The John Cage Volkswagen Ad Project

Tuesday 18 June 2013

I saw this tweet from UbuWeb last year and took it as a challenge.

Two things immediately came to mind: John Cage’s anecdote about his own brush with advertising, and the Volkswagen microbus which he bought with his winnings from an Italian TV game show, for the purpose of driving the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from one gig to the next. The choice of host vehicle was obvious, and I found two suitable advertisements fairly quickly on YouTube. The only rules I set for adding music were (a) no editing and (b) post-1951 “chance” music only.

What was the point of this exercise? Now that it’s done, I realise it’s partly a tribute to Cage’s idealistic thinking, and his belief in the necessity of doing things previously considered impossible. More importantly, it’s about maintaining a true, critical measure of Cage’s achievements and assessing him properly as a composer, not as some supposed paragon of virtue.

The Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game, 2012 Edition

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Less than two weeks to go until the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final, so it’s time to wheel this post out again. I’ve missed the last couple of years on the telly but I might make an effort to catch this one, as it’s in Azerbaijan (suck on it, Portugal!) and it’s always fun to watch a little country no-one’s heard of make the most of their fifteen minutes of fame. Besides, I need to see how the Italians are taking to it now they’re back in the game.

Having been honed to something approaching a science over the years, the rules of the Drinking Game now change only when the rules of the Contest change. Only one, topical rule has been added to spice up interest this year (no, it isn’t I.B.6).

Yes these things have all happened, in case you’re wondering.

PHASE I: THE SONGS

A. Every instance within a song:

I.A.1 The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically shift up a key for the final chorus(es).

I.A.2 The Bucks Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only on every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.

B. Once per song only:

I.B.1 Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if they try to dodge the language issue by intentionally singing gibberish.

I.B.2 The Fine Cotton. Any appearance of mercenary talent flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.

I.B.3 Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life, one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to I.B.2.

I.B.4 The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.

I.B.5 The Wand’ring Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes. It’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating; but take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) in a blatantly fake way, as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.

I.B.6 The Greeks (formerly The TaTu). Finish your drink if the audience boos (on the telly, not in your living room.)

I.B.7 Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. This is a legacy rule, as in recent years it has largely been supplanted by…

I.B.7a Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.

I.B.8 My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical/political problems of hosting the event next year.

PHASE I ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:

I.B.5a The Wand’ring Minstrel (supplemental). Two drinks if the instrument is an accordion.

I.B.9 The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for a hairy armpit.

I.B.10 The White Suit. You’ll know it when you see it; and you’ll know it again when you see it again, and again…

PHASE II: THE VOTES

II.1 The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.

II.2 The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.

II.2a The Gastarbeiter. If Germany still gives twelve points to Turkey.

II.3 The Old Europe. When the UK gets nul points from France.

II.4 The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast at the end to any country which did not receive so much as a single vote.

II.5 The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.

PHASE II INTERMEDIATE: You and your friends probably will be too unruly by this stage to register every occurrence of these, so just try to catch what you can.

II.6 The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (i.e. “Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a friend or relative watching at home.

II.7 The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer reads the voting results wrong. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.

II.8 The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.

II.9 The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone’s figured it out now, so this hasn’t happened for a few years, but just in case: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points first, then the country that has won them – not the other way around.

PHASE II ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:

II.10 The New Europe. When the Baltic or Balkan states all give each other twelve points, or a former Soviet republic gives Russia twelve points. Do not attempt without medical supervision.

THE WILDCARDS

W1 A person must finish their drink if they ask:
W1.a why Israel is in it;
W1.b why Italy isn’t in it; or
W1.c where the hell is Moldova?

W2 Drink to any display of national resentment or self-pity related to the current Eurozone crisis. Pay close attention to Greece.

W3 A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.

W4 A toast to Bosnia and Herzegovina if they change the spelling of their country again from last year (last year’s spelling: ‘Bosnia & Herzegovina’).

W5 A toast to the person who gets so drunk you have to secretly call a cab and persuade them they ordered it when it arrives.

