Life beyond The Waves – the Katrina Leskanich interview

Shining Light: Katrina Leskanich in live action (Photo: Ulf Skjernbo)

Shining Light: Katrina Leskanich in live action (Photo: Ulf Stjernbo)

When Katrina Leskanich told me down the telephone line, ‘The sun is shining, finally’ in London, I took it with a pinch of salt, not least as earlier that day I revisited a grainy mid-‘80s promo video in which she was strutting around the capital in capped t-shirt singing about soaring temperatures, while her bandmates were wrapped up in overcoats.

You’ll no doubt remember Walking on Sunshine, the breakthrough Katrina and the Waves single, and 12 years later the same outfit had a second top-10 hit, securing the UK’s fifth (and most recent) Eurovision Song Contest win in the process with Love, Shine a Light.

While that debut chart success charted 32 years ago, royalties are still coming in for an instantly-recognisable feelgood tune, not least when the sun’s out and summer is on the mind for radio DJs all over. It was Katrina’s bandmate Kimberley Rew – who’d had a spell away with Robyn Hitchcock in The Soft Boys – who wrote that track, a version appearing on the 1983 Katrina and the Waves debut album. But second time around a remix (and the video) helped break them. And just when they were in danger of being labelled ‘two-hit wonders’ – the hits drying up after follow-up Sun Street – came that Eurovision victory, which may even be our last following the UK’s move towards Brexit, making it even less likely that we grab ‘douze points’ from anywhere south or east of these shores.

While born and raised in Kansas, Katrina has been based in the UK since the mid-‘70s, with London her home since the late ‘90s. She’d moved around a fair bit before though, her Dad – a colonel in the US Air Force – having served all over with the US Air Force and the family – with Katrina one of six siblings – going with him.

“We lived in about eight different states in America, then Germany and Holland, then to England in 1976, and I’ve stayed here pretty much ever since, although I divide myself between here and America. I work there a lot but choose to live here. I often think through some of the winters I haven’t quite chosen right, but you got a beautiful day over here and it’s fantastic.”

My excuse for talking to Katrina is the Back to the 80s Live tour, in particular a show at Preston Guild Hall on Saturday, April 15th, also featuring Paul Young, Sonia, Hazell Dean, Tight Fit, and Nathan Moore (Brother Beyond). And bearing in mind Katrina’s transitory past, when the headliner sings his cover of Marvin Gaye’s Wherever I Lay My Hat, I tell her she has every right to tell him he’s stolen her song.

“Exactly. It’s like, ‘Paul, you’re singing my story here! It’s really great to be with him on this tour though. He’s a great entertainer, as is everybody else on this show. I’m going to be on tour with Paul in America in July and August too, going all over on the same bus. And you really get to know someone very well when you’re sharing a bathroom on a bus and it’s like a 32-hour drive from Colorado to Florida! There’ll also be Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, Annabella from Bow Wow Wow on the American tour. And there are a lot of shows – about 26 in a month.”

Looking Up: Katrina looks for live guidance (Photo: Ulf Stjernbo)

Mention Katrina and the Waves, and you’ll probably find people either namecheck that first hit or the third. Can that get a bit tiresome?

“Yeah, but I guess it’s better than them not knowing what to say. The name Katrina and the Waves probably has less currency than mentioning Walking on Sunshine or in this country Love, Shine a Light. People don’t always remember who did a song. I’ve had many people come and tell me how much they loved my song Echo Beach or how much they loved my song 99 Red Balloons. I get a lot of credit for stuff I never did, but that’s kind of where the lines are a little blurred about who exactly did what.

“There are so few women who came from the ’80s scene, yet proportionately to the amount of men still working from that era it seems there are more women than men out there now. It seems that everywhere you look there’s Carol Decker or Kim Wilde.”

Of course, she’s set herself up now, and I tell her I might come along to a show and shout for Brass in Pocket when she’s on.

“Ha! Oh, I get it all the time. Now I just go, ‘Thank you!’ In an interview a while ago someone said, ‘Now, Walking on Sunshine, that was like 1968, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, wasn’t I singing well for eight years old!’

While the band’s second and third albums somewhat flopped, there were a few hits that never quite happened, not least a further stand-out from chief songwriter Kimberley Rew, Going Down to Liverpool. I love that song, but – I admit to Katrina – it was The Bangles’ version I heard first and that made a bigger impression accordingly. That said, they never actually had a proper hit here with it either. It certainly deserved better.

“I know. The thing is that The Bangles covered that way before we were signed to Capitol Records, and did a really interesting video …”

Going Solo: Katrina Leskanich

I remember it well, with Leonard Nimoy co-starring, riding Susanna Hoffs and co. around in a cab, before the band had their big breakthrough with another cover, Prince’s Manic Monday.

“Yeah. Pretty weird. MTV were quite intrigued by that and then Columbia Records, who they were with, asked who did that song originally. It was relaid that it was this group with a girl. We were touring in Canada at the time, having a small deal with a Canadian label (Attic), and these guys showed up to a show and before we knew it we were signed by Capitol. So that was very much thanks to The Bangles’ covering our song, although it wasn’t really a big hit for them.”

So what about that Walking on Sunshine promo video, on location near Tower Bridge – was that filmed around this time of year? It looked like it was cold that day.

“It was bloody freezing! It was February 3. We had £1,000 to make this video with Chris Tookey, who had previously directed a TV show called Revolver. He’s a film critic now. It was the first we’d ever made and we didn’t have a clue. They told us, ‘We’re going down to the docks. I didn’t know where that was. At the time I was living in Norfolk, near the military bases by the Suffolk border. We came down to London and were walking around what is now an area of luxury condos and flats. At the time it was dilapidated and I don’t know how we got permission to jump around in that warehouse.

“I remember people saying, ‘Mind when you jump, the floor’s really rotten and you could fall through’. They also kept saying, ‘Act like it’s really hot, but there was steam pouring out of my mouth, so I was told to sing but don’t breathe! It was crazy but we filmed the whole thing in about an hour then did the inside shoot. I don’t even know where that was. I think by then the Jack Daniels had come out, and we didn’t really care. I was frozen to the bone. I just wanted it to be over. Of course, the boys are in big army surplus overcoats. They always had it so easy. I had to do all the dirty work, freezing my ass off!”

