Author Archives: Ian-Luke Penwald

About Ian-Luke Penwald

A Londoner and a Brit working in niche media in the UK.

Eurovision 2016

imageIt’s that time of year again. The night of the biggest entertainment show in the world with an estimated 200 million global audience, which this year will air live in the USA for the first time. China will tune in again for the 2nd year running. Tonight the final 26 of the 43 original entrants will battle it out to win the Eurovision Song Contest. This time last year I was in Vienna to experience my very first event live and what a great experience that was and I would have been in Stockholm tonight if I’d thought to book earlier before things got ridiculously expensive. So what to expect of tonight’s show? Well, be prepared for a seismic change.

There has been a HUGE change to the voting system. The votes each year are the result of the combination of the expert 5-person Juries of all the competing countries and the public televote but we never usually know how the juries voted versus the public. This year we will. The voting will be announced in the usual way after all songs have been performed but only the jury results will be announced. At the end of this process we will appear to have a winner. AHA! Then comes the sting in the tail. The public votes will be amalgamated so all the votes across Europe and Australia for, say, the U.K. will be added together and so on and then finally the public amalgamated vote for every finalist will be revealed meaning the public vote may well undo the rankings of the jury vote and we won’t know the true winner until the end of the show. Confused? Me too TBH.

OK, so before I reveal my Top 10 picks for tonight – and I’ve got to say this has been the hardest year ever to do that because the standard is so high, a word about the real star of what you will see: the stage. Sweden will provide one of the most hi-tec stage settings ever and the artists who make best use of it will do very well and two will in particular. OK, so on to my picks.

Cyprus

imageHeavy rock is not my thing at all and this was not on my radar until I saw their performance in the semi-finals. 5 man band Minus One will rock the stage tonight with a song called ‘Alter Ego’. It’s a dark, heavy performance but delivered with such driving confidence that you can’t help but pay attention, even if this isn’t your thing. Guaranteed to get top marks from Greece, of course, but don’t bet on others not scoring this highly too.

The Netherlands

imageIn complete contrast to the Cypriot rockers, the Dutch have gone for Country & Western with a song called ‘Slow Down’ sung by Douwe Bob and his band who, refreshingly, will all play instruments when they perform. I liked this from the very first hearing and was embedded in my Top 10 even before both semi finals when the bookies and pundits made it a 100/1 rank outsider. A stunning semi final performance reversed those odds and now this is tipped as a dark horse destined to do well and I would agree. It’s a toe-tapper, happy feel song with a refreshing message for our manic lives: “you gotta slow down brother, slow down brother, slow down if you can’t go on…”. This is the only song of its genre tonight and for that reason will stand out from the crowd.

Israel

imageUnlike the Dutch entry, this one was not on my radar at all and I was pretty dismissive of it as were most pundits…until the Stockholm rehearsals where singer Hovi Star quite literally brought the Globe Arena to a complete, awestruck standstill. This guy has one of the best voices in the contest and clearly has the respect of many of his competitors who are wishing this song well. The song is called “Made of Stars” and follows in the traditional ‘power ballad’ style that has done so well at Eurovision over the years.

Sweden

imageThe host nation and six times winners were a reluctant last in my top 10, narrowly beating Hungary, which will do very well. Why did it make my top 10 then? Well…it’s Sweden and you can never underestimate them. Don’t be fooled by the fact they are the only Nordic country to make the final because the fact they are means the other 4 Nordics only have one Nordic to concentrate their votes on and that’s potentially 48 points in the bag before he’s sung a note. That said, it’s a pleasant song and a completely different genre which I’m not hip enough to categorise. Sung by Frans, the youngest competitor in the contest who has a British Nigerian father and Swedish mother – and when you hear him he could be from any corner of London. This will not give Sweden their 7th win to equal Ireland’s record but could well make the top 10. Oh…sorry. Almost forgot. The song’s called ‘Sorry’. Sorry.

