Eurovision 2016

The 61st contest which this year is set in Stockholm.

Graham Norton is commentating for the UK audience on the BBC broadcast. He is still nothing compared to Terry Wogan’s coverage sadly.

My first impressions of each song and performance are noted below. I didn’t watch all the lead up semi-finals etc so I am seeing these for the first time.

There is an epilepsy warning accompanied by a pseudo-catwalk fashion show in the introductions of the competitors projecting their national flags onto avant-garde fashion designs worn by the models. It is a spectacle but could easily outshine the costumes of the competitors’ performances in its extravagance unfortunately. I remember that, year on year, there would be competitors with very unique appearances and performances but if it is going to be anything like last year? I feel like everything is going to feel very toned down compared to the past.


Details on each performer can be found at: http://www.eurovision.tv/page/stockholm-2016/participants


The presenters: No idea who they are. Home crowd loves them obviously. Cheesy jokes – but that happens every year. ‘put our differences aside and join in our love of music’ Petra declares – shame no one said that around the time of the Iraq war as it feels like Britain is still paying for a choice our government made without the support of its citizens. UK viewers cannot vote by text apparently and no reason is given why not. Then Graham rattles off a long list of how the voting has changed and I would be surprised anyone was definite what this meant from what he said. Richard Osmond (who gave our judge’s vote later) made a short film explaining it apparently. I wasn’t aware of it personally. Petra’s dress is awful. It is that oddly washed out vomit tone of salmon which never looks good. A little later the male presenter goes to the stadium next door where people are gathered for some reason and speaks to two previous winners – and cuts one off as she sings Hallelujah! Awkward.


Performers intro videos – nice if a bit unconnected to the performers featured or indicative of their personal nationality. It gives you a few tourism brochure like images of the country but tells you nothing of note.


Belgium: Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure : Disco/ R&B sensibility. Golden lights and sparkly silver clothing. It’s the first person to perform so you already know it’s the ‘no hoper’ for winning. If I heard this on the radio I would enjoy it as an upbeat little song. The dance routine feels very restrained. It’s a nice ‘warm up’ for later acts. Age 19 – Graham keeps mentioning everyone’s ages tonight. Is he feeling a little old or something? Wogan embraced it and mocked the young performers. Maybe the BBC have been very strict with Norton considering some of the things Wogan used to say – but that was the fun part noting the ridiculous aspects of the performances.

Czech Republic: Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand: Nice dramatic intro. Big contrast to the previous song. In fairness to Stockholm they have really given the performers a massive amount of variety with the under stage lighting effect and everything. This song I can imagine being very effective in a film soundtrack associated with a very emotionally impactful scene but in isolation it feels a bit… numb. It reminds me of Spectre’s ‘The Writing is on the Wall’ theme song. I didn’t like that song initially but it really grew on me over time. I will be surprised if it gets a high level of votes tonight which is unfortunate. Good but in the way that it would take time to be appreciated which sadly a song contest like this doesn’t allow.

The Netherlands: Douwe Bob – Slow Down: Clock floor. Very country music in tone. Wearing a suit with an unbuttoned shirt to expose his throat tattoo just makes it look like he has a cravat. The keyboardist looks like a young Bob Dylan. This is the sort of slower acoustic song I would expect on a boy band album that doesn’t get released as a single. The 10 second stop is stupid. It adds nothing to the song. The lyrics were incredibly repetitive. Tells Europe to slow down… for what reason?

Azerbaijan: Samra – Miracle: Her intro is like a model’s film reel with her posing in a shop and roller skate park. Good timing with the flame effects to add emphasis. Clearly learned from last years winner. In fact I can imagine many of the entrants are really going to go to town with the stage effects… The song is like a B-side of a girl band album where they’ve let one of the less prominent members have a go as lead vocalist. So far everyone’s sung in English… I kind of want people to represent their nation in their own language and show a bit of pride rather than go with what is most ‘commercial’. Outfits wise its like a low-budget 1970s sci-fi film based on a pulp fiction story.

Hungary: Freddie – Pioneer: So again its a ‘stood posing around the city’ intro. Dull. Ooh a taiko drum on stage! The jeans and t-shirt look isn’t doing it for me. The backing singers bouncing on their heels back and forth is ‘dad dancing’so unintentionally hilarious. Let’s face it people will vote for the pretty boy’s face or the drummer who isn’t actually the competitor. The song is a nice anthemic one but… it’s missing that special something but definitely would grow on me very quickly. So far this one is the one I would say is in the lead. Good overall performance.

Italy: Francesca Michielin – No Degree Of Separation: ATTRACTIVE LADY! (If you read my coverage last year I kind of noted which ones I thought were attractive so ;P to any who take umbridge) And she sings in Italian!!! automatically I want her to win. The staging. There are actual physical decorations in the form of floral arrangements. (In the end I think she was the only one to have physical decorations onstagw while everyone else used the back projected scenes). She is wearing odd dungarees that remind me of a Klimt painting… The song is a very nice soft ballad. She kicks it up into English and I am really enjoying it. On the screen are whisps and water drops which an audience there wouldn’t see so that’s not great. The fruit offering at the end is a bit hokey. Overall I really liked it.

Israel: Hovi Star – Made Of Stars: The guy looks like one of the goth kids off South Park. Go look and tell me I’m wrong. A sparkly shirt under a dull black suit. Very emo looking though I thought that fashion faded out a few years ago. He has a good singing voice. The hoop gymnast dancers are impressive but very much distracting and I feel trying to make up for the limited tone of the song as it is much slower than the competition so far. At the end it kicks up instrumentally but he doesn’t really match that energy. It was a good effort but not enough.

Bulgaria: Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime: Side of the head shaved hairstyles are fashionable now. I don’t know if I like the style or not as I grew up seeing it in the British comic 2000AD and Tank Girl as a futuristic punk style so it’s very old-fashioned to me. Her costume is very like a sci-fi cosplay as a sort of military half beige, half black, uniform. She is cute… kind of hitting a few geek fetishes… phwoar. (I’m joking). The song is energetic and she at least moves a bit unlike many of the previous entrants. I actually would like to see her do really well as the entire performance is coordinated in tone and aesthetic. Oh the costume lights up! and the backing singers appear. Yes I really hope she does well.

