While Post Malone (real name Austin) might continue to dominate the singles chart, the more interesting stuff is (as is increasingly the case) to be found away from the top 40.
If you hanker for the days when Taylor Swift just made inoffensive country-infused pop music, then you’re in for a treat once you discover the breezy sound of Kelsea Ballerini. Her second album Unapologetically is out now and it’s a solid collection of MOR country with a handful of enormous choruses.
Single Unapologetically is probably the highlight here, and while it couldn’t be less visionary or original, Ballerini does what she does pretty well.
I’ve been a huge fan of Kelly Clarkson for years now and the former American Idol star is now on her eighth album. Sadly, The Meaning Of Life is the first time that I’ve been totally underwhelmed by a Clarkson record, and that’s despite the fact that lead single Love So Soft has grown on me over recent weeks.
She gets her lungs around a couple of decent ballads here – check out I Don’t Think About You – but I’m not a fan of the direction she has taken here. It doesn’t matter though, as Christmas is nearly here and so I can get the brilliant Wrapped In Red out for another year.
I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be recommending any album closely associated with Russell Crowe, but his new collective Indoor Garden Party have a record out, and while it’s not wall-to-wall brilliant it certainly has its moments.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the moments where Crowe relinquishes lead vocal duties that are the highights. Single Out Of Range is a really solid power ballad, and Samantha Barks (off of Les Miserables has a superb voice.
Some of the record sounds like Crowe doing rabble-rousing Australian drinking songs, but overall it’s certainly got enough going for it to be worth a listen.
Erik Jonasson’s debut single Like A Funeral was so good that I honestly didn’t think he’d ever be able to hit those heights. Then, along came Autumn Falls – one of my singles of 2016 – and now Jonasson is back with a new single. I’m not sure Those Words ever quite reaches the brilliance of his previous releases, but I love it and I cannot wait for a full album to finally emerge.
I’m a massive fan of singer/songwriter Frances and she’s teamed up with Grey on their new single Room 101. It seems like a gentle ballad but gets really interesting towards the end thanks to some amazing production. A real grower, this one.
Tom Chaplin is joining the Christmas album bandwagon this year, although there is hope as at least two-thirds of it is brand new material. Lead single Under A Million Lights is decent enough, even if it does sound like Keane hit Higher Than The Sun and is guilty of some rather Dr Seuss-esque rhymeage.
Other stuff to check out includes Scar, the great debut track from Tremors, The VHS Collection’s So I Met Someone and It’s A Shame, where First Aid Kit properly get their country rocks off.
One of the best pop records of the last few months comes from Rae Morris ahead of her second album, due in February 2018. Do It is just the chirpiest and catchy single currently around, and if here upcoming record is half as good as this it promises to be a treat.
What about you? Like any of these? What have you been listening to?
From an excitement point of view, last year’s Eurovision Song Contest was one of the most dramatic in years. A change to the way the voting was announced meant that the contest went down to the very final vote, with the Ukraine’s Jamala eventually winning by just 23 points.
This year’s contest is a strange one. As ever, the semi-finals have weeded out some of the more interesting acts, as well as some of the prettier songs which tend to get overlooked in favour of generic Eurobangers (I really liked both Finland and Malta’s entries, which have already fallen by the wayside). And, with more songs than ever in English, this year’s contest feels as homogenised as it ever has.
Still, there are some lively contenders here. Keep reading for your 2017 Eurovision preview.
2017 Eurovision preview – Your Eurovision favourites
In recent years I have been one to oppose a short-priced Eurovision favourite. Last year’s Russian entry went off the 8/13 favourite but I was keen to back the Ukraine at 7/1 and was rewarded with a tasty profit.
Amaury Vassilli’s Sognu went off as a short-priced favourite for France in 2011 before finishing 15th while I also opposed the Netherlands in 2014 who ended up being beaten into second place by Conchita Wurst.
This year, however, only an early draw is standing in the way of the odds-on favourite. Francesco Gabbani is Italy’s representative this year and his upbeat, singalong number Occidentali’s Karma looks set to storm to the title.
