No geek is an island http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:06:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 Should you vote if your vote doesn’t count? http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/06/08/should-you-vote-if-your-vote-doesnt-count/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/06/08/should-you-vote-if-your-vote-doesnt-count/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 10:17:22 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37237 Last night, in the run up to today’s festival of democracy, I tweeted this:

Subsequently, I’ve been pondering whether taking part in an election built on an unfair system gives legitimacy to that system.

There are plenty of countries in the world where opposition groups boycott elections because they don’t believe them to be free and fair. Now I wouldn’t for a minute draw comparisons between our pretty sturdy electoral process and a vote that gave Saddam Hussein 100% support, but the word “fair” is an important one. Campaigns for proportional representation have long boiled that unwieldy description down to “fair votes”, which clearly implies the current system is not fair – and can’t, then, be “free and fair”.

Does that outweigh an abstract notion of “civil responsibility” to take part regardless? Or is there a separate civil responsibility to challenge systems that don’t work? Suffragettes fought for the right to vote (not for me, obviously) but that was also a challenge to an unfair system. That said, I don’t picture the Electoral Reform Society chaining themselves to railings any time soon.

One of this week’s poll projections suggested the election will be decided by 37 seats changing hands. That’s out of 650. Of course, a seat changing party isn’t a definition of good democracy – people absolutely should re-elect an MP (or, by proxy, a government) that they’re happy with. But it highlights how much power a handful of swing voters in a handful of seats have. I live in a pretty safe Labour seat and that means my vote will make little difference one way or the other. On the other hand, in the London elections – using a system the Conservatives have been talking about scrapping because *eyeroll emoji* – I get a second preference for mayor that gives more choice and a London-wide party vote for the Assembly that brings greater plurality of representation.

So I’d say that yes, taking part does legitimise a broken system. But is that a good enough reason not to vote? An ever-falling turnout might flag up to our rulers that something is wrong – but having been elected under the very same system, they have no incentive to change it. The most likely outcome would be the introduction of compulsory voting. That’s a convenient way for politicians to force up turnout without addressing the underlying issue and at the same time conceals disenfranchisement and takes away a personal freedom – the right not to vote.

Elections shouldn’t be about electoral systems: they’re about the economy and taxation and public services and, this time round, how we implement our collective decision to walk the country off a cliff into the English Channel. So if the party you support has no hope of winning in your constituency, there’s a good case for voting tactically for the least worst option. That’s the best choice under our electoral system; it also entrenches the status quo. The more tactical voting, the more skewed a seat becomes towards just two parties and the more tactical voting is required in future. Great.

The only “democratic” route left then is to carry on slogging under the current system and try to elect enough people who are altruistic enough to pursue genuine reform.

None of that fires me up to vote in my safe Labour seat, but I’ve come up with three reasons to do it anyway.

1. Keep buggering on. A tactical vote in my seat would continue to minimise the smaller parties. For one of them to win they need to get into contention and the only way to get them into contention is to vote for them.

2. Short money. My vote (for the Liberal Democrats, if the tweet wasn’t clear) won’t help them win in my seat this time round. I don’t want to talk down their changes but no polling suggests a surprise upset of that scale. But opposition party funding is related to the number of votes cast as well as the number of seats won, so my vote goes a small way to seeing a greater proportion of parliamentary funding going to the party I support.

3. OFCOM. It’s the job of everyone’s favourite media regulator to decide which are “major parties” for the purposes of public elections. In particular this affects the number of election broadcasts a party is allocated and the overall level of coverage given. Broadcasters may also take it into account when putting together debates or other political programming. Overall national vote share is a factor that OFCOM will consider and so maximising this helps to ensure TV and radio coverage, which is important for future growth.

Of course one can argue that the systems underpinning points 2 and 3 are further reinforcing the status quo, but that’s a discussion for another time. I have a vote to cast.

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Eurovision 2017: The Final http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/eurovision-2017-the-final/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/eurovision-2017-the-final/#respond Sat, 13 May 2017 12:12:09 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37233 The day is here and, excitingly, it looks like anyone could win! And by anyone, I mean Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria or the UK. Of course, probably not the UK but it really is the best of the bunch and Lucie Jones has been nailing it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Twenty countries have made it through from the semi-finals to join the six pre-qualifiers: the Big Five who put the big money in and Ukraine, last year’s winner and this year’s host.

