Eurovision in Concert is now in its sixth year. The London Preview Party is moving to a bigger location. This year Riga got in on the act. It appears from afar that these Eurovision Preview Events are here to stay and will continue to grow in support.
How important are all of these events in the build up to the Eurovision Song Contest next month? Ben Robertson travels to the first event of the year in Riga to ask the question – why bother?
“To be honest, it was just a joke when we started the first one,” Rene Romkes told me on the phone before I took the boat to Riga. “The Netherlands had not qualified for 4 years in a row and we had enough. Eurovision was getting less and less popular, the viewing figures were declining, people were blaming politics. We wanted to turn it around.”
Nowadays Rene is in charge of one of the highlights on the Eurovision calendar. Eurovision in Concert is now a staple weekend of Eurovision fun organised each year in Amsterdam attracting fans from right across Europe, and as Rene is proud to say even one visitor from Moldova this year. The show itself gets each artist to sing their Eurovision song to around 1,500 happy fans one after the other. It feels like a Eurovision final just on a smaller scale, as in the last few years the number of participating countries is easily over 20. Last year, in the 5th anniversary edition, Rene was able to complete a dream of bringing his idol Carola to Amsterdam to perform.
You Don’t Win Eurovision At A Preview Event
The concert itself is not the only thing that Rene and the team co-ordinate. I asked him to divulge the itinery for each of the artists
“Most of the acts will arrive at the venue between 11:00 and 12:00. Amsterdam has good connections, so many can arrive in the morning, but some stay here on the Friday night too. The press are assembled to meet backstage at around 13:30, and there will be three hours for the different interviews which is plenty of time overall. During this time, the acts go off one by one for their soundcheck. They then go back to their hotel to get ready for the show.
There are some respectable numbers that come with that exposure. Zlata Ognevich performed Gravity in Eurovision 2013 with a third place finish. Zlata’s performance on the official Eurovision YouTube channel from Amsterdam last year has almost 500,000 views at the time of writing, and many other fan-made video camera recordings too have a more than respectable figures in the tens of thousands of views, if not more.
The press interviews though don’t get anywhere near to these dizzy heights. The vast majority of press attending the event are the dedicated Eurovision journalists, and few of these reach more than the dedicated fan. Keeping with Zlata as the focus, topping the numbers of YouTube views of the interviews is ESCKAZ, with just over 10,000, followed by Wiwibloggs close behind. These are admirable, but when put in context with the viewing figures across Europe are not majorly significant. What is the real benefit of doing this for the artists?
“Firstly, it’s a great chance to make friends and to meet and greet all the other artists in the contest,” Rene explained, “It’s something that they appreciate. It also helps to provide the artists the chance to be familiar with the interviews, and to get the chance to perform to the unique atmosphere that a room full of Eurovision fans provides. It’s like a dress rehearsal for what will happen in Copenhagen.”
Practice Makes Perfect Before Eurovision Fortnight
This is a view echoed strongly by Russell Davies. Russell co-ordinates the London Preview Party (for which tickets are still available this year). They started this event in 2010 with a three week turnaround after the first of all preview events came from London when Barry Viniker’s organisation in 2008. After cramming everybody in each year since then this year they need to find a new larger venue, the spectacular Cafe de Paris in Leicester Square. When I asked Russell how he could convince all these artists to fly across Europe for singing a coule of songs, his answer elaborated on what Rene was discussing.
“The event gives them confidence. If you think of Eurovision, such a vast event, turning up on day one with 1,000 people all wanting to grab a piece of you is difficult to cope with. You can be told what it is like, but until you experience it that is a different story. Also, the fans are the majority of journalists in the first week of Eurovision. The proper media turn up later. The relationship is more intimate because the fans want to connect personally and want a piece of the action.”
Russell’s describtion here is fitting. For many artists, winning a national final (or, even being internally selected) in X country, they can have little experience or connection to the huge group that make up Eurovision fans. We are a group of loud, proud and intensely passionate fans on the whole, and it all adds up to a very unique environment. Amsterdam and London provide microcosms of that bubble and that experience.
“Also,” Russell continues, “let’s not rule out the effect of the live stage performance. If I look back to 2012, Kaliopi was performing in London as well as Eva Boto. Kaliopi has taken to the stage millions of times in all kinds of locations. For Eva, at 16, I believe such an experience was invaluable for her, and she did her very best regardless of the result that Slovenia achieved that year.
And finally, the benefit we have in London is that the venue is right in the middle of Leicester Square, and many of the artists are coming to London for the first time, and they get to experience being invited here to the middle of London for a show. It’s nice that we can offer that experience to the artists. They are representing their country and for many these kind of events are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
It’s an honour and a privliege for many to be a part of such a big festival as Eurovision is, and the artists want to be involved in that. The EBU want their share too, and they sponsor the Amsterdam event giving it additional media coverage and clout to attract delegations. I worry about such an fan-led event being controlled by the Eurovision top dogs, but Rene cast those fears aside for me.
“Eurovision in Concert is still very independent. We have the support and more than anything it shows just how serious the EBU are about helping fans. It gives us advantages like being able to use the logo, and Jon Ola Sand will be attending too next week. We are, after all, a team of seven volunteers, and any help to make it more and more professional is great. The EBU don’t put us under any real obligations.”
Widening The Preview Circle
With all this positivity playing on my mind, I was excited about the chance of attending the newest Eurovision preview party in the calendar. Headed by Miroslavs Kodis, the President of Eurovision Club Latvia, Riga held the first Eurovision Pre Party in the capital. As I have discussed recently for Insight, Latvian Eurovision is trying to come out of its huge recession, and with the newly formed Eurovision Club Latvia hopefully the fan movement will help generate momentum and interest to bring Latvia back to the glory days when it first entered.