Sweden: Frans – If I Were Sorry: Franz wears a beanie. It reminds me of that character from ‘American Beauty’ who films a plastic carrier bag moving in the wind. He is being clapped along with so… yeah he has home team support and is a good, if sterile, young male, spray tanned one too many times, performer. Casual but stylishly fashionable clothing which is inoffensive. An upbeat slightly crooning style of song. Words appear behind him. He has what the Might Boosh would describe as ‘shrimp eyes’ usually associated with Julian Barrett. He is only 17 years old Graham notes again. Host nations on the year usually don’t go all out as they don’t want the cost year on year but this was a nice entry nonetheless.

Germany: Jamie-Lee = Ghost: Graham says she annoys him but doesn’t explain clearly. I know she is a Koreanphile. I really like the stage design. Lasers and old black gnarled tree forest. But she stays stood at the front and the backing singers are hidden away so it all feels a wasted opportunity for really elaborate dance choreography. Clearly the presenters little chat between this and the last song was to allow time for it to be set up. She starts in silhouette. Should have stayed that way as her head-dress or even maybe the whole outfit is ridiculous. I feared everyone would be very muted in visual tone this year. My fears are allayed. The song is slow and again maybe something that given a context in a young adult film might get an audience but it feels too weak to compete her. (Later I note they got very low votes. Is it because Eurovision is moving in a more ‘serious’ direction? Is it because of the fetishisation people perhaps felt was implied by her overt interest in Korean culture? Was it just because its Germany i.e. one of the ‘big 5’ nations and there is some bitterness towards them? Or maybe the song just wasn’t up to standard. What do you think?)

France: Amir – J’ai cherché: A trained dentist. Sings in French but adds a little bit of English. Good. Again dressed casual smart in a suit but with t-shirt and white trainers. Works the camera and moves around the stage. Good energy. No great energy! This is a competitor! Doesn’t need much in the sense of visuals as the song itself is more than enough… but then we know Eurovision doesn’t always award talent. (I was proven right in the end sadly).

Poland: Michał Szpak – Color Of Your Life: Long haired guy with a pseudo-rocker look. Graham says he doesn’t like performing. I kind of wish Graham would hold off these comments of his until after the person has performed. (Actually it turns out Graham is correct as this guy doesn’t come across very well). So he is a guy in a circus owner’s long red coat with epaulettes. Black shirt, trousers and shoes. No socks. Another modern look that feels wrong as people would be mocked for short trousers and this look when I was a teenager. The song is lacklustre. He gesticulated a lot. There isn’t much to add really. Ooooh Ooooh Ohhhh. I see violinists but couldn’t hear them.

Australia: Dami Im – Sound Of Silence: I appreciate they watch it ‘down under’ and as a special celebration they let them compete last year but I don’t think they should be a permanent addition to the EUROPEAN song contest. Emigrated to Australia at 9 years old. Won their X-Factor or similar talent show. Stong singing voice. Sat on a glittery box in a dress I would expect to see on a pre-teen beauty queen pageant contestant in America. The way she is sat on the box reminds me of Kermit the frog and any other muppets… The song is good. This is a strong competitor and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this on another show. Serious competitor despite my views on who should or shouldn’t be allowed to compete.

Cyprus: Minus One – Alter Ego: Band performs in cages. Weird… oh wait they are a rock band so it’s okay. Vocalist has a bit of a whine in his voice so I’m not impressed. Lots of seizure inducing flashing. The song isn’t great as a rock song and as an Eurovision entry is generic. They wear black as shirts, leather jackets and such. Dry ice smoke. Graham should have warned about the light show on this entry even if he did the disclaimer at the start of the broadcast. I will be surprised if this rises above the bottom 5 ( and only then because of political voting). Fucking hell I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone didn’t get a headache from those lights let alone a seizure.

Serbia: Sanja Vučić ZAA – Goodbye (Shelter): Side shaved head again. Graham makes another critical but unfunny observation. Long black (leather?) dress with shoulder tassels and … whatever is happening on her hair fringe. Nice imagery. A dancer interacting with her for the songs narrative of her being a betrayed women standing up for herself. Nice visuals. The song would definitely do well under other circumstances. It reminds me of the late 90s – early 00s James Bond themes. I really like it although the song and visuals don’t really go together if I’m honest.

Lithuania: Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting for This Night: Competed before. Might remember him wearing a blindfold as his song was about ‘love being blind’. Has a mini trampoline this time. Side shaved head again. The ‘black t-shirt, black skinny jeans and trainers look that is popular coupled with a white leather jacket. The song is generic ‘I’ve been waiting for this night (to have another go at competing in Eurovision)’. Visuals are… ok. Someone heard the other competitors were going to use it so they made generic splashes and … oh! There was the mini trampoline and dry ice making his jacket disappear! Well that was the ‘hook’ of this performance otherwise… bland as hell.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – Lighthouse: Partially shaved heads are on trend right now then obviously. Half shaved heads for the girls and the skinny jeans and t-shirt with designer trainers for the boys. Graham comments her dress is too big for her as if she lost weight – he should have saved it for after we saw the poncho dress to get the joke. Her hair is awful. Like someone bought a white widow’s peak wig and put it on wrong but didn’t adjust it. Interesting cape/poncho. Then underneath she has a very art deco dress with extravagant arm wings which are mirrored bits on one side and lavender feathers on the opposite side. Dame Edna has had her wardrobe raided I guess. The song… she sounds off-key. Backing singers/dancers are like cult members preparing for a sacrifice. This is a stereotypical Eurovision entry. I will be shocked it gets a big numbers of votes.

Russia: Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One: Bookies favourite apparently. Had to speak out against his homeland to please voters which really feels like he is going to cause himself trouble once back home. Dressed in black. Using the back screen to full effect for wings and storm effects. Backing singer/dancers appear. Very visually impressive. Definitely Graham’s description of him going on a charm offensive wasn’t inappropriate. Then sat on the screen… climbed as its made of rubber so he could dig his feet into it. They’ve really pulled out all the stops for this. The song is very anthemic and immediately pleasing. No wonder this is the favourite its a near masterclass on combining the best parts of the previous few years’ winners.