The running order was decided after the second semi-final so here they are in order with my comments. I’ve revised my views on a few after the semis, in particular dark horse Bulgaria.

Israel
The contest opens with one of the few full-on uptempo bangers. It’s one of the weaker vocal performances, which is traded for energetic choreography.

Poland
Poland shouldn’t be in the final and are hogging a place that could have gone to someone more deserving, like Finland or Estonia. They need to take their hackneyed love song, go and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Belarus
There are a lot of white outfits in this year’s contest, even with some of them having been evicted earlier in the week. One of the few duets to make it through, both singers are in white. The song is jangly nonsense but they seem to be having a lovely time, possibly because they are not in Belarus.

Austria
It’s another white ensemble for Nathan Trent, who is also sporting this year’s fashionable but awful too-short trousers with no socks. It’s a recipe for cold ankles, folks. Nathan himself is charismatic and clearly loves being part of the contest but the song is weak. If the dry ice machine is turned up any higher, he’ll disappear completely.

Armenia
Visually interesting with strong singing and a doinky backing track. Here it helpfully breaks up the ballads.

Netherlands
This Dutch trio could put the rest of the competition to shame with their tight harmonies, which lift what could be quite a mediocre track. I was one of apparently hundreds on Twitter during their semi-final to comment on the similarity between their sound and 1990s Beach Boys/Mamas and the Papas offspring mash-up Wilson Phillips.

Moldova
One of the most fun songs and performances in the show, marking the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy (and his Sunstroke Project bandmates). Get that leg wiggle on.

Hungary
Time for that classic Eurovision folk music moment – and, fittingly, in Hungarian rather than English. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Italy
Yes, there’s a man in a gorilla suit doing a dance routine. We get it. Very clever. This was the early favourite (thanks to the gorilla) but it remains to be seen how it will come across with the revisions they’ve made to the staging since it won the Italian national selection. Performed in Italian with plenty of energy, the song itself isn’t bad but it’s by no means my favourite in the competition.

Denmark
We pop briefly back into English for Anja’s Where I Am, which seems to have got stronger with each performance. It’s one of the better of the night’s ballads, especially when it kicks up a gear towards the end.

Portugal
Salvador performs from the small satellite stage, giving this a low key, intimate feel that matches the song and the singer. It’s a piano bar ballad with a timeless elegance that defies you to dislike it even though you won’t understand the words (unless you speak Portguese, obviously). It could be twee as hell but it’s genuinely endearing and a return to the final for Portgual after six years of failing to qualify. If it makes the top five – which is likely – it will be their best result ever, and it could even be their first win.

Azerbaijan
This is in danger of geting lost given the songs on either side. It includes a man with a horse’s head standing on a stepladder, but this might feel like a cop out after a dancing gorilla.

Croatia
I find myself irrationally annoyed by this one. Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. I expect the juries to score it highly.

Australia
Another bed blocker. Shouldn’t be in the final. Take a toilet break during this one.

Greece
This feels like it’s improved over the course of the week but I’m afraid we’re now in the weakest section of the show. A pair from Men’s Health casting performing a cheesy dance routine do little to make this more interesting.

Spain
Spain are the second of the Big Five in the final and boy are they lucky to qualify automatically. This is embarrassingly bad. You will be in no danger of forgetting the title – your man sings it about 200 times in the space of three minutes. As My Lovely Horse as this year gets.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt, although set off by an ill-advised hat. It looks like it’s going to be awful but it’s actually a good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus. None of it’s innovative but if there’s a weakness it’s likely to be the performance. Probably won’t stand out from the crowd.

United Kingdom
This is a juicy spot in the running order for Lucie Jones and rightly so: Never Give Up On You is the UK’s best entry in donkeys’ years. I didn’t even like it much among the various bland options the BBC gave us to choose from but it’s been reworked into something terrific. Add to that a great vocal performance (touch wood) and some absolutely stunning staging and this deserves to do really well. The juries will like it but will the phone voters? I’m set to see it rising up the table and then come crashing down when the televotes are added – but there’s still a part of me that thinks it could win. It’s certainly our best chance of the 2010s so far by miles.

