Unfortunately, I havn't yet been able to add captions to the images, but here are the people you will see, in order:
Sandra Kim, Sebnem Paker, Jahn Teigen, Kathy Leander, Lucia Moniz, Constantinos, One More Time, and Eimear Quinn. Over 230K, so sit back, AND WAIT!
Here, for the impatient, an index to the week:
While I was still at home packing, in Oslo rehearsals began, and in the evening there was a reception for all delegates at the City Hall, hosted by the Mayor. This was well attended by the artists. This was also the last day the weather was kind, but more on that later.
Tuesday 14th May 1996
Dull and cool weather greeted me as I arrived in Oslo. On my way to the Spektrum, I noticed the buses and trams had Eurosong flags, and several hotels also sported Eurosong banners.
The Spektrum was joined to the official hotel, the towering SAS Radisson Plaza, by a bridge, and this proved to be a very practical system for the artists, press, and fans. There was much less of the bussing around than at Dublin.
The first rehearsal I saw was for Ireland. Eimear Quinn gave a rather shaky rendition, struggling to breathe between those long phrases, but I was concentrating on the huge hall. There were three stages in a line, with the orchestra to the left of the first stage, and the blue screen for the virtual studio to the right of the third. The aluminium frames hung over the stage on wires, giving an impression of oil rigs and lighting staff were dangling from the roof re-positioning lights.
The artists each had two 20 minute rehearsal slots in the week, plus two press conferences, and the first conference I attended was for Finland. Jasmine seemed very ill at ease, and lost for words - she was one of the less experienced performers. They seemed to fall into two groups: the confident stars in their own country, like One More Time or Elisabeth Andreasson, and the new hopefuls, like Jasmine here, or Kathy Leander from Switzerland.
Rehearsals went on into the evening ending with Sweden's One More Time, amongst the hot favourites, whose rehearsal was perfect and their press conference similarly practiced. Nanne did most of the talking and told us they hadn't done an English version, because they thought the songs should only be in the original version, and gave a somewhat selective history of the group and its changing members. Peter was asked about his famous father, Benny Andersson, but they aren't close, and there was never any prospect of Benny turning up.
There didn't seem to any parties that evening so quite a few people went up to the EuroClub on the top floor of the Plaza. In a corner, looking very bored, was Maarja-Liis Ilus from Estonia with some of her team, drinking milk (I thought). Ivo Linna, she told me, was too tired to be there. He later told me he'd been drinking. He couldn't have been drunk, as the prices were so high you needed to find free drinks!
Wednesday May 15th
The first rehearsal was Turkey, and the No videotaping signs had gone, so I taped the first Turkish rehearsal with my camcorder, and got thrown out! - just as Sebnem sang the song a second time in English. After apologizing to the head of press relations, I wandered around the press centre and found Jahn Teigen, making notes in preparation for his work on Saturday as Norwegian radio commentator. He commented on how the young people liked the Gina G song , on the monitors at that moment. Its entertaining, and that's the business were in, he said. He told me he still lived with ex-wife Anita Skorgan (who was to do the Norwegian TV commentary), and that his life had been full of surprises. Coming last in the 1978 contest had been the making of his career. I asked him about his appearance in the Norwegian musical, Which Witch, which he enjoyed, but he had declined the chance to be in the new musical, Henriette 8th written by the same writers, Ingrid Bjørnov and Benedicte Adrian. "I had done seven years with them on Which Witch, you know". He joked about the set for the 1996 Norwegian contest, "Those bits of wood, and the terrible lighting, and the camera always coming around the wood the same way - awful!". A charming man.
I was gone so long, everyone thought I wasn't coming back! However, I was back in time for the Croatian rehearsal, and to see Maja Blagdan perform. A very confident rehearsal, with most of the difficulties being with the camera crews. They used a hand-held steadycam at the start of the song, and wanted to frame Maja in the harp as they moved back. This took a few goes.
They also wanted to shoot the little dance in the middle of the song with the steadycam, and kept getting Maja to redo it. She held back her scream at the end of her song, and in the press conference said she was saving her voice for Saturday. It was too high for her, really. The writer, Zrinko Tutic, complained the conductor was too far away, as they were on the farthest stage, but Maja was happy.
Lucia Moniz for Portugal, was also superb in rehearsal, and charming in the press conference. The 19-year old had spent so time in the United States, and apologizing for her American accent. She rehearsed in jeans - her dress was still on its way. The whole thing had been rushed. She wasn't even asked to be in the Portuguese contest until the last minute.