Spain: Barei – Say Yay! Apparently her fall is intentional in the middle. Graham is ruining the performances by alerting us to these aspects. (Actually the lights cut out and she is laying sideways, as if on a chez longe, on the floor). He has seen them during the preliminaries but we haven’t! It ruins the expereince for people who just watch the final. Very attractive features. Her hair… guess the style- except she brush it in the opposite direction to the other competitors. She has a sparkly mini dress on and pixie boots. Also gauntlet like jewellery on her left arm. Very good song! Extremely energetic performance and song. Gets the audience involved too! Works the stage wonderfully. It has definitely been affected by being placed directly after Russia’s song but this is certainly up there and deserves a lot of votes.

Latvia: Justs – Heartbeat: Similar to other male competitors he wears the fashionable uniform but with cut out knee slits and a black leather jacket. It’s… not great if I am honest. Subdued performance. He puts emphasis in certain parts but the electronica instrumental doesn’t justify it. This is the sort of song I imagine being played towards the end of the night when the nightclubs want people to leave. Maybe girls will vote for him as he is attractive in a Chris Hemsworth way.

Ukraine: Jamala – 1944: Grandmother was deported by Stalin. Denies the song is anything to do with Russia. ~cough~sure~cough~. Will get votes for its political commentary. Dress is a navy off the shoulder with long arm ‘wings’ piece. Very good song with traditional tones but electronic drum beat. Reminds me of a lot of 80s alternative songs or maybe 90s stuff like Moloko. The lights are red and therefore the focus is completely on her and its a very good performance. A Eurovision winner – we will have to see but I would listen to it again definitely which is more than I can say for most of these songs. I think the only one I listened to again from last year was Georgia’s entry ‘Warrior’. Didn’t sing in English which is a bonus to me. Good entry. (Was the winner in the end).

Malta: Ira Losco – Walk On Water: Was in it 2002 or 2012 before apparently. She is pregnant. Filmed smoke effects to open into it. Then an art deco corridor effect behind her. sequined dress. Lots of cleavage and slit to the thigh dress to expose a leg to get male voters onside. Then a dancer erupts from nowhere and disappears just as fast. The song… it’s okay. Nothing special in the context of the competition. Might get a bit of radio play as one of those songs people half remember and request on Sunday afternoon shows. An also ran entry. Might have done better in past years but the Eurovision has begun to shift to more modern tastes after years of stagnancy.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold: Rock show lighting show with a mirroring effect. Wearing modern fashion in blacks and greys with wide-brimmed hats. Decent rock song. Eurovision tends to prefer spectacle though so while I would definitely listen to this again although it isn’t going to do neither good nor bad vote wise on the day. Then the epilepsy light show occurs. Again, thanks for the timely warning Graham. Also thanks for saying it felt overly long… I felt it passed very quickly. Personal tastes of course but he isn’t funny like Terry Wogan was and I think he is all too aware of it.

Austria: ZOË – Loin d’ici: Sings in French. Has a pastel pink ’16 year olds special day’ type dress on with a single strand wire tiara you can barely see. A gentle use of the wind machine. Pop dance song with violins. Enjoyable. Forgettable. Inoffensive. Will be used in a clip show edit to show this year’s competitors. I probably would enjoy other songs by her but this feels a bit too muted compared to other competitors this year.

United Kingdom: Joe and Jake – You’re Not Alone: Intro features football and rugby because we British handed in our ‘part of globally significant arts’ card a long time ago apparently. And smoke flares. We clearly pissed off someone at a sports match with drunken louts who the travelled to Stockholm… Two young guys so they’ll get girls’ votes. Dressed in the fashion uniform of this year. The song is quite ‘radio play on a Sunday’… It’s inoffensive. Oh fuck – we are going to be in the bottom three again aren’t we? I can already tell. Fuck. I can see the tabloids using this as a weak argument for ‘Brexit’ (Britain exiting the European Union). Decent performance but the other competitor’s came to compete and win – not just take part.

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave: Last entry. Last entries have won before so not saying bad but you can bet it will be one of the good ones as they want to end on a high when some turn over preferring not to watch the voting etc. OOOOH ATTRACTIVE! the lights and pyrotechnics have clearly been invested in. the dry ice smoke too. She is wearing a sparkly black opaque leotard with ‘butt cape’. Dirty old man vote winner of the night. The song is good and changes tone well unlike most of the one note songs tonight. Didn’t quite hit that high note at the end. Shame as a bit more polish and it would have been a serious contender.

Vote time: It was good. I think it is clear who the top ones are going to be. Of course now we have the presenters banter… Oh and she has a green dress on now. It looks terrible. I hope she was forced to wear in. Weird 70s crepe shoulder flower ruffles thing and the ‘skirt’, beneath a narrow silver ‘belt’ is a sparkly abomination like something dredged up from the deep. So they show Ian McKellen and Derrick Jacobi from a scene in that rubbish ITV show they did… which was random. Some come across better in the voting snippets than they did during the full performance and some come across worse as I notice the Czech entry awkwardly hit her top note apparently.

Hungary, Russia and maybe Spain are my ‘top three’ likely to win at the moment. I wish Bulgaria, Italy or Spain would win though. Australia will do well I have no doubt and Armenia deserve a good number of votes. Poland, Latvia, Croatia or Lithuania getting large numbers of votes will surprise me.

Justin Timberlake turns up in the green room because… just because. Oh promoting a film. Nice that we can’t have even one evening where America isn’t involved in any sense. Oh and he is going to sing 2 songs. Great. Bulgaria’s entrant is hovering around in the background. Okay she is winning me over since her outfit is far better than the presenters dress.
Then we get some VTs and such in a supercut of various moments in Swedish musical history and music videos by a guy who did a Madonna video. I will be fair it was entertaining as I recognised many of the songs. IT EVEN HAD PAPA EMERITUS FROM GHOST IN IT! I’m won over!

