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Ever Fallen in Love: The Lost Buzzcocks Tapes by Pete Shelley with Louie Shelley – book review

Ever Fallen in Love Pete ShelleyEver Fallen in Love: The Lost Buzzcocks Tapes
Pete Shelley with Louie Shelley
Octopus Books
£20.00 UK / $24.99 US
Available Now!

With Ever Fallen in Love, Louie Shelley crafts a lasting tribute to Pete Shelley and to the analogue materials that gave rise to the sounds of Buzzcocks and to music interviews taped across the miles.

While, of course, Louie (no relation to Pete, incidentally) wasn’t actually recording interviews with Pete Shelley on reel-to-reel audiotape, the subtitle of the book conjures the materiality of punk and all its accompanying ephemera. These lost tapes remind us of the stories that can be irretrievable if we don’t record them, and the joys of hearing voices of musicians long gone from another time and space.

Fans of Pete Shelley and “all those who inhabit the Buzzcocks universe,” as Louie writes, will be enamoured with the book. Yet it’s not only for Buzzcocks fans. In a precise and detailed Introduction, Louie provides readers with all the background information anyone could need to appreciate the interviews and their significance within histories of punk and music more broadly. A similarly crafted conclusion frames the interview material across Ever Fallen in Love, serving as a bittersweet endnote to Pete’s story.

For all intents and purposes, this book is the memoir that Pete Shelley never had a chance to write. When Louie and Pete began recording the interviews that make up the bulk of Ever Fallen in Love, nobody knew his life would come to such an unexpected and untimely end. Yet in these interviews — developed through Louie’s astute and thoughtful questions — Pete does get the chance to tell his story, from his early years of listening to the Beatles through Buzzcocks singles and albums to twenty-first century gigs. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” Pete tells Louie at the end, but “people still seem to like us, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.”

The book is constructed almost entirely in interview form as you may have surmised, and it gives readers a rare chance to access all the unedited tapes gathered by a top-rate music journalist. Even if Louie did edit things out, there’s nonetheless a real sense that we’re getting unfettered dibs to Pete Shelley’s thoughts, memories, and reflections. Indeed, Ever Fallen in Love offers an opportunity to immerse ourselves in conversation with the Buzzcocks lead singer over many glorious hours. Through the interview format, the book works similarly to an epistolary novel, allowing the reader to slowly grow into Louie’s role of interviewer and to hear Pete’s responses. No topic of conversation feels off limits, and the narrative brings us through every Buzzcocks single, album, and more. Aside from the early and final chapters, each section centres on a particular Buzzcocks record. The chapters for the band’s albums, Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, include in-depth and detailed questions to Pete about each song and its origins.

Louie’s footnotes and commentary distinguish the interviews collected here from other works crafted in this form. Throughout the text, she provides fascinating information that’s related but tangential to Pete’s narrative in addition to providing zany, tongue-in-cheek captions for various photos and reproduced items. By the end of Ever Fallen in Love, we feel as though we’ve really gotten to know both Louie and Pete — a testament to the ways in which the best interviews can truly become dialogic.

Although it took awhile for the physical copy of Ever Fallen in Love to reach my home address in the US, Louie insisted I take a look at the material object as opposed to a digital copy, emphasizing that the text was an objet d’art. She couldn’t have been more right. From cover to cover, Ever Fallen in Love reveals a warmth and affection for analogue mediums and the narratives they produce. The endpapers are gorgeous — lusciously saturated semi-gloss cardstock, a rich red on one side and blue on the other. These endpapers mirror the dust jacket colours for Ever Fallen in Love and, of course, the Buzzcocks sleeve single. And the cover image of Pete Shelley, in stark black and white, stands like a monument to the musician. It’s no wonder the design work is so stunning: Louie offers “extra special thanks to Malcolm Garrett, ‘the fifth Buzzcock,’ for graphic design concept and supervision.” With Garrett’s work on the book design, the object functions almost as a final record, straight from the mouth of Pete Shelley to your ears.

Reproduced ephemera abounds across Ever Fallen in Love, from black-and-white copies of zines and letters to full-colour badges, photographs, and album sleeves. I love how the badges are all reproduced faithfully to size, as if offering us a tactile experience in reading the book and feeling the physical objects essential to Buzzcocks fandom. At the bottom of several chapters, there’s a substantial amount of negative space below the text. A number of these pages include a reproduced Buzzcocks badge in the midst of the seemingly empty page, as if placed gently to hold our place. It’s a mark of the great care put into the design of the book and its focus on materiality. In their sheer presence, these moments also serve as reminders of Pete Shelley’s physical absence and the ways in which the interviews preserve his memory in lasting tangible form.

Anyone who loves the Buzzcocks, or, for that matter, anyone interested in engaging with an innovative and inspired textual memorial to a musician who left this world too soon, should pick up a copy of Ever Fallen in Love immediately. Buy the book for yourself, and buy it for your friends, too.

~

Words by Audrey J. Golden. You can follow Audrey on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.

The post Ever Fallen in Love: The Lost Buzzcocks Tapes by Pete Shelley with Louie Shelley – book review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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Strat!: The Charismatic Life and Times of Tony Stratton-Smith – book review

Strat! The Charismatic Life and Times of Tony Stratton-Smith by Chris Groom

Wymer Publishing

Out Now

The biography by Chris Groom tells an in-depth story of a bon vivant, passionate manager and impressive founder of Charisma Records.

If one was challenged to compete with Tony Stratton-Smith in seeking out joie de vivre, he would be at great risk of failure. From his beginnings as a sports journalist to the foundation of Charisma Records, SS always stayed true to himself. A story in twenty chapters, the book by Chris Groom reveals various facets of the public persona – a correspondent, author, manager, the label’s owner. Taking on these roles, Stratton-Smith would not shy away from his habits which manifested the enjoyment of life.

Introducing Stratton-Smith with the epithet “avuncular”, the author portrays him as fatherlike and wise but also somewhat droll. “A friendly lion”, as Peter Gabriel characterises him. With his love of a strong drink and excellent ability to fire people up, Tony Stratton-Smith seems to have a Churchillian nature.

