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Monday, January 31, 2005

Painting Over The Past

Being tight for cash as we are at the moment, I’ve been forced to recycle several old canvases that the children and I had used a few years ago.

Part of me felt awful erasing part of their childhood this way and part of me was undoubtedly pragmatic about it; these were generally not as vibrant or evocative as some of their other paintings.

For their part they had such no hesitation in consigning their early daubing to oblivion. “What about this one?” I said holding a multi-coloured explosion aloft. Tom shrugged his shoulders. Joe smiled and said “It’s OK you know Dad. We don’t mind.”

Needless to say, as I painted over them I wondered if in years to come they’d appear on some documentary somewhere saying “Yes, our father was a cruel tyrant robbing us of our past and heritage in this selfish manner.”

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Remembering Hugh Davies

As Debbie and I were heading out to the Tyneside Cinema to see A Very Long Engagement and Sideways (we love doing double bills), we tarried for a moment in the newsagents in the Haymarket where I was leafing through the magazine rack and saw a copy of The Wire.

I used to subscribe to this magazine in times gone by but what with the cutbacks and everything, I’m now a casual observer. I was drawn to an article on Hugh Davies – sadly it was his obituary written by David Toop.

My claim to fame with Hugh Davies is that during the late 1970s he was a composer in residence at Spectro Arts Workshop in Newcastle which is where I worked at the time.

The fact that Hugh had worked as Stockhausen’s assistant (a job previously done by Cornelius Cardew) impressed me immensely; I was going through a big love affair with pieces like Stimmung, Aus den Sieben Tagen and Gesang der Jünglinge at the time.

Hugh was quiet, well-mannered and had a slightly startled expression about him at all times. Memory tells me that he was with us for a few months and during that time I got to play close-up with his self-invented instrument, the Shozyg. A tangle of wires, a metal egg-slicer, circuits, solder, batteries collected and contained in the hollowed-out shell of a hardback encyclopaedia ( volume SHO – ZYG), it made a surprising variety of squeals and squawks.

When Hugh played it however, it was capable of delicate moans, resonant episodes and singing a forlorn, eerie song. Hugh was an important influence in the development of experimental music in the UK and a collaborator on the free jazz scene where he worked with the likes of Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and of course, Jamie Muir. And like those people, he was fiercely individual with his very own unique and wonderfully inventive musical voice.

Spooling forward to the Hayward Gallery at the private viewing / opening of the Sonic Boom exhibition in 2000. His beard was longer, giving him the appearance of an Old Testament prophet but it was unmistakably Hugh Davies. There’d been a procession of great and good at the party but I was especially pleased to see Davies.

I wandered over and started into the “You won’t remember me but…” when he cut me off with a smile and said “Ah yes, Spectro Arts Workshop in Newcastle wasn’t it?” You could have knocked me down with a feather. After a bit of chinwagging we exchanged email addresses and then went our separate ways.

Tonight I’m playing Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk and 1968 – 1971 by the Music Improvisation Company in his honour.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

All That Jazz

I had a splendid evening watching the opening salvo in BBC 4’s excellent Jazz Britania series last night. The first of the three part documentary drew a slightly boozy line from the post-war trad jazz revival through to the establishment of London’s first bebop venue, Club 11.

Replete with generous mixture of archive footage (the best of which was old 8mm street footage of Archer Street and surrounding Soho) as well as some rarely seen performance footage of the UK’s youngbuck’s going through their American-inspired paces, I thought it was insightful and marvellously entertaining.

It was also wonderfully nostalgic and one could almost smell the brylcreem as much as the keen aspiration and optimism coming off these young musicians. Inevitably, not all the stories were covered in quite the kind of detail that enthusiasts would wish for. However within the confines of a one hour format, I thought the makers of the programme did rather well.

The next episode deals with the scene’s search for an authentic voice and the exploration of the free jazz scene, which lest you forget was something that inspired the likes of Michael Giles, Jamie Muir, etc. Indeed the BBC 4 Jazz Britania website has an excellent interview with Keith Tippett where he deals with his inspirations as some brief comments regarding the (then) increasing interplay between the worlds of jazz and rock. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Turning Up The Heat

It’s bitingly cold today, so cold in fact that I’ve had to resort to housework (sans Bowie) as a means of warming myself up. I always feel a bit guilty about putting on the heating when I’m in the house on my own during the day. Consequently, the day has had a fragmented feel to it notwithstanding a sustained bout of emailing to various great and good in the morning.

I’ve also been ruminating on Tom’s parents evening which I went to last night. The short version of it is that Tom is doing well, is positive and always constructive and popular; he’s hitting his expected targets. The slightly longer version is that he’s capable of doing far more than he is and he needs to raise his game.

In the following debrief, Tom accepted the praise as well as the areas in which he needs to respond to but then this morning turned in a cursory piece of homework. It wasn’t that what he’d written was wrong but it was sloppy in terms of presentation and content. A minor bit of sharpening up was all that was needed - precisely what his teachers said last night. I reminded him about this and suggested he re-draft the short piece.

Tom refused point blank and in a manner most surly.

Recalling all the books and strategies I’ve read over the years about resolving conflict, removing anger and empathising with the other person’s perspective, I shouted at him.

Yep, another brilliant example of parent-craft from Dad resulting in another cold front between father and son. This too has contributed to my feeling out of sorts and a bit frosty. Ho hum.

Debra has returned home from work and a trip to the dentist – three fillings at the back for those who are interested in other kinds of down-in-the-mouth details.

Elsewhere…some initial work on a project that has the working title of Northern Elements – this is another speculative at-risk piece of work and whilst I recognise that this is a necessary part of the freelance arts landscape I’m not prepared to put in all the energy I did on the wonderful (but ultimately unsuccessful) Building Bridges with Bill Fontana.

And even more elsewhere…some work with the Tarot pack; a great way of shuffling up the psyche, intuition and imagination.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Welcome To Josef K World

Today was another day that caught me bellowing with apoplexy at inanimate objects; in this instance the radio as it brings me news of the latest example of knee-jerk legislation. On the back of detention without trial having been rightfully ruled unlawful by the law lords, the government are now introducing “control orders” that would not only extend to foreign terrorist suspects but to UK citizens.

