this come to be? Help me, mummy. Help me. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Italy 2016 - Elio e Le Storie Tese - Vincere L'Odio


You can always rely on the Elio's for a bit of a hoot, but the boys have excelled themselves this year, submitting an entry that's not so much a song, but a medley of all the best Sanremo songs from the 50s to the 70s that you've never actually heard.

Seriously, it's a thing of beauty. Every time you start to get familiar with a segment they whip off and kick into the next one at breakneck speed. Musical genres and epochs hold no bounds for them, as they dart stylistically around the world of song and manage to cram them all into a compact form, leaving you all exhausted and disorientated by the story's end. Fans of Frank Zappa and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band will love it, mind.

It's impossible to hum, and even more difficult to explain, and even though one suspects they'll get their traditional face-saving second or third place finish, I'd really love this to get chosen to get the golden ticket to Sweden. There are very few of the fan sites that even have the language to explain what's going on, and it'll confound and confuse the heck out of a whole continent of commentators. A boy can but dream though!

Iceland 2016 - Greta Salomé - Raddirnar



I wasn't overly impressed why I heard the audio-only version of this tune a few weeks back. OK, so it was a pleasant enough song, delivered engagingly by a singer that we know we can trust, but it was kind of lost in the pack for me. That is until I saw her perform it live. Sometimes it's not merely the staging and attendant mcguffins that make a performance great, but the way the talent interacts with is, and Greta Salomé has got this one pegged bang to rights.

A few less imaginative commentators are calling foul and sying that she's lifting her act from both Loreen AND Måns, but I'm not sure that Loreen has copyrighted crouching down for a bit during about three seconds of a song in any way. The
Måns accuasation is perhaps a tad more precient, but after how many years of artists limply stamping about in front of a dazzling screen, it was about time a few of them finally decided to embrace the art and get creative with the projections. And our lass here does it in shovels.

More reminiscent of that Hungarian shadow mob who kept winning Britain's Got Talent than any kind of animated stickman affair, this screen is an altogether darker proposition, in both tone and colour scheme, and if it's lucky enough to get to Stockholm should yield everybody's favourite icy island it's best result in years. Just as long as them tricky Swedes don't mess about with the back screen's format and shape, that is...

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Italy 2016 - Enrico Ruggeri - Il Primo Amore Non Si Scorda Ma


Samremo's on. Five full days of songs, shouting and confusion. Of slick, bored men and women who's been procedured to the very edges of expression talking an awful lot, and occasionally letting the odd tune or two sneak out among all the blather and madness. We bloody love it at Apocalypse Towers. But while the first half of the songs weren't quite up to the usual gravelly standards, here was still plenty to enjoy.

Enrico here's got form, of course, and still sits among the higher thrones of Italian music stardom. So when his Sanremo 2016 tune began a little inauspiciously we did begin to wonder if he still had it. This concern was compounded when it all turned into a bit of weak reggae two-beat. But we shouldn't have worried - an unexpected gear change lumped the whole affair into a bit of a stomp rock belter, and our Enrico started strutting around the stage like a bald peacock, crouching like a man with the knees of a 15-year-old in slightly too tight trews. 

And then it got stranger. A tuxedoed man began to wibble about with an analogue synth, before the orchestra stringed it up and it all got incredibly rich and noisy. Wowsers. This song would in no way light up Eurovision proper, but in Sanremo terms it made absolute, perfect sense. Part of me would love this to get through to Stockholm, if only because it would confused the heck out of the Euroclub set. But we'll just have to wait and see what tomorrow has to offer. Because in this game, anything could happen. 



Sweden 2016 - Samir & Viktor - Bada Nakna


Now here's a curious bit of business. You know how hard it can be to get your hands on clips of the qualified MelFest finalists once they've done their semi-final turns. It's all part of that delightful Swedish fairness thing that makes it pigging difficult to actually report on the goings on of the previous week. Well, Daily Motion seem to have found a way around that and have published some mic-only videos of the plucky contenders.

And boy do they make strange viewing!

Witness the terrible twosome here. OK, so we knew they were going to be no Caruso twins, but their vocal only performance is somehow simultaneously both ear-bending and incredibly charming. On top of that, watching the songs stripped of music becomes a weird, zen-like experience. I'd wholeheartedly advise that you work your way through the whole batch, but this is our favourite by a street.