The BBC presents: The Current Crisis in Boredom

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Boredom is spiralling out of control!

Never Gonna Update

Monday 16 May 2011

I missed Eurovision again on Saturday night. I briefly considered watching it on iPlayer and writing up a review of it like I did until 2009, but then I got online the next day. In my Twitter feed I had not one, but two waves of Eurovision updates: first from my European contacts on Saturday night, followed by the second wave from Australians on Sunday morning, as they watched the delayed telecast.

A paradox has emerged in the world of online media. Just about any show or event that readily comes to mind is available, in perpetuity; but if you want to join in the conversation your experience has to be immediate. As a kid, my school week always started with a breakdown of what happened on Countdown on Friday evening. Today, any attempt to bring up the subject on Monday would be digging up old news. If you wait for that new foreign show to come to TV in your town, your friends will have downloaded it or bought the DVD on Amazon. You can’t phone people overseas and tell them how their old team is going back home – they already know.

My blog is the closest I’ll ever get to keeping a diary. Over the years it’s evolved from spouting off about anything that’s amused or annoyed me at the time, to spouting off about things I’ve personally experienced. The brief or trivial observations, or links to other stuff that has interested me, which used to keep the update rate on the blog ticking over, are now most often published on my Twitter account. These short entries used to be the supposedly preferred remit for blogs, but now blogs seem like they should be the home for longer, more reflective writing. No doubt the form and substance in which these conversations take place will remain in flux for some time yet.

Eurovision 2011: Meet The Losers

Tuesday 10 May 2011

I somehow forgot to do this last year, so with the first semi-final due to start tonight it’s more than time to look at the Eurovision entrants with the longest odds of winning. (Please note that I have never watched a semi-final, preferring instead to watch the finals with no forewarning of what atrocities may be unleashed. This also adds to the fun of the Drinking Game.)

The bookies this year obviously think they’ve got the contest and voting patterns sussed, as they’re offering frankly ridiculous odds from 200:1 to 500:1 for a swathe of countries. The received wisdom, however, is that the entrant with the least hope of succeeding is San Marino, presumably because it’s barely even a real country.

The Sammarinese contestant, a lady called Senit, is (surprise) not actually from San Marino. Her notable achievements include appearing in the German cast of The Lion King, recording with producers who have also worked with luminaries such as “Christina Alguilera” and “Busta Rhimes”, and…

In May 2006 Senit made her debut in the world of Italian discography with the album that took her name SENIT, produced by Panini, historic editing house of footballers stickers, that chose her as the testimonial of their new discographic activity.

Senit’s Eurovision song has the rather hesitant title “Stand By”, with a similarly less-than-forceful refrain of:

So tonight, if you don’t mind, I will stand by!

In the likely event that San Marino will be eliminated in the semi-finals, the longest odds for any country appearing in the final itself are for Spain. Almost as hopeless as San Marino, Spain’s entry will be sung by the lovely Lucía Pérez. She’s big in Galicia, and is “presently finishing her degree in pedagogics”. Her song, “Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao”, translates as “They Can’t Take The Fun Away From Me” and suggests that Spain are still in their not-giving-a-shit mood.

This is backed up by the song lyrics, which seem to me to be about the joys of getting totally fucking hammered on Rioja, complete with a musical parking of the tiger at the end.

I’m feeling so good,
I’m feeling so good
that I will never ever ever think
in a negative way

Although I know well
that storms may come
and I will fall down
after all
I have enjoyed all this so much
and nobody can take the fun I had away from me

Ouo uo uo ouo uo uo
who can take the fun I’ve had away from me?

The Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game, 2011 Edition

Sunday 8 May 2011

Less than a week to go until this year’s Eurovision, and I haven’t even mentioned it yet! Stupid me, didn’t even realise that this year’s event is taking place in Düsseldorf, just up the road from where I went to see SONNTAG aus LICHT. It will be interesting to see which proves to be the more surreal experience.

