Laughter Tangled In Thorn by Mike Jenkins

Dressed like a child
for our ritual Sunday afternoon
pilgrimage to the hillside:
your pear-shaped hood,
scarf wound like a snake
and red ski-boots dragged along
like grown-up things worn for a dare.

When I laugh, I don't mean it to hurt.
It is the brother of the laugh
at the end of our laugh-making -
rigid bones melting into blood.

The moor grass has turned
into a frosty yellow, its green
gone deep into hibernation.
We crunch mud, step streams,
in games which strip us of years
like the trees have been
of their leaves. The water
and your green eyes
share the only motion.

You see a red berry
and call it a ladybird.
I think of your city upbringing;
the seasons being passing strangers
through Belfast streets
where you cadged rides from the ice.

When the brook's chatter is snow-fed,
your laughter is tangled in thorn.
You discover an ice sculpture
mounted on a spine of reed,
and call it 'Teeth and Jaws'.
The light of your words
travels through it.

High above Merthyr, mountain lapping mountain.
You are amazed at the rarified sunlight!
When you speak, the numb streets
are startled. We leave the childhood
of the moorland, to grow taller
with a tiredness which is the sister
of when we lie, translucent and still,
on the single spine of the bed.

by Mike Jenkins
from Empire of Smoke

Additional information: Mike Jenkins (born 1953) is a Welsh poet, story writer and novelist writing in English. He taught English at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff for nearly a decade and Penydre High School, Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil, for some two decades before that. At the end of the 2008–2009 academic year Jenkins took voluntary redundancy. He now writes full-time, capitalising on experiences gleaned from former pupils. He continues to live in Merthyr Tydfil, and has done so for over 30 years. He is also the father of Plaid Cymru politician Bethan Jenkins and journalist Ciaran Jenkins.

Eurovision 2019 : Tel Aviv, Israel

Knee jerk, irreverent, reactions to watching the live final… a fortnight late because no one looks at these posts but it’s a useful reference.

This year themes and notable moments : Bland performances by singers with songs that don’t suit their voices, lots of 1990s feeling costumes and songs, conservative boybands, performers dressed like fighting game characters and zettai ryouiki.The sentences will be legible but I won’t tidy the grammar up so it retains that ‘instant reaction’ tone. Ukraine again makes a political statement regarding Russia but this time end up withdrawing an none of their chosen acts will perform for them due to the terms of the contract they proposed but Maruv is allowed to perform her song especially for the interval as a gesture of goodwill to her by the contest. Madonna is showing her age and gets a very muted response from the audience when she performs during the interval.

I’ll put the key sentences of each country’s commentary in bold for the lazy Tl;Dr casual scanning readers looking for specific content.

[edit: on a side note it’s the same ‘flame columns’ pyrotechnics very act seemed to have so I guess it was that or nothing which was allowed… which is very restrictive. In fact the ‘screen’ visual effects were also very limited this year. On the whole this year felt like a downgrade from previous years and really makes you appreciate how much effort other countries put into the experience while Israel puts out a ‘budget’ version and yet has the cheek during one of the intervals to hire Gal Gadot to promote the country to people for tourism].

* * *

Malta : Chameleon – Michela Pace

Nice song but completely the wrong tone of voice for it. Staging isn’t much. One year someone will dress as the european comic character Corto Maltese and boom… there’ll be a mass flood of fan votes. Very 90s style of costume. The sacrificial lamb first act of this year. A generic pop song. I am certain I’ve heard songs exactly like this on the radio. Knee socks and a jacket with see through vinyl sleeves, ending with denim cuffs, on a denim jacket. Odd look once you pay attention and one not seen since 1990s British girl bands.

Albania : Ktheju Tokës – Jonida Maliqi

The song title means ‘return to your land’ – so there’s a mild unintentional xenophobic tone to the title until you hear the song. I like it as it represents the heritage of Albania’s music with a modern twist. Then again I’ve been playing Koudelka and the Shadow Hearts series of games and the soundtrack has echoes of similar ‘epic ballad’ aspects so it’s a mild unintentional bias by me there. Pretty standard staging of a singer in operatic looking dress with backing singers. I liked it in context. [edit: after hearing all the songs I favour it a bit more for at least taking a risk compared to the more pop song like entries].

Czech Republic : Friend of a Friend – Lake Malawi

Catchy song. For a moment the guy sounds like he has an Essex accent when saying the girl moved back in which caught me completely off guard… that was random. Yes, nice beat. The lyrics, just like many from the boy band One Direction’s, have a slightly sinister entilted misogynistic tone to them yet you never hear it commented on openly ‘he’s cute and misunderstood and I can fix him so it’s okay if he doesn’t treat me well and always gives be backhanded compliments implying I’m nothing without his love as he can see past how ugly I am to my true beauty in supporting him’. Boy bands and romance novels is where all those life long insecurities begin. Nothing new when you look back to Wuthering Heights and other classics. Three handsome guys in trainers, skinny jeans, baggy jumpers playing instruments playing repetitive inoffensive music… Every teenager girls wet dream… to be honest you can imagine them being drowned out by the screams of teenage girls at a concert. Inoffensive stuff but the longer it goes on the more low energy it feels.

Germany : Sister – S!sters

A blonde and brunette duet. Call each other sister.. but, plot twist, they are not sisters. It’s nice. A good solid entry with a good rhythm and perfomance with stripped back staging. Instantly forgettable though but you can imagine it being used in a pivitol scene in a feel good drama’s climax when two friends reunite after some disagreement or something. It’s a nice song but maybe didn’t capture people’s hearts. [edit: public vote = 0 points… so indeed it didn’t].

