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The Byrds – I heard the single ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ long before I knew Dylan’s original version.  In fact, The Byrds brought Dylan to a much wider audience. Their take on the song was simply brilliant, those fabulous ringing guitars and the sweet vocals just make the song wonderful.   But back then in 1965 I was so in love with the Beatles that I had no time for these new American kids -they seemed to be copying the Fabs with their haircuts and all. But listening now to their records which I bought much later, I realise they were just as important, just on a different trajectory.  Their first album, Mr. Tambourine Man, has all the landmarks of the Byrds sound – the country twang, the chiming guitars and the gorgeous harmonies.  Best songs ‘I’ll feel a whole lot better’, ‘Bells of Rhymney’ and another Dylan classic ‘Spanish Harlem Incident.’  An incredible debut.   Later that same year they released Turn Turn Turn; this is a more folky record, maybe in the rush to release a follow-up they had not written quite so many new songs.  The record companies worked bands pretty hard in those days.  There are, as became their trademark, a handful of Dylan covers and a few traditional folk songs.  The best was the title track , ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ and ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’ plus a bonus track on the CD re-issue ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’.  1966 saw Fifth Dimension, and you could really feel the band moving on.  This was the year The Beatles put our Revolver; in many ways ’66 was the revolutionary year, when Psychedelia was just beginning.  This record was far more experimental with the wonderful ‘8 Miles High’, which many took as a drug song when it is about flying to London, the weird ‘What’s Happenin’ and the brilliant ‘Mr. Spaceman – there was still room for the more traditional and beautiful ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.  Lead singer Gene Clark (see C) left in the middle of recording and vocals were completed by Crosby (see C) and McGuinn.  Interestingly no Dylan covers this time – the band were now writing their own material.   A year later they released ‘Younger Than Yesterday’, a somewhat mixed record, it doesn’t seem to hang together.  Maybe the band was struggling or experimenting with acid by now.  Some songs are good ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock’n’Roll Star’ and the Dylan cover ‘My Back Pages’, some really spaced out weird guitar breaks McGuinn called Raga Rock, vaguely Indian but meandering and boring.  And a couple of Crosby slow songs which seem to be going nowhere.  Early ’68 saw a better album The Notorious Byrd Brothers.  But even here the band seem a bit disjointed; hardly surprising as drummer Michael Clark and Crosby both left during the recording of the record, though they both feature on many of the songs.  Not a bad record surprisingly – the band moving into newer sounds and using brass in some tracks even.  The delightful ‘Goin’ Back’ – a Goffin King song, never bettered reminds us of the original folk-pop sound of the Byrds. Now many people say that the country-folk sound first came about on ‘Sweetheart’ , their next album with Gram Parsons – but the seeds were sown and are all too apparent on this very good record.  Songs like ‘Old John Robertson’ would fit perfectly on the follow-up.  But really there isn’t a poor song on the record – a treat; in some ways the excesses of ’67 were being redressed, just as The Beatles were doing with the White Album, the Byrds were doing with Notorious.  Fave songs also include ‘Draft Morning’ and ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’



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Tim Buckley This was Jeff Buckley’s father, though he died when Jeff was a small boy.  Tim was a singer songwriter in the mid-sixties; he never really achieved fame, but he was around.  He died of a heroin overdose in 1975.  I only have one record  – Goodbye and Hello from 1967.  Strangely for a 1967 record it sounds more dated than the Beatles and the Byrds records.  But I still like it; naïve and gentle and angry by turns it still sounds good. Best songs…’No Man Can Find The War’, ‘Once I Was’ and the psychadelic ‘Phantasmagoria in Two’.  A sweet record.

Jake Bugg For those of you who may feel that I have yet to move into the current Century, I do, quite regularly, try out new artists.  One such was Jake Bugg; and really he is quite good; very much in the singer-songwriter vein – this record could have been released any time in the last sixty years.  It is remarkably lyrical and gentle.  But…somehow it hasn’t made me jump up and go straight onto Amazon to buy more – I have the one self-titled album.  Not that there is anything wrong with it – just that my playlist (ever-changing) is full of new stuff by established artists, as well as re-listening constantly and in alphabetical order (no-one ever said I wasn’t anal) to my old favourites.  Best songs ‘Lightning Bolt’aand ‘Simple as This’.  But the name is stuck in my back-boiler mind and while whiling away time in charity shops if I come across any others of his I may well snap them up.