Beginning with a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the song – translated as Westerner’s Karma – mocks the west for trying to adopt Eastern culture, and features lyrics in English, ancient Greek and Sanskrit. He’s also accompanied on stage by a dancing gorilla, a reference to Desmond Morris’ book The Naked Ape. If that may all sound too highbrow for Eurovision, it’s also a hugely catchy up-tempo hit with an instantly memorable chorus.
Having been absent from the competition for 13 years, Italy have done pretty well since their return in 2010 with four top ten finishes including a second and third place. The draw could be an issue – he goes 9th – although both Sweden and Austria have won from the first half in recent years. It’s certainly the song to beat in Kyiv.
After Italy, choosing a potential winner is a tough job this year. One of the leading contenders is Bulgaria who field 17 year old Kristian Kostov in an attempt to beat last year’s best ever finish of fourth.
Kostov’s Beautiful Mess is a perfectly decent ballad, but while the former Bulgarian X-Factor runner-up has a lovely voice, for me it’s not even the best ballad in the competition. It’s one of the favourites, though, and can be backed at 4/1.
Sweden have one of the best records in the competition and their recent performances have been terrific. They have finished in the top five in five of the last six years, with Loreen and Mans Zelmerlow both winning the contest since 2012.
This year’s entry is Robin Bengtsson whose I Can’t Go On is a typically upbeat piece of Scandi-pop, with a chorus you’ll be singing along to by the end. You’ll notice from the lyrics that the song has been rewritten to airbrush a naughty word from the chorus, but it’s right in the middle of the sweet spot of the draw and looks terrific each-way value at 30/1.
Some outsiders to look out for
Perhaps in a reflection of what’s been happening in the charts, in recent years it would be fair to say that the Eurovision has become less eclectic. For a start, all but four of this year’s entrants are in English, and for many of the songs their influences can be clearly heard.
Austria’s Nathan Trent has clearly been listening to a lot of Ed Sheeran on his entry Running On Air while Hovig from Cyprus has simply lifted the bassline from Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human for his song Gravity. For those of you old enough to remember Wilson Phillips, you’ll find plenty of that on the Netherlands‘ entry Lights and Shadows.
Australia have a good record at the contest since being invited to enter and 17 year old Isaiah Firebrace is channelling Sam Smith on his classy entry Don’t Come Easy. It’s a mid-paced pop song that cruised through to the final despite the youngster missing a high note in the semi-final, and has a decent enough draw.
Australia have finished fifth and second in their two previous Eurovisions and so the odds of 200/1 (10/1 to finish in the top five) look pretty generous.
After the Oscars success of the music from La La Land, Portugal throw up a jazz-infused ballad this year which is likeable and totally different from anything else in the contest.
Portugal hold the unwanted record for most Eurovision appearances without a win, and Salvador Sobral’s Amor Pelos Dois has been written by his sister Luis and is described as a ‘sad love song’.
It’s certainly a lovely song but whether it will be drowned out by two dozen Eurobangers remains to be seen. There’s been plenty of love for it this week and it has been backed heavily – it’s just 6/4 to break Portugal’s contest duck.
If you’re looking for some outsiders to back, you could do worse than Belgium and Romania.
Belgium have been responsible for some of the most interesting Eurovision entries in recent years. They have finished in the top ten in both of the last two years – despite going first in 2016 – and this year’s contender is another assured piece of well-produced pop.
Blanche came through the first semi-final with her song City Lights despite looking utterly terrified throughout the performance. I don’t think the staging is quite as impressive as it could be but it’s arguably the only song in the contest that would nestle comfortably in the current top 40. I like it, and she’s got a great draw, so the 4/6 available on a top five finish is tempting.
It wouldn’t be Eurovision without some yodelling and this year’s high-pitched warbling comes from Romania in their aptly-titled Yodel It. The truth is that this song is a cross between The Script’s Hall of Fame and something from The Sound of Music and it actually works pretty well.
It’s a catchy, likeable and perfect Eurovision tune, and its unashamed kitsch could see it gain plenty of support around the world. It sits between two of the weaker contenders in the draw and I think it could perform better than expected at 40/1.
The United Kingdom entry is co-written by 2013 winner Emmelie de Forrest and Lucie Jones sings Never Give Up On You. It’s a decent song and the staging is lovely but the chances of it winning in the year of Brexit are somewhere south of zero.