Go boys, go!

***STOP PRESS***

Aww nuts, SVT clearly don't have a sense of humour and the videos have now been taken down. What a shame, I was looking forward to seeing how that developed!

Latvia 2016 - Marta Grigale – Choices


I wanted to resist it, but this sweet little song pup has been working its may under my skin, and now I keep finding myself singing it round the house and worrying the neighbours. Well, slightly more than normal.

But on the face of it, I shouldn't really be much bothered with it. Marta looks sweet enough, but gives the impression of a sixth former at a school talent show who's been playing around in mummy's make up box, and stands stock still, reciting a song that could have come straight from a Blue Peter poetry competition.

And yet, one rotation in and the song starts to hook you, and by the end you see it for the innocent, endearing little number that it really is - so much so that we found ourselves cheering ever time she nipped in front of the grievous Samanta Tīna in the televoting. It's unlikely to be troubling the scorers all that much on finals night, but if nothing else, it's achieved the welcome feat of getting bloody Miracle Drums out of my internal jukebox!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Latvia 2016 - Riga Beaver - Beavernova


Anyone who followed last year's Supernova would have been delighted to disover that the undoubted star of last year's show had returned - yes, the Beaver is back! Almost entirely a cult for those of us strange foreigners, the Riga Beaver is reasonably little-known in his home country. But to us hardy few who suffer stuttery sunday night streaming connections, he is our one true idol.

And we've been upgraded this term, too. For last year's semis all we got tomsee of him was a silent clip from a locked off camera at the back before they realised his international and mic'd him up for the final. This year we get full routines of last season's songs, and delight as the fluffy lad himself leaps about and gets in the way of the grump next acts as they set up.

So delight here in a good quarter hour of last night's best bit. Our fave was was his take on ElektroFolk's previous entry. Although his Mntha was pretty goo. Hang about, there was also his racey Aminata skit... Oh see for yourself!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Ukraine 2016 - Svetlana Tabarova - Never Again


The Ukrainian show last night wasn't so much a national semi-final as a full blown people's rally to stir up the country's fervour against those neighbours to the north. It was a pretty stunning artefact from start to finish, and could easily be held up as a historic document chronicling a moment when a country started to assert its national identity against a common foe. Seriously, politics and cultural studies students will be doing dissertations on this in sixty year, I tell you.

It started with a three song salvo, straight off the bat. You had that lass who sang for the neighbours about Mother Russia in Moscow telling us that she was free now, followed by a moderately pop rock mob whose singer appeared to be dressed like a gothicky version of the statue in Kiev's Maiden Square. This was then topped by a performance from a folksy looking lady that seemed to evoke the wonders of the Ukrainian countryside. A pretty wowsers start indeed.

After a couple of apparently usual songs, Jamala smacked us between the eyes with her breathtaking dissection about the Crimean tartar resettlement, then it all seemed to get a bit normal again. Until this.

 A stunning woman with flame red hair stood stock still in a snow-white dress. In the background you could see projections of a bombed and burned cityscape, as Svetlana howled "Never Again" repeatedly straight down the pipe to the folks at home. The camera pulled back to reveal the bottom fringes of her pure white dress were muddied by the dirt of conflict. But that wasn't the most emotive moment. That came right at the end. I won't spoil the effect for you, but do watch her performance right through to the end, because even if the song's a bit regular, the message delivered comes straight from the cabinet war office!

Hungary 2016 - B The First - You Told Me That You Loved Me


Now I'm not averse to a spot of old time, good time rock 'n' roll. So when I first heard the hillbilly blues of  B The First, I hoped that we would be in for something interesting on the live front. After all, the Hungarian shows so far have polished up an awful lot of turds into decent looking performances. However, I wasn't quite expecting this.

Rather than young, spiky quiffabillies, BTF have more the demeanour of three smug old pub musos, like some kind of mid-70s pre-punk pub rock band, all decked out in signature black and red. But wait a minute, what is that singer wearing?

Some manner of slashed-to-the-waist darts shirt with tassly epaulettes on the shoulders, it seems. And when married to his whispy, spiv's moustache and small-scale bodybuilder physique it all seems a bit incongrous to the sounds the band were making. Still, as strange as it may seem, it qualified - albeit in a complicated manner that would have had even the Lithuanian score-keeper scratching his head.

