Friday 31 January 2014

A festival of melody!

The Eurovision season is about to fully kick off. This weekend Finland and Switzerland choose their songs for Copenhagen. The big news is of course the first heat in the Swedish Eurovision selection process, Melodifestivalen!

For those of you who have been living in a cave, Melodifestivalen is the mother of all Eurovision selection programmes. In total there are six live shows featuring some of the biggest names in the Swedish music industry. Melodifestival is a truly remarkable television format, creating dozens of hits every year and is a huge money-spinner for the Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

Some criticise Melodifestivalen music, "it's the same old Swedish schlager", and I used to be one of them. However this is a show for Swedish audiences, it's what works over there and the viewing figures confirm this. Melodifestivalen is the biggest show of the year in Sweden, even bigger than Eurovision itself! Of course some fans like anything Swedish, that'll probably never change. However as a person that falls in love with anything Estonian, I'm not one to judge.

There are some big names lined up for 2014 - Yohio, Shirley Clamp, Linda Bengtzing, Sanna Nielsen are competing against Martin Stenmarck who won MF in 2005 and represented Sweden in Kyiv. The one to watch and the news story of the year is the return of Helena Paparizou, who won Eurovision for Greece in 2005. Helena is a Swedish Greek and it seems only fitting that in these times, where immigration is such an abrasive subject, that there are positive representations of immigrants. Helena sees no issue in representing Sweden after having won for Greece. Good for her.

Something like MF is unlikely to work in the UK, although it shows that it's possible to produce hits on the back of a song contest which takes place once a year... Broadcasters in other countries might do well to sit up and take note. Regardless of the musical merit of Melodifestivalen, it's an impressive television format, long may it continue!

Wednesday 29 January 2014

"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon!"

Those were the wise words used by Ingvild Bryn to describe the voting at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest. As some of you know, I ran the London Marathon last year for a small charity called Leukaemia Care. I am so grateful for all the support, encouragement and sponsorship I received - I raised nearly £4000. It was an amazing experience and I went on to complete the race in 3 hrs 38 mins, 24 seconds. I was unsuccessful in the public ballot for 2014 however last week I was offered a place running for Leukaemia Care once again. I was thrilled and gratefully accepted.

This year will be a very special race for me since I'll be running in memory of my aunt who sadly died in September last year. She was a very brave lady and faced the severity of her prognosis with such stoicism and dignity. Whilst this year I don't have any set targets for raising money, I would like to raise at least £500 for Leukaemia Care, a small charity which does a great deal of good work. Last year my aunt was there to cheer me on at the finish line, and whilst obviously things will be different this year, I'd like to think that by running again in 2014 I'd be doing her proud.

I've started my training, it's going well so far but marathons take commitment and determination. Please spare whatever you can to help me reach my target. 50p? £1? It's so true that every little really does help. I've set up a JustGiving page, it's really simple and easy to use.

Thank you for reading

Paul x

Wednesday 22 January 2014

UK entry for Eurovision 2014

Last week I was invited onto BBC Breakfast to talk about Eurovision. As soon as I announced that I was going to appear I received texts and tweets asking if I knew about the UK entry. This then turned into a rumour that I was announcing Jessie J as the UK entry for 2014! Not sure how that all started but it was hugely entertaining to say the least. 

It looks like it'll be another internal selection this year. If that's the case, then at this stage it's likely that a name will have been chosen by now. When the deal is done, BBC staff, newspapers and other media will have the name well before it is announced to prep and write the story as happened with Engelbert. Of course it all depends on whether they stick to the embargo, as we saw with Bonnie last year and Blue in 2011, everyone wants a scoop! Contrary to what many think, the BBC aren't in a blind panic and struggling for people to sing for the UK. It's just that at the minute, in January, it's not at the top of the list. That doesn't mean that things aren't moving behind the scenes. Perhaps we just need to chill a little?

I can appreciate that some people miss the build up to Eurovision since we no longer have a national final. I understand why fans are eager to know who is representing the UK and it must seem frustrating when it appears that there's a wall of silence coming from the BBC. I do think they could do more with Eurovision and could use it as a great way of launching fresh new talent as they did in 2009. I'm a realist though, these are difficult economic times and the BBC, like many other organisations, are making cuts. It's unlikely that we will see a large-scale national final for some time. Eurovision is first and foremost a television show which gets large ratings for the BBC. This is the logic behind the selection of Blue, Engelbert, Bonnie. A big name will be more likely to get bigger viewing figures on the night. Simples. Whether this is right or wrong, or translates into votes, is of course, another matter...

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Where there's a will...

Greece is set to participate in Eurovision 2014 against the odds. The country has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and has continued along a painful path of austerity. One of the victims of the budget cuts in 2013 was the state broadcaster ERT. Immediately after the suspension of transmissions, speculation was rife that Greece would be out of Eurovision in 2014. Could it be that despite their best efforts, the Greeks were finally out of the competition that they love so much?

Well no, actually.