Russia : Scream – Sergey Lazarev

You already realise this blog will be biased towards this entry but in fairness they tend to have quite solid entries in fairness year on year usually. It’s a solid entry and a strong contender. Building chorus and everything. Again throwing everything at it instrumentally and staging wise though the vocals might feel a bit softer than you’d hope when listening to it. Actually the staging with the multiple screens gets a little ridiculous and I wonder if there should be some rule against some aspects used as it felt a bit like it ended on an echo effect/recording. Very good though… I’ll forget it it soon enough. He took part in 2008? or 2018?

Denmark : Love Is Forever – Leonora

A very 2000s song. It reminds me of someone like Kate Nash. It looks nice when you watch the video but bear in mind she starts off with her back to the audience so it’s not as good an experience when there in person. A giant chair… it reminds me of those American photos of workmen eating their lunch on skyscraper worksites miles bove the city skyline. It’s a nice simple song. I mean once everyone’s sat up on there you spend more time in anticipation of someone falling off more than anything…

San Marino : Say Na Na Na – Serhat

Serhat is a dentist and claimed this took 5 minutes to write. Well yeah with lyrics like ‘na na’ I’m not expecting it to have been a struggle. It’s… very karaoke friendly. Another ‘I swear I saw this in the late 90s’ entry. Staging wise they have that effect that looks like the video files got corrupted for the background imagery and just went with it. It’ll get in the highlight reel for the year no doubt. It’s enjoyable. You won’t forget the chorus. Then he begins getting ‘yeah going crazy’… yes. Na na na. Say na na na. Say na na na… sayonara San Marino. Everyone, costume wise, looks like they’re going to the tennis court immediately after performance.

North Macedonia : Proud – Tamara Todevska

Sincerity. Well this is hitting all the buttons for me. Opera length dress and husky voice. Motivational lyrics. Maudline tone. I’ll be honest it does look like her dress slipped down due to the ‘exposed bra cups’ design. That’s as sexy as it gets this conservative year. It’s enjoyable. Another ‘you’ll hear it on an advert or during a moment in a drama’ song. Never really hits the pinacle I was hoping might arrive before the end so it feels incomplete.

Sweden : Too Late for Love – John Lundvik

Striped back staging with the one ‘caught escaping’ light behind him. Strong lyrics. Nice lead into the beat and then cuts back to vocal priority. Yes strong entry. Enjoyable. It’ll do well I assume. I can see them twisting this for Brexit/other conflicts use in future. No doubt we will hear this again over the next few years.

Slovenia : Serbi – Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl

They met on Instagram apparently. The intro reminds me of a lot of Sting’s songs. She looks like she has Down’s Syndrome. If she actually has it’s very progressive to feature her. I would like more, staging wise, if they didn’t have her stood singing right into his face as he plays the guitar. I like the song for that sort of lamenting tone it has but… it probably isn’t going to do good if people want an upbeat song this year. Both wear white and hold hands later on but it’s very… teenagers at a school assembly talent show due to how they’re dressed. Bit of a mantra quality to it. It’ll be big with the normie ‘I like feeling creeped out’ audience and those who think that the couple look a bit incestuous. I like the song and her voice – it’s just they don’t look like they gel together visually and are a bit too awkward on stage which in turn makes the audience feel a bit awkward watching. The song is good though. I want to hear it again [edit: …and this is one of, if the only, song of the finalists I honest can say that about this year].

Cyprus : Replay – Tamta

Vinyl zettai ryouiki. [Other acts also feature it so maybe this was the only way to be ‘sexy’ this year due to the more conservative nature of performers’ costumes due some behind the scenes mandate the public never heard of]. She is dressed the way early 3D fighting game characters dressed due to low polygon counts. Then the pull the top off and it’s even more like a costume of that era of gaming! It’s a generic sounding dance track… nothing else to add really. I forgot it instantly in indeed I was even able to remember it as I was listening to it.

Netherlands : Arcade – Duncan Laurence

One of, if not the, favourites this year going into the finals according to bookies etc. Yeah this has ‘Eurovision winner’ written over it the way ‘a Hollywood film where an attractive actor ‘goes ugly’ for a role by putting weight on [Chris Hemsworth as ‘fat Thor’ is in the running no doubt this year by that logic] or portrays disability or depicting ficitionalised real life events of someone’s experiences during World War’ 2 has ‘Oscar winner’ written all over it. Anthemic. Sad. Warbbling. He mimes playing the piano. Yeah this will be top 2 if it doesn’t win. [Spoiler: It wins.]

Greece : Better Love – Katerine Duska

Distinctive voice… it’s the vocal equivilant of Marmite. Balletic sword fighters duel weilding. Dancers fluttering wings. A arched churchdoorway mini-stage. I like it but that voice is going to throw a lot of people off. ARGH when she goes for high notes! She’s one of those women who is single and you wonder why then you hear her voice… I joke. It’s a nice song and the staging is very nice. Nonetheless that voice is going to lose votes probably. Very ‘Florence + the Machine’ in style.

Israel : Home – Kobi Marimi

”Hometown Hero” – no one was allowed to see them rehearse so… could be amazing could be a shitshow. Those rhymes… I… he is losing me with every line. The chorus aiding him improves it… but indeed it’s very much f a ‘this is me’ generic rising chorus ‘confidence gaining’ song from a musical. I like the ‘beams of lighting’ staging watching it but having been at events using it it’s a death ray if you’re sat in the wrong seats and get blasted by it for minutes straight. It’s a nice song… the warbling highnote at the end kind of mutes it. Good response as he’s the home hero but… eh it’ll do okay but it’s not the best.

Norway : Spirit in the Sky – KeiiNO

George Harrison. Admit it you too were wondering if it was going to be a cover though those are not allowed at Eurovision. Primark military style jacket. Essex face lift pony tail for the lady and… IT’S THE YODELLING BALD MAN! INSTANT WINNER! Nice dance track but that yodelling man… damn that’s a winner addition! He even gets a solo!!! and Yggdrasil, the tree of life from Norse legend, makes an appearance! Eurovision gold!

