Roy van der Merwe of Eurovision South Africa and the ESC Covers website attended several Eurovision song contests in person at the host cities. He is writing down his memories of those Eurovisions he attended with accreditation.
The Greek visa was fairly easy and I could get it at the consulate in Johannesburg and did not have to go to the embassy in Pretoria. With many Greek people living here, the consulate is quite big, but also have fairly long queues. As always visa hours are strange like 2 hours in the morning to apply and then a week later 2 hours in the afternoon to collect.
For some strange reason, I was not on a direct flight to Athens from Johannesburg but because of that a portion of my ticket was discounted by the airline, so at least I saved some money. I cannot recall via which city we flew, but I think it was somewhere in the north of Africa.
I arrived early the morning on the Athens airport – it was the new airport build for the Olympics. I had been in Athens before but at the old airport. It was big and empty and I could not find a Eurovision counter or OGAE stand like at previous Eurovisions. I made my way out somehow and got a taxi taking me to the city center where our hotel was. Morten had already arrived together with several other OGAE Norway fans. I finally got to the hotel. Morten had bought underground tickets for the period since with the heavy traffic in Athens, if we traveled by Eurovision shuttles, it could takes ages before we got to the venue. With the underground it was fairly fast, yet still probably 30 minutes to get to the Olympic park where the venue was. It was also some walk from where we got off the underground to the press center.
Interesting of this hotel was the fact that many OGAE people stayed there, especially OGAE presidents – Rest of the world, Norway, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Denmark, etc.
Accreditation was once again not so easy. There were long queues and the people were not working that fast. Also I had to wait for the head of delegation from Iceland to sign my accreditation form. Morten missed at least the first rehearsal by the time he was helped and by the time I got to the press center, I think I had missed the first three rehearsals and the first press conference.
On top of it, someone from South Africa came with me but was refused accreditation – and the EBU spoke to me and said it would be in my interest to cut ties with this person – which I did once I got back to South Africa. It was clear this person was using me to get into Eurovision and then do projects for financial gain.
I met up again with Graham and Mark, but only Mark was able to get accreditation and Graham had to be outside the press center. I would go out a few times a day to chat to him and took him something to eat from the press center , as well as the odd CD.
I really liked the Greek press center. In the working area for journalists with P were little boxes where you could lock up your Eurovision bag, jacket, promo CD’s and lock it with your own key. This was fantastic so you did not have to walk around with tons of things or worry it could get stolen. The pigeonholes were a little problem – Greece of course decided to start at 1 to about 500 for Greek journalists and only after that the rest of the people got pigeonhole numbers.
Inside the press working area, often the artists walked through to get out of the building and if you sat close to where they came out, you always had a chance to chat to them first – that is how I managed to get hold of the Albanian singer, Luiz Ejlli, who only had home made CD’s and probably just 5 to 10 – they look like nothing, they were just white without a cover or print, but he signed each one and if I had not witness him signing mine, I would have never believed it was him signing it as it was impossible to make out his name as it was just a scribble.
I had someone made a cover for me for this.
It was the first time I met Carola. She was walking in the press center and I was surprised how short she is. I really like her song “Invincible” and was hoping she could do what Johnny Logan did, win a second time.
I did see Lordi but was not really interested in them at all. Little did I know they would win. I never for one moment considered them as winners. “Hard rock hallelujah” was okay but not a song I would play a lot.
There was an OGAE fan stand but it was outside the press center and on the way to the cafeteria. I never saw anybody working there or anybody visiting it.
Just like in 2005, there was again a Viking party organized by the Nordic countries. In 2005 they had Ireland joining them, but for 2006 it was again just the 5 Nordic countries.
Ralph Siegel was back again, this time for Switzerland with Six4One – I really love the song – “If we all give a little”. I also had a gift for Ralph – I had made two compilation CD’s, each one with 25 songs – covers of his songs from South African artists. Ralph also gave me a full CD of SIX4ONE.
A Belarus journalist interviewed me and one of the questioned he asked me was why the journalists not like the Belarus entry MUM by POLINA SMOLOVA? I said I am not sure but I myself cannot stand the entry. It just did not sound good on my ears. He then gave me a home made CD of Belarussian music he was promoting.
Athens was the first Eurovision I had never sat foot in the venue. I never went for a single rehearsal, I spent most of my time in the press center. It was also a very busy period for me, getting ready to pitch at the OGAE International meeting where they would vote on OGAE Rest of the world. We had a one year probation from Kiev and now it was time to vote whether we would be a fully functional OGAE club. There was one other club also in the same position, Andorra. I also had to work with the Armenian delegation as we got permission to entry the OGAE song contest with a song by them. If I remember correctly Armenia debuted in Athens with Andre and his song “Without your love”.
Andy did not attend Athens but he had several Russian speaking workers there who I met, one of them knew like 12 languages.
