Roger Whittaker is 85 today!
(Photo by Helen Giles, Köln 2009)
2011 was a good year. Well, we thought so, Daughter and I, as we reminisced about that early Eurovision quarterfinal, or whatever they call it, which we caught on our half term in Sweden ten years ago. With hindsight it appears most of the good songs that year were on on the night we watched.
Last night we watched this year’s Swedish final, because now you can get Svt online, and also after the fact (we forgot it was on…). So we had ourselves some late night singing and gyrating and mostly bad puns. Some of the songs were quite good, and some were not. Daughter was happy with the winner, who will travel to Rotterdam in May, while I would have preferred someone else.
But at least that someone else proved that singers with good voices still get the opportunity to compete. There were two Klaras. I think this one was the Klara with a C, so Clara. Plus guitar. And a much less outlandish outfit. Or there were last year’s winners, who didn’t make it all the way this time, despite all that gold.
Though, having said that, I didn’t watch as much as I might have . There was more or less uninterrupted strobe lighting for the two hours. Nicely done, but I wanted my eyeballs to survive.
And Mello, which is obviously short for Melodifestivalen, but sounds like a snack, was quite a revelation. Most Swedes I know watch every instalment, commenting on social media on everything, down to the frequency of the boy singers touching their you-know-whats (I assume to make sure it didn’t get lost).
The man who has run this show for the last two decades is Christer Björkman, who I seem not to have known back when we were twelve. But I did read about his Stockholm house in one of my recent house interior magazines, shown before he takes himself off to the States to give them their own Eurovision. (Yes, I know. But let them have their fun.)
For Daughter there was Måns Zelmerlöw. He’s now been around long enough to almost count as a grand old man. Especially considering the winner last night was 19. Anyway, Måns is lovely, but I do wish he’d use his real local accent when he talks.
Once it was over, we sat and listened to some of the 2011 songs, one of which stuck in my head all night. The wrong one.
Back in 1991 I didn’t know I’d need it so much. After all, I’d been away from Sweden at Christmas, and Lucia, for years. And my nearest Swedish church was a seamen’s church, and what do those burly sailors know about beautiful singing in long white gowns? Well, we went anyway, and as the singing carried up the stairs in the church in Liverpool, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was so beautiful. And they weren’t sailors at all, of course. They were the children of Swedes in exile plus some students.
It was the same feeling I got yesterday as we sat around enjoying our morning coffee at CultureWitch Towers. Singing, coming from outside, possibly up the stairs. I don’t know. I’ve not been to the church in London. In a year when so much has had to be given up, here we were, with a real Lucia, filmed in an empty church, with all the necessary physical distancing in place. It was beautiful.
Lucia and her ten attendants sang most of the most beautiful, traditional songs, with only one unknown medley. For Oh, Holy Night they were joined by the church’s youth leader, who has a very good voice on him. There was a short greeting from the Ambassador and a blessing from the minister. And that was it. Short and sweet.
On a personal note, I was relieved to see that even this Lucia had a slightly lopsided crown of candles. I thought it was just Daughter, 15 years ago. But they are heavy things, those crowns. With live candles. The Resident IT Consultant asked where the people with the wet towels and the buckets of water were, and we decided they presumably hid behind the camera. He was on bucket guard more than once in the seamen’s church.
Later in the evening I watched Swedish television’s Lucia offering, filmed in Jukkasjärvi. It was beautiful too, in a different way. Very cold, judging by the breaths coming from Lucia and her many attendants. They were out of doors in the darkness of morning. There were reindeer. Behind the cellist sitting in the woods.
I had to look the place up. You can tell from the name that it’s in the far north, but how far? More or less next to Kiruna. Very beautiful, and very dark. And those teenagers sang so beautifully. They looked less slim than you’d expect, until you realise that they were wearing thick white coats, and mittens.
Both these Lucia events were wonderful. For the exile in me, the London one was better. I crave recognition, by which I mean I need to hear the same old songs again. The Jukkasjärvi selection consisted of mostly new [to me] songs.
Both the Lucias were called Lina.
And the cellist, with the reindeer behind him, looked very much like he was straight out of a Danish crime series. But with colder fingers.
I hope his nose grows. It was either that, or a different pair of glasses, as the man himself said, halfway through the concert. That’s Andy Fairweather Low, and one of my first thoughts during his live online gig tonight was that he needed to see his optician.
He’s very self-deprecating, isn’t he? I ask because I’m still almost a complete novice, but I really enjoyed this. Short, at just over an hour, but they had worked hard at deciding which half of their most popular repertoire they’d play. Some was new, some I knew.