The potential for Eurovision insanity this year is greatly boosted by the big news that both Italy and Austria are back in the game – after a 14-year absence, in Italy’s case. This means that Drinking Game rule W1.b will not apply this year.

Despite the changing the voting to a 50/50 split between viewers’ votes and national panels of judges, last year’s voting shows no reason to make any change to rules II.3, II.10, and especially not II.2. Therefore the 2011 rules for the refined but deadly art of drinkmanship that is the Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game are as follows.

Yes these have all happened, in case you’re wondering.

PHASE I: THE SONGS

A. Every instance within a song:

I.A.1 The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically shift up a key for the final chorus(es).

I.A.2 The Bucks Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only on every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.

B. Once per song only:

I.B.1 Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if they try to dodge the language issue by intentionally singing gibberish.

I.B.2 The Fine Cotton. Any appearance of mercenary talent flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.

I.B.3 Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life, one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to I.B.2.

I.B.4 The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.

I.B.5 The Wand’ring Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes. It’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating; but take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) in a blatantly fake way, as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.

I.B.6 The Greeks (formerly The TaTu). Finish your drink if the audience boos (on the telly, not in your living room.)

I.B.7 Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. This is a legacy rule, as in recent years it has largely been supplanted by…

I.B.7a Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.

I.B.8 My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical/political problems of hosting the event next year.

PHASE I ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:

I.B.5a The Wand’ring Minstrel (supplemental). Two drinks if the instrument is an accordion.

I.B.9 The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for a hairy armpit.

I.B.10 The White Suit. You’ll know it when you see it; and you’ll know it again when you see it again, and again…

PHASE II: THE VOTES

II.1 The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.

II.2 The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.

II.2a The Gastarbeiter. If Germany still gives twelve points to Turkey.

II.3 The Old Europe. When the UK gets nul points from France.

II.4 The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast at the end to any country which did not receive so much as a single vote.

II.5 The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.

PHASE II INTERMEDIATE: You and your friends probably will be too unruly by this stage to register every occurrence of these, so just try to catch what you can.

II.6 The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (i.e. “Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a friend or relative watching at home.

II.7 The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer reads the voting results wrong. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.

II.8 The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.

II.9 The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone’s figured it out now, so this hasn’t happened for a few years, but just in case: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points first, then the country that has won them – not the other way around.

PHASE II ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:

II.10 The New Europe. When the Baltic or Balkan states all give each other twelve points, or a former Soviet republic gives Russia twelve points. Do not attempt without medical supervision.

THE WILDCARDS

W1 A person must finish their drink if they ask:
W1.a why Israel is in it*;
W1.b [deleted]; or
W1.c where the hell is Moldova?

W2 A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.

W3 A toast to Bosnia and Herzegovina if they change the spelling of their country again from last year (last year’s spelling: ‘Bosnia & Herzegovina’).

W4 A toast to the person who gets so drunk you have to secretly call a cab and persuade them they ordered it when it arrives.

* This is why.

Countdown to Eurovision: Like A Train In The Night

Monday 24 May 2010

Keen followers of the drinking game should brace themselves for a tough Eurovision, as the credit crunch cruels struggling nations’ ability, or desire, to win the song contest:

Very few countries actually seem to want to win and spend money they just don’t have. Last year the BBC held a huge selection process with a song by Andrew Lloyd Webber…. This year our entry, Josh, was selected in a 90-minute show on a Friday night when no one was watching. His promotional activity seems to have consisted of the Dutch version of This Morning. Things are no better elsewhere. France, represented in 2009 by the divine Patricia Kaas, has been reduced to using the same song for Eurovision and the World Cup. Selection shows all over Europe have been scaled down or even cancelled, replaced by internal selection.

And that’s where the conspiracy theories really kick in. The Eurovision intelligentsia (what do you mean you didn’t know there was one?) is awash with rumours that several countries are deliberately sending songs that do not stand a chance of winning. Far be it for me to suggest which these may be, but Russia, Romania and Finland should all hang their heads in shame.

