Sunday, April 23, 2017

The London Diaries: 17.03.2017 - 19.03.2017

In March 2016, faithful travelling companion and myself threw in a little extra holiday where we took a quick city break to the UK's capital, took in a football match and did some sightseeing.  We had such a great time then that we planned another trip one year later, and so we repeated the experience in March 2017 which was another great success.  All being well, this could become an annual event! So here is a brief summary of our London weekend from 5 weeks ago.

Friday 17.03.2017

Once again we are based in the Marylebone area of London, a very busy but pleasant and upmarket area, with good connections to the rest of the city from Baker Street Tube station.

As we don't arrive until teatime on Friday, there's just enough time for dinner and drinks and we end the evening at our "local", The Globe on Marylebone Road which is a good place to hang out and has a friendly atmosphere. A very busy day ahead tomorrow though!

Saturday 18.03.2017

After breakfast, this morning's activity involves a quick trip on the Tube to the St John's Wood area for a couple of sights - Abbey Road and Lord's Cricket Ground.

Abbey Road, and the studios located there, have gone into the history of music thanks to the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album, where the Fab Four crossed that iconic zebra crossing.  

48 years on from that cover shot - the Beatles phenomenon is still alive and well.   For some reason, I thought Abbey Road was in a secluded area with not much traffic.  How wrong could I be!  Abbey Road is a 'real' street/zebra crossing with a lot of traffic and so you can never really be sure if the traffic is going to stop to let you get that crucial 'Beatles' shot.....anyway needless to say there are many Beatles fans from all over the world making the crossing.  We notice that no-one's emulating Paul, crossing the road barefoot though...!

Of course Abbey Road is the home of the famous Abbey Road Studios which is another pilgrimage spot for Beatles fans.  I liked this Beatles-themed sign on one of the adjoining walls....

Ah yes, the wall.  I am far too well-behaved and don't write anything, but lots of other fans have done, over the years:

Of course Abbey Road Studios is not just a historical landmark but it remains a working recording studio behind the doors of that unassuming building below.

Whilst in the St John's Wood area, faithful travelling companion suggests that we check out Lord's Cricket Ground, known as the "home of cricket".  Although neither of us are cricket fans, it's a good good idea anyway to stop by, seeing as we are in the vicinity.  The ground is closed though, so we just get some outside shots.

Actually, that might be another good idea for the bucket list: to learn the rules of cricket...!

The main feature of our Saturday afternoon is an entirely different sport, as we make a return visit to see our adopted London football team, Fulham FC at the Craven Cottage stadium on the banks of the Thames.  After "Coffee at the Cottage" we take our seats in the Johnny Haynes Stand for the match against Wolves.

The weather in London on this March weekend has been mainly dry but dull and very windy, although bear in mind that we live in Scotland where a day without rain is a win, so I guess it's not all bad. It's a lot cooler than this time last year though, and this location down by the Thames becomes quite chilly to the point that my scarf and gloves were very welcome!  This from someone who feels the heat most of the time, so it must be really cold!

Hopes are high.  After all, Fulham have been doing reasonably well this season, with a decent unbeaten run and the possibility at that time of making it to the top 6 of the English Championship, guaranteeing a shot at the Premiership play-offs and all being well, the possibility of a place in the lucrative Premiership.

OK all good so far....but football is such an unpredictable game so we could not take anything for granted.  Wolves completely close down their defence and prevent any Fulham attack, whilst trying to snatch a goal on the break - so it was no surprise that Wolves go a goal up after 34 minutes and consolidate their lead just after the half-time break.  Fulham bring on Denis Odoi and this is an inspired substitution as he scores a goal shortly afterwards. However, Wolves continued to frustrate Fulham and score another goal, effectively killing off the game in the 72nd minute.

Despite another loss for Fulham, we enjoy our experience very much and plan to return to Craven Cottage in the future because we really need to see Fulham win!  Yes, if all is well, a 2018 visit will be on the cards.....

EDIT 23.04.2017: in the 5 weeks since our trip to London, Fulham's luck has changed for the better and they have enjoyed an excellent run of results.  Today the club is in 6th place in the Championship and are on course for the Premiership play-offs.  So you never know, on our 2018 trip to the Cottage we could be watching Fulham against some Premiership opposition.  Come on Fulham!  Let's do this!