The UK have finished 24th in each of the last two years and so the 5/2 on Lucie finishing 21st or below looks far too good to ignore. She is a tempting 18/1 to finish last.
The 61st Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Stockholm this Saturday night and promises to be bigger and better than ever. Superstar Justin Timberlake will perform at the event which this year features 26 countries as far afield as Israel, Azerbaijan and Australia.
With four of Europe’s traditionally strong countries – Greece, Denmark, Ireland and Norway – having already been eliminated, it should be an interesting night. Keep reading for my 2016 Eurovision Song Contest preview.
As ever, there are a number of factors which have to be taken into account when trying to pick a winner. A decent song is obviously key, but political considerations and their draw in the running order will also affect a nation’s chances.
The stars have aligned this year for Russia who go into the event as the clear odds-on favourite. For me, Sergey Lazarev’s You Are The Only One is far from the best song in this year’s competition but with eight ex-Soviet republics and countless more Eastern European countries getting a vote, they are guaranteed a good tally – whatever the song.
The favourites have also been drawn in an absolutely prime position. Eight of the last eleven winners have appeared between 17th and 22nd place on the night and their draw at 18th is a prime slot. Lazarev is certainly the one to beat at 8/13.
In the week leading up to the Contest it has been the Ukraine that looked to pose most threat to their neighbours although Jamala’s 1944 has drifted a little in the betting in recent days.
A dramatic and pointed ballad, 1944 concerns the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, in the 1940s, by the Soviet Union at the hands of Joseph Stalin. It opens with the rather un-Eurovision lines ‘when strangers are coming/they come to your house/they kill you all/and say ‘we’re not guilty”.
It’s an interesting song and with plenty of Western sympathy for the Ukraine’s plight it could go well at 7/1.
After making their debut in 2015, Australia return this year and they could outperform last year’s fifth place finish. Dami Im’s Sound of Silence is a classic Eurovision ballad and its 13th place draw shouldn’t scupper its chances considering the last two Contest winners have been drawn 10th and 11th.
The logistics of organising next year’s Contest in Sydney could be interesting but Australia are 4/1 to win.
One more win for Sweden would lift them to equal-top of the Eurovision success table and the reigning champions field 17 year-old Frans this year with his song If I Were Sorry. It’s a nice enough contemporary pop song and Sweden are traditionally one of the competition’s heavyweights. It is a 14/1 chance.
Some outsiders to watch
Over recent years the Netherlands have been one of the competition’s strongest entrants. Anouk’s underrated Birds came 9th in 2013 before The Common Linnets’ Calm After The Storm finished runner-up to Conchita in 2014.
Earlier this week I had high hopes for their entry Slow Down by Douwe Bob; a mid-paced and jaunty song which sounds a little like an American TV theme from the early 1980s. Catchy and different I thought it could go well at long odds but it has been drawn third on the night – far too early – which means it’s highly unlikely to win, even at 33/1.
The same goes for this year’s entry from Belgium. Laura Tesoro came through Thursday’s second semi-final with What’s The Pressure which mixes the bassline from Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust with the brass of Fleur East’s Sax to decent effect.
With groovy 70s staging and an energetic performance from the singer this would ordinarily be a contender, but it is up first and you have to go back to 1984 for the last time the opening tune won the Contest.
Italy came third in Vienna last year and their entry this year is the likeable and classy No Degree of Separation sung by Francesca Michielin. It may struggle because it is mainly in Italian (apart from one chorus) and fifteen of the last sixteen Eurovision winners have sung in English (Serbia in 2007 is the exception).
The staging is lovely and it is a nice song but drawn 6th it does go a little early and is a 33/1 chance.
Israel‘s Made Of Stars would be a dark horse if it was later in the running order while I think Poland‘s Colour Of Your Life will do much better than the 100/1 offered, mainly thanks to an overblown but anthemic chorus.
If you’re looking to back something totally different that’s in a prime place in the draw then Georgia‘s Midnight Gold could be a lively each-way chance. An indie-rock song featuring strobes and a dazzling, energetic light show, it is co-written by Eurovision legend Thomas G:son from Sweden.
It will certainly stand out between two female vocalists and may be a surprise contender for a top ten finish at 8/1.
