Lisbon Blog: Day 1, Sunday 29 April

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Reporting for OGAE UK and Vision magazine we have Hass Yusuf (words), David Ransted (photos), and along with Robin Scott who’s helping us out, especially with any videoing. This blog will be updated throughout the day.

So it’s, finally, All Aboard and full steam ahead for this year’s Eurovision – here in sunny Lisbon. Actually it’s raining at the moment – reminding us of home. How very nice of them.

It’s been a bit of a rush today with security equipment breaking down, long queues, etc. But we’re here now and ready for the first rehearsals of the first half of Semi-Final 1.

These first rehearsals last about 30 minutes each, where the sound is checked and adjusted, a few camera angles changed – and the colour for the outfits is also checked to bring out the correct brightness. It’s all very high tech.

The first rehearsals are also closed, so the press can only observe what’s happening on stage via live links to the Media Centre.

Azerbaijan is first on stage. Aisel performs X My Heart – it’s an impressive pop number with a nice electro-beat background. She and her backing dancers and singers are dressed all in white. They’re all keeping fit running up and down their little mountain peaks. It’s all wind machines and lights. All very nice. But it must be cold up there barefoot!

Aisel from Azerbaijan

Anyway, next on stage we have Iceland. Ari Olafsson sings Our Choice. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned ballad hat starts off slowly but builds up. The act on stage is a bit under-stated. Ari is dressed in a white suit with an interesting, but distracting design to go with his nice red shirt. And that’s about it really. I think it may struggle to get through to the Grand Final – because this is a really tough semi.

Ari from Iceland

My favourite song of the contest is on next – Albania. Eugent Bushpepa sings Mall, which translates as Yearning. It’s a great rock number, but seems to lose something on stage. So far the direction we’ve seen hasn’t been that impressive – with awkward camera angels and strange editing – not concentrating on the important parts of the performance. It’s difficult to know if this will go through to the Grand Final – we’ve had bigger shocks in the past. But I quite like it – and there are two female singers in glittery mini shirts, so something for everyone. The second run improved things – and that’s why there are so many rehearsals so everything is perfect.

Eugent from Albania

After each rehearsal, the whole delegation will then observe everything in detail, and changes may be made for the second set of rehearsals. That’s why when the time the Grand final goes out, the whole experience is very slick.

Just a quick word about the stage. There are no LED screens this year – which we’ve had for many years, but there are plenty of lighting effects making things nice and colourful if needed.

Back to the performances now. Time for Belgium, where Sennek sings A Matter Of Time. The country has become a bit of a powerhouse in recent years and the trend continues. This is a sort of Bond theme with a melancholy feel to it. Sennek comes off as very sultry. She wisely uses a lot of the stage walking around – she’s all alone up there! Well her and her hair extensions. A very nice performance indeed – but again the staging just doesn’t impress. It probably just lacks atmosphere at the time. It’ll be different on the night with flags waving and cheering in abundance!

A possible winner, in my opinion, Mikolas Josef for the Czech Republic sings Lie To Me. Mikolas stops his first run-through – he thought the little stage around him was too dangerous. He certainly seems very organized. When I interviewed him at the Euriovision London Party he did say he was a perfectionist. So far this is the most memborable performance of the day. The act is well thought out and reflects the ‘bouncy’ nature of the song.

A bit of bad news though – Mikolas injured his back during the last rehearsal and has had to go to hospital for a check-up. (Or a Czech-up if I wasn’t looking for a cheap joke.) But fret not readers, he will be back – with his back. Hope so, as I expect him win this year!

The Czech delegation

Time for Lithuania where we have Ieva Zasimauskaita singing When We’re Old. Alas, some of us old ready, but luckily Eurovision is ageless. It’s a gentle love song. Ieva starts off sitting down. The act has gotten over the obstacle of not having a graphic background by having black and white imaging flashing on our screens in a nice subtle way. Very nice indeed.

Ieva from Lithuania

Now for something completely different – Israel! Netta sings Toy. It’s weird, modern and bonkers. It should wake up the arena. It’s a great performance and a fun act. Netta’s personality fills the stage and her backing group all add to the fun. This up-tempo number is expected to do well. And rightly so.

Netta from Israel

There’s something very charming about the next act. It’s by ALEKSEEV singing Forever, for Belarus. I guess it’s charming that Alek gives the camera a red rose who then passes it off to a dancer dressed in red. He’s got a really interesting voice.

ALEKSEEV from Belarus

Opera lovers can now rejoice, as next on stage we have Estonia represented by Elina Nechayeva and her song La Forza. Who needs LED screens when you’ve got Elina’s large dress to give al the special effects that we desire. For various reasons Elina can’t really move from her fixed position, but for once the camera angles actually have helped. A really classy act.

Elina from Estonia

But even more classier is the next country on stage – Bulgaria. EQUINOX were specially formed for this year’s contest. Their song, Bones, requires some great harmonies from a mixture of voices – which it has. The song has a very pagan and mystical feel to it. It’s amazing that this country has really found it’s Eurovision mojo. Fab stuff.

EQUINOX from Bulgaria

And that was the last performance of the day. Back tomorrow with comments from the first press conferences.

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