United Kingdom : Bigger Than Us – Michael Rice

From Hartlypool. The British entry so maybe I’ll be mildly bias. It’s a nice ballad. I don’t think he starts on the right note… Anthemic but subdued. It could go any way to be honest. Who are we kidding he’s the British entry… as soon as he gets in the greenroom they’ll get him as drunk as possible to numb the inevitable pain of the low votes. If we get on the left side of the score board it’ll be a small miracle. It’s a nice pop song. I honestly feel a bit more impact was needed though. I mean the backing vocalists almost drown him out on at least one occasion. He thanks Europe and says he is living his dream performing there Cool, good manners. Good boy.

* * * * *

Midpoint: The male presenter behind stage, in he green room, asks the San Marino entrant Serhat the dentist a question then cuts him off before he can answer properly. ‘Presenters being presenters’ as ever… can’t cut into that running time even to be polite.

Here are some comments by the British Eurovision commentator Graham Norton about the entries:

* * * * *

Iceland : Hatrið mun sigra – Hatari

‘Hatred will Prevail’ is the meaning of the title. Thus very ‘anti-Eurovision’. Very anti-capitalist too aparently. Weirdly electro-punk with industrial style accoustics. I like. Eurovision needs more rock music like this and Lordi. Flame spikes. Edward Scissorhands outfit and mohawks. Well this is my favourite but it won’t win. No doubt people are claiming it scares them, for some reason or other just because it’s not mainstream, as if they’re going to wake up suspended from the ceiling in a gimp costume as part of someone’s sex dungeon… such people shouldn’t have been allowed to read 50 Shades of Grey as it’s given them ideas. Saying that it should have been about 30 seconds shorter as I got bored by the end.

Estonia : Storm – Victor Crone

Pretty guy in a leather jacket with an acoustic guitar. Mr generic cool guy to every generation… He will have a better than he would otherwise as a contrast to Iceland’s entry no question. Even got some clapping along early on by the audience wanting to spirit away the dark energy Iceland left them with. Nice breezy song. I enjoy it. Might be a bit too ‘seen it already’ due to others having similar songs though. Really the longer it goes on the more I think ‘I’ve heard that bit elsewhere…’ Enjoyable though. Apparently augmented effects were used. That’s becoming more common for the staging on the night of course.

Belarus : Like It – Zena

She reminds me of the blogger Angelika Oles. Then she has one of those hot pink and white with black accent outfits that looks like a cross between an F1 pit girl and a gogo dancer. She has B-boy backing dancers. Nothing really stands out. Zettai ryouiki again and a bared midrift. The only two areas acceptable in clean family entertainment to indicate sex appeal. [edit: when I typed that I was thinking of Princess Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin only to find out in the live action film version they give her a most conservative costume with a corset like covering for her midriff]. The song is an ‘also ran’. Even when listening to it it wasn’t sticking with me. ‘Impossible’ you say? You’d be surprised.

Azerbaijan : Truth – Chingiz

Thumping beat. Robot arms. A laser on his chest like the Predator is about to kill him. Husky male voice singing. Good good. Goes into a higher register but fine. ‘shut up about it’ he chants.. in a song called Truth… interesting. Yeah nice song but not going to get too high. More about the staging with the electro girl head than anything really. He is dressed like a character from a 1980-90s SNK beat-em up. No really. Look up ‘King of Fighters’ and you’ll find his outfit on a guy with a ponytail. It’s the year of ‘beat-em up costumes!

France : Roi – Bilal Hassani

A feminine looking man. He is like the lead male character from the most recent trilogy of SNK’s King of Fighters games! Or Remy from Street Fighter III! He’s also deaf and doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes apparently. The ‘progressive’ vote then but also he would get the Japanese boyband vote too if there was one. ABBA outfit. On fleek eyebrows. Guy will launch his own makeup Youtube channel and brand if he hasn’t got one already. Obese dancer… she actually moves quite well. However they replace her with a tiny Asian lady soon enough. He reminds me of an anime Bishonen (pretty boy) or androgenous villain with his look. No seriously go look up anime and scroll down the images and I am certain you’ll find someone with his look. As for the song… it’s a standard Eurovision entry. Good but you’ll forget about it.

Italy : Soldi – Mahmood

The ‘I like rap’ option for what it’s worth. Badass in a hawaiian shirt and earring with one of those wallet chains you’ve not seen since the 2000s with American skater punk bands like Limp Biskit or Sum41. Clap clap. You’ll hear this in the clubs. It’ll get a really good dance remix. It feels a little lifeless on the night unfortunately compared to others. It really needed the audience participation to go wild for it and they didn’t. The backing dancers I swear pulled off a few American line dancing moves a few times by boot scooting… It’s a good song by itself but not one that will ultimately win Eurovision.

Serbia : Kruna – Nevena Božović

The title means ‘crown’. Slow ballad. Has the look of a rocksinger in the 1980s… like Bonnie Tyler. She reminds me of the film ‘White Chicks’. The design of her dress to show the leg with an intentional arch of fabric instead of a split is a bit forced as if they put the top of a jukebox on her. I like it. Of the ballads I probably like it best. I kind of wish she didn’t alternate language as it probably would sound better in just the one. Also thanks the crowd. Good good. Enjoyed it.

