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.
Finally Russia won and we could go to Moscow. I was quite excited about that, however I had some financial problems in 2009 – due to the global financial crisis. As I have indicated in my 2000 looking back, I stopped working that year and so my only income was interest from investments which took a horrible dip as the money was invested in the stock exchange and so I was unable to go for the entire two weeks. Also the hotel in Moscow was quite expensive. I arranged with Morten that I would be there just the first week and then go home and he then got someone from Norway to share the room with him the second week. This worked out perfectly because Per Michael was coming just for the second week and so he replaced me in the hotel room.
Two South Africans also decided to go to Moscow, Nelius Ferreira for his third Eurovision in a row and Carl-Piet van Eden for his first time. They decided to stay until the end.
I flew with Qatar airways via Doha which seemed the most direct route to Moscow.
The Russian visa was quite interesting cost wise – if you wanted it instantly, it was like say 100 euro, and then there was a drop of like 10 euro for each day you were prepared to wait until like 50 euro if you waited a week. I decided on the first one otherwise it would mean going to the embassy again to collect and traveling to Pretoria a second time. So for the first time ever I had my visa on the day of application.
For the first time I would also not arrive at the same airport as Morten. With Moscow being so big, there are several airports and Morten coming from the west would arrive at the Western airport and I coming from the South would arrive at the Domodedovo airport. Luckily Andy coming from Kazakhstan would also arrive at this airport and his flight was like an hour behind me. So we arranged that I wait at the airport for his arrival and then he has arranged with Alexey Tcharykov to pick us up and we pay him instead of a taxi.
We first went to the accreditation center and there was a long queue but Andy knew someone who came to fetch us and took us pass all these 100 or so people waiting and we ended up right in front of the queue to get our accreditation.
I was then taken to my hotel. Alexey had to leave immediately to go and get Morten at his airport as his flight was about to land at that time. I really liked our hotel, a big hotel with many floors and something like 23 of the delegations stayed there as well.
The hotel also had a foreign exchange counter where I could get rouble for my euro (again it was impossible to get any Russian money in South Africa).
Once Morten arrived and we had settled in properly, we walked around for some sightseeing, but the wind was blowing quite heavily. Near our hotel was some important tourist attraction with statues and stuff – I am not really a tourist so I sort of just tagged along and got to see the Russian people.
My highlight of Moscow was the underground – I love going down the escalator almost 1 kilometer and up and just to see the faces of people coming in the opposite direction – these escalators were always crowded, no matter what time we travelled. Our hotel was close to the venue and the press center, like 3 metro stops.
The lay out of the press center was quite interesting and the pigeonholes – they were allocated alphabetical by COUNTRY and mine was under S – SOUTH AFRICA so almost like 1000 or so before me. The interesting thing is that you got a key for your pigeonhole and so you could go and unlock it any time you feel and see if there was something in.
Ralph Siegel returned and this time he wrote the song for Montenegro, “Just get out of my life” for Andrea Demirovic. The president of OGAE Spain Jose Juan Santana Rodriquez was also involved as one of the lyric writers.
The Montenegro entry, like most of Ralph Siegel songs, was covered in Afrikaans. Jeandre Odendaal covered it as Wil jy kom of bly.
I had a gift for Ralph as well as a certificate saying his 100th song had been covered in South Africa. The moderator made a mistake and said South Africa offered Ralph citizenship, when it was just that due to him having written so many songs that were covered in South Africa and sold well, the idea was that if ever he was tired of Germany, he could come to South Africa anytime and get citizenship. Meanwhile his songwriting partner Bernd Meinunger had already bought property in Cape Town as well as Nicole, so they already had South Africa as sort of a summer destination. They also have a music publishing company called CAPE TOWN songs.
Interesting in the press center was the fact that they had translators and so you could get the press conference in French, English and Russian – so nobody sat in front and translate. It was done automatic by translators in the back and you got it on your earphones.
