Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Eurovision's Greatest Hits - review

The below is my thoughts of my experiences last night at the Hammersmith Apollo for Eurovision's Greatest Hits, the EBU/BBC production for the 60th anniversary of the contest. It was a delightful evening, and I'm so pleased to have seen so many winners and stars sing their songs in the flesh.

First up, I'll say that it was a remarkably high-quality production. Visually it looked amazing in the theatre, and I hope that comes across the TV. Certainly doesn't suggest that the BBC 'don't care' about Eurovision, and I'm sure if they hosted any time soon they'd make a great job of it.

The make-up of the audience was very interesting. I was expecting it to be mainly 'people like us', i.e. very dedicated fans, mainly gays. But it really wasn't. There was a real mixture of people, at least up where we were; probably about a 60/40 gender split, plenty of husband/wife couples and groups of girls. I did get the impression there were a decent amount of 'new' fans, the Australian girls in front of us being a key example of this - jumping up and screaming for clips of the more fun entries, particularly Verka and Jedward, loving Conchita and dancing to the older, more 'stereotypical' winners, but having no idea and not caring abouts acts like Anne-Marie David and Natasha St-Pier.

You could very much tell how many die-hard fans were there when Petra offered us 'a warm hello'. About 50 people got the joke.

Okay, on to the acts (from here there are a few spoilers, so avoid if you don't want to know what happens).

Firstly Electro Velvet, who performed as part of the warm-up act, in what I think was a very good decision, to give them as much opportunity as possible to perform in front of large, loud audiences. In all honesty, it wasn't easy to hear their performance as the sound wasn't great at this point, but I thought note-wise it was fine, but Bianca in particular was struggling with the song's long phrases by the end, sounding weak and trying to catch breath. If they can't sort this out, I'm seeing a very low position for this in Vienna.

Emmelie de Forest

A good choice to go on first - sang well, got a decent reaction without anyone really loving it, I felt.

Anne Marie David
One that I wasn't necessarily expecting much from, having heard clips of some of her performances at fan events in recent years, but she was excellent. A 50/50 version of the song, which was quite delightful to hear, and the big finish we're all used to.

This is one of those songs that really isn't very good, but is very fun. And it was tonight. Full marks to them for still being able to do the dance routine. Completely in English except for the last chorus, if I remember correctly.

Dana International
Ouch. Flat *and* out of time with the band (everything tonight was played live by a band on-stage). This was more the 2011 Dana than the 1998 Dana.

It seems the only language versions Nicole can remember now are English, German and Italian. She milked her applause for rather too long and had to be gently encouraged to leave the stage by a stage-hand.

Brotherhood of Man
I thought I hated Save Your Kisses for Me. I really quite enjoyed it this evening, and so did the crowd.

A medley of La La La, Vivo Cantando, Eres tu and Europe's Living a Celebration. She clearly hates the latter.

Olsen Brothers
Amazing to consider this was 100/1 in Eurovision week back in 2000. They got everyone singing along, and visually it was very good too, the first to have a real visual show (which meant aaaages beforehand waiting for it to be set up). I'm just a little disappointed we weren't told that we were the greatest public they'd ever had.

Here was a surprise. We got a proper interval act, with Riverdance. I still don't care about Irish dancing, but the Riverdance song is excellent.

In the actual interval (a 15 minute break) they played other interval songs over the PA, including Rainmaker and Free, which I thought was a cute touch.

A sensible choice after the break, both for giving them time to set everything up, and for getting the audience back into the show again. Obviously went down brilliantly with the audience, and everything smelt slightly of burning.

Natasha St-Pier
A very good performance (switching to English from the second verse), but somehow very underwhelming. A decent amount of people clearly didn't care, and you could hear people talking during this.

Dima Bilan
Firstly, the boos. They started as soon as Petra introduced Russia, and were clearly about Russia, rather than Bilan. They tried filming the intro again (cleverly going into it quickly after some applause to not give the audience chance to boo), but I suspect it might need some over-dubbing. Bilan himself was fine, a medley of his winner and second placed entry. I thought it was a little underwhelming - again, clearly one of the least known and liked songs among the audience.

Fully in Norwegian except the last chorus. A lot of fun as always, and probably a good choice to get things back on to a positive note after Russia.

Fabulous performance with lots of people tangled in sheets. Probably the biggest reaction of the night.

Johnny Logan
A medley of all three of his winners, all of which I love, and another good reaction.