Austria

imageAs with Israel, I dismissed this one on first hearing but it’s proved to be as much a grower as it is a shower, so to speak. This is one of two entries that maximizes on the technical brilliance of the stage tonight. This is a feel good song called ‘Loin d’ici’ or ‘Far from here’. It’s the first time Austria has presented its entry in French. It’s also one of only 3 non English language entries this year and the first time ever a song sung entirely in French has qualified from the semis. Apart from being a memorable performance as it is, Zoe will take to the stage 3rd from last and will be the entry immediately preceding the UK. If for nothing else, you will remember her as that girl and the flowers come voting. You’ll see what I mean.

Italy

imageI went with Italy as my first choice last year and they ended up 3rd. I don’t think this one will do as well but it’s another I liked on first hearing. The Italians are passionate about Eurovision and were the inspiration behind its creation with the original format based on the San Remo Song Festival, which still takes place today and from which this year’s entrant, Francesca Michielin, was selected. She will sing in her native Italian, bar one chorus in English. The song is called ‘Nessun grado di separazione’ or ‘No degree of separation’. I’ve heard her sing this ‘unplugged’ with just her singing and playing the piano and if only she’d gone down that route tonight I’d put money on her winning. This one polled well with the 43 international Eurovision fan clubs pre the contest and that’s a strong indicator of how well or not a song is likely to do.

Spainimage

The choice of this song caused a national outcry in Spain and reached the no.1 global trend spot on Twitter because for the first time ever Spain will perform their entry entirely in English. It’s a funky dance number called ‘Say yay yay yay’ or I guess ‘Decir si si si’ en Español, so I guess she made the right choice in defying national fury and insisting she will sing in English. This is the best shot Spain has had in winning for decades and singer Barei will deliver it with high energy and a quirky dance that has itself already gone viral across the globe.

Australiaimage

After what was supposed to be a one-off last year, Australia are back again now they have secured permanent affiliated status with European Broadcasting Union. There is still a host of moaners around mocking their participation but this year’s singer, South Korean born Dami Im, will certainly shut mouths. This is a stunning entry performed by a singer with an amazing voice. Prepare for the roof to be blown off. Ironically, the song is called ‘Sound of Silence’. It’s another ‘power ballad’ and this may well see the Aussies improve on their impressive debuting placing of 5th last year.

Russia

imageOK, this is the one to watch out for. You will never have seen a performance like this ever in the history of Eurovision. It makes full use of the technical brilliance of the stage and reviewers in even our own sceptical national press have described this entry as ‘jaw dropping’. The strength of the entry is not just based on gimmickry. Singer Sergey Lazarev is a confident performer with a powerful voice and among the best eye candy of the night, whether you are male or female. The song is called ‘You are my only one’ and topping it all – it’s a very good song. Sergey will perform this mostly on his own bar the mysterious appearance and disappearance of 4 male backing singers. Oh…and watch out for the only female cast member and her (literally) two seconds of fame.

France

imageAnd so to my choice for the evening. France have kind of followed in step with Spain to submit their first ever entry in English. Well, half of it but a huge step for a nation that fights passionately to preserve francophone culture. This is a real feel good, happy, toe tappy song delivered with every ounce of Gallic charisma by French-Israeli Amir Hadded. The song is called ‘J’ai cherché’ or ‘I’ve searched for’ and this actually won the combined Eurovision fan club vote topping Russia by a considerable margin. I’d take the results of the fan clubs with considerable pinches of salt given that they base their votes after endless pouring over the entries whereas 99.99% of voters tonight will judge on first impressions and this guy is the master of making a good first impression. I’d be very happy for the show to come from Paris or preferably my favorite French city, Nice, next year.

And finally a word on the UK. Pundits and bookies place Joe and Jake in the top 10 tonight but I just don’t see it. If they make onto the left side of the results board they’d have done good. If we get zero points then just watch that be politicised into the Brexit debate.

Up Periscope?

imageI’ve been road testing the Periscope app. If you are on Twitter you will know it. If you have young/teenage kids then you ought to know of it and Facebookers…don’t tune out because it’s heading your way soon in a different guise.

Periscope is a Twitter app which enables you to video broadcast to the world LIVE, in real-time using just your device and wi-fi from wherever you are.