One to watch, but I'm not entirely sure if it's for the right reasons...

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Iceland 2016 - Sigga Eyrún - Kreisí


I'd somehow managed to miss this little gem on my first sweep through the Icelandic song - I guess I must have nodded off before I got this far through the list. But so many people have told me that I should give this tune an ear that I relented. And now I'm really rather glad that I did.

It's got the kind of dark, farty keyboard squelches that I'm usually quite partial to, an insistant and unexpected vocal hook on the bridge, and an underlying atmosphere of edginess and oddity that stands out a mile from the otherwise safe batch of her other semi-final contenders.

See if you can make sure that this goes through tonight, if you have the power. Especially if she translates the stageshow from the video directly to the live stage. Oh boy, that would be a thing!

Friday, 5 February 2016

Ukraine 2016 - Tonia Matvienko - Tin Whistle


The Ukrainian selection is looking a bit good so far, I tell you. Only eleven tunes have snuck out so far, but they're mostly looking pretty interesting in their own curious ways. And it's all gone a bit etherial, too.

Witness this little beauty. Floaty, arboral, with flutterances of birdsong and chirpy pixie vocals - it's kind of what you imagine the inside of Björk's brain sounds like. I flipping love it, and can't wait to see how she presents it live!

Ukraine 2016 - Jamala - 1944


Jamala's back - and wowsers, what a return to the contest this is! You may remember her from the brutally infectious singalong pop hit Smile from a few years back - a song that managed to get binned not once, but twice by some apparently dodgy goings on in Ukraine Eurovision Towers. But anyone expecting a return to the bouncy cartoony form of her well loved previous attempt will be pleasantly surprised by this one.

Indeed, rather than an explosion of pop joy, 1944 is an altogether more sombre outing, recounting the tale, as it does, of the forced resettlement of the Crimean Tartars - Jamala's own people. But while such politically tinged songs often feel either mawkish, overblown or just plain dumb (think Don't Deny, Apricot Stone or I Don't Wanna Put In), 1944 is a dark, understated tune, which grooves along with a powerful dark melancholy.

OK, so it's clearly a nose thumb at her nation's bigger, bolder cousin to the North, and there will be constant complaints if, as is very likely, it gets picked for the golden ticket to Stockholm. But as a restrained and classy tune in its own right, albeit one that tells a story about an emotive and near forgotten moment in history, I for one can't wait to see her on a Swedish stage.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Latvia 2016 - ElektroFolk - Miracle Drums


 There's quite a few old familiar faces in Latvia this year, and few more welcome to the Apocalypse fold that ElectroFolk. You may remember them as the band who came third in last year's Supernova with their stampy piece of proggy techno folk Sundance. You know, the band with the terrifying baldy bass muso staring out into your living room from beneath his shades.

So when we heard they were having another pop at the contest we were expecting more of the same unintentional comedy gold. But no, they've gone and confounded us all with this rousing slice of uplifting pomp pop. And boy is it confounding.

Imagine, if you will, The Alan Parsons Project remodelling the soundtrack to Les Mis, then chuck in a few more sprinklings of bitter prog granules and you're on the way to guessing it. It's also a song devoid of a crescendo - it just builds and repeats and never quite hits the money shot, leaving you both anxious and spent at the end of it.

Their formation dancing last year was a true wonder to behold, so we can't imagine how they're going to stage it this year! Roll on Supernova - fast becoming one of our new favourite national finals!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Georgia 2016 - Young Georgian Lolitaz - Midnight Gold


Georgia are in the building, and much to the dismay of the rank and file, they delivered a pretty decent fistful of wigout indie rock tunes tonight - and this one was my fave.

It starts a little sweetly on a decent 1998 beatpop groove, but by halfway in the boys begin to rock out good and proper and deliver us a lovely slice of bouncy chunkiness. And by the time guitarboy gets down on his knees and starts widdling with his pedals I was sold good and proper.

One suspects that it's probably a bit to end-of-the-rock gig to meet with too much popular appeal, and suspect that the Georgian public will either go with the Oasis-meets-Kula Shaker pop tune in trap four, or the much slower and more accessable one that the band themselves wrote at the end. But I'll always have this tune, and suspect that I'll be keeping a close watch on their career from here on in!