This proposal, which might include the possibility of imposing house arrest on individuals, sounds more worthy of the Chinese politburo than Westminster. As the UK’s political experience in Northern Ireland has shown the only people who come out on top when legislation of this nature is offered are the cynical terrorists.

Diplock courts in Northern Ireland made it easier to lock suspected terrorists up without having to go through the business of presenting evidence in front of jury but in the end, they didn’t stop the bombing and killing. Only the politcal process did that. Indeed it’s likely that such a measure merely prolonged the dreadful situation there and delivered the terrorists a handsome propaganda victory.

Once a society starts locking people up indefinitely without bringing charges it swaps the moral high-ground for the slippery slope to the moral cesspit.

And now from the ridiculous to the quite possibly sublime. . .

A snippet from the News page of the soon-to-be-launched-when-its-ready-and-not-a-moment-before-fanboy DGM website dated Friday 21st January

Headline: Thirty Seven Forms!
No, not the amount of pages on my self assessment returns this year but rather the title of a new piece of Crim courtesy of the Tone Probe Twosome to wit; "David & Robert mixed and prepared the first new King Crimson track from The Crimson ProjeKct: Thirty Seven Forms for download on the new DGM Site."

RF didn’t mention any more than that but rest assured there’ll be an update just as soon as we have more information. Remember not only did you hear about it here first, eventually you will hear it from here - it says here.

Elsewhere…the wind is slicing through Whitley Bay causing gardens and all manner of growing things to quiver and shake.

Several emails contain suggestions for bad back cures and restoratives for which I’m grateful.

More detailed listening to the 1997 Soundscapes at Hartford reveal tons of aural treasure and I begin to grab a form of words that don’t really do the thing justice but which nevertheless provide some kind of yardstick; what a wonderful way to spend an hour and half of one’s life. Certainly much better than shouting at the radio that’s for sure.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Robert Fripp Soundscapes: Exercising My Listening Muscles

The exercise regime of back stretches, etc is beginning to have an effect. I am now sleeping longer in the mornings as the pain is significantly diminished.

There’s a couple of people I know who have expressed admiration for my early morning routine (anytime from 5.00 onwards is game for me), seeing it as part of some iron-willed discipline on my part. The truth of course is that generally the acute pain from my back is the thing that snaps me awake and forces my unwilling mass into the dark.

Since the turn of the New Year and my daily adoption of the exercises I’ve found that I’m now able to get a decent night’s sleep. I’m still usually to be found padding my way through to the bathroom circa 6.30 a.m. but that’s OK.

The fact that I’ve been able to get through the last three weeks and have only consumed two painkillers (yes two!) as opposed to a packet every couple of days is also a testament to the process.

Bliss of an entirely different nature comes courtesy of the DGM website as I listen to RF soundscaping at Hartford, CT, June 19 1997. The scale of this music is frankly breathtaking. In trying to frame a description for the show notes in the on-line catalogue I find the nearest I get to it is “devastating simplicity.”

Ever since No Pussyfooting was first released, I’ve been listening to looping-based music from both professional and amateur sources.

Though I wouldn’t make any claim to have heard it all by a long chalk, based on what I have, I can say that there’s a degree of authority and authenticity in what RF is doing that distinguishes it from the “what goes around comes around” school of ambient boy-racers. In most cases what they lack is the sense of scale, the voice and the ability to not only sustain but develop a piece in the way that is happening at Hartford. Vast yet curiously intimate.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Zen, Housework and David Bowie

A day of trying and failing. “Fail better” as smartypants Samuel Beckett would no doubt have chimed in. Well I suppose so. Determined not to descend into an orgy of self-loathing or surf the waves of dread fear I often encounter when I have days like this, I take to the calming zen of housework and David Bowie.

As long-term readers (you know who you are) will recall, David Bowie is often my preferred choice of listening whilst cleaning up and scrubbing the bog. Quite why this should be so isn’t something I’ve ever pondered. Perhaps it’s the length of the songs – generally short and sweet – or the poppy blast of syncopated sophistication contained therein. Whatever it may be the thin white Duke seems perfect for such an occasion.

Today the toilets and kitchen floors and surfaces were rendered spic and span to the anxious and pensive doodlings of Outside – one of Bowie’s better ones. The only problem is the length. Too long a CD means more housework so perhaps I would have been better off with Ziggy Stardust or Station To Station.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Howard's Way: The Subtle Art Of Being Racist

The Tories have unveiled their “new” policy on immigration and limiting the hordes of sponging asylum seekers who are coming over here to take our jobs, women and destabilise our entire way of life - if not the exact headlines then certainly the smell of the subtext. Years spent canvassing on the cold doorstep of local politics has convinced me that if you play to the lowest common denominator then that’s what you get in the way of support.

Howard understands that Blair’s New Labour lead is almost unassailable and whilst their majority will be significantly decreased, it won’t be enough for the Tories to do much of anything other than elect ditch the incumbent and vote in the member for Haltemprice and Howden as their new leader.

Be that as it may, Howard understand that the ban on foxhunting isn’t going to garner any real extra support hence his appeal to other minority groups in society to swell their ranks – in this case, racists.

Clearly, Michael Howard and the increasingly desperate Tory party he leads, feel the need to stir the hate-pot just a little in order to tempt back the rump of voters who’ve strayed in recent years to vote for the British National Party, UKIP and the like.

Of course the policy announcement is not couched in racist terms and nowhere does the statement mention the colour of a person’s skin or indeed their country of origin. However, this very lack of precision will allow the canvassers working for the party to play the race card on the doorstep or wherever they glean that it may offer them an advantage.

Yet even with the vote of the racists and the foxhunters and other similarly oppressed minorities (as Howard and co would have us believe) in the bag, it simply wont be enough to unseat Blair. What might just make the difference is where the vote of the lapsed Labour voter may go. In most cases this would never go to the Tories – as jaded as I am about most of the present government’s policies I could never foresee a day when the Conservative candidate would get my vote.

However with all of the muddled policies on education, tuition fees, lying to the public about WMD (and thus the raison d’etre for going to war), the introduction of foundation hospitals, the so-called reform of the gambling laws (and introduction of super-casino’s) and the pandering to the drinks industry lobby, neither can I foresee a day when the Labour candidate would get my vote.

