Eurovision 2023: I just had to be there! (Part I)

Turin in 2022 – and yes, it rained a lot too!

A constant, a growing obsession of mine has for years been the Eurovision Song Contest. When I first became really interested, it was 1997 – and the United Kingdom scored a number of douze points to gain victory. Of course, I was too young to go to Eurovision in 1998 – although I would have loved to have been in the NIA in Birmingham to see Israel, and more notably Dana International win. The years that followed were, in a manner of speaking, a low point in UK Eurovision history. Therefore you can imagine my joy in 2022 when the United Kingdom heard the dulcet tones of ‘douze points’ once again and absolute delight a few months later when it was announced that, given the war in Ukraine, United Kingdom would host the contest for the first time in 25 years.

Given my job, I’ve never had a chance to really ‘do’ Eurovision before. I did a 24 hour fly by on Norway in 2010 (and got mugged for my phone in the process) but literally just saw the show. In 2022, I went to Turin the weekend before the contest and experienced a little of the build up, including a visit to the Eurovision Village. However, this year with the contest being held in Liverpool, it was a rare chance for me to do the contest ‘properly’. And properly, I did…

The Journey Begins… in Sweden and Amsterdam!

The final Melfest scoreboard live in the Friends Arena

The journey to Liverpool started back in February. How? By doing the biggest national final properly. Every year in Sweden, four semi finals, a second chance round and a grand final help select their entry for that year’s contest. This year was no exception – and given an impromptu discussion with friends, within three weeks I was on a flight to Gothenburg to see the first semi final of this year’s Melodifestivalen. Obviously, my budget wouldn’t stretch beyond a couple of trips to Sweden and as I sat down to watch the semi final I contemplated the idea of popping back across to Sweden a month later for the grand final….

It’s funny how things turn out. If you had asked me at the start of the year about Eurovision national finals, I would have confidently told you I was planning to just do a trip to Norway and that was it. Alas, due to a change in dates – Norway was out… and suddenly Sweden was in. It wasn’t however just one impromptu conversation – different set of friends, two weeks before Loreen took the Melfest crown in Stockholm there was another impromptu conversation…. and guess what – another trip was hastily planned. I saw the Melodifestivalen final live in Stockholm for the first time ever, with lots of friends. Maybe, when I reflect on my Eurovision experience this year, that’s it – I love the completeness of it. Whilst, I’ll admit I’m not Loreen’s biggest fan, it has been quite satisfying to know I followed the journey. I watched her win in Stockholm, and I was in Liverpool to see her win the contest (albeit not in the arena for that one!).

Of course, no Eurovision journey these days is complete without a customary trip to Amsterdam. Eurovision in Concert is the largest Eurovision pre-party in Europe, and Amsterdam Calling the night before is also a fabulous experience as well. It’s great opportunity to see all the acts (well most of them!). I know, dear reader, you want to hear about the Eurovision experience – but it’s all part and parcel. From performances from past acts such as Nusa Derenda (Energy, 2001), The Roop (On Fire, 2020 and Discotheque, 2021) and Rosa Lopez (Europe’s Living a Celebration, 2002) at Amsterdam Calling, to the fabulous performances from this year’s acts such as Joker Out, Loreen, Mae Muller and of course Kärijää – it’s a crazy weekend that is almost a cheaper (and lighter) version of the actual contest itself. The great thing is, it also gets you in the mood for the actual contest….

The journey continues – to Liverpool!

Liverpool Lime Street was awash with Eurovision!

Which brings me to Liverpool… It was always the plan to do two weekends in Liverpool. Perhaps it was most fortunate really that they decided the King’s Coronation weekend would be the weekend before the contest as two weekends became two extended weekends in comparison to what they could have been. Friday to Sunday quickly became Friday to Monday – and the following week, Friday to Sunday very quickly became Thursday to Sunday instead – for which I am extremely grateful for.

The first thing that hit me about Liverpool was, unlike Turin in 2022, this was a city that wasn’t just hosting the contest, but a city that was embracing the contest. When I first arrived into the city late on Friday night the weekend before the contest – the very first thing I saw when getting off the train, was a massive sign on the ground saying ‘Welcome to the Party’. Liverpool Lime Street station had been decked out in Eurovision from top to bottom. Even if Eurovision passed you by, you could not fail to notice that this was where it was happening.

Once reunited with my Eurovision sister Jo, and settled into the hotel, a good night’s sleep morphed seamlessly into an early start. One of the best things about this pre-contest weekend over Turin was the number of Eurovision related events that were on. Most notably Saturday was spent at the largest Lush in the world, where Wiwibloggs were hosting a ‘Lush Live Lounge’. What a fabulous way to spend a day. I got to meet and see sets from many of this year’s acts including Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Latvia and perhaps most underrated by myself at the time Switzerland. Given the Swiss entry is the only one at the moment that has made it on my ‘post-Eurovision’ playlist I do kind of regret being too tired to get a selfie with Remo Forrer at the time.

Kalush Orchestra were the first act to grace the stage at EuroClub 2023

As day turned into night, it was time to experience something I’d oft heard about but never really experienced properly – the EuroClub. Hosted at Camp and Furnace, I cannot even begin to describe the utter delight at hearing so many Eurovision songs on a loop – and most notably for the Saturday night, hearing the rapturous reception given to Kalush Orchestra (last year’s winners). I was extremely impressed with the fact they played an entire set – at over 50 minutes, though I will admit by the end, I had decided that Ukrainian folk/hip-hop/rap mash ups were not really suited to my music taste!

One of the best things about arriving the weekend before the contest is that you get to see others arrive. Sunday was a glorious day as I met friend after friend who were arriving in the city to spend a whole week there. Whilst the day may have not been particularly busy, the night at Euroclub was a particularly active one with reunions abound with so many fabulous faces. My highlight however was the EuroClub performance that night where Elisabeth Andreassen peformed. As one half of my all time favourite Eurovision act ‘Bobbysocks’, it was amazing to see her perform – and with the help of other acts on stage that night, the performance of ‘La Det Swinge’ (Norway, 1985) brought a massive grin to my face. Special mention also has to go to the fact that by Sunday the EuroClub had expanded into two rooms – and one of them was a massive retro-room. It was something of a shock I still had a voice on Monday morning having belted out tunes and danced my way through the night….

Of course, this is a story of two halves. This year there was no FOMO as you have probably gathered from both my story and the pictures. As I left Liverpool on Monday afternoon, having left a case full of clothes ready for my return on Thursday afternoon, I was very much smiling knew that in 3 short days I’d back in Liverpool to experience more Eurovision fun….