Switzerland : She Got Me – Luca Hänni

They last won in 1988 with Celine Dion apparently. The boy band entry… well ‘one man boy band’ entry. Flashing lights and all the tricks. Well choreographed. The backing dancers being dressed in red, in red light, with a red background makes them barely viewable if you’re there in the crowd and not by the front. It’s a nice upbeat entry. All the boys go… All the girls go… Everyone goes… eh, it’s alright and I can dance to it so it’s got that going for it. He’s got that leather vest under a sleeveless jacket look which no one can pull off… and again I’ve seen that costume on a fighting game character I swear. [edit: e.g. Robert Garcia in both SNK’s ‘Art of Fighting’ and ‘King of Fighters’ series]

Australia : Zero Gravity – Miller – Hedke

Australia is in Europe everyone jokes… and yet still they compete. At least others are geographically close if not in Europe. Ice queen outfight with tiara crown. It’s a flying Statue of Liberty. Yodelling woman… cunning. I like it. Then it goes all ‘electro-dance beat… well this is going to compete hard then. Are they all on stilts? Oh no they’re on… sticks. I’m sure the staging is amazing if you’re there but it looks comical at home. I’m getting ‘Christ at the Crucifixion’ vibes due to the crown and there being three of them. The ‘death of Liberty’ undertext. It’s pick up votes from oldschool Eurovision lovers no question.

Spain : La Venda – Miki

Comic panel staging. It’s meant to be a house but nope. Full on 6 panel newspaper comic look. Very upbeat and fun. This will get votes for it and by people who’ve forgotten all the others. Weird light giant thing on stage too. Fun. The backing dancers look like they are meant to be doing an exercise at home doe a ‘exercise at home with [insert name of a reality TV celebrity]’ moneygrabbing name recognition exercise video. This should get quite a few votes. Good one to end on. It’s been a bit of a dour year to be honest with far too many ‘safe’ entries.

* * *

Apparently if you vote you get a thank you video from the artist you voted for. They did that for the Olympics too for some reason.

While you vote they showed previous years’ winners singing other winners’ songs and some favourites of the past. Quite interesting really. They did it as a sort of Cabaret thing. Conchita’s outfit took inspiration from Hakke Andrey a character from Atlus’ Maken X computer game it seems.

* * *

Madonna appears and does a song. Like a wild pokemon in the long grass. Wearing an eyepatch with a costume suggesting both pirate and pearly queen of London’s Eastend. Promoting her album Madam X. Then gives some inspirational words to the performers which come across as a bit patronising. A presenter says she knows what she is talking about which… yes please tell musicians to pay attention for some life advice as if it’s not their career and think it’s not at all insulting to them you grovelling little scab. Madonna? Knowing about being a successful singer? No really? Musicians performing at Euroviosn not knowing their stuff? Really? Then she quotes her own song and tries to get people to repeat it but it falls flat.

Then someone else performs.

Oh it’s Ukraine who pulled out of the contest! Except not really. Ukraine forbade Maruv to compete because she had toured in Russia and so Eurovision let her perform her song as a sign of goodwill on their part though not representing Ukraine obviously.

(Not Ukraine) interval act: MARUV – Siren Song (Bang!)

Well you can’t lose if you don’t compete! Oh yeah this is far too sexual for this year’s tastes. They’d have to tame it down immensely. Phwoar nonetheless. Going for that dad vote like Poland did a few years ago with their ‘My Słowianie – We Are Slavic’ milk churning women in traditional ress performance in 2014 but Maruv makes it clearly more dominatrix in tone.

However I recorded it as ‘a song called something like ‘Boee (Come With Me)’ was played at this point. I assume in hindsight it was Maruv as the lyric ‘come with me’ is mentioned.

I prefer music reflect the culture of the performers and this does. I wish more of the songs had followed this tone as it makes it much more interesting than the euro-pop that got humoginised over time and then got a slight revival due to developments in staging with back projection, slim large 4K HD monitors and such.

Also the ‘political protest is not allowed’ seems a rule very weakly enforced depending on which country is saying it. Here’s one video about the events happening outside the event.

Quavo appears. His first time at Eurovision. He is, like Madonna, dressed as if they’re filming a Mad Max or Waterworld sequel. He says his mom grew up listening to Madonna. Mikedrop moment as if he had been throwing shade intentionally or not…

Then a mentalist trick with a ‘not Derren Brown’ guy to pad the run time while the votes are going on.

Then ‘chicken song’ [a.k.a. ‘Toy’] singer Netta, who won last year, appeared in a yellow ‘na na banana’ dress with a new song. It’s like a song for preschool children got given a remix… When a 9 year old girl is asked what she wants at her birthday party I image something like this. She wants a classy evening dress affair dinner party but then she also wants bright colours and pop music.

Then Madonna, after the third or fourth reminder of all the entrants, fnally performed. Everyone was waiting for another ‘throttled by her cape’ moment of course. The staging screams Gregorian chanting monks even without the costumes. So it’s one more step down the ‘no, I’m not being blasphemous’ road like her videos in the 1980s which got her in trouble with the Catholic church back then. They’re trying to make her songs sound like anthemic hymns by doing them a beat or so slower tempo wise with chanting backing singers and a beats machine. I mean… okay. But it’s also weird considering it’s what you would hear if all the sound equipment failed at a concert.

Then the monks carry logs or pillars up the steps. She seems out of breath. Then she does a quasi-Shakespearean bit with one dancer to Tchaikovsky’s the sugar plum fairy… the dancer has a white gas mask on and a flower crown which seems quite political surely. Weird segway. Then the Quavo guy turns up with heavy vocal balancing effects on his voice and Madonna sounds like she is underwater.

She got a muted response in the hall…

* * *

The VOTES:

The.. vote… finally… the votes… it seemed shorter between the final act and the votes when they used to allow more entrants per year than it does with these never ending interval acts and padding.

Then the presenters have Gal Gadot turn up in a VT promoting the country… because what else can they do to pad it out even further. I don’t recall over host coutries doing this but maybe I’m forgetting them.