After Johnny Logan we went up to Graham Norton in the crowd, who was interviewing Lys Assia. They had two or three goes at this, partly because Lys wasn't sticking to the script, and partly because the tiara they'd got for her was too small. It'll be interesting to see how much of this ends up in the final cut.

Incidentally, while they were filming Lys, they were setting for Conchita, and something on the stage caught fire. This meant we got to watch a video of the New Seekers while they replaced the pyro element on stage.

Conchita Wurst
Predictably fabulous. Great vocals and fire around her (which seemed a bit lame from above, but will probably look great on TV). Had an interview with Petra and Graham afterwards, the only one to do so, where she plugged her new album and introduced a video message from the Vienna hosts. I don't know what they said, because the Australian girl in front of me 'fucking hates the one on the right'. I never fully established why.

After this we got a 'special surprise', and Anne Marie David came on singing Hallelujah. After a verse and chorus we segued into Herrey's singing Volare. I assumed at this point that each of the acts were going to contribute to this medley, but no. After Volare we got something I can't remember, and then Dana International and Conchita came on together singing Waterloo, joined by all of the other acts singing together for the finale.

All in all, I really enjoyed the evening. I was worried it was going to be a little half-arsed and crap, but it really wasn't. I felt like there was a great atmosphere and everyone was genuinely having fun.

And they played Contrazt at the after-party!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Austria won!! The internet says so.

You -may- have heard it somewhere else already, but we can confirm it: All over Russia people are shaving their beards.

But we also want congratulate Austria with their second win, after 48 years! In what was one of the closest votings in years, Conchita Wurst emerged victorious and brought the trophy to the alpine country.

What remains after this fabulous 59th edition is to minimise the onset of Post-Eurovision Depression (P.E.D.). That black hole with a nagging lack of glitter, key change and television shows with snazzy led-backgrounds.

A good way to counter the ill effects of P.E.D. is of course to rewatch some of the shows.
You can always rewatch it through, a stream without commentary, but you may also enjoy the Irish commentary. You can rewatch that for the next fortnight via their service.
If anyone has access to it, we are VERY interested in the Australian commentary, with comedienne Julia Zemiro. So let us know!

Apart from watching endless repeats of your favourite event, you can also relisten to the special online radio channel BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, with many interviews and of course lots of Eurovision music. But be quick, it'll all be over in one week.

It can also be interesting to read what the rest of world thinks of Eurovision.
Some do give the facts a cringing spin, such as HBO's Last Week Tonight.

Oh well. At least he introduces Eurovision to a wider audience, which is always a plus. Also doing their bit to make Eurovision better known across the pond, is Buzzfeed. You may remember them from their hilarious post about the 2013 contest. The 11 Most Absurd Moments Of Eurovision 2013 And their general post about Eurovision in general. Everything Non-Europeans Need To Know About Eurovision This year, they also had a go and it's nice to see that they genuinely love it! 30 Amazing Things I Learnt At Eurovision 2014 The website also reviewed a few of this year's entries, though not as much as last year.

Another guide about Eurovision comes from TheWire, where they give the average, unsuspecting American a crash course to our beloved contest. They also had someone writing a liveblog during this year's final, which you can re-read here. And then there's those who just want to have a laugh. Dutch had a field week and his Conchita-montage was the one of the funniest on the web. Flemish comedy collective Neveneffecten had some current affairs fun too, as Vladimir Putin was secretly filmed at home. We're still waiting for Scandinavia and The World to make their annual Eurovision comic. This one's from last year. (EDIT: They have finally released it!!) For more snigger-reading there's several tens of thousands of #Eurovision tweets to go through. If you find any gold nuggets there, please post them under this article or on the Messageboard! Finally we'd like to thank you, dear reader, for visiting our little live blog from Copenhagen. We hope you enjoyed our reporting as much as we enjoyed writing it. If you're new to our website, please discover our message board. It is a very active little community, teeming with life even during the looming off-season, and it is THE BEST remedy against any bout of P.E.D. and helps to bridge the coming quiet months. Before you know it, the 2015 on-season will be here again, and our team will be ready to report from Austria! Until then, good bye!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

And the final prediction for 2014!

So, with just over 15 minutes until the scheduled start of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014, coming to your screens direct from the B&W Hallarne in Copenhagen, Denmark, I thought it may be appropriate to try and give my (as much as possible) unbiased opinion and thought about the placing of the countries in tonight's show. As history has proven time and time again, this is not my strongest point in the least and I normally manage to fair shockingly badly on this - maybe something to think about for your last minute bets! Whatever I write, make sure you bet against!