A few episodes in the book give a clue that the occasional hedonism of Stratton-Smith might have been in tune with providence. Being a night owl, he would oversleep and miss his early flight. Commissioned to cover a European Cup match between Manchester United and Red Star Belgrade for the Daily Sketch in 1958, Stratton-Smith would not be on the board of the private plane heading to Yugoslavia. On the way back to England, the team stopped in Munich as the aircraft needed to be refuelled. Subsequently, it attempted to take off three times and the third attempt resulted in the plane crash, known as the Munich air disaster.

With his experience in sports journalism and the mindset of a socialite, Stratton-Smith switched to the music industry in the early 60s. Having learnt from his previous occupation, he often turned on a competitive mode when willing to be at the wheel of a favourite band’s success. Naturally, the sport-related metaphors emerge in the text. “It might not be cricket, but there is no greater confirmation of an act’s potential than when another label tries to steal it from under your nose”, reads the first line of the chapter telling the story of the rivalry between Charisma and Chrysalis, who once had an idea to take over Genesis.

At the beginning of his career in the music industry, the road of Tony Stratton-Smith seemed to be a bumpy one. Some obstacles were arising due to lack of experience, others were caused by his desire to do what he wanted. SS famously abandoned to ghost-write a memoir of Brian Epstein in favour of finishing his own novel The Rebel Nun, a biography of Mother Maria Skobtsova. A blasphemous gesture for those involved in the 60s music industry, seemingly as agnostic as Tony declared himself. With this example, the author supports the thesis that the inner world of SS was, indeed, a mystery.

Writing a religious biography was not the only case in Tony’s life where the music business and church had to go hand in hand. After one of his bands, The Mark Four changed the name to The Creation the manager needed to get approval from both the Catholic and Anglican authorities. Groom cites Stratton’s response to Melody Maker: “I chose the name and don’t think it is irreligious. I have written a religious biography, The Rebel Nun, which received favourable reviews from a number of bishops.” Ironically, the two most recognised bands managed by Stratton-Smith had names that evoked associations with the Old Testament. The second was Genesis.

Relying on facts and figures, the author pictures Stratton-Smith not only as an unconventional manager but a maverick listener. Revising the line-up of artists he worked with, one might be surprised to see The Creation alongside The Koobas and eccentrics The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. The music taste of Tony Stratton-Smith was, indeed, a quirky one. Not a surprise that from its early days in 1969, his Charisma Records label earned a reputation of the one that offered “opportunities to acts whose music might not readily chime with popular taste”. The SS’s business style was no less distinctive. In the words of Glen Colson, the label’s press officer, Stratton-Smith appeared a “tremendous bluffer”. “He could write a letter that made it look like he was a millionaire and was offering the greatest deal to someone when the truth was that we were completely broke and no one had been paid for weeks”.

With plenty of quotations from the label’s employees (including a few receptionists) and bands related to it, the book gives an impression that charisma was, indeed, Stratton-Smith’s mojo. Groom often cites Gail Colson (Stratton-Smith’s right hand and the Charisma Records manager) and her brother Glen, giving a firsthand account of a usual day at Strat’s office: “He would rise about 11.30 am, head for the bathroom, ordering a coffee on the way and field telephone calls in the bath. Staff averted their eyes as they passed the phone through the door. The flat was small, but was home to about seven full-time staff who managed, published, booked and mothered Strat’s bands”. At the dawn of 1970, the label was managing four bands – The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Nice, Rare Bird and Van Der Graaf Generator.

This is a thorough biography, written by an author with a deep sense of admiration for the subject of his research. In the beginning, the writer reveals his personal connection to Charisma Records. As a graphic designer, Chris Groom tried his luck and attempted to show his portfolio of album covers to Stratton-Smith but didn’t meet him in person. With a sense of irony and perhaps some regret, he tells this story in third-person: “Had he known better he’d have taken his portfolio downstairs into the bar of the Marquee club where the genial boss of Charisma was more than likely having his first drink of the evening with his great friend Jack Barrie, the club’s manager. Instead, he was taken upstairs to meet the creative director Pete Jenner”. Shrouded in mystery for Groom back then, Stratton-Smith appears visibly in a reader’s imagination now.

Strat!: The Charismatic Life & Times of Tony Stratton-Smith by Chris Groom is available here.

All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.

The post Strat!: The Charismatic Life and Times of Tony Stratton-Smith – book review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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God Is In The Radio: Barney Hoskyns – book review

God is in the RadioGod Is In The Radio (Unbridled Enthusiasms 1980-2020): Barney Hoskyns

Omnibus Press

Published on 29th July 2021 (paperback)

Pre-order/buy from Omnibus

Louder Than War Bomb Rating 4

In his forty-year career, Barney Hoskyns has written eloquently, passionately and insightfully about every artist who has mattered. God Is In The Radio compiles fifty of his finest works. It’s engaging, entertaining and thoroughly educational. Gordon Rutherford reviews for Louder Than War.

With the exception of the wondrous CHANGESONEBOWIE, I’ve never been one for compilation albums. They always felt a bit like cheating, a way of collecting a band’s best bits (or certainly their most popular) without putting in the hard yards. Proper albums tell stories, they bring context. However, whilst God Is In The Radio is Barney Hoskyns’s compilation album, a kind of Best Of Barney, it’s not in the same ballpark as, say, Foo Fighters Greatest Hits. It may not be new material, but there’s a world of difference between words and tunes.

Hoskyns is the doyen of music writers. For decades, he has penned the most awe-inspiring pieces for the likes of NME, The Times, The Guardian, MOJO and Uncut. His Tom Waits biography, Lowside Of The Road, is one of the best biographies around, irrespective of hue, and his fascinating tale of the craziness of the LA Canyons, Hotel California, is equally sublime. I own, and revere, both. Therefore, when I entered into this project, I did so with a little bit of trepidation. Here I am, writing about Barney Hoskyns. It’s a bit like being asked to critique the technique of Messi and Ronaldo because you once turned out for Albion Rovers. But here goes.