How does it work? Periscope when downloaded gets access to your camera and mic with your permission. You can choose to broadcast yourself turning the camera on you and inviting random anybodies to ‘talk’ to you and ask you about your life/interests. That’s what I found most teenage/young adults doing as I used the map in the app to scroll around the world and zoom in on live broadcasters (or ‘Scopers’) in dozens and dozens of countries to see how they were using it. I found that the vanity culture we live in sadly draws young and adults on to the app to expose their mostly mediocre lives to anyone who logs into their broadcast to interact with them if interested.

imageThe most interesting Scopes were where people were turning the camera on to scenes or events around them, rather than on themselves. In this way I was able to watch the recent London Marathon while out and about and not in front of a TV from the point of view of racers and fans rather than TV stations. Actually, I was in church at the time but as I’m sure my Pastors don’t read my crap I’m OK to reveal that. I toured the Old City of Jerusalem through the camera lens of some random tourist there and was able to comment with knowledge on what he was seeing as I know the place well and even direct him from my room in London as to where to turn his camera or guide his steps as to what he might find if he took a left or right turn from where he was.

How do you interact with Scopers? Well, when you log on to their broadcast they get a notification on their screen that @radiogeyser (my Twitter handle) is now watching. They can’t see or hear me. I can’t vocally communicate with them but I can see them or whatever their camera is viewing. I can message them a comment or question by text in the app which appears on their screen, which they can read and respond to vocally.

I thought long about whether to post this blog or not because I’m not a social media expert and I thought by now most people will know about Periscope – only they don’t seem to or are just not wanting to use/know how to use it. I know this by my many trawls around the live global map to find Live or dormant Scopers…and the map is surprisingly sparsely populated. So if this technology has been out a couple of years and it’s not taken off, why bother with it?

imageFacebook has already hinted it will introduce live citizen broadcasting in some form to its 1.65 billion active monthly users worldwide soon and the difference for me between Periscope and Facebook is that more people I’m closely connected with are on Facebook than Twitter. It will mean more to me if my more closely connected Facebookers watch any of my livecasts if I do any as it will if I see theirs – and if any of my close friends were about to livecast something, I would watch at least initially and then choose who to keep paying attention to. One thing I forgot to mention is that Periscope saves the most recent broadcasts of those you follow for review if you miss it live for a limited period. My Twitter followers are mostly anonymous people I know little about. My Facebook community is my inner circle and so livecasting in that context will have more relevance.

imageI like the potential of Periscope despite the vastly mundane, irritating and even dangerous nature of broadcasts I have seen. Let me just open this up for a sec. I randomly found a live Scoper in Sheffield, UK where I used to live. I logged in to his broadcast for that reason only to find a young guy ranting about gay people and advocating all sorts of harm, violence and death on them. I messaged him to stop. He didn’t. I warned him I would use the facility in the app to report his broadcast (which Periscope records) and he continued. I messaged him to say I had reported him and he continued. Finally, using the map facility I geolocated the street in Sheffield he was broadcasting from (but not the house number). I messaged up his street name and if I could have had the wits to screenshot the look on his face when he saw his street name come up I’d make it my screen saver. With an “OH SHIT!” He closed his broadcast down and I have no guilt at all thinking he probably had the first of a couple of sleepless nights.

imageScopes that draw me: Little is more and I stumbled across a French girl living in Nice, a place I love. She broadcasts in short bursts though the day. She has three goals: to show off her beautiful city, to engage with those whom she attracts and to teach them how to speak French. I am now in her daily morning class on Periscope with a link to her website I can visit if I want to deepen my learning but for now, I’m learning a bit of French every day with her and others in real-time on a beach in Nice. I give her my attention, though I’ve never seen her face because she has engaged me and I enjoy those few minutes of lovely views from a place I love while learning some French before getting out of bed to start my day.

Periscope may have a limited shelf life until Facebook or others unveil their rivals but the potential of citizen broadcasting, despite the pitfalls is an intriguing new prospect to communicate with the world around us. Like it or not, the digital space is the 21st Century market square.

Tonight I think I lost my best friend.

The how’s and why’s are not important for this post. It’s been a long drift and yes after a major blow up point. Attempts at reconciliation on both sides but still the seemingly inevitable outflow of detritus into the bay and the wider dissipating sea beyond.

It hurts. Hurts because of pain I’ve received. Hurts more because of pain I’ve inflicted.

‘Best Friend’ is an odd outdated term I think. I admire those who have and know such relationships. I should never have been entrusted with one. I’m not a best friend kind.