Buffalo Springfield – Well, this was the band that many people think started it all.  The country-rock thing, which has turned into Americana.  But the Byrds (see B soon) were well down this road too; the truth is always more complicated.   The band was just one of those emerging out of California in the mid-sixties.  But it did have Neil Young and Stephen Stills in it.  I have a collection (they only made three records, and Neil had left by the last one), called Retrospective.  It is pretty good, but Neil’s songs really stand out; best songs – ‘For What it’s Worth’ ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ – but it is all quite good really. Just over two years and the band had split – the rest is History.

Eric Burden – again a charity shop purchase.  Of course I knew him from the Animals. I s aw the CD and thought I would see what he was up to…it is a live album and quite good, very bluesy, and he does a few Animals songs too.  But this was simply a touch of nostalgia on my part.  An excellent version of Tobacco Road too.

Kate Bush – just how many fantastic Artists flourished and flowered in the fertile soil of the Sixties and early Seventies?  Kate was just one more precocious teenager who sung like an angel and had the classic English rose looks too.  I have only her greatest hits (and Red Shoes on cassette) but have always meant to buy others of hers.  Her debut single ‘Wuthering Heights’ has hardly been bettered, even by Kate; it is preposterous and crazy and quite wonderful.

Bernard Butler – he was the guitarist with Suede, one of the Britpop bands of the mid-nineties, not one of my favourite groups – but sort of okay.  The record, Friends and Lovers is alright, I quite like it.  But not enough to buy anything else by him.  So it goes…


Three Revolutions

1 – America  1776 This was a Revolution by relatively wealthy landowners and merchants who had colonised the east coast of America.  They rebelled against the authority of the British Crown; essentially this was a revolt against taxation without representation.  Largely because these colonies were so far away the revolution was not easily supressed.  Eventually these separatist colonies formed a Union and elected a President, who unlike the kings of Europe had no hereditary succession but were to be elected.  They also had a declaration of citizens rights.  These were two new departures and had lasting consequences.  The importance of the individual and the idea of the pursuit of happiness, even if in early drafts this was the pursuit of property – were indeed a new basis on which to run society.   And this persists to this day in the ideas of Conservativism, that individual freedom is more important than any consideration for others.

2 – France 1789 This was really a different type of revolution, driven by poverty and oppression of the masses by the Aristocracy.  The Revolution was soon hijacked by a few radical individuals who pursued those born into riches and power ruthlessly.  Eventually this led to the rise of a new ‘king’ – Napoleon.  But the ideas of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality are still at the heart of the French constitution; that all men (not sure anyone was that concerned about women) are brothers and free from oppression and equal under the law.  These ideas have been more or less universally accepted by most Western countries – and are in some ways the opposite of the American ideal.

3 – Russia 1917 This was again brought about by incredible hardship, but also military defeats and an unbending Royalty.  This was a longer lasting revolution, and again it was taken over by a corrupt elite.  The main idea of this communist pursuit was that the individual was completely at the service of the state; the state being the physical manifestation of the will of the people.  Of course, this failed, but not after scaring the ruling elites in most other Nations to their core; the fear of the mob was the main driver of the huge increases in standards of living for poorer people in the West.  Without the Russian revolution decent working conditions, decent housing, health services and education would have been far harder to achieve.  Without the example of Communism they are slowly being eroded.

No-one can say if there will be any further Revolutions, but it doesn’t seem likely.  But the battles continue – the individual versus society, the freedom to do as one likes against the freedom from the oppression by those who are stronger than others, Government for the rich and powerful or for the many, the power of the individual against the power of the state.  Many died, especially in the last two revolutions – but the ides still live on.  We must never forget them.


