Marcia is quite right - it's high time for Scot Goes Pop to revert to being a Eurovision blog for a good few days (albeit a Eurovision blog that reserves the right to immediately drop everything if a new referendum poll is published!). I must say I'm a touch underwhelmed by the standard this year - there are certainly songs that I like, but not a huge number, and there's nothing that has really got under my skin in the way that I Feed You My Love and Crisalide did last year. However, if you go back to virtually every Eurovision that took place up to and including the year 2000, there were rarely more than a tiny handful of good songs, and yet the contest was still a great spectacle in a variety of other ways (the utter chaos of Rome 1991 being my own favourite example), so hopefully that will be the case again this time. I do worry that the semi-finals may drag a little more than in recent years, though.
Of course what any Eurovision fan looks out for in the line-up of entrants is old favourites from the past, and as usual there are a few. Most obviously, Valentina Monetta (aka "the only singer in San Marino") is representing her country for a third year in a row. I would imagine that must be some kind of record - Peter, Sue and Marc famously represented Switzerland four times in the 70s and 80s, but not in consecutive years. Monetta's first two entries couldn't have been more different, which is odd because they were both written by Ralph Siegel. The first was an excruciatingly awful - but strangely compelling - novelty song about Facebook, while the second was the aforementioned Crisalide, a powerful pop ballad which in my opinion ought to have been a strong contender to win the whole contest, but which ultimately failed to even make it out of the semi-final. I'm relieved to say this year's effort Maybe is much closer to being in the Crisalide mould, but it's considerably blander, so logic would suggest it probably isn't going to make it through. Strangely enough, though, it's still one of my six or seven favourite songs in the contest - it's got the slightest hint of a "60s/70s Bond theme" vibe to it.
Also returning - although we won't see them until Thursday's semi - are Romania's Paula Seling and Ovi, who finished third in the contest back in 2010 with the song Playing With Fire (which I seem to remember Doug Daniel saying was just about the best Eurovision song he'd ever heard). This year's entry Miracle doesn't have quite such a strong hook, but it's still got tonnes of energy, and up against an unusually weak field it wouldn't completely surprise me if Romania sneak into the top five again.
And last but not least we have Sweden's Sanna Nielsen, who has never actually appeared at Eurovision before, but who has nevertheless been associated with the contest for years and years due to her multiple attempts to win Melodifestivalen - a massive annual Swedish television event in its own right, but which doubles up as the Eurovision national selection. (Although she came closest in 2008 with Empty Room, the one that sticks in my mind the most is Du Och Jag Mot Världen in 2005 - and she certainly looked a bit different back then!) Not only did she finally seize the Melodifestivalen crown this year with Undo, but she's also rated by the bookies as one of only two entries with a serious chance of winning Eurovision. The other is Armenia, which I've listened to a number of times and somehow can't quite picture as a winner - I think the style of the song is going to divide opinion too much. So almost by default I've come to the conclusion that Sanna Nielsen will probably emerge victorious.
In many ways, that wouldn't be great news for the contest, because it would mean a third Scandinavian winner in a row, and the second Swedish win in three years. However, maybe my expectations will be different after watching the semi-finals, and there's always a chance of a slightly weaker song coming out of nowhere to win on the basis of some inspired staging, as Latvia did in 2002 and Azerbaijan did in 2011.
So here's my prediction for the ten qualifiers from tonight's first semi...
Near certainties :
Fairly likely :
I'm not at all sure about these but I'll have a punt :
That would mean San Marino, Latvia (who are singing a song about baking a cake), Belgium, Portugal, Moldova and Albania all missing out. Of those six, probably Belgium are the most likely to make it through - it's an intensely irritating song, but it does have a big finish. In my personal opinion San Marino, Portugal and Albania all thoroughly deserve a place in the final, but I just can't see it happening unless the juries go for them very heavily.
Marcia pointed out the other day that everyone's new favourite Tory astroturfing campaign 'Vote No Borders' were tragically too late to put forward Flowers of the Union as the UK's Eurovision entry, although of course we shouldn't entirely exclude the possibility that Children of the Universe was originally entitled Children of the United Kingdom before falling foul of the EBU's rules on political lyrics. But it set me thinking about previous Eurovision songs that extolled the virtues of Europe as a united entity - perhaps those could have provided some kind of model for our anti-independence friends? Take for example the Irish entry from 1990, which managed to finish joint second mainly by name-checking pretty much every country in western Europe...
"Don't you remember those Adriatic days?
I miss your laughter and all your little ways
I can still see you in London, walking on Trafalgar Square
And drinking wine in Old Seville, how I wish that we were there
Meet me in Paris on a Champs Élysées night
We could be in Rome again, 'neath the Trevi fountain light
We should be together, maybe we just might
If you could only meet me somewhere in Europe tonight"
A Rory Stewart twist on that song might have reminded us that the 'baa' noise that sheep make in Lanarkshire is uncannily similar to the 'baa' noise that sheep make in Lancashire, before building up to this rousing chorus -
"So I've driven all the way from Penicuik to Hull
Oooh yeah baby, just to get it through your skull
That I don't really care where you hold my hand
Just so long as it's somewhere in the Middleland"
* * *
Sticking to a musical theme, you might remember that at the end of Celtic Connections I mentioned a band called The Cask, who were brave enough to perform a song at the Danny Kyle Open Stage that explicitly called for a Yes vote in the independence referendum. Well, Michael McElligott (who wrote the song) got in touch with me the other day to mention that he's just made a studio recording of it. I've had a listen, and it's rather wonderful. I'm not sure whether I was being given permission to post the sound file here, so to be on the safe side I'd better not, but it'll be available on iTunes soon. Be sure to look out for it - it's called Make Alba Shine.