Sadly for him, Alan Campbell, the Labour MP for Tynemouth will lose his seat this time around. Some chinless wonder will replace him and the constituency will revert to its traditional Tory default setting. In the past, this very fact alone would have been enough for me to overcome my reservations about New Labour and get out, if not onto the Hustings, then at least to cast my vote. Not now though.

Perhaps it’s the way of things and that as we get older we become more lazy and disengaged from the things that put the fire in our belly when we were younger. Elsewhere I detect my ability to move with the times is becoming stilted. In a recent burst of correspondence I offered this view to someone who was telling me about some live music they’d witnessed;

“As I get older I seem to hear less and less new music. I really envy people like you who manage to keep plugged into what's new.”

Only the other day I went to the library where I was able to read the February edition of Q. I didn’t know any of the bands featured in its pages and even where I recognised a name, I am ignorant of their music.

Then as I looked at the pictures of sultry young men staring moodily into the lens, I realised I didn’t feel inclined to even want to find out what noise they were likely to be making with their guitars.

Perhaps my musical appetite will gradually go the way of my political predisposition; from committed to indifferent. Cynicism here we come.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Customs And Practice

An instructive morning spent in the company of someone who, as the saying goes, knows the field concerning the commitment of crimes against property and person - and sometimes both at the same time. These discussions have been research for a screenplay that I’ve been working on.

The main threads of our talk consist of an assessment concerning the licensing debate, the impact that the new breed of university educated police officers are having on traditional custom and practice, and the surprising effect of the Assets Recovery Agency in forcing many career criminals to turn to legitimate means of making money; they figure it’s just not worth being dishonest if the ARA step in and freeze your assets.

Part of the screenplay revolves around the activities of a young man making his way up the crime ladder. What skills would such a character have to be equipped with in order to stand a decent chance at becoming a need to be successful criminal?

“Three things” he said “although the third thing is largely viewed as being irrelevant. First, physical strength combined with unflinching ruthlessness. Second is money; what can’t be broken can be bought. And the third thing is intellect but most will generally settle for a combination of the first two.”

As he left he brought me up to speed on a recent turf war that I’d heard tell of. This information was embargoed and clearly I’m unable to offer it for public consumption at this stage. However, I will say that it made me feel queasy in the extreme and I had to sit down after he’d left such was the ferocity of his description. Neither intellect nor money was involved. All of which goes to show that there’s no chance of me muscling in on the Kingpin of Crime gig then.

Email excitements concerning both radio-based and televisual Crim courtesy of an old contact. More details at a later stage when things are followed up and the proper channels addressed.

Listening To…
Vrooom Vrooom by King Crimson
Works for String Quartet by Frank Bridge

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Grudge

Whitley Bay's 1960s-style branch library - a concrete box filled with farting pensioners (not shown). . .

What’s happened to standards? Once upon a time the public library was a place of quiet seclusion. Today it was full to the brim with flatulent pensioners blowing off as loud as you like without a care in the world.

Not the most conducive of atmospheres I can tell you. So not being able to find the book I was looking for (the Paul Auster New York Trilogy) I headed back out into the howling gales which at least have the invigorating virtue of not smelling like three week old stewed cabbage.

Whilst being bent double by the slicing wind, I bumped into someone who used to work for the local authority I left a few years ago. He was as nice as ninepence to me today as we say round these parts, and he was still the same gobshite he was all those years ago. Gobshite is something else we also say around these parts.

For those who don’t know, a gobshite is someone who talks big but when it comes down to it hasn’t got the bottle to say things to your face.

When challenged they’ll also claim that a) they were misquoted b) it wasn’t them c) it was just a joke and d) a loathsome variation of all three. Which is exactly what I got when I failed to respond to his bland pleasantries and picked him up on something untrue he'd fed to the press about me albeit a very long time ago.

“Bloody hell Sid, can’t you take a joke? It wasn’t me that said all that stuff. You know what editors are like.”

Normally I’m not one to hold a grudge but when I do it feels mighty good.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Review: Mortal Engines & The Amulet Of Samarkand

I’ve just finished reading a couple of ripping yarns that were part of Joseph’s Christmas box. Both happen to be set in London; one far away in the future and the other in an alternative time that has the characteristics of the present day but feels ancient. Come to think of whenever I go to London it always has that aura about it. The writer and ace-compiler of psychogeography, Iain Sinclair sees our capital city as a grid where past and present constantly connect with one another, forever hauling the population into lines that were fixed into earth when the Romans were just a faraway bunch of uppity foreigners, a mere footnote in the Druid's Rough Guide to the (then) known world.

Though rarely realised, our modern buildings often follow the routes of forgotten rivers, reed-thin alleyways snake between towering office blocks, conduits through which the past still courses. Despite an impressive procession of fires, floods, planning committees and the tactical assistance of the Luftwaffe, such tiny passageways and cuts have been in place for centuries.

Anyone who saw Peter Akroyd’s fascinating overview of London (much less his breathtaking autobiography of the city) will be amazed by how well these routes retain their integrity. They persevere against the odds; antiquated David’s against the modern-day Goliaths that loom over them.

Whether or not they endure in the post-apocalyptic far-flung future of Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines isn’t entirely clear. Here, London, literally and metaphorically, struggles to keep ahead of the urban sprawl by slowly trundling along on enormous wheels.

This unwieldy behemoth ravenously searches for prey – other similarly mobile towns and cities fated to provide London with the necessary resources to keep moving. It’s the survival of the fittest, a time where a brutal Municipal Darwinism (as Reeve describes it) determines the outcome of great lumbering battles in which they face up to each other like a couple of vast pirate galleons.

With an intensely visual writing style, Reeve cleanly and simply plots the course of the principal characters as they learn that all is not what it seems and begin questioning the wisdom and honesty of those in authority. A corrupt ruling class sit atop of an ordered society where the proles do what they’ve always done; provide the sweat and muscle whilst those above enjoy the high life. In the emotional crucible that follows morality becomes something of a moveable feast as Tom and Hester learn fast about loss, betrayal and revenge.

Reminiscent in places of Fritz Lang’s visionary Metropolis, our heroes realise that for good to prevail they must sacrifice and abandon everything they’ve ever held dear. The ecological and social parables that are contained Mortal Engines are there to be gently turned over by the inquisitive child rather than emblazoned and obvious.

