Now then. Just to make you all jealous, I finally got my ticket for £50 and got a “restricted view” seat. Now I do not know the Estonian definition of “restricted”, but a seat behind the camera cranes for only £50 was too good so your local roving reporter, and 4 of his mates ( Mr Roy Delaney, Franko, Mr J cohen esq. And David) sat down to view this spectacle.

This one was so different to any rehearsal that had gone before of since, as there was so much atmosphere it was unreal. The crowd had been treated to the warm up, 45 minutes of “entertainment” courtesy of a couple of musicians… they were OK but preceding them were the Estonian Children’s choir engaging in rousing renditions of famous Eurovision classics in both Estonian and English. They were totally fantastic and worth the admission alone. A particular high point was the changing of the words in “ Once in a lifetime” and their Estonian Rendition of France 1977 was a joy to behold. Then there was a 15 minute countdown tape showing the Event crew’s favorite songs, which whipped the crowd up… and then, the Estonian National Anthem.

Rarely have I been so moved as when 6500 people, of all nations, stood to observe the host country’s anthem. This is the essence of the contest in a nutshell. Here we were, at Europe’s most derided television event, 6500 of us from all corners of the continent, some of the nations in it are fighting with each other, both internally and internationally, socially and politically, in a country which many of us took half a day to get to, on our feet sharing the pride of a nation which itself is only 10 years old and struggling to free itself from the shackles of years of communist “rule”. At that moment, once again, it brought it home to me that regardless of what the detractors might say about what they perceive the contest to be, this is truly an event which brings all of Europe together, this is the one place where people of all nations can mix together because of the event we love, national pride and a European identity unique in modern society all comes together for one week every year in May. Then after a couple of minutes of feet stomping, flag waving and generally making our own entertainment, their came a roar from the crowd as the new EBU “flash” or Introduction appeared on the screen. There may have been only 6,500 of us, but we all know what that music is a prelude too….

After the Presenters had come and gone, making their “e”-stonia jokes ( oh how we laughed….) we were ready for it. First up Cyprus and boy, what a difference a week makes. At the beginning of this week I thought that this was dour and a bit flat, but with an audience inside the hall, the boys really performed their backsides off. They bounced around the stage with vigor rarely seen for an opening act. The crowd, still in a state after the opening, lifted the boys to produce their best performance of the week. I still do not think that lyrically and musically it is the best song in the contest, or that it does anything new in Eurovision terms, but boy, did they attack it. The crowd loved it and was on their feet in a flash.

After the excitement of 5 lovely Cypriot boyz leaping about, it was time for a bit of subjective Patriotism from us 5, as the UK entry wandered onto stage. Jessica had been touted as a possible, then definitely not the one, to “I just don’t know” in various stages of the week….. The main UK cheering section was located to the side of the stage and she acknowledged them with a wave before belting out the song. It was received quietly in the hall to start with, then she hit that note and the place woke up, to such an extent that by the end of it she got the round of applause and cheering that she richly deserved. A genuinely nice girl, unfazed by the silliness that is the Eurovision week, making time for almost everyone during the week and she will go far.

Before I get to Austria I must tell you all a story. You see this will explain some of what has been written here. My so-called mates, Mr Delaney and Franko, had this notion in the week that I was onto a bad thing with the Austrian song, so much so that they, rather foolishly, challenged me to a 2 Kroon bet ( 8p each) that Austria would NOT finish higher than Switzerland. Now me, with total faith in Manuel, said yes. But as the week progressed it went to 5 EEK, 10EEK… then someone said” well if you are “experts” put some real money on it”… so we did…. Well Franko and I did, Roy just said that he was in it for the humiliation….. so the money rose as did the jibing in the press center, so that by Saturday the total bet was 310 EEK ( about £16). Now as I have the website, that would explain the slant towards Austria but those swine’s had counter measures, of which more later. Anyhow back to the song. Manuel went down well in the hall ( whey-hey!), with the girlies and with someone who wishes to keep his identity a mystery…… His vocal problems had cleared up and he gave it a fantastic attacking performance, which delighted his many adoring fans. Incidentally he is only an ikkle man, but someone should take him home and mother him…..

