Saturday, May 29, 2010

Eurovision 2010 prediction : the final

I really don't know whether to laugh or cry when I hear Pete Waterman claim that the Eurovision song he's penned for the UK has "every chance" of winning. I can understand how he might just have been labouring under that delusion back in March, but to still feel able to say that after having heard the competition demonstrates that he just never really 'got' Eurovision. Doubtless when the UK finishes somewhere in the bottom five (very possibly last) Pete will claim - as others have before him - to be utterly bemused, and put it all down to the bloc voting. And, to be fair, he might even be half-right if he does - but the bottom line is that Jade Ewen, Jessica Garlick and Imaani have all demonstrated that the UK's in-built disadvantage in the televoting age can be overcome with the right song and the right performance. Neither will be on offer this time.

In a sense, Waterman's comments are a classic case of putting 2 and 2 together and making 22, because he was clearly aware that Azerbaijan were the favourites, and after hearing their underwhelming performance in the semi-final instantly concluded that all bets are off. Well, he's maybe being wildly optimistic about the implications for the UK, but he's certainly bang on the money in his assessment of Azerbaijan - it really isn't looking like a winner, even taking into account the reports of an improved rehearsal. The early results from Esctoday's prediction poll seem to suggest that Armenia are poised to pick up the pieces - as I mentioned last night, I'm not convinced, but given its highly favourable draw, it certainly can't be ruled out.

At this point I could pray in aid the fact that I correctly predicted the winner in both 2008 and 2009, but those were both total no-brainers compared to this year. But I shan't be daunted - here's my wild stab in the dark of how I think it might all shake out...

Winners - Germany
2nd - Turkey
3rd - Romania
4th - Armenia
5th - Iceland

Possible dark horses - Denmark, Belgium

My gut feeling immediately after the second semi was that Turkey might just sneak it, but the glowing accounts of Germany's latest rehearsal have given me second thoughts. Lena could hardly have a better draw, and the song is going to stand out an absolute mile. But really there are half-a-dozen or more potential winners, and it's anyone's guess.

In my heart of hearts I don't really believe Denmark are going to come close to winning, but I do think you can just about build a plausible case for it. The song (which admittedly many people loathe) has a kind of I've Had The Time Of My Life vibe about it, which means performing last ought to be the dream draw. But to have any chance they'll have to nail every aspect of the performance - the vocals were fine in the semi-final, but the visual side still lacked a bit of sparkle compared to the Danish national selection.

Other intriguing questions - who will the UK vote for? The reintroduction of the juries complicates matters, but when we eventually see the televoting breakdowns, I'll be very surprised on past form if the British public haven't put one of the following countries in first place (admittedly I haven't a clue which one!) - Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Iceland or Cyprus.

As for me, I'll be following my long-standing personal rule and voting for my favourite of the songs not sung in English, which gives me a staggering total of six to choose from! I'm pretty sure that means I'll be voting for Portugal for the third year in a row.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Your breasts are a deadly weapon, Ljubica

Well, actually that's a line from the Serbian song that qualified on Tuesday night, but it could also very aptly apply to the Armenian singer, whose performance tonight bizarrely started with an extreme close-up of her bosom. It evidently did the trick. A more (well, even more) wholesome highlight of the evening was Niamh Kavanagh's amazing performance for Ireland - the song has improved out of all recognition since the national selection, but she could have been singing the Dublin telephone directory and it would still have sounded fantastic. She's certainly the class singer of the field, as she was all those years ago in Millstreet. I can't believe that some people on the forums are denouncing her performance - pulling out of the last note slightly early hardly negates the whole of the previous three minutes.

The only other standout performances from my point of view were Romania and Turkey. My general impression is that it was a weaker show than Tuesday's, which is peculiar given that it had a larger concentration of the generally favoured songs. Israel and Azerbaijan may have made it safely through, but I'm not sure either are really looking like potential winners anymore. So where does that leave us? If the bookies are to be believed, the next most likely winners are Germany, Armenia and Turkey. With all due respect to Armenia's Eva Rivas, I'm not sure her bosom (or even her apricot stone) is quite that dangerous, and while I love the German song, I'm not sure how well it's going to translate on stage. So my gut feeling at the moment is that Eurovision might just be Istanbul-bound for the second time in seven years. But the great thing is that - unlike the last couple of years - it looks very open and unpredictable for Saturday night.

As for my prediction...well, eight out of ten wasn't at all bad given the two shocks that very few people seemed to anticipate - the failure of both Sweden and Croatia to qualify. Bizarre though it may seem, I actually voted for Israel and the Netherlands - if I'd been voting 'honestly' I would of course have gone for Ireland, but as I've mentioned in previous years, I have a personal rule of only voting for entries sung entirely in a language other than English. As ghastly as the Netherlands' song was, I thought they deserved some reward for an endearing performance, and for doing what I never thought they'd do again - singing in Dutch!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Eurovision 2010 prediction : Thursday's semi-final

Oooh, this is a tricky one - I think I'll struggle to repeat the nine out of ten I got right on Tuesday! The second semi, on the face of it, contains three entries that ought to be a class apart - namely Azerbaijan, Denmark and Switzerland. So reading through the reflections of those at the rehearsals it's been somewhat startling to discover that Switzerland are as good as being discounted, Denmark are regarded as struggling to qualify, and even Azerbaijan - the bookies' favourites to win the contest outright - are not seen as certain qualifiers. Having had a look at some of the rough recordings of the rehearsals on YouTube, I must say I can't really see what the problem is with Switzerland - the vocals seem as strong as on the studio version, although admittedly the backing singers maybe aren't quite up to scratch (to my mind that was Selma's main problem when she unexpectedly came a cropper in 2005). But perhaps this is a moment to believe in the wisdom of crowds - the thumbs-down for Switzerland seems so widespread, there must be a fundamental problem with the song or the performance that I just can't see. So I've struck them off my list of potential qualifiers.

