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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Game Is Afoot

The learning curve I agreed to embark upon at the beginning of September has been a fairly gentle incline so far. It will start getting a lot steeper in the month ahead.

A good conversation with Declan on the blower today about a couple of exciting Crimson-related projects. We’ve agreed to meet up when I’m in London soon in order to thrash out a bit more detail.

It’s always good when you talk to someone who is fizzing with ideas and more importantly, the drive and experience to make it happen. Put another way, I like working with people who know what they want and how to get it.

Also on the blower today with Jakko – the long awaited album is finally edging towards release. It’s going on pre-order at Burning Shed who have used my strapline and press release blurb I’d written for the Glee Club site.

I’ve been having terrible trouble with Blogger lately hence the lack of posts here in recent days. Images take forever to upload and I’m afraid I’ve largely given up for the time being.

I’ve backfilled a couple of entries but have also lost a few along the way that were in draft form but now appeared to have vanished.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Peter Hammill Reissues I


















Mad, bad and dangerous to know but not necessarily in that order


Fool's Mate / Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night / The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage/In Camera/Nadir's Big Chance

Peter Hammill
EMI

Out 25th September

Whilst Van der Graaf Generator surfed the wave of their initial success in the early 70s, after The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other and H To He, the Charisma label sought to capitalise on their growing fame by having Peter Hammill record a solo album. Like a dutiful parent he gathered his wayward offspring, assembling a collection of fledging songs mostly composed in the 60s.

Throughout, we catch occasional glimpses of his mature style, and as with much juvenilia there’s a teetering rigidity in much of the material as it tries to run before it can walk. “Imperial Zeppelin” and “Sunshine” attempt to parody the pop-fodder of their day but are a touch cumbersome in the effort.

Of greater interest are tracks “Happy” “Solitude”, “Vision”, and the white-knuckled intensity of “Once I Wrote Some Poems” all of which carry flashes of his mature style.

Though extremely accessible as a period piece, Fool’s Mate is really about honouring his past rather than the true beginning of his solo career. That particular distinction would go to Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night in 1972. Having salvaged a TEAC 4 track tape recorder from the wreckage of Van der Graaf Generator, Hammill laid down a succession of sweet ballads, raw confessionals and gothic fantasias with a near frantic zeal.

Lyrically it’s preoccupied with a sense of dislocation and social remoteness. Most obviously this is heard on the haunting “Easy To Slip Away” a testament to passing time, sentimentality and guilt. A mini-suite of emotions, David Jackson’s sax weaves between the essence of the words with symbiotic understatement.

The hallucinogenic minutiae of being on the road with VdGG is documented in “German Overalls” and the band explode back into life on “(In The) Black Room” to devastating effect. Yet even when it’s just Hammill stabbing at the piano and bellowing out his gale-force vocals as on “In The End”, it’s enough to slam you back in the seat and be slack-jawed as to how deep he can delve and scrape into himself.

If Chameleon charts his reaction to change 1974’s The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage unravels an infernal diagram of the gruesome energies afforded by misgivings and mistrust and to which Hammill’s psyche seemed hard-wired.

Though the album is blessed with fine details and a sculptured precision – particularly “Red Shift”, a leftover from the previous record that morphs from free-form space-jazz into surging rock thanks to a soaring Fripp-like veneer from Spirit’s Randy California - the bulk of the songs are dwarfed beneath the two towering shadows of the opening track “Modern” and the concluding epic, “A Louse Is Not A Home.”

Replete with wobbling sci-fi sounds, rippling and ripping steel stringed acoustic guitar, vertiginous harmonium and Hammill’s uber-phased Old Testament prophet vocals spitting out doom-laden warnings, “Modern”, is nothing less than a guided tour of the decline and fall of civilisation in about seven minutes flat.

There’s not one single second where the content isn’t pushed onwards into the curious and uncommon.

“Louse” is a monumental nightmare seeping and creaking with paranoia on every one of its distressed surfaces. Little wonder that Hammill is joined on this “lofty, lonely, Lohengrenic castle” of a track by VdDG, for whom it was originally written.