Near me in the press center was the president of OGAE Netherlands and other members of the Dutch board and they were very busy with the ticket packages. It was my first introduction to this part of OGAE work.
Fabrizio Faniello was back for Malta with a great song “I do”. With him was again Manfred Holz from Germany as the publisher of his song. Unfortunately, “I do” ended in last position to the surprise of many fans. In South Africa there was such demand from singers to cover this song, I had no less than 12 singers interested in it. Tobi Jooste made a special single of his covers of the song.
Germany brought a country song in the form of “No no never” by Texas lightning and there were high hopes among the German fans for a good placing, if not a win. The song is okay but I saw nothing special in it, although the single contains their cover of “Waterloo” which to me is nothing special.
Russia brought a big name Dima Bilan and he sang “Never let you go”. I predicted a top 3 position for this.
One afternoon I was working on preparations for the OGAE meeting – it was the first time I had worked with a memory stick. And it was not even my own. Towards the late afternoon, I was tired and I left to go back to the hotel. I took the underground and by the time I reached the hotel, I discovered I had left the memory stick in the computer in the press center and so I instantly caught a train back to the venue. I was so relieved when it was still in the computer. But I had a lot of stress for an hour or two, thinking what if someone took it and I lost all the work.
I had a very good friend in Athens, Isabella and we were learning each other’s language but after a year I was able to say just 5 words in Greek while she was mastering Afrikaans like a pro. She went with me to the welcome party. It was so crowded. The queues for food were so long, so we left early and went somewhere else, if I remember a party for Anna Vissi, who was the artist for Greece with “Everything” and for a few moments I thought Greece could record back-to-back victories.
A big favourite with the fans was Kate Ryan who was there for Belgium with the song “Je t’adore”. I like it and thought it would do well so it was a huge shock when she failed to qualify for the final.
Both Denmark and Estonia brought great songs (according to my taste). Sidsel Ben Semmane with “Twist of love” and Sandra Oxenryd with “Through my window” are songs right for the South African market and both were covered here in Afrikaans by boy band Hi 5.
The United Kingdom had a catchy song in the form of “Teenage life” by Daz Sampson and several UK fans (including the then OGAE UK president) dressed up one day in school uniforms.
Poland brough Ich Troje back and although I do like “Follow my heart” it was not as catchy as their 2003 entry.
Lithuania brought a full CD with a variety of artists on it. It is called Pavasaris.lt. There are 8 songs on it, one for example by the group B’avarija who tried several times to win the Lithuanian selection. It is quite an interesting cross selection of Lithuanian talent at the time.
The promo single of Turkey is very special. It contains a DVD, a CD with audio and a CD Rom with photographs. The song is called “Superstar” and sung by Sibel Tuzun. If I remember correctly, she had a group of British male dancers with her on stage. It was well performed but the song itself lacked something to make it memorable.
My favourite from 2005 is Ireland with “Every song is a cry for love” by Brian Kennedy. He has a perfect voice, the song itself has everything I want in a good song and I was hoping for it to win although I was not that keen on going back to Dublin for Eurovision.
Romania brought Mihai Traistariu and the song “Tornero”. Many people also had this high on their list for possible victory.
Greece had the OGAE meeting somewhere in a nice area. Morten and I went there together as he knew where it was located. It was nice and they had lots of food there for us to eat – but I was too nervous to eat anything. The voting was quite difficult for me as two clubs Netherlands and United Kingdom VOTED against Rest of the world and 7 clubs abstained. But to my surprise we got wonderful support from Serbia, Poland and Norway in particular. Finally, the vote went in our favour and I could not keep back the tears. Months of hard work finally paid off.
Due to the strange flight times of the airline, I had to go to the airport even before the final started. Actually halfway through the flight to Johannesburg the captain announced that Finland had won the Eurovision song contest. It was a real surprise to me; I had in no way thinking Finland with Lordi would win.
A few weeks before Eurovision I had met Amanda Reynecke who wanted her son to record Eurovision songs and she especially was interested in many of the 2006 entries. We finally did a CD with her son, Dominec with no less than 15 Eurovision songs – of 15 different countries, most of them 2006 songs. Nobody else has ever done a CD with so many Euro covers and from so many different countries. In return for my help, she made a compilation CD with various Eurovision covers and so the first such compilation was born.
Musically I had quite a lot of favourites
Ireland – Every song is a cry for love – Brian Kennedy
Sweden – Invincible – Carola
Denmark – Twist of love – Sidsel Ben Semmane
Estonia – Through my window – Sandra Oxenryd
Belgium – Kate Ryan – Je t’adore
Malta – Fabrizio Faniello – I do
Poland – Follow my heart – Ich Troje
Russia – Never let you go – Dima Bilan
Switzerland – If we all give a little – Six4one
Greece – Everything – Anna Vissi
2006 really also had a lot of horrors
Netherlands – Amanbanda – Treble
Latvia – I hear your heart – Vocal group Cosmos