I get the impression the band were all good mates then, but _ I put it to her – there was a little animosity later, Katrina quitting in ’98 and a legal dispute following.

“Not really, no more so than you’d have in any normal divorce. We knew after we won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1997 that everything was going to change. The perception of the group was completely different. It became all about me and that was a tricky thing.

“I went into BBC Radio 2, working there for a year, and did some musical theatre shows (playing the lead role in Leader of the Pack), wrote a couple of books and kind of did my own thing for a while. Now it’s kind of come back, with this enormous demand for ‘80s music and artists. I think people look back on it with fond memories of a good time, all the nostalgia and sentimentality involved with that.”

Eighties Days: Katrina and the Waves in 1989 (Photo: Michael Halsband)

Eighties Days: Katrina and the Waves in 1989 (Photo: Michael Halsband)

While Katrina will be singing live to track on this tour, I have to ask – is there ever likely to be a Katrina and the Waves reunion?

“Oh no, those guys were older than me and they’ve very much officially retired. “

Despite her Topeka roots, Katrina’s probably more European than most of us, with Irish, German and Czech ancestry and all those country-to-country moves. She certainly doesn’t come over as a great believer in closed borders and xenophobia.

“Well no. I don’t really belong anywhere and I’ve stopped trying to figure out where I do belong. It’s very time-consuming and doesn’t really lead anywhere. It became less and less important to be from some place. But London’s the best place for someone like me – it’s just full of foreigners. We’re all over the place here!”

Going right back, was her early spell in first band Mama’s Cookin’ her pop and rock apprenticeship?

“That was just a way to try and make it in the music business. I was coming out of high school and being put under a lot of pressure by my parents to go to Kansas University and go do the right thing. I put a band together and we played a bunch of cover songs to GIs and other military guys. We did all the RAF and USAF bases. At the age of 18 I was the band’s manager, phoning up these clubs, asking to speak to entertainments managers, saying, ‘Listen, we’ve got a band that plays American music, and the GIs will love it’.

“That’s how we got started, and then a couple of English guys in Cambridge heard I was a good singer and wanted to get a band together with a woman. At the time that was still a novelty. My phone rang and I dragged along my friend Vince (de la Cruz, Katrina’s ex and a fellow ‘USAF brat’ who sang and played slide guitar). We’d known each other since we were teenagers. That’s how The Waves got started.”

Sunshine Seekers: Katrina and the Waves in 1987 (Photo: Simon Fowler)

Sunshine Seekers: Katrina and the Waves in 1987 (Photo: Simon Fowler)

So who were your heroes at that stage? Who first inspired you to front a band?

“It was always Chrissie Hynde. There were so few women that played guitar, and I very much fashioned myself on her, with the hair and the Fender Telecaster. She was another American who came to England, so I took all of my cues from Chrissie. I loved Linda Ronstadt, and had the Patti Smith album. I was very interested in any woman who was making it in the music business. It was same with all the girl groups and writers for those groups like Ellie Greenwich. And I loved the Velvet Underground, fashioning myself after Nico for a while. It always goes back to Chrissie though. And she’s still going.”

Away from her life in music, there’s also Katrina’s publishing sideline, working on the Metropoodle photographic guide books with her partner Sher Harper, centred around their beloved pooch, Peggy Lee. And is that right that there’s an autobiography coming (for Katrina that is, rather than Peggy Lee)?

“I’ve been toying around with that for an awful long time. It’s a very challenging, difficult thing to do. It’s much more fun to work on Metropoodle, the new name for our Peggy Lee Loves London book. She has two books – a London guide and a Cornwall guide, and they’ll both be on Kindle very shortly. They’re photographic books you can use as guide books, full of my favourite aspects of London, where I live, and Cornwall, where I love.”

I was aware of her love for Cornwall through her most recent solo album, Blisland, its title celebrating a small village near Bodmin which Katrina fell in love with.

“Exactly. The Blisland Inn is one of the first places if you’re on your way into Cornwall. It’s great to hang a right there and go grab a beer! I also Iove going down to St Just and Cape Cornwall, very remote, with some fantastic pubs around there. Zennor too, with some lovely drives around there. Really cool.”

I smile at this point, Katrina putting the emphasis on the last syllable of Zennor, just as she had with Norfolk earlier, those tell-tale US tones still there four decades after joining us.

Love Shines: Katrina Leskanich , up close and personal (Photo: Sara L Petty)

And while the ’80s retro circuit continues to call, this May will mark 20 years since the UK’s last Eurovision success. So did Katrina get to properly party in Dublin back in ’97?

“It was insane! We had Prince Charles on one phone and Tony Blair on the other, and the President of Ireland (Mary Robinson), and everybody and their brother came out of the woodwork, offering their congratulations. It was a gigantic party, and what a great place to win. After the show we were sitting around with Terry Wogan drinking Black Velvet, smoking huge cigars, not even having a hangover the next day. When you’re celebrating something as truly magnificent as winning the Eurovision Song Contest when everyone said it couldn’t be done, you’re pretty happy!”

In fact, they won by a record points margin, becoming the most credible victors since ABBA with Waterloo in 1974. And Katrina’s had a hand in the competition since, helping out with various entries in Sweden, Belgium and Austria. She was on the You Decide UK entry panel here last year too. Has she heard this year’s UK entry by Cardiff’s Lucie Jones?

“Yeah … it’s okay. You have to bear in mind you have to come up with something incredibly strong and commercial. I don’t know if that’s it. The Swedes are very good at constructing hit songs and know exactly what they’re doing. There was a song called Euphoria by Loreen – the 2012 Eurovision winner – an amazing song, cleverly crafted, a global smash, one you heard everywhere, and that’s really the calibre we’re talking about.

“Forget about old school Boom Bang-a-Bang. Those kind of quirky novelty songs are never going to win again. People want important, big statements.”

The politics might not help either. We seem to be on a hiding to nothing, seen as a stand-off island wanting to be divorced from Europe anyway.

“Well yeah, there’s a really great excuse this year not to do well, called Brexit. Did no one think that when they voted out? I’m surprised Cheryl Baker didn’t stand up and ask, ‘What’ll happen to the Eurovision?’”

