Eurovision 2017 – Semi Final One

Well hello there, gentle reader! No sooner has Article 50 been triggered and a General Election announced, than it’s Eurovision time again, and ISN’T the UK going to be popular this year! 42 European nations (well, including Australia) have come together in peace and harmony (well, including Ukraine) and cast their national enmities aside (yep, Russia aren’t there) in this 62nd annual bunfest. To titillate your fancy, I’m here with my trusty friends YouTube and Oddschecker to bring you the 18 songs that constitute Semi Final One, and as any ESC fan will tell you this is by far the stronger of the two semis, so if you don’t like this lot, then I’m afraid you’re not going to have a very good time. We’ll take them in the order that Ukrainian TV have decided; guided by that pure-bred Ukrainian, Christer Björkman. With each song you’ll find the betting odds from all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places on an Each Way as at 24th April, and also I’ll give each song a star rating out of 5. Dum Tek Tek and off we go!

Sweden – Robin Bengtsson – I Can’t Go On

SwedenSo where do you stand on the use of the word “f*cking” (apologies gentle reader) in a pop song? True, it depends on context, but as far as the Eurovision is concerned, I’m not impressed. Its subsequent replacement by “freaking” isn’t much better, as it’s a word that’s solely used when you mean “f*cking” but can’t say it. Isn’t it always the way that when someone wins Melodifestivalen, you always prefer their earlier songs that didn’t make it? This isn’t a patch on Constellation Prize. There’s no doubt that the repetitious “I Can’t Go On, I Can’t Go On” makes a big impact, especially when he and his guys all walk forward in a very determined and resolute manner. It’s flashy, it’s professional, it’s Sweden; and it’s totally without heart. I suspect that this will do very well and I think that’s rather sad. Third favourite with the bookmakers. 7/1 – 8/1. ***

Georgia – Tamara Gachechiladze – Keep The Faith

GeorgiaAlmost every year it’s said there are too many female ballads. And when I first heard all this year’s songs, this was one of those indistinguishable female ballads that might have been anyone from anywhere dirging on about anything. But actually, if you concentrate on it, it’s not half bad. Tamara, who in 2009 was put out when she wanted to Putin, sings another one of those songs that could be a James Bond theme (albeit on a rough year). It’s a song about personal assertiveness; basically, if others are telling you what to do, tell them to go jump in the swamp. I hope Tamara doesn’t go anywhere near a naked flame in that PVC outfit. 66/1 – 150/1. ***

Australia – Isaiah Firebrace – Don’t Come Easy

AustraliaHotfoot from his success at winning Australian X-Factor last November, 17-year-old Isaiah gives us his best puppydog eyes as he tries to convince us, despite his meagre years, that, through the heartache of a series of so many agonising relationships, he’s picking himself up and looking at love through the experienced eyes of – wow, maybe, even an 18 year old. Isaiah is a great singer who emotes well, the song has a tuneful chorus and builds nicely to a final anti-climax. But it does lack a certain something. I had to confirm with that the last word of the second line is in fact “sheets”. 14/1 – 25/1. ***

Albania – Lindita – World

AlbaniaIs it just me, but when a song opens with words like “we’re so alike, yet different” my heart just plummets. Lindita seems a nice girl and relishes in her opportunity to be dramatic. Another incarnation of the indistinguishable female ballad genre, the song washes over you comfortably and cosily and you never knew it was there. Despite that, it’s still probably one of Albania’s best entries. Lindita’s been on American Idol, the real deal, not one of these European fake versions, and I’m sure she’ll perform real swell. 100/1 – 300/1. **

Belgium – Blanche – City Lights

BelgiumTime for one of the early favourites. On video this is so good. Moody, dramatic, contemporary, brooding, Blanche takes us through her experience in the danger zone with a palpable sense of threat only just out of reach; and it’s great to see the Mysterons in gainful employment again. But how is this going to work on stage? I’m afraid at the London Party Blanche had all the charisma of a mushy Brussels sprout and no clue as to how to sell the song. Another 17-year-old, she’ll need a lot of direction as to how to project and make the best of this powerful material… but if she gets it, then this could go big. 10/1 – 16/1. ****

