I recently wrote an article for Pi Media on the first full year of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage. The school is fully funded and operated by University College London as an attempt to bring a more university-style education to the secondary experience. In the article I tour the building and facilities, plus interview the Prinicipal of the Academy, Geraldine Davies. You can view the article here. It’s also included in Issue 701 of Pi Magazine which you can pick up for free across Bloomsbury or view online here.

“We don’t learn languages very well in this country. So our principle has been to embed one modern and very important language into the life of the school”

The “Gay Parade”: Eurovision

The month of May means different things to different people. For me, it would be incomplete without one certain institution.

The Eurovision Song Contest actually means a lot to me. For one, it’s the ultimate campfest. No one will doubt that I’m rather partial to such an occurrence. But top of my mind when I think about the spectacular, is how historically important it is. Most will unfairly disregard how much the annual event has contributed to promoting European unity and educated citizens about the very distinct corners of our continent. I would say it’s done this to a much greater extent than the EU ever could. From Portugal to Estonia and Azerbaijan to Slovenia, the Contest shines a 4 minute light on the participating nation – something not to be sniffed at from a London penthouse.

Could you truly imagine any other situation where a contest so openly (and happily) gay, would be the biggest thing happening in Baku, or the highest rated TV show in the Ukraine and Belarus? This has certainly ruffled a few features in the past, such as Tehran pulling its Azerbaijani diplomat in horror of the preceding “gay parade.” 

This year the contest is being held in Malmö following Sweden’s deserved win last year. Well into Eurovision Week (the first Semi-Final took place mere hours before this post), I thought now would be as good a time as ever to highlight why the contest shouldn’t be regarded as the trashcan of music. Of course, that’s part of it. But there are also a number of high-quality contemporary songs to be found through watching Europe’s most popular non-sporting event.

So how better to do that than flicking through my pick of this year’s crop?

The Netherlands: Anouk – ‘Birds’

Possibly my favourite song this year, it’s quite different from your average contestant. Restrained at the point of receding into itself, the tune hails from an album called ‘Sad Singalong Songs.’ Yet, when you listen to the lyrics, you notice that this is pure poetry. Anouk is a massive star in the Netherlands, and this has already been a hit over there. It’s also managed to make its way through to the Grand Final, the first time the country has managed this since 2004. I suspect that something special may arise this Saturday evening.

Norway: Margaret Berger – ‘I Feed You My Love’

The Nordic countries can always be relied on to provide a contemporary dance track for Eurovision. Loreen’s ‘Euphoria’ was the product of Sweden, and now ‘I Feed You My Love’ makes it’s way from the neighbour in the north. This is guaranteed to end the night on the top half of the leaderboard, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it creep into the top 5.

Denmark: Emmelie De Forest – ‘Only Teardrops’

This song would be at the top of radio playlists up and down the country if not for the Eurovision sticker. Alas, this is another tune which hails from its surroundings. Past winners such as Lena and Alexander Rybak led the way for young folky-pop to be popular at the event. ‘Only Teardrops’ is the bookies favourite going into Saturday’s final.

France: Amandine Bourgeois – ‘L’enfer et moi’

The French manage to be effortlessly classy whatever they do (screen grab of above video notwithstanding). They’ve even managed to send an artist whose last name could uproar a workers’ revolution. This is a true wildcard on the Eurovision front. It may sneak into the top ten like Italy’s similarly husky voiced 2012 entrant, but no way will it win. There’s no big moment with which to end the song. Regardless, it’s a top tune that will be finding a way on to my iPod. And that’s the aim really, isn’t it?