A fair point, if not delivered with a little humour. And is Katrina – set to release the 18-track The Very Best of Katrina retrospective in early May – tempted to head to Kiev for this year’s final?

“No, I’m returning my library book, and won’t be able to make it. Such a shame.”

Telecaster Strut: Katrina Leskanich in live action (Photo: Sara L Petty)

To catch up with this website’s feature/interview with Paul Young, from last December, head here. And for the most recent writewyattuk interview with Howard Jones, try here.

To keep up to date with Katrina, check out her website and stay in touch via her Facebook and Twitter links. There’s also the official Katrina and the Waves website

Katrina will be appearing at Back to the ‘80s Live at Preston Guild Hall on Saturday, April 15 alongside headliner Paul Young, Sonia, Nathan Moore (Brother Beyond), Hazell Dean and Tight Fit, with tickets £25 from the box office (01772 804444) or online via this link.

With thanks to Sher Harper for supplying the extra photographs. 

 

 

 

 

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WriteWyattUK on White Riot … 40 years on

I couldn’t get through Saturday, March 18th, 2017, without mentioning a certain clarion call from the early days of punk, released 40 years ago today – the song that inspired this website’s name. Naive maybe, but so much energy to this day.

That first single from The Clash was a call to arms, although perhaps not in the way Joe Strummer and Mick Jones suggested in the lyrics. To the best of my knowledge, we never got to see Sten guns in Knightsbridge, as mentioned on b-side 1977, but this was more a revolution of the mindset and three weeks later was followed by the release of an inspirational debut album, a mighty influence on so many other great bands that followed and whom I grew to love.

You can go a long way back to pinpoint the seismic moments that shaped the punk and new wave revolution. From the more raucous moments of The Kinks. The Rolling Stones and The Who through to late ’60s/early ’70s US underground outfits such as MC5, The Velvet Underground, The Monks, The Stooges, Captain Beefheart and New York Dolls. Then came the swagger and fan appeal of The Faces and Mott the Hoople – as oppposed to the pomp and ceremony of most of the other prog and rock bands of the time – and back-to-basics thrills of Dr Feelgood this side of the ocean, or Ramones, Patti Smith, Television and Blondie across the Atlantic. The die was cast, and along came The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers and Sex Pistols at the forefront yet among many more great bands emerging or reinventing themselves.

White Riot certainly wasn’t the first shot across the bow. Blitzkrieg Bop was released a year earlier, and on this side of the water we had New Rose in October ’76, five weeks before Anarchy in the UK. Then there was Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP and my hometown boys The Stranglers’ (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) at the end of January ’77.

Incidentally, The Clash began their White Riot tour on March 1st, ’77, on my patch at Guildford Civic Hall, supported by local lads The Jam (who quit the tour soon after), Buzzcocks, The Slits and Subway Sect. London’s Burning sounded the start of a 16-song set that night, including two plays of 1977 (second in, and the final song).

OK, I wasn’t even nine and a half when the single came out, but this sub-two minute blast had consequences, and without The Clash …. well, who knows. I was only finding my feet around then, but my brother and his mates (eight school years above me) were along for the ride and I kind of absorbed it all, to the point that when I started earning a little cash through paper-rounds and weekend labours at a farm shop, Combat Rock was the first album I bought for myself, albeit on cassette. I was 14 and a half then, having little in common with Adrian Mole other than we shared the same school year. The family photos of the time might not suggest it, but I was a punk and new wave kid at heart.

While The Clash and third offering London Calling were rightly seen as seminal moments, it was the album in between – released in late ’78 – that first stopped me in my tracks, so to speak. Those first three songs on Give ‘Em Enough RopeSafe European Home, English Civil War and Tommy Gun (and I knew all the words of the latter two, courtesy of Smash Hits) – really struck a nerve. In fact side one of that album remains a joy for me, and there’ll always be that added nostalgic element.

Anyway, I’ll stop there for now, other than to say this also gives me a chance to put a teaser out there about a major project I’ve just signed up to and which will be taking up a fair bit of my time over the next six months. As Joe Strummer put it 40 years ago, ‘Are you going backwards, or are you going forwards?’ Well, I’ll tell you more soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll have a riot of my own.

 

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A Whole Lotta Zeppelin, with the Black Dog Orchestra

Operatic Setting: The Led Zeppelin Masters show, caught on camera at Sydney Opera House

There’s a treat in store for Led Zeppelin fans next month, as Stairway To Heaven: Led Zeppelin Masters opens its UK run at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, prompting us to get the lowdown from this grand-scale production’s Aussie front-man, Vince Contarino.

Four decades after their final major tour, there’s still a Whole Lotta Love out there for Led Zeppelin, the iconic heavy rock band that first burst on to the scene in 1968 out of the ashes of The Yardbirds.

You probably know the rest – a highly-influential 12-year reign, with eight mega-selling studio albums during that period, ending with the death of drumming legend John Bonham in 1980, aged just 32. Fellow originals Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones appeared together under the band name four times beyond that, first with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums in the summer of ’85 for Live Aid at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, then three times with John’s son Jason Bonham, the last in December 2007 for an Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert at London’s 02 Arena which set a world record for the highest demand for tickets for one music show (with 20 million requests online).

Unlike the other shows, that last gig brought critical praise, fuelling widespread speculation about a full reunion. Page, Jones and Jason Bonham were reported to be willing to tour and work on new material, but Plant was busy with Alison Krauss and said in September 2008 he wouldn’t be involved. Jones and Page reportedly eyed an alternative, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler among the options, but in early 2009 it was confirmed the project had been abandoned. And I reckon it’s fair to say that … erm, remains the same to this day, not least with Page now 73, Plant 68 and JPJ 71.

But there is at least one alternative at hand for diehard fans, not least those who never got the chance to see those songs performed live, and at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on Tuesday, April 18 you can enjoy the opening night of the grand-scale production Stairway To Heaven: Led Zeppelin Masters, featuring a full band complete with a 35-piece Black Dog Orchestra performing 18 Led Zep classics.