Whilst showcasing the manic brilliance that characterises this period, it also creaks under its own over-the-top weight. There’s always been something fruity and vaguely ludicrous about Hammill’s thespian delivery, yet “Louse” is a compelling journey into fear, as persuasive as any of VdGG’s excessive best. Consequently we can forgive the arch phrasing and other extravagances which Hammill indulges in.

When it comes to indulgence, Silent Corner is the very model of terse brevity compared to In Camera which followed in the same year. Here, Hammill disinters songs long held in storage (1969’s translucent ballad “Ferret And Featherbird”, and quarrelsome rocker “Tapeworm” from 1971), placing them alongside material conceived during the making of the album. Sometimes it feels as though the musical ink isn’t quite dry; the evocatively spacey instrumental section of “Faint Heart and the Sermon” which floats between pitch and time captures the doubt and spiritual estrangement of its narrator.

The improvised feel continues as Hammill, never one to let sleeping gods lie, takes a left turn as he plunges into the smoky depths of “Gog.”

Equivalent in subject matter to The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, this rendition of Old Nick’s previous form wins hands down in the satanic line-up of usual suspects such as war, famine, disease, etc.

This is due in no small measure to the rolling boil of Guy Evans’ furiously inventive drumming going up against an unstoppable slab of peculiarly demonic harmonium.

More than 30 years since it was recorded this astonishing assault on the senses remains truly daunting. Whether from Hammill’s inclination towards experimentalism or expediency resulting from a lack of formal material, “Gog” gives way to “Magog (In Bromine Chambers)”, an intense collage of percolating loops, percussive misadventures and solid sonic indigestion.

It’s as though Hammill were bulk-erasing his musical identity, shredding the excess baggage accrued up until this point on the journey. Undoubtedly extreme, it’s the logical conclusion for a man with a penchant for wrapping himself in a cloak of ambiguity.

If In Camera represented a wiping of the slate few would have predicted what came next. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the appearance of the Rikki Nadir alter ego was a reaction to the critical drubbing In Camera received in the NME and its ludicrous taunt that public schoolboys (like Hammill) can’t rock. How else do we explain the appearance of the “the perpetual 16 year old” with the ice-blue Strat and his (at times) lowest common denominator brand espoused on Nadir's Big Chance.

The in-yer-face immediacy of the caustic title track, “Nobody’s Business” and “Birthday Special” cannot be denied, but there is a strong sense that this is largely a bunch of Hammill tunes merely rocked up and dumbed down.

Nadir’s biggest claim to fame is that it anticipated punk rock, released as it was a full year before the press started getting hot under their white collars. The lyrics from “Two or Three Spectres” wryly captures the change in the air from love and peace to plain old piss off. “Ten thousand arms are raised, just like the Hitler Youth / ten thousand peace signs mark the entry of the sax/Ten thousand peace signs,/but they're different from the back.”

This is the album which John Lydon famously picked a track from for a radio show, conferring upon it a certain hip status initially missed by the critics. Yet it’s interesting that out of everything he could have chosen, Lydon went for “The Institute Of Mental Health”, a distinctly un-punk, un-Nadir-like track. Indeed it’s one that could easily have fitted on Silent Corner or In Camera.

Even when compared to the arcane ramblings of his previous albums – tarot cards, entropy, the meaning of life and the like - it’s Nadir that sounds the most dated of the lot, and in that sense, closest to the misty-eyed naiveté of Fool’s Mate.

The creative circle was especially complete considering that when Nadir was recorded it was done by VdGG who had already agreed to reform. If Nadir's Big Chance sounds a touch dashed off it’s because Godbluff was waiting in the wings, and they, like the rest of us, were keen to get on to the main event.

Also of interest: Peter Hammill Reissues II

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Radio Radio

BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting a programme about Adrian Henri’s poem, Tonight At Noon, on their Adventures In Poetry slot today.

My chum Chris T, Debbie and I went to the local BBC radio station a couple of weeks ago to record contributions about the poem and The Mersey Sound book itself.

The snippets they’ve used with us occur near the beginning and the end of the show, and is online for a week.

It also features contributions from Roger McGough and Jonathan Green, whose book, A Day In The Life, is one of my favourite accounts of the 60s.