…and then Greece hit them. Fresh from their brush with Manuel, the crowd did not quite know how to take this. In the end, his earpiece fell out, but to no great detrimental effect. It was still shite. I kept looking around to see reaction. But there was not a great deal, unlike the next one…

Pre-show we were treated to the spectacle of half of Granada ( In Spain, not the TV company), doing the conga with the Spanish Flags, virtually demanding that we supported Rosa. However they were preaching to the unconvertible here. The only way that I would have supported Rosa would have been on a piece of Scaffolding. I detested this song all week, primarily because I could not see what the fuss was about. To my ear it was a piece of ordinary Latino music, over-hyped by a desperate Spanish public and media circus. Rosa herself was a shy bird, but allegedly, liked a bit of a drink and I heard stories that she was carried out of Parties by the two David’s on more than one occasion. However on this occasion the only thing she needed was a proper audience. With the Spanish Fervor, and the fact that the audience knew what was coming ( as we were a knowledgeable lot you know), they helped her lift a truly awful performance. To my ear she missed notes and slid to the highest one of all. Europe would not be living a celebration, but Spain would be having a Nervous breakdown after that performance, but her cheering section gave her a “Rosa, Rosa” chorus.

Then onto something of real class. The sultry, sexy Croatian known as Vesna. She gave the Heterosexual men in the hall a surge of Testosterone, and the Homosexual ones minced away as she sung. This was the first complete “performance” of the evening. The song is very strong and she, and her sexy whip, was used to caress the front row and then the rest of us as she made her way to the front of the stage, gyrating her hips. A colleague of mine described her as a “ dirty moo”. And she had that glint in her eye.

Seventh on the stage were the Russians. This would go either of two ways in the hall, either it would bomb, as all of the rehearsals for this song had been….. well…”fair to middling” shall we say… An average performance of an average song was the way that I would have described it……or, with the local support from the crowd, it would go big. The Russian contingent did go mental over it, as predicted….. but the song itself was a bit weak. The harmonies that were in the song were not as strong as they should have been, and the voices were weak in places. Overall their look was very dated….. but they were buoyed by the crowd one thinks.

Then it happened. Possibly the greatest non-winning performance that I have ever seen. Salhene has everything, confidence in buckets, a considerable smile and talent that no one can match. She knew that she could potentially bankrupt ETV again by winning this darn thing again, but that did not stop her giving the performance of her life to win over the 6500 crowd in the hall. This one got us all on our feet. Visually perfect, technically excellent and vocally note perfect this was the one to beat.

Then came the Macedonians. Everyone that had seen Skopje 2002 knew what was about to happen, Karolina, in the velvet dress that we had come to love so well, whipping it off to reveal the red bottom and the golden top.. And that’s the size of it really, a brooding performance of a broody, moody, ethnic song. It was never going to set the world on fire though,

Then the Israeli’s appeared. Sarit Hadad had evidently had the most trying week, escaping the political happenings in her own homeland, to fly to Estonia to this hotbed of politicking for the song contest. The rehearsals had taken their toll by Friday and that was undoubtedly the worst performance of the week for her. However she had recovered sufficiently by Saturday Evening, buoyed by a crowd more interested in her singing performance than any political shortcoming that she, her delegation or indeed her country may or may not have. I hope she realized that in Estonia, she was amongst friends, because she gave the most haunting performance of this song. “Critics” have said that the IBA should not even have been here, but if they had their way they would have robbed 300 million people of a genuine performance of a strong ballad.

Remember the bet?? Well Mr. Delaney and Franko struck back by waving their Francine Jordi pictures throughout the 3 minutes that the Swiss were on stage for. Your editor was cringing in his seat next to them. However, even the might of the UK press, and the Swiss fan club cheering and ringing their cowbells in the hall was not enough to wake the European public from their slumber. This was nice, and Francine was nice enough to look at, for at least half the audience, but the song itself was too old and too French in style to do anything. Still she got a good cheer ( from the aforementioned press corps).

To end the first half, Sweden. You know when you look at this contest and think” is that the best they could come up with”, well that’s what I got. 3 women, decked out in ripped silver blankets that you get when you finished a marathon, strutted around the stage to…well.. very little effect really. They had at least learned to sing by the time they got to Tallinn so that saved the audience from crying with laughter but to their credit they did attack this very weak, 70’s song.

Having recovered from the “interval” of Anneli and Marko lip-synching their way quite possibly the biggest round of applause I have heard for a commercial break filler, we moved into the second half of this madness.

Song 13 was Finland. Now despite the result that it ultimately achieved, Laura is a damn good singer and the song is really song ( even though it took me virtually all week to realise that Tracy Lipp, the songwriter, was in fact a lad and not a girl. But that’s by the by). Laura, dressed in Finnish national Colours, blue and white, had evidently brought half of Helsinki over with her cos the hall was swarming with Finns, all cheering and waving their flags, and getting slightly inebriated at the same time. This song deserved to force a “douze” from someone and in my opinion it will remain a travesty of this contest that it didn’t score higher. She did, however, win the press award ( the award given by the accredited press for their best song) which is something of a consolation, cos the pouting, attacking performances she had given all week deserved a lot more.