Jokes about Israelis but in a self-depricating manner. However only on light topics like music and things that come across as an advert for the country’s tourism board. Gosh ren’t we a quirky fun country? Nothing bad happens here. Just forget all the active warzone on the borders kind of stuff – we are all about the chicken song and Gal Gadot. Forget the whole ongoing conflict you might get caught up in as a visitor… it’s all good here we love everyone… well except ‘those people‘… but apart from them everyone is welcome.

Jury votes!!!

It starts off with last year’s host Portugal with Inez whoever she is… 12 to Netherlands…

We, Britain, gave 12 to North Macedonia…. the power of ‘dressing like your on the pull on a girl’s night out and it’s 2.30AM’ wins us over.

Russia has a piano player to do the point announcement…. after doing a brief recital piece. I mean all the point announcers are having a 30 second of fame moment I guess though they’re famous people in their own country anyway and it’s not enough time for people to remember them… presumably. Greece had an electric guitar rock band guy too.

And now I’ll just recount the ones who gave Britain points… any at all… and let’s not think ‘potential trade union deal partners post-Brexit?’ while doing it.

Norway – 2 points.

Hungary – 2 points.

Belarus – 5 points [also phwoar… shockingly the only true one this year it seems! Actually was she on a previous year?]

Armenia – 2 points

Georgia – 1 point.

Switzerland – 1 point

13 professional jury points in total! We are not ‘nul point’ this year! Others are doing worse than us and that’s as good as we can ask!

We gave Norway 12 points… wel they gave us two so that’s okay…

The public vote

3 points from the public. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUU…. well that’s this year’s sacrificial lamb done with.

Germany got no public points… brutal.

Once it was down to Sweden vs Netherlands they dragged out the final announcement to up the tension for no good reason repeating that Sweden needed 253 points. They got 93.

The winner was… The Netherlands with 492 points. 1975 was the last time they won. Last year’s winner hands the trophy to the new winner. The run up to get it is dragged out. The music loops. He holds it aloft. Someone, somewhere is shedding tears. Others are sat on the toilet evacuating their bowels. It’s over for another year.

So another year and another low ranking place. Once it as due to participation in the Iraq war… now it’s Brexit. In fairness some of the entries were bad and others were just throwing something at it and seeing if it would work some years. Some years we actually had good acts, others were ‘bring out the old horses to flog’ and a few were ‘sod it we just can’t be bothered’.

The presenters thank the broadcaster and it’s almost 2AM in Israel and they’ve still to wheel the piano out. They skip it and have him miming the piano this time (not that he was playing it anyway probably). He calls on the audience to sing the chorus with him as streamers fall from above.

Reign well God-king of the Netherlands, ride unto the shores of Valhalla all shiny and chrome upon the unplayed piano that is your steed. Let the thundering arsecheeks of the farting oarsmen clpa their rhythm in your wake. Let the warble of your voice be the birdsong that sends your opponents to their fate. Their defeat was a foregone conclusion as the fates foretold through their oracles bookie’s stakes…

* * *

Bonus: Those who didn’t make it to the finals

For the first year of doing these I’ll also include those who fell before the final hurdle. Sadly I actually liked some of them more than those acts who were in the grand final!

Semi-Finalists

Armenia : Walking Out – Srbuk

Zettai ryouiki again… it must have been the fashion this year. The only flesh allowed to be shown to be ‘sexy’ without offending Israeli TV censors I assume. Pyro technics which really punctuate the end of the song but… the whole song is in minor key though you feel it should be in major so… it was good but I can see why on balance some other acts edged it out into being in the finale.

Ireland : 22 – Sarah McTernan

The checkerboard pattern and popart featured gives the staging that aesthetic retro ‘1950s yet with a 1990s twist’ I recall a few British boybands having in some of their music videos. Red leather skirt ad strappy heels – again sexy in a conservative manner. She has a husky voice which I don’t feel fits the song and the syling they’ve used as you associate the 1950s with higher pitched singers of that era… this song if it was more upbeat with a different singer would definitely sound more like a 1950s hit but instead it sounds a little like it is meant to act as an ‘in those good old days’ reflective sad ballad but it just doesn’t work. A different song would have worked with her voice. So it’s understandable they didn’t progress to the final. Oh and obviously it’s a surprise Ireland didn’t get into the finals but this probably isn’t the first time ever though, from a British perspective, we tend to notice their absence.

Moldova : Stay – Anna Odobescu

Using sand/salt art projected onto a screen is interesting but I think it was done in previous years and… I’m not sure but I think that’s the Ukrainian artist, Kseniya Simonova, who is famous for it they have doing it live on the stage with the singer… wait yes I just confirmed it’s her. Well considering Ukraine pulled out this year as a protest [and yet did the interval somehow] I am assuming she is going to be getting a lot of criticsm in her homeland… [apparently not in hindsight]. Anyway the singer is wearing a dress which is half 1980s wedding dress and half modern ‘going out tonight’ dress. Heer voice reminds me of the American singer Anastacia. It’s very much a dramatic Eurovison style ballad and I enjoy it so I’m a bit surprised it didn’t get through considering how bland some of the fianlists were. Maybe some of the notes didn’t hit the heights the judges would have liked to give that extra punch to the songs impact.

Latvia : That Night – Carousel

I feel this and the Slovenian entry would have been an interesting juxtapositon to each other. Apparently there was only room for one soft song of this type this year and the young couple had the better ‘story’. A simple lace dress with boots and a wide brimmed hat to give that summertime mood when singing the reflective romantic song while accompanied by a 3 piece accompaniment. They all look much older in the official video. It’s a nice easy listening song. The singer has a charm making her appealling but I guess it was just too mellow for this year’s judges which is a shame as it would get my vote.. if I was the sort to vote for these things. Ultimately the stripped back staging with just a swaying dance, with a few turning walks, was just too little of an impact for a contest that seems to need more and more spectacle in the projected visuals nowadays.