Gina G. was much-tipped to win, but she wasn't very interesting, really. The highlight of her press conference was when she was asked by an Australian TV reporter why she was ".singing for the Poms" - "Because they asked!", was about all the reply.
The Estonian press conference was an odd affair. Ivo Linna was built up as the star, Maarja-Liis having been in children's TV, but Id heard she was a big dance music star in Estonia. Perhaps this accounted for her sullen behaviour all week. At this conference he answers were nearly always yes or no, and although the two would pose together, the never seemed to speak to each other. The song was a real favourite, and there's no doubt Maarja-Liis is the star of the song.
The first press party was that of Lisa del Bo, for Belgium, and it was in the Plaza Hotel, so easy to get to. Lisa was presented with a gold disk for Leifde is een kaartspel and there was plenty of photo opportunities, especially when the Dutch duo, Maxine and Franklin Brown, showed up. Lisa didn't really like the English version of her song, It sounds like Lady Di, she said. I was surprised that only now had she a debut album, three years after Vlinder in the Belgium final. The presenter of this years Belgian final, Michel Follet, told me last year the Flemish speakers felt they hadn't had an entry. "The RTBF entry last year, La voix est libre was nothing to do with us, we didn't like it". They had to restore some pride, after the last Flemish entrant, Barbara, had done so poorly. The only Belgian winner, Sandra Kim, was in Oslo for the final, but of course she is from the French-speaking part.
This party ended early, and later there was a music concert at a club. Morten Harket, in the group Savoy, was the star we were all waiting for, but there was a constant stream of promising acts to wade through. I could see through the smoke and half-light Anna-Mjöll from Iceland joking with her party. They were taking photos of each other, and giggling. We gave up waiting, and as we passed Anna suggested she should sing Shu-bi-du!. She immediately shouted NO - NEVER! and put her fingers up in the sign of the cross! She later told me they'd waited another hour for Morten, and it wasn't worth it!
Thursday 16th May
The second of two days where official delegates could take a trip around a open-air folk park, and on a boat trip on Oslo's fjord, and I went along hoping for some photo opportunities.
It was cold out at the Bygdøy park, and we were supposed to be on a guided tour of the old wooden buildings taken there from all over Norway, but I was star-spotting instead. Some rather bizarre outdoor dancing puzzled quite a few, and I saw Sebnem Paker, and team, looking both frozen and bewildered, before they gave up, presumably back to the Plaza. The Croatians were there, minus Maja Blagdan, and indulged in some singing of 'Sveta Ljubav' for the Croatian TV cameraman, probably to keep their spirits up. This impromptu singing had been sparked by Lucia Moniz, and George Nussbaumer now took a turn at it. Some of the old buildings were open, and offerred bread, goat's milk cheese, and hot coffee. The Estonians were there, apart of course, and I spotted a winter-clad Kathy Leander near the old stave church. After all this, I managed to get only a few minutes at the little 'Eurosong' exhibition at the park. They had dresses worn by Nora Brockstedt, Bobbysocks, etc, and records, photos, and film clips.
Back to the Plaza to change into our naval gear for the fjord voyage. Maarja Liis stayed on the bus alone, and I found Maja Blagdan in the foyer, very cheerful on her 28th birthday. She wasn't going on the boat trip, "Its too cold for my throat", she said, and left with Zrinko Tutic in a limousine for lunch. A quick visit to the press revealed this to be the big day, party-wise, but back to the fjord trip.
It turned our there were several boats lined up at the quay for this job. Which one? Well, we didn't pick the biggest, which had Lucia Moniz and the Portuguese on it (they could be heard singing!), but found ourselves with the Estonian duo, and Kathy Leander. The jazz band on the boat seemed to interest Ivo Linna, himself a jazz player, as we pulled away from the harbour. It was really quite cold on deck, and a gourmet lunch was on offer below, so the fjord got little attention, especially after we got talking to Kathy Leander in a group which included a Swiss journalist, and the Portuguese TV commentator.
Kathy was quite chatty. She worked as a telephonist at a bank, but had sung in a few clubs. Her hope was to get a recording contract, and she'd been told that this would happen if she got in the top 5 on Saturday. "My dress is coming tomorrow - it's white and its made material from England - I'm really excited". She said she'd been lucky to get the composer of the song to write it for her - normally he writes for groups. "It's changed a little since the previews - it goes up a key at the end now - Mon couer l'aime!"
