Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Quote for Today: Beer Elixir

"Beer was good, he thought. It did as it was asked. In the morning its tang braced his body for the day, sluiced around it, cleaned it out. Before battle it gave him an extra pip of courage. It could make lovemaking more loving, friendship friendlier and even, sometimes, smooth the sharp edges of an argument. And it could, as now, take him into a space where no cares could reach him, insulated as he was, by the God-sent drowse of ale." From Now is the Time by Melvyn Bragg

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Eurovision 2016: Jump(suit) to it

I watched both semi-finals, so that you don't have to, and the findings are that this year's offerings are as kitsch-tastic as ever, but the hosts are more impressive than usual. The crowds love Petra Mede, comedian, dancer, actress and TV presenter, despite the costume designer's best attempts to make her look like a potato. Mans Zelmerlow is a pop singer and presenter, and he seems to know what he's doing too, in a clean-cut Scandinavian sort of way.

We are reminded that the Eurovision Song Contest was created in 1956 to unify Europe after it was torn apart by war. It is suggested that the continent is facing tough times now, and this is an opportunity to put aside differences and 'come together', which is the theme this year. Apparently nothing says unity like leotards, jumpsuits, bare thighs and capes. 

And here are the songs in order:

Here come the Belgians!
  1. Belgium - Laura Tesoro - What's the Pressure: it's always tough to have to start, but Belgium burst on with bubblegum energy; this is a great dance number from everyone's favourite human glitter ball.
  2. Czech Republic - Gabriela Guncikova - I Stand: described as 'like a bride singing at her own wedding'. Someone needs to tell her that letting your hair down doesn't count as a clothing removal, but there is an all-white outfit and a wind machine, so she's having a stab.
  3. The Netherlands - Douwe Bob - Slow Down: Country music cheese probably has a place (Nashville and New Zealand, I believe), but it isn't at Eurovision. The opening line is 'I'm going nowhere and I'm going fast'. Enough said.
  4. Azerbaijan - Samra - Miracle: If I describe this as a karaoke cross between Cher and Shakira, and you get the image of jump suits, long hair, wind machines and reaching for unobtainable notes, then you've got the right idea. She sings, 'It's gonna take a miracle to save us now' and I'm not going to disagree.
  5. Hungary - Freddie - Pioneer: I actually like this song with its Shaolin drumming and Communist-style stomping and clapping from the backing whistlers. Freddie can't afford new jeans or a t-shirt, poor lamb; I feel sorry for him and his sensual eyes under heavy-duty brows.
  6. Italy - Francesca Michelin - No Degree of Separation: True hippy-dippydom with a long-haired centre parting, sparkly dungarees, and a proffered seed at the finish. She seems to believe in herself, which is good.
  7. Israel - Hovi Star - Made of Stars: This song features a giant star-studded hula hoop, containing dancers. Eurovision needs more over-sized pointless props.
  8. Bulgaria - Poli Genova - If Love was a Crime: One of my favourite songs, with the traditional verse, catchy chorus, dance break and sample lyric ' you and me against the world'. 
  9. Sweden - Frans - If I Were Sorry: The home crowd know the words, so they are giving as much support as they can to the bland modern ballad by Mumford's prodigal son.
  10. Germany - Jamie-Lee - Ghost: Great set and standard lyrics, 'Trying to figure out what we've missed?' Um... reality? The K-Pop inspired-songstress might be told that Korea isn't actually in Europe, but don't let that stop you, am I right, Australia? 
  11. France - Amir - J'ai Cherche: Singing the verses in French, the chorus in English, and the whole thing in a too-tight suit and a misplaced confidence in his own abilities, Amir is representing the spirit of Eurovision past.
  12. Poland - Michal Szpak - Colour of Your Life: Sergeant Pepper wants his coat back; the loafers with no socks combo is disturbing; and that hair is crying out for a wind machine. But you can tell it's dramatic because of the string instruments and the key changes (or are they merely modulations?).
  13. Australia - Dami Im - Sound of Silence: The song is fine if you like that sort of belted ballad that passes for music in the commercial conveyor belt of the current singing industry, but the presentation is somewhat lacking. Regardless, they shouldn't be here, so let's return to Europe
  14. Cyprus - Minus One - Alter Ego: Somebody told me that Cyrus are doing The Killers from within cages.
  15. Serbia - Zaa Sanja Vucic - Goodbye (Shelter): If The Spice Girls were leather-clad cyborgs they would sound like this. Songs about domestic violence may have a strong message, but they won't win Eurovision.
  16. Lithuania - Donny Montell - I've Been Waiting for this Night: Points for wearing trousers that actually fit. Yes, the bar is set that low. But he can do a back-flip.
  17. Croatia - Nina Kraljic - Lighthouse: Clothing removal and another all-white outfit; it's all about the dress, which is fortunate, because that song won't stand up by itself.
  18. Russia - Sergey Lazarev - You Are the Only One: The broody Gothic beginning builds to a staccato Kraftwerk-esque number. My silhouette dogs and rabbits look a bit shit now, to be honest. Thanks a lot, Russia! 'Thunder and lightning; it's getting exciting'. Why, yes, yes it is.
  19. Spain - Barei - Say Yay: Turning up straight from bed in a night-shirt and sparkly slippers, she is not so much P!nk as a blushing embarrassment. 
  20. Latvia - Justs - Heartbeat: Three words: dull; dull; dull. Almost interchangeable with Lithuania except his leather jacket is black rather than white.
  21. Ukraine - Jamala - 1944: You know when you go to A&E on a Saturday night and some crazy snaggle-toothed woman with wild hair staggers threateningly towards you shouting in some language that may or may not be English? That's the Ukraine.
  22. Malta - Ira Losco - Walk on Water: There's a creepy stalking bloke doing a tumbleweed impression on the stage - he looks like he may have just wandered in off the street. That poor singer is smiling and struggling on regardless despite the fear in her eyes. Security!
  23. Georgia - Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz - Midnight Gold: An energetic number full of psychedelic fabulosity. I'd go clubbing to that.
  24. Austria - Zoe - Loin d'Ici - That Austrian lass looks like she's sitting on a toilet roll, but she looks so happy and smiling about it. I would tell her that her song is saccharine-coated sh*t, but that would be like strangling a kitten, so I won't.
  25. U.K. - Joe & Jake - You're Not Alone: They look like a couple of lads from down the pub. As a friend mentioned last night, 'Eurovision is not about patriotism', but they were wearing Liverpool shirts in the video intro, so all is forgiven.
  26. Armenia - Ivetta Mukuchyan - Lovewave: With a bit of chat at the beginning, a leotard, lots of leg and hair, this seems to be something for the dads.
Great song Georgia
Once again, I am at odds with the 'judges' and the public. My top 5 were:
  1. Belgium
  2. Georgia
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Russia
  5. Hungary
It was criminal that Bulgaria didn't do better
Meanwhile, these were the 'actual' results (which included a massive discrepancy between the jury votes and tele-votes):
  1. Ukraine
  2. Australia
  3. Russia
  4. Bulgaria
  5. Sweden
Scary Ukrainian woman