Listening To:
Robert Fripp Estonia Churchscapes 25 August 2006


Friday, September 22, 2006

Boz Burrell - 1st August 1946 - 21st September 2006

When I was writing my biography of King Crimson back in 1999, I’d been pleasantly surprised by how many of the ex-members were keen to talk to me about their time with the band. Even the couple who at first were reluctant eventually agreed to talk. The one person who declined to talk was Boz Burrell.


He was always polite when I rang him at his home. Sometimes his wife would answer and she’d say “Oh hang on, he’s just out playing some golf. I’ll just go and get him.” My head would immediately fill with the image of Boz in those Pringle sweaters and the ludicrous slacks. It somehow didn’t fit the image of the hard-drinking, hard rocking blues and jazz loving singer who’d joined Crimson as a brief stopping point on his way to global success with Bad Company.

I think I spoke to him three times in total. On each occasion he’d politely enquire how the book was progressing. Sometimes I’d tell a little of what someone had said, hoping it would spur him into a response but Boz was too seasoned a pro to be caught like that. Instead he would offer neutral comments; “We’ll it might have been like that but, you know I can’t really remember” was about as far as he would be drawn.

Only on once or twice did he offer an opinion but it was strictly off the record and most definitely non-attributable. He was always struck me as affable and courteous and I felt sure that if I kept up with the calls, he would have relented and talked on the record.

Everyone from Crimson who had an association with Boz that I talked to – Dik Fraser, Robert Fripp, Peter Sinfield, Mel Collins and Ian Wallace – all had good things to say about him. Both Mel and Ian were particular defensive about their ex-band mate, feeling he’d been unfairly maligned by certain sections of the Crimson fanbase.

It wasn’t until the release of material through the King Crimson Collectors Club and more recently though DGMLive, that the reputation of the “Boz-era KC” was rehabilitated, from being dismissed as a mere jam-band, and now exonerated as a group with its own distinctive identity. Certainly my own opinion of the group received a 360° turn-around after hearing the first four gigs the band played at the Zoom Club in April 1971.

Once Crimson toured the UK they’d somehow lost the sense of danger and adventure which is such a vital part of those Zoom Club recordings, hampered as they were by the need to bring what was for them, the ill-fitting material of the previous incarnation, to the punters who were eager to hear the Court material played live.

Unfortunately, I never saw Boz with Crimson, having missed them at Newcastle’s City Hall by a matter of days. There was a compensation of sorts when Bad Company played the same venue on their first UK tour a few years later.

I think we watched Boz the whole night in his red leather rock-god trousers, secretly hoping that Bad Company would break into a Crimson tune. Of course, given Boz’s antipathy to that part of his career, it was never going to happen. Even though we knew it deep down, we held out hope until the end of the show. "Ladies of the Road" from Islands would have been ideal but of course it wasn’t to be.

I heard about Boz’s death from Jakko, who’d heard the news himself from Peter Sinfield. I know Jakko was a huge fan of the Islands line-up – with Boz’s version of the title track being one of his favourites.

Details were sketchy. Nobody quite knew what was going on. We thought at first that Boz was in Edinburgh with Tam White. I rang the news desk of The Scotsman newspaper but they'd heard nothing. I checked out the local radio station but they knew zilch.

After contacting Tam White’s agent, I eventually spoke to guitarist Neil Warden who played with Boz and Tam in The Groove Connection. Neil clarified and confirmed the sad details.

Tam was visiting Boz at his place in Spain. They were getting ready to go out. Boz had just picked up a guitar to play, sat back and died there and then in the chair, killed (it seems likely) by a massive heart attack.

As the DGM HQ team hastily prepared a tribute page to Boz, I thought it was appropriate that David and Alex had chosen an alternative mix of "Ladies of the Road" as Boz’s last encore with Crimson.

Tam White with Boz (photo by Marc Marnie)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Behind Every Word Steve Lawson


















Not Just A Pretty Bass

Behind Every Word
Steve Lawson

Pillow Mountain Records
out now

Another stylish release from bassist Steve Lawson. An engaging melodic improviser, Lawson’s albums are not the densely dextrous affairs you might suppose them to be.