Cyprus
Now that I’ve seen this in place with the video backdrops, the choreography makes much more sense. The track jumped out at me when I first listened to this year’s Eurovision album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. Probably competing for votes with Israel.

Romania
Strap yourself in for the classic Eurovision event of the night. Yodelling and rapping come together at last in what I believe is referred to as “a hot mess”. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child all make it stand out – and that’s even without the glittery cannons that are tragically forbidden from firing glitter. It’s dreadful but in all the ways UK audiences love.

Germany
“Oh, hi, Germany here. We just thought we’d saunter in at the end and drop a female soloist with an upbeat pop number on you when you were least expecting it.” I like this and Levina has an interesting voice, not hindered at all by plenty of support from unseen backing vocalists.

Ukraine
There’s not much danger of Ukraine hosting the contest again in 2018. That said, Time is the only guitar rock number of the show so it could attract its own section of televoters. Switzerland in 2015 might be wanting their “time to shine” lyric back, please.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but it’s still unclear whether her stage presence is selling vulnerability or incredible discomfort. A tough result to call.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson has been performing this for months but he and his team of Debenhams stylists have continued to polish I Can’t Go On since arriving in Kyiv. It’s a catchy song that no longer has the f-word in the chorus (replaced by “freakin'”) and five treadmills. Great for fans of Waterloo Underground station or City boys who like to spend three minutes on cardio between important meetings.

Bulgaria
Danger, Will Robinson! The dark horse of the second semi-final has got a prime place penultimate in the running order. I had this down as just “OK” and I’m still not a fan but I can see the appeal and a flagging audience could be won over. Sofia 2018 is not out of the question.

France
It’s a pleasant closer to the show from France (in French with a smattering of English). The video screen graphics are almost too engaging: a found my attention almost constantly drawn to them rather than to Alma and her song.

So that’s 26 countries and 26 songs. Plenty of contenders, a few potential surprise successes and some crowd pleasing silliness to keep things light. Portugal, Italy and Bulgaria still seem the most likely winners, but the UK definitely deserve a top 5 finish.

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Hello, Kyiv! http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/hello-kyiv/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/hello-kyiv/#respond Sat, 13 May 2017 08:18:25 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37230 A man in a hamster wheel

Ukraine have been in Eurovision since 2003 and have reached the final every year, save 2015 where they weren’t able to take part in the contest because *cough* reasons.

In that time, they’ve won the contest twice and have also been responsible for some of the most memorable staging of the last 20 years.

In honour of their hosting this year’s contest, here are my top 5 entries from Ukraine.

5. Ani Lorak – Shady Lady

This is what Ukraine entries have excelled at over the years: three-minute power pop brought alive on stage. Ani Lorak came second with her gaggle of energetic dancers and light-up fridges – and this is only number five.

4. Verka Serduchka – Dancing Lasha Tumbai

Verka’s 2007 entry is a load of nonsense but it’s also unashamedly fun and pretty unforgettable. The tin foil Timmy Mallett lost out to Serbia’s Molitva but remains an enduring fan favourite.

3. Ruslana – Wild Dances

This was the country’s second time in the competition and they only went and won! Ruslana subsequently spent a year as an MP in the Ukrainian parliament and continues to be politically, supporting ties between Ukraine and the EU and campaigning on human rights. The song’s good, too.

2. Maria Yaremchuk – Tick-Tock

The man in a hamster wheel in Love, Love, Peace, Peace? This is where that’s from. It’s a simple idea that works brilliantly and fits the song perfectly. Mariya came sixth in the 2014 final.

1. Svetlana Loboda – Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)

It might have been the least successful of the five, coming 12th in 2009, but this is my winner. What a first glance look like hamster wheels rotate outwards for Svetlana and her dancers, who are dressed like a Barbarella version of Roman centurions – someone in Ukraine really likes silver. The backing track is funky, Svetlana bangs the drums in the bridge, and the song has the best chorus of the lot. And then there’s the dance move at 1m40s. Anti-crisis BOM.

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 2 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/11/eurovision-2017-semi-final-2/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/11/eurovision-2017-semi-final-2/#respond Thu, 11 May 2017 13:42:33 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37226 Do you like white outfits? Do you love male-female duets? Do you crave male-female duets where they’re both dressed in white? Then semi-final two has been made for you!

