Lockdown Armchair Travel – Portugal – Lisbon 2013 & 2018

More lockdown armchair travel memories, and P (we’re still on P) is also for Portugal, a country we’ve popped into many times on cruises and where we spent an amazing Valentines’ weekend in 1999 in beautiful Porto. But here we’re looking at a couple of trips to the capital Lisbon, in 2013 (to celebrate a friend’s birthday) and 2018 (for Eurovision). So when you think of Portugal, what do you think of? For me, it’s undoubtedly this!

The fish is sensational! And cheap too, unless you accidentally wander into a rip-off restaurant. Always check Trip Advisor in Lisbon before sitting down anywhere! So where shall we begin? Lisbon is a sprawling city, so let’s start right in the centre at the Rossio Square.

with The Queen Maria II National Theatre in full glory

The other great square is Commerce Square, on the edge of the river Tagus

full of restaurants, arcades, shops and tourists

Unsurprisingly there are some stunning churches – this is the cathedral

But baroque churches are everywhere

The castle stands proudly overlooking the city and its green shade is very welcome on a hot day

Plus the views are spectacular!

The other striking sight is the famous Belem Tower

And in the city centre, there is the historical Santa Justa lift

But primarily the beauty of Lisbon is on the streets. Its tiles, its roofs, its complicated corners, its grandiose old shops and its carefree lifestyle.

Farewell Lisbon, hope we see you again sometime soon!




Eurovision 2018 – The Lisbon Experience



The Lisbon Experience sounds a bit like one of those awful tourist attractions where you get on an old fairground ride in complete darkness whilst projections and exhibits show you the history of the city. But that wouldn’t be the right way to see Lisbon. Lisbon is a city that lives on the outside. In cafes, in squares, in boats, in parks. I’m quite proud to say that we spent nine days there and didn’t set foot inside one museum once.

Eurovision Village

Eurovision Village

But of course we were there for Eurovision, so there would hardly have been the time anyway. We had rented a one bedroom apartment near Alameda metro station and it was very charming and useful. Alameda is a great location as the station is on both the green and red lines on the metro. Thus it was just fifteen minutes to the centre of the city and also fifteen minutes to Oriente station, which was just a few minutes’ walk from the Altice Arena, site of all the Eurovision shenanigans.



For the first few days it was great to catch up with old friends who had flown into Portugal from all round the world. For the first evening we had dinner with ESC Insight’s own New Zealand correspondent, the Americo-Irish Canadian Kiwi, at the Casa Brasileira on Rua Augusta (if you go out for a meal in Lisbon you can barely avoid the Rua Augusta). Options for entertainment on that night included the fabled Israeli Party but we couldn’t face the prospect of the two-hour queue, although it did mean we met the writers of the Russian song and the brother half of Zibbz. Instead, we paid our first visit to the Eurocafe, which was hot and expensive. One of our friends spent 55 minutes waiting to get served on the Monday evening; that’s not really how you want to spend your leisure nights. Gin and tonics (which were primarily made from ice) were 10 euros. A friend posted on Facebook that a bottle of local plonk and a diet coke came to 44 euros. May I remind you this was in Portugal, known for its relatively low prices.

Sea Bass at O Portas

Sea Bass at O Portas

We went to the same restaurant on the Sunday afternoon with M’Learned Friend from Dublin, where we also met HRH the Crown Prince of Bedford who was experiencing his first Eurovision and indeed his first European holiday as an adult (I use the term loosely). We lingered in the Eurovision Village (much better value for drinks than the Café) and generally wasted the time enjoying ourselves. Monday saw us having lunch at O Portas on Rua dos Correeiros. It was probably the best meal we had in the city; a big sea bass, who swam his last that very morning, was filleted on a plate for the three of us. Nota Bene: very near the O Portas is a rip off joint called Obrigado Lisboa which has ok food but stupid surprise prices for drinks and extras. Just check it on Trip Advisor – I’ve never seen such poor feedback for a restaurant. They caught us out for Tuesday lunch. Thieving toerags.

Belem Tower

Belem Tower

Monday afternoon we did a boat ride to Belem Tower with HRH and M’Learned Friend. Whilst on board we bumped into some other friends, two of whom had also come all the way from New Zealand. The boat ride was fun, if a little delayed coming back; Belem is beautiful but (nota bene again) closed on Mondays. Durrrhh. Monday night was a late one in the Eurocafe, which included a great performance by Suzy (you can’t keep a good girl down). We went to bed before Slavko came on.

