Countdown to Eurovision: Dogs and Cats Living Together, Mass Hysteria

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Entering a singing turkey puppet into the Eurovision Song Contest may have seemed pretty wacky but that’s just peanuts compared to the French this year: for the first time ever, their Eurovision song will be sung partly in English.
The French have a history of complaining loud and long about other countries singing in English, and of demanding new rules that each country should sing only in “its native language” (yay for monoculture!), so this abrupt volte-face is surprising, to say the least; the most surprising part being the implication that the French actually want to win this year.
Chauvinistic Frenchmen are, naturally, outraged:

François-Michel Gonnot, an MP in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said he was shocked by the choice. “Our fellow citizens don’t understand why France is giving up defending its language in front of hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world,” he said.

I give fifty-fifty odds on the autoroutes being blockaded by angry truck drivers dumping their loads of Sebastién Tellier CDs.
Of course the French won’t win, whether they sing in English or not, because they’re hated by the rest of Europe almost as much as the British. Perhaps if Carla Bruni were persuaded to enter Eurovision…

Darts, darts, darts, darts, darts, on the television

Sunday 13 January 2008

I’m beginning to get a sense of the shape of the year in London. The year truly begins with the concurrence of the composer weekend at the Barbican and the world darts championship on the telly. For various reasons I’m giving the Barbican a miss this year, but I still look in on the darts now and then.
Two years ago I wrote:

… it dawned on me that I was watching one of the great endangered species of popular culture, a type of television that the next generation of children will never know: the professionally-produced, relatively major television event that is completely unphotogenic. I cannot imagine that in ten years’ time a large, Western television network will be making any shows where fat, balding men in polo shirts and sovereign rings are watched by a clubhouse full of attentive smokers.

In fact it lasted only one more year; the smoking ban introduced last summer took care of that. Now instead of anxious women huddled next to their kids with a fag in one hand and a pint in the other, you see anxious women chewing furiously and dashing in and out of the hall between legs.

The fat blokes with the gold bracelets and prison tatts are still on camera offering their insights into the game while standing in the middle of what is obviously a bar; but if the reports that the game’s popularity has never been higher are true, then the homogenising influence of corporate money cannot be far from banishing them and their world.
Speaking of the photogenic new face of darts, I would like to apologise on behalf of my country for the hairstyle of this year’s Australian finalist, Simon Whitlock. He can’t help it, he’s from Queensland.

I have a feeling we’re not in Crouch End any more.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Soon after arriving home from Australia I caught a few minutes of a TV show on one of the more obscure digital TV channels available in London. An American couple were walking lost around some empty streets in – a town. (I’m tempted to say an inner suburb, but even that statement is too revealing.)
According to the story, the couple had just been married in America and had come over to London to spend their honeymoon in Crouch End – you know, the same way tourists flock to New York to go sightseeing in Queens. Even though this was one of those cheap TV programs which always frames the actors’ heads as tightly as possible, and even though I’ve only been to Crouch End once, and then at nighttime, I instantly recognised where these two were; and it wasn’t Crouch End.
They were in Melbourne. North Carlton, to be precise. My girlfriend’s from south of the river and so thinks it was Middle Park, but I’m feeling cocky and reckon it was around Station, Fenwick, and Canning Streets. Something about the houses, the light, the width of the streets, immediately made the place unmistakable, even when partially glimpsed in the background.
I wonder if anyone in Britain would have been fooled by the substitution? No Londoner would have, even if they had never been near Crouch End. It’s possible, however, that they might assume it was filmed somewhere else in England. An American wouldn’t have a chance in picking this deception.
In time you come to know a city the way you come to know a face. It’s not just in the skylines, or the streetscapes, but in the way the people inhabit their space. On another TV show years ago, an Australian documentary, a friend and I watching immediately called out “Melbourne” when the film cut to a brief shot of a group of people walking down a street. The narration later proved us right: it was something about the way they were casually drifting off the pavement onto the street itself that couldn’t happen in any other large Australian city (except Adelaide, but that city always gives itself away.)
With the increase of Hollywood-funded filmmaking in Australia, these places have been turning up more and more often, the streets and buildings as actors, playing a fictional role. Sometimes they play disguised under heavy make-up – I once watched a corner of the University of Adelaide transformed into a Parisian street for a TV commercial – but often they appear as they are, expecting the viewer to mentally substitute the fictional location for the real (or is it the other way around?)
For the non-Australian majority, these urban locations act effectively as generic Western cities, shot without any readily identifiable landmarks in sight. Their acting function is less as a supporting role, and more as an extra, faceless and interchangeable. If Peter Jackson made New Zealand a stand-in for the otherworldly, then Australian cities have been made a stand-in for the real world.

(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)

It’s all harmless British eccentricity until someone loses an eye

Saturday 8 September 2007

Tonight I’ve been editing music while the girlfriend watched The Last Night of the Proms on TV. When the “Land of Hope and Glory” bit of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 kicked in, someone in a house up the street started setting off fireworks.