I still have, I think, friends who share the burden of my piss poor reciprocation. I’m less likely to harm a few who have a small piece of me than one who has or had far more.

Biff! Baff! Boff!

imageMy, my – it’s all been kicking off in Europe recently and this time it has nothing to do with migrants or Brexits. Never in all the time I have been a Eurovision watcher have I known the Continent to be so fractious or there be so much pre-contest controversy.

My British chums will most likely be unaware that it will soon be upon us and will raise eyebrows and head for Lastminute.com in a bid to flee Europe once they realise. Indeed, the UK provides the starting point of my controversy count and you may not realise it but we, the people of these isles, have already chosen our entry. ***listens to the sound of the Tumbleweed***. So miffed were the Euro luvvies at the BBC that the proletariat were being allowed to elect our entry once more that they tucked the song selection night onto BBC4 and a third-rate amateur production worthy of Dave TV followed. Anonymous duo Joe and Jake won and have actually scored a recording contract with Sony, who will no doubt regret their decision soon come June.

There are 43 entries this year and all but 3 have now been selected. There would have been 44 but after competing since the Dawn of Time without ever winning, the Portuguese have decided enough is enough and quit. Either that or their 4 songwriters are all on holiday together. So what else has been going on?

Well, the furore that erupted over the Spanish entry was so explosive it trended globally on Twitter and why? For the first time ever their song will be sung not in Spanish but in English! Hot Tortillas! The Spanish public demanded a reversal of the decision but Barei, the feisty little lass who will sing it, refused and she has seriously endured a tirade of social media abuse since. Her countrymen may yet come to regret their venom as she is hotly tipped to take top spot this year. Meanwhile in Germany, the public outcry over their chosen performer was so vast and vocal that the national broadcaster did reverse their decision and a new representative was put to the public vote. The reason? The former chappie turned out to be a raving right-wing, anti-gay Daily Mail reader with a secret stash of Donald Trump photos in his leather Joy Boy dungeon. So he was axed and a new girl will represent the Fatherland. I predict that will be the zenith of her fame.

Still a lot of whinging from all across Europe that Australia has a been allowed to participate again this year. I reckon much of that could be sheer jealousy of their debut 5th place last year and an entry hotly tipped to do well this year. Oh…and there’s been a fair bit of press and social media sniggering at the choice of this year’s contest slogan: “Come Together”. I’ll just leave that there.

Over in Poland, public rage too and a national petition to change their song and singer has been launched and is rapidly gaining momentum. The Israeli broadcaster is also reported to be considering a massive re-vamp of its entry after domestic ire and just yesterday after a 6-week national search to find the song that will represent the host country, Sweden, a HUGE public outcry at their choice, which will be sung by a young Nigerian-British-Swedish lad called Frans, who could easily hail from East Putney when he speaks. Not a race issue here, but the Swedes felt they had at least 5 other songs in their final that were better. Don’t underestimate Swedish passions where Eurovision is concerned. They are on the verge of taking Ireland’s crown as the most successful country ever but I think Dublin can rest easy for another year. Talking of Ireland, look out for former Westlife band member, Nicky Byrne, singing theirs.

Lastly and slightly more seriously there has been a spat between Russia and Ukraine over the latter’s song called ‘1944’, which is what the late Sir Terry Wogan would have called a ‘maundering little dirge’ about the Soviet expulsion of the Tartars from Crimea in 1944 (see what they did there?). With Russia having again illegally annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in recent years and subjugated the local Tartar population, Russia felt, maybe somewhat justifiably, ‘got at’in a contest that is meant to be non-political ***pause for hysterical laughter*** Russia made an official complaint to the European Broadcasting Union to have the song banned but this was rejected by the EBU and if you listen very closely you may hear the sound of Russian Baltic Fleet being prepared to sail on Stockholm come May.

So like I say, quite some shenanigans already but the best, loudest and worst is yet to come. For the first time since 1975, they are overhauling the voting system and if you do manage to watch it through to the bitter end and think you’ve seen the winner…think again. There’s a nasty sting in the tail this time round but more on that another time.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

imageThe last of my 3 blogs from Poland and despite the angst expressed in my first two, I did in the end make the journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was still pretty much a last-minute decision but as I wandered through Krakow’s impressive and beautiful Old City I found myself praying about whether or not to visit the infamous death camps. Then I turned a corner and find a small random travel agency selling tickets to the very places and so the next day…I was off.