A taut episodic narrative is maintained throughout and whilst the time-honoured convention concerning heroes and outcomes are observed, Reeve avoids sugaring the pill too much. If Terry Gilliam were ever short of a movie to make then this book would be it.

With The Amulet of Samarkand (Part one of the Bartimaeus trilogy) Jonathan Stroud offers a London of the not-quite-now (or then). It’s a dark place, coated in a murky Victorian veneer populated by arrogant and domineering magicians and lowly humans who know their place. As with Mortal Engines, it’s the political classes who are the villains of the piece, their avarice and vanity having disastrous consequences on the rest of us hapless chumps not gifted in the ways of magic.

When apprentice wizard Nathaniel summons the wily djinn, Bartimaeus, to do his dodgy bidding their fates become inextricably linked. A well-crafted mutual dislike inflames an already fiery situation, creating a memorable double act reluctantly though pragmatically battling together, as they attempt to outwit all kinds of malice and magical malpractice.

Now you might think there wouldn’t be much life left in the twelve year old schoolboy-magician franchise. Certainly Stroud might well be invoking unwanted comparisons with you-know-who. However, whilst appreciating and greatly approving of JK Rowling’s conjuring trick in making reading seem as sexy as rock n’ roll to legions of kids around the globe, I’ve never found the Potter chronicles particularly convincing.

Stroud’s convincing and vivid characterisation means that Nathaniel comes across as petulant, arrogant, disagreeable and vindictive; in short much like a real twelve year old lad and not some cut-out-and-keep maquette.

Unravelling plots within plots, Nathaniel comes to understand that subterfuge and deception are the real low-magic tools utilised by the privileged elite to keep the populace politically supine.

The real triumph of Stroud’s writing lies in Bartimaeus’ acidic observations of the whole sorry human condition and in making us care about a kid who viewed one way, had it coming. The djinn’s world-weary, seen it all before account of his unwanted servitude to Nathaniel is wonderfully entertaining from the very first to the last.

They say a good yarn depends on the hero being transformed by the journey he or she has embarked on. But as Bartimaeus observes, at the end of this rite of passage, sometimes that change isn’t always for the best. We grow and get toughened up but in doing so something of us is diminished or lost. In a lesser writer issues of compromise and incorporation would be botched but The Amulet of Samarkand graphically shows that power really does corrupt.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Silence In 'Not Golden' Shock Horror

A cold wind coming in off the sea put paid to any plans of the perambulating kind that I may have had. Save for a raid on the local greengrocer I was wrapped up as snug as a bug in a rug. The icy climate wasn’t helped by my son Tom who is giving me the silent treatment after we had a disagreement about him hogging the computer before he went out to school this morning.

The big freeze continued when he got back from school and shows no sign of thawing despite my best diplomatic efforts.

Phone calls from John S and Jakko J offer some warmth of sorts as do a burst of e-mails from the Kenty Kimber. Though my days of walking through leafy Highgate are no more, plans are being hatched that might well see me heading south in the not too distant.

Michael Peters takes up the cudgels on my behalf as I try to follow up a German connection and on a related note this email came in from HPK in response to the Crim on the box nominations…

Jamie Muir, Beat Club! Fuck! I saw it! I was there! as it was happening! Grandad who wouldn't have allowed me to watch rubbish like that on his telly (my parents didn't allow a telly in the house for fear that it would corrupt my educational progress) happened to be out of the house, and grandma was feeding the cats. To be honest, not having been totally drawn into that first KC album (being an Incredible String Band sort of person, and Velvets and Düül 2s and Kinks "Muswell Hillbillies"), Jamie Muir and his moustache hopping about between his various beat things will remain my enduring memory of the moment I began to warm to them.

Elsewhere. . .correspondence in from Dick Heath who asks me to don my public service announcement hat and direct people to news of Gary Husband's Force Majeure who will be touring the UK next month. Ex-Mahavishu Orchestra Jerry Goodman is the line-up.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A Change In The Weather

The weather has slackened its icy grip today, so much so that I’ve been able to abandon the old checkie that’s been permanently welded to my hide since the middle of last week. Debbie even managed to get out into the garden to prepare space for a collection of bulbs whose green fuse has been well and truly lit.

Our houseguests, Dude and Bob, arrived suitably togged and have been enjoying themselves mooching around. Tonight I cooked for the eight of us; traditional Sunday (I know its Monday but what the hell) roast with my own yellow pepper gravy for those who don’t like the traditional brown gunk that normally gets slopped over the grub.

Speaking of food I was sorry to see Ian Wallace’s recent diary updates get fryed in the recent cyber-sizzler that grilled the site last week. Nice to hear that Ian is well anyway.

Tonight as I sit and write this Tom and Joe are falling about in kinks of laughter as we listen to Stan Freberg’s Day-O. Other listening today has been All Those Born With Wings by Jan Garbarek courtesy of the Chris Wilson memorial album collection.

Crim on the box: Nominations for your favourite King Crimson on the box to the above address please. I’m imagining that most folks are interested in the Jamie Muir beat club footage but what else?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Back From Oblivion

Well as a few regular readers have noticed the diary entries went into cyber oblivion for a few days.

Thankfully, having learnt my lesson in a different crash I’ve been saving and backing-up the entries. Once Jeff had managed to get things back up and running, I’ve been able to rebuild things without any real problems.

Housework and a spot of archiving took up most of the morning until the arrival of this week’s houseguests, Dude and Bob sometime after mid-day. I was pleased to see Dude wearing some appropriate togs for this neck of the woods.

When Debbie’s sister arrives for a stay she usually comes up wearing a thin cardigan and a belly top – not the best idea when you’re staying in a house where the next bit of land over the horizon happens to be Norway.

On the player in the yellow room today. . .

Random Acts of Happiness by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
Memory Boxing by Chris Lane
TU by Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto
Soon Over Babaluma by Can
The Impossible Bird by Nick Lowe
Stephen Stills by Stephen Stills

I love this Stills album – an all-time fave for sure.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Review: Bruford Borstlap in Concert in Holland DVD

Pure Pleasure!

Anyone who has ever watched Bill Bruford performing in any of the numerous groups and incarnations over the last thirty odd years will know how energetic and joyful his playing is to watch never mind listen to.

