Go Eric! Go Eric! Go Eric!

Here is Eric Saade’s superlative Eurovision 2011 semi-final performance…

And now all eyes are on Saturday night….he’s done the hard yards, he has a terrific song and a brilliant presentation….but can he do it? Can he bring Eurovision back to Sweden?

As I was showering and getting ready for work this morning, I was anxiously awaiting the results from Düsseldorf. The Eurovision organisers deliberately read Sweden out last to increase the tension for the television audience. I hope the Eurovision organisers involved burn in hell for that unnecessary piece of bullshit.

Can I wait until Sunday night when the Eurovision Final 2011 is shown in Australia? Can I avoid all media and outside interactions to avoid having the result spoilt for me?

No, I don’t think so this year. This year I think the suspense will kill me. If Eric wins, I need to know. If Eric doesn’t win (oh god, don’t even put it out there!), I need to be prepared so that when I do watch the final, I don’t start smashing the television set and start wishing that someone nukes Europe.

We’re having the annual Eurovision mini-gathering at our place this year. Lots of cleaning and tidying to do. It’ll really be the first time we’ve had guests in the flat since moved in proper. Maybe I’ll dress like Dana International for the evening? Actually no, I don’t think so! The evening is going to be all about Eric Saade…he has truly done Sweden proud!

Eric Saade - Eurovision 2011 Semifinal 1

Awful suspense for Eric Saade

Australia Day 2011

We had a terrific Australia Day this year with a bunch of friends at the Huntsbury hotel. It could have been a disaster since we’d organised for the day to be at our regular haunt, the Lewisham Hotel. Yoda and I had to go to IKEA first thing in the morning and, with luck and some amazing public transport connections, we managed to get to the Lewisham way ahead of the 1pm scheduled start time.

Only to find it was closed. You can’t imagine a hotel being closed on a day when everyone wants to drink and celebrate but you probably can’t imagine a hotel like the Lewisham!

I had to madly sign into the net via my mobile and send group text messages to everyone to let them know of the change of plans. We discussed which pub we should go to instead and the Huntsbury seemed the logical choice since it was only 10 minutes walk and most of our group knew where it was.

The two most difficult people to get a hold of were the two who the get together had been organised for – Cathy, who was coming down from Newcastle for the day and Donna. Donna had her mobile phone switched off (arghhh!) and Cathy didn’t hear hers.

We also worried about Big Dave since isn’t contactable and we didn’t know what time (if any) he would show up. Luckily that problem was solved when he turned up exactly at 1pm while we were in the middle of the chaos. I decided we needed to leave a sign on the pub door for Cathy & Donna to tell them where we were…but there was no sticky tape. We had pen & paper but no sticky tape.

I quickly trundled down to the nearby servo and all they had was electrical tape. It would have to do. We threw together a sign for anyone who we hadn’t been able to contact and bit off lengths of electrical tape to stick it to the Lewisham’s door!

Then we marched down in the humidity to the Huntsbury. Thank god they were air conditioned! These last-minute change of plan things can either go really bad or really well. Luckily, the day went brilliantly. Everyone managed to get there – and Cathy & Donna did see our sign on the Lewisham’s door. God knows what the pub manager thought when he arrived at 3pm (when the Lewisham was finally due to open!)

In the end, it didn’t matter….even baby Liam (who was the star of the day) caused an issue when he arrived since he wasn’t allowed in the main bar of the pub. We promptly picked up our stuff and moved en masse tot he bistro area and put a couple of tables together to accommodate our large group.

Throughout the day people kept turning up…James arrived from his trip to Canberra, Vanessa, Judy & Greg and, of course, baby Liam along with Mum & Dad! It was a really fun day and a great way to stay out of the heat and humidity!

There was a man there (see video) with a rather controversial T-Shirt. I just had to take a photo of it. It said “This is Australia. We eat meat, we drink beer and we speak fuckin’ English!” Ooh, a tad racist but he didn’t seem to be causing any trouble. Just another local I suspect!

Tonight, I’ve finally thrown together a quick slide show/video of pics of the day. The quality of the photos is awful because most were taken using the tragic camera on my Nokia e63. And because they were taken into the light, half the faces are in shadow. Oh well, that’s life – enjoy the vid!

(if it doesn’t play in this window, just click on it and watch it on Youtube)

More Liesbeth in Sydney

It was a very rainy day in Sydney yesterday so we concentrated on indoor activities. Our international visitor wanted to see some contemporary art so we went to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and had a fab guided tour from a volunteer named Caroline. Caroline was just fantastic. After the tour we further explored the Gallery.