So, after nearly two full weeks of rehearsals, of technical failures, of late busses, of more rehearsals, utter joy and sad disappointment for semi-finalists, what have I learnt?

I might be wishful thinking here (not that it would make any difference to me since apparently Maastricht is already being mentioned as a location - which would mean not able to stay at home if it did). I do however think it a strong song and one cannot disregard the monumental shortening of the odds after the semi-final.

United Kingdom
Although many British members of the accredited press seem to be annoyed at the fact that Molly has been selected to close the show, I believe this may be a stroke of genius. Maybe if the Netherlands was in the first half it could have made all the difference but I still think a good second place for the Union Jack is quite credible.

I feel this entry may have been dismissed by some of the betting population. It also comes from a country which always has very strong showings in the contest - and it cannot be just due to some unproven less than savoury stunts by some of their supporters. This year they have an excellent song and something for people to really go after.

Another strong Eurovision nation and another good song. Tipped by the bookies to be the winner of tonight, I believe it may not make it that far - even though the betting odds have been quite accurate for the past few years. I am sure of a top 5 finish, and a very likely 4th place in my books.

And to close my top 5, Conchita Wurst will Rise like a Phoenix. Unfortunately I don't think that there will be enough votes coming from some of the more conservative nations tonight to be able to clinch the top spot however a top five showing is quite deserved.

Unfortunately I cannot show explain each of the 26 so the rest will just be placed in my predictive order.




San Marino

Naturally some very scientific conclusions as to the reasons why I placed some of these countries in the place that I have. We shall see how much Europe and myself agree in about three and a half hours.

It's nearly time!

It's Eurovision today!

I've been getting 8 qualifiers right in both semis, and my wild prediction of Belgium not qualifying - let's see how I'll fare tonight... This is what I think, with some comments to spice it up.

1 SWEDEN Still not at all sure about this, but I'm confident it'll do very well with both televoters and juries, which I can imagine might be enough - even if she doesn't win either.
2 NETHERLANDS I did a ridiculous tiny bet of the well-that's-clearly-not-going-to-happen-but-it's-a-very-good-song-and-its-odds-are-201 on this a few weeks ago. Who knew everyone else would follow suit? :-o
3 AZERBAIJAN Still my favourite of all 37, it's a wonderful breath of fresh air, and should do well even with a less than ideal draw. Assume it will get the usual amount of Azerbaijan televotes, as well as quite a bit of jury votes all across.
4 DENMARK Has plummeted down on oddschecker, but I'm not sure why... Is there something hideous happening in rehearsals that I've missed the reports on? If not, it still sounds like a bouncy, happy delight with a great draw to me.
5 AUSTRIA I actually put this in 5th already in my pre-rehearsal prediction, simply in lack of something else, but all of a sudden, it's starting to look likely. And I've always thought it was a very good song, so why not?
8 ARMENIA Did not come across at all as well in the semi as I expected - can't see this troubling the top, but should still do reasonably well.
10 SWITZERLAND Erk. Don't like it, didn't think it'd qualify, but it did work better than expected on stage. And it seems to be doing surprisingly well on various iTunes charts across Europe. Could there be something in the waters...?
12 SLOVENIA A risky guess, this. Could still easily end up last, really. Assuming it'd have to rely heavily on jury support to come anywhere near here.
14 NORWAY Quite sure Carl Espen isn't going to come anywhere near where he was expected to a few months ago, and wouldn't really be at all shocked if it went all Tooji, but it does still seem to have a certain support from some. Basically, I think it'll pass most by, but those that do like it seem to like it a lot.
15 SPAIN Could end up anywhere between 4th and 26th, really...
16 POLAND Similarly, nooo idea about these boobs and things. Glad it's in the final, though!
17 ITALY Such a good artist, and then she brings that rather nothingness of a song, and also seems to not be performing it particularly well. Could we see Italy get their worst ever result in placing, worsening Domenico Modugno's joint 17th in 1966? Pretty sure it'll get more points than he did, though.
18 MALTA I couldn't care less, so 18th it is.
19 RUSSIA Worked far better on stage than i expected, even if it was all rather ridiculous (GOD, the HAIR thing!), but still, it's a massive pile of nothing.
20 FINLAND It's solid and competent, as well as quite different to all the others, but somehow still doesn't really stand out.
22 BELARUS Yami's cheesecake was noms. This entry kinda was too, surprisingly. But it's all a bit like CHA CHA HEY last year - makes perfect sense as a qualifier, but who's going to vote for it once it's here?
24 UKRAINE I really have no faith in this at all. It might be because I think it's frightfully dull and uninteresting, and with a total nothing of a melody, though...
26 GERMANY Too obvious to actually come last, so surely it'll be 25th instead.