Our View

Great view of the fans, not so great of the stage

Tuesday was primarily notable for our first actual attendance at this year’s contest – we had General Standing tickets for Semi Final One. These were about as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot because Mrs Chrisparkle and I couldn’t see a thing. HRH must have stood on someone’s shoulders because he saw a little more, but still not enough to warrant the ticket price. We saw Cesar from Austria during his first verse, because it was staged up in the air; we saw most of Sennek from Belgium’s performance as she performed on a platform nearer to where we were standing. And of course, they turn the screens off, so if you were relying on watching the show that way, think again. We were able to catch the results, but the rest of the show might as well have been on the radio. Mrs C spent the evening reading The Guardian website. Shame. Still, we had the pleasure of attending the Irish meet-up beforehand at Irish & Co near the arena, where I bumped into Finnish representative Saara Aalto (as you do). I happened to be wearing a t-shirt with a lyric from her song and when she saw me she pointed and gave a little cry of delight. It’s nice to know I can still have that effect on women. Dinner was in the D’ Bacalhau restaurant, again near the arena, where I decided to try the pork steaks and they were fab.

Typical blue walls

Typical blue walls

Another very good restaurant for Wednesday lunch – the Cofre Verde on Rua de Sao Juliao. It’s run by a very nice Nepalese lady who took great pains to show us our dead, but otherwise healthy looking, fish before cooking the poor chap. Full of Portuguese people, so that’s always a good sign. The ubiquitous white wine of choice, incidentally, is Planalto Reserva, a bottle of which you should be able to get for something like 14 to 16 euros. It was only 11 euros in D’Bacalhau. It was 40, yes 40, euros in the dreadful Obrigado Lisboa.


What goes on backstage during Moldova’s entry

Wednesday evening we had tickets for the Jury Final of Semi Final Two, Golden Circle Standing. That’s the bit between the stage and the circular apron that many of the performers decided to run around during their songs. We got in quite early and decided to take a unique position: right round as far right as we could go, virtually under what became universally known as the Ireland Break-Up Bridge. It’s a completely side on view, and totally unobscured. Although you didn’t get any of the feel for the staging of a song like Moldova’s, where the comedy (and I use that term loosely too) is all gathered from the choreography as seen from head on, at least you could see the backstage positioning of the performers whilst that song was being performed – a genuinely fascinating experience. Other great moments were when we stood under the Hungarian guitarist; we could almost shake hands with the San Marino robots; we could peek into the back of Christabelle’s box (if you’ll pardon the expression); and HRH could see where the stagehands were extinguishing a fire backstage during Benjamin’s performance.


This is how close we were to the stage

This is probably a good point to bring up the question of security. Little did we know on Wednesday night that some tosser would grab the mic off SuRie and damn near ruin Saturday’s show for everyone – frankly she should sue his arse. However, we were very alarmed, considering our proximity to the stage, at the very poor security presence. We were behind a lowish railing; there was a small bank of chairs in front of us, before another small railing and then the stage. During a few of the songs, one security guard sat in front of us, updating his Facebook, checking sports news, and indeed videoing the performers; in fact anything but watching out for potential Jimmy Jumps. During the vast majority of the evening there was nothing to stop me from vaulting over the two fences and running on stage shouting Justice for Jemini – apart from my innate sense of decorum and 14-and-a-half stone. I can’t see anyone in Israel getting anything like this close to the performers; and if anyone tries to rush the stage there, it will be the last thing they do.

Hungarian guitarist

Hungarian guitarist

For post-show dinner we returned to the D’Bacalhau because the nice waitress from Tuesday said she’d look forward to seeing us again. However, she wasn’t on duty and had been replaced by a couple of elderly grumps who’d learned customer care at the António de Oliveira Salazar Finishing School. Food and drink was still yummy though. Thursday lunchtime was the Radio International Team Lunch at the Tivoli Oriente Hotel near the arena. It was very enjoyable, if a little slow and chaotic, and good to see most of the team there on fine form. As it has been the 20th anniversary of the show – Gadzooks, how can that be? – I thought I would do a little after dinner speech. It would have been even better if we’d all been drunk.

Typical Eurovision Mayhem

Typical Eurovision Mayhem

Thursday afternoon saw us back at the Eurocafe for the OGAE UK party – that’s the UK Eurovision Fan Club, for the uninitiated. Mrs C and I were chosen to do an interview for ITV Anglia News that I think ended up on the cutting room floor. Great to chat to all the UK types and it was a very busy and enjoyable afternoon. Mrs C, HRH and I rushed off to Guacamole, a nearby Mexican restaurant that we had discovered that did tasty (but always cold?!) food and lethal margaritas. Good value and quick, when you want to get on to somewhere else in a hurry.


Semi Final Two at the Village

Which, for us, was the Eurovision Village, as that was where we would be watching the live show of SF2. It took us a good half hour to get in because of security, but that was still early enough (7:45) to get a good place to watch the show. Queues for the drinks and toilets were stupidly long, so it was a dry and legs-crossed night, but very enjoyable – but also surprisingly cold! The Eurovision Village was based at the Praça do Comércio, which is adjacent to the water’s edge, and when that late-night wind whipped up – boy was it nippy!