And what of the United Kingdom? Joe and Jake go second last with their uptempo You’re Not Alone which is certainly not the worst song the UK has sent to the Contest. It’s 40/1 to win and 3/1 to finish in the top ten.
(Odds from Paddy Power were correct at the time of writing)
As you may have noticed, the TSB brand is back on the High Street. For those of us that remember the old Trustee Savings Bank – I opened my very first bank account with the TSB back in the 1990s – having the Bank That Likes To Say Yes back in action seems a bit like a return to the halcyon days of old fashioned banking.
The TSB’s return has been accompanied by a charming animated
Now, I have no axe to grind with the TSB. I’m sure the people who work there are lovely and I never had any trouble with my current account there 20 odd years ago. What I do have a problem with, though, is this advert: one of the most disingenuous I have ever seen.
For reasons of clarity, let’s outline the facts surrounding TSB’s recent past:
1. The bank existed as its own entity until 1986
2. In 1986 shares in TSB Bank were floated on the stock market
3. In 1995 it merged with the Lloyds Banking Group. The two brands were amalgamated and shareholders then owned shares in Lloyds TSB
4. In 2008, the falling HBOS share price led Lloyds taking over its rival. Lloyds TSB shareholders approved the takeover in November 2008 (thanks to JP for the clarification, here)
5. The British Government bailed out the bank by buying a 43.4% stake in the group in 2009
6. As this purchase was considered ‘state aid’, under European Commission competition laws, the group was required to sell a portion of its business
7. The group decided that a number of Lloyds TSB branches in England and Wales, together with all branches of Lloyds TSB Scotland plc and Cheltenham & Gloucester will form a new business which will operate under the TSB brand
8. The new TSB bank is expected to float in 2014
In short, the TSB bank ceased to exist in 1995 when shareholders approved a merger with Lloyds. Then, the ‘new’ bank was taken over by HBOS and, thanks to its failure and the requirement for government intervention, was forced to divest itself of 632 branches
Let’s check this version of events against the TSB advert, shall we?
“He [Henry Duncan] built a bank whose sole purpose was to help hard working, local people. He believed industry could be encouraged and a sense of pride and independence fostered only when a bank served its community with the people’s interests at its heart.”
Hmm. Nice ideas but starting to look a bit shaky at the point where the bank is considering a stock market flotation…
“The groundwork had been laid for ordinary people to thrive, along with their neighbours. To build communities together. Secure in the knowledge that their money was safe and working for the benefit of all.”
I’m pretty sure that the nature of a stockmarket flotation – as TSB did in 1986 – means that the bank is now working for the benefit of its shareholders rather than its customers. And, a merger with a major rival that is approved by shareholders doesn’t suggest to me that the money ‘was working for the benefit of all’.
Anyway, it goes on.
“And then a storm came. In the turbulent times that followed it was easy to think the ideals that Henry Duncan held so dear had been lost forever. But they hadn’t. They had always been here just waiting to be found. TSB – Welcome back to local banking.”
So, we’re supposed to buy the notion that the relaunch of the TSB brand is an attempt to reconnect with 200 year old visions of what a bank should be like? That Lloyds and subsequently HBOS were simply keeping TSB warm and cosy until such a time when the British public demanded that behaviour from a bank again? That the TSB is going to be a local bank run for the benefit of its customers?
The TSB is back for one reason and one reason only: because HBOS – its owner- failed, the government bailed it out and the laws meant that they had to flog some of their assets. Indeed, had the Co-Operative Bank not pulled out of a deal for the 632 branches at the eleventh hour, the TSB would still be a distant memory and those locations would now be branded as the Co-Op.
And next year the TSB will be floated, once again owned by shareholders and ripe for being gobbled up by a rival when the economy recovers.
I can’t help thinking that Henry Duncan – the man behind the TSB – wouldn’t be celebrating at the return of the ideals on which his bank was based. He’d be disappointed and let down by the appalling spin that HBOS are putting on this whole campaign. Inaccurate, shameless and cynical, this is one of the most unpleasant adverts I’ve seen in recent years.
Improvising is all about creating something magical from scratch. Writing involves much the same process. But, how can you get yourself in a state of mind where you perform your best work? What helps you to give yourself the best chance of doing something magical? And how on earth are the skills needed for getting on stage and making stuff up going to help your writing?