The morning of my visit broke oppressively dark and grey-brown as the skies over Kraków, once clear sunny blue yesterday, began to pour incessantly all through the day without ceasing. How fitting.

imageThe drive to the camps takes around 70 minutes. I shared my silver Mercedes mini-coach with several other English-speaking passengers we collected en route. A random bunch of people at first but with some of whom I ended up embracing and wishing Bon Voyage as we returned to Kraków and went our separate ways again after what can only be described as a harrowing collective experience.

imageFor me, there should have been little on the journey that was news. I’ve been engaged with the Jewish people and their history since I was a child of 10. The atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust are well-known to me. I’ve visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem some 3 times and each time, floored in tears on exit. The thing is, that in Yad Vashem, you learn about things that happened thousands of miles away back in Europe. Here in Auschwitz I would be standing in the actual crime scene. And what crimes were committed there.

imageAfter all the build up, anticipation and apprehension in the end my fears of making an inconsolable fool of myself were alleviated by a number of things. First off, unlike the sedate dignity of Yad Vashem, you are on a conveyor belt of tourist groups each with their own guide and language once you have passed formidable airport style security. We were given headphones and sets to tune in on a dedicated channel to hear our tour guide over the commentary of all the other guides who had their ownimage channels. Unfortunately for us, we could not change channels to listen to the other tour guides, which we so wanted to do because the other thing our party was given was a grumpy old Polish bag who rushed us around, was barely understandable and with a face that could curdle milk with one look. Our group ended up splitting in two halves: the half that desperately hoped the grumpy sow would come good in the end and the rest of us’ namely Adam and Bee, a young and thoroughly likeable couple from Bath, Charlie and middle-aged geyser from Dublin whose wife had to high-tail it back to Kraków immediately after arriving at Auschwitz and following the very heavy documentary we watched on the way. Finally there was imageFrancesca and Freddie from Lisbon. Despite Grumpy Bags Tour guide wanting to rush us around, we held back and made her wait and the face that could only curdle milk before started to look like it could cause the very ground to plot asunder, such was her chagrin. My tip if you ever take the trip to Auschwitz is to do your own tour. You don’t need a guide. It is well laid out and documented or just eavesdrop on another group.

Despite everything, and not to forget the unrelenting wind andimage rain on our journey as much of the tour was outside, something deep and profound impacted me: the sheer scale of it all. The breathtaking sheer scale of the cold, sadistic, evil, super efficient killing machine that was Nazi Germany. As you walk into rooms where the removed spectacles of the dead were plied high, the clothes and prayer shawls of the dead, the imagemountain of children’s chamber pots, the suitcases where they carried all they were allowed to pack in 5 minutes and the hair of the women – beautiful long hair ingloriously chopped off to be woven into textiles other humans would and did wear.

imageI keep referring to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The first part of that name is infamous in history and well-known. The second half less well-known. At Auschwitz if you were deemed fit enough to work, you worked for the German war effort in local factories even though you had to do that on starvation rations and in diabolical conditions. Birkenau was a satellite camp of Auschwitz built to accommodate 100,000 at a time. A place where 100,000 people at a time came to do no more that wait for the jaws of death to end their brutal suffering.

imageI’ve already written more than any of my blog readers, if I have any, will read but I don’t care. I don’t blog to gain an audience. I always blog for the same reason I started: to overcome the fear of not being able to fills blank page with my own thoughts. Auschwitz-Birkenau deserves so much more of my time thought and energy. But I feel inadequate to express it.

The Holocaust was real and it was an exceptionally planned and strategised slaughter of people groups. The Jews were not the sole victims of the Holocaust but by far and away they bore the brunt. Six million of them.

There are words it seems not right to use in connection with Auschwitz. ‘Glad’ is one of those, but I will use it now because I am glad I made the journey because for me to have gone to Kraków and to not have made that journey given all my life’s history so far and with no guarantee I will ever get another opportunity – would only leave me living in regret until the day I die.