It was clear that the event was rapidly organised and things were not all perfect compared to the other two shows we have discussed above. Publicity for the fan club was only confirmed the week of the show, and in the end after withdrawals from some acts on two were left for the Saturday Press Conference and Interview session. However, from a media perspective there was plenty of chance for interviews, the live streaming of the show was excellent quality, and the package and range of sponsors that were included showed excellent professionalism. It was brilliant to see the tourist board in particular on this list (and they provided a world class tour of Riga as well for press and artists). They were determined to make what they did have an outstanding success and I am expecting bigger, better and even more fun next year.
Those two artists in attendance are working very hard in the build up to Eurovision. Conchita Wurst flew into Riga after performing at a club full of Madrid’s Eurovision fans on Friday night, leaving the venue at 02:30, and leaving the hotel at 04:00 to arrive on the other side of Europe via Frankfurt. Conchita is fitting in appearances in both London and Amsterdam previews squeezing in TV apppearances en route. It’s tiring and it’s more than any other artist this year. Conchita is still so flattered by the attention.
“It is overwhelming. There is this club in Madrid full of people, and they were all there to see me. I can’t believe that! I’m on the stage and I’m asking everybody ‘Why are you here?’ And that they come to see me is wonderful.
This isn’t just about the Song Contest, it helps me to be invited to different places and I love that opportunity.”
Conchita is clearly enjoying the attention too. Image-wise, she is the dream for a journalist looking for a story, and Conchita has worked out the best poses for the camera and takes everything in her stride. All the journalists wanted to speak to her, and her photos were splashed across Latvian media on the Sunday. It’s all with a clear strategy behind the promotion. Rene Berto is Conchita’s manager and I grabbed a quick word with him as well.
“We started the plans for this period in September when we contacted the fan bases, trying to get in contact with as many fan organisations as we could. Everywhere we are very welcome and there is no stress, but it is very busy, we could have done Tallinn tomorrow, but it would have been too much. The media attention is not just for Eurovision but to our main goal of the Grammy, this is a stepping stone in the way.”
Rene was not doing this to downplay Eurovision, but to talk to me realistically about the aims. Yes, he is working flat out to get Eurovision victory, they really want it, but they are ensuring too that the Austrian entry is talked about before the contest, and for long after as well. Those three minutes in May Rene knows could make or break everything contest-related, but the aim of this is more than the contest itself.
Learning Eurovision Is In Its Own Seperate Bubble
The other act we were treated to were Poland, who are spending time both on and off the traditional Eurovision circuit in their promotion this month, but the trips to Ireland and France planned will no doubt be huge hits amongst the Polish communities there. Their song, in whatever language we hear it in (I asked them to confirm which but they said that EBU knows and no one else does) is a huge hit and combined Cleo and Donatan rack up over 500,000 facebook likes. Conchita is lagging behind on just over 31,000. However, here they were playing second fiddle to the diva character. I got to interview them no problem at all; to ask about why they are in Latvia and what they want to benefit from the experience.
“We are very happy that we can be here to show the folklore and the beauty of our girls across Europe and that Europe is interested in that case.
It is important to be here especially for Cleo to show herself and to show this song and what the song is about and hopefully answer questions about it to Europe.”
Yes they genuinely did say that above by the way. However even with a story and a song like this, even this small hive of activity in Riga taught the Polish duo a little lesson about Eurovision. After my interview they had one more and were done, whereas Conchita was eating journalists for breakfast and I had to stand at the back of the long queue alongside the entire length of the press conference room (ok, it wasn’t that big, but still) to get my five minutes. After the Polish people demanded to TVP to send the duo, I don’t think many expected them to be outshone at a press event with their risky number so vividly, least themselves. However, it is better they find this out now, and plan to attack this or to cope with this effect in Copenhagen, rather than in the stress of the contest weeks.
It also is going to be a great experience for the team to brush up on their language skills before Eurovision. Many more interviews will come their way and they will pick up their English skills and fluency as a team much more. My interview was awkward to say the least, having to rephrase questions in three or four different ways via the translator, but as they practice and prepare for the questions they get in Copenhagen the better it will be.
If You Embrace What It Is, You Will Get The Rewards
This is all part of the benefit of Eurovision previews. Amsterdam and London are big and established and feature more international press than me and the two Ukrainians preparing a documentary about the politics of modern Eurovision, but still it is the practice that makes perfect for the show in May. It is the ability to be whisked away infront of a crowd who may not always be there to see *you* but will still love and support what you do if you give them that back. You experience the hustle and bustle that is so unique to the contest. You represent your country in awesome venues across Europe.
And yes, this can help you gain the extra exposure and the extra attention. However, if you were the kind of act just looking at this from a vote-gaining perspective – I urge caution. You can be awesome at preview events and the media darling, but I would not believe there is any correlation between the two at all. Many of the fans will already have decided they favourites at the events anyway. It does provide the chance to try something new, something brave, and the biggest example of this would be Krista Siegfrids’ kiss moment from Eurovision 2013, which was first trialled publicly in Amsterdam. However, things like this are never going to be the norm.
Do not come to a preview event as an artist if you are there just to get votes. Of course it may happen, but in all honesty that can’t be your sole intention. You could do all the right moves here and still very easily get nil points. Come here if you want to take the chance of promotion, take the once-in-a-lifetime experience and take the love of adoring Eurovision fans that I guarantee will leave you begging for more.