Latvia 2016 - Justs - Heartbeat


Oh hello! Now we're talking! LTV were clearly paying attention after Aminata's heartening high finish last season, and have absolutely peppered their 20 semi-final slows with cool slices of minimal electronica. But of course, if you want the job done well you go straight to source. 

Yep, for the coolest, neatest three minutes of the year so far you need go no further than this Aminata-penned beauty. while still sparse, it's still much fuller and beatier than last year's effort, and Justs' voice has just the requited bluesy fringes to give the whole production a little edge.

Sure, there's still familiar names like Marcus Rivas, Samanta Tīna and Ivo Grīsniņš Grīslis in the mix, but one suspects that this is going to be the tune to beat this year. Well one hopes so at the very least.

Sweden 2016 - Ace Wilder - Don't Worry (Lyric)


She was the revelation of Melfest 2014. Her cheeky, chirpy up tempo stomp about being a lazy arse in the 21st Century wowed the fans both home and abroad, and will forever more be dubbed as one of the ones that got away. Indeed, she was desperately unlucky to have been up against serial near-misser Sanna and her first half decent song.

So news that she was returning for this year's tournament filled those who have been following this contest over the years with a mix of joy and dread. Whould she come back stronger and tougher, like Måns, Sanna and Sanner, or would just be another sad example of the Sean Banan law of diminishing returns?

Well judging by the lyric sheet that SVT produced this morning we fear it's the latter. Yes, there's the same two-fingers-up-to-the-world attitude, but the storyline is a bit more garbled and clichéd. And on top of that, some of those lines are absolutely cringeworthy... "My money's low/my wifi slow/and I've got a useless, dumbass, smartass phone" - oof! And there's worse still to come, so I figured that in lieu of a video for the next little while, you might enjoy groaning through the lyric sheet to prepare yourselves for the groaning. 

Let's just hope the musical track that lays beneath it is an absolute belter, and we scarcely notice the more groanworthy moments, cos we like Ace, we really do. Oh, and one more thing... She really wants to sack whoever wrote that lyric out - the only time you've ever seem such bad spelling and punctuation was that one time you got your dad to do your homework!

***STOP PRESS***

We've just heard a clip of the song. Don't worry, there's nothing to see here...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Norway 2016 - The Hungry Hearts feat. Lisa Dillan - Laika



An oompah disco song from a lesbian performance art group about the first dog in space*?

This is what Eurovision is for!

*(At least, that what the title and lyric suggests the theme is about – forgive us if we've missed some specialist jargon here!)

Now with added live video for full spacey goodness. You won't see many better, or at least more unhinged performances all year!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Spain 2016 - Barei - Say Yay!


So you're the clear favourite to win your national final. You start your performance in a reasonable manner, all demure and meaningful. The beat picks up and you start to bob about a bit, and all is well.

But then the chorus kicks in, and... oh my dear lord in heaven, what the hell is that dance you're doing there girl?!!

You may have won the show tonight, but that ugly little jig of yours will be a real dealbreaker in Stockholm if you insist on keeping it on - so go on, do it... it'll be funny!

Hungary 2016 - C.E.T. - Free


You've got to feel a little bit sorry for the poor boy singing here. The song that he's fronting was half-decent without blowing anyone away, but the choice of staging was perhaps a tad confusing. The dancers may have seemed a little out of place - especially as at first we imagined we were going to be watching a boyband outing - but it was when the stagehands wandered on mid song to remove some of the scenery that we started to get really confused.

Was this meant to happen? I think it probably was, but it did distract from the musical goings on somewhat.

And then there was the evident monitoring issues. Our lad here looked intense enough from the offset, but the in-ear monitors clearly hit peak volume at about halfway through the song, and he ripped them out in some great discomfort, looking every bit like a scalded cat. This resulted in him losing his way in the song for a moment, and then losing his pitch just a shard for the rest of it, which was a real shame, because I was growing to like it at this point.

And worst of all for him, it came plumb last in the voting. I'd say that he was more than a little hard done by here. There were far duller songs in that show that qualified in much higher places - even if their singers weren't quite as scary as out boy here. I hope we get to see him again next year, cos he's definitely got something about him.