And I do hope that they could hear us applauding all across the globe? That’s what goes missing when the only people in the room are themselves and – by the sound of it – friends and family? Or just crew, maybe.
I was struck by the enormity of it all; the reason a group like this needs to play live via YouTube, and the fact that they can, that it is possible to organise a concert and that anyone, anywhere can buy a ticket and tune in. My own armchair is more comfortable, even with the laptop balancing on a swivelling office chair, and the queue for the toilet was non-existent. But it’s not the same as live, as in the same room.
It will have to do, though. Seems the band had not seen each other for a long time, and their next date is April 2021.
We should have more of this. It was actually both fun and enjoyable. Unless that’s the same thing?
Last night’s replacement for Eurovision was far better than the real deal. I’d thought it would be, but it was good to be proven right. There was no avoiding Graham Norton, or Mr Norton, as he was addressed by the polite ladies in Rotterdam.
He behaved much better, most of the time. (But there is still room for improvement.) First we had the reminiscing of the past, playing an odd and partly predictable selection of oldies and occasionally goldies from the last 60+ years of Eurovision. It was nice to see [some of] them again. I remembered what my problem with ABBA in 1974 had been. Embarrassingly large group, embarrassing clothes, and the surprise of them suddenly singing in English. Plus the winning, except that wasn’t bad so much as a surprise. Katie Boyle looked like Mrs Thatcher’s prettier sister.
And then they won again, in Saturday’s ‘contest’. Daughter was torn between ABBA and Måns Zelmerlöw but luckily she was allowed to vote for more than one.
Then came the more ‘real’ Eurovision, with two hours of this year’s hopefuls, directed by three nice people in Rotterdam. It was lovely! I feel I got to know them so much better than through the ‘postcards’ they usually have. We saw many of them in their homes, and we enjoyed counting the pieces of IKEA furniture, or noting who seemed to have none.
We fell in love a couple of times; the lovely young Italian man and the charming cheeky chap in Austria among them. We’d not have seen any of this without the worldwide calamity that caused the change of programme.
Björn Ulvaeus appeared and spoke wise words as Eurovision’s grand old man. We discovered a UK winner from 1997 that neither of us remembers ever having heard or seen. It was good. And wow, hearing it sung by all the 2020 singers at the end..! Discovered a UK non-winner wearing an interesting dress, or vest, as I would call it. Again, a good song.
To finish a great evening, we had an hour of Eurovision A to Z presented by someone who looked like a Russian millionaire, with good teeth. That was fun, too. More memories to be revisited, and new ones made.
Four and a half hours later we rose from our armchairs, with some difficulty. Even the Resident IT Consultant had remained, and looked like he enjoyed it too. That’s never happened before.
A week ago as the first news about Marie Fredriksson having died filtered through my social media, I turned to the Resident IT Consultant and said ‘If I say Marie Fredriksson has died, would you know who I meant?’
Not surprisingly the answer was ‘no.’ Then I suppose it was my fault, for trying to explain that she had – for a time – lived in the house that Mother-of-witch really wanted to live in, that she was one half of Roxette, singing with Per Gessle from Gyllene Tider. None of this hinted at greatness.
Later the same day he said with surprise that she’d been mentioned on the radio (=Radio 4). And the next day her photo was on the front page of the Guardian, with another inside and a half page article.
By the weekend the Guardian also published an obituary, quoting among the people who would miss Marie, the King (of Sweden; not Elvis).
I reckon the Resident IT Consultant was a little bemused. And I realised I should have said that Marie was one half of Roxette, second in fame and success only to ABBA. (He’s heard of them.)
The thing is, to me – who didn’t follow popular music in the 1980s or 1990s – she was the ‘local’ singer who’d done really well. Where she came from came first, not so much where she went to. And as I mentioned over on Bookwitch, I was in Sweden when her illness had just been diagnosed 17 years ago, reading the sensationalist headlines in the tabloid press. And what upset me was the thought of her small children. Because the mothers at the local playgroup considered her nice and friendly; someone who always said hello, and was not stuck-up like many other people nearby.
It was nice knowing your music, Marie, even if I came to it late. And I’m relieved your children had time to grow a little older, even if longer still would have been preferable.
the fans phoned. I’ve never forgotten the constant ringing of the bloody phone, but assumed it was ‘normal,’ somehow. And here I discover in this morning’s television interview with Gyllene Tider’s Per Gessle and Micke Andersson, that it’s not been commonly known… According to Micke his mother was furious. No, more like annoyed, I’d guess. Siv’s too nice to do furious. She had to hire someone just to answer the phone, because it seems the fans didn’t want to book themselves in for haircuts.