Whilst there’s plenty of nimble fingerwork to keep the bass playing community asking “how did he do that?” the rest of us can simply enjoy his good ear for melody and highly accessible, dare I say it, catchy tunes that you can tap your toe to.

Lawson really shines as a sensitive accompanist and collaborator, as his album with Theo Travis, For The Love Of Open Spaces, ably proved. Behind Every Word also benefits from the introduction of guest artists. On the elegiac tribute "Scot Peck" BJ Cole's pedal steel guitar slide provides some beautifully translucent embellishments.

However, it's "One Step" that provides this album’s quiet triumph thanks to guest vocalist Julie McKee’s languorous murmurings. The warmth of her slow-burn jazzy voice affords a warming contrast to the chilled atmospheres and loops emanating from Lawson's array of devices and pedals.

Throughout its 15 minutes, sensuous melodies intertwine and fall away with the intimacy of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden and the cinematic production values of Brian Eno - a win-win situation if ever there was. The result is a musical marriage that both should be encouraged to explore in greater depth.

Get it direct from Steve Lawson

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

As Good As It Gets

In the mail today; Bradford Hampton writes to tell me that my account has been pre-approved; Joseph Hedrick seems to highly excited that my mortgage account has been pre-approved and Tracy LeBreve wants me to know that I can go all night with her special offer Viagra. Danny Russo also makes my day by telling me that he has personally approved a loan of up to $100,000 on my behalf. Does it get any better than this?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Free - Live At The BBC


















Rough But More Than Ready


Live At The BBC

Free

Universal

18th September, 2006

There’s a story in Ken Garner’s history of Radio 1 sessions (In Session Tonight) that when up and coming band, Free had finished a recording for a John Peel programme in April 1970, a member of the group casually asked one of the engineers present what they thought of one the songs as a potential single.

Island, their record company, didn’t rate it too highly. The band wanted a second opinion. The engineer, the story goes, rang label boss, Muff Winwood to tell them they should release the track immediately. This was just a few months before the release of Fire and Water and the song under discussion was “All Right Now”.

Whether true or not, it illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the BBC and the bands of the day striding into studios with quaintly mythic names such as Aeolian Hall 1 and Maida Vale 5, in the hope of getting a leg-up the career ladder.

The first of these sessions (of which only one track now survives) was recorded just months after they’d formed, and only days after the 16th birthday of the bass player Andy Fraser, who even at such a tender age was already able to put ex-John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers on his fledgling CV.

Free were frequent visitors to the BBC as they slogged around the clubs and halls hewing a solid live reputation as something of good-time band. With Paul Kossoff’s swaggering, attitude-laden guitar breaks, and the “lick-my-love-pump” innuendo from Paul Rodgers, the patron saint of the leather trouser industry, it’s easy to why Free have been dismissed in some quarters as a bunch of cocky blues-rock bruisers looking to get their collective lemons squeezed.

The problem with this approach in concert was that some of the subtlety that infused Free’s studio albums was set aside for Olympic-standard mike-stand twirling, brow-furrows and other crowd-pleasing tactics.

Yet these sessions demonstrate Free occupied a half-way house somewhere between brain and brawn when it came to the radio. Culled from a variety of sources that includes Paul Kossoff’s personal archive, off-air recordings made by fans, and the regular BBC vaults, several make their appearance for the first time. Given this provenance, it’s not surprising that some of the sonics (the second disc in particular) are bootleg raw.

Perversely, this very coarseness lends the slower numbers a vintage patina, as though “Over The Green Hills” and the mournful “Free Me” have spilled out from the spools of an old Smithsonian field recording. When the performances are as good as these you happily take the rough with the smooth.

The real star is Andy Fraser, whose bass playing stalks every single moment of this 2 disc set with an inventive flair above and beyond the call of duty, beyond his years and beyond anything most of his contemporaries were managing.

There’s a gratifying ‘first to last’ completeness about this release, spanning as it does their inaugural Top Gear session through to the triumphant finale for John Peel, when “All Right Now” shot them past the grasp of the producers in what must be (if you believe the old tale) something of an own goal for the engineer who made that fateful call.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Black Dahlia

This...

is a dark, brooding tale of a relentless descent into hellish obsession,

whereas this...

is about couple of buddies with movie star looks who get hung up on a babe who has movie star looks who in turn gets ticked off with the fact that one of her movie star lookalike guys has a thing about some nice looking babe who ended up in the boneyard.