But back to March 2017....

After an epic journey from Putney Bridge to Baker Street via a long stopover wait at Edgware Road, we make it back to the hotel to get ready for our night out.  Last year we were in London on Melodifestivalen final night, but at least I didn't have that distraction this time round.

This evening's main event is dinner at a very nice and friendly local Indian restaurant in Marylebone (a different one from the one we visited in 2016, but equally as good) and then some late night drinks at The Globe. 

Sunday 19.03.2017

With an evening flight home from Stansted, we decide to do some sightseeing before lunch.  Last year we took a (very long) sightseeing bus tour.  This year, we take the Tube to Westminster and exit just across from Big Ben.

The street is absolutely packed with locals and tourists enjoying a rather dull, cloudy and slightly drizzly late morning down by the Thames.

At that point, little do we know that just a few days later, the very same area would be the scene of London's worst terrorist attack since 07.07.2005.  Watching the TV coverage after the attacks, it particularly hits home so much harder when you have actually been there, whether as a local on the daily commute or as a tourist. Unfortunately we live in times when such events can happen anywhere at any time, What has struck me on our two trips to London in 2016 and 2017 is just how much an international, cosmopolitan and open city it is - and that was proved by the way that the city responded to the attack on Wednesday 22.03.2017.  I found this very interesting article which completely articulates my feelings on the subject.

Our initial plan was to take a boat trip on the Thames, but there is a change of plan due to time considerations so we have a brief walk along the embankment where we check out some of the sights including the London Eye....

 ...and New Scotland Yard...

...and then it's time to head back into the city centre via Horse Guards Parade...

...passing through Whitehall and then onto a mobbed Trafalgar Square which awaits the arrival of the annual St Patrick's Day Parade.  There's a great buzz in the air and we watch some of the floats pass by before briefly exploring the 'Theatreland' area.  We promise that when we return to London, we really should stay for longer and do more 'touristy' stuff including a stage show/musical.   Time is getting on, however, and so we head back to Baker Street for a late lunch followed by a final return to the hotel to retrieve our luggage and then onwards to the airport on the Stansted Express train which is always a very pleasant and scenic journey through the marshy landscapes.

It turns out to be a rather unpleasant end to our weekend thanks to a flight delay and other transport traumas though, but I guess that these are just a typical occupational hazard of travel these days: we also had a flight delay travelling to London so in the immortal words of Steps the travelling was "better best forgotten" but flight dramas excluded, we have really enjoyed London which has belatedly become one of our favourite city destinations.  Until the next time!

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: March-April 2017

Television, like other branches of the media, has the power to change lives.  Yet in times of fake news and fake reality, it's hard to find a programme which can have such a genuine impact if you are experiencing what those on screen are experiencing, and if it spurs you on to do something about it. "MIND OVER MARATHON" (BBC1)  is a very different kind of reality show, in which a diverse group of people who experience a range of mental health concerns are brought together to train for the 2017 London Marathon.  The first episode this week was an absolute emotional rollercoaster and I was in floods of tears by the end of it.  These people have experienced so much pain in their lives as it is, without the stresses and strains of taking on this massive challenge, so they all absolutely deserve our support.  Although I'm no royalist by any means, I'm very impressed by the way that Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have focused on the importance of mental health issues.  Hopefully this will raise the profile of an issue which for so long has been something that previously was something you just didn't talk about.  And how did this show affect me?  Well, I don't quite have the fitness to run a marathon but it inspired me to exercise again after a long period where I have struggled with my own mental health.  Regardless of how they all do in the London Marathon, everyone in this series is a hero in my eyes :)

The premise of "HARRY HILL'S ALIEN FUN CAPSULE" (ITV) was pretty flimsy: it's like a Room 101 for nonsense, trying to prevent an alien invasion!  Harry has spent the past couple of years trying (and failing IMHO) to recreate the magic and madness of the irreplaceable TV Burp - most recently the misfiring "Tea Time" on Sky 1.  So I was a bit nervous about this new show (which has just come to the end of its first series) particularly as it resembled the dreaded comedy panel game show format which turns up everywhere these days.  However, there was a significant difference here as Harry was very much in charge and the changing weekly celeb panel often provided the fuel for his surreal wit.