In other words, expect the My Lovely Horse rule, and your liver, to take a hammering. Thank god for Azerbaijan.

The Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game, 2010 Edition

Saturday 15 May 2010

With all the excitement of the UK general election I nearly forgot that it was merely the curtain-raiser for the real deal: Eurovision. With two weeks to the big event and only minor changes from last year, the 2010 rules for the refined but deadly art of drinkmanship that is the Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game fare as follows.

PHASE I: THE SONGS

A. Every instance within a song:

I.A.1 The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically shift up a key for the final chorus(es).

I.A.2 The Bucks Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only on every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.

B. Once per song only:

I.B.1 Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if they try to dodge the language issue by intentionally singing gibberish.

I.B.2 The Fine Cotton. Any appearance of mercenary talent flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.

I.B.3 Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life, one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to I.B.2 the Fine Cotton.

I.B.4 The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.

I.B.5 The Wand’ring Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes. It’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating; but take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) in a blatantly fake way, as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.

I.B.6 The Greeks (formerly The TaTu). Finish your drink if the audience boos (on the telly, not in your living room.)

I.B.7 Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. This is a legacy rule, as in recent years it has largely been  supplanted by…

I.B.7a Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.

I.B.8 My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical/political problems of hosting the event next year.

PHASE I ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:

I.B.5a The Wand’ring Minstrel (supplemental). Two drinks if the instrument is an accordion.

I.B.9 The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for a hairy armpit.

I.B.10 The White Suit. You’ll know it when you see it; and you’ll know it again when you see it again, and again…

PHASE II: THE VOTES

II.1 The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.

II.2 The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus, and when Germany gives twelve points to Turkey.

II.3 The Old Europe. When the UK gets null points from France.

II.4 The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast to any country left with zero points at the end.

II.5 The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.

PHASE II INTERMEDIATE: You and your friends probably will be too unruly by this stage to catch every occurrence of these, so just try to catch what you can.

II.6 The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (i.e. “Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a relative watching at home.

II.7 The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer reads the voting results wrong. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.

II.8 The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.

II.9 The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone’s figured it out now, so this hasn’t happened for a few years, but just in case: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points first, then the country that has won them – not the other way around.

PHASE II ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:

II.10 The New Europe. When the Baltic or Balkan states all give each other twelve points, or a former Soviet republic gives Russia twelve points. Do not attempt without medical supervision.

THE WILDCARDS

W1 A person must finish their drink if they ask:
W1.a why Israel is in it;
W1.b why Italy isn’t in it; or
W1.c where the hell is Moldova?

W2 A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.

W3 A toast to Bosnia and Herzegovina if they change the spelling of their country again from last year (last year’s spelling: ‘Bosnia&Herzegovina’).

W4 A toast to the person who gets so drunk you have to secretly call a cab and persuade them they ordered it when it arrives.

The Gods of the Union Hotel Look On

Wednesday 16 September 2009

I just remembered it’s the Grand Final this weekend in Melbourne. I was looking through some photos last night and found some more snaps from my last trip to Melbourne. On one of my last nights there I was out drinking with some friends at the Union Hotel in Fitzroy when the football came on – the only real footy I’ve seen in nearly five years.

Essendon 16.17 (113) d West Coast 13.13 (91) in case you’re wondering.

Azerbaijan unclear on concepts of Eurovision, Europe

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Pace Terry Wogan, Eurovision is not always a vote-for-your-neighbour contest. A total of just 43 people in Eurovision newcomer Azerbaijan voted for neighbouring country and traditional rival Armenia. How do we know? Because officials from the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry are rounding them up:

“They wanted an explanation for why I voted for Armenia. They said it was a matter of national security,” Nasirli said. “They were trying to put psychological pressure on me, saying things like, ‘You have no sense of ethnic pride. How come you voted for Armenia?’ They made me write out an explanation, and then they let me go.”

Disappointing news. It makes one yearn for the simpler, more innocent days of yore, when Eurovision points were allocated on the decisions of government-appointed judges, without all this pesky voting messing things up.