Then Justin Timberlake. Rock your body. Of course with more backing singers, a more tightly choreographed routine. Inevitably it blows everything else out of the water. Yes please remind us America does it bigger and better. There was talk of letting them compete in Eurovision. I hope it was just a rumour because we all know they are going to go whole hog into winning year on yea until Eurovision becomes amalgamated and just like every other homogenized American product we consume day on day. Nothing against Justin personally as he is very good but I just get a bad taste over the entire matter. Then again Britain has pulled out the stops dragging in international singers in a few years recently so I shouldn’t be overly critical. People joked they wanted to vote for the American entry. Be careful what you wish for…

Malta won the Junior Eurovision. The winner comes on stage promoting the Junior Eurovision. That’s nice as she seemed a little nervous but then many performers come across like that once the stage persona is
Petra chides her boy toy for interrupting her. Now she is wearing an elegant gothy lace and satin dress which is far better than the previous ones. Then they do a run down of ‘things to have to win’ sketch.

Humour can be very awkward but this was actually quite amusing in inoffensive. Oh they got the violin guy back! Then they did the costume change and she has a Shakira like style on ut the top is a one piece with skin tone which makes her look worse than ever! Like some one in their 50s trying to dress how they did as a 19 year old! I am wondering what her actual age is as I;m guessing the way she has been styled tonight has made her look far older than her actual age. Then they do a song which was good. She lets her hair down while he shows off his chest and lots of dancers with very different styles referencing previous entries get on stage. a Very impressive filler while all the voting is going on. Good for them.

Then they have a comedian, Lynda Woodruff, some on as a representative of the EBU while they go off for a costume change. Really falling flat answering some emailed questions. Then she crowd surfs off back into obscurity. Guy is back in open collared shirt and suit. Then a bit of bragging over how often they’ve won on a VT about Sweden’s achievements.

It’s self-deprecating however so they get away with it as they say Eurovision influences their foreign language lessons, gangs, religion, etc.

Petra returns in a flowing Dame Edna Everage dress… Sparkly with a mix of pink raw flesh tones. Like someone who got thrown through a window in the middle of the day into a bottle bank. She introduces the previous winner who does a very ‘Hugh Jackman at an award ceremony’ like performance.

The song ‘Heroes’ still holds up no question. In fact I could argue that putting this year’s winner up next to it will probably make this year look like a step down from last year in terms of quality unfortunately – certainly the fact so many acts adopted his use of back projected imagery proves how effective the entire performance was.

So national votes and televotes are presented separately. How you vote doesn’t change just how they present it. 50% from the voting boards and 50% from the public.

The vote announcers of each country always comes across strained and extremely false in their joy… and straight off the bat Australia got 12 points! Then a guy holding a dog. Oh right so they just say who got the 12 points from each country. I can live with them doing that I guess though it’s a bit less fun than the minute or so of build up for the big numbers. San Marino gave use 8 points. Czech Republic gave us 4. So far we are not doing bad this year which is encouraging. Ireland gave us 7 points. Georgia phwoar lady from last year! 🙂 Gave us nothing though… Bosnia and Herzevogina gave us nothing. I’m going to assume we just had a nice start. Malta gave us 12 points!!!! But that was a political vote if we are honest. Spain gave us nothing. (I should be noting who is giving who 12 points so will do that next year for those interested – oh except they put up a video on YouTube of the entire votes process so no need). Finland gives awkward banter and no points to us though 12 to their neighbour Sweden obviously. Switzerland gave us nothing. Denmark gave us three. France gave us nothing… obviously ;p Moldova lady is very Hello Nurse! Ash blonde, red lips and in a suit and they gave us nothing. Armenia had a connection issue and gave us nothing. Votes seem quite spread this year although Ukraine is getting quite a few. (So ironically even this new style of voting though much closer in its first year of use gave away the final winner early). Cyprus gave us nothing – the guy looks like a sweet shop owner. Bulgaria lady is hello brunette in off shoulder jacket dress and again we get no points. (admit you are enjoying this repetition in the abscence of there being no chance of anyone being ‘nul points’ -nil pwa- this year). The Netherlands give us nothing and their lady wears a jacket with random bits of kryptonite stuck on to ward off Superman. Latvia has a basement dwelling man-child stereotype give the vote and we get no points.

Israel are missing in action so Petra has to buy some time. ‘we are half way through’. Yeah whatever. Her boy toy is in the green room wearing a black shirt and trousers with a white blazer. Are the fascist fashion police on patrol tonight or something? This uniform for men I joked about is a bit too adhered to… Australia is in the lead. It reminds me of Britain’s Got Talent where it’s acts from other countries doing well not our own acts.

Ukrainian lady seems a little drunk or overwhelmed.

Israel sort their side out and we get nothing after the guy uses a little Swedish to flatter Petra. Belarus give us nothing but of course give Russia their 12 points because after all Belarus is beautiful Russia. Germany have their presenter in front of a crowd and give us nothing but emo Israel 12. Russia PHWOAR weird ‘parcel wrapped’ red dress and we get nothing. Norway has their 1985 winner give the vote who give us nothing nor anything to Sweden surprisingly. Australia give us 4 points from an anorexic Asian news presenter with a weird weaved neck ruffle thing. Belgium has a… humpty dumpty brought to life guy give us nothing but Australia 12. UK has Richard Osman give the vote. Nothing for us obviously. We gave Georgia 12 interestingly – its girls voting for a boy band obviously. Croatia has an attractive middle-aged voter giving us nothing but Australia 12 points. Greece has a well-groomed young guy making ladies’ hearts flutter and 12 points to Russia. Lithuania blonde in sparkly white dress and red lips gives us nothing but Australia 12 points. Serbia gave us 2 Points. Very attractive side swiped brunette haired lady in white dress voter. Australia has clearly won its obvious and the new points displaying thing has failed to keep tension. (I was wrong fortunately). FYR Macedonia gives nothing to us and 12 to Ukraine. Albania gave us 5 points and 12 to Australia. Estonia gave us 3 points and 12 to Sweden. Ukraine – WTF mix of traditional dress and the soviet star from the top of the Kremlin… I remember that person. We got no votes and 12 points went to Lithuania. Italy sexy lady, obviously, in a simple red dress giving nothing to us and 12 to Spain. Poland give us nothing and 12 to Ukraine. Slovenia – HELLO! Red hair and leather dress. We got nothing and 12 went to Ukraine. Hungary has a blonde in a yellow dress/coat. Nothing to us and 12 to Australia. Montenegro guy looks like he just walked in off the street and doesn’t speak English as all the others did. Nothing to us but 12 to Malta surprisingly. Sweden’s vote from a Kim Kardashian wannabe in a weird formal dress with cleavage window and sparkles in the shoulder, groin and arm areas like armour. Nothing to us and 12 to Australia.