Well, they can. And this series is all about becoming a better improviser and a better write. Last time, I looked at the importance of a warm-up (in writing terms). Today, it’s all about focus.
Part 2 – Focusing on what you’re doing
Imagine you’re in a play. You turn up at the theatre five minutes before the curtain goes up, you greet your fellow actors and then you wander onto stage. Are you likely to put in your best performance? Probably not.
Had you arrived in plenty of time, been able to do a warm-up, re-read your lines and chatted to your co-stars, you’d have
focusing on the job in hand are as important in writing as they are in improvised comedy, or, indeed, in any other form of performance art. Daniel Day-Lewis recently became the first man to win three acting Oscars and is famous for his meticulous preparation. Is that a coincidence?
When I take an improv class, doing a series of exercises that focus the mind are key to getting the best out of the participants. Some of the exercises can seem like children’s party games, but what they are doing is making sure everyone is concentrating, focused and in the right mindset for what comes next.
Focusing exercises also ensure that everyone is on the same wavelength, gets the creative juices flowing and psyches everyone up for a good performance.
While writing tends to be more of a solitary endeavour, it’s still vital that you’re in the right frame of mind to do your best work. Preparation is key.
Before you start, make sure you know what it is you want to achieve. Read through your brief so you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Re-read some previous work to make sure you understand the tone of voice and style that you’re looking for. And make sure you fully understand what you want to write before you begin.
trying to keep different imaginary coloured balls in the air might work for an improv class but not for you as a writer. But, the principles are the same. Before you start make sure you’re focused, in the right mindset and, most importantly, ready to perform.
Next time I’ll look at how a simple improv game can be the perfect way to write. In the meantime, please share your thoughts below.
Can learning the skills that make good improvised comedy help you as a writer? Yes, and over the next few weeks you will find out why and how. Today, we’ll start with the very basics: the warm-up.
Since 2009, I’ve been involved with an improvised comedy group here in Nottingham. Despite being pretty ropey to begin with, I’ve attended countless workshops, shows and events over the last three and a bit years, to the point where I’ve reached of a standard where I can not only perform on stage but also teach the subject.
Of course, the instant reaction I get from telling someone that I teach improvised comedy is “How is that possible? Surely you make it up on the spot?” Of course, this is true. But, as with any other pastime, it is possible to learn skills and techniques that make you better.
Since September 2012, I’ve been teaching kids drama and comedy in Nottingham to a lovely bunch of 8-12 year olds. The Little Imps have come on leaps and bounds since the sessions began, culminating in a ‘mini show’ to their families just before Christmas. And, as well as teaching the basics of stagecraft and how to perform improvised comedy, it struck me that teaching improv has dozens of other positive benefits in other walks of life.
Many corporations use improve as a teambuilding exercise. Team GB’s women’s hockey team did a day of improvisation as part of their build up to London 2012. As one of the parents pointed out to me after a recent session, it’s obvious that improvisation offers other benefits than learning to be funny on stage. It develops skills from social interaction and confidence building to listening
Most of the people who attend our sessions don’t like the warm-up. To start with, I was the same. What is the point of spending the first 15 minutes of a session jogging on the spot or making weird noises?
Now, I don’t suggest that you do a hundred squat thrusts before you start to write a press release. Neither do I think it’s
imperative that you make motorboat sounds with your lips or repeat a tongue twister before you start on that website rewrite.
However, warm-up games and exercises can really help improve the quality of your work. They are designed to get you in a cheery mood, focus your mind on what’s about to happen and sharpen concentration.
I’ll talk about some basic group exercises to focus the mind next time. However, the point is that a warm-up takes you from whatever mindset you were in before – stress from your work, the traffic you’ve just sat in, the row you’ve had with your partner – and moves you into a place where you are ready to perform.
I think that is a brilliant lesson for anyone who’s about to write. Emptying your mind of everything else that is going on in order to concentrate on the matter in hand makes for more focused, interesting improv. It also makes for better writing. Try it sometime. You don’t have to spend hours running around the block. Just do some simple breathing exercises, stretch your back and your arms out and try and shake off all the other things competing for your brain’s attention.