The show’s been a huge success Down Under, recently selling out three nights at Sydney Opera House as part of a nationwide Australian tour. And its Adelaide front-man Vince Contarino is looking forward to a similar response here during an eight-date visit also including visits to London Palladium and Edinburgh Usher Hall.

From the raw, metallic blues of Whole Lotta Love to the epic Stairway to Heaven and sheer exhilaration of Kashmir, the show celebrates the timeless legacy of this highly-influential four-piece. And powerhouse vocalist Vince tells us he’s ‘incredibly excited to finally bring this show to the UK, the home of Led Zeppelin’.

Vince, who previously played with Joe Walsh of The Eagles and ex-AC/DC bassist Mark Evans as well as a band called Party Boys, is also a front-man for former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick’s band when they perform in Australia, and his past support roles include those with Alice Cooper, Status Quo and Stevie Marriott.

Good Times: The Led Zeppelin Masters showband in action

Good Times: The Led Zeppelin Masters showband in action

He’s not only featured in four sell-out seasons with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Victoria performing orchestral versions of Led Zep songs, but also helped give Deep Purple’s catalogue the symphonic treatment, performing with late, great keyboard player Jon Lord. It was in 1997 that he turned to theatre with the cross-cultural Theatre Company Doppio Teatro, soon  adding the roles of Judas (Jesus Christ Superstar) and the Pharaoh (Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) to his repertoire at Her Majesty’s Theatre. But how – we asked him – did the Black Dog Orchestra collaboration come about?

“To answer that, we must go back to 2004 when we first decided to play the music of Led Zeppelin with an orchestra. We’d been playing as the Zep Boys for almost 20 years in pubs, clubs, theatres and outdoor festivals, so were looking to do something different.

“It wasn’t so much that we wanted to make the gigs bigger as much as we wanted grandeur. With an orchestra, we could play all the dubbed tracks on a Zeppelin studio track and, at the same time, bring together two different musical performance cultures.

“We played our first orchestral show with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in 2005 and it was a resounding success. The rest is history, going on to perform many more of these shows across Australia. And now here we are getting ready for the UK – the most exciting phase without doubt so far.”

I’m guessing you must have been one of the first recognised tribute acts in the world?

“This could be true. I never heard the term until a few years later when suddenly there was a deluge of tribute bands flooding the scene. I can only speak for Australia, but think it’s become unsavoury and in many cases just done for easy attention and monetary gain. Having said that, only acts that entertain and give audiences what they come to gigs to receive will survive the long haul.”

Three sold-out shows at Sydney Opera House is a testament to the reputation you’ve built in Australia. Did you ever imagine that was possible at the start?

“Never dreamed or dared to dream that. All we wanted to do was a couple of shows at the local pub and have fun playing the music of what we believe to be the greatest rock band ever”.

Twin Attack: Taking the Page and Plant route to success

Twin Attack: Taking the Page and Plant route to success

Understandably, Zeppelin fans are very protective about the music. With you also being fans, how important is it to show respect and honesty to the music and the performance?

“The performance must be true to the catalogue and how those songs were recorded. Even though Zeppelin is blues-based – and blues is all about the moment and how we express ourselves individually. We believe we must stick to the script. We may express and interpret certain themes a little different from the original, but overall need to play the compositions as recorded on the albums so the audience is satisfied. We are strict on this and yet still have room to move within the confines of that material”.

You don’t tend to impersonate the band but allow your own personalities to come through. Was that always part of the plan?

“It was never even a consideration. We’re musicians, not actors. The music is what is important to us, not the clothes or fashion of a bygone era. The performance can only be honest if we are real and celebrate and communicate with the audience using the composition, not the alter-egos of Led Zeppelin themselves”.

Does that mean more emphasis on the music and musicianship, rather than trying to play a role then?

“Absolutely, the music is everything unless of course we want to take the piss. And I’d rather take the piss out of myself than Robert Plant or Jimmy Page. I have way too much respect for them”.

The addition of a 35-piece orchestra adds a new depth and makes for an amazing spectacle. How did you approach the project and arrangements with the orchestra?

“The arrangements are the brainchild of Nicholas Buc. He’s the man that sweated over those and has done a wonderful job – superb. We discussed dynamics and different versions of the songs so we could find a good custom fit. Compositions like Song Remains the Same and Rain Song for instance are different on the live album.

“We wanted to keep elements that we love from both. And of course there are endings that need to be written especially for the fade-out songs. In places Nic has added subtle orchestrations and some that just smack you in the face. The obvious one is Kashmir. However, Achilles’ Last Stand just keeps on building. The beauty of having an orchestra!”

Upwards Direction: No sign of the band being Dazed and Confused here.

Upwards Direction: No sign of the band being Dazed and Confused here.

So are there new interpretations on the old classics?

“Indeed, but as I mentioned some of the changes are subtle and then there are moments that come out of nowhere that simply take your breath away. That’s the wonder of music, introducing unexpected elements that enhance and lift and take you by surprise”.

And finally, tell us again how much you’re looking forward to bringing this show to the UK.

“Are you kidding me? We’re super-excited. We have a crew here in Australia that for logistical reasons we can’t take with us. They’re offering the blood of their firstborn to come – haha! We, the band, are beside ourselves. Some of these concert halls like Bridgewater Hall, Bristol Colston Hall and Newcastle City Hall were gigs Led Zeppelin did themselves. I’m sure they would have done the London Palladium, too.

“We are nervous though, because we want to put on a show that honours and reflects Led Zeppelin with integrity, passion and honesty. We want to be fighting fit and in good form. We are very much looking forward to the UK. In fact, it can’t come soon enough.”

UK April tour dates (tickets on sale through www.ticketmaster.co.uk): 

Tue 18th Manchester, Bridgewater Hall 0161 907 9000 bridgewater-hall.co.uk; Wed 19th London Palladium 0844 412 4655 rutlive.co.uk; Thu 20th Bristol, Colston Hall 0844 887 1500 colstonhall.org; Sat 22nd Newcastle, City Hall 0844 811 21 21 theatreroyal.co.uk; Sun 23rd Edinburgh, Usher Hall 0131 228 1155 usherhall.co.uk; Tue 25th Birmingham, Symphony Hall 0121 780 3333 thsh.co.uk; Wed 26th Southend, Cliffs Pavilion 01702 351 135 southendtheatres.org.uk; Thu 27th Plymouth Pavilions 0845 146 1460 plymouthpavilions.com.