God Is In The Radio, fittingly subtitled Unbridled Enthusiasms, is a collection of fifty beautifully written pieces about much of the music and artists that have meant most to Hoskyns over his illustrious forty-year career. The first third of the book, entitled Short Cuts, presents a series of punchy, extremely snackable articles that can be voraciously consumed in no time. The perfect example comes in the form of his piece on The Associates, which is a dazzling celebration of the late Billy Mackenzie spanning just over one page. There’s genius in such brevity. Mark Twain once said that “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”, and it’s true that sometimes getting your point across in one page is more difficult than in several. However, in a similar way to Will Hodgkinson, Hoskyns is a master of conciseness, with the ability to show us why a disc of vinyl truly matters in a mere handful of lines.

It’s not all short-form. The remaining two-thirds of the book, Long Players, is a collection of chunkier pieces, typically interviews, with more depth. These allow Hoskyns the space to forensically probe the subject at hand and one is struck by the gravitas of his interviewees. We’re talking the gods of modern music here. But just as remarkable as the subjects and artists, are the elucidations. Take the opening feature in that section, for example. For many years, I had assumed that Mike Love was the bad guy in the Beach Boys saga. But, like all family sagas, there are two sides to every story. Through his 2012 interview with all surviving Beach Boys, Hoskyns succeeds in shedding a different kind of light on Love’s role. In just eight-and-a-bit pages he brings more credible analysis than entire books on the subject, and that’s in spite of Brian Wilson’s sad inability to recall very much from the period.

Long Players also includes a highly engaging piece on Stevie Wonder, with particular focus on that miraculous run of albums from Music Of My Mind to Songs In The Key Of Life. Writing about such albums is relatively easy. However, what I admire most about Hoskyns in pieces like this is the way in which he colours in all the spaces around about. It’s about so much more than the music. It’s about the vibrancy of his new home city (New York) and the influences surrounding him and recovering from a car accident that left him in a coma for five days. There’s also a remarkable 1984 piece on Bobby Womack, where Hoskyns effectively traipses up and down the M40 with the soul legend whilst he is on tour. Part of that piece discusses Womack’s collaboration with Sly Stone, who also happens to have a feature dedicated to him. Hoskyns paints such a vivid picture of the frighteningly unhinged, drug-fuelled Stone that I checked the front door was locked three times before going to sleep that night. Then there’s the incredibly touching piece from 2018 on Amy Winehouse. Much has been written about Winehouse in recent days, but nothing else I have read has captured her magnificence quite like this piece.

You’ll have gathered by now that God Is In The Radio delivers on variety. As well as the diverse range of artists covered above, there’s also a poignantly written feature on the tragic life of Sandy Denny and a wonderfully nostalgic remembrance of seeing Chic live in 1978. Articles on Joy Division (reviewing the Heart and Soul box-set) and Television (celebrating Marquee Moon) rub shoulders with pieces featuring Burial, Burt Bacharach, P.J. Harvey and Willie Nelson. There’s something for everyone here, all unsurprisingly written in that wonderfully effortless style.

But what I loved most about God Is In The Radio is what I love most about Barney Hoskyns. When he writes, you learn. He brings such gravity and insight to his pieces that you always feel that time invested in reading his work is not only enjoyable but educational too. It’s not only obscure stuff, he even schools you in things you feel you should probably know about. I mean, Jack White started out as a drummer. Who knew? My favourite piece of learning came in the Short Cuts section. I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea who Thom Bell was. As someone who grew up in the seventies watching Top Of The Pops and listening to Radio One, I was obviously aware of The Stylistics (although vanity would have prevented me from ever admitting to liking them), but I had no idea that their producer/arranger/co-writer was this guy called Thom Bell. This is the same fellow who wrote the charts for the O’Jays’ Back Stabbers and Me and Mrs Jones by Billy Paul. He wrote and produced Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time), that imperious Delfonics classic that featured in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. Somehow, I feel more fulfilled knowing who Thom Bell is now and that is part of the brilliance of God Is In The Radio. It teaches us stuff that matters.

Earlier, I mentioned that it was fittingly subtitled Unbridled Enthusiasms. It’s fitting because the passion and the love that he has for the subject matter is evident from every single line on the page. More than any other writer, you can just tell that he lives to write about this stuff. God Is In The Radio is a cracking read, a veritable compendium of magnificence. It’s entertaining and educational and Hoskyns’s style is one that you never weary of. It’s evergreen and is the kind of book that you can comfortably pick up and dip in and out of. It’s more likely, however, that you will dip in and stay in.

~

Barney Hoskyns has a website here. He is also is on Twitter.

You can find Omnibus Press here. They’re also on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

All words by Gordon Rutherford. More writing by Gordon can be found in his archive.

Gordon is also on twitter as @R11Gordon and has a website here: https://thedarkflux.wordpress.com

The post God Is In The Radio: Barney Hoskyns – book review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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Book review: Decades- Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s by Andrew Wild

Decades- Fleetwood Mac in the 1970sSonicBond Publishing (Release Date 14.05.21) No band survived the seventies with a more spectacular transformation than Fleetwood Mac. They began it as a successful British blues band who were about to be left reeling by the departure of their founder … Continue reading

The post Book review: Decades- Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s by Andrew Wild appeared first on Get Ready to ROCK!.

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Jon Savage: England’s Dreaming. The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock – interview

The new edition of England’s Dreaming is out now via Faber & Faber and Rough Trade as part of the bundle including two other pivotal Savage’s books – Teenage and 1966.

Among the variety of works on the history of punk, England’s Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock by Jon Savage remains one of the most meticulous and striking accounts of 70s music. Its groundbreaking quality was perfectly summed up by Charles Shaar Murray whose quote adorns the cover of the first paperback edition: ‘A hole-in-one, grand-slam knockout of a book’. Marking the 30th anniversary this year, the book presents a multidimensional image of the era that resonates impressively with the current moment, defined by the hunger for change.