The Real Cooky La Moo

Monday 27 August 2007

Yes, it’s been a bit quiet here lately. Some background work is going on in the main site, with a few changes starting to show on the music page. Also, everyone else in the northern hemisphere uses August as an excuse to slacken the pace.
In answer to the question sent in by an anonymous reader: any resemblance between Cooky La Moo (patroness, muse, mascot, and namesake of the website) and Annita McVeigh (BBC News 24 presenter) is purely coincidental.

The generic Eurovision Song Contest 2007 wrapup

Monday 14 May 2007

Eurovision night was spent at home in a faint haze of cabernet sauvignon, stilton, and pseudoephedrine, so this year’s wrapup is a bit on the sketchy side. The code in brackets at the end of each entry denotes the drinking game tally.
The show begins with a warning about flashing images, in case there are any Japanese school children watching and the stage is overrun with Pokémon. Then the slogan “True Fantasy” appears across the screen for no evident reason, so maybe this is going to turn into anime after all.
The male and female presenter couple are present and correct.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Slow start tonight, with several women vamping around in the sort of pale green fog that threatened to irradiate Jon Pertwee on Dr Who. That bloke with the bazouki looks really pissed off with the singer about something. Come to think of it, they all look like they had a tremendous row just before coming on stage. (1: WM)
Spain: Four guys in white denim outfits and two girls pretending to play oversized drums out of time with the music: two classic Eurovision clichés. I can’t believe they don’t complete the set by taking off their jackets. Presumably they forgot, in all the excitement. (3: E?, DKC, WM)
Belarus: Ignore the fat chick at the edge of the stage doing all the singing! Please be distracted by the women in suits sliding back and forth on office partitions doing slow, jerky dance moves copped from Laurie Anderson. Belarus’ designated pretty boy sings about how he’s wheeling something, from the sound of it. (0)
Ireland: Oh dear. Oirish bobbleheads haplessly sway back and forth, clearly at a loss as to how best convincingly mime their instruments. The singer’s intonation and vocal power is uncannily reminiscent of Julie Dawn; she later tries to build some stage presence by ripping off Grandma Boonika’s star drumming turn a couple of years ago. She fails. (2: WM, CR)
Finland: A solid-looking goth diva announces that she’s “gotta go crazy just to stay sane.” Yeah, well I gotta get drunk just to stay sober, so the room decides that goth is as close as anyone dares get to ripping of Lordi tonight, so Finland is deemed guilty of self-plagiarism. Harsh but alcoholic. (2: CRx2)
Five songs in, and both hosts have changed their outfits! (3) This could get dangerous. A bafflingly pointless charade ensues where the two hosts pretend to randomly pull a Eurovision Fan, i.e. a shrill woman in a pink party frock, out of the audience to act as a third host. Ah, Eurovision! Always finding new ways to irritate the crap out of you.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Someone sings a boring ballad under fraught circumstances. Behind, a young man selflessly restrains a feral ballerina who means to knock the singer down and claim the limelight for herself. Meanwhile, three people on stools guard the stage perimeter to keep the Serbs out. (1: E?)
Someone in the audience is waving a Portuguese flag. Ha ha! You blew your money!
Slovenia: Another chunky goth diva! Everyone’s going a bit goth here, but then the filmed segments introducing each song would like you to think that Finland is simply filled with (a) snow and (b) goths. She’s singing that operatic swooping over a techno beat that every hacky sci-fi movie and Malcolm McLaren would have you believe is the Next Big Club Hit. For added effect, she lights up her face with one of those little palm-lights she copped from Laurie Anderson. (2: CR, SR)
Hungary: Another chunky woman – for once, not in a leather bustier – leans on a bus stop sign stolen from Sesame Street and sings the blues in Hungarian. She pats her stomach in a missed attempt to find her heart. Perhaps she’s hungry. I can’t make out the slogan on her tank top: “Thank God I’m —-” Hungarian? Atheist? Dyspeptic? Not French? (0)
Lithuania: You should have guessed by now that a group called 4FUN (a) has not four members but five, and (b) is not fun. As predicted, a moody and mildly depressing ballad, with a hint of Spanish via Bryan Adams. Behind the singer, the rest of the band play in silhouette behind a screen, in a move copped from Laurie Anderson; although this may be to disguise the fact that they’re really the Latvian entrants doubling up. (0)
Someone is the audience is waving a placard saying “Where is Andorra?” No, no, no! It’s supposed to say “Where is Moldova?
Greece: A man in a stripey suit that strobes horribly on TV does the traditional Greek Pat Benatar shimmy with a gaggle of frankly trashy women. He’s singing in English but drops the word “Yassou” in every now and then so you don’t mistake him for Ricky Martin. Considering that he sings the line “Dancing like a Cheeky Girl”, he’s more likely to be mistaken for Lembit Opik MP. At the end they copy that “pulling the ropes out of the singer’s clothes” move pioneered by the Turks a few years ago: either a sign of reconciliation in the east Mediterranean or a declaration of war. (3: E?, CR, SR)
Georgia: A girl in a nice red frock is surrounded by Ninja Cossacks, which is less fun than it sounds. She bellows over a techno track swiped from the free CD that came with the October 1989 issue of Studio Musician Monthly, and then it’s over. (0)
Sweden: It’s a pity Justin Hawkins didn’t get up as the UK entry this year, ‘cos this outdoes him for ironic glam cheese. I think the Swedes have secretly been at war with the British for decades, by remorselessly taking the piss out of every aspect of their popular culture. They’re crap and they’re ugly; in other words, a perfect recreation of a real glam rock band. Still a bit gothy, though. At last, the first Bucks Fizz move of the night! (1: BF)