Montenegro – Slavko Kalezić – Space

MontenegroA word of warning: if you ever stumble upon a Montenegrin restaurant and Slavko Kalezic is your waiter, don’t risk it because his pigtail’s a clip-on and it might fall in the soup. And that would make an almighty mess. Not that Slavko should need any second income after this contest, as I’m sure his sheer pizzazz as a natural showman will keep him at the forefront of Saturday night family entertainment viewing for a long while. Oh wait… Space has a pretty good verse that develops into something of a late 70s disco track – I could easily imagine it as part of the Saturday Night Fever brand – all apart from those lyrics about having sex in space. “Wet dreams, wild nightmares, I surrender, come into me from within, we can be as one in the sin”. What would Mary Whitehouse make of it? 66/1 – 200/1. ****

Finland – Norma John – Blackbird

FinlandAnother early favourite – when this first reached our ears many were hailing it worthy of an Ivor Novello award. Just a singer, a pianist and an account of love now lost. For the record, she isn’t Norma, and he isn’t John. With its plaintive simplicity and moving lyrics it really stands out in a sea of bland pop as being different, but is different good enough? The staging will be vital to keep the audience’s interest up during that frilly trilly instrumental sequence, and Leena’s diction will have to be spot on – we couldn’t make out a word she was saying at the London party. It’s dour and downbeat, but appropriately so. Otherwise we’d ask the blackbird to “chirrup”, geddit? 40/1 – 66/1. ****

Azerbaijan – Dihaj – Skeletons

AzerbaijanDiana Hajiyeva lends a couple of her syllables to the group she fronts for this year’s representative from lovely Baku in Azerjeben. A quirky midtempo number that’s quite appealing on the ears but it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s written by the same team who won with Running Scared, and it’s every inch as dynamic. Of all 42 songs in this year’s contest this is the one I find hardest to recall, which may be another way of saying it’s instantly forgettable. But it’s perfectly within possibility that Dihaj will win D-day. (sorry) 18/1 – 33/1. **

Portugal – Salvador Sobral – Amar Pelos Dois

PortugalThe same position in the running order as the much-fancied Sergey Lazarev last year, here comes the complete opposite, Salvador Sobral, almost an anti-performer, with his crumpled jacket and quiet reserved style. Where some performers need coaching to come out of their shells, Salvador creates an art form of it, basing his whole presentation on an intimate, private and heartfelt rendition of his song, written by his sister. It’s extremely old fashioned; as the introduction starts you can imagine the black and white footage of the orchestra, or see the blunt stylus crashing down on top of the grooves of a spinning 78. A Marmite song – personally I think it’s enchanting but I also think if you hear it too often it could pall quickly. Nevertheless, this could be Portugal’s best chance of victory for a very long time. Salvador has his health scares; let’s hope he is well enough to be able to perform on the night. Fourth favourite. 10/1 – 14/1. *****

Greece – Demy – This is Love

GreeceAnother rather anonymous midtempo number, with a very wordy verse redeemed by a disco chorus, but wait… what’s that wriggling under the surface trying to come out? Yes it’s Paula Seling and Ovi’s Miracle from 2014 oozing from nearly every note. To be fair, it’s not bad but there’s something about it that stops me being enthusiastic; maybe it’s the banal lyrics. 28/1 – 40/1. ***

Poland – Kasia Mos – Flashlight

PolandFrom one anonymous song to another. This is so lurking in the shadows that it barely registers. Shamelessly trading on the fire, higher, desire rhyme, you could hear this twenty times and still not remember it. Poland always does well, and Kasia is a good singer, but this really is so dull. 40/1 – 100/1. *