With its resonating quality, the book continues to trigger a response from younger generations of readers. The new edition is supplemented with a novel introduction by the graphic designer Scott King and the artist Jeremy Deller who discuss the impact of this phenomenal work on their lives and cultural context in general. Both were in their early 20s when England’s Dreaming came out. The sense of urgency the book evoked in them was, perhaps, similar to the feeling that many attendees experienced after seeing The Sex Pistol’s performance. “I immediately thought I’ve got to at least try and do something, rather than get a job in advertising, selling spaghetti hoops”, Scott King underlines the beguiling effect of the book. The emotional overtones of his words, indeed, do not seem far from what Howard Trafford and Peter McNeish (who would later be known as Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley) were musing on the night following the gig of The Sex Pistols in High Wycombe in 1976.

They returned with an increased sense of urgency: ‘After we’d seen them, Howard and I were sleeping in the living room,’ says Peter, ‘as we were going off to sleep Howard was quizzing me, like if we got our band started, what was my commitment. Would I stick with it? Was it a hobby or was I into living the life? And I said: ‘ Yeah, I’m into living the life”.’

(England’s Dreaming)

Constructing the narrative with voices of key figures witnessing the formation of the movement, the book channels the idea of punk as a shaking action causing offbeat patterns in the kaleidoscope of life. This also means that it gave many people the opportunity to be what they wanted to be. “That was the punk genius really”, says Jon Savage. “For a lot of people it had that effect of whatever they wanted to do, whether it be to design record sleeves or become a musician, just to be involved in pop culture, they easily realized they could do it. And then suddenly from being isolated you are all together. And that was a fantastic feeling. But it didn’t last long. It was a revolutionary moment. People talk about 1968 in that way”.

As a historian and researcher, Savage presents the era with chronological precision. The book is divided into five parts corresponding to periods that altogether cover an eight-year span, starting from December 1971 and finishing in May 1979. However, placing Malcolm McLaren/ Vivienne Westwood narrative as a centrepiece for the first chapter, the author dives deeper beyond the time frame: inevitably, the 60s come to the fore as the time when the couple met and started playing with volatile ideas. Various incarnations of their shop on King’s Road, from Teds-oriented Let it Rock to forward-looking SEX, are described in such detail that can be easily conjured up in one’s imagination.

Relying on intertextuality, England’s Dreaming mirrors the postmodern context of the decade that addresses both the Rock’n’Roll drive of the 50s and the edgier garage mood of the 60s. Each new chapter contains relevant epigraphs and quotations, embracing sources as diverse as Mikhail Bakunin, Carl Jung, Arthur Rimbaud, punk fanzines, lyrics etc. Compiled together (not to mention the archival images), they provide the book with a solid sense of interconnectedness and visual quality.

Supported by a strong theoretical framework, the narrative reveals the socio-cultural background of punk – from ideas manifested by Situationist International to anarchism. Having emerged from several avant-garde movements, e.g. COBRA and Lettrism, the SI employed various art practices that attempted to inject one’s imagination with a dizzying sense of possibility. Indeed, later one learns how, being aware of these tools for creative conversion and fired up by the demand for the impossible, Malcolm McLaren carefully constructed his own society of the spectacle. ‘I have the idea of the singer looking like Hitler, those gestures, arm shapes etc. and talking about his mum in incestuous phrases’, he declares at the end of the first chapter. What follows is known as a part of British history these days. Introducing the decade, the catalogue of images from the Daily Mail archive displays a portrait of Johnny Rotten, performing during the UK tour, shortly before signing with EMI.

Subway Sect at the Lacy Lady, November 1976. By Jonh Ingham.

Although initially inspired by American punk, the British analogue managed to break the boundaries between niche and mainstream. As a metaphorical stone, the Sex Pistols caused the ripples on the water of a slumbering pond. It is this disturbance and arousal out of which the Manchester sound and other notable groups emerged. Apart from names that take over lengthy entries in Encyclopedia of Popular Music, England’s Dreaming pays homage to bands whose commercial success was more limited. The pages about the early (and brilliant) Subway Sect describe their music as “coming in at the oblique angles of a group like Television”. The arty approach of the New York scene was exercised.

Despite the brief lifespan of the Sex Pistols, their high-octane existence turned on irreversible processes. Saturated with turbulent events, both from the life of the band (death of Sid, court battles between McLaren and Lydon) and the political context of Britain (victory of the Conservatives), the last part of the book comes up with a reassuring statement: “Punk was beaten, but it had also won. If it had been the project of the Sex Pistols to destroy the music industry, then they had failed; but as they gave it new life, they allowed a myriad of new forms to become possible.”

In the conversation with Louder Than War, Jon Savage told more about England’s Dreaming as well as his approach to writing.

Louder Than War: Teenage, 1966 and England’s Dreaming seem to have one common motif – youth subcultures in the context of the history of music. Was there an idea to create a series of books that would develop one theme?

Jon Savage: No, I didn’t set out to write a trilogy but they all have consistency. I suppose everything I do has a consistency which I think is good for an author. It’s not planned, it’s just the way it has turned out really. I know all about different periods so, Teenage covers a period from 1875 to 1944, 1966 is about 1966, this book tells a story until 1977 – all the doubles. There is a consistency there which I didn’t really realize until my publisher suggested doing so. It’s part of the ongoing relationship with Faber & Faber. I’ve been published by them since 1984.

LTW: Is there a feeling that England’s Dreaming obtains a new interpretation these days, considering all changes the society has undergone since both the late 70s and 1991 when the book was originally published?

JS: It was already historical when it came out, it was published nearly 20 years after these events. The period I’m writing about is 45 years ago, it’s a long time. People ask me “Is punk rock relevant now?”, I say “No, it’s historical”. It’s become a youth archetype. It’s an off-the-peg thing that people could wear. There are elements of punk outside Europe, outside North America, people still find that culture interesting and inspiring enough to be doing something new with it. In England, America and Europe, I think, it’s pretty much dead. And that’s OK, it’s a long time ago. But I don’t know how younger people see it. And it would be up to them to tell me really.

LTW: To me, it feels like a homecoming. The discovery of music from the past. It’s something subconscious. Maybe akin to the hauntological aspect of nostalgia – when you were not there but have an unexplainable urge to go back in time. There is something that triggers us to explore things that we are not conscious about.