The actual venue was just a few steps away from the press center. Everything was so well centered and easy to get to.
Remembering me from Belgrade, some people of the Belarus delegation showered me in gifts each time they saw me, especially one woman who was not very good in English, but each time she saw me, said “Here’s another gift”. I cannot even recall all the stuff, many of the items I gave to Morten to take to his OGAE members – I know there were crystal glasses and Vodka and chocolates. The interesting thing also was I often got a little note saying DEAR GUEST – there is a souvenir for you from a delegation. You can pick it up at the Equipment storage – this is because it was too big to fit into the pigeonholes. 90% of the time when I got this notice, it was something from Belarus.
A funny thing also happened with Belarus. While sitting in the press conference room someone came in with something we thought was CD’s. I took three, one for me, one for Morten and one for Andreas in Austria. Imagine my shock after a while when this CD’s started melting and then I realized this was not CD’s in a box, it was ice cream. I think quite a lot of people discovered this as well. Belarus had so much ice cream, you could feed an entire army on that.
With Sakis returning to Eurovision for Greece, I decided to do a project with a South African singer Izak Davel – he is sort of the South African Sakis. He was doing a new CD and I thought it would be nice if he covered Sakis 2004 song “Shake it” and we also presented it in a denim pocket since Izak also had a denim company as a sponsor. His record company told me I would not get on the plane to Moscow without it. Well, it is almost 14 years later and I am still waiting for it. This was really the worst thing for me, especially as Sakis knew about this. But he was so cool, in Moscow he said to me, “It’s not your fault, if they did not see the opportunity, it is their loss”. His 2009 song “This is the night” had been covered since by several singers but he has not returned to Eurovision so I could give him a copy.
Miss World 2008 Ksenia Sukhinova, who was filmed in image of girls of all participating countries, was decorating the venue and other parts of the city – It was interesting to see how she represented each different country.
Breakfast in our hotel was such a treat. Besides a lot of food and some very interesting and delicious, with 23 delegations staying there, I had breakfast every day with someone from another delegation – Albania, Romania, Iceland, Belgium, etc. This was the closest I had ever interacted with the artists. One of the nicest breakfast artists was COPYCAT from Belgium.
Even closer interaction came from Albania. The delegation was staying on the same floor as me and Morten and their singer Kejsi Tole practiced their song and dance routine in the lobby in front of our room. Albania also had a twin as backing dancers and these two guys decided to give me and Morten a personal show inside our bedroom just before the rehearsals so we could tell them where they could improve.
One day Morten and I visited the RED SQUARE – well, I had seen pictures of this square so many times on TV and filled with soldiers, it looked huge. I was quite disappointed in real life – it was small. Around it was a huge new shopping center but so expensive, I did not even buy a postcard. This is surely the shopping paradise for the Russian millionaires.
Slovakia returned to the contest after quite some years with “Let’ tmou” by Nela Pociskova & Kamil Mikulcik. They had a big selection that year with several interesting songs. OGAE rest of the world was able to convince the other clubs that we should also take part in the OGAE Second chance contest and we would enter a song from a country without an own club. We decided on a song from Slovakia for our first entry. So, I did spend a lot of time with the Slovak delegation to try and see which song we could enter – one with a video.
There were two different CD singles of the Slovakian entry.
The Czech Republic was also there with a song I still think it is one of the worst ever entered, “Aven romale” by Gipsy.cz. We were told at the press conference that they were quite successful in China. The song did badly and that was the end of the Czech participation for quite a few years.
Chiara was back for Malta for a third time, this time she was singing “What if we”.
Lidia Kopania was there for Poland with an interesting song “I don’t wanna leave”. Jasmyn covered it in Afrikaans.
Israel had an interesting song “There must be another way” sung by Noa & Mira Awad – I however expected more from the song – it promised so much but did not deliver in the end.
