Are you a Eurovision fan? If so, you’re not alone: 9.6 million Britons tuned for last year’s final in Azerbaijan. So, fancy getting a bit closer to the action? Well, you could jet out to Malmö in Sweden for this year’s grand final on May 18 – resale tickets are a snip on StubHub, at £1,777.33 for a pair. Or you could have crammed into a basement on Sunday for some intimate performances by some of this year’s contestants at the 2013 London Eurovision Party.
In retrospect, I probably should have guessed that a Eurovision preview event held in a gay bar in Soho would attract what one of the evening’s hosts, Nicki French, called ‘the world’s most fabulous audience’. French (who came 16th for the UK at Eurovision 2000) and Paddy O’Connell (who used to present the contest’s semi-finals for the BBC) have hosted the London Eurovision Party for the last few years, and they’re clearly down with their demographic: ‘There are so many men here,’ said O’Connell at one point, ‘and they’ve forgotten to bring their wives.’
There was a little more trouble pinning down the performers: Ukraine (Zlata Ognevich, ‘Gravity‘) and Belarus (Alyona Lanskaya, ‘Solayoh‘) were booked, but apparently dropped out at the last minute. Rumours of an appearance by the British contestant this year, the mighty Bonnie Tyler, were unfounded. But we did get Austria’s Natalia Kelly, Malta’s Gianluca, Finland’s Krista Siegfrids, Greece’s Koza Mostra, Valentina Moretta from San Marino, Latvian duo PeR, Romania’s Cezar, and Emmelie De Forest from Denmark.
De Forest is one of the favourites for this year’s final. That’s particularly exciting for the people behind the London Eurovision Party, who have never hosted the year’s winner despite running since 2008. London is one stop on an annual, international tour of Eurovision preview events, the biggest of which is in Amsterdam: 25 of this year’s acts, including several on tonight’s bill, performed there on April 13 to an audience five times as big as this.
The London party attracts many of the same people every year, as I found out when I spoke to the audience. These three had been to every LEP since 2011, and described the lack of Eurovision winners year-on-year as a ‘curse’:
And these guys were clearly huge Eurovision fans too – just before this photo was taken, they were all singing along to ‘Making Your Mind Up‘, Bucks Fizz’s 1981 contest-winner:
They also knew all the words to ‘Ne partez pas sans moi‘ by Celine Dion, which Natalia Kelly performed before her own contest entry ‘Shine‘, and were even able to tell me what year it won Eurovision. 1988, in case you’re wondering. And then there were these two, who were particularly looking forward to seeing San Marino despite looking a bit like they were at a BNP garden party:
Unsurprisingly, and despite lots of flag-waving throughout the evening, there wasn’t much actual patriotism on display, although (in true Eurovision style) there was the occasional political moment. Alexis Archontis, the drummer for the Greek entry Coza Mostra, described his group’s Balkan ska song ‘Alcohol Is Free‘: ‘It is uplifting. Where we come from, everything is not so good, so you have to be happy.’ Then I spoke to Romania’s Cezar, a sort of visual mash-up of George Michael and Rupert Everett:
Cezar was also thinking on political lines: ‘Romania has not a very good image in Europe right now. I am also Italian, so I hope for some Italian votes.’ But he explained why Eurovision doesn’t create the same kind of national feeling as, say, football: ‘I think Eurovision has as a base, a common language: music. So we don’t have all this racism and xenophobia – we just feel this energy of fair play.’
Unfortunately, Cezar’s own music doesn’t seem to translate for the British market, or at least the 300-odd people in the LEP audience. He’s’ a classical counter-tenor trying to cross over into the pop world, and is hoping to crack the British market – ‘Because we know already, especially in the United Kingdom, that you have already a good tradition in this: Katherine Jenkins, Sarah Brightman.’ But his Eurovision song – ‘It’s My Life‘, a dramatic pop-opera Eurodance track with some incredibly high vocals and a dubstep breakdown – didn’t go down so well with this particular British audience. I found this woman hiding in the club stairwell midway through his performance:
Some of the acts were more popular, though. Gianluca – who sounds a bit like the Maltese Jack Johnson – went down well, although I’m not sure whether that was because of his song ‘Tomorrow‘ (opening lyric: ‘His name is Jeremy / Working in IT’) or because he was kind of cute. Then there was Krista Siegfrids, competing for Finland with a Katy Perry-esque song called ‘Marry Me‘. She’s a loud advocate of gay rights – which is why she spent a good portion of the afternoon before the show wrapped in a rainbow flag on Rupert Street:
She was described pretty well before the show by John Allison, who competed for the UK in 1961 and opened LEP ’13: ‘I’d hate to be her boyfriend – she’s like a ballerina on pep pills!’ But her boundless energy, which was a little exhausting in person, meant her performance raised Shadow Lounge’s mirrored ceiling. She was also the only act to bring backing dancers.
It wasn’t all music on the bill, incidentally. There was a brief sketch interlude which included Nicki French having a chat with a puppet version of Terry Wogan (called Terry Vision for legal reasons):
There was also a raffle, and the programme promised a Eurovision disco until 3am ‘with DJ Dave!’, which – it being Sunday night – I couldn’t stay for. But I did just manage to catch the hotly tipped Emmelie De Forest before I had to leave. She’s 19 years old, she worships Kate Bush and 2012 Eurovision winner Loreen, she claims to be descended from Queen Victoria, and when she got on stage she took her shoes off, Sandie Shaw-style. De Forest probably isn’t the strongest singer in the competition, or the most in-your-face. But she’s more experienced than you’d think – she started singing when she was 9 and performing at 14 – and with a heartfelt and authentic acoustic performance of her song ‘Only Teardrops‘, she managed to make every other song of the night sound… well, a bit tacky.
Can you win Eurovision with authenticity? Stranger things have happened. None of the acts who performed in London are guaranteed a place in the final, but even so, it’s just possible that the curse of the London Eurovision Party could break this year. Bring on Malmö. James Manning