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November 2016 – upcoming gigs – Spratleys Japs recreated live in Brighton, co-starring Stephen Evens, Emily Jones and sundry Brighton psychedelic talent (19th November)

16 Nov

'Spratleys Japs Live', 19th November 2016Though it’s long sold out (Facebook and local word-of-mouth rendering any blog efforts unnecessary), I thought I’d tip the hat to Saturday’s Brighton revival-cum-recreation of the obscure and short-lived Spratleys Japs, the first full live outing that the project’s songs have ever had.

Nominally a band, one which first wormed its way out into the light back in 1999, Spratleys Japs were one of the more enigmatic branches of the Cardiacs family. Head Cardiac Tim Smith composed the cryptic bulk of it, played bass guitar and organ, and added scratchy vocals; his then-girlfriend Jo Spratley sang bright and artless (like an urchin sparrow) and dabbled in theremin and flugelhorn. Tone and shape was inspired by a gloriously malfunctioning Mellotron keyboard on loan from ‘Tron historian Andy Thompson – its antique tape-replay system disrupted; its brass and string sounds invaded and polluted by grand staggers, stammers and dark blarts.

The rest of the instrumental roles were filled by the Rev-Ups, a Mexican desert band transplanted across the Atlantic and camping out in the New Forest. Dibbling around in Spratleys history brings you more information, albeit in baffling crepuscular fashion. There are stories of cutlery-hoarding obsessives hunched over humming home-made electronics; of a dilapidated old valve-tech recording studio buried deep in the Hampshire woods (“a bit rotten and a bit covered in leaves and rats, and rats spiders… ‘Doctor Who’ stylee control room… wiring swung between olden telegraph poles…”); and of vocals recorded “at dusk, in the drizzle”, bounced off the surface of a stagnant pond.


 
All very interesting, but probably spurious. It’s true about the ailing ‘Tron (and some elements of the dank forest sessions story might even be based on reality) but Spratleys were, in all likelihood, a Jo and Tim duo project: something cooked up through Smith production wizardry and swathed with the usual Cardiacs thicket of playful disinformation and purposefully eccentric mythology. In the decade following the album release, there was occasional talk about taking Spratleys to the stage, none of which came to anything: Tim’s near-fatal stroke and heart attack in 2008 finally put paid even to the talk.

What was left was the music – one album, one single with extra scraps – and very interesting it was too, be it the twinkling, seething, termite’s-nets funk of Fanny, the nursery piano and Wagnerian choir of Sparrows or Tim whispering an endless meandering verse over a strummed bass in Oh. Half of Cardiacs’ songbook had always been weirdly Arcadian, yearning out and away from regimented urban suburbia into a half-imagined clotted English greenwood full of growing things. Spratleys suggests what might have happened if Cardiacs had escaped there only to find out that it was a swamp, vegetation, trash and identity alike inexorably decaying into fertile sludge.


 
The grand, precarious staircases of extended harmony are pure Smith: parkour chord progressions racing on to destination unknown, delighting in the unpredictable terrain underfoot. The glue and ingredients which surround them are different, or at the very least repurpose and re-examine previous Smithian influences. Looking back at it now, it resembles nothing so much as various Cardiacs urges bumping up against the make-do, repurpose-and-discover influence of Faust, recoiling a little dazed and reconsidering. Creatures rustle; flashes of crude bayou guitar and ’50s rock’n’roll lick set up home with spluttering electronics. Vinyl pops; lyrics torn from malfunctioning phrasebooks float and spin in the eddies; all of the vocals sound as if they’ve been transposed from worn vellum. Jo, too, leaves her mark on proceedings – tugging Tim’s obsessive tendencies into more abstract, wandering territories, her childlike voice and delivery a perfect foil for his.