JS: Yes, and in a way, that’s how music works. The initial impact of music is on a non-intellectual level. It’s a physiological thing, it’s an emotional thing. But I get really bored with a lot of nostalgia in pop culture. I can’t stand it, I think it’s very tedious. To me, there is a difference between nostalgia and history. These works are history [Teenage, 1966, England’s Dreaming], they are not works saying “I was there, wasn’t it fantastic?” There is a lot of music writing like that. And I find it really boring, to be honest. I’m not interested. But I’m interested in a well-made history.

LTW: Isn’t nostalgia a feeling that music writers in magazines such as MOJO attempt to evoke in their audience? Isn’t the audience craving for this sort of feeling?

JS: Up to a point, the audience of certain ages, harking back to their youth. But you know, there is so much one can indulge this and certainly in my books I don’t. I do regard them as proper works of history. So they are not necessarily feeding that. In fact, they are designed to make people think about something familiar in a different and new way.

LTW: Do you picture your audience when writing a book?

JS: No, I’m not self-conscious about my writing and I’m not self-conscious about what I do, I’m just trying to do the best I can. And of course, it is a great source of wonder when people like your books, and you have to keep that a source of wonder rather than anything else. But you can’t write for people, it just doesn’t work that way. I tend to realize that enough people like what I do, so I’d rather just continue doing what I do. To be honest, I find a lot of music journalism – I mean I quite enjoy it – but I find it magazine-esque, it’s not really with much depth in it. I mean there are a few pieces but if you are trading in nostalgia, it’s going to be fairly superficial.

LTW: As a historian and researcher, you have a different approach to writing compared to that of a journalist. Your presence in the book [England’s Dreaming] is reduced to diary entries.

JS: Diary entries are there just to put myself in the book. But they are pretty minimal. And the thing about the book is that I talk to a hundred people. There is plenty of stuff that is not about me. So there is a disguised thought of biography, that is not overt autobiography.

The Clash at the Royal College of Art on 5th November 1976. By Jonh Ingham.

LTW: In one of those entries you mention your experience of seeing a first proper punk band – the Clash. Throughout the book, many speakers mention the sense of urgency that punk emanated. When did you realize the importance of what was happening?

JS: I was primed by the first Patti Smith album and very much by the Ramones which I was obsessed with during the spring of 1976. So I knew, I knew that something was going to happen. And I was very isolated and very angry at that time. So when I saw the Clash I realized that like that (snapping fingers – ed.). And again it wasn’t an intellectual feeling, it was just like – press the button, and you are there. And I just knew that I had to get involved, sometimes you just know things. And I suppose I was trying to understand what that moment meant by writing a book actually. Because it was a very very powerful moment. I saw the Clash a week later, then the Sex Pistols and the Damned a week after that. By the end of November, within a month, I’d seen the first three British punk bands. I knew that this was happening. I was doing a fanzine [London’s Outrage – ed.] which was the first step in me becoming a writer which is what I wanted to do. I made that decision to be a writer that summer in 1976.

LTW: Reading England’s Dreaming sometimes feels similar to watching a film – documentary or art house. You have quite a lot of experience in visual arts. Does it have an impact on the way you write?

JS: My approach in visual arts is always montage and collage. I’m not sure whether that translates exactly into the books but I’m very interested in the way things look and so I often write about the way things look or the way somebody looks. I’m always thinking about visual images while I’m writing. It isn’t just about the writing itself and the text on a page, it’s about how the book is going to look. How it’s broken up, how you see it on a page. Mainly how to break the book up. What are the pauses, what is the structure. Because if it’s just one long text, no one’s going to read it. I’d like people to know where they are in the book. And for there to be definite chapters.

LTW: There is an obvious difference between the American and British punk scenes. Whereas the former is predominantly middle-class, the latter had a lot of working-class people involved. Would it be right to say that in America punk was a response to the boredom of consumerism, while in Britain the action was caused by political circumstances?

JS: The thing about the British scene is that it was a class mix of people being involved. So look at The Clash. Actually, Joe Strummer was a middle-class/upper-middle-class dropout. It was a mixture of classes. And it’s powerful. If it had been just the working class, it wouldn’t have been so powerful. A mixture of the classes in a very class-stratified country like England is very very powerful. And that gave it its power. The thing about British and American punk, particularly the CBGB’s punk, is that all musicians, the Sex Pistols, in particular, were half a decade younger, maybe more, and the American groups were more conceptual, they were artier. By the way, I have to say that I really like Television, the Ramones and Talking Heads, it’s just that they are different. They came from that downtown culture. You know, Warhol, New York Dolls, all these fed into that. Whereas English punk bands were – you know, it is a difference between Television’s See No Evil, where Tom Verlaine says “I understand all destructive urges”, and Johnny Rotten’s “get pissed, destroy”. So the English version is much more direct and the people involved are younger. And it is because of the nature of England as the country of a centralized media, unlike America where it is very difficult to break a record nationally. The English punk bands were plugged into the music press and the national press very very quickly. And they could get record deals. That took American groups a lot longer. So it’s a completely different situation. I really like both. I really like West Coast punk. I really got annoyed with how England tried to kind of playing punk for its own. Punk was interesting because it was an idea, it was trying to create proper 70s music that had no 60s hangovers. That was the idea.

In America, one of the reasons that punk happened was that the late 60s won. I remember going to Los Angeles in 1978 to visit punk bands and the radio was just full of Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. That generation had won and was dominating the media. And in fact, would shut punk out. I think it was just a response to the times. It was an economic downturn. The great energy of the 60s had blown itself out. There wasn’t any over political engagement. I think it’s a mixture of all these things.

LTW: In the book, you describe 1978 as the year when “pop’s linear time was shattered forever: there would be no more unified “movement” but tribes, as pop time became forever multiple, postmodern”. The same process was happening on the verge of the 60s and 70s, which was catalyzed by The Beatles’ split. Did the end of the Sex Pistols have a somewhat similar effect on the cultural context?