This...

chronicles the interior of the charnel house of LA politics, power and privilege; a place where beauty is most definitely skin deep,

whereas this...

goes for a soft-focus retro gaze at some nice buildings, big cars, and the fedoras are tipped just the way the used to do, and skin-deep is just about as much as it can handle.

This...

has a tightly orchestrated plot which is skilfully rolled out to a terrifying dénouement,

whereas this...

has a script that staggers about like a drunk on New Years Eve before finally falling flat on its nice-to-look-at face.

This...

has fully fleshed out characters caught in the grip of things they barely understand, and which irrevocably changes them as individuals,

whereas this...

looks nice and everyone in it is nice to look at and they all live happily ever afterwards. That’s nice isn’t it?

No. It's not. Not by a long chalk. They may share the same title as well as some fleeting similarities when it comes to names and places, but that's about as far as it goes.

Whatever you do, please don't confuse this...

with this.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bruford - Rock Goes To College










Something To Sample And Hold Onto
Rock Goes To College
Bruford

Voiceprint/Winterfold

25th September 2006

Sometimes you see old photographs of gathering crowds taken in the early part of the 20th Century in which nearly every single soul is wearing a cap or hat of some sort.

It’s an age whose time has been overtaken by changing fashions; the hat-wearers and the people who made them now long lost in mutual oblivion.

You get a similar feeling when the camera pulls back to reveal the audience at Oxford Polytechnic in 1979; the incongruous sight of lots of people crammed together nodding, swaying, cheering and otherwise showing irrefutable signs that they are enjoying the music flowing off-stage by fluent and gifted musicians.

But surely it was exactly this kind of music in exactly this kind of venue that punk was meant to have done away with?

Even allowing for the attraction of a BBC TV unit, and the attendant opportunities to wave a “Hello Mum” placard as an extra incentive for going along, this dvd provides incontrovertible proof that people used to turn out in decent numbers for this fast-moving, complex and often knotty music. Sure it was ‘difficult’ but it was also, relatively speaking, popular enough amongst young people of the day.

Lest we forgot, it was common even in the late 70s for gigs by jazz-rockers and their associates such as Isotope, Pacific Eardrum, Turning Point, John Steven’s Away, Soft Machine, Hatfield & The North, etc., to be well attended by enthusiastic punters who not only knew the material, but were able to nod their heads in 12/8 whilst jabbing troublesome chord shapes in the direction of their air-Fender Rhodes (with optional mini-moog at the side).

In Bruford things generally rocked along and moved so fast that there was little time for folks to worry about whether it was jazz, or rock or somewhere between the two. It simply was what it was. With customary understatement, Bill Bruford notes in the scrapbook accompanying this release that as far as they were concerned, Bruford were just a 'rock group with fancy chords.'

The playing from the quartet is astoundingly confident throughout. Aside from their leader’s never less than athletic urgings from behind the kit, the finicky handiwork from Jeff Berlin and Alan Holdsworth’s quicksilver guitar glance and dart aboveDave Stewart’s consistently classy keyboards.

Vocalist Annette Peacock who appears on two tracks makes an oddly timid addition to the show. During “Back To The Beginning Again” she wanders to the rear of the stage delivering her brand of sprechgesang from behind the drum riser at one point.

Whether this is due to indifferent on-stage monitoring, disdain for rock show convention or fashionable truculence is unclear, but it has the effect of making her contribution somewhat dispassionate and lack-lustre.

Transmitted back in the days when television appeared to value music for its own sake rather than as an adjunct to cross-promotion, filler or without it being mediated by the omnipresent Jools Holland, this dvd captures 40 minutes of intelligent, racy tunes whose wit and virtuosity now appears as arcane as all those hat-wearing types way back when.

Get it here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

One Of A Kind

Today Joseph is 13 years old.