Regards this weekend’s recreation, Jo is the only original Spratley left standing. Though he’s recovered sufficiently to recently disinter and prepare a long-shelved Sea Nymphs album for release, Tim is still a long, long, unlikely way from playing live again. The Rev-Ups have long since dispersed and disappeared (probably back into the realms of Tim’s imagination); and as for the crumbling Mellotron, Andy Thompson (the entirely entitled bastard) has long since callously repaired it without a thought to history. There have been efforts to keep the project in the family, one way or another: Jo’s son Jesse Cutts (of Heavy Lamb) is backing her on guitar, and remaining roles are filled by sundry Brighton multi-instrumentalists and Cardiacs sympathisers. In the bag for the band are Étienne Rodes of Clowwns, his brother Adrien Rodes (once of Rect.angle, now playing with Étienne in Brother Twain) and the frighteningly busy Damo Waters (drummer for Clowwns, ZOFFF, Brother Twain and Slug; organist for Crayola Lectern; sessioneer for Field Music, British Sea Power, Chris T-T and plenty of others; everything-ist for his own project Muddy Suzuki when he has a spare moment).

At the moment, it’s not yet clear whether all of this is going to be a one-off amplified and extended celebration; or whether it’s going to become part of that eagerly growing body of post-Cardiacs musical life, joining the massing bands and solo artists which throng the increasingly regular Tim Smith fundraisers. Meanwhile, some indication as to what’s coming on the night could be found here – a kind of dry run, as Jo and Heavy Lamb take a rockier, punkified crack at the Spratleys song Vine at last year’s Alphabet Business Convention.


 

‘Spratleys Japs Performed Live’ (featuring members of Spratleys Japs, Crayola Lectern, Clowwns, Brother Twain, Muddy Suzuki) + Stephen Evens + Emily Jones
The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England
Saturday 19th November 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

In support are Stephen EvEns (the current solo project by thoughtfully-hangdog drummer and multi-instrumental songwriter Steve Gilchrist – that’s Jo playing the therapist in his video below) and Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones, whose own work shows a (possibly accidental) affinity with the softer end of Smithiana both in its occasional odd-corner harmonies and changeability, and in its occasional fascination with small, obscurely significant things.



 
If you’re not discouraged by that “sold-old” sign, see links above for the tickets that might become available… or just show up on the door with some cash on the night and hope for the best. If the Green Door Store has windows, crane up against them; fog them with sorry breath; make the kind of forest-creature creeling noises which you’d suspect might be just out of earshot on the Spratleys Japs album. They might take pity on you, and let you in.


 

September/October 2016 – upcoming London events (Carla Bozulich, 15th & 16th September; Destroy All Monsters exhibition, 16th September-15th October) – plus some ponderings on where ‘Misfit City’ goes next.

13 Sep

I’ve just come back from a brief one-week holiday on the South Coast – life lived at a slower pace, much of it spent waiting for bus connections under the startling deep blue sky of a summer which hadn’t realised that by September its time was up. Returning both to town and city, I’m sifting through notes and thoughts.

Usually at this point I’d be jumping straight back into live gig exhortations – and as it happens, I’m still suggesting that any readers in or around London should consider getting over to Carla Bozulich‘s two-evening Café Oto residency tomorrow and Thursday; or to Friday’s Cary Loren talk (opening the Destroy All Monsters exhibition at the Horse Hospital). But on this occasion I’m going to let the artists and events – and the existing promo pages at the venue sites) speak for themselves.

There’ll be some more news posts along in a while, and other things happening behind the scenes. A few changes are underway already, and there will be some more to come. Every solo blog (unless its self-indulgence is in itself a justification for existence), needs some kind of raison d’être, and I’m not sure that ‘Misfit City’ has been justifying its own for a while now.

As regards the Carla and Cary shows, head over via the links above if you’re interested; and check out a couple of the clips below if doubtful or nonplussed; meanwhile, I’m rethinking what this blog does, how it does it and whether it should be doing it in the first place.


 


 


 

July 2016 – upcoming and ongoing gigs – some pickings from the Frome Festival, west of England (1st-10th)

2 Jul

While I missed the chance to plug the Sin Eater Festival a few weeks ago, I’m just about in time for the modest fireworks which herald the Frome Festival in Wiltshire.

