Monday, 23 June 2008

Caracola - Vamos Vamos

Caracola first came to my attention last summer with the fantastic summery dance-pop single, "Mango Nights" since then they have become one of my most played artists. What I like about Caracola is that they make fun, unpretentious pop music that makes you feel good when you listen to it. For me, I like my music to make me feel happy and make me smile - Caracola definitely do that. Earlier this year they entered Melodifestivalen in Sweden with the uplifting "Smiling In Love" which made it to the second chance round and made the top 10 in the Swedish charts. To follow-up the success of "Smiling In Love" Caracola are releasing another pop gem from their album, "This Is Caracola".
"Vamos Vamos" is a perfect slice of summer and shines as brightly as the midday sun. It definitely has that feel good factor boasts the trademark harmonies and key change that we have come to expect from a Caracola single. This track is just as catchy and in some ways similar to "Mango Nights" and it should repeat the success that "Mango Nights" had last summer. "Vamos Vamos" sounds great whether you are lying in the sun or dancing at a party. This is definitely one track I will be playing all summer.

You can purchase Caracola's "Vamos Vamos" and other singles here:

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Alcazar - Inhibitions

Sweden's Alcazar are one of my all-time favourite groups. I have been a fan ever since I heard "Crying At The Discoteque" (seeing Andreas in the silver hotpants in the video helped too!!). Over the years, they have made some of the best disco music to dance to and this new single from them is no exception.

When Alcazar decided to take some time out a few years ago I just assumed that they were going to do an "ABBA" by not officially saying they were splitting up permanently but just disappear and never come back. I was pleasantly surprised last year when they came back for a one-off gig at London's G-A-Y nightclub replacing Annikafiore with a new member, Lina. Naturally I went to see them perform and they were as amazing as they always had been - I was even really impressed with Lina as the replacement. Though they wouldn't confirm at G-A-Y that they were getting back together, I hoped they would and I was proven right this year when the all new Alcazar released the fantastic, "We Keep On Rockin". I even met Andreas and Lina by chance when I was in Sweden in February who told me that they were working on new material for an album. Alcazar's follow-up to "We Keep On Rockin" is part of that new material and it is excellent. "Inhibitions" is a slightly different sound for Alcazar and is not as disco orientated as some of their other material, for me it is quite Britney sounding but still very much Alcazar. I am sure that it is going to follow the success of "We Keep On Rockin".

Euroband - This Is My Life

As you have probably guessed from reading my blog, I am currently a huge fan of Iceland's Euroband, who were my favourites from this years Eurovision Song Contest. In my opinion, they should have come much higher than the 14th place they ended up with. It's not all bad though, as not only were they the first act for Iceland to qualify to the final since the introduction of the semi-finals, but they have also released an amazing album which is just as feel good as their infectious Eurovision track, "This Is My Life" from which the album borrows its name.

Ever since I got Euroband's album I put it on after I've had a bit of a bad day or I'm feeling a bit down and it instantly lifts my mood. There is just something so joyous and infectious in listening to each track that you just can't help but smile. Both Fridrik and Regina are amazing singers with a great quality to their voices whether they are belting out the glittering, discotastic "This Is My Life" or harmonising on the slower paced and more melodic, "By Your Side". The first thing I noticed about the album was that it wasn't all disco and dance orientated as I expected it to be, Euroband do slower tracks just as well as they do the uptempo numbers like "A Ba Ni Bi" (which is their next single). Two of my favourite tracks on the album are the English language versions of Fridrik and Regina's Icelandic national final Eurovision solo tracks, "Thinking Of You" and "Fire" as it gives an indication of the sort of sound they have away from Euroband. Other highlights from the album is Regina's amazing take on an English language version of Celine Dion's winning Eurovision song, "Don't Leave Without Me Now" and Fridrik vastly improving Johnny Logan's "Hold Me Now" - only Fridrik and Euroband could make me like a Eurovision song I previously hated!! For all budding Euroband tribute acts (like myself) there is even a karaoke version of "This Is My Life" to sing to. This album is so much more than a collection of Eurovision covers - it's the cure to beat even the worst depression.

You can purchase the album here:

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Eurovision Winners Party

The Saturday after I got back from Eurovision was the UK Eurovision Winners Party at the Scala in London so I took myself along for one of the last big Eurovision events of this year. To be honest, the title "Winner" only applied to two of the acts - Bucks Fizz and Dima Bilan as from what I can remember, Sonia, Nikki French and Ani Lorak didn't win... I would have much preferred a Eurovision "Favourites" party with a line-up of my favourite acts like Euroband, Kalomira etc.
With no Euroband on the line-up, it was left for me and my friend Moa to form our own tribute to them. We co-ordinated ourselves in outfits and were armed with Icelandic flags to complete the look. The turnout wasn't as impressive as the Eurovision Preview Party and the audience waiting to watch the show consisted of mainly Russian girls and really die-hard Eurovision fans (even a lot of my friends didn't show-up). The first artist out to perform was 2nd place runner-up in 1993, Sonia, who looked a bit worse for wear and didn't seem to know where she was as she "performed" - I say "performed" but it was more like a sing-a-long karaoke with her leading the way (maybe she doesn't know the words to her songs anymore??). The mostly Russian audience looked bemused when Bucks Fizz took to the stage to perform their "extended set" - in honesty even the hardened Eurovision fans only wanted them to do their 3 UK no1's and then get off stage. If the Russian's didn't know what to make of Bucks Fizz, well they didn't have a clue what was going on as Nikki French (16th place) managed to squeeze herself in the actual jacket she wore at Eurovision. Fortunately for the Russians (who looked like they were about to commit murder by this point), Dima Bilan came out. Dima looked like he didn't want to be there as he went through the motions of his 2 song set. He didn't even come back for a reprise of "Believe" - hardly the gracious Eurovision winner... Ani Lorak saved the evening with a great performance I have come to expect from her (even though she is STILL wearing the same dress - really hope she has washed it). The response "Shady Lady" got from the audience suggested that perhaps the wrong song had won in Belgrade. Ani went one step further by performing Tina Turner's "The Best" - perhaps she was sending a message to Dima Bilan?? While Dima may have taken the prize in Belgrade, it was clear that Ani is the unoffical winner of Eurovision 2008.
With the performances over it was Moa and my turn to perform as our tribute to Euroband - though they were not there at the Scala they were with us in spirit!!

Eurovision - Day Seven

It was day seven in Belgrade and the night of the Final of the 53rd Eurovision Song Contest, my sadness at the contest being over for a year was equally matched with excitement to see who would be the outright winner.

The atmosphere at the arena was amazing when I arrived - there was such a hive of activity. There were seas of flags being waved, and people from all nations talking to eachother about their favourites from the contest. I couldn't help but think how wonderful it was to be part of this unifying experience. I made sure I was armed with my Iceland and Norway flags as I headed into the arena ready to support my two favourites.

The show itself was fantastic in the arena - it was one big party. Andy Abraham for the UK did well despite being the second act but it was clear he wasn't going to do well in the votes as his performance was not memorable enough to standout. No Angels gave a better vocal performance but it still wasn't up to the standard of some of the other acts. By the time Euroband came on stage my phone went crazy with all my friends back home that were watching on T.V to say how great they were. One of my friends even said that Fridrik looked like me on stage!! (I wish!!). I didn't think it would be possible for Euroband to raise their game in their performance as they were already so good but they did - giving without doubt the strongest vocal performance in the contest. Their efforts were rewarded in the arena with one of the best reactions of the night. Charlotte Perrelli's performance underwhelmed me slightly in the final and she was totally upstaged by Ani Lorak. It was obvious that out of the two divas in silver, that Ani would come out on top as her performance was much more memorable than Charlotte's. Booing in the arena was directed at Spain with people that obviously didn't think that the "song" was good for Eurovision. Dima Bilan also received a fair amount of boos when he took to the stage. My other favourite, Maria from Norway closed the show with a beautiful performance of "Hold On, Be Strong".

With all the 25 countries performed, it was now the moment of truth - the scores. My personal top 5 were Iceland, Norway, Ukraine, Sweden and Greece, so I was hoping for any of those countries to do well. As the scores started coming in I noticed that suprisingly Sweden were not getting any points. Norway and Greece in particular, were doing well, Iceland had a few points and Ukraine wasn't doing as well as I expected. At the top of the leader board was Greece and Russia and I secretly hoped it would be Greece that would take the prize over Russia. As more countries voted, my dreams for Eurovision in Iceland started to fade and I resigned myself to the fact that I would be going to Russia next year. With only one country left to vote, Demark, the game was over and it was to be Dima Bilans night. The moment that I was most annoyed about was Iceland's Euroband not having their moment of glory on the screen from the green room when they got their 12 points from Denmark - trust Dima Bilan to steal their thunder!! With the voting over, my top 5 finished like this: Iceland (14th), Norway (5th), Ukraine (2nd), Sweden (18th) and Greece (3rd). I was most disappointed for Euroband as I so desperately wanted them to do well.

In my opinion, I think the top 5 (though not all my favourites) were deserving though I would have prefered Ani Lorak's Shady Lady as the overall winner as opposed to Dima "I think I am God" Bilan. I was particularly pleased with Maria's 5th place with "Hold On, Be Strong" for Norway. I'm not sure where it went wrong for Sweden and my favourites Iceland - I guess the whole East v's West is still very much a part of the final despite it balancing out the qualifiers from the Semi Finals. The UK found themselves at the bottom of the table again which wasn't deserved (neither was Poland to be fair). With talk of Terry Wogan resigning and countries pulling out, I wonder if rules for the final will be changed for next year??

The aftershow party was a little sad as it was time to say goodbye to all the friends I had made over the week. I was able to catch up with a few of the artists at the party but the one act that I wanted to see Euroband, wasn't there. I really wanted to tell them how well they did and that it was a great triumph that they qualified to the final. As quick as the week had begun, it had ended and until next year, Eurovision was over.