Alfama District

Alfama District

HRH took Friday off (feeble millennial that he is) so we decided to go for a wander around the Alfama district and had lunch at the Arcaz Velho on Calcada do Forte. We sat on a corner street table and had the most delicious tuna steaks, proper home-made custard desserts and a decent Galao. Later we decided to meet up with M’Learned Friend for a few drinks in the Village before going on to a nice dinner somewhere. On our way out we met Marty Whelan, the Irish commentator – he and M’Learned Friend go back yonks – and we had a charming chat with him and his wife and daughter whilst they were waiting to get served, slowly, in a restaurant. In terms of speed of service, Lisbon isn’t quite the Boris Becker of restaurant capitals. For dinner we ended up at Le Petit Café in Largo São Martinho, and it was excellent. Always a good sign when you ask the waiter for a wine recommendation and he suggests the cheapest wine on the menu – and it’s delicious enough for you to buy three bottles in all.

Saturday Family Show

Saturday Family Show

Saturday was the big day, in Eurovision terms of course, and we had seats reserved for the Family Show (in other words the final afternoon rehearsal) for which we were joined by none other than the doyen of BBC4 Eurovision coverage, Dr Eurovision himself. The view of stage, screens and arena was second to none and we got a really good feel for what Europe would be watching later that night. Dr Eurovision had to leave before the final song, muttering something about a Turkish Television interview and Sky News. He’d been on his phone throughout the whole Family Show anyway, presumably fending off media enquiries and setting up other meetings. Fascinating to see how what started as pure fandom on his part, and then became the basis for his thesis, has shaped a significant element of his career with the result that he can’t just sit back and watch the damn thing anymore. Mind you, he loves it.


It’s Ruslana

Our friends Mr and Mrs Flying-the-Flag were in town, taking a quick trip into the capital from their holiday getaway in deepest Estoril, so we met them for a beer and a steak and chips; but by 5pm we could already see the queue to get into the Eurovision Village was getting longer. By 5:30 my enthusiasm had won me over so we started queueing, and in fact it wasn’t too long before we got in for the 6pm show with Ruslana. Yes, Xena Warrior Princess is still thwacking out the Wild Dances and Dancing with the Wolves (nothing to do with Molineux). The queues for the bar were already ominously long but it’s a long Eurovision night without some libation, so HRH headed off to join the back of the queue and we agreed to keep in mobile contact as to his progress. This was shortly after 6.30pm. At about 7.40pm he thought he’d got close enough to the bar, so I joined him. We were thronged by a pack of thirsty people pressing hard up to a counter, behind which were a few laissez-faire Portuguese, tending to customers provided it didn’t get in the way of their private conversations. The queue wasn’t moving anymore, and the show started at 8pm. Mrs C was now also engulfed in a sea of other Eurovision punters and didn’t expect us to find our way back to her before midnight. But I remembered where she was, and once we’d finally got served, and took the perilous path back to the big screen, we got there just in time for the fourth song to start. That’s one helluva long queue – and shows how totally inadequate the provision was in the Eurovision Village.


Tasteless T-shirts I photographed in Jerusalem in 2016

Israel won; I was a bit disappointed, as it’s very silly and messy. Even if it is about the #metoo generation it also contains muthabuckas, Pam pam pa hoo, prram pam pa hoos, and Cululoo, cululoos. Curiously, the stupid boy that Netta rejects in her song is probably Mikolas in the Czech Republic’s Lie To Me, dripping on his wood bamboo, with his camel in the mood and standing in a puddle. Honestly, some of this year’s lyrics are execrable. I’d hoped that wholesome girl from Cyprus would win; the prospect of a week at a sunny hotel in Limassol was rather enticing. I can’t see us going to Jerusalem for Eurovision week though. We went there on a cruise a couple of years ago and we’ve never been anywhere so tense (and that includes Hanoi, and the Uzbek-Afghan border.) It’s stunningly beautiful, but scary; and if you show one hint of touristy, dithery weakness, that’s the cue for some ruthless shopkeeper or restaurateur to rip you off mercilessly. Tel Aviv – that would be different. But – currently, at least – that’s not looking likely.