After some upsets on Tuesday – Finland being the biggest expected qualifier knocked out – tonight it’s the second set of songs vying for places in Saturday’s final. And they are these.

Serbia
If the opening part of this song seems strangely familiar, I reckon it’s because it’s the Sugababes’ About You Now. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as that. There’s a white dress, a shirtless dancer doing a cool/weird backwards routine and a good button at the very end of the number, but it’s not enough.

Austria
Nathan Trent sports the second white outfit of the night. And too-short trousers with no socks. Seriously, people, this has to stop. Nathan is a charismatic performer which will help (as long as he doesn’t disappear completely into dry ice) but the song is bland up until the finale, which is pretty overblown.

Macedonia
Can we stop with the performers’ own faces on the video wall please? There were a couple of act in this year’s Melodifestivalen that did this and it’s weird if not downright egotistical. The song itself is fine but nothing special and destined for mid-table obscurity.

Malta
A white dress? Great idea! This is an elegant Eurovision ballad with the best singing of the show so far but, like so many Eurovision ballads before it, the song doesn’t really go anywhere – including, potentially, the final.

Romania
Yodelling and rapping, together at last in the night’s first duet. I don’t even know if this is a pastiche but it’s a hot mess. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child make it memorable even if Alex doesn’t fall off his glittery canon (not a euphemism). It’s pretty dreadful, so in many ways the entry the UK audience has been waiting for.

Netherlands
Hello to the best harmonies in the competition. The staging and backing track are minimalist, focusing rightly on the three performers, who lift what could be quite a mediocre track. A final place surely awaits.

Hungary
Missing the traditional eastern Europe folk song vibe? Fear not – Hungary deliver, although sadly not playing the kvinnaböske. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Denmark
This starts off middling and gets much stronger as it goes through, with some big notes adding interest. Look out for the golden shower at the end.

Ireland
Yes, there’s a hot air balloon. No, I don’t know why. Dressed in white, of course, Brendan Murray does a perfectly good job and looks and sounds about 15 so I’m not going to be mean about his song. And therefore have nothing else to say.

San Marino
On her third appearance at Eurovision, I joked that San Marino is so small that Valentina Monetta is the only singer they have. Well, she’s back again. As if to disprove my point, she’s found a friend to duet with. As if to prove my point, he’s American. I actually really dislike the harmonies they’ve chosen but the song’s fun (if you can stomach hearing the phrase “spirit of the night” 300 times in three minutes) and sounds like it has not one, not two, but three key changes!

Croatia
Get your face off the big screen! Jeez. So… Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. The song could stand on its own without the operatic parts.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt. At first glance I wasn’t expecting to like this but it’s a really good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus.

Switzerland
It’s an OK ballad with an OK chorus. There’s not much else to say other than the singer’s dress is twice as tall as she is.

Belarus
It’s a duet. They’re dressed in white. Tick off your bingo squares and down your drinks. They seem to be having a lovely time, so that’s something.

Bulgaria
This is OK when it eventually gets going. Maybe it could be a One Direction b-side? Are they still a thing?

Lithuania
I like the brassy backing track. The melody, if there is one in there somewhere, not so much. This is another one that starts going off towards the end, once you’ve already written it off. Still, brass.

Estonia
Our final duet and our final singer in white (although Israel has some dancers in white still to come). It’s a long show and at this point I’m struggling to tell what they’re going for here. Is it a love song? Is it a song about regret? Is it advertising package holidays to Verona? For all that, the singers work well together and the overall effect is surprisingly endearing.

Israel
It’s another face on the big screen although at least this time it explodes. Imri Ziv closes the semi-final with an uptempo banger. Bookies might be offering odds on some of the high notes but their quality matters less in this number than in the big ballads.

Picking ten to put through the final was hard because I’m not sure I would put ten through. However, I’ll go for:
Malta
Romania (because I don’t want to deprive UK viewers of it)
Netherlands
Hungary
Denmark
San Marino (for the key changes)
Norway
Switzerland
Estonia
Israel

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 1 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/08/eurovision-2017-semi-final-1/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/08/eurovision-2017-semi-final-1/#respond Mon, 08 May 2017 11:27:15 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37223 Time out is gone – the quest is on. Singers representing 42 countries have assembled in Kiev for the world’s greatest festival of music and wind machines: the Eurovision Song Contest.