For a quality recent read on Led Zeppelin, this site recommends The Dead Straight Guide to Led Zeppelin by Nigel Williamson (Red Planet, 2014), an essential Led Zep companion detailing the life and after-life of the band, covering all the albums, solo albums and reissues, including an inside track on the author’s 50 favourite tracks and much more. For more details and how to get hold of a copy, head to the Red Planet publisher’s link. 

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Once More … with The Wedding Present

Following this site’s breaking announcement last week comes news of The Wedding Present adding a second night in Preston, Lancashire, having sold out their first summer show at The Continental in super-fast time.

Three decades after their first visit to Preston, the John Peel favourites are now set to play the South Meadow Lane pub venue on Wednesday, July 26th, as well as the following night, with tickets £20, available from 11am today (Friday, March 17th) via wegottickets.com, the venue (01772 499425) or Action Records (01772 884772).

Thursday’s show tickets went on sale last Friday, with all online options gone by the following night. The last were sold by Action Records on Monday morning, the Church Street shop opening early to let in queueing fans.

Support on July 26th is from Miles Salisbury, once of Preston College-formed Blank Students, who did a BBC Radio 1 session for John Peel in 1981.

Kent duo The Catenary Wires are supporting the following night, featuring Talulah Gosh’s Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey. Between them, Amelia and Rob recorded Peel sessions with Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Sportique. What’s more, Amelia has her own Wedding Present heritage, having supplied backing vocals on four memorable tracks on revered debut LP George Best, and five beyond that (appearing on both singles in 1988).

The Wedding Present appeared at the Twang Club, Kent Street, Preston, in January 1986, and have only returned twice more, playing Preston Poly in November 1990 and more recent UCLan venue 53 Degrees in December 2010, scoring 18 top-40 singles and seven top-40 LPs between the first and third visits.

Continental Flavour: Two summer nights now booked for The Wedding Present (Photo: http://www.newcontinental.net)

David Gedge’s four-piece – completed by Charlie Layton (drums), Danielle Wadey (bass) and Marcus Kain (guitar) – are also set to play BBC 6 Music’s festival in Glasgow on Sunday, March 26th, and the Preston show follows a major North American tour and several larger UK and Irish dates. The band will travel on from Lancashire to festival appearances in Derbyshire and on the Isle of Bute. For full details, check out the band’s official Scopitones site.

Meanwhile, Miles Salisbury is also set to commence proceedings at a further Tuff Life Boogie event at The Continental tonight (Friday, March 17th) with headliners Oskar’s Drum, featuring Manchester-based Patrick Fitzgerald (Kitchens of Distinction) and Yves Altana (Chameleons Vox, Wonky Alice, The Chrysalids), and Drahla, a much-feted North Yorkshire outfit channelling Pixies, Giant Drag and Life Without Buildings. For more details of that and further Tuff Life Boogie events head here.

For this blog’s original announcement of the Preston show, and links to past David Gedge and The Wedding Present features on this site, head here.

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Going Going … This Boy Can’t Wait – a writewyattuk exclusive

Huts’ Entertainment: The Wedding Present, 2017. From the left – Marcus Kain, Danielle Wadey, David Gedge, Charlie Layton

I don’t tend to do ‘breaking news’ and ‘exclusive’ splashes on this website, leaving that to the … yawn … competition. But when you’ve got it, perhaps you should flaunt it after all. Go, Man, Go, as a wise man once said. Let those mice Click Click.

So when a promoter you’ve got to know well over the years (yep, Always the Quiet One) tells you about a Mystery Date involving one of your favourite bands ever, you have to Dare to get the Sports Car out and Drive the point home. Besides, You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends, particularly when he’s good enough to let you know in the first place. Thanks.

The head honcho at Tuff Life Boogie might well have said, ‘I’m From Further North Than You’ and kept this news away from me, but instead agreed, ‘Let Him Have It‘, early enough for me to spread the word via this site. But enough of the pre-amble. I’m Getting Nowhere Fast, and you could argue it’s Something and Nothing anyway, but I can’t be anything if I can’t Be Honest. so here’s what’s happening.

Indie favourites The Wedding Present are set for a memorable return to Preston this summer, 31 years after their first visit, The John Peel favourites are the latest big name to play The Continental on South Meadow Lane on Thursday, July 27th, part of the on-going UnPeeled series. with tickets £20, available from today (Friday, March 10th), online via Skiddle and WeGotTickets, through the venue itself (01772 499425), or Action Records (01772 884772).

David Gedge’s four-piece – completed by Charlie Layton (drums), Danielle Wadey (bass) and Marcus Kain (guitar) these days, and set to play BBC 6 Music’s fringe festival in Glasgow later this month – appeared at the Twang Club at the long-gone Caribbean Club on the corner of Kent Street and Canute Street, Preston, in January 1986, long before debut LP George Best. In fact, word has it that Tuff Life Boogie’s Rico la Rocca – then a bright-eyed indie schoolkid – might have had a word in organiser Dave Hindmarsh’s ear to get that booking in the first place.

Continental Callers: The Wedding Present, 2017 – David Gedge looks over (from the left) Marcus Kain, Charlie Layton and Danielle Wadey.

They’ve only returned twice (in fact, Preston’s become a city since those first two visits), in mid-November ’90 at the Polytechnic and then on a memorable winter’s night – with snow falling on the approach to the venue, I recall – on the Bizarro anniversary tour at that educational establishment’s more recent incarnation UCLan’s 53 Degrees venue in December 2010, having scored 18 top-40 singles and seven top-40 LPs between the first and third trips. Actually, I must dig out the review I did for the Lancashire Evening Post at the time of the latter (a year and a bit before this website was up and running).

Despite having seen them more times in Manchester (Granadaland, pop kids?) than anywhere else, I could only find a handful of North West dates for Gedge and co. outside there and Liverpool over the years. Those included two early dates in Lancaster (the Gregson Centre in March ’86* and the Sugar House at the Uni in May ’87), another at Blackburn’s (King George’s Hall, November ’89), and more recent ones at the latter venue (2014), Blackpool (Tower Lounge, 2008) and Clitheroe (The Grand, 2011).