The 5 Nordic countries all have entries that are worth mentioning. We have also covered all 5 in South Africa – the first time ever that all 5 Nordic entries have been covered and three of them turned platinum here but it was the three that did not do as well as the ones of Norway and Iceland which came first and second. I think these two covers were not as well promoted as the ones from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. Interesting is that these three all had 5 or more SA artists covering them. The Finnish cover is so far the biggest seller of a Finnish song in South Africa and it is even played by Eurovision DJ’s at events – I heard Louis Klomp played in it Copenhagen – besides the Afrikaans cover, it was also done in English and Spanish here.
Ek val vir jou by MONIQUE and SNOTKOP became the biggest seller of the various Finnish covers.
CANDY BENSON covered it in English as well as Spanish.
(STEFAN) LUDIK from Namibia covered it in English with some guy who’s name I had forgotten now.
2009 also seemed to be the year with the most covers in South Africa – almost 75% of the songs have been covered. The most interesting cover was that of the German entry “Miss kiss kiss bang” – it was done in a duet between Patricia Lewis (who had covered both Charlotte’s entries -1999 and 2008 successfully) and David Hasselhoff from Knight rider fame. David even sings part of the song in Afrikaans.
Some years later Greece entered Eurovision with a song called “Alcohol is free” but this is exactly what happened in Moscow. Each member of the press got a lot of free coupons for free drinks – I think at least 5 a day and we got these coupons in advance. The coupons had different colours like green for Monday and red for Tuesday. Because I was not in Moscow for the second week, I gave out all my coupons to others.
The best promo CD ever (for me) came in the form of “Shine” from De Toppers of the Netherlands. This promo single must have cost a fortune. They also spent a lot of money and the three guys drove into the press center on bicycles. One of De Toppers left the group before Moscow, namely Gerard Joling who represented the Netherlands in 1988 at Eurovision. He was replaced by Jeroen van der Boom, who went on to cover the Danish entry of this year successfully in Dutch. Another Topper is Gordon who is famous and had number 1 hits before. The third Topper is Rene Froger who also had a lot of chart success prior to De Toppers.
Open the package and inside it looks like this.
Some guy called Mesjieu Maurice covered Shine in Dutch as “Schijn” and in the dialect of Limburg as “Sjien”. The proceeds of this single went to the Toon Hermans Huis for people with cancer.
2009 was the year of special promo singles. Another stunning one came in the form of Yohanna from Iceland with “Is it true”. She also recorded several language versions, among them German and Russian.
Another out of this world promo pack came from Armenia – the song “Jan-Jan” by Inga and Anush. They also had the most beautiful t-shirts. V
Serbia had a horror song but again a fantastic promo package with the CD having versions of the song in Serbian, English, Russian, French, Greek, Hebrew, and Finnish.
Yet another stunning promo single came from Turkey in the form of “Dum tek tek” by Hadise.
I ran into Philip Kirkorov in the press center and was able to hand him a promo single we had done – a cover by Lee Scott of his song “Shady lady” which Lee calls “Los my alleen”. Philip was really surprised by it.
Arash was there for Azerbaijan – he was in duet with AySel and their song is “Always”. He had a big hit called “Temptation” and it was covered by the boy band Hi 5 as “Versoeking” and I was able to hand Arash this CD – he too was extremely surprised that one of his songs travelled all the way to South Africa.
Romania had a song called “The Balkan girls” which I thought was interesting and we covered it with Cole van Dais as “Suid-Afrikaanse meisies”.
Even Slovenia had a small promo single but it was cut in the form of a music instrument – really eye catching. The song “Love symphony” by Qartissimo featuring Martina was just too much of an instrumental track to really catch the attention of the fans.
A highlight for many was the visit of Vladimir Putin to the venue where he saw part of the Azerbaijan rehearsal and then came into the press conference room. I hardly recognized him as he was much shorter than I had expected. It was nice of him to come and say “hello”. He had a lot of security guards with him. I think some of them left with Belarus ice cream.
One evening Jakob and Karina came to our hotel room to fetch their show tickets. It was the first time I met these two members of OGAE Norway.