On a tuk-tuk

On a tuk-tuk

Our Sunday was spent back up in Alfama, lunching at the Allfama restaurant – very nice; then doing an hour’s tuktuk tour, seeing some of the historical sights. That was good fun. Dinner was at the Portugalia Cervejaria, a 1920s beer hall, with some of the Radio International crowd and the Americo-Irish Canadian Kiwi, which was chaotic but tasty. Then back to bed. Then early to rise for that dreaded plane back to the UK…


Denmark’s Mr Rasmussen nobly braving the snowy set

So a final few thoughts; best Schlager song (only Schlager song?) in the contest was Azerbaijan which didn’t get through to the final due to silly staging. Azerbaijan, Romania and Russia all lost their 100% qualifying record (quite rightly, for the other two, IMHO). Norway won their semi then faded drastically after being given position no 7 to sing from. UK and Finland both did poorly in the final results, and were both performed after a commercial break; in fact three of the bottom four songs didn’t have to qualify, which always speaks volumes. The Top 3 were all from Semi Final One, and you have to drop down to 7th place (Sweden) to get a song from Semi Final Two. After Cyprus, Ukraine provided the best singalong opportunity in the final, but was also shafted by singing first. Denmark still won the day for me, with their heroic Viking stomping. The four hosts were good – the lady in the black dress who stood on the right, Filomena Cautela, was hilarious. The staging was exciting, as was the voting, although, visually, the final result was very confusing on the TV screen as they didn’t switch back to a view of the scoreboard, and it was a while before we were convinced that was indeed Israel who had won.

On the whole, a very good year. Every year, fans typically say, “this year is the worst ever” but in fact the quality this year was very high. Remember – after 1st September, songs newly published become eligible for next year’s contest. Get writing!!

Eurovision 2018 – The Preview

Apologies, gentle reader. Normally I provide you with an in-depth analysis and revelatory insight into each of the current year’s Eurovision songs, but this year time, other commitments and real life have bitten into my schedule and I won’t be able to offer this service this year. I know you have a choice of Eurovision Opinion Providers and if you do find it necessary to ask for a refund, my solicitors are instructed to consider each case on its own criteria.

Instead I offer you a snappy(ish) blow by blow account of each entry in order of performance, and we’ll see where it takes us. These are based on the original videos, I’ve not been watching the rehearsals. You’re still going to get my five-star rating for each song. I’m sure that’s a comfort.

Semi Final One

Azerbaijan – Aisel – X My Heart *****
AiselWho’d have thought the best schlager in this year’s contest would come from Azerjeben? Not only is this a bright, up-tempo effort from Aisel (not AySel – they’re clearly limited for girls’ names in Azərbaycanca) but it also has some of the best inappropriate lyrics in the contest. Next time you have to prove your mettle to someone, announce that you’re stronger than cannonballs and watch the reaction. Like Tigger, it’s bouncy, trouncy, flouncy and pouncy.

Iceland – Ari Olafsson – Our Choice *
Ari OlafssonWhereas this is more like Eeyore. Ari takes on the pain of the world and explores it through the medium of coma. There’s no doubting his musicality – apparently he’s off to the Royal Academy of Music in September – but this ploddy three minutes never engages the listener. About as inviting as a plate of buried cod.

Albania – Eugent Bushpepa – Mall ****
Eugent BushpepaSgt Bushpepa emotes his way through an anguished song of yearning (that’s what Mall means – nothing to do with comfy shopping) whilst his Lonely Hearts Club Band whack out a strong meaty accompaniment. Forget your Hungaries, this is where this year’s classy folk rock is to be found. He does look a bit angry sometimes but it’s a blessed relief after the vanilla-lite of Iceland.

Belgium – Sennek – A Matter of Time ***
SennekAccording to Wikipedia Sennek works for Ikea (she’s probably known as Laura Groeseneken there) so I’ll resist jokes about fit Verse A into Hook B. But this song does feel quite manufactured to me, rather than a lovely organic thing of its own. I always think I’m going to enjoy it, but then I end up enduring it. Sennek’s long lanky hair can sometimes give her Princess Fiona ears which take my mind off the song for a bit. It’s not that bad though. Does it remind anyone else of Reynaert’s majestic Laissez Briller le soleil? (not visually, obviously, that would be silly.) That was Belgium too. I think we should be told.

Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me **
MikolasDisclaimer: I wrote this before Mikolas came a cropper on his backflip in the first rehearsal and I absolutely take my hat off to him for carrying on when doubtless he’s in a lot of pain. /Disclaimer>
Before writing this little paragraph, I’m going to watch the YouTube again to see if I can make three minutes without turning it off. Well, credit where it’s due, I did. This is a song that makes me feel very old. The lyrics need to come with a glossary (I still haven’t worked out what GGY means – although I do understand the concept of a wood bamboo, and the camel grossed me out) and I guess they have plans to remove the four-letter words. I like the Epic Sax Guy-inspired rhythm and Mikolas is obviously a talented chap – and I’m totally prepared to accept that the smug poseur character singing this song is an act. But it does irritate me. When his voice goes down into the lower register it sounds really sleazy. A good Eurovision song needs instant impact and this certainly has it. Just don’t hear it a second time.

Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaite – When We’re Old ****
Ieva ZThis quiet, unassuming little song is normally the kind of fodder I’d just skip and move on. But the lyrics are so heartfelt and its nature so charming – plus I am indeed getting old – that its message got to me. Ieva’s married surname of Zasimauskaite-Kiltinaviciene needs a sentence all to itself. They’re going to have to stage it wisely; too much will kill it, too little will feel too stark. But it’s a yes from me.

Israel – Netta – Toy **
NettaHere’s the one that everyone’s talking about. For the first few seconds of the video Netta sounds like she’s trying to discharge something disgusting from her nasal orifices and then she goes into the farmyard impersonations. There’s no doubt this will make that all so important initial impact, and for it to work I think they’ll need to play up the humour. I read someone’s comment that Netta looks like the school bully and combined with the rather cruel nature of the lyrics, I feel that’s a great description. When she finally gets around to singing “I’m not your toy you stupid boy” it’s fab. It’s just the other bits that turn me off. Feminist icon or grotesque, you decide. What do we think of the word muthabucka? Not convinced. Is the woman in the pink rain poncho with blue hair based on the Victoria Wood character looking for her Kimberley?

Belarus – Alekseev – Forever ***
AlekseevA classic example of a song written in English by a non-English speaking lyricist. You can always tell when the music requires the stress to be on the wrong syllable in a sentence: “Windows wide opén, flying so high, both of us roaming through magnificent sky…” Alekseev looks like a moody lad, like a singing James Acaster. In the modern tradition, it’s a trifle whingey, but it has a lush orchestral arrangement, and, despite myself, I rather like it.

Estonia – Elina Nechayeva – La Forza *
ElinaThis year’s popera entry – there’s nearly always one – and it’s a full in-your-ear extravaganza. Sung entirely in Italian, because, as we know, Estonia’s full of Italians, Elina belts out the arpeggios till all the stray dogs in Tallinn come running. Oh, and she’s got one of those Eurovision dresses, you know the type. I don’t care how expert her singing is, it’s everything I hate about Eurovision.

Bulgaria – Equinox – Bones ***
EquinoxI love the bones of you, say the Liverpool half of the family. Equinox go on one better, loving beyond the bones. That’s a helluva lot of love. A rather creepy official video that looks like an out-take from a sci-fi show enhances the moody gloom of this rather anthemic and persistent little song that can get under your skin, if not quite beyond the bones. Like a few other good songs this year it might not be quite substantial enough to go the very top but this won’t be a disgrace by any means.

FYR Macedonia – Eye Cue – Lost and Found **
Eye CueTalking of disgraces… No that’s too strong. Disappointments, maybe. It has a great start – you think it’s going to be a bit like No No Never, but then it acquires an ungainly rhythm of faux-funk, and ends up just pappy pop. The old cliché was that three tunes in a song, you can’t go wrong – here’s proof that’s not true. Not a lot to enjoy here.

Croatia – Franka – Crazy **
FrankaTemptress sex kitten cross garter’d like Malvolio (not in yellow, thank heavens) pouts while man with bad skin condition dances around her. I can just about take this until she starts talking. Three points for spotting the obligatory annual “diamonds and pearls” lyric. Oh and then she swims underwater in a wedding dress. You couldn’t make it up really. She looks like a lovely girl but it’s not a song I can take seriously. Next?

Austria – Cesar Sampson – Nobody but You *****
CesarSo here’s a thing. Gospel in Eurovision normally sticks out like Mr Naef in a beauty contest, but this hint of gospel works really well, IMHO. From the same writing/production team behind the Bulgarian song, and I know who got the better deal. Cesar is a terrific singer and this is a strong, assertive and surprisingly catchy ballad. Not a huge amount more to say – it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Greece – Yianna Terzi – Oniro mou ****
YIannaYianna laments her undying love for her fella while he (presumably) undergoes an SAS Who Dares Wins trial all by himself. Then, rather weirdly, he pulls her out of the earth. They do things differently in Greece. Highly dramatic, incredibly effective, turbulently Greco-ethnic. If you ignore the silly video and close your eyes and dream, you could be transported anywhere you like. In the Peloponnese peninsula, preferably.

Finland – Saara Aalto – Monsters *****
Saara AaltoHere’s another official video that doesn’t enhance its song in any way, but the song is strong enough to survive without it. In the past always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Saara Aalto is going to get on that stage and smash it. Very singalong, instantly appealing, plenty of quirkiness and monsters under the bed – even the six year olds watching will appreciate that. I hope they resist the temptation to go over the top on the staging.

Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan – Qami ****
SevakNot the Armenian for a bar of soap, Qami means Wind, so I’ll let you insert your own joke here. Rivalling Cesar from Austria for the Best Male Vocalist award, Sevak spreads his arms and whirls like the slowest Dervish this side of Yerevan. This atmospheric ballad moves along at a nice andante, and builds for strong finish. Wind, wind, where did you take my warm memories? Didn’t know it was a song about dyspeptic amnesia. Fully deserves to qualify.

Switzerland – Zibbz – Stones *****
ZibbzSo many times in recent years Switzerland have been among my favourites yet have failed to make any impact on the contest. I hope that doesn’t happen again – but I fear it may. Coming a very worthy second to France’s Madame Monsieur for the Best Duo Award, Coco releases some great rock chick attitude and this is definitely one of the funkiest chunes this year. Trouble is, no one votes for Switzerland, do they?

Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy – Together ***
RyanNow for something a little less funky. Inspired by Uncle Gary’s Eurovision appearance seventeen years ago, here comes Ryan O’Shaugnessy with a gentle song about an unexpected relationship break-up. I know many people who rate this quite highly – I can’t help but think they’re inspired by the artistry of the excellent video more than the bare bones of the song, which is a trifle whingey in the modern tradition, and a little introverted for my taste. Perfectly pleasant, though.

Cyprus – Eleni Foureira – Fuego **
EleniEleni is a classy dame but she looks like she’s too good for this song – and I think she’s right. Trying to outdo Aisel in the silly lyrics stakes – someone control that pelican, would you? It’s full of Ivi Adamou-style repetition and I don’t think it’s anything like as good as it thinks it is. One of those triumph of style over substance type songs. Nice feathers though.

Semi Final Two

Norway – Alexander Rybak – That’s How You Write A Song *
Alexander RybakMr Rybak has been responsible for so many excellent recordings over the past few years including his winning (in many ways) performance of Fairytale in the 2009 contest. So it seems such an awful shame that he returns to ESC with this utter drivel. Normally I really enjoy songs that are about the writing process, they have a real inventive and creative edge. Not so this time, this is a cynically envisaged, purpose-built model designed purely to show off Mr R’s incredible showmanship. It’s got a hook you can’t get out of your head, dammit, and if it was that easy to write a song, we’d all be doing it. No! get thee behind me Alexander! Working on the theory that Jamala and Salvador won by being the biggest stand-out anti-personalities with songs just bad enough to win, I reckon this will be Rybak’s year again.

Romania – The Humans – Goodbye *
The HumansStatic, dreary, soporific. I wonder if lead singer Liz Truss MP will get permission from Parliament to front the group for a week. I say “week”… she’ll be back Friday morning. Douze points from Moldova, so that’s twelve points in all.

Serbia – Sanja Ilic & Balkanika – Nova Deca *
Sanja-Ilic-BalkanikaIf neighbours FYR Macedonia prove three tunes in a song doesn’t always work, here’s proof that just two tunes in a song can go wayward too. After a long introductory caterwauling, presumably because they couldn’t think of any more notes for the music stave, there’s only time left for two minutes of song. A moderately interesting Balkan chorus, surrounded by blithering nothingness. Nova Deca means “New Generation”, but there’s nothing much new about that horrendous mess.

San Marino – Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening – Who We Are *
Jessika and JeniferFirstly, yes you can sing the chorus of Mans Zelmerlow’s Heroes to the chorus of Who We Are, so that feels pretty shameless. Jenifer Brening – and I mean this as a compliment – must be one of the poshest rappers in the world. It’s like Missy Elliott went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College. It’s Jessika, though, who has to make sense of words like “We are who we are and who we are is who we wanna be”. Right, got that, I think. Lyrics by existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. There’s no lack of effort from the two ladies, but this has all the musical appeal of Bird’s Nest Soup.

Denmark – Rasmussen – Higher Ground *****
RasmussenAt last, a song in Semi Final Two to enjoy! In fact, gentle reader, this is probably my favourite this year. Yes I know they’re just Hokum Vikings, all beard, gowns and stomping, but I find the lyrics remarkably stirring and I genuinely find something strangely heroic about the whole thing. It’s also a fabulously anthemic tune. Be the first to turn around, take the leap and land on higher ground; I will, oh Captain my Captain. At last we finally find out what’s happened with Frodo nowadays.

Russia – Julia Samoylova – I Won’t Break ***
Julia SamoylovaIt was no surprise that Julia was coming back for a second attempt at a first attempt at winning Eurovision; and I reckon this is a much better song than that old Flame is Burning tosh from last year. There’s something about Julia’s voice that has a gurgling quality that doesn’t appeal to me, but I have to say I get quite taken up by this song when it gets to the even in the darkness part. That said, the video of her performance at the Moscow ESC Party was a proper shocker.