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Bright Eyes – every so often, and far too often, the music press decides on the next big thing.  And Bright Eyes was one of these.  They re  actully a band, or to be honest a one man band; Conor Oberst.  They sort of ignored his first few albums, but raved about Digital Ash In A Digital Urn – which I bought.  I sort of wish I hadn’t; it is okay, pleasant voice, okay songs, etc; etc;  But not a favourite by a long way.  A couple of years back I also bought Letting Off The Happiness in a charity shop.  The name was familiar and I thought I’d give him another listen.  This was an earlier (1995) record.  And it is even worse…in fact, having re-listened I may just take them both to the nearest charity shop, where they belong – or, I may not.

Jackson Brown was around form the early Seventies, and his name was bandied about – but my ears were too full of James Taylor and Neil young and Joni and Leonard, and of course Bob – that I had no time for him.  But of late I bought his greatest hits The Next Voice You Hear.  Well it is okay, the songs  are competent, the singing is good – but somehow it just doesn’t do it for me.  Nothing to complain about really, just doesn’t excite me at all. A pity really, but there you go.  I also have a live double album Love Is Strange, from quite late in his career.  Quite Latin tinged.  Again, perfectly pleasant, but not special in any way at all.

Jeff Buckley – a very interesting character.  He was the son of Tim Buckley, a Sixties singer-songwriter who infamously took his own life.  Jeff only made one record in his life Grace, before he too died far too young.  Co-incidence, who knows?  But Grace (1994) is a remarkable, record; some self-penned songs and some covers -most notably ‘Hallelujah´by Leonard Cohen.   He had a remarkable voice; high and clear and very emotional, it almost feels as if he is on the point of crying at times.  Well, he died, before fame cold reel him in.  Only one album recorded too, even if it was brilliant.  But a live record soon came out – Mystery White Boy.  Excellent live versions of many of the songs from Grace, and a few others too.  As live albums go it is pretty good, but a bit overlong.  Also demo’s and half finished songs for a proposed second album emerged – Sketches for my girlfriend, the drunk.  Well I find this all a bit tedious.  These are mostly unfinished songs and very samey.  I imagine that even more junk will be exhumed and presented for sale – but I won’t be buying them. Grace was brilliant – but we will never know what else could have been…

He died while swimming in a river in 1997, and his reputation has only grown since then.  His version of ‘Hallelujah’ is hailed by m any as the best of all time – but I still prefer Leonard’s….He died while swimming in a river in 1997, and his reputation has only grown since then.

The Brexit Fiasco

Well, even the most hardened Brexiteers are now looking crest-fallen.  Their only alternative to accepting a weak and woolly Brexit is to bring down their own Government, cause a General Election – and still almost certainly be left with a disaster of a Brexit on their hands.

The problem is, and has always been, that Brexit will be a disaster.  Even if we simply left but remained in the Single Market and Customs Union we would have been weakened economically and, just as importantly, as a strategic power.  There is a saying that there are two types of European Country – ones that have realised they are small countries, and those that haven’t realised it yet.  And Britain is definitely still in the second camp.  We no longer have an Empire, we belong to a Commonwealth which largely despises us for our Colonial past, and hangs together more through loyalty to the present Queen than anything else.  There are simply three main economic power blocks in the World today – America, China and Europe.  And our only real hope in the future is to remain part of Europe.  Stay in and change things from within.  Even if we leave with nothing (which is still unlikely) we will have to obey all the EU rules if we want to trade with them at all.

But, it looks as if there will be an almighty fudge.  This is the only way out of the mess we have driven ourselves into.  We will technically leave in March next year, champagne corks will pop, Mrs. May will be toasted.  But, nothing will change – and nothing will have been decided -YET.  Everything will be postponed and decided in the (at the moment) 21 month transition period, where there will be NO transition at all until yet more compromises are squeezed out of the very sour lemon that is all that will be left of our negotiating team.  We will undoubtedly have to remain in the (or some sort of) customs union.  And we may even have to continue accepting European free movement – possibly with some face-saving conditions.

The whole thing has been a fiasco, from start to finish.  And whatever finally emerges will be worse than what we had and have so needlessly have thrown away.



The Serena Controversy

I am really quite amazed that there is any controversy at all.  I did not watch the whole match but the incident has been replayed almost constantly on 24 hour news, and also the rather petulant press conference after the match.  Let me firstly say that the Williams sisters, and Serena in particular have been incredible role models, overcoming prejudice and achieving so much in the sport; in fact they have been so dominant for over two decades that by their longevity alone they are wonderful.