Romania : On a Sunday – Ester Peony

Interesting costumes where it’s rhinestone/sequins covered eveningsuit wear on top with a punk-charcoal puffskirt rock lower half with platform Goth boots. Phwoar. You know who her look reminds me of? Missy from Dr Who a few years ago. The dancers look like they are meant to promoting a computer game… specifically the character designs of the fighter when the Mortal Kombat series first dabbled in 3D use. It’s going for that sort of alternative rock look but the song is a quite traditional Eurovison ballad. It’s an also ran entry ultimately. Take the dancers away and it’s not got anything unique in the song itself. Singer phwoar; song snore. The first line or so she has very odd pronunciation for Sunday as if warbling the line. The backing singers have an oddly ‘baby doll’ look to them. It’s all very ‘what fashion designers think of when given the brief to produce something ‘dark’ themed so they break out the black fethers, leather books and harsh tailoring or otherwise go to the Gothic Lolita side of the ‘dark’ spectrum. Indeed it is understandable why this didn’t get to the finale though I’m certain the singer is capable of better than this when allowed to do her own thing. I don’t get the audience’s reaction when the pyrotechnics go off unless they were not expecting them as they showed appaulled by them from their tone not excited as you might expect. Maybe they were too cloe to them.

Austria : Limits – Pænda

A soft uplifting song for the most part though it has one point towards the end where she sounds quite bad. Lighting gradually growing with the intensity. Her costume really doesn’t fit with the style of song. Is she wearing a dress or trousers? It’s just she has the look of a middle aged woman desperate to pull on Fridy night in the local bar kind of aura… [also considering the look of many of this years acts she is showing too much skin for the judges’ /broadcaster’s liking no doubt]. She sounds like she hits a lot of bad notes when she gets to the more intense moments. A very disjointed entry and indeed one I can definitely understand didn’t get through. If anything it represents my issue with this year everything is far too restrained and dull. The songs are all too focused on presenting something which appeals to the broadest dynamic and so instead of something memorable it’s all of the lowest common denominator.

Croatia : The Dream – Roko

Taking the lyrics and the whole ‘I’m an angel in a lake of fire’ aesthetic into account… is he meant to be playing Lucifer?! I mean that’s gutsy to be doing that in Israel of all places… Then the backing dancers come down and honestly it’s the look you see as a parody of an ‘overly pretentious pop act’. The song is nice enough but I think they shot themselves in the foot with their visual concept…

Lithuania : Run with the Lions – Jurij Veklenko

This would have been an interesting contrast with the Greek entry as both have distinctive vocalists. Visually there’s all the ‘generic stylish young handsome guy’ boxes ticked. He sings surprisingly high for a lot of the song if I’m honest. I know there’s singer/songwriters like Passenger who are like that but it’s not an easy sell for most people. The song is decent if generic. It’s quite bland and forgettable to be honest though there’s nothing wrong with it to be honest.

* * *

Non-Qualified Countries

Hungary : Az én apám – Joci Pápai

Straight away I feel this has a lot more impact than many got through to the finals. It really gets a good reaction from the audience there. Barring the ‘performing in bare feet’ bit he is very much in the standard ‘generic safe male performer’ visually. It’s actually shocking someone of this calibre didn’t get through. There’s not much to add. It’s disappointing this didn’t get through as it would have done well.

Montenegro : Heaven – D mol

Dance music start. Very conservative outfits… maybe a little too conservative as they remind me of American Evangelical preachers. The third guy is very nasal which sticks out like a sore thumb for his moment. It’s the sort of song you can imagine having been performed about ten years ago at the latest. They’re all decent but in a year of bland they’re the wrong kind of bland. They’re not ‘what a middle aged panel of judges thinks appeals to young people these days’ inoffensively safe but just ‘old fashioned’ safe. Too safe in a year I felt was overly safe… which is kind of tragic.

Georgia : Keep on Going – Oto Nemsadze

I still recall previous years entries by them. Georgia is the country always certain to do entries I thoroughly enjoy and would listen to independent of the Eurovision contest. Each year I forget and each year they surprise me and I recall the quality the country produces. I like this but it is in stark contrast to many other more mainstream, safely commerical, entries this year so got excluded for a ‘smoother’ running order experience I guess with only Iceland being the notable ‘see we let different acts take part’ token gesture entry. The wailing bit really adds support to his main vocals. Then a male choir chorus too! And pyrotechnics?! They really built this up throughout the song to a good climax. And he even thanks the audience which not every act does. They were robbed of a place! This is my ‘spiritual’ victor who sadly didn’t get placed!

Finland : Look Away – Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman

Leather jacket and blue jeans… is it the 1980s, 90s or 2019? A dance track song. Yeah it’s okay. Dance music isn’t my thing though it’s one of the pan European crowd pleasers. It would have stuck out a little this year but like some others feels like it’s missing the ‘punch’ it needed to just get a bit more traction. It’s better than some of the finalists to be honest. Generic for a previous year but for now it would have been distinctive. The dancer does very well considering all eyes are on her more than him during it. Oh it’s Darude… and he didn’t get through?! Shock result! Even I know who he is! Maybe he was felt to be a ‘ringer’ being entered into this contest and it would have been unfair as he would have taken so much of the popular vote from the public…

Poland : Pali się – Tulia

Nation of ‘we don’t take this serious’ with their milkchurning girls in traditional dress with ‘My Słowianie – We Are Slavic’ in 2014, a wheelchair user in 2015 performing In The Name of Love and now… they’ve early 90s girl band vocals like Elastica while wearing quasi- traditonal Slavic yet Mongolian ceremonial dress?! Their voices are cutting through me. Bit too repetitive but they get the audience on side. I would have liked to see them in the final as a novelty act to break up the monotony. Their floating heads on the screens seem more in keeping with this years tone than their costumes on stage. I can see why it didn’t get through but good on them thanking the crowd.