Britain's Terry Wogan is no match for the Portuguese TV commentator. She knew nothing about Eurovision, and wasn't a bit embarrassed by that, but at least she was doing some preparation. "I like our song - it's very good, but also very Portuguese. No one else will understand it.", she said, adding, "That Spanish song is awful, just bad Fado. They speak the same language as us, you know, only they pronounce it badly!"
Soon we back at the Plaza, and were joined by a few mates, themselves veterans of the 1995 contest, and just in from London. It was to be a tough evening for them. We immediately went over to the Dutch party at a local bar. It was a crush. Maxine and Franklin 'sang' on stage to the record, as we tried to get in to get a copy, and some food and drink, after which we bailed out back to the Plaza. It was only 6pm, but one of party (the only female) was desperately keen to get the Cyprus party at a local taverna, but the newer members had found Kathy Leander in the foyer, and she was talking a lot!. Her real name is Katrin Mayer - "Some German journalists asked if I called myself Kathy Leander as a tribute to Zara Leander, who'd sung for the Nazis. - I'd never heard of her! - I just thought it sounded good."
Eventually we broke away and went to - the Icelandic party!. This was held in the near darkness of a Viking longship in the harbour. The Icelandic Ambassador introduced Anna Mjöll, and urged us to eat and drink some very expensive stuff imported from Iceland. Anna, who lives in Los Angeles, gave an excellent version of 'Shu-bi-du' accompanied only by her father on guitar. The song I'd loathed sounded so much better!. Maybe it was the strong beer. She did several other songs, and we talked to some guys from Estonia about how dodgy the lyrics were to 'Sound of Necklace', before we went to the Cyprus party, picking up the head of Slovevian delegation on the way. She surprised us - the CD of Regina was a CD-ROM with video clips on it. Surely a first for Eurovision?
I should mention that not all the parties were well publicised. The British party seemed to be by invitation, and that seemed to mean no Brits. The Irish party was rumoured to be great, but nobody seemed to know where it was. Our taxi driver took us to the only Irish pubs he knew, but not the right ones.
When we got to the Cyprus party, which was well advertised, it was nearly impossible to get in. Constantinos was chatting up the girls, again, and there were a few old stars around - the unrecognizable Christer Björkman, and Sandra Kim, who'd won 10 years before in Norway Somebody foolishly asked her if she'd had any records since 'J'aime la vie'. If looks could kill! I spoke to the composer of 'Mono gia mas' who, on hearing I was English, told me he was a great admirer of Terry Wogan - "How can I meet him?". I doubted Mr Wogan was yet in Norway, and that he'd want to meet the Cypriots, but gave a 'helpful' reply.
Marianna Efstratiou came in, and soon both singers were singing, and Constantinos was dancing on the table. We made a hasty exit, before the plates started flying, and hailed a passing cab. Who should get out than Johnny Logan, obviously worse for that mysterious Irish party!
Onto Smuget, a night club, where Norway's Elisabeth Andreassen was singing. There was a huge queue, but that was for something else!. She'd already started, and it was packed inside, but there she was belting out 'La det swinge', 'Waiting for the morning', and of course, `I evighet', all on her excellent 'Bettans beste' album. She was on stage over an hour, and was superb.
We were all worn out by now, and turned in for the night, another long day in prospect.
Friday 17th May
Some were woken by the sounds of marching bands, others slept too deeply, but a few were out early, and up at the Royal Palace on Norway's National Day, waiting for the King to appear. Unfortunately the National Day is rather early in the Norwegian spring, so we were soon frozen, but the marching, and dancing went on, and eventually he did come out on a balcony, and we able to go the Mayor's reception at the Town Hall. This was where the little segment in the middle of the contest's songs was filmed. Anna-Mjöll was there, as was Ivo Linna, Maarja-Liis, and Michel Polander, whose replacement for MC Erik and Barbara was never adequately explained. There was plenty of food, and a superb Eurosong cake.
There was a 'run through' in the afternoon, a rehearsal without an official audience, but we were there, to marvel at Morten's witty remarks, and Ingvild's delicate handling. This was the best one to see - you could change seat as the songs changed stage!
We saw the 'Virtual set' for the first time, and, as the press handout promised, "Ingvild will not be wearing her real dress", I had expected a virtual one, but she wore National Dress instead. The run through ended after the interval act.