I know this series wasn't to everyone's taste, but I thought this was the closest he has come to emulating the successful Burp formula.  "Local news roundup" could have come straight out of Burp, whilst going even further back in Harry's TV career, Stouffer the Cat even made a recent appearance. It was a long time coming, but finally, shout it from the rooftops, Harry Hill is back on form.  Give us more series ITV!!

"THIS IS US" (Channel 4) is a shamelessly sentimental American family drama series which in its first season has gathered lots of critical acclaim and award nominations in the USA, and did well enough in the ratings to be recommissioned for two further series.  Channel 4 had bought a successful show, so it should have been put in a prime-time slot, shouldn't it?  But then that would interfere with that particular channel's house-improvement/shock-doc/One Born Every Minute/Gogglebox schedule.  So instead it was stuck in a 10.30pm/11.00pm ratings graveyard.  Which is a shame really, even if this show was often as irritating as it was heartwarming, moving and emotional.

This show reminded me in a lot of ways of that other successful American TV family drama of the late 80s: Thirtysomething.  So I guess I wasn't too surprised to see Ken Olin's name among the "This Is Us" production credits - as a 'twentysomething' I had a major crush on Ken who played Michael Steadman in that show.

It's rare these days to see simple family dramas on TV, where the schedules are packed with complex cop shows, fantasy sagas or superheroes.  Perhaps UK TV channels struggle with this drama format - Channel 5 only screened the first two series of the now-ended wonderful US drama "Parenthood", which would make you laugh, make you cry, irritate you and inspire you all in the space of one episode.

But back to the time-hopping "This Is Us".  I had assumed that by the end of the first series we would find out the reason why Jack was no longer with us in the present day; wrong!  I guess that's for the two series which lie the meantime, the final episode, almost exclusively focused on Jack and Rebecca, suggested that they may have not always been the "perfect couple".  There are more stories to be told about the Pearson family: I only hope that we get to see the next series here in the UK and the same fate does not befall "This Is Us" as what happened to "Parenthood".

I have always been a fan of Peter Kay's work: I consider him to be the natural successor to Billy Connolly, such is the high standard of observational comedy which he delivers, and I still consider "Phoenix Nights" to be the finest TV comedy show of the 21st century, although I felt that at certain times over recent years he's become a bit too big for his boots  So when "PETER KAY'S CAR SHARE" (BBC1) initially appeared on our screens 2 years ago, I was rather disappointed and didn't last beyond the first episode.  When I found out that a second series was due to be screened, I decided to give the first series another chance.  I was very wrong 2 years ago - because this is actually one of the funniest TV series of recent years.  Series 2 continues in the same hilarious vein, with the 'will they-won't they' aspect of the car sharing pair, John and Kayleigh, (a brilliant and believable partnership played by Peter Kay and Sian Gibson) and I guarantee that you will not see a funnier half hour on TV this year than the episode which in Friends-speak would be known as "the one with the monkey"....

"MANIC STREET PREACHERS: ESCAPE FROM HISTORY" (Sky Arts) was a great documentary which covered the period from Richey's disappearance, through the writing and recording of the album which brought them to mainstream success.  That of course was the brilliant "Everything Must Go" which remains one of my favourite albums of the 90s, and one of the most significant of that glorious and most underrated decade.  This documentary was made with the full co-operation of the band (above) and the other key players involved.

I always enjoy these occasional Timeshift documentaries on BBC4 which explore aspects of recent history.  "DIAL B FOR BRITAIN: THE STORY OF THE LANDLINE" took a look back through the history of the telephone in this country.  Now there are many people out there who could not imagine that a time existed before the mobile phone.

For those of us who remember our own phone-related stories, this certainly jogged a few memories from the 70s onwards.  At that time, it was only the better-off people who had a phone, before the changing technology allowed more of us to have a phone in our homes.  This documentary also mentioned party lines - we didn't have one, but I know a few people who did. We didn't get a phone until the late 70s, and when we finally got one, it looked like the one pictured above.  Talking of phones, my uncle (mum's brother) worked as a telephone engineer. I remember nicknaming him "Buzby" after the cartoon bird who appeared in the TV ad from the 70s, also featured in this documentary, who encouraged everyone to "make someone happy with a phone call".  Something which wasn't mentioned in this documentary, but which became an essential aspect of phone ownership in the late 70s/early 80s (and the bane of my mum's life when it came to the phone bill!) was Dial-A-Disc, where you phoned up a number to listen to the latest chart hits.  The Spotify of its day, you might say!