Last night we went to the Shakespeare pub in Surry Hills for a trivia competition. Our team was the “Van Demons”. However the best team name of the evening was “Two Gentlemen Requesting Aisle Seats on Qantas but not over the wing.” Classic!

Liesbeth...modern art

it's all art to Liesbeth

 

Liesbeth outside Art Gallery NSW

Outside Art Gallery of NSW

Liesbeth goes Christmas at Myer

Liesbeth goes Christmas at Myer

Pub Trivia

The Van Demons at Pub Trivia

An absolute blast at the Midnight Shift

DJ Frankie Shin

Simply the best...DJ Frankie Shin

Who would have thought Thursday night at the Midnight Shift would be such a blast? James & I had an absolutely terrific time there last night, arriving at about 11pm and not leaving until 2am or whenever they stopped serving 😉

I thought I’d landed back in Oxford Street in the 80s. When Gay venues were Gay venues and Gay people went to Gay venues to drink and pick up! Now everyone seems to prowl Manhunt and Gaydar and then meet for coffee. Erghhh!

But last night at the Shift, it was a classic Gay venue vibe. A mixed crowd of slightly/incredibly intoxicated people, many obviously there to find “Mr. Tonight” (not Mr. Right) and the absolute best music by DJ Frankie Shin.

Whatever assumptions I’d had about Frankie were blown out of the water last night. He looks about 12 but is, in fact, 40 and has been DJing for 22 years! He’s incredibly passionate about all sorts of music but he doesn’t have a huge ego like…well, every other DJ in Oxford Street! He’s actually a really lovely guy and he’s like a Duracell Bunny full of energy….he’s here, there and everywhere at the Midnight Shift.

James and I had a really nice chat with him after James had requested Frankie to play a Robyn song. Frankie actually gave us a suite of Robyn songs and then also played Alcazar for us as well. To top it all off, he gave us a free drink voucher each. Now look, I’ve been going to the Midnight Shift since nineteeneightyf…. (let’s not go there!) and had never had such a lovely experience.

Frankie has his own website http://www.frankieshin.com/ and, you might think from the website and the photo I’ve included with this blog entry, that he’s a kind of “uber too cool for school” kind of guy – but he’s not. He’s really lovely, friendly and down to earth.

Although the Shift was nowhere near packed, the collection of characters there was wonderful. A couple of very drunk shirtless guys, a couple of long pash sessions happening, stools falling over due to some over-enthusiastic intoxicated soon-to-be couples. And there was even a half-decent drag show as well.

I remembered how I used to go out to Gay pubs 4-5 nights a week in the late 80s/early 90s. There was always something happening between the Newtown Hotel, Town Hall Hotel Balmain, the Albury, the Flinders (and many others) etc. Sadly none of those exist as Gay venues anymore. Last night I reflected at how small Sydney’s true Gay scene has become. To people overseas Sydney is still seen as some kind of Gay Mecca due to the annual Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. But that’s no longer the case.

The number of dedicated Gay venues continues to decrease and the number of patrons at those venues also continues to decrease. A combination of venue owners who have no idea combined with the “Cafe Latte” set are combining to make Sydney a bit of a “has been” as far as Gay cities are concerned.

So that’s why last night was so refreshing. When James and I normally go to the Shift on Sunday nights, the atmosphere recently has been rather tragic. It is very difficult to find a normal Gay “pub” to have a drink in these days. They’re either full of pretentious and unfriendly Gen-Yers or they’ve gone “upmarket” and lost the very atmosphere that made them crowd-pleasers in the first place.

What parts of the Gay community are crying out for is a couple of traditional “Gay pubs” where you can go and relax with some camp music, reasonable drink prices and friendly bar staff. Well, at least the first two! There’s a large component of the community that would love to go somewhere Gay that they feel comfortable in. Somewhere that doesn’t hold 1,000 people and has a $20 cover charge! And the crazy thing is that these people actually buy drinks…they don’t (as a rule) take drugs and then go out and drink water all night. That no Gay entrepreneurs have exploited this profitable segment of the community is just bizarre.

But back to the Midnight Shift, late on a Thursday night…James and I had intended to pop in for one drink after seeing “Tom Ballard and Acquaintances” at the Oxford Art Factory.  But we stayed until the end because it was such a good atmosphere. If only I didn’t face a $30 cab fare home from these nights, I’d try and do a few more of them. It turned out to be quite an expensive night but, at one point I simply decided that I was having such a good time I didn’t care.