And this Preston show follows a major North American tour and several larger UK and Irish dates this year, this prestigious warm-up at the Conti set to be followed by festival appearances in Derbyshire and on the Isle of Bute.

Anyway, It’s What You Want that Matters. Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm. But seeing as it’s barely a 200-capacity involved, you better get on – Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy! And girls.

I’ll finish with a blatant advert (Once More). For All This And More stay tuned to writewyattuk.com. Ah, It’s a Gas this job. Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah.

  • A subsequent conversation with Amsterdam-based friend of this site Ajay Saggar – of Deutsche Ashram and King Champion Sounds fame, and previously Preston’s Dandelion Adventure, among others – reveals he not only booked The Weddoes for that early ’86 Gregson Centre date, but there’s a lovely muffled recording of it out there on YouTube, linked here

For a taste of what you might get at the Conti from The Wedding Present, check out this recent review from the Boileroom in Guildford.

The writewyattuk review of last year’s Going Going … is here. And for a past appreciation of The Wedding Present on this site (wrapped around a review of 2012’s Valentina), try here.

For Thirty Years in the Business, a writewyattuk interview with David Gedge at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club in the summer of 2014, try here

And for full details of all this year’s Wedding Present dates, check out the official Scopitones website and keep in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

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Look to get to know him well – back in touch with Howard Jones

Stage Craft: Howard Jones live (Photograph copyright: Jose Franciscio Salgado)

It was a cold, grey day as Howard Jones looked out on to the Somerset Levels from his West Country home studio when we caught up on the phone ahead of his latest solo tour. But Spring was on the mind, in what’s already turning out to be another busy year for a seasoned singer-songwriter still selling out venues, 34 years after New Song truly announced his arrival.

That No.3 single and follow-up What Is Love? – which went one better – were the first of six top-10 and 10 top-40 singles for this Southampton-born pioneer of synth-based pop. And all these years on there’s still plenty of public appetite for this likeable Live Aid veteran.

Altogether, Howard has sold more than eight million albums across the globe and is one of a select group of British artists who have comprehensively ‘broken America’. But while equally at home playing Freddie Mercury’s Steinway grand piano at Wembley Stadium in the summer of ’85 – remember those goosebump moments on Hide and Seek? – it seems that the smaller venues hold just as much allure for the 62-year-old.

His on-going series of solo acoustic shows provide more personal settings, in which he thrives, even if he is often worried about re-telling the same tales. An Evening with Howard Jones (The Songs, The Piano and The Stories) offers audiences an intimate journey through a stellar career. Many of his best-known songs were composed on piano, and Howard looks to share a few behind-the-scenes stories and reveal the inspiration behind many of those songs on stage.

The current tour runs through to dates at The Lowry in Salford on Thursday, March 30th (0843 208 6000 or via this link), and a finale at The Grand Theatre in Lancaster on Friday, March 31st (tickets via 01524 64695 or this link). And that last date stokes up a few memories for starters.

“I think I played Lancaster before I even got a record deal, at the University there, and remember going up in a van, before anything had really taken off for me. That’s a long time ago.”

The idea of just you and a piano sharing a stage has proved to be a winning format.

“Yes, and I really enjoy doing them, so that goes a long way towards enthusing people when they come along. I’m really at home doing it. It is a challenge, a lot harder than doing bigger shows with the band, which is a comparatively secure way of doing things. With these it’s different night to night, and every audience has a different personality and you have to find that and engage with that. I really enjoy the challenge of that, and think It helps me to be a better performer and player, pushing me forward.”

Howard’s Way: Synthpop pioneer Howard Jones is coming to a town near you

As you do more and more solo shows, do you find it easier to do the talking between the songs, or was that never an issue?

“The only thing I worry about is whether people have heard the stories before! But when I express that, very few people remember what you actually said last time. And of course, those stories evolve all the time. I’m probably a little paranoid about it though, so I’m constantly on the lookout for new material.”

As you travel up and down the country, do more and more memories come back to you?

“Yes, and I ask fans to tell me which gig they’re coming to and what songs they’d like me to play. That in itself produces the most incredible stories people have about what the songs mean to them. I have so much to say that I could probably do the whole night talking and just do a couple of songs at the end. But I don’t think people would be too happy with that!”

By now I’ve recalled how much fun it is talking to Howard, laughing at the other end of the line. Besides, we agree he goes to so much trouble taking a piano with him that he might as well use it.

We last spoke barely a year ago, ahead of his previous solo tour, which included a return to his old seat of learning, Manchester’s Northern College of Music. We also touched on his family roots, the sad passing of his heroes David Bowie and Keith Emerson, his early mastery of the synthesiser, his Buddhist faith, his famous friends in the industry, his memorable performance at Live Aid …

“So we’ve covered everything already?” he butts in.

Well, it was a long interview, but was a lot of fun and went down very well, I’d say. Besides, I’ve got plenty more to ask him, not least as he’s getting set for a fresh set of engagements on both sides of the Atlantic and at both ends of the earth. I make it 17 dates this month, with three already sold out, I put to him. That’s impressive after all these years, isn’t it?

“Yeah, it’s great. Actually, I think we’ve sold out eight shows now, so it’s progressed since!”

Well, there you go. Howard was always much more than just a pop act, of course, but that’s not always enough in itself to ensure longevity. So it must be very satisfying to see the interest still out there.

“It is great, and I don’t take it for granted. It’s wonderful that people still want to come and see me after all this time, and that’s dependent on doing great shows and people wanting to come back. I don’t have a huge record company behind me now, so it’s all done in a very real way too. And that suits me.”

Looking further ahead, I see there’s a date lined up at Hangar 34 in Liverpool on Friday, May 19th (follow this link for details) too.

“That’s when I’ll be introducing the new band. We’re doing a bunch of festivals in the UK this summer, and I’ve expanded the band, so that’ll be our debut. There’s five of us, and I’m excited by that as well.

“Mainly, the gigs I do are with a band, but I’m trying to make it an annual thing to have a month where I do piano shows, because they’re such fun to do. And that’s a different side to me which doesn’t seem to affect the other gigs. People either like both or one or the other.”