Generally not given to the furrowed-brow, “mean, moody and very intense” school of performance, his pure pleasureon being behind a drum kit is made manifest via big smiles, occasional yowls and yelps of laughter.

I recall seeing him perform with National Health were he was sight-reading the charts with the goggle-eyed enthusiasm of someone reading a right good rib-tickler rather than an excruciatingly complex part in 17/8.

In collaborating with Dutch pianist, Michiel Borstlap, Bill returns to a format he first experimented with back in the 80s with Swiss player, Patrick Moraz. The DVD Bruford – Borstlap In Concert In Holland, shows that his canny knack of working with the crème de la crème remains undiminished.

Despite his relative youth, Michiel Borstlap has quickly gained a reputation in jazz circles. Born in 1966 and a graduate of the renowned Hilversum Conservatory, he's already been mixing it with players such as Pat Metheny and having his compositions covered by luminaries like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock no less.

In an interview with Stuart Nicholson the pianist mused upon the two very different musical worlds in which he has been operating. “Classical (music) is means of mastering your instrument but jazz is freedom of expression.”

Borstlap’s modes of expression not only include heroically rhapsodic invention on the piano but extend also to the synthesiser and sampler. Perhaps its improvements in the technology or simply a different aesthetic at work, but his application of synth and sampler is far more integrated when compared to Bruford’s pairing with Moraz. In this concert, recorded in 2002, the textures and atmospherics oozing from the machine acts as a sonic grit, giving the players that extra purchase on the improvisational highway.

On the fifteen-minute long Game of Chess, Borstlap skates into Zawinul territory offering a whirling solo against what sounds like a whole Brazilian samba bateria on parade. Connoisseurs of oblique King Crimson continuity will appreciate the dry tones of a sampled TS Eliot reading from The Waste Land; his words drift eerily over a boiling soundscape where chords detonate and thrum.

Though relatively basic in its delivery the camera work opts to capture the musicians at work without recourse to the kinds of artistic effects which mar many music DVDs. On Conception Borstlap parks up the piano in a Reich-like rut of repetition courtesy of the sampler. Bruford can be seen taking a walk, watching Borstlap create a strident machine-led march that borders on the metallic. With multiple piano lines slicing the air Bruford’s famed “admirable restraint” lasts a couple of minutes before he succumbs, adding incisive fusillades of glancing percussion.

The undoubted highlight of the concert is the ecstatic Two Left Feet which bursts from its cowbell driven intro expanding ever outwards, taking in some fat slabs of electronica and a choppy melody line that dances its way into your skull. Borstlap covers so much ground during his voracious soloing yet never sacrifices melody and phrasing in the service of speed or show.

During Mr. BB Borstlap drags the audience on a mini-tour that encompasses the history of jazz of piano in the 20th Century. He’s a formidable and persuasive player with a determined gaze on where his notes are best deployed to have their greatest effect.

As Bruford whips up another burst of rhythmic bedlam, we see the pianist’s hands poised, ready to descend. At the last minute, Bruford changes the emphasis and Borstlap instantly reacts, taking the piece to pastures new. His playing is a lyrical foil to the relentless dynamism of the Bruford-beast in full flight.

Bonus features include extra tracks from a performance in Maastricht and some very dry Bruford asides to camera during some backstage footage. There’s also an audio CD of the Nijmegan gig.

Rather than two players going head to head In Concert In Holland, is a real team effort that revels in diversity and the high-octane excitement of constantly hitting on something new. With an approach like this it’s no great surprise they both emerge as joint winners, cheered to the rafters by a delighted crowd.

You can get this fabbo item from those nice people at Voiceprint

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Molasses On A Tortoise

It’s been bloody cold all day today. I don’t think I’ve managed to warm through at all. Distractions abound; the diary is down and I can’t access the DGM web site. The set of files I’m working with keep bombing and the PC is running about as fast as molasses on a tortoise. All of which adds to my grumpiness and general bad mood.

On the plus side I’ve been listening to lots of Earthworks CDs courtesy of Voiceprint. Also in the pile is Bill’s work with pianist Michiel Borstlap. Now this stuff really sings to me!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Waxing Lyrical

The highlight of today was undoubtedly the removal of a huge plug of earwax from my left ear this morning following a visit to the doctor. Over the last couple of months I’d noticed that my ear canal had been sticking together producing a loud pop when it came unstuck.

The worst of this was usually after a night sleep. I’d wake up in the morning thinking to myself “Are my ears on wrong?” to borrow a phrase from Jakko Jakszyk.

More worryingly perhaps was the suspicion that my hearing in that ear had worsened. The doctor confirmed that the eardrum was blocked with impacted wax accreted over many years - the cause of the discomfort and most likely my perceived reduction in clarity. So that’s how I ended up at the surgery today in the company of Gwen, who told me very clearly what I could expect, what the consequences might be and whether or not I still wanted to proceed.

Now up until that point I hadn’t even thought about not getting the thing done. In fact I was positively looking forward to getting unplugged. Or so I thought. However her graphic descriptions of skin removal in the ear canal, resulting infections and even possible perforation resulting in potentially permanent damage put the seed of doubt in my mind.

I guess this is what they call informed consent and comes against a backdrop of bad press news stories where The National Health Service stands accused of not sufficiently taken into account the feelings of the folks who use it.

In following the directives from on high to ensure the patient fully understands what he or she might be letting themselves in for, Gwen had transformed me from being a sturdy chap into someone fully informed but now nervous as hell.

Anyway, she stuck the device in my ear and a second later the canal was awash with warm water gurgling loudly whilst sloshing out the wax into a little bucket I held up to the outer ear. Then a hook, then some more water and then because this stuff was well-packed in and showing no signing of budging, some more slosh. After about twenty minutes of this the job was done and I bade a grateful farewell to my lady of the gurgling water.

Following the remastering of my earhole, Whitley Bay’s town centre offered up a variety of crisp sounds. And like many remasters that one comes across, I wasn’t altogether sure if it made much of an improvement on the original.

Elsewhere. . .

Regarding yesterday’s review of the Moraz Bruford double bill of reissues prompted this comment from World Leader Symes.

“nice plug for the Bruford/Moraz albums - I saw them at Ronnie Scott's just after Flags was released, we were right next to the stage and (cheekily) asked Patrick if he could move back a bit as he was obscuring Bill !!”