As I’ve learned along the way, warm-ups are absolutely essential to a decent
Since October, I’ve been teaching a professional writing course to a group of second year degree students at the University of Nottingham. Their Creative and Professional Writing degree is one of only a handful of courses in the UK that incorporates copywriting, business writing and copy-editing as well as more traditional English modules. And, as it’s a compulsory module, they all have to come to the lectures. (You’ll have to ask them about that.)
Before Christmas, I set them an assignment which contributed towards their final degree grade. I asked them to identify the three factors that, in their opinion, were essential to great quality copy. They then had to critique a piece of copy against these criteria.
Having marked the 17 assignments, I thought it would be interesting to share the results with you, and for you to see what the students consider the three factors that make great copy. In order, the results were:
The copy should be clear, concise and easy to read
It shouldcontain good ‘calls to action’
It should be focused on the reader
Other choices included ‘a good headline’, ‘the correct tone of voice’, ‘it should be reader focused’ and ‘it should be benefit driven’.
Now, clearly these are all important factors and a good piece of copy will no doubt satisfy all of these criteria and more. However, it got me thinking as to what my choice of three factors would have been. After some deliberation, I think I’d have chosen:
Good copy should be benefit driven
It should focus on the reader
It should have a good call to action
Some of the students had an excellent grasp of copywriting ‘theory’ (such as it is) and produced some excellent work, justifying their choices with research and examples. But, if you had been asked to complete a similar assignment, what would you have chosen? Do you agree with the students’ choices? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
For a few weeks before Christmas, I spent much of my time helping my wife with her fast-growing online business. For a couple of months, she spent 18 hours a day making lovely ceramic gifts while I looked after the logistics of sending hundreds of orders far and wide.
For a long period, our lead time for orders was around 3 weeks. This was clearly marked on the product pages and in the confirmation e-mail when customers placed
an order. For most people that was fine but, as you would expect, a handful of people got in touch to ask if they could receive their order a bit sooner.
This is typical of the emails I was receiving from clients:
I recently ordered a personalised necklace for my mum’s Christmas present. I note from the email that the estimated date of dispatch for this is 17 December which will be after I last see her before Christmas. Is there any possible way of a quicker dispatch?
On the face of it, this seems like a perfectly polite request. But look closer. Nowhere does the customer use a small but important word: ‘please’.
For a few weeks I was receiving several of these emails every day. Clearly we couldn’t prioritise everyone’s order, so I developed a simple rule. If the customer said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I’d prioritise it. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t.
Now. I appreciate that this may seem a bit picky and a bit arrogant. However, it actually got me thinking about how easy it is for manners to go out of the window when you write. Had any of these people spoken to me about their order, I expect all of them would automatically
I then began to notice that I wasn’t saying ‘please’ in my own emails and correspondence either, even when I was asking quite a favour. This is something that I’ve immediately tried to remedy.
As copywriters, we spend days asking people to ‘call us now’ or ‘get in touch today’ without ever saying ‘please’. I appreciate that it’s not relevant (or indeed appropriate) in all cases, but wouldn’t your copy be
I’m in the process of researching a new book about how you spot a bonkers partner and I could really use your help. I’m looking for any stories about bonkers ‘partner behaviour’. It can be you, your current hubbie, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend or something related to an ex. Or, it could be stories your friends and family have told you, stories you’ve read about in the paper or online or links to odd or disturbing articles.
I’m after everything from ironing bedsheets in a certain way to slicing clothes, stealing money, refusing to let you see your friends right up to Bobbit-esque dismemberment. I don’t even really care if they’re true or not, as long as they’re good stories!
widely as possible and get people to send me as many links and stories as possible, I’d be really grateful. Of course, every story will be used in the strictest confidence and I won’t use anyone’s real names.
I’ve also encountered this problem when writing things like “Chelsea have a great away record this season” (clearly not true, but bear with me) and “England have a tricky away trip in France.”
Technically, I suppose that as a sports team or a company is one entity then the correct grammar would be to say that “Scotland has a great record” in the same way that “Madonna has a great voice”. But, it just doesn’t sound right.
So, which is it? Sandicliffe have a great range of used card? Or Sandicliffe has a great range of used cars? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.