I haven't watched much TV lately - haven't really been in the mood - so yet again the backlog is growing :( The highly acclaimed series 3 of "Broadchurch" has now ended and I haven't seen any of it, whilst I also need to catch up with the long-awaited new series of "Prison Break" which was a massive fave of mine back in the early days of this blog.

As the next few weeks are going to be very busy, with the combination of the run-up to Eurovision and preparations for our forthcoming holiday, there won't be a Square-Eyed edition in May, but I'm planning a special catch-up edition over the summer.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Notes from National Finals - Germany: Unser Song, 09.02.2017

Over recent years, Germany has tried everything from internal selections to multi-artist national finals.  In the case of the latter, there have been some quality artists and songs, but in recent years they fell foul of the "curse of the underdog".  The situation wasn't helped either by the shock refusal of Andreas Kummert to compete 2 years ago, or by Jamie-Lee's very individual (but misunderstood) styling.

In 2017, there was a change to Germany's selection process, and not for the better either.  Five unknown singers would compete in a series of rounds, whittling down along the way to find the best fit of song and singer to represent Germany in Kyiv.

Cologne is the venue and once again, Barbara Schoneberger (pictured above in the opening number) is the hostess with the mostest.  She is a big personality with a great sense of humour, and it could be said that she would need to have a great sense of humour to wear that skirt :O

There's a panel of judges this year, featuring schlager star Florian Silbereisen, popular singer-songwriter Tim Bendzko, and the one and only Lena Meyer-Landrut, Germany's last ESC winner in 2010.

The first round features all five of this year's lambs to the slaughter contestants, when they will sing a cover version each and then there will be an elimination round, leaving three singers.

Round 1: The Cover Versions

"Folsom Prison Blues" - Helene Nissen. 

An interesting choice here for a cover version.  However, as a recent convert to Johnny Cash's music (thank you faithful travelling companion!!), I am paying especially close attention to how she performs this.  Helene is young and cute and wears big Harry Potter glasses.  She reminds me of those student buskers which you'll find in any city on any Saturday afternoon.  She is just too "shouty" on this song, This performance bizarrely reminds me of the late Lena Zavaroni, a child star discovered in the 70s on "Opportunity Knocks" (the 'Got Talent' of its day), who used to belt out songs which were far too grown-up for her.

"Love on Top" - Yosefin Buohler.

Next up is Swedish-German Yosefin who performs a lightweight and somewhat "cabaret" cover of the Beyonce song with the multiple key changes.  It's a mistake for her to cover such a big song requiring a spectacular vocal.  What has become of the musical variety which characterised German national finals over recent years? I am just despairing at this year's final already.

It's also a shame though that regardless of what you think of the contestants, that two of them won't get the chance to sing even one of the two songs in the running.  This is an extremely flawed format for a national final.  A far better idea would have been for just one straightforward final of 5 artists singing the 2 competing songs each; this covers-round is just an irrelevance.

"Dancing On My Own" - Felicia Lu Kürbiß.

Of all the songs in all the world....why, really, would anyone choose this dismal cover-of-a-cover?  If such a thing of an international court of crimes against music existed, then Calum Scott's cover version of Robyn's classic song - which topped my 2016 hate chart on this blog - would be first in the queue to be tried.  Felicia does the best she can, but she seems to be modelling herself a bit too much on Lena.

"You Know My Name" - Axel Maximilian Feige.

I'm not so sure about the manbun - it's not the best look is it?  This song was originally performed by Chris Cornell and was the theme to the James Bond film Casino Royale.  It's perfect for Axel's gritty rock voice and, although many of the notes fall short to begin with, he eventually gets there. Although he is no Chris Cornell, Axel admittedly does have a good voice but I'm not feeling much charisma here.  Maybe it's nerves, I don't know....

"When We Were Young" - Isabella Levina Lueen.