There goes that laugh again, and I point out that those bookings continue to come thick and fast, with his latest month-long trip to America next in mid-July.

“Yes, I’m headlining an American tour, which is very exciting, playing lots of big outdoor venues, something I’ve been working towards for the last three or four years.”

Do you plan to make the most of the six weeks between engagements to carry on with your new LP? I know you’re itching to get something out there.

“Yeah. It’s very difficult to find time to get things done, but I really have to, and have three tracks that are pretty much done. But there’s a lot more to do to get a whole album together. There will be some time in the summer though, and when I get back from America. So hopefully by the end of the year it will be close.”

Spending all that time on tour, I wonder if you’re good at writing on the road, and if so does that involve some form of gadgetry rather than pad and pen these days? Or do you need to be at a piano?

“Usually with me it’s lyrical ideas, and words. I’ve got my phone with me everywhere, so jot things down as notes, which then appear on all my different devices, so I can’t lose them! If I’ve got musical ideas I can use voice memos. I’ve a stack of stuff on there, which I should go back and listen to, see if there’s anything worth culling!”

Life Story: Howard Jones, waiting for an opportunity to finish the next album

Is it something a bit like The Beatles’ way of eventually putting together a few ideas to make one song?

”That’s true. You never know. Usually the very strong ideas stick with you, and don’t disappear, I find. It’s rare that I have a killer tune and then it’s gone. If it’s that good, it stays with you.”

Howard’s forthcoming 24-date headlining Retro Futura tour in the US will see him supported by The Beat, Men Without Hats, Modern English, Paul Young, Katrina (of Katrina and the Waves fame) and Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella Lwin on some shows.

All very exciting, yet on a more contentious issue these are uncertain times in America. And it seems to be a similar tale this side of the Atlantic after last year’s referendum. He recently mentioned these ‘turbulent times’ on his website and a ‘need for good spirits’ and to ‘stand up for the things we value’. I’m guessing as an international performer he’s no little Englander and no great advocate of closed borders.

“Well, broadly, whatever form it takes, we need to work together if we’re going to solve the global problems we have. So really we have no choice other than to work together. That can take many forms and I believe people feel they need a say in what goes on all over the world. I totally respect that and think that’s a good thing.

“Above all that, we really need to collaborate and work together, and that’s hard to do if we’re separated and putting up walls and all that stuff. Philosophically, that’s where I’m coming from, but I feel there are many ways of doing that. We have to find them though, otherwise we’re kind of doomed.”

On a lighter note, since we last spoke you’ve totted up a lot more air miles, including your last stateside dates with Barenaked Ladies and OMD. And then there was a tour Down Under with fellow ‘80s icon Kim Wilde.

“That’s right. We worked out that the best way to get there was to collaborate and share bands and crew. That’s what we did and we had a really great time. I think I laughed more than I have for a decade. It was such fun touring with the Wildes (Kim’s band includes her brother Ricky), and we had a great reception from the Australians. They loved it, and we covered God Only Knows together. That went down really well.”

Those on-going global ticket sales certainly suggest it’s not just the UK where you’re remembered with affection.

“Yeah, because I’ve spent a lot of time doing the groundwork again in the States, I’m starting to see results now. We’re definitely in bigger places playing to bigger audiences. It’s re-established, and while it’s taken America a while to get with that ’80s thing again, that’s started to happen again in a big way, with those audiences coming out to see their favourites.”

There were even ‘80s cruise ship engagements in America, also starring the likes of Rick Springfield, Mike + The Mechanics, Thomas Dolby, and Katrina again.

“That’s right. It’s a big trend now, from jazz to country and more. The new generation of cruise ships have the most amazing theatres, with full lighting rigs and really comfortable seats, holding around 1500 people. I love it, and was out seeing bands every night, like Morris Day and The Time, who played with Prince. Then there was Berlin and many more. For artists, it’s great to see other bands properly from a really good position, rather than from the side of the stage. And every night there’s someone amazing playing.”

There seems to be quite an eclectic mix on those bills too, not just the more obvious ‘80s acts you might expect. For example, I see The Tubes were involved.

“That’s right. It’s a very interesting and new development, and it was fun.”

But before the summer dates here then back in the US with the expanded band, Howard’s concentrating on the solo tour. Last time he had Somerset’s Elise Yuill guesting, and this time it’s US singer-songwriter Rachael Sage. A hand-picked support act again?

“Yes. She contacted me and sent links to her work – music and videos. I really liked it and thought it would make for a nice combination again. And it’s great to have female artists on the tour.”

You should be used to all this after all these years, but how’s life on the road for so long, and does Mrs Jones – his wife Jan, with whom he has three children – join you as much as she can?

“She does. She’s with me the whole time. That’s what makes the difference for me. And because all our kids have left home and are doing their own thing, we’re free to do that. It’s perfect timing.”

Keyboard Warrior: Howard Jones strikes a chord on stage

Finally, as it shares the billing with you, tell me more about that piano coming out with you.

“I’m just waiting for it to turn up, actually. Roland are sending a piano which I haven’t tried yet. I’ve got several options, but I’m really hoping it’s turning up today and I’ll get going with it.”

A proper road-test then.

“Yes, I’m trying to work towards getting the perfect piano sound live. I’m spoiled, because I have a Steinway at home, the most unbelievably-wonderful piano to play.”

I’m guessing taking that is not an option.

“No, I’d need a crane to take it with me. So it’s about finding something that gets close to that. I’ll probably be searching for the rest of my life, but it’s getting closer.”

That said, when you played Lancaster Uni back in the day, I’m guessing you weren’t likely to have had more than a couple of Casio synths in the back of the van.

“No, it would have been the Moog Prodigy, the Pro-One, the 808 drum machine, and a Juno 6 (both Roland) back then!”

Telling Tales: Howard Jones, all set for his latest solo tour

To catch up with the last writewyattuk interview with Howard Jones, from February 2016, head here.

For further details about An Evening with Howard Jones (The Songs, The Piano and The Stories) and other shows this year, try Howard’s official website. You can also keep up to date via Facebook and Twitter

To find out more about Rachael Sage, you can follow her via Facebook and Twitter.