Blimey, it goes by so quickly. I count my blessings that I have the kind of work that enables me to spend so much time in their company as they’re growing up. All the clichés about time flies when you’re having fun are so true.

When kids get older they nearly always say that when it comes to a birthday present they just want the cash. Consequently the birthday becomes a bit like an award ceremony where the envelope is sliced open with the recipient announcing “And the winner is….me!”

Joe did very well (he has more in his savings account than I do in my current account) and planned to spend the evening resting up following a particular gruelling rugby match for the school team.

Tomorrow he’s out the door at the crack of dawn to play against another local school, this time on the school football team. I don’t know where he inherited the sports gene from. Not me that’s for sure.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Today's Schedule

One hour doing DGMLive work

One hour talking to Jakko regarding life, universe and forthcoming albums

One hour writing a review of John Mayall’s first four albums

One hour talking to Brian T about his life, universe and personal difficulties

One hour polishing the same review

One hour talking to Dec about life, universe and forthcoming albums

Two hours listening to review copies of Jade Warrior

One hour talking to Trev about life, the universe and his forthcoming book

One hour writing about Jade Warrior

Someone recently asked me if I actually listened to the albums I write about on this blog.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thinking Outside The Box

My sister and I were sifting through a large box of photograph albums that belonged to my mother at the weekend.

Neither of us really knew what was contained in those big books and we were a little daunted by the prospect. Or at least I was.

The sense of discouragement increased considerably when we realised that a good portion of the photographs (most of which were relatively recent) were not captioned.

In most cases Lesley and I had no idea who the people were in the pictures.

As the colour pictures gave way to the smaller black and white variety which in theory were members of the family our feelings of inadequacy were compounded.

One or two of these pictures had been the subject of some discussion a few years ago with Doreen but I either wasn’t paying attention at the time, or the passing years and my own rotting synapses have rendered these people anonymous.

It’s almost embarrassing. “What do mean you don’t know who these people are?” the little voice inside your head chastises. “They’re your family!” It brings home how fragile the actuality of family can be, how easy it is to forget.

After a couple of hours of sorting and filing we were on the verge of giving up, my fingers sore from tackling recalcitrant plastics folders unwilling to give up their contents, and somehow curiously exhausted.

We tackled one last album not of photographs but a collection of mother’s day, birthday and Christmas cards that Doreen had collected. I hadn’t realised she’d done this.

It was strange seeing these cards and suddenly remembering buying them. Odd how many of the cards Lesley and I had bought matched thematically given that for most of our adult life we’ve been separated by a couple of hundred miles.

Great minds think alike, similar tastes, shared values, etc. Or maybe the range of available cards just isn’t so great. Actually these cross-overs happened a lot when sometimes we'd even buy each other the same cards at Christmas. We used to joke “there’s only two like it in the world.”

Then Lesley retrieved a hand-made card that I’d thrown together sometime in the 80s either when times were hard or I was too lazy to go to the shops. The hand-written verse which playfully made a virtue about how unique this botch-up of an excuse this mother’s day card was, made up us laugh till we nearly cried.

Flicking a few pages Lesley found another hand-made card. Only this one had been done at school. Judging from the crayon scrawled handwriting inside, I must have been five or six when it was made, and of course hadn’t seen it since, and now there it was.

She had kept it safe all those years. All those years, safe and secure.

In that moment I felt both utterly loved and totally abandoned.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Shine On Silver Sun

Whitley Bay around 7.30 a.m. with a light fog coming in...




My sister Lesley has been with us since Friday night. She leaves today and can't go without taking a wander up the beach. The light is strange and glorious.


The beach is busy with folks walking their dogs...

...including one black Scottie who takes an interest in us. Whenever I talk he stops walking, his ears scooping up the sound of my voice.

We bump into Peter who used to be our insurance man. Peter's business calls to our house turned into social occasions, and he'd often bring Debbie various plants and flowers from his pride-and-joy garden. We haven't seen him since he left the company to go out on his own. He's doing well he tells me.

We ask him to snap us for posterity.


Then it's back home where I cook breakfast for seven. Lesley leaves mid-morning. There's a sense she's been able to let go of some things arising from our mother's death. It felt quietly cathartic if that isn't a contradiction in terms.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

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