It becomes clear very quickly that Levina is the favourite as she is cheered throughout her very decent, tuneful cover of the Adele song which is a safe choice here.

After the votes are counted, it's time for two of the singers to be eliminated.  We say goodbye to Yosefin (unsurprisingly) and Felicia - I'd like to think she was punished for that terrible song choice (!), but I thought she would sneak a qualification place over Helene.  Oh well, there you go!

This final is already at a very cringeworthy stage.  I'm even getting the feeling that Barbara is not usually her sparky self, and this feels like a contractual obligation.

Round 2:  "Wildfire" (Marit Larsen/Tofer Brown/Greg Holden)

I think what's annoying me about this whole national final shenanigans is that there is no room in it for German-language music.  Now I can understand sending a song to ESC in English (although I wish that, even for one year, that all countries would submit an entry in their native language.  Not gonna happen though, is it?) The covers round would have been a good chance for the singers to express themselves in their own language, but that was a missed opportunity.

So I had hoped that if we couldn't hear anything in the German language, then it would have been good at least to have German involvement on the songwriting side.  As it turns out, neither of the two songs in contention are written by German songwriters and are "bought in" co-writes.  This is one aspect of the modern ESC which I really struggle to deal with.  It would be nice if a country was represented by a song even co-written by a native of that country, but it's just another aspect of that generic, globalised mish-mash which ESC has become, and I feel that the contest has lost something special as a result.

"Wildfire" - Helene.

So, the cute young shouty-busking-student is growing in confidence after that surprise qualification to the ESC songs round.  Her take on "Wildfire" is an upbeat country-flavoured song in the style of Amy Macdonald. The performance is lively enough but her vocals suffer as a result.

"Wildfire" - Axel.

This song seems to suit his rough, gritty voice.  Unfortunately it loses the momentum thanks to the low-key staging and there is not much in the way of "performance" as he just sits on a stool.  The lyrics of the song may say "run through the wildfire", well Axel, never mind running - getting off the chair would be a start!  Axel looks as if he'd rather be anywhere else and he's not "selling" the song at all.  He is not bringing the charisma or the confidence which will make all the difference in being chosen as this year's German representative.

By the way there is a simultaneous English language commentary running through this long final which is very beneficial for us non-German speakers.  It happens that Tim Bendzko (below left), who is injecting a lot of honesty into his comments, isn't too delighted with Axel sitting down either.

"Wildfire" - Levina.

Visually, Levina puts me in mind of a mix of Emma Marrone and Lena Meyer-Landrut.  There is cheering throughout her interpretation of the song which she turns into a mid-tempo ballad.  Unlike Axel, Levina knows how to work the camera, she is very confident and is coming across like the winner of "Unser Song" already.

Time for a musical interlude - something finally in German!  Tim Bendzko performs "Leichtsinn" and I have decided that is way better than any other songs we've heard in this cringeworthy, lengthy and interminable final.

Elimination time again.  Helene leaves the competition, and Axel and Levina are the only ones still in contention.  They will now perform the second prospective ESC entry.

Round 3: "Perfect Life" (Lindy Robbins, Lindsey Ray, Dave Bassett)

Lindy Robbins has written quite a few hit songs over recent years including Jason Derulo's "Want To Want Me" and "Skyscraper" which was covered by X Factor winner Sam Bailey.

Like "Wildfire" this song isn't all that spectacular either and you just wonder, is this really the best that Germany can do?  Can we tempt Stefan Raab out of retirement??

"Perfect Life" - Axel.

He sings this well, but I just wish that he showed more personality in his performance as it just looks as if he can't be arsed.  He's got a distinctive voice and I think he could make a good recording artist if he gets the right material.  But he's not winning this competition.  He performs this song as a mid-tempo ballad with little James Bond-style musical flourishes.

"Perfect Life" - Levina.

All together now... "I am titaaaaaniiiiiuuuum!"

This version of the song has a lawsuit-worthy intro as it is clearly inspired by the David Guetta/Sia track - although many have also pointed out the "Every Breath You Take" guitar riff which has been ripped off by many other artists over the last 30 years.  The artists tonight are performing with a live band which is one very positive aspect of an otherwise unremarkable final.  I presume that the recorded version of Levina's take on this song will have more of a dance beat?  Whatever, it goes big in the hall and the audience are clapping along from the beginning.