Half Time: After their shock quarter-time wardrobe change, the hosts keep us guessing by wearing the same clothes! Outside the hall, the Eurovision Fan goes to the trouble of finding some more Eurovision fans, only to laboriously explain to us why she’s not allowed to interview them, thus answering a question no-one watching had asked. Still, that ate up a minute of commercial airtime.
France: Five television comedians who have obviously never worked together before frantically try to steal the limelight from each other in the mistaken belief that one of them will get voted out of the band at the end of the show. Was there some English in this song? I think so. It didn’t help. (1: E?)
Latvia: They sing in Italian, just to confuse us, and to secure the vote from the Italians, who neither compete in nor watch Eurovision. Five blokes in jeans, dinner jackets and top hats wander in like junior execuitves turning up at the office on Il Divo Friday. They clutch roses, they sing, they go away. (1: DKC)
Russia: Three Manezh Mall Rats form a Chrissie Amphlett fanclub and sing a song about being Manezh Mall Rats. Their two fat friends from school are allowed to join the club too, but they have to stand up the back. Also hiding up the back is a guy pretending to play guitar, who is really there to beat up anyone who eyes up his bitches too much. (0)
Germany: At last, a proper white suit. It’s a swing number, and everyone tries to look cool instead of dementedly happy: see what we mean? Once again the Germans have found an excuse to put a double-bass on stage, but unlike last year this one is a civilian. The word “ROGER” appears in lights behind the stage, which at first glance I mistake for an audience cue. Oh, those Scandanavians! (2: E?, WS)
Serbia: Every lesbian’s ex-girlfriend from hell comes on to sing the slow, tuneless ballad known from Aragon to Arkhangelsk as the Toilet Break Song (future me: whoa, did I get this one wrong!), and she has a posse of Ruritanian ambassadors from Planet Zsa Zsa to join her in some pinpoint choreography consisting of standing together and staring at the floor really hard. For the climactic key-change her passion moves her to remove her glasses. At the end, She and one of her dead-eyed minions do this creepy loveheart hand gesture – yeah, just like your sociopathic ex. (2: BF, DKC)
Ukraine: Campy blokes in Alfoil and granny glasses recreate a gay fascist disco cabaret in your living room for three minutes. They sing in German, which makes no sense whatsoever until you remember that the Germans used to do this kind of self-consciously zany stuff at Eurovision all the time up until about, oh, five years ago. They run around on stage and smack each others’ bottoms – this is so German. I thought Operation Barbarossa failed. (2: E? DKC)
The hosts reappear to confuse and enrage us by wearing the same clothes!
United Kingdom: It’s a pity Justin Hawkins didn’t get up as the UK entry this year, ‘cos this is even worse. Hah! The Ukrainians just outgayed you, UK. And they did a better Benny Hill schtick. And their English made more sense. Dressing up as fabulous air stewards and miming the in-cabin safety procedures may add a rare note of educational value to the show, but it’s probably not a good idea to remind viewers mid-song (a) that they can leave any time they wish, and (b) of the futility of resisting inevitable, violent death in a fiery plane wreck. It isn’t really Bucks Fizz in that bottle they’re waving around, it’s Eau de Desperation. (3: CRx2, BF (bottled))
Romania: Now there’s some wandering minstrelsy! In a misguided attempt to ingratiate themselves with voters, five blokes aimlessly fanny around on stage, bumping into each other and singing each line of the song in a different language. Unfortunately, they get carried away and sing in French too, blowing their chances of winning. (2: WM, E?)
Bulgaria: Yeah, drumming, that’s different! Everyone thinks this is finally going to be the year no-one else will go for the drumming and so their act will stand out. A flat (in both senses) chick goes for the goth looks but wears the wrong type of trousers. They try to get some tribal thing going, which is impossible when there’s only two of you. (1: CR)
Turkey: Year after year, Turkey has reliably sent us some hot chick to ogle; this year we now know why they’ve never sent guys. This man has the apperance, as he has the clothes, of some one who hangs around the front of hotels in Istanbul in the hope a tourist mistakes him for an employee. Apparently the backup belly dancers are British, which explains why they’re (a) not so hot and (b) have no bellies to dance with. A failure on every level, but it’ll get them through to next year’s finals thanks to the gastarbeiter vote. (1: FC)
Armenia: A mess of people in different outfits who had trouble translating the “come dressed as a goth” memo. Either a Turkish fan threw a ripe mulberry at the singer or he’s got a squib under the his ruffled shirt, because during the second chorus a dark red stain spreads across his collarbone in a missed attempt to find his heart. Is there some Eurovision rule against anatomically correct singing gestures? First the great Alf Poier crotch-grab fiasco of 2003 (which cost him the prize, I reckon), now this. (1: DKC)
Moldova: Every girl in Europe wants to be Amy Lee. Look, this one’s already sacked her band! Her crack team of wannabe goth divettes hurl scarves, for all the good that’ll do them. (2: E?, DKC)
The voting: The hosts are still wearing the same outfits when they announce the voting, but she’s changed her hairstyle (1). The voting session is officially started by Finland’s biggest celebrity: a goth! No, just kidding: Santa Claus. At least he does a better job of things than Nana Mouskouri.
At last, after the voting has finished, the presenters change their clothes again (3). “Things are getting very exciting!” they shout. They’re wrong. The Serbian Toilet Break Song wins and I still can’t remember anything about it. Everyone grumbles about bloc voting by the Balkans and former Soviet states, but France, the UK, and Ireland came last, which is only fair considering they were the worst of the lot. The only real surprise is that Malta gives 12 points to that dire British effort, but that may have been a tactical “fuck you” to the Eastern bloc for dumping them out of the semifinals on Thursday. Good night.

The Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game, 2007 Edition

Thursday 10 May 2007

Previously posted editions of the Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game are now superseded by this, hopefully more user-friendly, edition for the 2007 contest.

Phase One: The Performances
A. Every instance within a song:
The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically change key during the final chorus.
The Buck’s 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.
The TaTu. Finish your drink if the audience boos (on telly, not in the living room.) Hopefully this year we won’t be rendered near unconscious by an audience that was incredibly up themselves – we’re considering renaming this one ‘The Greeks”.
B. Once per song only:
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.
The Fine Cotton. Any appearance by mercenary singers flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.
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 the Fine Cotton.
The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance, which, considering last year’s winners, could be quite amusing if anyone attempts it this time. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.
The Wandering 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. I got this point completely the wrong way round when explaining it last year, but the essential point is the same: take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.
Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. Judging from recent years this one is being phased out in favour of…
Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.
My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical problems of hosting the event next year.
ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:
The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for an unshaved armpit.
The White Suit. Self-explanatory.

Phase Two: The Voting
The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.
The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.
The Old Europe. When the UK gets null points from France.
The New Europe. When the Baltic states all vote for each other.
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.
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.
SOBER PLAYERS ONLY: The voting now moves along too quickly for most people to keep up with the following by this stage of the evening, but you can try.
The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (“Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a relative watching at home.
The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer fucks up the voting results. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.
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.
The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone got the memo, so this rarely happens now: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points and then the country that has won them – not the other way around.

The wildcards
A person must finish their drink if they ask: (a) why Israel is in it; (b) why Italy isn’t in it; or (c) where the hell is Moldova?
A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.
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.

Countdown to Eurovision 2007: Meet the Losers

Tuesday 8 May 2007

I’d spent the past few days sick at home, watching the foxes in the back yard and reminding myself that they’re meant to be there, when someone asked what I planned to do for Eurovision this year. I’d forgotten that it’s on next Saturday, so it looks like it’ll be a quiet one at home. Originally I had planned to be at the event in person this year, but then Finland went and won the thing so that Eurovision 2007 is being hosted in one of the few cities even more cripplingly expensive than London.
Before the contest even begins, Portugal can celebrate being the country with the longest odds on winning for two years running. (Is this a case of My Lovely Horse?) After threatening that they WERE GONNA MAKE US SMILE last year, this year their singer, distinctively named Sabrina, is offering more of a soft sell:

Come dance with me
Through the waves of adventure
And I promise I’ll give you
Oceans of tenderness
The wind told me
You will always be my partner

That’s tantamount to an offer to polish your hooves every day.
Portugal probably won’t make the final, where the lowest-rated country with guaranteed entry is Lithuania. These were the guys who turned up last year with an act consisting of six blokes in suits yelling “We are the winners of Eurovision so vote for us” for three minutes, and blow me down it almost worked. Unfortunately success has gone to their heads and they’re now going for an earnest, mopey, Ireland style of what I presume is a ballad.