The Retreat from Moscow: Eurovision Wrapup 2009

Monday 18 May 2009

I’m cheating, I’m watching this on iPlayer, which means I’m (a) fast-forwarding through the boring bits and (b) drinking alone. As must all large-scale events these days, it begins with a warning:

Ah, for the innocent days of being fifteen again, when I couldn’t look at strobe lights without succumbing to impure thoughts and popping a boner.

And right from the start we have a Fine Cotton with the now-dreaded Cirque du Soleil setting the tone for a night of po-faced, state-sponsored whimsy. Score One for iPlayer. Then last year’s winner comes on and sings what I assume is The Toilet Song again, as the last two winning songs have been hopelessly unmemorable. The male singer looks dead earnest while pulling the same writhe-around-on-the-floor moves Madonna used to do twenty years ago. Hang on, is that a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus flag?


Keep that guy away from the Greeks!

This is the dawn of the bold, new, post-Wogan era, so sadly he’s missed his chance to bring out his old Masha and Pasha jokes one more time when the hosts take the stage. He also misses out the chance to point out that one of the hosts is your granny’s toilet roll cover lady grown to full size and come to life.

Lithuania: A stage school boy with a tragic hat sings out of the corner of his mouth to disguise his accent. So far, so blah, but it wouldn’t be Eurovision without a stupid gimmick and meaningless attempts at profundity thrown in at the last moment. (ITE?, DKC)

Israel: This much-touted Jew-vs-Arab throwdown counts as a Don’t Mention The Wall, so that’s another drink along with their tried and tested English-chorus/Foreign-verse formula. Two charming divas in requisite softcore dominatrix gear warily eye each other off before bonding over their shared love of kerosene tins. (DMW, ITE?)

France: Kicks it old-school with a standard chanteuse act, whose only concessions to Eurovision are to wobble about a bit at the end in a small bit of awkward choreography, and to have her makeup done by Tim Burton. Professional, tasteful, the crowd seem to love it – this won’t win. Bonus points for not having an accordion on stage. Points off for having an accordion in the mix. (LKW)

Sweden: Yet another Swedish disco anthem sung by a burly blonde diva. This one’s an opera singer, so they have to bog the song down with lots of high warbly bits, only to have her struggle on the normal, breathy parts. By the end, she’s swapping ranges so often it sounds like a tribute to the late Yma Sumac. Didn’t every second future-dystopia sci-fi movie in the 90s tell us we’d be listening to this stuff right about now?

Croatia: Darko and the Pantene Ladies serenade you with their smoky charms, until one of them starts wailing uncontrollably. I think it’s one of the women. The singer stage right is getting visibly annoyed with the wind machine.

Portugal: There’s a fine line between being cheerful, colourful, and sweet, and being The Wiggles. With an accordion.

Iceland: This is as standard as Eurovision gets: a mid-tempo power ballad, sung in nonsensical American English, with a Dramatic Key Change for the last chorus, and utterly incongruous visuals. First a ghost ship for all the Pirates of the Caribbean fans, and then, more perplexingly, Ghost Flipper. (DKC)

Greece: Years of hanging around Lonsdale Street and watching Eurovision have convinced me that modern-day Greece is just one giant discotheque. The singer dude shows how his country has moved with the times by leaving his shirt unbuttoned, revealing neither medallion nor chest hair. Acrobatic hijinks ensue around a bedazzled travelator that metamorphoses into the Giant Stapler of Greece. “Feel it in your heart when you are winning this race!” (DKC)

Armenia: “Chop it up! Bring the noise!” That’s just what their Armenian sounds like; their English makes much less sense. You know those old movies where the Sultan calls out the exotic dancers to entertain his guests? This is sort of the reverse, like watching an Armenian movie set in an American R’n'B club. (ITE?, DKC)

Russia: A sourpuss in a shower curtain bums everyone out with a dirge and a reenactment of The Jumbotron of Dorian Gray.