JS: I’ve never really thought about this in that way really. To me, the Sex Pistols after the Jubilee were almost an afterthought. I had an opportunity to go and see them in December 1977 and I didn’t go because I couldn’t be bothered. I thought they were over and everything was moving so fast that the punk scene seemed to me to be over by autumn 1977. I was interested in synthesizer groups, I Feel Love, Heroes by Bowie, I was interested in West Coast punk, I wasn’t interested in English punk anymore. It did happen very quickly and then it was gone. When The Sex Pistols split up I didn’t really see it as significant at all. I was more interested in Devo and Pere Ubu. So I didn’t see it that way at all.

At the Screamers video shoot at Target Video, Oakland, August 1978. Jon Savage in centre, right of V. “Valhalla” Vale. The Screamers Tomata Du Plenty blurred front centre. Picture by Ruby Ray.

LTW: England’s Dreaming came out in 1991. What was the attitude towards punk around that time? Why did you make a decision to write the book around that time?

JS: I haven’t read any account of punk that came near my experience on it. So as the first book, it does relate to my personal experience. The interesting thing for me about writing Teenage is that it doesn’t relate to my personal experience. One of the ways in which I could get a handle of Teenage is to think of my grandparents, my older relatives who were born in the first years of the 20th century and that helped me locate myself in the book. I think it’s a mistake to write about something you’ve experienced – you ought to be using your imagination. But with England’s Dreaming, I hadn’t read anything that matched my experience of punk rock and people weren’t very encouraging when I was writing it. They were saying “all that’s over now, it’s boring, it’s not very interesting”. And that was exactly the time that I should have done this and did do this because the responses I got in the interviews were quite candid, there wasn’t an established narrative of punk at that point. That was a very good time to do it.

LTW: How long did it take to compile all materials together and write it?

JS: I did the bulk of the interviews between 1988 and 1990. And then the book took me six months to write, which is a young man’s feat. I couldn’t do that now.

LTW: You dedicated this book to your grandfather.

JS: Because when I was writing it, I felt his presence very strongly. My grandfather was very into music, he was a jazz fan, and went to see the Original Dixieland jazz band. It was the first very successful jazz band. They played in England in 1920 when my grandfather went to see them at the Hammersmith Palais. So I have a history with music and love for it through him. And he died in the middle of the whole period [1977] and didn’t really mourn him. So it was a way of saying “thank you for everything, I should have mourned you more but I was too young”.

Bundle of England’s Dreaming, 1966 and Teenage by Jon Savage can be ordered online via Rough Trade.

All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.

The post Jon Savage: England’s Dreaming. The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock – interview appeared first on Louder Than War.

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Punks in Peoria by Jonathan Wright and Dawson Barrett – book review

Punks in Peoria: Making a Scene in the American Heartland

By Jonathan Wright and Dawson Barrett

(University of Illinois Press)

Local punks rejoice! Punk rock has been brewing in small towns for decades—you just have to know where to look. Punks in Peoria is just the text map you need.

This book is a true celebration of the local—the so-called flyover and pass-through towns where nobody tends to stop. Indeed, as Wright and Barrett underscore, Peoria is a place where a number of notable punk bands from the 1970s to the present almost played. But don’t assume for a second that Peoria isn’t important — and perhaps even essential — to charting a history of punk in America: “The story of the Peoria music scene affirms the central premise of DIY punk rock: that music is for everyone, and that anyone can (and should) create meaningful art.” Wright and Barrett intimate that Peoria is a quintessential lesson in how “the music industry—the major record labels, the corporate media, the Grammys—can create and reward pop stars, but commercial success is often unrelated to talent, originality, or passion.” To be sure, the authors leave their readers wondering what other small towns have been overlooked in charting the punk scene and other sonic innovations simply because of chance, economics, or geographic proximity to an urban center.

I Used to Be Disgusted ZineAs musician Kate Dusenbery explains in the book, “the main thing that Peoria instilled in me is the ability to make something from nothing . . . . To see potential where there is very little, to understand that if you love something, if you want to create and make something happen, if you can get just a few people to believe it and help you do it, you can make it happen.” Dusenbery is one of many artists profiled in Punks in Peoria, part of a scene that included “an intersection of like-minded peers from different schools and different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds — and one in which women were a driving force.” In the late 1980s, Dusenbery and others formed the Disgusted Youth Organization (DYO), which arranged an (in)famous gig in downtown Peoria and created I Used to Be Disgusted, a zine “defined by their aggressive straight-edge and anti-racist views.” Of course, DYO wouldn’t have been possible, Wright and Barrett suggest, without the earlier work of brothers Steve, Chopper, and Barry Stepe — musicians who were instrumental in developing a punk scene in the midwestern town in the early 1980s. Other players at the center of the decades-long story of Punks in Peoria include Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division, Bloody F. Mess, Suit and Tie Guy James Eric Williamson, and the members of Dollface, Nora Hate, and Planes Mistaken for Stars.

Oh, and the venues! In the best kind of punk fashion, most of Peoria’s early spots for shows were makeshift ones, rented out for the night. As the authors explain, “Peoria was never able to sustain a proper punk venue,” so “its underground music scene learned to be DIY in a very active and unorthodox way.” In both its past and present, arranging a gig in Peoria has required “constantly hunting for venues [that could be] repurposed for an evening—a revolving hodgepodge of banquet halls, houses, church basement, and after-hours businesses.”

Even in the mid-1960s, gigs occurred mostly in “Peoria-area garages,” while subsequent bands played at spots like the Juice Bar, VFW Hall, American Legion Hall, Expo Gardens, the Owens Recreation Center, and East Peoria’s ICC gym. Later on, clubs like Confetti’s and Stage 2 became prominent — albeit short-lived — spaces for punk to flouresce. While it was only open for about a year, Airwaves Skate Park enjoyed a temporary “reign” as “Peoria’s punk rock mecca” from 1992-1993.