But the debate has centred on Serena’s argument that she was treated badly because of sexism by the umpire in particular and by the whole tennis establishment in general.

Now, let me also say that, sadly, Serena lost her temper and abused first her racquet and then the umpire, even stating that he would never umpire another match of hers.  I am not sure if even she has the power to order that, however – it was a poor performance on this occasion.  She had done incredibly well after having a difficult pregnancy and birth only a year before to have got to the final, when women 20 years younger than her were swept aside by her brilliant tennis.  But yesterday was not a good day for her.  She was already losing, and her outburst was punished according to the rules.

Now, you could argue that the umpire was inconsistent (but not in this match – as the Japanese girl did not behave badly) – but as we know too well, referees are often inconsistent, even in the same match.  But not on this occasion.  Had Serena just accepted the point deductions, firstly for her coach attempting to advise her (he has admitted this) and then for smashing her racquet this would have all been forgotten.  But her verbal abuse and later press conference sadly made the situation far worse. Her accusations of sexism are quite ridiculous.  Many men have behaved badly and argued with the umpire and most have been punished for it.  Incidentally this all started with McEnroe and Connors who bullied umpires in order to unsettle their opponents.  It seems a particularly American lack of Sportsmanship.

In all sports the referee or umpire should be respected and any dissension should be punished.  I am also appalled in football to see players surrounding and shouting at the ref.  Send them all off – men or women, makes no difference.  I am amazed at the furore this sad incident has stirred up, with many women joining in and saying it was sexism.  None of them has even acknowledged how badly Serena behaved on this occasion; she has not apologised to the referee or to the tournament or to the public.  If we want to have a sensible discussion about institutional sexism let us at least be grown up about it and stop defending the indefensible.  This trivial storm in a teacup does nothing to promote women’s equality and in fact diminishes the real struggle many poor women face; after all Serena is incredible well-paid, even for coming second occasionally.  We should all be concentrating on real sexism, in the workplace and how it applies to women who don’t happen to be multi-millionaires.


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Billy Bragg continued – Five years later and Billy brought out a new LP; William Bloke.  I am sure that musicians suffer, just like authors from writer’s block, or maybe it is a lack of confidence, a fear that you will never match up to your former glories, or maybe just life – marriage, kids, etc: get in the way.  And also the money from previous hits must help and soften the desire to put out another record.  Joni once said that “No-one ever asked Van Gogh to paint another ‘Starry Night’.  Maybe not the best example; but we do expect a lot of our current musical heroes, we simply expect them to keep coming up with brilliant tunes and great lyrics.  Some have managed it, but most fail – or not exactly, but they and we realise that their best was behind them.  Anyway, the record; it is okay, though not his best, he sounds a bit tired, no joie de vivre, no excitement, no anger in his voice.  But some good songs – ‘From Red to Blue’, ‘The Space Race Is Over’ and ‘Northern Industrial Town’.

Then a break of 6 years until 2002’s England, Half English. Well this is much more like it.  Billy is playing with his touring band ‘The Blokes’ and this is a far more upbeat album.  Much more like some of his earlier ones, the songs are good too.  The whole point of the record was to say that English now means multi-cultural, black, brown and white all mixed up but with English values.  Impossible to define but after all the anti-immigrant shit swilling around, a pleasant and refreshing change.  A few very good songs, rolling along ‘St. Monday’ and ‘Another Kind of Judy’ – the sublime ‘Sometimes I see the Point’, and the heavy political ‘NPWA’ (No Power Without Accountability). We almost thought we had the old Billy back – but he had other ideas, or rather other paths to tread.   He collaborated with American band Wilco to write and sing songs based on some lost lyrics of Woody Guthrie.  The result Mermaid Avenue was quite interesting.  But, it didn’t feel like a Billy Bragg record, a few songs are good – ‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ and ‘Ingrid Bergman’. Then another gap until 2008 and Mr Love and Justice; not a great record really.  The songs are okay I suppose, but something seems missing.  It may just be that an old man getting angry isn’t half as attractive as a young one, and Billy was at least fifty by now.  Best songs – ‘The Beach is Free’ and ‘Sing Their Souls Back Home’.

