Songs from an Icelandic Soul Written by on October 21, 2009

Originally published on Boom Bang a Blog, Oct 09.

It’s now been five months since my Eurovision adventure to Moscow and the insane chaos of wall to wall coverage that I threw out, not least the near constant Twitter stream from backstage and during the live shows. Just like a football fan, attending the concert is our Cup Final, so it’s to be expected that we’ll be very vocal as we walk to our Hampden [or Wembley! – Jamie].

Eurovision fans are now in the lull before the National Finals start up to choose the songs for Norway 2010 in May next year, but that gives many, including myself, a chance to look back on the performers from this and previous years. The majority of entrants have a career both before and after the Song Contest.

So when Jamie asked me if I’d like to do some posts on Boom-Bang-a-Blog my first thought was let’s look at the songs and albums from popular Eurovision singers in recent history (actually my first thought was it’s the Edinburgh Fringe, leave me alone!)

Given the platform that the Song Contest provides, it always surprises me that the artists don’t make better use of the international opportunity they are being given (trivia watch… more people watch Eurovision than watch the American Superbowl). Having their website set up as bilingual at the very least, and ensuring albums are available digitally for everyone in Europe should surely be the first step to maximising your three minutes?

But that never stops the intrepid Europhile sourcing the albums, be it through the handful that get an official pan-European release (even if it appears rushed, a la Alexander Rybak) or by asking fellow fans nicely to nip into the local Our Priceski and pop a CD in the post (*).

Let’s start with Iceland’s Johanna Gurorun Jonsdottir… Yohanna.

In any other year (any other year) I’m convinced that Is It True would have seen the media flying to Rethykjavik the following year – alas the steamroller of Fairytale halted that fairytale.

This lady can sing. Her debut album is Butterflies and Elvis and it showcases her fantastic voice that’s been carefully nurtured over the years. After featuring on an album release when she was ten, she stepped back from the public spotlight at the age of thirteen, stepping back into the limelight aged seventeen – and then putting Icelandic TV within inches of bankruptcy by coming second in Eurovision last year.

Opening with the carefully measured power ballad Beautiful Silence, it’s just over a minute before the hint of the soaring nature of Yohanna’s style is evident. The opening tracks set out a rather mellow introduction, but still maintain a good pace. As the title track fades out, the flow of the opening four tracks is at an end. Like the butterfly in the title, the album kicks into high gear and flies into your head. My favourite lyrics are in this song… “It’s like make believe, in the wrong sized dress, and nobody wants me, unless I’m somebody else.”

The pace gently ramps up as you realise (with sadness) that the end of the album is getting closer, but with the anthemic Walking on Water and the singalong closer of White Bicycle awaiting you, Yohanna’s debut leaves you looking for more.

Is It True never featured on the initial release of the album, but later versions have it as a bonus track and it’s clear that the song is both a perfect fit for the Icelandic singer, but also the best choice of all the songs here to be sung at Eurovision.

Yohanna is not a pop singer, she puts me more in mind of Americana – think Shania Twain or LeAnn Rimes – but this is a fantastic slice of music. It’s the album that I’ve listened to the most from this year’s Eurovision performers; it has songs that I find myself humming in the quiet moments of the day when I get distracted; and yes I’m more than happy to admit singing along at full voice in the shower.

And this is another reason that I love Eurovision – not just the discovery of something wonderful on the night, but the continuing enjoyment of the careers of your favourites. Yes you could love the contest and leave it after one night, but there’s far more just under the surface.

Butterflies and Elvis, by Yohanna, is published by Warner Music Sweden and is available from Amazon.

* One final plea, if anyone out there has anything more from Petr Elfimov, could you get in touch?

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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