Have a ball tonight, boys and girls and kittens and cheesecakes! May the best or thereabouts win - and if that could be Netherlands, for instance... oktxbai

"THE ODDS! THE ODDS! BETTING!" - A Gambler's Guide to the ESC Grand Final

It's only blooming Eurovision final day! And once again, those of us who like to place a bet or two on Europe's premier music festival find ourselves faced with the knowledge that surprises can happen at any time. Not that everyone had Israel down as a safe qualifier, but Mei's fine failure on Thursday was predicted by relatively few - although I do find myself with a certain sense of déjà vu here, having said something similar about Moran Mazor at this point in last year's proceedings.

With that in mind, then, how best to navigate the many and varied betting markets for tonight's grand final? This blog aims to provide you with a modest overview of the available options - based, as always, on the comprehensive Oddschecker mini-site (which you can find here) and using the odds at the time this post was published, which could still change substantially between now and the winner being crowned in Copenhagen!

The winner market is where we begin, of course, since it's where comfortably the most money is placed by fans and non-fans alike. The semi-finals have led to some huge and unexpected movements, backing up a theory I and many observers have had for a while: namely that the early favourite status enjoyed by Armenia was merely the result of local and ex-pat money being placed, coupled with a sense that the market "needed" a clear favourite à la Loreen and Emmelie. Aram was overtaken by the Common Linnets almost as soon as the first semi was over, and Conchita Wurst has since joined the ranks of the favourites too. The Dutch and Austrian entries are generally trading at a price of around 4.5 right now, just behind favourite Sweden at a best price 3.75 - with Armenia having slipped as far as 11 with some bookmakers following the announcement of the final running order.

As for where to place your money, you don't need me to tell you who to tip for the win tonight, but Denmark is surely an interesting each-way candidate at generous odds of 41 with Coral, while a best price of 14 for the UK is one of the more realistic appraisals of a British entry for some time (assuming you don't buy into the theory that the last starting position in a 26-song field is automatically fatal - which, in turn, might depend on whether you're a Ryan Dolan fan or a member of Team #HiPasha).

The rank outsiders according to the bookmakers are Slovenia, Montenegro, Belarus and San Marino, with odds ranging from 201 to 501 depending on who you ask. Two of those have pretty nice starting positions, granted, but now is probably not the time to be betting the house on a trip to Ljubljana in May 2015.

Most interesting of all might be Hungary at 26 with Bwin or at 17 with various sites that allow each-way bets. Tonight may (and probably will) prove me wrong, but I still have a general sense that Hungary is a little underrated: one of the few truly contemporary pop songs in the competition and with an effective visual performance, if you want to apply broad stereotypes (and they can be useful sometimes), it has a darkness that should play well with the "east" married with an urban sensibility that could fly in more northern/western parts of the continent.

That's why, with its healthy spot in the running order as an additional factor, I think 3.5 for Hungary to finish in the top four is a tempting bet. There's a similar if less persuasive case to be made for the friendly entry from Malta, which might catch fire and return you a tidy sum from its current odds of 9 for a top four finish. On the other hand, if you're versed in the ways of Betfair, you might want to consider "laying" (i.e. betting against) Sweden, Austria or the Netherlands for a top four finish - with Conchita in particular, there's a distinct sense that people are betting so heavily on the entry because they want it to do well and because it's being talked about, but talk isn't the same thing as cold, hard votes. In any case, you can more than double your money with a successful bet against any of the current "big three" in the betting.

You might want to save your Maltese pennies for the top ten finish market, where Firelight look very good value at odds of 3.25 to approximately repeat Gianluca's impressive result from last year. Alternatively, if you believe in the chances of the lady who kindly donated her lyric to the title of this post, you can get 3.25 for Spain's Ruth Lorenzo to repeat the Pastora Soler trick and squeeze into the top ten. Other interesting nibbles include seasoned professionals Paula and Ovi from Romania (4) and the charmer of the second semi-final, Switzerland's Sebalter (4.33), who also benefits from an optimal starting position.