The fun kicks off on Tuesday night with the first of the two semi-finals, and this is the one in which UK viewers can vote. Here are the runners are riders.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson was the winner of SVT’s rigorous Melodifestivalen selection process so you can expect a slick performance. They wisely inserted the word “freaking” to replace a swearier lyric after its victory in the Melfest heats. The staging will particular appeal to fans of Waterloo Underground station and the Debenhams Blue Cross sale. A stronger opener.

Georgia
Fiery staging. Big sing. Reminiscent of a Bond theme. Plagiarise like a Phoenix.

Australia
Performed well but this is the weakest of their three entries so far and pretty dull to watch.

Albania
Lindita has quite the pair of lungs. There’s an OK hook in here but when the clocks from the Doctor Who title sequence appear the video wall behind her, I’ll be looking at the time.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but seems incredibly uncomfortable on stage. The lyrics make me think of Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone.

Montenegro
If you’ve been worried that Eurovision has traded in its campiness for slick professionalism, worry no longer. This is not a performance you’ll forget – and not just because Slavko uses his hair as a propeller.

Finland
It’s not just the title, “Blackbird”, that reminds me of Anouk’s brilliant “Birds” from 2013 – this is melancholic and beautiful. Unfortunately it’s also pretty forgettable.

Azerbaijan
This has quite the staging, judging from the rehearsal footage. It’s not the only time you’ll see a performer dressed as an animal in this year’s contest, but it is the only man with a horse’s head on a stepladder.

Portugal
Portugal have returned with a slow, low key, piano bar ballad with the simplest staging possible. It could be twee as hell but instead it’s incredibly endearing and, if you’re in the right mood, surprisingly moving.

Greece
A couple of dancers from Men’s Health casting performing naff choreography do little to make this more interesting.

Poland
Poland need to take their violin and their cliché love song and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Moldova
I prefer this to Sunstroke Project’s previous entry, from 2010. Both the song and the choreography are straightforward and fun, and this also marks the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy.

Iceland
A song about paper cuts. It’s perfectly competent but got repetitive quite quickly and there’s little interest in the staging. One of way too many performers dressed in white this year.

Czech Republic
I nearly didn’t make it to the end of this. Next.

Cyprus
This track jumped out at me when I was listening to this year’s album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. The choreography looks a little odd in the rehearsal videos but will probably make more sense on screen alongside video backdrops.

Armenia
Visually interesting, strong singing and a doinky backing track. It’s not to my taste but it’s not bad.

Slovenia
Omar represented Slovenia in 2005, also in Kiev. You can watch that performance on YouTube – be sure to stick with it until the creepy final moments. His song this time is, you know, fine: it’s uninventive and dated but I find myself guiltily liking it despite that. The lacklustre staging won’t help it.

Latvia
A hyperactive child appears to have been let loose on the designs for this: fluorescent coloured backdrops and a costume that’s Hello Kitty does Barbarella. At least the shiny things distract from the the song, which is run-of-the-mill Eurodance.

So that’s your 18 songs, 10 of which will be promoted to the final.

The ten I’d put through:
Sweden
Albania
Belgium
Finland
Azerbaijan
Portugal
Moldova
Iceland
Cyprus
Armenia

But I’d be feeling guilty about Slovenia while I did it.

Update: Now I’ve seen more info about Slovenia’s entrant, I no longer feel guilty about not including them. Bin him.

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I have written a play, Mr Jaffee http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/07/09/i-have-written-a-play-mr-jaffee/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/07/09/i-have-written-a-play-mr-jaffee/#respond Sat, 09 Jul 2016 10:34:10 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=33921 SquareIt’s called Square, and it’s produced by my longtime friends The Pensive Federation.

Key facts:

  • It has a cast of four awesome actors.
  • It’s inspired by the “square” concept.
  • It’s an hour long.
  • It’s been developed through the PenFed’s tried and tested process of workshops.
  • It’s on at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe from Monday 8th to Saturday 13th August at 7.30pm each night.