Eurovision - Day Six

Day 6 arrived and it suddenly dawned on me that the Eurovision bubble I have been living in for the past week was about to burst. There was no time for me to feel sad about it as I had the dress rehearsals of the Final to attend.

I was generally really happy with the songs that did qualify from the two Semi Finals - the new system had really worked as no-one can complain that the final is dominated by the East this year. It was a real victory for both Iceland and Portugal in particular, who have both qualified to the final for the first time since the semi finals were introduced. In fairness, both countries deserved to qualify as they had great songs and both acts gave amazing vocal performances.

By this point, there were 5 acts in the final that really were in my opinion streets ahead of the other 21 acts - my ultimate favourites Euroband, were absolutely amazing to watch they sound and look great on stage - they give 100 percent every time they take to the stage with an infectious high energy that electrifies the arena; Maria from Norway with her classy performance and one of the best songs in the contest; Portugal’s dramatic, theatrical performance delivered by Vania; Charlotte Perrelli's schlagertastic "Hero" and lastly, Ani Lorak with her performance that had all the right elements of a Eurovision winner: Fierce female vocalist, Great song, Amazing stage performance with a fantastic dance routine.

Today was the first opportunity I got to see the Big 4 perform alongside the other qualifiers (I had seen their rehearsals separately). Germany’s No Angels haven't improved at all as vocally they are terrible. I hadn't seen a performance where they have been in tune - it was a great shame as I really like the song (well, in its studio version). France was disappointing for me as there isn’t really much to write about the performance except that Sebastian arrived on stage in a golf buggy. Spain had probably the worst song in the competition with a performance to match. Andy Abraham for the UK delivered vocally but his dancing was questionable as was his suit, it was a bit like your dad at a family wedding trying to be cool and failing miserably.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Eurovision - Day Five

Before I knew it I was already on my fifth day in Belgrade and what would be a very important night for me as I would find out if the new system of the two Semi Finals really worked and if my ultimate Eurovision favourites, Euroband would qualify to the final like they deserved.

Euroband didn't disappoint me and as always gave the most fantastic performance both visually and vocally. Even though they were the first act out they were the best performance of the night in my opinion. Fridrik looked so cute when he smiled into the camera after he opened the song and I couldn't help but smile myself. The performance looked amazing on the big screens in the arena and the camera work was excellent especially when Regina appears as if from nowhere and Fridrik disappears out of shot. Everyone in the arena was up dancing most of all me!! My other favourites, Charlotte and Ani were equally very good and the camera work and lazers during Charlotte's performance looked impressive on the big screens. Tereza from the Czech Republic hadn't improved and her performance looked like one big mess. I was also so disappointed that Morena hadn't raised her game either. Once everyone had performed, I again waited nervously to see if my favourites from this Semi Final, Euroband would qualify. Fortunately I didn't have to wait as long for Iceland to be called out as I did for Norway, but once Iceland was announced I screamed and jumped about so much that I missed the next four countries to qualify!! I was so pleased that all three of my favourites (Iceland, Sweden and Ukraine) had qualified to the Final on Saturday. I wasn't too happy with Europe’s decision to put through Croatia but I can’t really complain as EUROBAND made it. What a show it was – there was definitely a lot more tension before this semi final compared to the first one as people were expecting a shock result. I think the only shock for me was Lativia qualifying over the Swiss entry – obviously there are a lot of people in Europe that like pirates?? For me, the performances of the night were definitely Euroband who had so much energy on stage and flawless vocals, which must have been really difficult as they were the opening act; Charlotte Perelli, who gave a slick performance; and Ani Lorak with a fierce routine that had everything you want from a Eurovision entry.

"Shady Lady" Photoshoot

After the results I headed to the Press Centre to catch the press conference. Ani Lorak said she believed that “the winner was in the room”. I wasn’t sure if she meant one of the other acts or if she meant herself?? Fridrik from Euroband made my heart melt when he said that “If Eurovision was a little baby Reykjavik would take good care of it” - he really does seem to be the nicest guy ever. When asked how Euroband felt about winning, Regina said, “We are pleasantly surprised; we couldn’t be in a better place. It’s a dream come true”. Charlotte Perelli was asked whether she was under pressure to qualify to the final and win to which she replied, “We had no expectations at all. We shall do our best in the final”. As the finalists left the press conference, I congratulated Euroband who looked so happy.

The next thing to do was to make my appearance at the after-show party. Last years winner Marjia, performed the DANCE REMIX of her winning entry Molitva - I personally prefer the dance mix and I was glad that it was that version she performed.

At the party I consoled a defeated Morena from Malta, who was able to let her hair down as the pressure was now off her. Morena said “Malta had put in a lot of effort this year” and that they had worked with “a Swedish songwriter and Swedish backing dancers” she sighed, ”but it still wasn’t enough”. Poor Morena and poor Malta. I told her that despite “Vodka” not making the final, I was sure that it would become a fan favourite and will be played at Eurovision parties long after this contest, she replied, “I hope so”.