Sorry about the interview, by the way. It’s in Swedish. But you can still enjoy it. Per looks a little wrinkly, but Micke has his parents’ good looks. (I know, because he posted a photo of them on facebook last week, and they haven’t aged at all.)
I was too cool back then to have much interest in Gyllene Tider. And it’s weird to think they are now breaking up for the last time (?) and will set out on their 40th anniversary tour this summer. I suspect I will miss it, just as I have all the others. I don’t do crowds well, nor standing for hours.
I – almost – share their accent, and I believe them when they say that they were always a ‘good’ band. It’s what happens when you have cows outside your house.
I was sorry to hear that Ray Sawyer died today. He was 81, which seems almost impossible when you think back to his image in earlier days.
Having been a great fan of Dr Hook & the Medicine Show decades ago, I liked both Dennis Locorriere and Ray. Both had gorgeous voices. Very different voices, but which made Dr Hook what they were.
I have always loved the solo album Ray recorded back then, even if in later years I was concerned about his view of women. But I decided you can like someone’s singing, and the song [the music] but still disagree with how women were portrayed in those songs.
I particularly like The One I’m Holding Now, while it illustrates what I say above.
A week ago the Austrians celebrated their National Day. Daughter and I very accidentally happened to be in Vienna just then and – less accidentally – wanted to have a closer look at the Musikverein than you get from our sofa in front of the television on New Year’s Day. We discovered there was a Strauss concert on that very morning, so booked tickets to go.
It was all we had hoped. The concert hall really is that golden, and they really do cram in as many chairs as they can, wherever they can. We had good chairs on the side, quite close to the stage.
The Musikverein is housed in one of many elegant buildings in Vienna, and it was pretty much as I’d expected. The ushers speak English, and were most helpful. There are wardrobes for coats and larger bags, and there I learned – from the woman on my right (who, incidentally arrived long after me) – that you can say ‘bitte’ and be very very rude. She certainly wasn’t going to wait for anyone else to deposit their stuff, thank you very much! It pleased me no end to discover her halfway down a rather long queue for the ladies’ toilets later on. There are not enough toilets, but this is understandable in an older building.
Plenty of bars, however, and the audience indulged in eating and drinking. I’ve always wondered how they get the audience in and out on time when we see them on television. I’m still wondering that.
We enjoyed the concert. The Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester is no Wiener Philharmoniker, but that was fine. Likewise, conductor Johannes Wildner was no Karajan, but a chatty, bubbly chap who told jokes between numbers. At least I think he did. People laughed. My Austrian German wasn’t up to such detail.
We began with the Overture to Die Fledermaus, through lots of Strauss tunes, ending with Auf der Jagd and An der schönen blauen Donau. Much stomping and clapping rewarded us with another polka and the Radetzky March, enabling us to leave on a high. Daughter hadn’t quite dared hope for the latter, so was very happy.
They offer tours of the Musikverein, but I’d say go to a concert instead if you can. It doesn’t have to be the New Year’s Day one. After all, I don’t expect people can leave on January 1st and proceed to have coffee outside in the sunshine.
Or maybe they can. It’s Vienna, after all.
When I read in the local paper last autumn that Runrig were going to play their farewell concert in Stirling, I thought nothing of it. Because I’d never heard of them.
It’s not as if stuff mentioned in the Stirling Observer tends to be world news, exactly. I simply saw that some unknown group were going to play here. Within days the concert sold out, which was surprising, but then maybe not. I could see that a few hundred or even a thousand people might be interested. Music is nice, after all.
And now it seems that with a second concert added, we are doubling the town’s population for the weekend. 45 000 people are invading, some of them from Australia.
Once this fact had sunk in, I asked the Resident IT Consultant, who is not known for being cool, if he had heard of Runrig. Before all this broke lose, I mean. He had. Daughter had. And Son. So that just left me. It was suggested that living so long in England might be the reason, as the English aren’t fond of culture from north of the border.
I spent last night trying to ascertain who I should compare Runrig to, just to get a reliable measure of how famous they are. Not so much who else plays that kind of music, but simply the level of fame. I’m not sure we managed an answer to that, except a lot more famous than I’d thought.
Then asked what kind of music they play… So Daughter treated us to an impromptu Spotify concert on her phone.
Not bad, I suppose.
And we might not be one of the 45 000, but it appears we will be able to hear the concert if we open the windows. More, if we go for a short walk, but that would probably mean in the company of the rest of Stirling; the ones who don’t have tickets.