The last Billy record I bought was 2013’s Tooth and Nail.  But this really isn’t a Billy Bragg album at all.  It is a very competent Americana one, and worst of all sung in an American accent.  Well, the songs are okay – as sad country songs, but I want Billy to sound like Billy Bragg.  Still a few good lines ‘If you continue chasing rainbows, you’re bound to end up getting wet’.  I am not sure if I will buy any more – unless the critics declare he is back to his old self again.   But just to finish off  – the icing on the cake, is a brilliant compilation album; Must I paint You A Picture’ – all the best of his early records.  Makes me smile every time I hear it.

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Where The Hell Are We?

We are living in an age of almost limitless information, there is 24 hour news on several competing channels, there is the internet with it’s plethora of established and new Media, all giving us tons of information.  And yet, I am sure I am not alone in feeling that the more I hear the less I know.  And it isn’t only the Media, the internet, social media – which are full of confusing and conflicting information.  We simply cannot understand what is happening; our leaders (laughable mostly, almost cartoon characters) bleat out one thing one day and another tomorrow.  We are lost in an overwhelming tide of conflicting slogans, denunciations and conciliatory gestures.  At least in the old Cold War, we knew who the enemy was (hahaha).  Now we have dire warnings of recrimination against Russia (now no longer Red but a dirty smudgy greyish blue – but who cares) if they support Assad in reclaiming hic own country from rebel forces we have paid for and trained and supported.  And yet only a few weeks ago Trump was cuddling up to Putin and saying he could do business with him.  Our own Prime Minister drags up the Salisbury poisoning whenever she is becoming bogged down in Brexit bad news, making accusations which have never been tested in any court (and unlikely to be too) insisting that Putin himself must have given the orders to murder at least Mr. Skripal (maybe his daughter was collateral damage, or maybe she was actually the target – who knows).  And six months – yes, that long, after the attempted murder – two suspects are named and unbelievably they are just beginning to de-contaminate the actual house the Skripals were living in.

And Brexit is just as confusing.  Rumours abound and every comment, loose or guarded, uttered or overheard is seized upon.  Are Mrs. Mays red lines really fixed or are they already being smudged?  Are the EU really united?  Does M. Barnier really think the UK proposals are dead in the water, or a basis for negotiating – who knows?  And back home; is Boris really plotting to overthrow Madame? Will Rees-Mogg send in the 48 signatures?  Will his group really vote against any Brexit deal?  Will Labour actually come down off the fence and stand up for the Remain voters? Who knows? And even if we find out, will any of it make any sense, or indeed any difference?

And so the show goes on.  Trump now makes us laugh with his nonsensical tweets.  We watch with fascination the soap opera of Boris and May….but maybe we should really be trying to understand just where the hell we are now.



The Reproduction Of Art

Almost all Art today is reproduced and we are happy to receive it that way.  We have perfected (almost) the experience of the original into that of the multiple.  But it wasn’t always that way.  Art itself – paintings especially were reserved for the rich; but there was plenty of Art in churches, and a few statues in large towns.  But many people drew and painted for their own joy; you didn’t need too much money really.  And when printed books became available it wasn’t long before illustrations appeared – but it was really the invention of photography which enabled Art to be reproduced.  Though I have found that there is nothing quite like seeing the originals to take your breath away.  And surprisingly the thing which affects me most is the size.  We are used to seeing books of reproduction, or computer images of a standard size.  The Seurat of ‘Les Baigneuses’ in the National Gallery is massive.  It takes up a whole wall and is amazing.  Likewise in the Orangerie in Paris, Monet’s Waterlillies is in two purpose built oval rooms and extends right round the walls, the observer sitting in the middle and surrounded by huge waterlilies, which on closer inspection are broad brush strokes of vivid colour which somehow coalesces into recognisable form as you retreat.  No reproductions can begin to do them justice.  Likewise sculpture is almost un-reproducible, there is nothing like Michelangelo’s ‘David’, all copies look just like that.  And the strange rounded figures of Henry Moore look quite silly in photographs but are imposing in reality.