Moldova – Sunstroke Project – Hey Mamma

MoldovaAnd yet another unoriginal song, but at least this time there’s a purpose to its unoriginality. Yes Epic Sax Guy is back, he who accompanied countless internet sealions on the saxophone following the unexpected interest in his wonderful sax riff on Run Away back in 2010. This time, in a rather saucy video, the Sunstrokers are on the trail of a beautiful girl but constantly interrupted by her milf of a mum. Honestly guys, you could do a lot worse. This year’s epic sax break is possibly even more epic, and has a nice back foot shuffle move to go with it. Instantly uplifting, and I like it much more than I should. 66/1 – 200/1. *****

Iceland – Svala – Paper

IcelandSvala peers into the light like a waking meerkat with her little hands fighting away imaginary jackals. Wearing her thick red anorak indoors, where it’s not even raining; if she doesn’t take it off she won’t feel the benefit. “You make me feel like paper,” she sings, “you cut right through, I’m stuck like glue”. It’s true, there’s nothing quite so painful as a paper cut. Not so much a song, more of a collage. This doesn’t do much for me. 50/1 – 100/1. **

Czech Republic – Martina Bárta – My Turn

Czech RepMartina’s contemporary dance video to accompany this song makes you think there must be something more substantial to this song and encourages you to concentrate on it more – and actually it works as a combination. However, she’s not going to be allowed to have twenty nearly naked people in their underwear cavorting over the stage, so I expect on the night it might sound rather hollow. It’s not a bad song, albeit with lullaby qualities. Czech soul music. 100/1 – 250/1. ***

Cyprus – Hovig – Gravity

CyprusLast year Cyprus gave us schlager rock, and they’ve followed the same pattern this year. It’s an opportunity for some macho posing that Hovig sees no need to ignore. The song’s a little lumbering and heavy but I rather like it, even though they break the cardinal rule of taking you high and touching the sky. Probably delivers slightly less than it promises. 50/1 – 200/1. ***

Armenia – Artsvik – Fly With Me

ArmeniaA little mood music from Armenia, with Artsvik encouraging us to fly with her as though she were 10cc’s Mandy. It’s quite evocative and atmospheric and very nicely done but never really reaches turbodrive. It’s in the tightly fought Semi Final 1 but even so, doubtless it will qualify. 16/1 – 20/1. ***

Slovenia – Omar Naber – On My Way

SloveniaThe second of this year’s return offenders, Omar Naber offers us a pleasant and unremarkable ballad that isn’t a patch on his song Stop, which failed to qualify so I can’t see this getting through. The video seems to show a Shakespearean tragedian having an argument with himself and I don’t think that’s helping. Omar appeared at the London Party and he’s a strong performer, who deserves to have more original material written for him… oh yeah, he wrote this himself. 100/1 – 250/1. **

Latvia – Triana Park – Line

LatviaThe final song of the first semi is a quirky, rebellious little number from Triana Park, which isn’t the name of the lead vocalist but the group as a whole. Yet another song that it’s quite difficult to recall, even though it’s very different from most of the others. It’s space-agey in a modestly exciting manner, although that “all I see is you, all I see” sequence is immensely tedious. Agnese came to the London Party and aced it. 66/1 – 150/1. ***

So that’s the line up for Semi Final One. Eight songs won’t qualify and I’m going to suggest they will be: Albania, Poland, Moldova (even though it’s my favourite in this semi), Iceland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia and Cyprus. Semi Final One is on BBC4 on Tuesday 9th May at 8pm, and that’s the semi-final in which the UK can vote. And I’ll be back shortly with a preview of Semi Final Two. See you soon!

4 thoughts on “Eurovision 2017 – Semi Final One

  1. It’s written by the same team who won with Running Scared, and it’s every inch as dynamic.

    Classic Mr Sparkle! BTW Moldova are totally qualifying!

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