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King Champion Sounds – Preston, The Continental

On Track: Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera was the perfect backdrop for King Champion Sounds' winning performance.

On Track: Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera was the perfect backdrop for King Champion Sounds’ winning performance.

There’s something about an unconventional marriage of inspirational music and film that always appeals to me, and I’ve been spoiled for choice on that front of late.

In my formative days on the ‘80s London circuit I recall a venue juxtaposing Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album Time Out with 1973 science fiction Western fantasy Westworld. And it somehow worked, staying with me long after forgetting which band was on that night.

A quarter of a century on, Public Service Broadcasting’s live use of archive documentary backdrop helped re-energise the concept of the music video after the MTV years arguably drained such creativity. And in 2012, the year I first caught PSB’s London Will Take It and Spitfire, British Sea Power (what is it with these three-word names?) gave us From the Sea to the Land Beyond, adding their own cinematic soundscape to evocative footage.

a0285878620_10Two years later, we also had King Creosote’s spin on that theme, From Scotland with Love, and since then I’ve witnessed The Magnetic North’s Symphony to Orkney and Prospect of Skelmersdale masterfully blending expressive compositions with poignant moving pictures.

Which brings me to Friday and a snatched couple of hours on a busy weekend, timed perfectly to catch King Champion Sounds, all the way from Holland for a starring role on night one of the wondrous Vernal Equinox Festival in Preston, Lancashire.

Taking on co-promoters Tuff Life Boogie, Concrete Tapes and They Eat Culture’s ‘something new’ Spring theme, we got a UK exclusive, this revered Anglo-Dutch septet providing a mighty live soundtrack for Man with a Movie Camera, a cult 1929 foreign feature and one which any self-respecting student of film should be aware of.

New Amsterdam: The many faces of King Champion Sounds

New Amsterdam: The many faces of King Champion Sounds

This work-of-art silent documentary by Russian director Dziga Vertov and his wife Elizaveta Svilova (with cinematography by Mikhail Kaufman) seems every bit as fresh and innovative nine decades after its release, the camera techniques and editing as intriguing as its story of sorts, told through ordinary ‘Soviet citizens’ going about everyday lives, at work and at play in Ukrainian cities Odessa, Kiev and Kharkov, as well as Moscow.

It’s far more than pure nostalgia on celluloid though, several composers drawn to add their own soundtracks over the years, notably including Michael Nyman in 2002. Accordingly, you’d think it wouldn’t need a new score, yet King Champion Sounds take it to new heights for my money, filling the sonic gaps perfectly.

a1795581769_10Taking Stu Sutcliffe’s approach to live performance to a new high, KCS mastermind and axe-meister Ajay Saggar – a John Peel sessioneer with the bands Dandelion Adventure and Donkey – barely caught our eye, so wrapped up was he in focusing on the big screen beyond.

The same went for Oli the bass player, who along with workman-like drummer Mees proved key to this time-sensitive concept working, while Danielle added further wondrous guitar touches, and brass duo Ditmer (sax) and Chris (trombone) brought further rich colour for this veritable feast on the eyes and ears.

That left vocalist G.W. Sok (former The Ex frontman) to do his performance poetic thing, side-on to the audience, again concentrating on the images throughout, adding real live presence at one moment, yet just another arms-folded movie-goer between verses.

I was soon hooked, ensconced with pint in hand as the band opened the gate on their Ghetto of Eden, one of three highly-emotive tracks from second LP Songs for the Golden Hour, on-screen Odessa waking up to a JJ Burnel-type bass rumble as this left-field collective quickly acquitted themselves to such an ambitious task.

Walk Away: King Champion Sounds and visions in harmony at the Conti

Walk Away: King Champion Sounds and visions in harmony at the Conti

The uptempo, metronomic drive of Orbit Macht Frei and deep-throated throb of World of Confusion – the first of four selections from 2013 debut platter Different Drummer – took us forward with aplomb as the trams transported us to our city workplaces.

For my money, King Champion Sounds seem to be caught somewhere between The Blue Aeroplanes, Can, The Fall, Happy Mondays and PiL, while the horn section brings a brand new Pigbag sensibility. And while that combination might not scream ‘perfect fit’ for this venture, it works … and so well.

Mees and Oli led us from both sides as we ploughed into another highlight, Waiting for Measures, then jerky, quirky, Beefheart-baked The Year 500, while the more dreamy Shouting at the Moon – oh, the irony of our esteemed Low Country frontman inviting this happy breed of indoor festival-goers to reach for the top – gave rise to the brass-heavy splendour of Here We Go Again. Yes, think of The Go! Team covering a medley of The Beat’s Twist and Crawl and Department S’s Is Vic There? Glorious.

downloadAs the images kept coming, the breezily discordant Point Blank – the first of two sonic blasts from last year’s To Awake in that Heaven of Freedom – neatly complemented Vertov’s high-energy parade of sporting moments. This time, imagine an X-Ray Spex fitness video, and you’re not far off.

Epic finale Mice, Rats and Roaches took us briefly into a Stranglers-like underworld beneath those Soviet streets before the climax, although the scheduling must have been a minefield for band and promoter alike, and a late start for KCS led to a further theatrical twist, a member of last-on Mugstar tugging at GW’s sleeve towards the end, an animated discussion ensuing before the credits rolled, the angst quickly forgotten and hugs traded. And for me that proved to be something of a microcosm for all that came before and was to follow during this mud-free fest, one oozing with full-on, impassioned indie spirit.

King Champion Sounds followed this appearance with Saturday’s Fallow Cafe stop-off in Manchester, Ajay later adding, “The plan was always to make three albums and take it from there. The first cycle is complete. There will be another one to follow.”

I’m pleased to hear that, and of Friday’s spin cycle apogee I’d say our Amsterdam visitors supplied enough creative Vertovian flair to own the place, their celebration of sound and vision doing all the talking.

To keep in touch with the world of King Champion Sounds, head to their Facebook page via this link. And to download digital copies of their first three albums and new single Fool Throttle, try this Bandcamp link.

With thanks to Ajay Saggar and Chris Trombonist for use of the live images.

Silent Secrets: A still from 1929 classic Man with a Movie Camera

Silent Secrets: A still from 1929 classic Man with a Movie Camera

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