Moldova – DoReDos – My Lucky Day *
DoReDosOne of those three minutes that only Eurovision can throw up, and I use that term most deliberately. A glum Moldovan ménage à trois acted out to a folk salsa beat. It looks like the worst ever song excised from the worst ever musical. They try to be funny, bless them. But honestly. Three points if you call them Doritos.

Netherlands – Waylon – Outlaw in ‘em **
WaylonSo Mr Rybak isn’t the only repeat offender this year, as we also have Waylon, the male half of the Common Linnets, and the only person in The Netherlands to be named after a man made fibre. On paper this should be much better than it is. I can see why some people might like it – but Albania beats it hands down. Probably the best part of it is the lengthy guitar outro which has had to be removed to get it down to three minutes.

Australia – Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love ***
Jessica MauboyHaving been the guest artiste at the 2014, Jessica Mauboy returns as a contestant proper; not quite poacher turned gamekeeper but you get the picture. We Got Love is a bright and breezy number that almost soars – but doesn’t quite. The repetition of the words and notes “cos we got love” in the chorus somehow stops it in its tracks. I’m sure it will do well though, and Ms M is a great performer, so Australia has it all to play for.

Georgia – Iriao – For You ***
iriaoAnd now for something completely different. Georgia offer us five chaps with strong choral voices performing folk barbershop to a charming tune that’s got just a hint of Koit Toome’s Mere Lepsed in there somewhere. It’s the kind of song that just washes over you and three minutes later you re-emerge back into reality. In many respects, very enjoyable, and it’ll certainly chalk up a few points.

Poland – Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer – Light me up ***
Gromee and LukasA Polish DJ and a Swedish singer combine to create a very Swedish sounding entry with ear-disturbing (but still enjoyable) distortions and a summer sunshiny beat. The tune never quite breaks free into perfect bliss but it should be enough to get most people up on their feet. Undemanding, and moderate fun.

Malta – Christabelle – Taboo ***
ChristabelleThe taboo in question is that of mental health; and the video in question is an overblown piece of dramatic nonsense. Strip away the layers and you get quite a satisfying pop song with a neat little hook on the mention of animals, animals. I liked this a lot at first but it has quickly begun to pall. Still, first impressions and all that, it could do quite well. Dear old Christabelle’s been hammering at the door of Eurovision for Malta for many years now so it’s good to see her finally get her chance.

Hungary – AWS – Viszlat Nyar *
AWSNow here’s a Marmite song; you definitely either love or hate this one. Traditional Eurovision lovers don’t care for its rocky guitar edginess; those who like a bit of rock seem to rate it highly. I don’t mind a bit of rock at all – but I think this is sheer agony. The title means Goodbye Summer, which seems to have come at the wrong time of the year for the contest. I wonder what Hungarian for Goodbye Chances is?

Latvia – Laura Rizzotto – Funny Girl *
Laura RizzottoIf you were hoping for a spot of Barbra Streisand, think again. Anything funny about Laura Rizzotto’s self-penned ode to misery is either ironic or simply misplaced. It’s a sad account of a relationship breakdown but if it’s meant to be emotional, it completely passes me by. This Rizzotto is all rice and no meat. It’s a shame because she’s an excellent singer and she looks great. However, she wrote it, so there’s no one else to blame…

Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso – Dance You Off *****
Benjamin IngrossoYou’ll remember a few years ago that young scamp Frans sang a cheeky little number for Sweden about being sorry, but he wasn’t sorry. This year another young scamp, Benjamin, sings a very similar song about getting rid of an unwanted girlfriend. His musical style is a little breathy but it’s a great tune and feels to me (old codger that I am) pretty much contemporary in style. His mother is Pernilla Wahlgren, so music obviously entered his system through the umbilical cord.

Montenegro – Vanja Radovanovic – Inje **
VanjaAnother of those songs that sound like they’ve come from one of the glummer stage musicals. The verse builds to a flourish but then the chorus is quite reserved – at first, at any rate. It’s all about how frost paralyses a heart and so love gets frozen out. Sometimes these Balkan songs can sound really powerful and moving, but this one comes across a pompous and over-complicated. Still, Vanja does wear a terrific frock coat, well jel.

Slovenia – Lea Sirk – Hvala Ne*
Lea SirkBy means of contrast, Lea Sirk’s contribution for Slovenia is the ultimate in attitude, with Lea having a wonderful time strutting her stuff and making it absolutely clear that it’s a case of No Thanks to anyone who asks. It’s a spiky, uncomfortable song, devoid of emotion so it’s hard to open yourself up to it. It also has a rather alienating robotic feel to it. Very competently done, but it’s not my cup of tea at all.