Azerbaijan: We’re just happy to be here, so let’s raid the TV studio’s wardrobe, grab as many flash pots as we can find, and crank the wind machine to 11! See, you don’t need a theme to make the crowd happy. (WM)

Bosnia&Herzegovina [sic]: Firstly, congratlulations to this country for entering under almost the same name for two years running. The first white suits of the night, albeit retro-uniform type things, looking a bit like Coldplay’s stupid outfits would if they weren’t colourfast. One young man furiously strums an electric guitar while a piano plaintively tinkles over the speakers. Then they turn on the wind machine. It’s a grim trudge, this one. (WM)

Moldova: A girl in purple boots does the singing-and-yelling thing to show how passionate these Slavic types are. She is accompanied by four Moldovan morris dancers who inexplicably break into the Dance of the Little Swans near the end, and a distant, shouty man brandishing a traditional Moldovan ceremonial mop.

Malta: It’s nice to see Chiara coming back every five years or so. It’s so reassuring. She stands there and sings, throws out her arms occasionally, and almost wins. With no video screens to back her up she gets lost on the vast stage, but she knows most of the voters are watching on telly and gets the nuances right.

Estonia: A Eurovision fake-violinist sitting down: is this a first? There are also two (2) cellists, also sitting, two backup singers standing still, and a lead singer standing still but ominously clutching a violin as well. In the instrumental break she stands still and pretends to play the violin a bit. This must be the most inert use of onstage prop instruments ever.

Denmark: A Danish Ronan Keating impersonator arises from his barstool to sing a Ronan Keating song. Why? Why? He keeps going into a half-squat like he’s been riding a horse too long. Does the real Ronan Keating do that? (2xFC)

Germany: Reverting to goofy kitsch again with an unappetising mélange of 20s, 30s, and 40s jazz clichés, squelched into a stiff pop ditty. In lieu of a decent song, they bring onstage legendary German pop icon Dita Von Teese (of the Friedrichshafen Von Teeses) and loudly announce her presence for the benefit of all the non-Germans who didn’t grow up watching Gummi porn. (FC)

Turkey: Haven’t they done this one before? Not that I’m complaining. The most substantial item of clothing worn by the ladies is around their ankles, for some reason. Don’t get any ideas, because halfway through a shirtless guy bounds onstage and starts showing off how he can totally kick you in the head like it ain’t a thing. (2xCR)

Albania: I’m guessing Albania got into the finals on the sympathy vote, because they’re trapped in 1983. A girl with crimped hair and a bubble skirt struggles with the English language while one of the mimes does a headspin. Oh yeah, there’s a pair of scary mimes. And Gumby, who’s become a creepy, middle-aged stalker who just won’t go away. (DKC)

Norway: A gurning fiddler is backed up by a pair of singers teleported in from the 1976 contest, and some stray tumblers from a travelling production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers who commit gratuitous violence against hats and generally looking this close to walking over and planting one on the singer. (WM)

Ukraine: A committee job, surely. Techno set? Yep. Ruslana-type chick? Of course. Lving statues? Why not. Gay Mardi Gras centurions? Uh, OK. Karen Carpenter impression? You mean she does a gratuitous drum solo or starves herself? Too soon! (2xCR)

Romania: A hen’s night overruns the Troll King’s throne. When is someone going to fling their skirts off?

United Kingdom: The Toilet Song for this year. X-Factor warbling of a dreary Diane Warren ballad. Oh god, and Andrew Lloyd Webber simpering over a white piano. Score Two for iPlayer. (FC, LKW, DKC)

Finland: If I asked you to name the two most obnoxious things in the world, you’d probably say white guys rapping and fire twirling. Guess what this trainwreck’s got for us?

Spain: Another case of “will this do?” from one of the big nations. At one stage the dancers hold up a sheet in front of the singer, usually a Eurovision cue for a costume change. Instead, she disappears completely. And then, um, pops up again a few metres to the left. This isn’t a lame magic show, it’s a lame song contest! (ITE?)