If Australia win they will partner with an EU member and host it in their country… so that scuppers everyone’s idea of having a jaunt down under next year then. If they partner with anyone but the UK it’ll be a slap in the face of the commonwealth.

And so they move to the popular vote i.e. tele-votes.

Yeah Australia are around 100 points ahead.

*drum roll*

Six lowest voted for countries: 0 to the Czech Republic. 8 to the UK. 10 to Germany. 10 to Spain. 11 to Israel. 16 to Malta. 24 to Georgia. 33 to Croatia. 34 to italy. 39 to the Netherlands. 51 to Belgium. 53 to Cyprus. 56 to Hungary. 63 to Latvia. 73 Azerbaijan. 80 to Serbia.

63 points to the UK in total this year.We have done worse recently so this is a good result despite what the media will no doubt say.

Ten highest voted for countries: 96 points to Lithuania. 109 points to France. 120 points to Austria (which skyrocketed them up the chart). 134 points to Armenia (ditto skyrocket). 139 points to Sweden (ditto but cannot win). 180 points to Bulgaria (ditto skyrocket to second place so far).

Poland, Australia, Ukraine and Russia still need numbers.

Dramatic long pause.

191 points to Australia. So they win with 511 points possibly.

Russia, Ukraine and Poland left.

222 points to Poland. but only to fifth place at this point. went from the bottom to that.

Shocking.

Russia and Ukraine are left now. Kind of ironic considering recent events.

323 points to Ukraine. May very well have won.

So Russia got the most tele-votes. Who got 361 points. So he hasn’t done it.

Ukraine, Australia and Russia.

Russia 3rd place
Australia 2nd place
Ukraine 1st place

(We gave 10 points to Poland in the tele-vote apparently. It must have been patriotic immigrants who voted).

Well I’m glad Australia didn’t win just because of the power it gives them to decide who to partner with to host it next year.

Ukraine winning is a political statement I feel due to the, admittedly denied, implications of the song. It’s a very good song but clearly with this and Conchita Wurst it’s ‘pan-European sociopolitical statement’ entrants who win ultimately. The voting system revision did make it a bit more exciting and concise I will admit so that is a positive move forward for the contest as in previous years the voting seemed to drag on indefinitely.


It’s a shame I can’t embed a link of the condescending tone of the reporter, Nick Higham, on the BBC news immediately after the show coverage ended. He was hilarious and instantly punchable in the face due to his attitude and trite comments about things such as how cheesy it was and the Ukrainian entry adding ‘a well needed tone of seriousness’ as it referenced the ethnic cleansing during Stalin’s era. He obviously didn’t want to cover the event but was forced into it just like the current royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell. Actually add in the political lead Nick Robinson and it seems the BBC are partial to arrogant correspondents named Nicholas at the moment…

Well that was fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed. Comment, Like, follow – all are welcome. That’s all until next year when America is let in as a guest entry with a view to becoming a permanent fixture take care!

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Only The Brave – Musical [First Impressions and Story Synopsis]

Following is my initial impression of the new musical ‘Only the Brave’ premiering at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. I will write a more thorough review later this week.

First let me give you a few videos and information in case you are not already familiar with it:

Donald Gordon Theatre

Created by Wales Millennium Centre with Soho Theatre, Daniel Sparrow Productions & Birdsong Productions
Only The Brave
A New Musical

28 Mar – 02 Apr 2016

Previews: Mon – Wed £11 – £25* Premium Packages*** £35*
Thu – Sat £14 – £29* Premium Packages*** £39*

Age Guidance: 11+ (No under 2s)

Only the Brave is an epic new musical about love, friendship and, above all, hope.

Starring Emilie Fleming (Les Misérables, Oliver!), Neil McDermott (EastEnders, Shrek The Musical), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins, Les Misérables) and David Thaxton (Les Misérables, Love Never Dies), this moving new musical delves into the lives of the men and women who made the most astonishing sacrifices in order to protect their country and provide a better future for those they loved.

Based on the true events leading up to the D-Day landings, Only the Brave follows a group of men embarking on the ultimate mission, the friendship of two women united by love and loss, and the bravery of a young French girl determined to play her part.

In collaboration with the team behind the stunning UK tour of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong and with an original score by Cardiff born composer Matthew Brind, Wales Millennium Centre is proud to create and première this home-grown musical that will send your heart soaring.

Book by Rachel Wagstaff
Music by Matthew Brind
Directed by Steve Marmion
Original concept by Steve Coleman, Matthew Brind & Rachel Wagstaff
Lyrics by Steve Marmion


Synopsis and Review

I typed this on my phone during the intermission and after the show so some events may be out of order and it is a very scrappy account of the proceedings. As this is the first time this musical has been performed it is natural that you will not pick up the names of all the characters initially but, to the productions credit,  I found that they were all very distinct and I would suggest that any criticisms in this regard only be challenged by asking if the same critic can name all the individual protesting students, who each have a distinct characteristic, during Marius’ scenes of Les Miserables even all these years later after its international success and social osmosis.