Words lose their sense
when I feel you near
when I touch your hands
I’m trying not to think
that at break of dawn
You’ll be gone and I’ll be lost, numb and all alone

According to the Eurovision website the band’s named 4FUN, which I think is a typo of 4MUM.
The UK has an excellent chance of nul points this year, thanks to the voters of Britain selecting a Stock, Aitken and Waterman reject act that is basically (hello Australian readers) the airline stewards sketch from Fast Forward, only even gayer. Also, they wave Union Jacks around at the end, because the rest of Europe finds the British so endearing. It’s like the French having a song with a second verse about correcting the hosts’ pronunciation, and then complaining afterward that it didn’t get many votes. In fact, that may have happened sometime in the 1980s.
Coming later this week: the Eurovision Drinking Game, substantially revised to take into account the new vote-counting method and last year’s near-hospitalisation for alcohol poisoning.
An almost complete review of last year’s event can be accessed from here.

Leo Sayer’s quest for acolytes continues unfulfilled, for now.

Wednesday 17 January 2007

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last wrote about Leo Sayer. Someone, equally incredulous, just wrote to me to say, “I can’t believe you haven’t posted about Celebrity Big Brother yet,” as if I’m the sort of person who watches much TV besides darts. I had no idea what the anonymous well-wisher was driving at, until I remembered who one of this year’s contestants was: the former pop star who moved to Australia with the immortal words…

I don’t know how much luck he’s had inspiring the youth of Australia, but he’s been back in the UK trying to engender veneration from the likes of Ken Russell and Face from The A Team. Sadly, it seems Australia is still a more enlightened place than Borehamwood, because he’s already quit the show, “after knocking down a door with a shovel.” And he’d run out of clean underpants. Paul McCartney was right about saints. Happy now, Anonymous?

32.5 drinks and counting: Eurovision wrap 2006 (part 2)

Monday 22 May 2006

The second half of Eurovision gets hazy, before petering out completely into drunken ranting. I tried taking notes from the observations of the assembled home audience but the next day all I could decipher from them was a poorly-spelled mash note to Clare Grogan.
Part one of this wrap is available, along with superior analyses here and here. The following has been edited for coherence and my diminished attention span.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia and Former Yugoslav Republic of Herzegovina
“They just told me to stay calm and to enjoy myself.”
At first their miming looked too serious to count as Wandering Minstrels, but then they dropped thier instruments while the music kept playing, so we all drank anyway. It was slow, they wore white. (3 – 3WM)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Lithuania
“We’re not really into competing with other countries.”
They’re making a mockery of Eurovision! And we don’t care! Except the Greek audience, who turn out to be a bunch of bad sports all night. I’m sure these guys have a regular gig on the Lithuanian equivalent of The Footy Show. Unlike Bosnia, at least they give us genuinely phony violin playing, and yell at people through a gold-plated megaphone. Somewhere in Manchester Mark E. Smith is trashing a pub. (3 – WC, WM, TT)
Former Yugoslav Republic of the United Kingdom
“The rehearsal was fabulous. It was better than sex.”
This is what happens when someone tries too hard to please everyone, when he’s already too pleased with himself. British rapping comes across as slightly less natural than Moldovan reggae. The slappers in schoogirl uniforms manage the impossible, and make themselves so sexually unappealing they may well be real schoolgirls. Our home audience thinks its a wholesale ripoff of some Black Eyed Peas hit. Serves them right. (1 – WM)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Greece
“It’s almost masochistic.”
The Great Greek Diva don’t need no steenking backup singers or dancers getting up in her grill when it’s her time to shine*, just a wind machine to help her through her long, dark, total eclipse of the heart. Our home audience judged the microphone more of a prop than a necessary sound amplifier and drank accordingly. (2 – DKC, WM)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Finland
“The Finnish people liked us – or 42% of them did.”
Fat Orcs in Party Hats! I want to see these guys duetting with Alf Poier. I love these guys, if only because I bet a round a drinks on them winning. (0)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Ukraine
“I just want to make the world so, so happy… I’m a singer for the Ukrainian military orchestra.”
Ruslana must have been preoccupied with the Joint Committee on the Consolidation of Wireless Telegraphy, so they sent another babe, who looks like Pia Zadora and is about as talented. I must be getting old because she’s doing it for me, although I can’t help thinking she’s about to be tackled by Leslie Nielsen at any moment. I bet they were surprised when that dress they ordered for her over the internet turned out to be a nightie! Inspired Eurovision choreography: cossacks skipping rope – couldn’t they get their sabres onto the plane? (1 – SR)

Former Yugoslav Republic of France
“What does that mean? That Europeans have no taste?”
Phew! The bathroom break song came a little late this year. It’s slow, it’s boring, it’s sung flat, it’s sung in French. And then it’s over. White frock. (0)