Blimey, talk about connecting with your audience.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Review: Bill Bruford & Patrick Moraz

Bill Bruford & The Repercussions Of Collaborative Behaviour. . .

Epithet’s such as “lithe”, “athletic” “supple” and “constantly in motion” don’t just apply to the figure on the cover to Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford’s Music For Piano and Drums. They relate equally to the creators of the music contained in the welcome reissues on Bruford’s own Winterfold label.

In 1983 with King Crimson temporarily indisposed, Surrey-based Bruford made contact with near neighbour and Moody Blues keyboardist, Moraz to form a duo that could create a more flexible music, stripped of the trappings and associated costs of their regular day-jobs. Working quickly and efficiently in Phil Manzanera’s studio, the pair focused their considerable firepower into eight tracks that surge with upbeat invention and peerless skill.

Though there’s an undeniable jazzy vibe to much of what’s going on, there’s also more than a hint of the symphonically-inclined prog-rock in which both players cut their professional musical teeth. Principally this is most evident in the framework provided by Moraz’s likeable and accessible tunes. Though clearly well-structured they offer plenty of opportunities to display the lightning-quick reactions and sharp dynamics best exemplified on the racy epic and original album closer, Hazy.

The probing and inquisitive improvisation, Living Space sounds provides a reflective counterweight to Eastern Sundays, (itself suggesting echoes of Dave Brubeck’s Koto Song) whilst the other improv, Any Suggestions has a catch-me-if-can fleetingness about that Bruford excels in producing. Marvellously spiky and capricious, it’s closer to the jazz-based material that Bruford would explore more fully in Earthworks a few years later.

The follow-up album Flags (1985) offers some similarly startling moments. The cover has the two of them grappling with each in a Judo move. Of course the literal translation of the word Judo is "the way of giving way" or “the gentle way” and Flags sees plenty of each in their respective approaches to each other.

Split Seconds inhabits an exploratory ambience with a genuine sense of transaction of ideas proposed and exchanged. Elsewhere The Monkish intro to Infra-Dig gives way to some flowing lines rich with melody whilst A Way With Words packs a real clout despite its brevity.

Bruford’s keen playing is spotless throughout, uniformly engaging and spirited at every turn and twist. Similarly Moraz’s soloing is impressive, avoiding as it does the rent-a-quote gratuitous psuedo-classical gas of some of his bloated Prog-rock contemporaries.

If there is a problem it’s where they succumb to the addition of electronic keyboards and percussion. Titles such as Temples of Joy, Karu and the uncharacteristically timid Everything You’ve Heard Is True have the air of demo tracks waiting for their parts to be completed by external musicians.

Where the self-contained premise of the partnership loses some tension through supplementary choir and string effects things go off the boil a touch. Notwithstanding this, these repackaged albums are very welcome indeed complete with three live bonus tracks per disc.

Fans of either musician will find much to excite and interest them whilst newcomers to either will be rewarded with an encounter that yields plenty of smart, approachable music that remains fresh and vivacious.

You can check out these and other items in the Bill Bruford catalogue by going to

Monday, January 10, 2005

Review:Autour de la Lune by Biosphere

A Journey To The Centre. . .

With a premise that might have Rick Wakeman’s cape all a-quiver, Norway’s most famous exponent of chilled electronica, Biosphere (aka Geir Jenssen), was commissioned by Radio France Culture’s Atelier De Creation Radiophonique and the French Ministry of Culture.

Given access to an extensive and sprawling radio archive, Jenssen chose amongst other thing, to combine excerpts from a 1960 dramatised broadcast of Jules Vernes’ From Earth To Moon and the MIR space station in what is described as a symphony in nine movements.

So far, so far out man, you might be thinking. Yet this is so far removed from “cosmic music” so beloved of the space cadet corps, hirsute Teutonic knob-twiddlers and the proud owners of vintage analogue synths.

What he does do is create an engrossing travelogue that takes in slow-moving motifs, majestically deep and dark bass drones (not so much heard as felt) and twinkling clusters of melody that manage to keep their distant place in the firmament. In all of this he captures something exquisite with a commendable simplicity that’s both refreshing and in a quiet way, far more audacious than a whole fleet of hammy space operas.

I’m sure Rick Wakeman’s interpretation of similar thematic content would leave no trill, gaudy frill or pyrotechnic spill unturned. Jensessen ignores such adrenalin-pumped drama, focussing our attentions instead on something more akin to a crossing of the interior space. When it comes to interpretation give me the impressionist rather than the literalist every time. They at least allow you the space to think.

It’s a brave artist who knows when to leave their work well alone especially in an age where many lack the sense of balance needed to traverse that tricky tightrope between surfeit and deficit, necessity and extravagance. Essentially it’s down to judgment and confidence and Biosphere has both in spades.

Elsewhere. . .
With my left ear lubed up with a few drops of olive oil (the softening up process pre Wednesday’s ear-wax extraction extravaganza), my right ear had to do all the work listening to John S on the blower this morning.

We are investigating whether we have enough energy to begin again our assault on the world of culture – especially after getting a bat in the face before Christmas. One theory is - maybe. Tomorrow we meet with a Government agency to take our explorations a little further and maybe…

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Sunday Blurred

A very, very, sleepy Sunday. Right now, Debbie and Sam are downstairs cooking, Tom is doing homework whilst Joe, having just got in from a trip to the swimming baths, is on the computer in Sam’s room.

A friend called round to see me today for a few minutes; a brief conversation results in arrangements being made for later in the week. The undertow of what’s not discussed is darker than the stuff we acknowledged – and that was pretty grim as it is.

Elsewhere, my day which started at around 5.30 a.m. draws on in a bleary haze.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Here Comes The Rain Again

Another night of humungo lashing gale-force winds. At various points of the night we were convinced that once again our fragile windows wouldn’t be able to take the battering. The news this morning carries reports that the Tyne has burst its banks up by Haydon Bridge. The centre of the city of Carlisle is severely flooded and cut off with over 40,000 homes without power as the sub-stations go off-line. Of course, compared to the colossal forces generated in the Asian quake this is but small stuff.

Evidence of the efficacy of the new back pain management regime continues to astound me. First up I’ve been able to avoid taking pain killers all week and secondly I’m definitely more active.