Or if you're willing to play the shorter odds, you can get 1.6 and 1.7 respectively for near-permanent top tenners Greece and actually-permanent top tenners Azerbaijan, both of whom are probably trading at a higher than expected prices because of their early positions in the running order. On the flip side, if you really don't believe that Sweden's Sanna Nielsen will end up in the top ten, Bwin will give you odds of 9 or so for her to miss out, and similar markets and prices are available elsewhere. Never be afraid to make "negative" bets - they're often my biggest money-spinners, simply because sometimes it's easier to say what won't happen than what will!

Unlike in the semi-finals, there's no shortage of niche markets when it comes to the Eurovision final. Most interesting of all might be the geographical markets, where the bookmakers offer odds on the country that will finish the highest among a certain subset of countries. Take the so-called "top Balkan" market, for example: Montenegro and Slovenia (each 13) are the understandable outsiders here, but the short price on Greece (1.44) means that you might be interested in the only other country in the group, Romania, which currently has odds of 4.33.

Hungary again seems to be the value bet in "Central Europe", effectively being offered at 3.75 to beat Austria (OK, OK, and the others in its group too - namely Switzerland, Germany and Poland). The "Nordic" market is as you might expect, with Sweden clearly leading the way, while the "Southern Europe" betting is split quite evenly between Spain, Malta and Italy - so if you're a firm believer in the chances of one of those entries in particular, that might be an easy way to make a few euros. Finally, I have to highlight what's being called the "Eastern Europe" market, where the perceived strength of Armenia (1.53), Ukraine (2.75) and, to a lesser extent, Azerbaijan (7) means that the country with easily the most favourable draw of the group and arguably the most reliable "neighbourly voting" strength - Russia - is currently trading at a remarkable 19. I'm not saying they will come out on top of that particular battle, but they've got to be worth a look at that price...

A further category is the top big five entry, and Molly from the UK is the clear, clear favourite here at odds of 1.67. Again, this means big money if you're a backer of one of the other nations that are considered to be indispensable to the event, whether that's Emma from Italy (10) or Elaiza from Germany (21). Alternatively, if you believe in the overall strength of the big five plus Denmark but you don't want to pin yourself down to a single country, Bwin will currently give you odds of 9.00 for any of the automatic finalists to win. If nothing else, if you're planning on betting on the UK for victory at odds of 12, you might as well take this bet instead - it's almost the same price and you get bets on Basim, Ruth, Emma and co. as a safety net!

At the other end of the scale, we all enjoy a glorious failure, but at the time of writing only a few sites are offering odds on last place. Perhaps understandably, the field is headed by San Marino at 5, followed by Germany (6), Belarus (6) and France (10). By contrast, you can currently get odds of 2501 (!) at Boylesports for Sweden, Austria or the Netherlands to finish last. It won't happen, of course, but it's notable for being the largest price I've seen for any single Eurovision-related outcome for a while!

What the market for last place doesn't tell us is whether the last-placer will score nul points. As usual, and as recent history tells us, the simple answer here is that it's highly unlikely: you'll get odds of 6.5 for there to be a zero-scorer in tonight's final, with just 1.14 available if you're sure that everyone will get points.

Bwin also offer numerous head-to-heads. These allow you to bet specifically on one country beating another one, irrespective of where they end up on the scoreboard generally. For example, you can get 2.10 for the intimacy of the Netherlands to beat the carefully crafted impact of Sweden, while 3.00 says that Greece will "rise up" and finish higher than Armenia. Denmark is generally a little underrated for a mainstream pop song with an excellent draw, trading at 3.00 to beat the Netherlands and 4.00 to beat neighbour Sweden. For me, though, the outstanding head-to-head is Azerbaijan vs. Ukraine - both have unfavourable early draws, yet somehow last year's runner-up Azerbaijan with its reliable voting friends is considered the clear outsider, and you can currently get odds of 2.70 for "Start A Fire" to finish ahead of "Tick Tock". That must be worth a little look regardless of whatever sympathy votes may flow Mariya's way.

The final question we'll address here is one that might determine whether tonight's voting sequence is a thriller or an hour of relative boredom: namely the winning margin. Several sites are offering odds on this key question - but as you'll see, the categories they use for carving up the figures are all slightly different, making it more or less impossible to compare them directly. Nevertheless, take a look for yourself at Oddschecker and see if anything jumps out at you!

Believe it or not, even at the end of this long and rambling post, we've really only scratched the surface of the countless ways there are for you to both win and lose money tonight. Still, this has hopefully made things a little clearer, and the aforementioned Oddschecker will help you to navigate your way around the various markets. However you choose to spend your time and your hard-earned cash, may you have a wonderful Eurovision night, may the best song win (hah!), and may your betting account be a little fuller at the end of it all. Have fun!