Last week it was confirmed that Greece would participate in Eurovision 2014 after the replacement state broadcaster, DT/NERIT, became a full member of the EBU. In previous years the Greeks have funded their Eurovision participation through sponsorship and this trend is likely to continue in 2014. Although, with the Greek record companies feeling the pinch, it looks like they're going to have to be more creative in raising the funds. 

With numbers dwindling in the contest it appears as if the EBU have had some hand in helping Greece take part in 2014. After careful negotiations, Poland and Portugal are set to return yet other Eurovision regulars such as Turkey, Serbia, Croatia and Cyprus to name just a few, will stay at home. Slovenia has been given until 17 January to decide whether or not it will participate in Copenhagen. To date, a total of 36 countries are confirmed for 2014, the lowest number since the semi finals were introduced in 2004.

Greece's continued participation in Eurovision, against all odds, demonstrates the significance that the event has. We laugh at the contest in the UK but it continues to attract high viewing figures for the BBC and in Greece, it's one of the most popular shows of the year. If Greece were to pull out then it would consolidate the image of Greece as bankrupt and on it's knees. They're fighting on and good for them. Participation in Eurovision is taken for granted by some countries yet here are the Greeks, fighting to be heard. National broadcasters that make little effort when it comes to Eurovision would do well to remember this. 

Wednesday 8 January 2014

2014 - Join Us!

Happy New Year!

The 2014 Eurovision season has officially started. Ukraine and Albania have already chosen their entries and in the coming weeks there will be a deluge of national finals and internal selections. The BBC were said to have been considering "alternative options" for 2014. Does this mean the end of the internal selection procedure? There have been rumours circulating about Geri Halliwell possibly representing the UK. However in this digital age it’s all too easy to put something out there on the internet and before you can say douze points, it’s being accepted as truth. The BBC is being tight-lipped. There's a different production crew working on the BBC's Eurovision output so there may be changes ahead. Watch this space.

2013 was a very interesting one in the world of Eurovision. After Sweden won the 2012 contest, held in Baku, Azerbaijan which was arguably one of the most politically-charged in the history of the event, the contest was held in Malmo in May. This was the first time since 2000 that Sweden staged the ESC. In reflection of the wider austerity drive in Europe, and the increasing financial pressure facing national broadcasting corporations, Sweden’s national broadcaster, SVT, announced that they were staging the contest on a smaller scale. The large arenas seen in Germany, Norway and Russia were gone, as were the audacious opening acts. Malmo was different; one presenter, no frills and standing room only for the audience. Behind the scenes the party circuit was considerably restricted; gone were the days of unlimited alcohol for accredited journalists and seemingly limitless press packs. The 2013 contest also saw several countries withdraw from the contest due to cutbacks across the various national broadcasters. Poland continued to stay away having missed the 2012 event, Bosnia Herzegovina, Portugal, Slovakia and Turkey all stayed home. Four years after the global financial crisis began it had reached the Eurovision Song Contest.

Musically 2013 was a mixed affair; the usual ballads peppered with dance songs and of course a share of bizarre songs which have become customary at the Eurovision Song Contest. Greece’s Koza Mostra performed their song “Alcohol is free” in kilts, at a time when the Greek economy was crippled by debts and many other countries were debating introducing minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Finland’s Krista Siegfrids demonstrated her support for equal marriage by sealing the performance of her song, “Marry Me” with a same-sex kiss. Georgia opted for an old-school ballad written by Thomas G:Son, the Swedish songwriter responsible for the winning entry in 2012, “Euphoria”. The BBC’s selection of Bonnie Tyler as United Kingdom’s entry followed the same format and form as 2012; internal selection, well-known artist aged sixty plus yet without a major hit for decades. The assertion that the BBC sees Eurovision first and foremost as a television show, rather than a competition, was therefore confirmed. To be fair, Bonnie was a real character and despite a rather weak performance in the final, did the UK proud; the perfect ambassador.

Politics was never far from the foreground despite the continuous reinforcement of the apolitical nature of the event by the European Broadcasting Union. SVT developed the slogan “We Are One” for the 2013 contest. The theme aimed to portray Europe as a united entity, emphasising diversity and multiculturalism. Except Europe really isn’t one; Europe is a fractured construct, economically, politically and socially. As happened in 2000, Denmark won in Sweden. The 2014 contest will be held in Copenhagen on 10th May 2014.

On a personal note, 2013 was bittersweet for me. On the one hand, as Dr Eurovision I was busier than ever and appeared on Sky News and BBC Breakfast. On the other, my aunt sadly passed away. She had been ill for a while and was an incredibly brave and inspirational lady and our family are incredibly proud of her. I will be running the Edinburgh Marathon in May 2014 in her memory. Thank you to you all for reading this blog and for the comments on Twitter. 2014 is shaping up to be an exciting one with the publication of my book and some exciting projects in the pipeline. Steady yourselves, the circus that is Eurovision is once again rolling into town!