Ukraine – MELOVIN – Under the Ladder ****
MelovinLucky last in Semi Final Two is MELOVIN with the bizarrely titled Under the Ladder, and the first thing you have to admit about it is that boy, is it a catchy tune! 21-year-old Kosytantyn likes his stage name to be spelled in capitals, just in case you didn’t hear it the first time. It’s a very likeable entry but I’m just wondering how his voice will come across. From the videos I sense a little immaturity and insecurity there, but I think if he nails the vocals he could do very well.


France – Madame Monsieur – Mercy *****
Madame MonsieurAlthough I am a self-professed Denmark fan this year, France’s Mercy has been on my head far more than any other song in the run up to this year’s Eurovision and I think it is the classiest composition, given the full gamine interpretation by Emilie, the Madame half of Madame Monsieur. Crammed with pathos, bursting with simplicity, you’d have to be a very hard-hearted sort not to get carried along with it. It wasn’t my favourite from the French final, but on reflection I think it’s the perfect song for Eurovision and for the first time in Donkeys’ Years there’s a real prospect of a Parisian contest next year.

Germany – Michael Schulte – You Let Me Walk Alone **
Michael SchulteFrom one heartfelt song to another, but for me with much less of an impact. Michael Schulte is rocking his Ed Sheeran look, and it’s suitably whingey and self-indulgent for the era, so I think it might appeal to those suffering with teenage angsts, and anyone who’s missing their parents. There’s no question it’s elegantly written, with its escalation up the numbers in the chorus (one love, two hearts, three kids, four no trumps) but at the end of the day it’s rather schmaltzy, and I feel it’s more admirable than enjoyable.

Italy – Ermal Meta and Fabrizio Moro – Non mi avete fatto niente *****
Ermal and FabrizioOne of the difficulties for some songs that weren’t written directly for Eurovision, is how to cut them down to the requisite three minutes. It killed both Amir’s J’ai cherché and last year’s favourite from Italy, Occidentali’s Karma, all that was left of which was a hollowed out shell of a brilliant song. The otherwise very wordy Non mi avete fatto niente actually benefits from being cut down and the three minute version flows superbly. Like France, it takes a serious subject and gives it a serious and sympathetic treatment without getting maudlin. The two Italian lads are great performers and you write this one off at your peril.

Portugal – Claudia Pascoal – O Jardim ***
Claudia PascoalCongratulations to Portugal for finally winning Eurovision last year with a song that many loved and many didn’t get. The Portuguese always feel more comfortable being represented by a song that has an element of moroseness about it and this year is no exception. Isaura Santos’s song is all about tending the (symbolic) flowers that are all that remain from a lover who’s died, so if you’re waiting for an uplifting song from the Big Five and host, keep waiting. The melody reminds me significantly of the Lightning Seeds Sense, but offers a very different atmosphere. Claudia has a very beautiful style to her voice; similar to Ieva’s from Lithuania, but stronger. The song doesn’t really go anywhere, but I’m not sure that matters. Not a winner, but very nice.

Spain – Amaia and Alfred – Tu cancion **
Amaia and AlfredNot Su Cancion, otherwise Betty Missiego would su(e). Amaia and Alfred were thrown together on Spanish Reality TV and their song reflects the genuine relationship that built between them as the series developed. It’s all very sweet; a little drippy perhaps, but its heart is in the right place. Not the kind of song I’d be likely to play usually, and probably my least favourite of the Big Five + Portugal.

United Kingdom – SuRie – Storm ****

SuRieAnd finally, we hit the 43rd song and it’s the United Kingdom entry with SuRie singing Storm. One thing’s for sure – SuRie is an amazing performer, and with her experiences as part of the Belgian teams with Loic Nottet and Blanche, she shouldn’t be fazed by the big occasion. The song has a nice build and the subtle emotions conveyed in the second verse when she’s talking to her mother and father knock the emotions of the German and Portuguese songs into the proverbial cocked hat. However, I fear it won’t have the necessary initial impact to do well, although I know SuRie will give it a stunning performance. We saw her perform it at West End Eurovision and she’s definitely a safe pair of hands. And lungs.

This never has any particular relation to how the final results will end up, but let’s have a quick look at which songs have received the most looks on YouTube as at this moment now (which is already history) – and the ones that go big are Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Sweden, Norway, France, Austria, Australia, Macedonia, Russia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland, Estonia and Denmark – but exceeding the second placed song by a good ten million it’s that muthabuckin experience from Israel. Make of that what you will.

It merely remains for me to wish you all a happy Eurovision week; don’t overlook the Semi Finals because they’re a vital part of the whole shenanigans. Have a wonderful time and here’s hoping for a 2019 contest from Paris or Copenhagen. (But I fear it will be Oslo.)