A subsequent venue, Tiamat, “existed solely for the purpose of music,” Wright and Barrett explain, identifying the spot as “the Peoria equivalent of New York City’s CBGB or Berkeley, California’s 924 Gilman Street, ragged but legendary punk venues that encapsulated the grimy essence of their time and place.” Indeed, in seemingly classic Peoria fashion, Tiamat closed after a Jimmy John’s franchise bought up its real estate to create a parking lot. Yes, reader, one of Peoria’s favorite punk venues became a place for sandwich buyers to park their cars. Yet as the authors suggest, “the spirit of Tiamat still lives on Peoria’s West Main Street — even if Jimmy John’s was the business left standing.” If it makes you feel just a bit better, a Peoria band from the time, the Fucked Ups, “ended Tiamat’s punk rock reign in style: with fake blood splattered everywhere and friends and comrades beating percussive rhythms on overturned metal trash cans . . . one last exciting mess.” And when it comes to documenting local spots, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Peoria’s Co-Op Tapes & Records role in the burgeoning scene. Although its life was brief, the music shop is a prominent character in this book, ultimately depicted as a catalyst for the midwestern town’s punk narrative.

In case you couldn’t tell by now, Punks in Peoria relies on a variety of source material, including substantive interviews with members of the Peoria music scene, archival newspaper articles, flyers and handbills, locally made zines, and more. It’s in part a work of oral history and a material mine. Yet the text is also, by and large, an act of recovery as it brings local knowledge of Peoria’s punk scene to the surface and center. Ultimately, Wright and Barrett make a strong case for learning about Peoria and all the other small-town scenes that may have been subsumed to the punk stories of New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Manchester, Berlin, and other major world cities. Without understanding the local, they hint, you’ll never have a full picture of the global.

Punks in Peoria is among the best examples I’ve encountered of a book using scholarly methodologies that’s hugely accessible to any interested reader. Indeed, this text should be seen as a gold standard for academic writers who want to reach the public, with the University of Illinois Press as a key partner in this important work. One of the greatest aspects of Punks in Peoria is that it acts as a call to action for any readers with their own knowledge of local punk histories, suggesting that this kind of writing need not be tethered to academic inquiry. Like the writers say of their book, “in the DIY tradition, if it doesn’t reflect your history, we encourage you to write it!”

If I could make just one change to the book, I’d add a playlist for a multi-volume mixtape. For now, I’ll need to track down some of these bands myself, but I’m looking forward to doing it.

~

Words by Audrey J. Golden. You can follow Audrey on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.

The post Punks in Peoria by Jonathan Wright and Dawson Barrett – book review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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Jennifer Otter Bickerdike: You Are Beautiful And You Are Alone: The Biography Of Nico – Book Review

NicoJennifer Otter Bickerdike: You Are Beautiful And You Are Alone: The Biography Of Nico

Faber & Faber

Out Now.

Autobiography on artist, model and muse Nico aims to peel back the myths and reveal the person behind the persona. Simon Tucker reviews.

As the epilogue to Jennifer Otter Bickerdike’s new book on Nico tells us, in 1996 the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Nico however was not. Years after the original VU had broken up and after releasing a string of beautiful and uncompromising albums Nico was still seen as an add-on. Not essential to the band. A pretty face and an unusual voice. Which anyone who is a fan of the first VU and Nico album will tell you. Nico’s voice and presence on songs such as I’ll Be Your Mirror, Femme Fatale and All Tomorrow’s Parties are an essential ingredient in the tapestry of that celebrated album. Nico and John Cage helped bring a stark European sensibility to the street-beat poetry of Lou Reed helping the album blur all borders and echo through the ages.

The fact that establishments such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were doing this in 1996 just highlights the fact that it is easy to dismiss the woman in the band. She may not have written the songs on that album but she gave them life. Elvis never wrote his own material either. Now author Jennifer Otter Bickerdike aims to reclaim the legacy of Nico, tearing it away from the heroin, the sex and the myths by revealing Christa Päffgen the woman…the artist…the mum.

You Are Beautiful You Are Alone tells us the full in-depth story of how Christa Päffgen became Nico. We go back to her childhood in Nazi ruled Germany where we find out how as a child Nico was able to see the trains rolling past taking Jews to the death camps, how her father was murdered in the war, how her families wealth could not protect them from the devastation of World War II. We find out that Nico was raped by an American GI and that her mum suffered from mental illness. The way Bickerdike writes about these formative years is perfect. Bickerdike never shies away from the details which forces us as readers to start to understand how Nico ended up living the life she did. Nico learned early on how to use her beauty to move on with her life leading to her modelling, acting and eventually coming in to the orbit of Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd. It is in this early section of the book, before Nico joins the Velvet Underground where you can see how Nico’s life is going to pan out. Bickerdike helps explain how Nico’s personality was one of contradiction. Nico’s story is often framed as some sad fading beauty but Bickerdike instead highlights early on that even though Nico was able to use her beauty when she needed to she was also aware of the trappings of just being a “face”.

Another aspect of Nico’s life that the book helps readdress is her relationship with men. If you’re a pop culture fan you will know already of the relationships with Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop but what is often missing from the narrative is how she indeed got influenced by them but she was also a major influence on them. She was not just sex. She was important to these men and was often treated shabbily by them so even though Morrison encouraged Nico to create her own songs and perform, he would also hit her as would notorious woman beater Brian Jones. Without a shadow of a doubt though, the most important relationship in her life in many ways was with the actor Alain Delon who fathered her son Ari. Delon would deny parentage of Ari throughout Nico’s life and the obvious pain and torment that this caused her is written about in detail throughout.

You Are Beautiful You Are Alone helps refocus the Nico narrative back onto the music she made and it is a joy to read about the creation of such masterpieces as The Marble Index, Desertshore and The End. With the use of interviews from people such as Cosey Fanni Tutti, Joe Bidewell, Budgie and Una Baines, Bickerdike brings to the forefront the influence that these records had (and continue to have). Performing to often half-empty rooms full of ‘orrible dripping “punk” misogynistic attitude (thrown bottles, spit, heckling), Nico always faced front and never backed down. Reading the book gives you the sense of how brave she was in these circumstances. Nico was often alone on stage with just her harmonium and for her to be facing these crowds, never buckling, in the grips of addiction shows that she really did have a true strength of character.