Not only was I able to have a relatively pain-free walk with Trevor Lever visited the other day but this morning I was able to hover and tidy the downstairs toilet, the kitchen, the green room, the red room, all of the stairs, the landings, the upstairs bathroom and eventually the yellow room.

Tom assisted in each of the rooms by doing the bending and picking up and it must be said that without him it would have taken me much longer to get through it all. Additionally, the clothes wash (including the school uniforms) were done and hung on the line.

All of this was accomplished in about 30 to 40 minutes during which Tom chatted to me all the way blithely unaware that he was actually doing housework. You might well be thinking “big deal, so the fat boy did the cleaning!” Normally it would take me an hour of very slow and painful movement to achieve just one of those jobs, so that’s why it’s a big deal.

And now…A gratuitous picture of Ginger Bob in repose. His choice of recliner? None other than the very laid back Kimbrini

Friday, January 07, 2005

Talking To Trevor

Trevor says 'Gentle Giant'. . .

There were varying points during the night when it sounded as though our windows were going to blow in such was the ferocity of the howling winds blasting in off the North Sea.

Debbie and I were shaken awake by the unnerving rattling as the window pane was tested to its very limits. I had remarked to a visiting Trevor Lever yesterday that he had chosen an inopportune moment to visit the area as bad weather had been forecast.

I met Trevor in Whitley Bay town centre yesterday morning, where he was sitting in a café called Rolls sipping a coffee and reading his paper. When Trevor rang to alert me to his arrival in town he mentioned he was in Rolls. I had no idea where this café was and only after a patient explanation from the other Tlev of my acquaintance, did I cotton on to its location. In all the years this café has been open (around three years) I had never bothered to lift my eyes from the pavement and take notice of its name.

When I eventually hauled my lardy ass up the Whitley Road to connect with Trevor, I whisked him on a white-knuckle whirlwind tour of our tiny town, the highpoint being the purchase of some pre-washed salad in our local Co-op. There’s excitement for you! Once you’ve been to the top I suppose there’s nowhere left to go but back down and so we headed for the sea-front.

It can be all too easy to forget how lovely a seaside location can be, even on a day that an optimist would describe as “bracing”, especially if you’re a landlocked soul who doesn’t get to spend that much time in the vicinity of waves lapping the kelp-strewn beaches.

Back at Victoria Avenue, we brew a pot of tea and chat about life the universe and almost everything. Much of our conversation was dominated by our respective inexorable trudging towards our fiftieth birthdays. I’m a few years off yet but Trev is circling the big five-O and has made some major changes in life. His sense of focus and determination in the face of difficult conditions impress me greatly. This aspect of our conversation chimes in with my own recent thoughts on making changes to the way I operate and conduct my life.

Then we were back out for a walk up to Cullercoats, pausing briefly to take in the lovely Bay and from there a cup of tea in the Grapes of Wrath café, conveniently situated next to Station Road, which as the name cunningly implies, leads to the Metro station and for Trevor, the train back to his family. Though it would embarrass him greatly I found his visit timely, welcome and oddly uplifting. Perhaps it was something in the tea or perhaps I’m just growing up?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Tom Chi

This has been a morning where I felt very efficient and on the ball despite a variable night’s sleep. Sometimes the illusion of purpose is enough to keep one on track and for me that meant getting up when I didn’t want to in order to attend to the breakfasting needs of Kimber, Debbie, Tom and Joe; the two slouchy teenagers who reside at the top of the house look after themselves.

Once Kimber Man of Action was fed and watered and hosed down, he said his farewells and headed off into the pitch-black morning on his way to meet and work with Newcastle-based clients. Barely pausing for a kiss, Debra headed off which left me to clear the dishes and generally get the kitchen ship-shaped. Having offered a gentle prompt to ensure the boys are on track as far as getting ready for school was concerned, I went into the new back exercise routine.

A few years ago Michael Peters sent me a book on back pain management book and after an initial burst of usage and abusage, said tome gathered dust attracting only sporadic bouts of attention during times of looming and actual crisis. Now, having had enough of Cure, I’m now opting for Prevention and have revived several of the routines in the book.

They are augmented by a couple of Ti Chi movements which my son Tom insists will be good for me. As I try to approach these graceful positions as carefully and attentively as I can, I’m being coached by Tom who is offering pointers on the position of my feet, hands, etc.

He’s gleaned this information and practice from a book I bought him at Christmas and although the phrase “A little bit of knowledge can be dangerous” springs to mind, I’m very happy for Tom to be taking an interest in my welfare and back-pain management.

He takes his position as Back Coach very seriously indeed, adopting a formal voice, serious expression and choosing his words very carefully. We’ve only been doing this for a week but as the blokey says it feels good to me. I think it’s doing us both a bit of good.

Several emails come in overnight concerning my listening of yesterday. By way of clarification, I was ear-wigging KC on 10th June 2000 and not the impending Club release. Apologies for any confusion my sloppy writing may have caused.

And right now, I’m off into Whitley Bay town centre to meet and greet Trevor Lever!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Kimber Calls

Today the phone rang several times. Not, you’ll be glad to hear, offers of double glazing, life insurance, a free mobile phone with a discounted £3000 brand new show kitchen or any of that crowd. They’re tailing off into the distance since their pre-Xmas frenzied assault on the phone lines going into our house.

Having moaned a while back about this activity several readers of the diary pointed me in the direction of Telephone Preference Service. Having registered, there’s still a little way to go before my preferences are enforced but I have noticed things are quietening down on the scam call score.

These were calls I was more than pleased to receive. First up was none other than the Great Kimbrini calling somewhere in darkest Reading, telling me tales of Kent and imminent Kimber touchdown. Bizarrely, when I mentioned that he might be heading North to the kids the other day, they were highly excited.

Puzzled, I asked why it was such a big deal to them. “All your other friends are really boring Dad.” So now you know. Apologies if you are a previous or a future guest at Chez Smith. If you want to cut the mustard with my two then you have to encourage Alys to lip her mother, get Granny blotto make lots of jokes at Dad’s expense and be able to light your farts without suffering from backdraft burns. Now that really does impress thirteen year olds and their younger siblings.