So now it's another round of voting, to decide who's done the best version of each song.  In an unsurprising result, it's Levina versus Levina: the voters have decided that she sung the best versions of both songs and so it's on to the final round, where she will sing each song again.  No wonder she's probably got a sore throat by now!

By the way, did I say how rubbish this format is?  They're singing the same songs over and over again .It reminds me of the old Andra Chansen format which was thankfully dropped.  Anyway, no matter how many times they sing "Wildfire" and "Perfect Life" I still struggle to remember them.  In the end, the voters choose "Perfect Life", probably because it's got that Titanium recognition factor.

The epic final finishes almost 3 hours after it started,so congratulations if you lasted for the duration. Germany really needs to rethink the way it chooses its Eurovision entries. This is not the best format, that's for sure.

So just how well will Germany do in this year's Eurovision Song Contest?  Levina seems a confident performer and sings well enough, but at this point, the whole package just isn't special enough to get Germany over to the left-hand side of the scoreboard.

Notes from National Finals - UMK, Finland, 28.01.17

Hello again!  The past few weeks have been very busy and I haven't had the time to blog, so I'm taking the opportunity of some very welcome extra free time over Easter weekend to bring you my backlog of (long-overdue) reviews from this year's ESC national selections.

All of my national final posts will as usual be written in present tense/real-time, based on the notes which I wrote during each national selection.

Let's climb into the time machine and go back 11 weeks to the end of January and the Finnish national final.

This year YLE went for a one-off final of UMK, the format which they have used over recent years to select the Finnish Eurovision entry.

This year's show is hosted by Finland's 2013 ESC representative Krista Siegfrids, who remains a big favourite of the fan community.  No wonder, because she is a very entertaining host this evening with an equally entertaining line of outfits, from the toilet roll holder dress.... this colourful combo with matching glasses....

,,,and who could forget this?

Krista clearly has a great sense of fun and lots of personality, and she is the perfect fit for hosting UMK.  I can see her hosting this show for many years to come.

It could be argued that whoever made the final selection for UMK was also having a great laugh, given the number of 'novelty' songs included in this year's final line-up.  Before the contest though, there was one very clear favourite in the fan world, which would kick off the competition.

1:  "Circle of Light" - Emma.

Kicking off with the overwhelming fan favourite of early season.  This hybrid of "Only Teardrops" and "Hear Them Calling" was tipped to win UMK but it very quickly becomes apparent that it would not be such a foregone conclusion as the live performance falls short of what we all expected.  It's more 'Rakas we are not fine' as Emma, dressed in a drab and unflattering outfit, struggles with her vocals and even the fire on stage doesn't do what it should.  The staging is all very mystical, but it's not enough to save a poor performance.

2.  "Arrows" - Alva.

Some environmentally unfriendly use of hairspray in the postcard :)  This is a rather lightweight and bland effort, the kind of entry which usually comes 6th or 7th in a Melodifestivalen heat.

3.  "Love Yourself" - Günther and D'Sanz.

Yes, Günther - he of "Ding Dong Song" and "Like Fire Tonight" fame - is back, and this is when it gets dangerous.  I decide to go and make some toast at this point of the evening. Whilst waiting I am caught up in the excitement of this uptempo dance-pop tune with hilarious lyrics, and start singing along with it and dancing around the living room.  Unfortunately I forget to check on my toast.  The grill on my super-duper new cooker makes toast a lot more quickly than the previous one, so in no time at all I start to smell smoke, and then the smoke alarm starts beeping very loudly indeed...!!

"Love Yourself" is old-school singalonga-Eurodance/pop and whilst there appears to be no place for that in the Eurovision Song Contest these days, we still need the likes of it in a national final.

4.  "Reach Out For The Sun" - Anni Saikku.

The combination of a) preventing a fire, b) rescuing my toast and c) my internet connection deciding to give up, means that I miss most of this song. I have to end up shutting down my laptop and restarting which means I also miss the start of this next song.  Although that may be a good thing.....

5. "Caveman" - Knucklebone Oscar and the Shangri-La Rubies.