Portugal : Telemóveis – Conan Osíris

This should have got into the finals! The song has a very sort of Arabic chant style but mixed with Eastern mysticism style before exploding into a sort of Electro-synth dance beat reminding me of the soundtrack to Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost In The Shell anime film. It actually seemed really interesting costume wise in a ‘Mortal Kombat if Kazuma Kaneko did the costume designs’ way… On the whole this year felt very ‘safe’ in terms of most of the acts. At least this one had some style to it even if not to everyones’ tastes. Again thanking the audience. Maybe in the final they were not allowed to or their microphones got cut off when they did it?

Belgium : Wake Up – Eliot

Taiko drums? And this didn’t get placed? Let’s see why… drumming on the beat. Um… yeah his vocals are not strong enough sadly. Someone with a bit more power to their voice and this probably could have gone through but as it is it sounds like a teenager covering it for a school talent contest. The audience clap in time with the beat to support him. Well hopefully he can go away, train his voice some more and we will hear from him again. The drummers do very well in fairness. Smoke effects? I don’t think anyone else had those. Maybe he got cut so they wouldn’t have to fork out for those in the final?

* * *

Ukraine’s withdrawal this year: Maruv was allowed to perform by Eurovision without it being connected to representing Ukraine for the reasons detailed below. In hindsight is very good of them as it’s not her fault that the country she was to represent took umbridge with her touring obligations which inevitably included work in Russia despite the broadcaster imposing what were clearly politically motivated conditions of her contract if she were to represent Ukraine. Kudos too should go to the show of solidarity by ‘Freedom Jazz’ and ‘Kazka’ who were offered the contract when Maruv wouldn’t agree to the terms.

So what’s the story?

Ukraine withdrew from the competition this year. It was politically motivated, though they would deny it of course, hence why Eurovision extended a hand to let Maruv perform even if she wasn’t able to compete. A goodwill gesture by them to the performer surely should be applauded as there was no political intent behind her decisions though the Ukraine frame it as such because she honoured tour dates that had, by the time of the contract being proposed, been agreed upon long beforehand.

To quote the Wikipedia article’s synopsis of events:

“During the final of the national selection, it was announced that the broadcaster had reserved the right to change the decision made by the jury and Ukrainian public. Following Maruv’s win, it was reported that the broadcaster had sent her management a contract, requiring Maruv to cancel all upcoming appearances and performances in Russia in order to become the Ukrainian representative. After it became clear that she would be performing in two concerts in Russia the following months, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Vyacheslav Kyrylenko stated that artists who toured in Russia or “did not recognise the territorial integrity of Ukraine” should not take part in Eurovision. She was also given 48 hours to sign the contract or be replaced. The day afterwards, Maruv revealed that the broadcaster’s contract had additionally banned her from improvising on stage and communicating with any journalist without the permission of the broadcaster, and required her to fully comply with any requests from the broadcaster. If she were to not follow any of these clauses, she would be fined ₴2 million (~€67,000). Maruv also stated that the broadcaster would not give her any financial compensation for the competition and would not pay for the trip to Tel Aviv.

On 25 February, both Maruv and the broadcaster confirmed that she would not represent Ukraine in Israel due to disputes within the contract, and that another act would be chosen. National final runner-up Freedom Jazz announced on 26 February that they had rejected the broadcaster’s offer to represent Ukraine as well, with third place finisher Kazka confirming they had rejected the offer as well the following day.

It is considered controversial for Ukrainian artists to tour in Russia following the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine.”

Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river

And the rivers with the ocean,

The winds of heaven mix for ever

With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single;

All things by a law divine

In one another’s being mingle –

Why not I with thine?

 

See the mountain’s kiss high heaven

And the waves clasp one another;

No sister-flower would be forgiven

If it disdain’d its brother:

 

And the sunlight clasps the earth,

And the moonbeams kiss the sea –

What are all these kissings worth,

If thou kiss not me?

 

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

Land of my Mothers by Idris Davies

Land of my mothers, how shall my brothers praise you?

With timbrels or rattles or tins?

With fire.

How shall we praise you on the banks of the rhymneying waters,

On the smokey shores and the glittering shores of Glamorgan,

On wet mornings in the bare fields behind the Newport docks,

On fine evenings when lovers walk by Bedwellty Church,

When the cuckoo calles to miners coming home to Rhymney Bridge,

When the wild rose defies the Industrial Revolution

And when the dear old drunken lady sings of Jesus and a little shilling.

 

Come down, O girls of song, to the bank of the coal canal

At twilight, at twilight

When mongrels fight

And long rats bite

Under the shadows of pit-head light,

And dance, you daughters of Gwenllian,

Dance in the dust in the lust of delight.

And you who have prayed in the golden pastures

And oiled the wheels of the Western Tradition

And trod where bards have danced to church,

Pay a penny for this fragment of a burning torch.

It will never go out.

 

It will gather unto itself all the fires

That blaze between the heavens above and the earth beneath

Until the flame shall frighten each mud-hearted hypocrite

And scatter the beetles fattened on the cream of corruption,

The beetles that riddle the ramparts of Man.

 

Pay a penny for my singing torch,

O my sisters, my brothers of the land of my mothers,

The land of our fathers, our troubles, our dreams,

The land of Llewellyn and Shoni bach Shinkin,

The land of the sermons that peddle the streams,

The land of the englyn and Crawshay’s old engine,

The land that is sometimes as proud as she seems.

And the sons of the mountains and sons of the valleys

O lift up your hearts, and then

lift up your feet.

 

by Idris Davies

I Have Come To Take Your Place Sister… by Anna Akhmatova

-I have come to take your place, sister,

At the high fire in the forest’s heart.