This is the best music book you will read this year. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike has created an enthralling read and when she inserts her voice into the narrative by including details of where she met interviewees, how the spoke etc she manages to inject a more magazine-style of writing but instead of jarring it feels natural. It feels like Bickerdike is a detective interviewing people for the detail that will crack the code and reveal the truth. Like all good music biographies, You Are Beautiful You Are Alone also makes you reacquaint yourself with the music itself and this is its biggest plus. Knowing what we know after finishing the book really helps to make you fall deeply back in love with Nico’s music and what you realise is that whilst Reed was getting all the plaudits, Nico made music that was often better than his and was also some of the most pivotal music in the creation of what we now call post-punk.

An exceptional read.

~

Jennifer Otter Bickerdike can be found via her website  or Twitter where she tweets as @JenOtterBickerd

Faber & Faber can be found via their website  Facebook  and Twitter where they tweet as @FaberBooks

All words by Simon Tucker. More writing by Simon on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can also find Simon on twitter as @simontucker1979.

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Love Factory: The History of Holland Dozier Holland by Howard Priestley – book review

Love Factory BookLove Factory: the history of Holland Dozier Holland
by Howard Priestley


New Haven Publishing LTD

Out now

This new book tells you all you need to know about the impact and influence of brothers Eric and Brian Holland and their partner in music Lamont Dozier. From their early days working with Berry Gordy and the Tamla Motown label, through to their later careers both together and solo, it is a fascinating insight into the world of soul music.

With Love Factory Howard Priestley has written a book that is a real labour of love. As an artist, he has worked as an illustrator for fanzines and Marvel Comics’ graphic novels. He has also designed artwork for CDs and compilations for some of the artists mentioned in this book, including Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Harrison Kennedy and Ruth Copeland. His artwork illustrates this publication, replacing photos of the artists mentioned.

This is a book written by a fan of the music, for fans. I’m lucky. For much of the book, I could picture the artists who make up the complicated story and I could hear the songs in my head. For those who are unfamiliar with early Motown recordings and later Northern Soul discoveries, it would make sense to look at the final sections of the book first. There you will find a list of recordings by Brian Holland, Eric Holland and Lamont Dozier from the fifties and early sixties, before they became the powerful songwriting and production team that gave Motown its distinctive sound and success.

There’s also an exhaustive list of their songs and collaborations in the A – Z section that covers the years 1959 -1977, which runs to 33 pages! Alan Warner has then collaborated with Howard Priestley to create a list of artists who have covered their best known songs. If you aren’t familiar with their songwriting credits you will be sure to recognise the hits.

I particularly enjoyed the short opening piece based on lines from songs I knew and loved in my teenage years, including Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, Put Yourself in My Place, Reach Out and Nowhere to Run. This reads as a reference book rather than a narrative. Along the way, we learn about the slow beginnings of the Motown label and sound, based in Detroit, the Motor City. Within a few years, it was to have huge success in the UK, introducing new audiences to this type of soul music. Priestley describes the ‘revolving door ‘of musicians, singers and artists, all creating and moving between different small independent record labels. There were rivalries and power struggles. There were recordings and songs that were not credited to the people who wrote or recorded them for a range of reasons, including contractual. It was a fiercely competitive environment with potentially huge rewards and harsh disappointments. Eventually, Holland Dozier Holland left Berry Gordy’s Tamla Motown label and set up their own, Hot Wax and Invictus. Here they found themselves playing the same music business games as Gordy had done, sometimes not giving artists and writers the recognition and financial reward they deserved. As the Motown sound took over pop music, with the Supremes, the Temptations, The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye leading the way, other record companies were keen to emulate the sound. At one point Gordy issued fines to musicians contracted to Motown for moonlighting on sessions for other artists.

1967 was a pivotal year. On the back of his commercial success, Berry Gordy hoped to move into films and set up offices in Los Angeles. In July major riots in Detroit broke the city and left a lasting and negative legacy. Holland Dozier Holland and Gordy sued and countersued each other in 1968 and Motown’s monopoly was broken. In the decades that followed there were hits and misses. Dave Godin who had started the British Tamla Motown Appreciation Society gets more than one mention, and the rise of Northern Soul meant that some artists and their recordings became important and sought after collectors’ items. I was intrigued to learn that Nowhere To Run, a hit for Martha and the Vandellas, had been written in response to seeing the army tanks come rolling in during the Detroit riots.

As the sixties became the seventies, many soul singers became more thoughtful of the environment and politics of the day, including the anti Vietnam war movement. Chess in Chicago became a rival, as did the Philadelphia sound of Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble. Eventually, the Holland brothers and Lamont Dozier rejoined Motown on separate projects. In the 1980s Lamont Dozier moved to the UK with his family and worked with Alison Moyet, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Simply Red. I had tickets to see him talk in Manchester in 2019. Ill health meant a rescheduled date and then the pandemic hit and the event was cancelled. It would have been fascinating to hear him talk about his career and time as Holland Dozier Holland, for as Priestly says: it was their creativity that would form, re-form and, eventually, dissolve the sound of Motown.

The book can be purchased at all good booksellers, Waterstones, Smiths, Amazon or New Haven LTD direct.

All words by Nicky Crewe. More writing by Nicky on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive

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Book review: Decades- Uriah Heep in the 1970s by Steve Pilkington

Decades- Uriah Heep in the 1970s by Steve PilkingtonSonicbond Publishing (Release Date 28.03.21) Following the series of  ‘On Track’ releases, reviewing a band’s back catalogue in comprehensive detail, Sonicbond have been moving onto a new ‘decades’ concept in which a band’s history is examined in more detail over … Continue reading

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Book review: On track…CAMEL (Every album, every song) by Hamish Kuzminski

On track...CAMEL (Every album, every song) by Hamish KuzminskiSonicbond Publishing [Publication date 14.06.21] Camel are a band that certainly deserve both a concise overview and a continuing recognition of their collective greatness, and significant contribution to the world of prog. None other than Steve Rothery supplies the foreword, … Continue reading

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