*Update* I listen to both songs later and conclude that neither of them would trouble the top end of the scoreboard, however Anni's song was quite pleasant and I'd maybe listen to it again. As for Oscar and friends, I just don't see the point.  This probably denied a more deserving song a place in the final, but we shall never know.

6.  "Blackbird" - Norma John.

In my previous 'first listen' post from November 2016, I got my information wrong as I thought the singer's name was Norma, when in fact none of them are called Norma, or indeed John!  This is in fact a duo made up of Leena and Lasse, who also wrote the song.  In that post I also wrote the following:

"...for me this is the standout of the national selection and could have the best chance of getting Finland a decent result at ESC.  This song's slow brooding drama immediately made me think of something which would turn up in Norway's MGP...If they get the staging right, this could do very, very well."

Regardless of the ever-changing interpretation of what constitutes a great Eurovision entry, I would say that it would be a song with immediate impact and which stays with you after only one hearing. After that first listen, the dark and beautiful "Blackbird" fulfilled that remit and immediately became my favourite in that early national finals season.

On the night, it doesn't disappoint.  Leena is dressed in a black lace-topped gown which perfectly matches the darkness of the song.  The staging is minimal and the piano solo is exquisite. Just wonderful.

7. "Helppo Elämää" - Lauri Yrjola.

Extra points from me for a song in the native language.  This is minimalist, contemporary pop which would sound fresher if someone else hadn't got there first.  Every year in national finals you'll hear at least one song which is strongly influenced by a Eurovision entry from the previous year.  What do those flashing lights and stark industrial beats in the chorus remind you of?

Thank you Sir Hat, on Twitter, for pointing out the similarity of this song to last year's Latvian entry.
Lauri tries his best, but he's no Justs.

8. "My Little World" - Club La Persé.  

At this point my internet connection decides to give up again, which means that I miss most of this song. What a drag, indeed.  This song has quite a memorable chorus but the rest of it is just a mess.

9..  "Perfect Villain" - Zühlke.

A very Norwegian flavour, as the team of writers include A1's Christian Ingebrigtsen and former MGP contestant and host Silje Nymoen.  In this year's UMK final there have been some very iffy vocal performances, but Zühlke delivers some strong and confident vocals although it must be said, the lyrics of "Perfect Villain" are a little silly, what with all those references to the X-Men and Superman.

10.  "Paradise" - My First Band. 

In another life this could actually be quite a decent little modern pop tune, but the absolutely hideous lyrics and irritating falsetto completely drag it down to gutter level.  This is the other favourite to win, but if it was only between this and "Circle of Light" I would have to go for Emma's song.  My First Band really want to be Maroon 5 (a band which I once liked but now despise for their bandwagon-jumping desperation).  The lyrics are vile, the staging is vile....please don't let this win.

So that's it.  Songs over and it was time for a couple of interval acts.  Firstly, the Norwegian teen twin sensations/irritants (delete as appropriate) Marcus and Martinus, who are very popular in Sweden and Finland as well as in Norway.  One of their songs is called "Bae" which is one of those annoying modern expressions which I've never understood, but then again I'm too old for all that nonsense...!

On to the international jury votes.  The UK votes are delivered by none other than high-profile Wiwibloggs frontman William Lee Adams.

After the jury votes, the top 3 are as follows:

1. Norma John
2. Zühlke
3. Emma.

The second interval act is Jenni Vartiainen (above), who is clearly in a different class.  Perhaps a Margaret Berger-style entry might be good for her in future, should she ever decide to finally participate in ESC?

The televote scores are announced in Melodifestivalen/ESC 2016 style, with votes converted to points.  What we learn from this is that Alva is more popular with the televoters than with the juries, whilst they don't love Anni and Lauri as much as the juries did.  Juries and televoters do agree on the top 3 though - so that means that Norma John will represent Finland in Kyiv with the brilliant "Blackbird".  Here is the final scoreboard:

For me, "Blackbird" is the best Finnish entry since "Something Better".  It has the emotional strength to appeal to both juries and televoters across Europe.  If they keep the staging simple, and just focus on Leena's haunting and powerful vocal performance, I would hope for at very least a place in the final....and if it achieves that, then who's to say that a top 10 finish wouldn't be out of the question?