 

Your eyes have grown dull, your tears cloudy,

Your hair is grey.

 

You don’t understand the songs birds sing

Anymore, nor stars, nor summer lighting.

 

Don’t hear it when the women strike

The tamborine; yet you fear the silence.

 

I have come to take your place, sister,

At the high fire in the forest’s heart’…

 

-‘You’ve come to put me in the grave.

Where is your shovel and your spade?

You’re carrying just a flute.

I’m not going to blame you,

Sadly a long time ago

My voice fell mute.

 

Have my clothes to wear,

Answer my fears with silence,

Let the wind blow

Through your hair, smell of the lilac.

You have come by a hard road

To be lit up by this fire.’

 

And one went away, ceding

The place to another, wandering

Like a blind woman reading

An unfamiliar narrow path,

 

And still it seemed to her a flame

Was close… In her hand a tamborine…

And she was like a white flag,

And like the light of a beacon.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1912)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas

The Ghoul by Gareth Owen

One dark and wintry evening
When snow swirled through the air
And the wind howled like a banshee
I crept silently up the stair.

I sat in the quiet of my bedroom
And opened with baited breath
My Zombie-Horror Make-Up Kit
That would frighten my sister to death.

FRIGHTEN YOUR FAMILY! AMAZE YOUR FRIENDS!
WITH OUR DO-IT-YOURSELF MAKE-UP KITS.
BE A WEREWOLF! A VAMPIRE! A ZOMBIE-GHOUL!
SCARE YOUR NEIGHBOURS OUT OF THEIR WITS!

Sowly my face began to change
As I carefully applied the pack.
I grinned at my face in the mirror
But an evil stranger leered back.

Long hair sprouted wild from my forehead,
My nose was half snout, half beak,
My right eye bulged angry and bloodshot
While my left one crawled over my cheek.

My fangs hung long and broken,
My chin was broken with sores,
The backs of my hands were mats of hair
My fingers grew long, bird-like claws.

I heard my sister opening the door,
Heard her call, ‘Hello, anyone in?’
I took a long, last look at the thing in the glass
Distorted and ugly as sin.

My sister was running the water
I could hear her washing her hair.
I heard her call out as a floorboard creaked.
‘Hello, is that somebody there?’

I released my zombie howl
As I crashed through the kitchen door,
Then I saw this ghoul in the window pane
And passed out cold on the floor.

by Gareth Owen

Disney’s Frozen: My Sister, My Hero Collectable Stickers

Produced by Panini in Italy.

Cost £0.50 i.e. 50 pence per pack. I purchased them from a Tesco supermarket but they are available in most major retailers and there is a special offer where you get a few packs with the sticker album for £3.00 if I remember correctly.

5 stickers per normal packet or possibly 4 normal stickers plus a ‘special’ sticker per packet (I only bought one packet so I cannot confirm the ratio). To be honest I remember when you would get about 10 stickers in a pack but that was a very long time ago. The lower number however means you get far better quality stickers. I was very pleasantly surprised to be honest. I prefer quality over quantity as a few high quality stickers, even if not of images I would want, are always far more welcome than a dozen poor quality ones produced with company profit margins being first and foremost in mind.

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These stickers, though not suitable for applying on anything that will be outdoors and require weather resistance, like a vinyl sticker would, look quite robust compared to what I have seen in the past. The print quality is excellent and even at extremely close inspection you will not notice any attempt to skimp on the quality here. The ‘special’ sticker has a fabric like texture to it and some light applications of glitter which I found to be a nice change from ‘special’ stickers being prismatic, which often make it difficult to look at the design, or basic foil ones where the print is all too easily scratched off if you are careless. I am sure the glitter would quickly disappear but again the quality of the base sticker is high enough I think with fair treatment, such as putting on the front of a note book or to decorate furniture, these stickers would fare quite well. A very high quality product.

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As you might notice the packet I got was not primarily English language so that explains where they have made savings by just producing the one multi-lingual packaging. I doubt anyone collecting the stickers gives a damn about the packaging though it does features some nice artwork on the front in my opinion.

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The artwork is by Brittney Lee, a visual development artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios (she worked on Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph). Barbara Jean Hicks, a storyboard artist on the film Frozen. She illustrated the book ‘Disney’s Frozen: A Sister More Like Me’ (written by Barbara Jean Hicks) and I think the images on the stickers, at least the ones I got except the ‘special’ one, are all lifted directly from the book’s illustrations. I don’t know if I just had luck and got some of the nicest stickers as there are over 100 stickers for the album and I cannot imagine the illustrations in the book are that many.

I think these are a nice little treat for a child who has behaved well on a day around the shops without having to break the bank to reward them. They are definitely much higher quality than the ones I remember collecting as a child. Although personally I won’t be buying anymore I think these are a really nice treat for kids although I also remember as a child you are forever chasing the stickers you don’t have so ultimately buy a child one pack but don’t let them pick up sticker collecting as a hobby. It is one of the most ephemiral of hobbies and the subject matter often fades into history with no worth allocated to the sitckers which today seems all so important in completing the collection of. But a very nice once-in-a-blue-moon treat while Frozen is still the zeitgeist that it is. On a side note I am sure the correct phrasing is ‘My Sister, My Heroine’ althoguh they probably wanted to avoid people for some reason thinking the feminine form of the word hero (Heroine) is the exact same thing as the word for crack cocaine (Heroin)…

For those interested here are the stickers featured above are:

009: The troll performs magic on young Anna

010: Young Elsa

100: Fearful Coronation Elsa

102: Elsa portrait

F19: Special sticker fabric textured sticker with glitter of Elsa  turning to the viewer surrounded by pink flower like snowflakes


I haven’t been in a position to post anything recently. Hopefully I will be able to review a few more things soon.