PART 1

The first few scenes had ‘muddy’ sound quality at the start and also something I will often come back to in the proper review: the use of simultaneous scenes occurring on stage leading the audience to miss events. The very first scene is of an old man, John Howard, in a care home lying on a bed who gets up and faces his younger self. We are introduced to Captain (later Major) John Howard and Lieutenant Denham Brotheridge courting their respective wives prior to enlistment. During this people run back and forth on stage to show the build up to war and it all seems very confusing.

There is a mix of song quality and nothing feels memorable but perhaps in time would be. Certainly the initial sound quality spoiled the opening pieces. The first few bits with moving stairs is overkill pre-enlistment as they never seem to stop moving them in order to impress up on the audience how much activity there was occurring. The lightweight staircases are used throughout the performance to emulate military locations, the small housing of the nurse’s office, at the start of the second half the aeroplane being flown and at the end the bridge they have their mission at.

As they are back projected a shiloette of one onto the ‘safety curtain’ I suppose at some point the production decided, of all the things in this musical, this scenery prop is what they want to be the iconic image. Phantom of the Opera has the mask, Les Mis has the illustration of Cosette as a child with the tricolor, Oklahoma has the map of the state, various musicals have the title done in a stylised way… and Only The Brave has a stage prop. It seemed an odd choice that this be the audience’s first image of the performance.

After the initial ‘we are real men’ macho events of John knocking out all his group during some boxing training (and he becomes regional champion possibly? I wasn’t clear what was happening as this part moved so quickly) to assert he is the alpha male and lead. Also at this point someone introduces Tony ‘Darky’ Baines. I think it is the ‘Jesus’ lieutenant saying “but everyone calls him that” but not John. There is no racism in his unit which feels like quite an anachronistic, politically correct, view. It may be true historically, as this is based on real events, but when we have Prince Harry referring to one of his colleagues by the nickname Raghead a few years ago, and such nicknames are common place in the armed forces as a demonstration of mental toughness and brotherhood, it seemed a bit too forced to suggest this would have been challenged in the 1940s. Hopefully I am wrong but it felt too forced a moment during the performance.

There is also a Welsh character who keeps turning up late to practise. I wonder, should the musical tour, if this role will be changed to which ever region they perform at or the character will always be Welsh thus presenting us as as dim witted, late to everything and as a potential liability on the mission. In the second half he somehow disappears after the plane crash only to reappear to deliver the same running ‘Sorry I’m late’ joke for the final time during a skirmish where other team members have died.

 John’s first, comedy relief, lieutenant is introduced saying ” I’m Jesus”. John looks at him blankly. “Jesus Christ College, Cambridge. You?” The boy, in officer’s uniform, assumes John is of the educated social elite, not working class, due to being in a commanding role. A few minutes later this lieutenant is joking to one side with another ‘elite’ about some one shooting a hose thinking it was a snake. John is not impressed and makes it clear to the general requesting a replacement. The general, whenever he pops up, makes french jokes such as “Whats the difference between a Frenchman and toast? You can make soldiers out of toast”. He does this a few more times throughout until the intel in the final act proves to have been useful and he says he always believed in the French. Another ‘upper class twit’ character.

We finally reach what would be the start point of any other production i.e. John’s first encounter with Denham and their immediate camaraderie. They bond over the fact they both like football, played a bit of it too, they both have, or will by the end, have pregnant wives. Good, honest, salt of the Earth, blokey, Working Class, subjects of conversation. Good old fashioned caricatures of what it is to be real men.

John’s group, unit B, is for good, hard working, salt of the earth, Working Class Lads not toffs. Really the start of the musical hammers this in. I have to wonder if this was to appease the Welsh audience who they no doubt believe hold similar views? John wants Denham as his lieutenant but Denham is dedicated to being part of Company D who he already belongs to. He insists and gets his way. Later on Unit D are mentioned again in a moment of appraisal from the general and sound like they were doing well while John seems to struggle between being a stiff upper lipped leader and ‘one of the lads’ at Denham’s insistence because “They will be more willing to die for you then”.

We get some training scenes, which are very well choreographed,  and the Captain becomes ‘one of the lads’ after buying them a crate of beers and getting dragged into going to a dance hall with them. His Lieutenant and he bond over their pregnancy wives.

So far I haven’t really mentioned the scenes ‘back home’ featuring the women. To be honest they seem an ill fit with the military side of the story. Its too awkward a juxtaposition and I think that, for me, it was more about how they segwayed between the two scenes or used the stairwells, with seating, to elevate the women chatting on sofa’s about ‘women’s troubles during the war’. The dialogue seems to do little except convey an oddly archiac stereotype of the mentality of women during the time. These are not women ‘doing their bit but preoccupied with being pregnant and recounting hearing from their significant others as if that is their lot in life. It almost feels as if these scenes are tacked on as if a producer, or someone else with clout, said at a late stage production announced ‘this needs more women’ and they had to accommodate at short notice.

However there is one female role , or two though the nurse’s significance doesnt become apparent until the end, which is well conceived. A French waitress offers to aid the resistance in France as she can speak perfect German and therefore would be a key asset in getting information to aid the cause. The nurse, who informs the resistance, refuses telling her she is only a girl. The girl, Isabelle, insists and the nurse relents. Thus Isabelle goes on to spy on the German officers who discuss their orders openly in the cafe under the mistaken belief she cannot understand them. There is a running side story explaining her motivation and I felt this was if anything underplayed considering the message of the musical. Her mother said the Germans did not belong in France and for this was tied to a tree, shot and Isabelle was told not to bury the body for 24 hours. During this time she held her dead mother’s hand and her hatred of the German’s festered. This backstory is played out low lit in the background of some of Isabelle’s scenes (performed by the other ensemble actresses) and at first felt jarring as it is in such stark contrast to other events in the first act which almost come across as an homage to the ‘jolly old war’ sanitised unreal tone of films from the 1950s depicting the events of war time squadrons.

In contrast to Isabelle, who is on the front lines risking her life, the wives back home become typists for the war effort and discuss a bit more how pregnant they are and if it will be a boy or girl and how they want their significant other to see the child (in case they die out on the front). Honestly the more I think about it the more it rings true that this has the tone of a 1950s film. Perhaps that was the intention though nowhere in the press releases etc did it imply this.