(All pictures above are screenshots from YLE's coverage -

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Album Review: "Automaton" - Jamiroquai

Time flies so fast.  Can Jamiroquai really have been around for 25 years????  Yes, it's true.  But regardless of the changes in music trends and how music is consumed, the indisputable fact is that musical talent will prevail.

Jay Kay and his funky band have been any easy target for music critics over the years, yet I have loved their music from day one, and they are to me one of the UK's most underrated bands of the past, well, 25 years.

It's been 7 years since their last album "Rock Dust Light Star", and I thought for a while that it was over, that they would never make any more new music.  So it was a pleasant and long-awaited surprise when "Automaton" (the song, not the album) appeared at the beginning of 2017, with the announcement that an album would follow.

"Automaton" refreshingly doesn't make any concessions to the music of the moment: no dreary acoustic ballads, no tropical house, no landfill EDM...hell no.  Just Jamiroquai sticking to a very successful formula of funky, danceable, accessible pop music which is needed more than ever in these days when the mockery that is the top 20 singles chart is carved up between Ed Zzzzzheeran, Drake, Clean Bandit and the Chainsmokers.  For "the charts" have dramatically changed since the 90s when Jamiroquai were a regular fixture in the top 20.  Now, they won't even get a sniff of the charts in these years of Spotify streaming etc, but does it matter?  For as I said earlier, musical talent will prevail.

Jamiroquai continue to enjoy huge popularity particularly outwith the judgemental confines of the UK music scene - however they also have a massive UK following; over at the iTunes album chart, "Automaton" sits at no.2. this week between the all-conquering Sheeran and Drake.

The outstanding "Cloud 9" the second track which was released from the album, is probably my favourite track, with all the classic Jamiroquai trademarks, whilst "Summer Girl" will obviously soundtrack the (long hot?) summer of 2017.

Regular readers of my blog will be well aware that I don't always like a lot of music on first hearing, but Jamiroquai is an exception - they have such an appealing and effortless musical formula. On first hearings this is a much more accessible album than "Rock Dust Light Star" and certainly their best since the fabulous "Dynamite".

"Automaton" is an outstanding return to form.  Welcome back Jamiroquai, you have been much missed.  And you still kick ass.

Live Review: "Celebrate Sinatra", Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 25.03.2017

As the years go on, one thing never changes - timeless music will live on and continue to be appreciated long after the performers have left us.  Frank Sinatra was one of the most iconic performers of the 20th century and the appreciation of his music lives on.

"Celebrate Sinatra" has been touring the UK and stopped off last Saturday night at the sedate surroundings of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.  The intentions of the show were made very clear early on by lead performer Matt Ford, that it was not an impersonation show ("there is no hat...") but rather that the evening was going to be a respectful celebration of some of the finest songs in the classic American songbook. Indeed the show was more in the style of one of those theatre shows which, say, celebrated the best of West End musicals.  This was also reflected in the audience which was more 'mature' and sedate than what we might usually see at a 'Rat Pack' tribute show for example.

Above: Matt Ford.

Above: Emma Kershaw. 

Whilst writing this post I did some research which revealed that we were in the presence of some very illustrious performers with very extensive CVs!  Matt Ford ( is a very highly rated big band vocalist who has performed with a number of orchestras in the UK and Europe, whilst special guest artist Emma Kershaw (, who particularly has incredible experience as a soloist, musical performer, session singer and actress.  Matt and Emma's experience clearly showed in their effortless delivery of these timeless songs.  It wasn't the complete Sinatra experience by any means - notably "That's Life" was conspicuous by its absence, in favour of a couple of lesser-known songs, but it was still an enjoyable evening nonetheless. 

What I particularly loved about this show was the orchestral backing.  You can't beat live music of course, but for me an orchestra is just the best musical backup that anyone can have.  The concert orchestra were conducted by Anthony Gabriele; he had the usual crowd-pleasing exuberant traits you expect from a conductor, and this earned an extra round of applause at the end of the show.

A special mention for the dance troupes who brought the show alive with their dance routines: the Swing Time Jivers and ballroom dancing duo Emma and Christopher Burrell, pictured below in a much emptier Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (courtesy of their Facebook page (  By the way I loved Emma's dress :)