From the strength of Finland we moved, via a postcard entitled “The little Mermaid”, to the weakness of Denmark. Here was a contrast If ever I saw one. We had just seem 3 minutes of attack from a woman who knows how to perform the backside off a weak song, and now we get a strong song, weakly and disparately performed by a startled 20 year old. Malene had a great MGP ( Danish final) performance, but this was terrible. I know it is supposed to be an emotive song, but standing at the front of the stage, bolt upright, was not the way to go in this song. She needed to loosen up, but she just looked constipated I am afraid.

Bosnia and Herzegovina were next. Now I liked this song. It was everything a typical Jugovizija song was from the mid 80’s. Up-tempo, catchy, well performed by Maja. Unfortunately it was 15 yrs too late ( ah if Only Bosnia had become independent in 1985!!). It still got me, and the audience, clapping when she got to the English lyrics. Is that a pointer for the way that Bosnia should go in 2004??? And she was missing her feather Boa which could have gained her that extra point she needed!!

……and then… Tom Jones!!.. Well no, only Sergio, the Flemish answer to the Welsh wizard. As a friend of mine said “ Everything is good about this song *except* Sergio”. He didn’t really sing this song, rather “perform” it, back flips and all. All week he had been trying to drum up support by gate-crashing the parties of other delegations, and making a nuisance of himself, but hey… That’s showbiz In Flanders I suppose. Just a shame it didn’t come across to the rest of Europe ( It was also a shame he did not fall over, just for the comedic value but…..)

After the silliness that was Belgium, we had the Class that is, and for ever will be, France. This song is what the French do so well, after years of forgetting that this is the way to go, a strong ballad, sung by a great, if rather small, singer. Sandrine performed the pants off this song, wearing her Purple Velvet curtains run up into a dress, and having been taught where to look for the cameras, she didn’t let us down. A broody performance of a strong song.

Then to the Favourite…. Corinna May and her backing band. The master plan from NDR was to get this girl on stage, and march, inexorably on to victory to give Siegel and Meinunger their second win. However, all was not going to plan in the camp for they forgot the girls one weakness, her inability to sing live. This could well go down in ESC history as one of the most awful, eardrum piercing pieces of live music ever heard. Now I’m not saying she was bad… ok I *am* saying she was bad ( and this from one of her most vehement supporters). Badly out of tune backing singers and poor “choreography” lead to an awful performance.

Buket is not a name that springs to mind when you think of Eurovision ( except as a place to wretch as the songs are being played), but the Turkish version of that name, and her backing group Sapphire ( Sapphire and Buket sounds like an 80’s detective series…..) did Turkey proud. As usual they sung a bit in English, and at first it sounded a bit odd. But as the week progressed it turned into a decent song, culminating in this excellent performance. Even the male singer losing his earpiece didn’t detract from stunning choreography.

….and now, Malta. A song which I personally regarded as one with a great chance immediately after it was chosen, but I thought was swallowed up by the “giants” around it. How wrong can one be. I think this song did really well because of the cheekiness shown by Ira, the fact that she had no knickers on, and the fact that she was one of the few performers that didn’t fuck up in the middle of her song. A really together performance on the whole.

Am I the only one that missed this one?? It certainly seems that some of the rest of Europe “got” Romania, but all I could see were 2 people forced together for the sake of the song, not really putting too much effort into this weak song. Some people in Tallinn were saying “ this will do well”, but I just ignored them. I wish I hadn’t now……. But I still think that it is too out of place to have won.

Slovenia… what can one say. As regular readers will know, I hate this song with a passion, on the basis that the song is shit and not because of what and who the performers are, but give them their due, they did perform the song, in the same way that Sergio “performed” the Belgian song, and I think it got the credit it deserved (!)

Latvia. Well some say it sounds like a Ricky Martin song, but familiarity isn’t a bad thing in this contest. Marie , who as many of you will know had a successful career in Latvia before the contest, came out and , well, gave the performance of her life quite possibly. Cynics say that this song won the contest because of the “strip”. That is total nonsense. The song won because it was immaculately performed and choreographed and Europe “got” the song.. simple

Finally Lithuania. After the enforced departure of We All, they sent. Well… the drugged up kid next door really.. Aivaras didn’t do a great deal of anything and it did seem to me just to be going through the motions, and 12 points was far too much in my opinion.