Former Yugoslav Republic of Croatia
“Why did I choose to sing about my shoes?”
Because you’re a slightly drug-fucked man who dared to live his dream of being surgically transformed into Fran Drescher, and almost made it. Every year we get one bunch of people running around and yelling like they’re having way too much fun on stage. We don’t want to vote for you, we just want to score your evil 160 proof rakija you’ve obviously been sucking on backstage. (2 – BF, SR)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Ireland
“He wore this white suit like John Travolta but was Irish.”
An unctuous offcut of Chris de Burgh croons “Every Song is a Cry for Love”, which will please TISM fans. Even the backing singers can’t stomach this and, suddenly remembering they forgot to go for a piss before coming onstage, wobble uncomfortably from side to side. Some drunk bastard in the home audience suggests the kneeling Westlife-y git looks like me, and is swiftly ejected from the premises. I was going to give this a World Cup, but everyone’s saying Ireland really does want to win again. Pity they forgot how. (0)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Sweden
“I’ve become more straight.”
In the blue corner, Greece’s rival in the Battle of the Wind Machines. I was going to call her a MILF until her lower jaw started wobbling in an extremely offputting manner, and it just didn’t stop. (1 – BF)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Turkey
“Do I feel like a superstar? A bit too much at the moment!”
A heroically proportioned blonde, more man than the four metrosexuals cavorting around her put together. Scary, but after this many drinks, strangely compelling. The Greeks, mindful of the pan-European attention, boo. I honestly didn’t think the TaTu rule would get so much use in a single night. (2 – E?, TT)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Armenia
“I’ve been most influenced by my time at the Armenian State Music Theatre. It’s one of the best music schools, not just in Armenia, but internationally.”
Finally, someone blatantly rips off last year’s winner with all the straps/ropes nonsense. By this stage noone’s paying much attention and waiting for… (1 – CR)
More drinks! Three shots at once, as the male host has changed into a hideous gold lamé suit and his female companion has changed frocks so quickly she forgets her breast tape and spends the next five minutes standing as still as possible while glancing down anxiously as she almost falls out. Nana Mouskouri is called on to start the voting, a task it has previously taken a pair of Olympic athletes and the Klitschko brothers to accomplish, so unsurprisingly she makes a hash of it and trainwreck television reigns for a minute or so. What happens next is…
Bitter disappointment! They’ve shortened the voting process, so it’s merely agonising instead of excruciating. It all moves too fast for us to follow. Most importantly, you never get to savour just how pissweak are the votes coming in for the U.K. At least the hostess has changed into her fourth frock for the night (drink!) and looks much happier now that her boobs won’t pop out without warning. Dear Clare, I saw you on telly again the other night and [edit]

* huh?

“Craziness is going on!”: Eurovision wrap, 2006 (part 1)