Tickets are available from the Tristan Bates website.

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Eurovision 2016: The Final http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/14/%ef%bb%bfeurovision-2016-the-final/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/14/%ef%bb%bfeurovision-2016-the-final/#respond Sat, 14 May 2016 17:32:03 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=32586

My view for the Jury Final

Today’s the day! I went to yesterday’s Jury Final and I can honestly say I don’t remember a higher quality line-up. And there’s no single outstanding song, which means the results is less predictable than it has been for some time – and certainty less so than in the last couple of years.

What’s struck me too is the number of songs that have been lifted by their live performances. Latvia, Israel, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Australia, among others, have really come alive on the night. It’s also interesting to see the difference in reception between the hall – where the sound is huge – and the TV audience. So while I know what made an impression on the crowd last night, the voting audience at home, and the juries, may feel very differently.

That also means that, while I’ll refer you to my previous posts on the semi-finals to get an idea on the songs that have qualified, I’ve already changed my views on many of them. On top of those I’ve mentioned above, Georgia, Lithuania and Malta have all gone up in my estimation. Russia, on the other hand, feels trapped in its staging. For example, the projection screen Sergey is using doesn’t fill the TV – so when it’s giving him a white background, he doesn’t look like a man sprouting wings so much as a man standing in front of a PowerPoint. And he’s so engrossed in engaging with the video presentation that he sings to the audience less and feels a little disconnected.

The countries I highlighted above, on the other hand, have relatively simple staging that allows the songs – and the singing – to shine through. In the hall, at least. I suspect the juries will be attracted to that.

What then of the automatic qualifiers?

Italy
It’s a simple song well sung but in a high quality lineup, this is the first in the show I felt a little disappointed by. And I’m not convinced the late change into English helps.

Sweden
This is simple and pared down compared to the rest of the songs and that will help it to stand out. Most people seem to either love it or hate it. It certainly wasn’t my favourite of the Melodifestivalen finalists. Look out for the most ridiculous lyric: “I’d rob a bank, and a post office too.”

Germany
This is a grower, which annual readers will know I don’t consider a positive attribute in a Eurovision entry. Her Manga costume just looks silly.

France
France brought along a lovely number that mixes English and French. It has a touch of Sebastian Tellier and works well on the CD. However, Amir doesn’t seem to do too good a job with it live, so despite being one of the favourites, this could end up anywhere.

Spain
Say Yay is a fun old party number, but it’s style over substance for me – Barei has better songs, which I saw her perform in the Eurovision Village alongside this one. And I also learnt from that performance that she has “vocal support” in the wings helping with the melody.

United Kingdom
If Joe and Jake can pull it off tonight, this could do well with the phone voters. It’s one of our best songs in years and I’d love it to do well – not least to encourage the Beeb to stick with a public selection vote. But I’ve learnt the had way that we’re good at convincing ourselves that “this year we’ll make the top half of the table” or somesuch. I have no idea where we’ll come – but I have an inkling the juries will be distracted by the Big Sings and overlook this.

Here’s the full line up:

Belgium
Czech Republic
The Netherlands
Azerbaijan
Hungary
Italy
Israel
Bulgaria
Sweden
Germany
France
Poland
Australia
Cyprus
Serbia
Lithuania
Croatia
Russia
Spain
Latvia
Ukraine
Malta
Georgia
Austria
United Kingdom
Armenia

I genuinely think that in the right year, any one of those 26 songs could win. A dark horse like Armenia could benefit from going last. Ukraine’s not at all political passion could sweep them through. Israel or Australia’s big vocals could knock the other ballads out of their way. Or Russia’s video effects could steer them through. I can’t predict it.

What I do know is that we’re likely to see a new high score to knock Alexander Rybak off the top. That’s because the jury and phone votes are being reported separately this year, doubling the number of votes available.

I also know that the interval act is worth waiting for. And I don’t mean Justin Timberlake, although he’s part of it too. It’s almost like musical legitimacy has come to the Eurovision Song Contest. Who let that happen?