So the dance hall events come to an end and John is told that due to weight issues he should leave one of his men behind. He goes to ask them and says there is no shame in wanting to go home (well except the massive amount of ‘what did you do in the war daddy?’ style social pressure propaganda and living the rest of your life with that shame –  no none at all). No one volunteers. He is proud of them. Eventually he has the youngest, who is 16 not 19, and hasn’t even kissed a girl until tonight, not go on the mission and gives the crying boy a fatherly hug. He is a father to his men in case it was too subtle. We are men with gusto. No intellectuals here. Just good honest Working Class blokes. Wear our hearts on our sleeves. Do what needs to be done no matter the cost. Each has a purpose e.g the medic (Welsh as his mother was a nurse), the pilot, the munitions guy, etc. Also the General casually informs John he is now a Major in rank prior to the mission. At some point the ‘best marksman’ on the team shoots Denham in the leg during a training exercise but John doesn’t report him and Denham forgives him. (which later leads into the moral of ‘choosing forgiveness over vengeance is the braver act’ the musical wishes to display).

Throughout the musical the humour feels weakly implemented although I could chalk it up to the audience not knowing when to laugh (which is an annoying import from American sit-coms which have laughter tracks to tell you when something is funny and you should laugh like a trained seal) so the General is laughed with, not at, for his anti-French comments at the moment despite him being a caricature of the ‘stiff upper lip’ upper class twit you usually see in war films. The audience hasn’t ‘learned’ when it is appropriate to laugh during this performance yet… as much as I hate to suggest such a cue for audience reaction exists.

The German General and Officer realise that Isabelle understands what they are saying and reporting it to the resistance. The general leaves and the Officer beats Isabelle up. He then hands a gun to his teenage subordinate, who for no real reason mentions his father shot himself during the Great War, to kill Isabelle. He can’t bring himself to do it.  Last song before end act 1 is very good obviously as they want you to come back for the second half, and the stage fades to black with Unit B preparing to take flight in the plane, the German youth stood over Isabelle holding the gun and John’s wife holding their child stood on one of the stairwells as a symbol of the women left behind.

They over do it with the moveable stairwells. Technically good but story is naff patriotic material from an old movie.

PART 2

A muddled start again as they simultaneously play out the flight and its difficulties, the wives in the typist pool and the young Germany demanding Isabelle give him some scrap of information to take back to his superiors in exchange for letting her go. The plane, represented by 4 of the stairwells being used in conjunction (rotating on stage with a back projected front of place window) crashes, the German youth holds the gun to Isabelle but ultimately let’s her go as he cannot bring himself to kill someone and the typing pool… types out letters of condolence. Sorry but the women’s scenes really are not gelling well with the other aspects. It may be the bright colours or the tone of their songs. It comes across as ‘well sucks to be you risking life and limb in the battle zone’ unintentionally. You are torn between focusing on the flight of Unit B or Isabelle’s impending death so the typists is an extra layer on top but clashes with the tone of the other parts.

Also there is a recurring mention of John having some form of issue with flying and we are finally told what it is as he lies shivering on the floor of the plane. He passes out at the start of flights due to nerves… or something. If this happened to the man in real life I understand its inclusion but it feels awkwardly included in this musical. I would prefer that when it is first mentioned by the General in the first half they just state it all then not have what amounts to exposition as they are flying into enemy territory. If it was omitted it wouldn’t affect the narrative.

There are a lot of pyrotechnics at the start of the second half so bear that in mind if you are of a weak disposition… or just don’t want to be caught unaware. It explains where much of the budget went and why back projection and the stairwells are the major props for most of the run time of the musical.

We then have the aftermath of the crashed flight. The stairwells are overturned and the soldiers are scattered across the stage. The audience hardly had time to take everything in. Personally I was focused on the conflict of Isabelle slowly walking across the front of stage with her back to the German youth who is begging her for some crumb of information so he can return without risk of execution (implied rather than explicitly stated) or otherwise he will have to shoot her. Isabelle doesn’t care for her own life only vengeance. He doesnt shoot her and breaks down.

A call is made to the General, via the damaged wireless, and due to poor reception it is reported John, now a Major in rank, has a ‘mortal’ not a ‘mortar’ wound but reported due to misheard think it’s mortal.

We then have a dedicated scene of the typing pool (actually the song here might occur later in a mirrored scene for Denham’s wife) who sing the generic ‘with sincere regret and apologies’ standard message they type in synchronicity ‘notices of the deceased’ letters to be sent to the families of dead soldiers and the General marches in to inform John’s wife of the erroneous news.

Then we have the most jarring scene of the entire musical. One of John’s men has bad nerves and is shaking severely. One soldier suggests having  a cup of tea to John’s disbelief. Suddenly the shivering soldier, miraculously recovered, shows he brought everything to make tea including a tin mug. John admonishes him saying that only what was absolutely necessary was to be brought. “But tea is essential” the soldier chimes back. What about everyone else then? asks John, at which point all of them produce their own tin cups and an extra one for their leader. A bit of humour during a tense moment. Personally I just found it jarring enough already but then…

In the middle of a stand off battle on the bridge where a tank is heading towards them the  soldiers sing about tea! What the hell? Then to one side the typing pool ladies also sing about having a cup of tea. We are British therefore we worship tea obviously. In the American version they would sing about coffee, the German version beer and the Russian version vodka it goes without saying. It is so out of place in tone it is almost surreal. I have to assume this happened in real life as this would otherwise be such a demonstration of inept understanding of narrative tone as to be insulting. It is the tone of the song more so than its subject matter though. Having a small comfort; be it tea, a keepsake of a loved one, talking of happier things, etc could be so much better implemented. in such odds it would be understandable a solider wanted some such catharsis but it could have been far better dealt with than a big fun music hall like jaunty tune of ‘tea is great, tea is the best, we love tea, its better than the rest’ song in the middle of a battle field. Reality is stranger than fiction.