Sunday 21 May 2006

Firstly may I say that, as an Australian, I am happy to longer feel the need to publicly repent over that “rubber kangaroos on bicycles” fiasco at the Atlanta Olympics. Thankyou Greece, for deciding that the best way to class up the Eurovision Song Contest is to stage an opening musical number with dancers dressed in rubber dolphin costumes doing somersaults around the stage. It almost drew my attention away from the women with model ships perched on their heads.
As with last year, quotes in italics are from the competitors at the pre-contest press conference. The figures in brackets refer to damage taken as part of the Eurovision Drinking Game.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Switzerland
“Who was responsible for the costumes?”
A very Swiss, very nondescript performance by a bunch of celebrity impersonators: Cher, Justin Timberlake, Tina Arena, and three other people I’m not “hip” enough to recognise. (1 – DKC)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Moldova
“She was only 15 when I married her. She doesn’t even know about it yet.”
Nobody has heard of Moldova, but then Moldova has a mutually sketchy idea of what happens beyond Romania. Their attempt at reaching out to the world ends up as a reggae number sung in cod Italian, and Moldovan reggae is as wrong as you might imagine. But the Moldovans get everything wrong, even the hallowed concept of the Bucks Fizz: the girl removes her clothing behind a screen, and the guy gets things backwards and puts clothing on (does this mean we have to spit up a drink?) Moldova has much to learn about Eurovision. Plus they have a guy on stage riding one of those razor scooters around like it’s the new thing. (4 – 2BF, E?, SR)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Israel
“These are the costumes we’ll be wearing on Saturday. They’re white…”
One of our house guests watching the show has lived in London all his life and never seen Eurovision, so he was always a shoo-in to ask what Israel is doing in Eurovision. One of the reasons the choreography in Eurovision is so crap is that the backing singers actually have to sing, but this motley assemblage howled like wounded dogs. Whisper it low: Israel has supplanted Germany as the country most likely to sing about everybody being happy and together. White suits and frocks. (3 – FC, DKC, Israel?)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Latvia
“We’ve released four albums in Latvia but none outside of Latvia so far.”
Another of those weird 6-piece boybands (see Serbia and Montenegro last year) who sing falsetto and beatbox while walking around a puppet made from office supplies. You can’t make this up. Sadly, this is the most entertaining thing so far. Oh yes, they wear white suits. (0).
Former Yugoslav Republic of Norway
“The lyrics are quoting from Norwegian mythology, with mentions of elves etc.”
This evil song tries to get us all drunk, while five bored ice queens wander listlessly round the stage, pretending to play fiddles and not even remotely hinting that I might have a chance with any of them. Bah. White frocks. (6 – 5SR, WM)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Spain
“Is Eurovision what we expected?”
It’s Las Bloody Ketchup, which is Spain’s way of saying they don’t want to host Eurovision in 2007. Continuing Latvia’s use of office supplies as stage props, the singers faff around in ergonomic chairs while two dykes roll around on the floor to try to distract from the shiteness of the song and the fact the singers can barely make themselves heard over the music. (2 – DKC, WC)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Malta
“I really enjoyed it and I think we all felt amazing actually.”
A tiny, evil troll with three eyebrows (the third has slipped to below his lower lip) tries to revive 80s disco, albeit with live singing and no post-production pitch correction. The result is predictably disastrous. At least the absence of decent singing allows him to fill the stage with real dancers. (1 – DKC)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Germany
“We just want to say to all the Eurovision workers, keep up the good work – you’re doing an amazing job.”
We learn that German country and western makes more sense than Moldovan reggae, despite (or because of) an Australian singing the lead. We also learn that a German banjo player is much, much scarier than any of the characters in Deliverance. Also, the double bass has a sheriff’s badge on it, so we learn that German basses are empowered to conduct seizures of chattel property to satisfy a legal judgement. And they can carry a gun. (3 – FC, DKC, SR)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Denmark
“We’re definitely getting closer to what we want.”
The Danes sing a “retro” song about twisting, which traces the roots of 50s rock’n’roll all the way back to, oh, Racey. In the Nordic tradition of the Bomfunk MCs’ Freestyler, no actual twisting occurs during the song. Someone does come out to breakdance and fanny about with an unplugged electric guitar. I hate them for all flashing their armpits. (6 – 5SR, WM)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Russia
“With so many beautiful people around me on stage, how could it not go well?”
A young man in a mullet and a Bonds singlet with his entry number ironed onto the front tries to ignore the two ballerinas waay up the back of the stage, and the mime stuck in a piano throwing rose petals around. This is classic Eurovision trainwreck staging, concocted by people who have never actually witnessed any form of entertainment, but had someone describe it to them once. Much debate over whether a mime in a piano constitutes a Wandering Minstrel. (1.5 – SR, 0.5WM)
Macedonia
“I don’t want to sound like a Miss World contestant, though!”
An armpit on display right from the start. She can’t sing, but her Daisy Dukes do all the singing for her as she torments the world’s whitest homeboys. She sits on one for good measure, in lieu of choreography. (1 – SR)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Romania
“I should be a mathematics teacher actually.”
My friends think this could be a Eurodisco hit as big as that Eiffel 65 thing but all I can think of is: what the hell is wrong with that dancing librarian’s capri pants? She appears to have several stenographic pads stuffed down each leg. (2 – DKC, E?)
Half-time break. The hostess has changed her dress and our Eurovision virgin laments that we still have 12 more songs and voting to go (2 more drinks).

Countdown to Eurovision (3): The Eurovision Drinking Game

Monday 15 May 2006

Reprinted from last year, with a couple of revisions and additions, it’s the Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game:

Phase One: The Performances

The Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically change key during the final chorus. Additional drink for every successive key change in the same song.
The Buck’s Fizz. Whenever a performer sheds a piece of clothing. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.
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.
The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing.
The Fine Cotton. Any appearance by mercenary singers flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.
The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance (i.e. in 2006 expect lots of half-arsed Busby Berkeley kaleidoscopic choreography and people pulling scarves out of each others’ clothing). Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.
The Wandering Minstrel. Eurovision doesn’t allow backing tapes, so take a drink if one of the performers is pretending to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) as part of the choreography.
The TaTu. Finish your drink if the audience boos (on telly, not in the living room.)
The World Cup. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical problems of hosting the event next year.
Don’t Mention The War. Each time the German entrant sings something about everyone being happy.
Phase Two: The Voting
The Wardrobe Change. If the female host is wearing a different frock after the songs have finished. Two drinks if the male host has changed his suit.
The Hurry-Up. Every time the hosts have to talk over the announcer from each voting country to ask “Can we have your votes please?” (i.e. shut the fuck up already). Finish your drink if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a relative watching at home in Murmansk.
The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.
The Old Europe. When the UK gets null points from France.
The New Europe. When the Baltic states all vote for each other.
The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French 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.
The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer fucks up the voting results. Finish your drink if they get so confused they have to start over.
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.
The Master of Suspense. Any time an announcer realises that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points and then the country that has won them, not the other way around. (This may not happen.)
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.
The wildcards
The first person who asks why Israel is in it, or why Italy isn’t, finishes their drink.
The first person who asks why Lebanon or Serbia and Montenegro aren’t in it must finish their drink. Everyone else must drink unless they know the answers.
A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.
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.