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Eurovision 2016: Semi-final 2 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/12/eurovision-2016-semi-final-2/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/12/eurovision-2016-semi-final-2/#respond Thu, 12 May 2016 15:51:43 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=32293

In the distance, the Globe, home of Eurovision 2016

If you thought semi-final 1 had a lot of male soloists, just wait. Is it an unimaginative response to Måns? I realise there are always lots of female solo artists… and I might be imagining the whole thing.

Anyway… the second final of 2016’s Eurovision Song Contest is wide open. There are plenty of worthy entries but no clear leaders – nothing I absolutely love and nothing I hate.

Latvia
And here’s our first solo man: Justs. A gentle start segues into a strong chorus.

Poland
Micheł has a proper pair of lungs. There’s a lovely contrast between the verses and chorus. One of the best songs Poland have sent. Obviously I’m ignoring the American spelling of “color” which the staging rather runs in.

Switzerland
A few nice moments but bland overall with a weak middle eight and a deadening key change.

Israel
Solo man number 3 is the Penguin from Gotham with the forgettable ballad Made of Stars. Longtime readers will know my annual frustration with Eurovision entries that take two of their three minutes to come alive. This is one of those.

Belarus
Solo man 4. With wolves and nudity. It’s amazing what one can do with video effects these days. Hiding beneath these is an OK song with a traditional Eurovision Eastern European rock touch to it.

Serbia
This has a good chorus. It also pulls off the schlager key change that Switzerland stood on.

Ireland
Nicky Byrne from Westlife’s first solo single represents Eurovision’s most successful country. It’s *fine*, especially if you’re a fan of the rhyming dictionary. The energy drop between “sun” and “light” offends me somehow. Another song that could live or die in the performance.

FYR Macedonia
Kaliopi represented her country in the pre-qualifying round in 1996, when Macedonia failed to make its first appearance on the contest. She reached the final in 2012 and is back with a song called Dona that will prompt predictable kebab jokes. It’s pleasant and she’s a stronger performer – but you’ll be sick of the title by the end.

Lithuania
Donny Love Is Blind Montell is back without a blindfold and with worse hair and complete the clean sweep of solo male artists for the Baltic countries. It’s not a million miles from Latvia’s entry – which I marginally prefer. Will there be room for both?

Australia
They’re here again – but this time they have to make it through the semis like everyone else. I get the impression Dami Im’s staging may be simple and relatively static, which could actually help her stand out. It’s a less fun song than last year’s but it’s a big stompy ballad that should serve them well.

Slovenia
I don’t know is Blue and Red is political or about interior design but it’s up tempo and deserves to take Slovenia to their third final in a row. And I don’t care if key changes are supposed to be death – if Russia can have one, everyone can.

Bulgaria
Poli Genova is yet another returning artist: she didn’t get past the semis in 2011. If Love Was A Crime is another upbeat number that’s worthy of a place.

Denmark
It pains me to say it but this boy band effort from Denmark is naff. It’s glassily done and the lads are doing a perfectly cromulent job but it’s factory line pop. It’ll go through but it shouldn’t.

Ukraine
This one is political. Sorry, historical. The lyrics recount Crimeans being murdered in 1944 and the music dovetails well with the words.

Norway
Is there a name for that syncopated synthy rhythm that screams European dance music? Because we need a shorthand. It was there for Iceland (RIP) and it’s back to support Norway. There’s some messing with time signatures but otherwise this is sub-Euphoria stuff.

Georgia
I saw these guys do a short set at the Eurovision Village on Tuesday and was suitably impressed. They’re very 90s indie band – very much my oeuvre – and this song is no different. It’s got a nice Chemical Brothers style mid section too. One for fans of alt rock guitar music – so not much hope at Eurovision, sadly.

Albania
Plodding. I’m 17 songs in and I don’t
have much more to say. Sorry, Albania.

Belgium
What’s The Pressure is, like a few of the songs in this semi-final, a Reasonable Pop Song. That has it competing with Slovenia, Bulgaria and Serbia for me.

The songs I’d like to see qualify:
Poland
Georgia
Slovenia
Latvia
Australia
FYR Macedonia
Lithuania
Belarus
Ukraine
Bulgaria
…and I wouldn’t be surprised if half of them don’t.

Close:
Serbia
Switzerland
Norway
Ireland
Belgium

Nope:
Israel
Denmark
Albania
…and they’re all fairly close too. I’m clearly in a positive mood.