Back to bridge n explosives guy does a solo while telling us his life story. He is a goner you think but no the damaged rocket device doesn’t blow him up. We then get a back projected tank image burst into flames while some more pyrotechnics go off. They notice someone was inside and one soldier runs off, against John’s orders, to save the boy. It turns out he saved the German  youth from earlier and so he is taken prisoner.

Isabelle and the nurse are both prisoners tied to a bed after being captured by the German General. The German Officer wants to shoot them but he is denied as the German General tells him that they are like birds protecting their nest and cannot be hated for this so he intends to keep them here until after the nearby battle. He begins the title song ‘Only The Brave Forgive’ and this is echoed by John during one of this musical’s simultaneous scenes. This is an immensely powerful piece and that it is the German General, not a member of the Allied Forces, makes it all the more powerful.

Although the musical plays up much to the patriotism of its influences at least in this regard it does the right thing. The German General and youth represent conscious human beings swept up in the globally genocidal machinations of their high command. The General brings to mind the respect that Rommel, the Desert Fox, gained from Allied Forces for being a humane and professional officer who ignored orders to kill indiscriminately. Whether this is more myth than fact is disputable but certainly it seems this post-war image of a noble enemy is present in the General’s depiction here. He and the youth (and by extension possibly it could be inferred the youth’s father) are still able to see the human beings they are fighting, and who have a right to oppose them, rather than an target that is to be destroyed under the justification they are just following orders from their authority figures.

However Isabelle cannot forgive. She intends to kill the German officer.For some could completely ruin the moment as it happens far too quickly after the previous song and we as an audience have not had time to process the proceeding moment. She is meant to be the contrast to John, Denham, the enlisted German youth (arguably) and the German General – they can forgive but she cannot. Not because she is a woman, as seems implied by the depiction of the British women, but because she does not have the perspective the soldiers have. They are men fighting in a foreign country and when they go home the barren, ash covered, landscape of the battlefield will be far behind them. They can look to their homelands while she is here, in the battle zone. This land which was once her home is now a burning hell of mortar fire, soldiers and death. She is as the German General describes a bird protecting its nest from invaders and should not be thought any less of for doing so. Another aspect of the forgiveness aspect I feel it quickly glanced over at the end is that we are seeing the recollections of John as a hospitalised old man and he met the German General in his later years so this is a reflection on his experiences not an unbiased presentation, even if glamourised and patriotic, of events. At the time he probably wasn’t as forgiving as depicted in the show but in time gained perspective.

The German officer seems to serve the role of ‘evil’ German as he is given no real character beyond following the party line and his orders – however this is as much as any of the other secondary characters so arguably he is in line with the caricatures we are otherwise presented with.

 Before the fly over the English General says he always thought the French were good people because of the useful intel he received which aids the war effort and saved men’s lives. So this character is redeemed I suppose. He seemed more of a mockable figure than anything.

Isabelle and Madame Vion tell each other their names as they had never done so before. This is a major turning point in Isabelle’s narrative as it is the first time she has shown confidence in another albeit someone who already knew her tragic history.

Hold onto your hats because the last sequence is so chaotic you will only be focusing on one thing. Isabelle intends to escape by grabbing the German Officers gun. During this struggle we simultaneously have this event, the Unit B soldiers at bridge in a fire fight,, John’s wife wanders about with baby. Stuff happens. Isabelle is shot and the German Officer runs off stage never to be seen again. Denham dies of his mortar neck wound and John throws the German youth to the ground wanting to execute him in revenge but cannot allow himself to do it no matter how torn apart he is by his friend’s death and let’s the boy go.  Then the wives in the typing pool know the operation was a success. John’s wife finds out he survived but Denham’s wife knows hers didn’t. They seemed to want to mirror the female characters but… it doesn’t work for a number of reasons.

Then immediately we are given a post log saying what happened to the real life people and the Old John comes back on as a bookend closing the narrative. ‘Welshy and Baines I don’t think are mentioned… so both of them were fictional then. The window washer/heavy arms guy just kind of snuck up in the second act as a notable character in Unit B…

The actors all take their bows. They come on a second time and the old man with no lines and on stage for all of 4 minutes gets a bigger applause than the actors who have been doing very physical work throughout. One of the women wanted to come out and take one more round of bows but the others wouldn’t come back out. That’s sad. This is the first night and its at Wales’ major theatrical venue… they got less of a response than a poorly received and performed middle of the road safe humour play with an actor decades out of relevance (Yes I am thinking of a particular play so don’t take this as my general view on showing appreciation to seasoned performers but the cast and production staff for Only The Brave deserved far more of a recognition considering the mammoth task they took on)

So… Welsh guys always late in training and the operation compared to the Englishmen so he is a mockable caricature. Lots of the moving staircases to the point it feels like they spent more time on choreographing that than refining the pacing of the story. The transitions and simultaneous acting out of differing scenes means the audience hasn’t a chance to absorb anything. Personally I focused on the Isabelle parts as this feels like where the production if further refined should  focus itself more. Show us the work of the French resistance and how they are not the mockable ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ that so often get depicted in American and British films.

Summary Review

Despite everything critical I have said this is a production worth seeing. It is in its infancy and WMC’s first home produced musical. I feel the setting of a World War 2 military operation was perhaps a bit too ‘safe’ a subject matter to adapt but if this is what is needed for them to gain their footing and move onto more daring matter in future I welcome it. The music is hit or miss for the most part barring the end of the first half, the ‘We Regret to inform you’ song and the title song ‘Only The Brave Forgive’. Nothing is perfect on opening night and I think with time with a few adjustments to pacing and considerations  towards how to meld it into a single coherent narrative rather than 3 which simultaneously occur this production has the potential to be a long runner. Remember Les Miserables and many other classics were damned when they first came out but in time found their groove, made the necessary adjustments to pacing and even removing or replacing songs before hitting their stride. This was a big undertaking and everyone involved should be credited for taking what is a historic moment in Wales’ Arts history. I am glad I saw it and hope to see it again years from now when they have had time and perspective to reflect what works and what needs adjusting. And now to end of some trite line like professional journalists…. ‘Only the brave forgive’ but there is no need to with this excellent, if currently flawed, production.


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