Thanks James, Midnight Shift and Frankie Shin….oh and thanks to the beer as well 😉

Bumming around Brum

A stalwart of the Birmingham Gay scene

I’ve  just spent the weekend in Birmingham and am on a train returning to London. This time there *is* a Coach B and my reserved seat actually exists!

The Ibis Hotel turned out to be a very good choice. It was clean, modern and reasonably priced. It was also centrally located near the main “Bullring” shopping area and just a few minutes walk from Birmingham’s Gay Village. It is always a bit of Russian roulette picking a hotel in the UK – you never know what you’re going to get. Small rooms definitely – but quite a few places are filthy and gruesome. And the price you pay isn’t always an indicator of what standard you can expect.

One of the innovations I liked about the Ibis was that they served breakfast until 12noon on weekends. I’m not a morning person and like to sleep in when I stay at a hotel. Especially as I am usually feeling a bit delicate after the night before! Swanning down to breakfast at 11am is perfect for me.

The hotel also has a bar as part of the reception area – selling booze as well as soft drinks and snacks. A very sensible idea. I bought more than a couple of Diet Cokes from them at all sorts of hours! Bottles of water too – the fact that there’s no light beer sold in the UK always means I get back to hotels completely smashed and a little unwell. I still haven’t worked out how, in Australia, I can have 10 2.5% strength beers and feel merry whilst here I only need to have 3 5% strength beers and I feel nauseous. The maths just doesn’t add up.

During the day times in Birmingham I walked around and did lots of shopping – mostly window shopping – and yesterday I caught a bus to Merry Hill – a humongous shopping centre about an hour away from Birmingham and owned by Australia’s Westfield corporation. I first went to Merry Hill in 1997 – it’s been a long time between visits. GBP1.70 for a one-hour bus ride – how’s that for good value?

I bought some more clothes – this time for work – from Primark (aka Primani). I so wish we had something like Primark in Australia. The price, the range and the fact that you can get jeans and pants in your exact leg length. I’m a short arse really – I need a 30 leg length which is virtually impossible to find in Australia. At Primark I can get pants in my exact waist and leg measurements without a problem.

I’ve stocked up on casual shirts, socks, underwear, work pants and jeans from Primark over the last week. GBP6 for a pair of jeans and GBP8 for good work pants – seriously, you can’t beat Primani (as they jokingly call it over here). And the crowds prove it – every cash register is staffed and there is always a minimum queue of about 30 people – in the London store it is often double that. You just have to be patient. People don’t buy one or two things on a visit to Primark – they buy 10 or 20 things.  They carry around these enormous bags stuffed with every kind of clothing item. It is kill or be killed when you are shopping there – at the Marble Arch store, I had to wait in a line of 20 people just to try on something for size.

But it hasn’t all been shopping whilst I’ve been here. I have been impressed with Birmingham’s Gay Village. They have more dedicated Gay venues than Sydney does. Sydney is supposed to be one of the world’s biggest Gay cities on a per capita basis. Sydney’s Gay scene has been in decline for a number of years. Birmingham’s village seems to be thriving. I also liked that a lot of the people on the Gay scene here look like real people – not plastic buffed up androids. There are all ages and body shapes in abundance here and that is really refreshing and a change from Sydney.

They had a clever idea on Saturday night – Birmingham’s Big Gay Night Out. They literally bus people in from smaller towns for the night. 10 bus loads descended on the village and the price of the coach ticket also included free entry to 3 of the clubs that have cover charges. It’s a really good concept – good for the punters and good for the venues.

I must say that the drag I saw in Birmingham was absolutely awful. Clearly that’s one area where Sydney is miles ahead. Badly dressed, badly mimed show tunes as spot numbers just doesn’t cut it anymore. It might have been acceptable 20 years ago but the scene has moved on. They call it “cabaret” over here. I call it a damn cheek. It’s just tacky drag done without any style, flair or choreography.

I’m now only 30 minutes from arriving in London again. I only just booked my hotel with my UK pre-paid mobile phone when I got on the train – don’t you just love modern technology? A netbook, a pre-paid wireless broadband modem and phone – why didn’t we have these when I first started travelling all those years ago?

And how did we ever do without them?

Hallå Hela Pressen (Hello all the Press) at Victoria’s

The word “Schlager” translates as “pop” according to Google. But that isn’t quite an accurate definition.

Wikipedia describes it thusly: “Schlager (German Schlager, loosely translated as a “hit”) is a style of popular music that is prevalent in Central and Northern Europe, in particular Germany, Austria, Croatia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia, but also to a lesser extent in France, the Baltic States and Poland.