Very busy now back in the Press Centre, and outside big queues to get tickets, and there were even ticket touts. Inside the Spektrum foyer, and available to all with a ticket was a special record shop which sold many of the artist's singles, and at quite good prices. This is very unusual - since my first contest in 1992, I have never seen a dedicated shop, nor have I seen much chance of buying more than the odd CD - the game is usually to try to get free promotional CDs. The rarities turned out to include Switzerland (only a few copies), Portugal (about 6 were made specially!), Bosnia (never saw one, but there were some), Poland, and Turkey, but there was no difficulty with say Estonia, or France. You could also buy programmes, posters, special watches, and the Eurosong rucksack seen in the 'Postcards' in the TV show. It cost NOK 350, about 30 pounds!.The OGAE Eurovision fan club had a large stand in the foyer too, and had some great booklets on the history of the contest, and some CDs for sale too.
Before long it was time for the first dress rehearsal in the evening, which was an all-ticket event. Our tickets put us up high on the right of the hall, but it wasn't too hard to move a little to some empty seats lower down. By now, I liked Morten's song, "Heaven's not for saints", and thought it was his best moment. He still referred to 'Macedonia' not being here tonight, but by Saturday afternoon, the Greeks had made him say 'Former Republic of Macedonia', which was nearly right. Tricky thing, politics.
We had the second try at those unfunny jokes about the green room, and the first showing of the film segment between the Norwegian and French songs. Morten remembered to pin a rosette onto Ingvild this time, and on the next rehearsal, but left it in the dressing room on the final!
Everything with the songs went faultlessly, as in the run-through, but Maja Blagdan seemed to still pull her scream. Still saving it. Later, when I told her she had to do her best on Saturday afternoon, as the juries heard it, she said, "I know, I was in the Croatian jury in 1993!" - she remembered the winner had, like herself, red hair, "On Saturday I will scream!".
However, other things didn't go so well. The virtual scoreboard was put into action, and a dull affair it was - very plain with bolts dangling over Ingvild. We could see both the finished composite, and Ingvild on a blue stage. Only she, and the little tables were real. This performance had mock voting 'In vision' to check the procedure, which didn't go well, the best bit being Colin Berry for the UK saying, "Hello Ingvild, I'm afraid we have no instructions - what do you want us to do?". Ingvild thought for an age, and then suggested he made it up (normally they read out votes sent to them), and Colin, experienced as he is, still managed to award Greece (I think) nine points.
Morten tried his interviewing art on a girl in the green room pretending to be Gina G, and with 'One More Time', who, as the last act, fell victim to the tradition of making the last stay to pretend to be the winners, while the other artists take a well-earned early night. The interviews were embarrassingly bad, but 'One More Time' rose to the occasion, and rushed onto the stage triumphantly in front of the few of us remaining, and Nanne hugged a block of wood, supposedly the trophy, handed her by two girls pretending to be Rolf Lovland and Fionualla Sherry. They eagerly did the reprise as well!
Saturday 18th May
Snow flakes were falling, according to Tobias Larsson, just in from Sweden, and looking so lively whilst we were still exhausted. Over breakfast, we brought him up to speed, and battled the chilly weather to get to the Spektrum.
He translated the newspapers which had panned the presentation of the rehearsal. 'Nothing clicked', said one, but soon I found Ingvild, and asked for an autograph, and foolishly said, "I hope it goes better tonight", "You didn't like us last night?", came the curt reply. I mumbled something about the voting problems, and beat a hasty retreat!
Our hoped-for Turkish and Swiss CDs had turned up, Kathy having signed no less than five copies for our group. Some of our party didn't want to see the Saturday afternoon rehearsal too, and managed to sell their seats to a ticket tout (one went to a bewildered-looking Japanese!).
It seemed like a good chance to photograph, and chat to the stars in the Plaza, and Tobias and I found Maja Blagdan chatting with her team, and rather easily persuaded her to talk to us for about 20 minutes. I will put up the text in a separate article.
Meanwhile, others were finding Jahn Teigen, Eimear Quinn, Jasmine, and the ever-present Estonians in the foyer, and I managed to get a few such shots myself.
Huge queues for the afternoon rehearsal, and chaos getting in with my camera, thanks to poorly-instructed security. Only those with accreditation could get one in, if they found a security man who knew that, and as I was on the front row, I was determined to get the thing in.
Great view, and I helped fellow fan David Hutchinson hold a huge banner supporting Gina G., right in front of her!. This time Ingvild had her final dress, the jokes were still unfunny, Maja screamed, and there was no voting. I couldn't face the interval act again, so back out, and ready for the big show.