Then Trevor Lever (from deepest Somerset but actually in Gateshead’s cathedral to consumerism, the MetroCentre) was next on the blower. Trevor’s in the region on holiday with his family and we hatch a plot to meet up for a natter.

Though he may correct me when we hook up, I think the first time I ever met Trevor was on the door steps outside Shepherd’s Bush Empire to KC in 1996. I was there for the gig and also taking the opportunity of collecting some vox-pops for a radio documentary I was writing and producing at the time. Trevor impressed me greatly; he’d seen the original KC line-up at Hyde Park.

The documentary was broadcast on a Newcastle-based community radio station minus the vox-pops I’d collected that day (the editor couldn't be arsed to splice them into the show) but I kept bumping into Trevor on the steps of KC / RF / ProjeKct events as well as keeping vaguely in touch online.

The eagle-eyed reader will note at this point that Trevor Lever’s recollections of the Hyde Park gig were included in the KC biog. All things being equal we’re intending to have a cuppa tomorrow morning. This means he won’t be seeing Tom or Joe as they’ll be at school, which in turn means he won’t feel compelled to compete on the backdraft burn question.

After this it was a case of London Calling; emanating from somewhere next to the mag-racks of the Acton branch of WH Smith came the dulcet tones of Jakko Jakszyk. Feeling somewhat groggy following the arrival of his brand new daughter, Amber, Jakko was checking in to see how things were hanging.

After shooting the shit for a while, Jakko did tell me of his son Django’s favourite piece of music at the moment. He likes it played when he’s in the car and at home. And this morning, Django wanted it played at his nursery which the helpful and friendly staff duly did; the track in question was Meeting of the Spirits from the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album. I bet they love Django's dad! Also in the conversation was news of a Jakko / Sinfield collaboration that sounds very tasty indeed.

My waxed-blocked ears have been listening to Morris On (Ashley Hutchings) the first album by Renaissance and the double duo playing in Poland circa June 2000. There are some interesting variations in the approaches to the tracks.

ConstruKction of Light has a rhythmic subtlety that I’ve not heard before; it was almost unsettling. Then I figure out what it was; Pat was playing a different part causing the focus of the track shift away from the guitars that usually occupy my attention on that track. It was akin to putting on your favourite coat and discovering a new pocket for the first time.

The improv appears to be the search for Seizure. For me the best version of that elusive track remains the first night at Boulder with P4 although this comes close with a corker of a solo from Roberto. At seventeen minutes plus (complete with a wayward TNK) it’s a real treat. And how about a fired-up FraKctured? The heavy section is one of those real moments where you kind of understand exactly what’s going on but haven’t a clue how it’s done. D

espite the vagaries of a soundboard mix that can make for some interesting instrumental alliances, it was the perfect accompaniment to work on the VISION section of the new DGM website.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


There was a tremendous downpour on the way to the dentists this morning; rain bouncing so hard of the pavement it rammed into you on its way back up. I was glad to get out of it and into the relative comforts of the dentists waiting room. Ours is a symphony of tasteful carpet and pastel colours – apparently they are meant to be calming. The low-slung coffee table sports a wide variety of lifestyle magazines centring on cycling, rock-climbing and things of that depressingly healthy ilk.

The spacious room is filled with the usual suspects; the mother with the inquisitive pre-school child possessed of an unnaturally loud voice; the retired school-master type, all tweed jacket and leather patches who feels the need to clear his throat with gusto every few minutes; a very unhappy lesbian couple who were conducting a ferocious argument about their garage in hissed tones. And me reading the execrable blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I understand the book has sold millions but I can’t for the life of me see what the attraction is in this miserable plodder.

My weeny-small dentist tells me that my gums have improved greatly since my last visit; she then proceeds to give them a polish with something that feels like a carborundum stone. Given the various items and implements that have been stuck in my gob these last few weeks (including lest you forget an extraction) this was by far the most uncomfortable. Boy was I glad to get out of there and back into the torrential rain.

I called in to the house to pick Joe up and the two of us headed off to the local branch library. His brother started back at school today but Joe’s place doesn’t kick-off until tomorrow. I consider it a rare treat to be savoured when spending time alone with my kids; even rarer when it’s just the one of them.

The rain had disappeared but as we walked along the sea front it looked as though it wouldn’t be long before it was back.

Later in the day a brief conversation with the Kenty Kimberman and even later in the day a chat with friend BT about the new Leonard Cohen album. He’s way past the pain barrier of the cheesy instrumentation and enjoying every moment of it. I’m still fence-sitting although my natural predisposition in Len’s favour means I might well fall off any day now.

And in the post today a packet of goodies from Pat M; yee, and indeed, haaa!

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Black Plastic Bag Of Destiny

From this . . .

The wild wind is blowing outside and the winds of change have been doing their thing indoors as well, here in Whitley Bay. The last two days have been spent cleaning the house, de-cluttering spaces and getting the place a bit more ship-shape than it has been for some time.

This has involved the unsettling of much dust which has in turn meant mucho sneezo, scratchy-eyetis and general belaboured breathing.

I used to subscribe to the view that a tidy desk was the sign of a sick mind and that things were never lost but rather had merely found their level in the broader archaeology of administration and natural disorder of things.

This being a new year however, I’ve decided to thow caution and lots of paper into the black plastic bag of destiny and turn over a new leaf thereby make my desk a veritable cockpit of creativity.

How long it’ll last remains to be seen but what’s a New Year for if not to be filled with optimism?

. . .to this

Sunday, January 02, 2005


The first piece of music of the New Year to vibrate in the Yellow Room was Bach’s Goldberg Variations – the new(ish) ECM Schiff version. Tom was listening to Franz Ferdinand on his brand new MP3 player whilst Joe opted for Slipknot on his CD walkman. Three very different types of music all constructed from the same basic building blocks of notes, scales and relationships.

Tom and Joe are growing up in a fast-moving world. In just a couple of generations there’s been a huge shift in the way we regard our music. Once getting an album meant buying (in every sense of the word) into the image or the concept conveyed by the packaging; the medium and the message and all that.

Increasingly now everything is reduced. When CDs came along the covers of albums lost their status somehow and now with online provision its disappearing altogether.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

This Year's Model

John and Jude's house circa midnight last night. . .

Well it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Happy New Year to all our readers!


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