I spoke to Malena Ernman as she mentioned the feathers from her dress was from South Africa. I really like “La voix”. I did not know at the time Greta Turnberg is her daughter.
“Believe again” from Brinck was not really featuring on the radar but for some reason this song was in such demand that I had no less than 12 SA singers who wanted to cover it. At least six did with the biggest hit coming the way of Heinz Winckler who was the first Idols winner in South Africa. The first SA artist to cover “Believe again” was Henry Alant and we had the promo single in Moscow to hand personally to Brinck.
Alexander Rybak from Norway was the overwhelming favourite to win with “Fairytale” and it did win. I like it but it was not a wow song to me.
Spain brought Soraya with a catchy song “La noche es para mi (the night is for me)”. I was able to also get a full CD by her.
Patricia Kaas was one of the big names, singing for France “Et s’il falliat fe fIaire”. I did not know of her until Eurovision as she surely is not well known among the average music lover in South Africa.
The United Kingdom has Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber writing their entry “It’s my time” sung by Jade, but it was to me one of his weaker compositions. Interesting is that a Russian teenage magazine had the promo single attached to the magazine and so many of us bought this magazine just for the single. I cannot even recall the name of the magazine, I knew once I took the CD single off, I gave it to the first young Russian female I came across in the street.
As usual I bought the double Eurovision CD and like Ukraine and Serbia, this was also special with the names of the countries written in Russian.
I also brought for the second year a special competition CD called EUROVISION ONS SING JOU LIEDJIES with covers of Euro songs in Afrikaans.
Well, as usual, there was some drama, this time on my departure. As the Russian rouble is worthless in South Africa and I cannot even exchange back home, I decided to work out exactly how much my taxi will cost to the airport. I ordered the taxi from the hotel reception and was told the fare will be x amount of rouble. I added like 10 rouble for a tip and made sure I spent the rest on sweets and things. The taxi came and Morten and me had a slight problem finding it – instead of being in front of the hotel, the taxi went into the parking lot. We finally located it and off I went. The driver was nice and friendly and asked me about my experience in Moscow. The streets were empty – it was after all a Sunday morning. Imagine my shock when we got to the airport and the fair was 10 rouble more than I had. I explained to the driver that I was told the amount and added 10 rouble and now it is a further 10 rouble more – he said we went through a tollgate which was 10 rouble. I said I have no more Russian money so he will have to wait until I get to a foreign exchange counter at the airport to get 10 rouble, but he said it was okay – he understood. I gave him some souvenirs I got at Eurovision, like the cup and he was very happy.
The flight home was uneventful and I was home in Johannesburg at the start of the rehearsals for semi final 1. Luckily with internet, I was able to follow what was happening back in Moscow. Although I was home in South Africa, I sort of figured in Moscow as well. Morten was unable to convince the reception staff at the hotel that I had left and Per Michael was the new person in the room, so poor Per Michael was the entire time “Roy”.
Nelius, who was the board member for Africa at the time, attended the OGAE meeting on behalf of R O W and I gave my pigeonhole key to Morten so whatever came in there, he could take for his members. There were 42 entries in Moscow and I had gotten 40 promo singles before I departed, missing just two – DENMARK and PORTUGAL and they came into my pigeonhole after my departure and Morten posted those two off to me once he was back in Oslo – so I had a full house.
My favourites from Moscow are
Netherlands – Shine – De Toppers
Sweden – La voix – Malena Ernman
Bosnia & Herzegovina – Bistra voda – Regina
Iceland – Is it true – Yohanna
Montenegro – Just get out of my live – Andrea Demirovic
Horrors came in the form of
Czech republic – Aven romale – Gipsy.cz
Ukraine – Be my valentine (anti-crises girl) – Svetlana Loboda
Russia – Mamo – Anastasia Prikhodko
Serbia – Cipela – Marko Kon & Milaan
Latvia – Probka – Intars Busulis