Cinema took off in the early Twentieth Century, and suddenly stories could be shown, much like on the Stage at first.  But Cinema has taken on a life of its own, with it’s images ever more wondrous (and for me, with CGI, ever more pointless).  And even here now this is reproduced on DVD (itself a dying format) and able to be streamed onto your very own screen shortly after being released.

Music became reproduced in the last Century too.  And of course, this is how I mostly hear Music.  Though there is really nothing like hearing music live; we are lucky here in SW France, as there is plenty of excellent live music.  And now we have Spotify and other services streaming anything you like onto your phone and right into your very own headphones.  An Alladin’s lamp indeed.  Although I cannot quite accept it, and still like to own at least a first generation reproduction and spend an inordinate amount of money on CDs.  I like to see them on the (many) shelves, in Alphabetical order; I sometimes run my fingers over their serried ranks, almost hearing snatches of them as my fingers drift past.

What the future will hold as computer technology increases is almost unfathomable.  Real 3D reproductions may be available, with ‘real’ actors in our sitting rooms maybe, or immersing us in the very landscape of the painting, or us being and actor in a film – who knows?  But there will still be nothing quite like the real thing; though whether we will still be able to tell the difference is another thing.


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Billy Bragg – erupted on the scene in 1983, much like an over-ripe boil, full of anger and slashing raw guitar chords and brilliant lyrics and an even rawer East London accent.  A hang-over from the punk-era but mixed with left-wing politics and folk songs, Billy was a real breath of fresh air in a smoother than smooth music industry easing itself comfortably into it’s third decade of dross.  I caught up with Billy in 1987 when I bought Back to Basics, a compilation of his first three albums and EPs.  You can feel the transition from just electric guitar strumming to more complex arrangements – but the words are just as hard hitting, whether bewailing the Political situation or his early army training or singing about teenage love affairs in a totally un-romantic way.  The record is naïve and very basic and yet still relevant.  Why is nobody shouting about the obscenity of the Tories today?  He had a very minor hit with ‘A New England’ which was then picked up by Kirsty MaColl who had a top ten hit with it.

But Billy was never about fame and fortune; simply making enough money to survive and get his message home was enough; in a way he was far more genuinely a punk than any of those who had come a decade earlier.  Anyway, these early songs are quite brilliant, if often very short.  Stand-out tracks – ‘Tank Park Salute’, ‘St. Swithin’s Day’ and ‘A Lover Sings’ and ‘Between the Wars’. But the album leaves me a bit cold, the struggle against Thatcherism seems s long time ago, and we lost that battle.  In some ways this record seems older than even the Beatles, almost early 20th Century.  Still, a remarkable achievement to even get these songs recorded.   Billy was releasing singles and Eps and short albums during the early eighties – my next record was another collection of these called Reaching to the Converted.  Another great collection of songs; which are now beginning to be filled out with more instruments and subtler melodies – no longer shouting but singing.  The lyrics continue to amaze “How can you lay there and think of England when you don’t even know who is in the team” or “My concrete is more impressionable when it’s wet” He really was a working-class hero and poet.  Best songs ‘Shirley’, ‘Sulk’, the spoken ‘Walk Away Renee’ and ‘Accident Waiting to Happen’.   The Interntionale followed in 1990, an un-apologetically left-wing album, as if we had dared to forget Billy’s credentials.  Again an interesting record, great songs sung with much gusto.   The slim album is filled out with some live tracks and rarities. But at over 60 minutes it gets a bit tiring, not his best album really.  That was the following year’s Don’t Try This At Home, a real triumph. From opener ‘Accident Waiting To Happen’ it just rolls along; a great variety of songs – the sad admission of ‘Moving The Goalposts’, to the brimming joy of ‘Sexuality’ (Just because you’re gay – I won’t turn you away; if you hang around I’m sure we can find some common ground). The mysterious ‘Cindy of a Thousand Lives’ and a great rendition of ‘Dolphins’.  Not a bad song on the record, great production (at last), varied instrumentation and brilliant tunes; Billy had grown up with this record.

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