A Voiceless Vocalist, Medicinal Cognac, and Hidden Tissues: The Show Must Go on at Eesti Laul

Our copy editor, Dirk Lloyd, gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how the song “Sally” was born and filmed for the semi-final of Eesti Laul, which airs this Saturday at 21:35 on ETV.

Go Away Bird

The band on the set of their video shoot at Tartu’s Uus Teater. Photo by Gabriela Liivamägi

I’d been working on music with Stanislav Bulganin (Stas), Hanna Parman, and our producer, Martin Kikas, for over a year when Stas hatched the plan to kick-start the band’s release of the first single under the guise of Eesti Laul, Estonia’s national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. This wasn’t necessarily because our particular style of music had much in common with the standard Eurovision fare, but because Eesti Laul offers a bright spotlight and is known as one of the best national selections in Europe, largely due to the eclecticism of its offerings each year. Thus, when our track “Sally” came to life in the months preceding Eesti Laul, we thought it was probably the poppiest and most accessible track to introduce Go Away Bird to the wider national audience.

The track was selected, and the general reception was extremely positive. Thus, as the months passed and media obligations grew, so also did our excitement and confidence with the solid sounds at our rehearsals. In the days preceding the dress rehearsal and final shoot, however, our lead vocalist, Hanna, began to nurse a nasty cough, which she hid among many cups of tea and water bottles.

It was only afterwards that Hanna would divulge she’d been suffering from fever in the nights leading up to the shoot, reaching 41 degrees on the day of the shoot itself! I had begun to suspect something wasn’t quite right the day before our dress rehearsal, so I brewed up a hellish concoction of my special antiviral formula in an attempt to forestall her illness. On the morning of the rehearsal, however, she had no voice at all, and only managed to croak raspily through the song.

We were in full panic mode. After the dress rehearsals, Stas asked me: “Do you know all the lyrics by heart? Because you might be the one singing the lead tomorrow,” and we quickly rushed off to rehearse for plan B.


“Hanna, do you want me to get the cognac? Just say so and I’ll go immediately.”

Stas is a sort of old-school believer that vodka or cognac can cure all ills, and he had walked into the studio the morning of the shoot brandishing a bottle of what appeared to be very fine French cognac. We were on the stage and had just stopped at the producer’s request to touch up Hanna’s makeup. Up to this point Hanna had been keeping a very low profile, probably to allocate whatever health reserves that remained for the critical moment, as well as to hide tissues behind the projectors and lamps of strategic places on the stage.

By then she was probably willing to try anything that would diminish the pain and lift her spirits in that desperate moment, and Stas leapt off the stage, shouting, “Yeah, yeah – one minute!” somewhere in the space between feet meeting the floor and halfway out the door. In a flash he was back with a snifter filled to the brim, proffering his Sunday sacrament to all the musicians on stage, while Hanna quickly and expertly dropped a healthy dose straight from the bottle into her throat, carefully so as not to spoil the blue lipstick which had just been applied mid-set to better match the staging concept.



The brave Hanna. Photo by Gabriela Liivamägi

I recently asked Hanna what she recalled of the whole process, but she had almost no recollection of anything that happened there – not because of the cognac, but because she was so focused on not falling over. She still can’t recall the picture the program hosts requested she draw in the little video introduction given for each artist. As soon as her duties at the TV studio were over, she collapsed into a semi-comatose state, and none of us saw her again until a week later.

I’m not sure what carried her through the haze long enough to get at least one take on tape that day, whether it was personal bravery, the general toughness of Estonian women, rock ‘n’ roll spirit, or the “doctor’s” heavy hand in applying the liquid courage, but it could have been a combination of all those things – kind of like the sort of mélange you get when you bring together an Estonian, a Russian, and an American in one band.

How did the actual performance turn out? Well, you’ll have to catch Eesti Laul this Saturday to find out! If you like what we’re about, then feel free to send some phone votes our way. We’ve got an entire album’s worth of material in store for later this year, and the best is definitely yet to come.

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