The voting: Norway wins. Why do the Israeli fans have large, inflatable hammers with the Star of David on them?

Countdown to Eurovision 2009 (3): Prepare for Super Gipsy (rated PG)

Wednesday 13 May 2009

I’m busy right now, so here are some headlines from the official Eurovision website to give you some ideas about (a) how the contest is shaping up, (b) the shape Europe’s in, and (c) WTF.

Countdown to Eurovision 2009 (2): European Committees are Here to Help

Monday 11 May 2009

It’s Eurovision week! Previously: Meet The Losers, The Eurovision Drinking Game Rules.

Incidentally, the voting system has changed this year. Over the past ten years Eurovision voting has moved from jury-based decisions to popular phone votes in every participating country. This year, after growing disquiet over blatant block voting by particular countries, each country’s vote will now be weighted fifty-fifty between the phone vote and a jury vote.

Yeah, that’ll work. I’m sure that every nation’s appointed jury will be completely impartial and unaware of any political agenda with their neighbours, and utterly unconcerned about the gas being switched off again next winter.

Countdown to Eurovision 2009 (1): Meet the Losers

Monday 11 May 2009

It’s Eurovision week! Previously: The Eurovision Drinking Game Rules.

As always, we look to the Eurovision entrant with the longest odds of winning, in a futile attempt to seek out the most rewarding piece of kitsch before the Big Show itself*.

This year the honour goes to perpetual underdogs Slovakia, which returns to the contest after a 10-year absence. Discouraged, they gave up in 2000 after all their previous entries only got into three finals, never coming higher than 17th. Their comeback, “Leť Tmou” by Kamil Mikulčík & Nela Pocisková, is an unauspicious 150-1 longshot.

The Slovakian performers are “a group of musicians with impressive CV-s. Some of them teach in universities and some are very famous from local TV-series!” Pocisková is a “popular actress and singer”, and is joined by Rastislav Dubovský “the piano master”, and Jan Pospíšil “maestro on the cello”. Mikulčík, on the other hand, is billed merely as “the male voice on stage”, so he’s obviously neither a master nor popular but they needed a guy and he happened to be around.

Of course, this song is also the least likely to make it through to the final, so the longest odds on any country guaranteed to be in the final is, surprisingly, last year’s winner. “Mamo”, sung by Russia‘s Anastasia Prikhodko is a dubious 40-1.

Anastasia has an interesting and rarely low deep voice like that of an opera’s diva. She has graduated from a music academy, the department of folk vocal. She sings quite unordinary minor songs and folk songs in both the Russian and Ukranian languages.

A minor song, sung by a diva with an unusually low deep voice? Have economic troubles forced Russia to pull a My Lovely Horse?

* As a purist, I prefer to see all the final acts cold, and ignore the previews and semi-finals. This method of checking the betting has, to my knowledge, never worked.

More Secrets of the Vatican Revealed

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Thanks to Bodgieman for his comments on touring the Vatican; in particular, for his reminiscence of the time he “stole a brown plastic coffee cup from the restaurant /bar on top of the dome at St Peters”. The most shocking thing about this revelation is that there’s a restaurant hidden away in the top of St Peters. I had no idea. It sounds like the sort of thing the British would do in St Pauls.
I haven’t been inside St Pauls yet, because I hear they charge admission. Mind you, they charge admission to go up in the dome of St Peters, which is why I didn’t find out if there really is a bar up there.
On the plus side, the toilets at St Pauls are free, although they use a cheap type of toilet paper you can see your reflection in.
The Bodgieman also accurately notes that “it wasn’t like tv at all where there is commentator and no-one else”. Actually, every time I watch one of those programs where some historian is happily flitting about the Sistine Chapel all to himself, I wonder about all the pissed-off tourists outside who took their one chance to see the place only to discover it’s closed for filming a poncey TV show.
Sometimes, the presenter and camera crew aren’t quite so alone as they would like you to think. I’ve already mentioned the time my visit to the Tate was thwarted by a TV crew butting in every time I’d found a nice painting to contemplate.