6th November 2023
Eurovision fever has engulfed the nation. It started at Crewe train station, where there were world flags strewn all over the platform with Liverpool-bound departing trains. As we arrived at Lime Street, the bombardment of yellow and blue celebration was brazen. Giant signs adorned the platforms beneath our feet and banners hung from the windows. The billboards and even the buildings all stated how ecstatic Liverpool is to play host to Eurovision 2023 on behalf of last year’s winners, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra. The Eurovision Village at Pier Head is host to day-long events and live music, which are totally free to the public. On Monday, the theme was This is Ukraine and we watched Jerry Heil‘s set, which was extremely passionate and moving. She is a brilliant vocalist and a talented performer, who won over the crowd with ease.
We previously wrote about the open-house event that was held for the public to view the Yoko Ono Lennon Centre. A year on, we were invited back to attend their Eurovision preview. With a minuscule three-week turnaround to organise the entire event, there was a lot of pressure on their team to get it right. When we arrived it was already busy and all the staff were helpful and friendly, from the security at the door, to the receptionist who printed our tickets, to the ushers who showed us to our seats.
The auditorium itself was very pleasant. The 400-capacity venue is specifically designed for music and the range of live and recorded music played to this strength, showing its adaptive atmosphere can make anything sound great. The seats were comfy and you had plenty of room, which I really appreciated, There’s nothing worse than being crammed in when people are passing to reach their seats and everyone has to shuffle past one another awkwardly. The view was excellent too and it was evident that everyone could see well, no matter where they were situated.
Pixey, a local singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer was first to take the stage, bringing her songs Sunshine State and Just Move to the audience. They were bubbly tracks, in a vein of indie-pop. It felt a little like KT Tunstall meets The Beatles, identifiably indie but with a 60’s groove.
The three-week turnaround was to ensure that the University caught the Eurovision hype. The United by Music theme has been used to promote learning and celebrate culture. It was only natural, therefore, that they make use of their specialist music facilities.
We are incredibly excited to be welcoming Iru, Diljá, Monika, Polina and Iryna here for this special concert whilst they’re in the city. The Tung Auditorium has been a great space for a wide variety of artists including our students to showcase their music.Richard Hartwell – The Tung Auditorium Artistic Director
The Eurovision artists from Lithuania, Georgia and Iceland were welcomed with open arms. They gave previews of their songs, as well as some bonus tracks. Each put on a good performance and they were eager to engage the audience, who were extremely reserved in comparison to the usual level of participation one expects from Eurovision. The artists adapted well to the change of pace and the variety of music choices ended up being well-suited to the occasion.
Monika Linkytė is a veteran of Eurovision, having competed in 2015. She eagerly asked the audience to join in with the chant of Čiūto Tūto, a Lithuanian folk incantation for her entry song, Stay. It was catchy and easy to sing along. With her 4 brilliant British backing vocalists, it was a well-rounded performance and it was evident that she was comfortable on the stage. After this year’s Eurovision song, she performed a solo version of her 2015 entry, This Time. Asking people to at least join in with their feet if they didn’t want to move their hands, she encouraged everyone to enjoy the music in their own way and to at least feel it move them.
The second of the Eurovision visitors was IRU, from Georgia. A veteran of Junior Eurovision this time, she won the competition with her band, Candy, in 2011, at just 11 years old. Now 22, she painted a very elegant and sophisticated picture, in a white suit and black belt (which my boyfriend quipped was her black belt in karate). She performed an acoustic version of her Eurovision entry Echo, with the writer and producer of the song, Giga Kukhianidze – the man responsible for all three of Georgia’s winning Junior Eurovision songs, including Candy Music, her winning song. The song was very sweet and the acoustic version sounds like a forlorn love song. The full-pelt Eurovision version is like a completely different song, so it was really nice to have the opportunity to see this contrast.
Her set was complimented by two covers of British icons, Emilie Sandé’s Clown and Adele’s When We Were Young. It was clear what a brilliant vocalist she is and that her ability to perform stripped-back, raw songs is just as good as her powerful pop. She finished her set with a traditional Georgian song, Sakartvelo, which she told us is Georgia in her mother tongue. It was mournful and beautiful, like a love letter to the country from someone who missed it dearly.
The youngest of the three Eurovision stars, Diljá, closed the show. She had an energy which was very different from the previous two entrants, commanding the empty stage with her huge presence and speaking to the audience like they were her closest friends. She opened with Crazy, her new single, which was due to release at midnight on the day, so we got a cheeky sneak peek. It was a really good pop song, which I immediately added to my Spotify once it was released. It reminded me of an Icelandic Mimi Webb. She told us it was “obviously” about herself, before singing her Eurovision song, Power. Another song about herself, it went straight to number one in the Icelandic charts. It was sung with ease and feeling, the power she had over her audience was palpable. A very catchy #girlboss song, I am a definite fan.
The concert also highlighted Ukrainian singer Polina Hrechyshkina and contemporary dancer Iryna Kuts, both Culture and Art Centre staff members at the University of Liverpool’s partner university, Sumy State in Ukraine.
As Liverpool is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine, it is important to us that we present Ukrainian talent at this event. Our connection with Sumy State University as our twin university in Ukraine involves working with them in a number of ways so that they’re able to continue their education, research and cultural activities and we’re glad to be able to recognise that as part of this concert.Tim Seamans – Director of External Relations at the University of Liverpool
Keen to highlight the connection between the universities and Liverpool’s adoption as host city, the two Ukranians were invited to take part to show us a taste of their talent. Polina sang two Ukranian songs, the first Намалюй Мені Ніч (Draw Me a Picture of the Night), was a jazz number and the second, Два вікна (Two Windows) was a powerful rock ballad. She also made easy work covering Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall from the James Bond hit Spectre. Iryna danced to Rachel Platton’s Fight Song, which felt like a defiant stand against the war. A passionate and spirited dance which conveyed hope for peace.
Images and videos by Bryony Lainton