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Eurovision 2016: Semi-final 1 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/10/eurovision-2016-semi-final-1/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/10/eurovision-2016-semi-final-1/#respond Tue, 10 May 2016 18:29:47 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=32046 Hello from sunny Stockholm!

I wasn’t planning to write one of these but old habits die hard. So, with only a short time before the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest kicks off, here’s a very brief look at the songs in the first semi-final.

Finland
Light and enjoyable and a fitting opener, especially with lyrics about singing. I see what they did there.

Greece
Chorus that doesn’t rhyme, rapping that’s a bit dull. Potential non-qualifier for a country with a strong track record.

Moldova
Middling but helped by an upbeat chorus.

Hungary
First of many solo male vocals. Has a good rhythm to it. Not wild about his voice.

Croatia
Croatia return this year and, despite the key change, it’s the most forgettable song so far.

Netherlands
They’ve gone folky again, which isn’t daft given the Common Linnets’ near miss a couple of years ago. Potential dark house even it does sound like a thousand other songs – oh, you’re doing that chord progression. Literally slows down as he sings “slow down”.

Armenia
Thinks she’s Adele. Another forgettable one.

San Marino
Serge Gainsbourg does Shaft, produced by Boney M.

Russia
Not as good as it thinks it is (“Thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting”) but it’s got a key change, they’ve thrown everything at it and it’ll probably win.

Czech Republic
Reasonable ballad in danger of being lost after Russia’s big number.

Cyprus
Decent rock song with a proper drive. Capacity to gather votes all over the place if it fills a non-pop hole.

Austria
Nice little pop song. In French. Feels a bit different in this crowd despite being fairly classic.

Estonia
Lugubrious voice with a classy, straightforward song. I love the little guitar lick at the end of the first chorus. Success will depend on the performance.

Azerbaijan
I tend to feel less positive about Azerbaijan’s entries less than the European voters. This one’s pretty repetitive but I like it – so it’ll probably sink.

Montenegro
The other rock one and so a potential splitter of votes with Cyprus. In some ways, it’s musically the more interesting – but it’s less catchy and feels less rounded and closer to noise.

Iceland
Greta’s back! Her 2012 duet with Jónsi is sto one of my Eurovision favourites. This is a strong entry too, leaping from quiet and brooding to Europop beats, if those are a thing. Could be drowned in its own staging.

Bosnia & Herzegovina
Another former Yugoslavian country returning to the contest after time out. It has the obligatory folky strings and is more likely to qualify than Croatia. Plus the rap break is better than Greece’s.

Malta
A funky little number from tiny little Malta. Last year they didn’t make the final but singer Ira Losco managed second place in 2002 – their joint best – and this deserves a stab at the final too.

My 10 to qualify (not a prediction!):

Cyprus
Estonia
Iceland
Malta
Austria
Russia
Netherlands
Hungary
Finland
Azerbaijan

Close:
Moldova
Czech Republic

Not so much:
Greece
Croatia
Armenia
Montenegro
Bosnia & Herzegovina
San Marino

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See the Forest for the trees http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2015/11/13/see-the-forest-for-the-trees/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2015/11/13/see-the-forest-for-the-trees/#respond Fri, 13 Nov 2015 17:05:48 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=28843 It’s been great over the last few weeks to be reunited with the Pensive Federation. I’ve been taking part for the second time in the Collective Project, their theatre project themed around collaborative working and group dynamics.

Over 12 days, two directors, eight writers (of which I was one) and twelve actors developed 12 new 12-minute plays, all of which are being performed this week at the Etcetera Theatre. Shows are at 7pm each night until Saturday 14th November, which a 2:30pm matinee on Saturday too. You can book tickets online.

Each play in the Collective Project has a collective noun as its title and thematic driver, although this year the Pensive team have added the complication of genres. Each play has been assigned a genre like period drama, sci-fi or, in one case, silent. But we’re not telling the audience which is which.

My play is called Forest and, like the others, features six actors. Usually when you’re writing a short play, you’re trying to keep it small and simple, so it’s a fun challenge to fit in six characters and ensure they all get a fair bite of the cherry. The cast and directors have done a fantastic job – I’m really happy with how the piece, and the whole show, has turned out.

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