Typical schlager tracks are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop tunes. Lyrics typically center on love, relationships and feelings. The northern variant of schlager, notably in Finland, has taken elements from Nordic and Slavic folk songs, with lyrics tending towards melancholic and elegiac themes. Musically the Schlager has some similarities to other styles like Easy Listening-Music.”

In a country like Australia, we would typically know “Schlager” through the annual telecast of the Eurovision Song Contest. In Sweden it is often referred to as the “Schlager Festival.”

Indeed, Wikipedia goes on to talk about “Schlager” in Sweden… “…schlager has been a popular form of music since at least the 1970s, even though it has had its up and downs. It still enjoys a large place in Swedish culture, although it is often considered to be too “popular and commercial” by many people.

The Swedish Melodifestival that selects the Swedish competitor at the Eurovision Song Contest is popularly called Schlagerfestivalen (The Schlager Festival) since it has traditionally been characterized by schlager songs. The amount of schlager has decreased drastically in recent years, but schlager songs are the most frequent single genre to win the competition…It is held annually, and in 2006 an estimated 47% of the Swedish population watched the final. In Sweden, “schlager” is often used to refer to Eurovision participating songs, especially those from Malta, known for its schlager offerings.

Two characterizing features of Swedish songs clearly identifiable as schlager are that they almost invariably contain a pronounced key change before the final chorus, and they usually last almost exactly three minutes – the maximum length permitted at the Eurovision Song Contest….”

To me, this type of music is something I have always liked even before I knew I was listening to “Schlager.” In the last few years, I have been very interested in Melodifestivalen – the Swedish national contest to choose their Eurovision entry. I’ve been watching the shows via download and buying the CDs and DVDs.

My good friend James O’Brien is also a big fan of Schlager and of  Melodifestivalen. When he was in Sweden earlier this year, he told me about a weekly “Schlasger Night” at a city restaurant/bar/club called “Victoria’s”. Every Monday night, a “Schlager Band” takes to the stage and does two sets that are full of hugely popular schlager songs. James loved it and I was determined to go.

The first Monday night I was in Stockholm, I was still very much feeling the effects of the 25-odd hours of flights from Sydney – Seoul – London – Stockholm. I was in no position or mood to go out.

However, last Monday night I did get my act together and head into Victoria’s to see Hallå Hela Pressen and boy, I was completely blown away. I felt like I’d died and gone to Swedish Schlager heaven. The band was amazing. The crowd was wild – they knew the words and sang along to ALL the songs and I mean ALL of the songs!

A champagne bucket was passed around amongst the crowd so that you could make song requests for the bandto perform. If they didn’t like your request, they would frown, screw up the piece of paper and throw it back at you. But they did do some of the requests and camped it up wildly. Victoria’s is not a Gay venue and the crowd was very mixed, but the Schlager night definitely had a camp sensibility.

The two lead singers – who were amazingly talented – would often run into the crowd and jump up the bench seating and continue singing. I had both of the singers, at various times, straddling me and singing to the crowd. One of the guys had his bum and his crotch right in my face. As a fellow patron commented to me later “You had your own show!” And indeed I did.

The band did so many songs I knew and loved and performed them with such gusto it was totally infectious. I just kept buying more beers and singing along. Between sets, schlager music was played over the P.A. (naturally!)

It is hard to describe a schlager night/schlager band to people from a country like Australia where we have no such cultural tradition. The concept would seem totally alien. But, as a confirmed Swedophile, it was totally sublime experience for me.

Hallå Hela Pressen

Hey, those are my legs you're almost stepping on!

Even the Security Guard got on stage to sing!

The crowd was in the mood for drinking, singing and dancing!

James uploaded a short video of the band which I’ve included below. In it they are joined by a couple of Swedish singers who happened to be there. The song they are doing is “Bara Hon Älskar Mig” (She Only Loves Me) which was a hit for the group “Blond” more than a decade ago. I have the single and also saw Blond  perform it in concert way back then. And I bought a Blond T-Shirt too!

And this little clip captures more of the craziness that is Schlager Night!

I’m too tired to write anything

It was a long New Year's Eve

New Year’s Eve has done me in. I’m completely knackered and, after getting home at 6.30am, have spent most of the day in bed asleep.

James and I met at 7.30pm and the night finished at 5.30am te next morning. I got home at 6.30am.

Whilst I wasn’t particularly smashed, I was/am zonked and in need of sleep. Today has been a write-off – sleep and a bit of DVD watching – but mostly sleep.

James wrote a bit about the night here

I’m not writing anything except that I need to recover…

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

(thanks to James” Nokia N85 for the picture.