Countdown to Eurovision (2): Meet the losers

Thursday 11 May 2006

Although the website gives you full sound and video of each of the competing songs, I prefer to take my Eurovision without warning or expectation, and advise virgin viewers to do the same. It is useful, however, to identify the country with the longest odds of winning: it serves as a focal point for the evening, and as a yardstick of consensus badness by which the other entrants may be appreciated. If you’re lucky, it may also set the scene for an Alf Poier-like boilover in the voting to help get you through the long, dark, latter half of the event.
This year’s bottom rung (100-1) is occupied by Moldova, who lucked their way into the final with last year’s drumming granny stunt. This year they’ve retreated into Wayne and Wanda territory with a song written by a concussed 4-year-old trying to recite a Ricky Martin number:

Every night I need my Loca
Every night I need her boca
Every night I need my Loco
Need him crazy just un poco

There are several countries with worse odds, but which may not qualify for the final. Absolute bottom (150-1) is Portugal, with a girl group singing a song composed by a Nigerian email scammer: they are GONNA MAKE YOU SMILE IN ALL CAPS:

I’LL MAKE YOU STOP THINKING SAD THINGS FOR A WHILE
AND EVERYTHING WAITS WHEN YOU’RE DANCING IN STYLE
I’M GONNA MAKE YOU DANCE
MAKE IT WITH STYLE

Judging from the typography they’re going to yell the entire song, presumably concluding with a cry of “this are perfectly 100% legal”.

Countdown to Eurovision: “Oh my god, keep the voting!”

Monday 8 May 2006

If you’re anything like me, then you know the biggest music event of the year is drawing near: The Eurovision Song Contest!
The official site has full previews of the competing songs, the singers, and the multitalented hosts, but I prefer to take my Eurovision as a surprise. Even so, over the next week or so in the lead-up to the final, there’ll be a small preview of some of the least-promising entrants, a review of last year’s big night in the Ukraine, and most importantly, a revised version of the Eurovision Drinking Game. This last is essential to enduring an entire evening of the finest entertainment Europe has to offer.
Speaking of Ukraine: why didn’t anyone tell me that 2004 winner and upskirt champion (link not safe for work) Ruslana is now a member of parliament? It doesn’t seem that sparkling Ukrainian co-hosts the Klitschko brothers, or best-ever Eurovision loser Alf Poier have run for public office. Yet.

Maybe the next post will be about Elliott Carter. This one ended up being about darts.

Monday 16 January 2006

The bunker has recently suffered the addition of a television to the drawing room. The most immediate cultural ramification of this development is that on Sunday evening I was extremely reluctant to leave the house to see the BBC Symphony Orchestra play Elliott Carter at the Barbican, because I had become engrossed in the World Darts Championship final on BBC2.

In my defense, I will say that I was watching it wearing my anthropologist’s hat. When you’ve become blasé about walking past St Paul’s each day to get to work – and complaining about the tourists getting in your way, besides – it takes a darts match shown on prime time terrestrial tv to remind you that you are in a foreign country. Once that novelty wore off, another type of fascination took over. The more I watched, the more it dawned on me that I was watching one of the great endangered species of popular culture, a type of television that the next generation of children will never know: the professionally-produced, relatively major television event that is completely unphotogenic.

I cannot imagine that in ten years’ time a large, Western television network will be making any shows where fat, balding men in polo shirts and soveriegn rings are watched by a clubhouse full of attentive smokers. The show commanded respect simply for having survived until now. Between sets, expert commentary was offered by two men who looked and sounded like they had walked off the set for Minder, prison tattoos and all. In fact they hadn’t walked off the set, they were still on it: seated in a corner of the club foyer lined with framed publicity photos of stars of the vintage and calibre of Marty Wilde.

To cap off the experience, I’d been playing with the new telly’s buttons and had switched on the subtitles. To add subtitles to the live broadcast, the BBC had opted for the cheapest possible option and so had either hired an ESL student in a call centre in Chittagong with a hunt-and-peck typing technique to listen in to the commentary over a party line while a typhoon raged outside, or had downloaded a trial version of a particularly unreliable voice recognition program (that would be all of them). A slow, unsteady stream of Engrish sputtered across the top of the screen, usually followed by corrections hastily typed in after the more egregious errors.

The most impressive example came when an announcer remarked upon “how many Dutch fans are here tonight”. MANY DRUG BARONS HERE TONIGHT tentatively ventured Sanjay or ViaVoice, clearly unimpressed by Amsterdam’s coffee houses.

Elliott Carter is a composer. He is very old. More details as they come to hand.