As for Denmark, the rehearsals do seem a little underwhelming - but they weren't that bad, and with the quality of the song my gut feeling is they'll just about scrape through. I think Azerbaijan will qualify as well, although it's very hard to see them winning the contest now. Another difficult one to call is Georgia - I don't rate the song at all, but I've given them the nod on the basis of aesthetics (never to be underestimated at Eurovision). So my prediction for the ten qualifiers goes like this -


Speaking as quite possibly the world's only joint Eurovision/Scottish nationalist blogger, I of course can't let the long-overdue appearance of a Scottish performer on the Eurovision stage pass without mention. The individual in question will naturally be performing for...Cyprus. This will be the first Scottish involvement in the contest since 1996, when the brilliant Karen Matheson (of Capercaillie fame) sang for...France.

It's worth noting that the last Scot to actually sing for the UK - you know, that country we're allegedly part of - was Scott Fitzgerald some twenty-two years ago. Even more startlingly, of the dozens of acts to have appeared in UK national selections since 1997, just one has been Scottish.

The 'Union Dividend' in action!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Cinderella Eurovision

What is it about Albania and the Eurovision? Every December they unveil their entry for the following year's contest far earlier than other countries, and with few exceptions it usually sounds pretty ropey. But at some point between then and May, magic dust is sprinkled, the fairy godmother waves her wand, and it transpires that the Cinderella of the Balkans shall be going to the ball after all. You hear their entry again, and it's hard to believe it's the exact same song as the disaster area you first encountered before Christmas.

But Albania wasn't alone in exhibiting a Cinderella effect in last night's first semi-final - which is just as well, as on the basis of the national selections this had been shaping up to be one of the lowest-quality contests in a good few years. If Thursday's semi follows a similar pattern, it looks like it might just be all right on the night come Saturday. In particular, Norway are doing themselves proud as hosts - pulling off the ingenious masterstroke of using presenters who look like they might actually have hosted television programmes once or twice before.

As for the results, I'm pleased that my prediction for the ten qualifiers was almost spot-on - the one blemish was that I had Finland pencilled in instead of Moldova. I'm particularly delighted to have been right about Portugal, as I feared my heart might have been ruling my head on that one. My biggest disappointments were seeing Slovakia and Malta fail to progress - I hadn't rated Malta previously, but it was a strong performance on the night. It's slightly galling to see Russia (as usual) go through in the place of those superior entries, but I'm not remotely surprised - 50% jury voting was never going to make more than a small dent in the traditional political voting from Estonia, Latvia, Moldova and Belarus.

Performance of the night - Iceland, by a country mile. I'm beginning to toy with the possibility they might just have a chance of winning - but then I have a feeling I probably did the same with the song's alter ego two years ago (ultimately it finished well down the leaderboard in the final).

Not even 55% correct, Mr. Maude

On Newsnight tonight, Francis Maude became the latest in a string of coalition politicians to blatantly misrepresent the rules governing the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament, suggesting that they are analogous to what is being proposed for Westminster. When is someone going to call them out on this? Ed Balls seemed set to do it, but instead he just came out with a load of waffle about how Holyrood is elected by PR, and that in some unspecified way this makes all the difference. The actual salient point is that, in practice, only a simple majority is required to bring about a dissolution of the Scottish Parliament. Not 55%, and certainly not 66%. If a government is brought down by losing a confidence vote, there is a window of opportunity for a new First Minister to be elected - if this doesn't happen, an 'extraordinary general election' is automatically triggered. The 66% threshold only applies when a dissolution is sought in other circumstances - and it's quite hard to imagine what those would be.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Eurovision 2010 prediction : Tuesday's semi-final

Well, what with all the excitement of the general election (for 'excitement' read 'unremitting gloom') I've shamefully neglected the Eurovision season this year. But I couldn't let the contest go by without at least pitting my wits against other bloggers in the prediction stakes. At this stage two years ago, I correctly predicted all ten qualifiers from the first semi-final (I may possibly have mentioned this once or twice before). Not so hot last year, but seven out of ten was respectable enough. Let's see how I get on this time - in no particular order, these are the ten countries I think will make it through tonight...


I wouldn't have given Finland a prayer when I first heard the song, but I'm guessing the vibrant visual performance and the song's distinctiveness might well be enough. Iceland deserves to fall flat on its face after entering a near carbon-copy of their 2008 effort This Is My Life, but of course almost by definition it has a similar appeal to that song, so I suspect we'll be seeing it again on Saturday night.

As for me - well, for a third year in a row, my heart seems to be with Portugal. I've never even been to Portugal...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Alistair Carmichael's legacy to his constituency : abolition

Interesting to read in this article that the coalition's plans for a 10% reduction in the number of MPs and for "more equally-sized constituencies" do not, at least at present, provide any exemptions for obvious special cases, such as island communities. Tellingly, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight - where electors are in principle under-represented due to the size of the constituency - is campaigning against the move, on the grounds of a loss of identity. But what about the other end of the spectrum, where the inhabitants of Scotland's furthest-flung island communities face being swallowed up into mammoth constituencies, incorporating chunks of the mainland with which they have little direct connection?

I can understand that the Liberal Democrats wouldn't give a monkey's about the demise of the SNP-Labour battleground seat of Na h-Eileanan an Iar (although they might feel differently if Angus MacNeil gets the better of the Lib Dems in any newly-merged seat). But what about Orkney and Shetland, a rock solid Liberal seat even in the wilderness years? The islanders finally get their local MP into government after all these decades, and the 'power dividend' is...swift abolition. Nice work, Mr Carmichael.