Back in the Plaza we found the answer to the enigmatic 'Entertainment for the audience' promised before transmission. We had found Hanne Krogh on the staircase, and she told us Bobby socks were going to do a song or two, so be there! She put her autograph next to Elisabeth Andreassen's in my programme, and we rushed over to the Spektrum, missing most of the bedlam the public entrance had. Because of the chaos, many people never saw the 'Entertainment for the audience', and in fact some didn't get to their seats until after the show had begun, but some managed to catch what should've been the interval, Nora Brockstedt singing 'Voi-voi', Bobbysocks with 'La det Swinge', and 'Waiting for the morning', and Jahn Teigen with 'Mil etter mil', and 'Optimist'. We also had the winners of the 'Childrens Grand Prix' accompanied by Ingrid Bjørnov, of 'Dollie de Luxe' on the piano. She later took a seat behind us, and gave no hint when I spoke to her, of how bad it was to be amongst so many noisy British fans!
Before long, they were playing our tune. We were on that rollercoaster again for another year, and it turned out great. We shouted 'Gina, Gina!', and helped her with the 'Ooh Aaahs', and encouraged Maja, and Kathy loudly. Constantinos winked, and Ingvild's joke about him was doubly funny - he was always chatting up some girl. Jasmine fluffed her song, and Maja got the words wrong, but we didn't care even when Eimear Quinn gave her best performance of the week. Before long that interval was back, and we tried to get a drink, but this Norway - you couldn't get anything - they were obviously a little cautious - we had to make do with stealing a cup, and getting water from the toilet sinks!
Ingvild's style was a little abrasive, or maybe comic, in the voting - I was never sure, but I'm pleased Sweden gave some points to Norway. By then, it was obvious Ireland had won, and we had got past the four-letter word phase, and rather wearily accepted that the Irish song had always been likely to win - we just didn't want to go to Ireland again!.
As everyone left, it was down to the stage for me, to try for a good picture, and then the official, invitation-only party. Security was better than usual (these can often be gate-crashed), and nearly everyone was there, even the rarely seen pregnant Regina, whose baby was due early September, she said. Maja Blagdan was pleased to come fourth, and was looking for 'her people'. She couldn't tell her boyfriend in Croatia about it all - his phone was engaged - "He's probably on the Internet now". Lucia Moniz was cheery, Miriam Christine was briefly there, and 'One More Time' spent hours chatting. Peter seemed pleased, in a way, to not win. "Now we can go into the studio on Monday, for the new album." I was surprised that his favourite song was the Croatian one, but less surprised when he told me how he was tired of people asking him about his famous father, Benny Andersson. They are not close. Eimear Quinn appeared very briefly, but was so distressed by the mobbing she got, that she was soon gone. Culture Minister, Åase Kleveland wasn't mobbed, but was also a fleeting vision. The dancing and drinking went on until about 4am, and we had a few impromptu concerts from Lucia Moniz, George Nussbaumer, and Anna-Mjöll.
Sunday 19th May
The winner's Press Conference was well attended, but a dull affair. Eimear told us about her upcoming exams, and what Anuna means. Brendan Graham depressed me by saying he thought the contest was moving 'the right way' with the kind of songs winning recently, and told us the trophy was rather interesting, because it was shaped like a Curraigh, a kind of Irish boat. The only glimmer was the RTE man, who was unsure if they wanted to host the 1997 contest. Each country had done a little film with some minister wishing their act luck. We British had to suffer Virginia Bottomley. Each country had also done a 'Congratulations, and welcome to xxx for 1997' film too, except Ireland.
The Press Centre was closing down, and the bins were suddenly full of CDs and posters, which were eagerly emptied.
In the foyer, delegations were waiting to leave. The Croatians left early, and the Icelanders were soon away, but I saw Lisa del Bo reading a lyric sheet - a joke version of 'Leifde is een kaartespel' she was to sing on Belgian TV Sunday night accompanied by a troup of firemen!
It was all over for another year, and soon we were back home to reality.
Here I will add just the odd word of post-contest comment:
I would have preferred Ireland not to have won, not so much because of the song, but because I'm a little tired of the Irish hosting it - not that they do a bad job, but the Norwegians did it differently, and in the end, superbly. The contest needs some variety, and I view its drift towards being the Gaelic song contest with dread.
That said, I'm sure I'll be there, and I know it'll be good.