I’m too late to plug the opening party (in which Frome’s own electro-poppers Sweet Machine shared a bill with psychedelic synth-cabarettier, rock biographer and all-round performance character Alan Clayson); I don’t have much to say about the festival’s big-draw act Reef (currently enjoying a new revival of their original ‘90s revival of 70s blues-rock); and I feel sorry that the free gig by “ukular fusion” band The Mother Ukers doesn’t involve furious Mahavishnukulele jazz shredding (instead of being a variation on banjo-happy rockgrass covers). But there’s plenty more on offer, so here are a few other things picked out from the billing.

It’s by no means everything on offer (the festival’s full of visual art, talks and theatre; there’s plenty more jazz and classical; and there’s a show by Billy Bragg which will probably take care of itself) but these represent the bits-between-the-bits which are closest to ‘Misfit City’s natural constituency (if such a thing exists).

* * * * * * * *

The Magical Folk Garden @ The Archangel, 1 King Street, Frome, BA11 1BH, England
Tuesday 5th-Friday 8th July 2016, 7.30pm each night
– information: Tuesday 5th / Wednesday 6th / Thursday 7th / Friday 8th

At the upstairs room at the Archangel pub, The Magical Folk Garden continues to turn itself into an annual institution with a series of cushion-strewn/standing-room-only unplugged gigs, creating a “euphonious forest of folk and contemporary acoustic music from some of the UK’s finest talents.” It’s all pretty well-scrubbed and tasteful – there’s nothing to scare the horses here. That said, a few of the performers might own horses, and some might whisper them; while a few might go all ‘Poldark’ and ride off on one, bareback and bare-chested, a honey-coloured guitar bouncing up and down on the withers (it all probably depends on the state of the booze and the pollen count).

The Tuesday show features two Bath acts – lit-pop cello-and-guitar duo The Bookshop Band and romantic solo-balladeer Tom Corneill – plus the sunny pure-pop/psychedelic fizz of Trowbridge’s The Pigeons.


The Wednesday show has a band-backed performance from Frome’s Al O’Kane (a gravel-and-honey country-blues-folker who, with his mix of rolling American roots guitar and British mysticism, can come across as a one-man ‘Led Zeppelin III’). Also playing are Alex Taylor (bouncy, jazz-and-funk-tinged, broadening his sound and filling out his pockets with pedals and loops) and young songwriter Emma Shoosmith, whose output has ranged from thoughtful folkified Taylor Swift covers to the lilting ska-tinted song shown below.




 

The Thursday show has a chamber-folk air. Bookshop Band multi-instrumentalist Beth Porter returns with her own augmented-string quartet band The Availables and her own clutch of intricate literary songs. Also on board are the strings, percussion rustles and detailed guitar of Rivers Of England (fronted by Rob Spaulding) who, although they take on some pretty familiar modern folk tropes, land them in an interesting marginal territory in which the early-’70s John Martyn and the early-’80s Julian Cope sit down to exchange lines and tips. The bill’s completed by the lost-boy charm of Avebury singer-songwriter (and Nick Harper protégé) George Wilding with his warm, abstracted songs of distraction and heartbreak (simultaneously soothing and haunting).




 

The Friday folk-final involves wayward Bristol-and-Bath folk septet The Cedar. Beth Porter makes her third Magical Folk Garden appearance of the week as the band’s cellist, alongside five other musicians. Playing a variety of instruments and implements (from guitar, glockenspiel, viola, organ and ukulele to calculator, screwdriver, musical and tri-square) they weave Neil Gay’s slightly distracted songs into a musical fabric that’s sometimes Belle-&-Sebastian communal, sometimes music-school precise, and sometimes as frayed as a scrap-basket oddment.

The rest of the evening gently mixes Western with Western. Accompanying herself on guitar, baritone ukulele, harmonium or shruti box, Bradford-on-Avon’s Jess Vincent delivers a set of original country-folk songs with a sound and demeanour that’s seen her compared to both Iris DeMent and Kate Bush. Evening openers Ali George and Ruby Brown do their own take on Gram-and-Emmylou duets, filtered through Ali’s trunkful of original English folk/clawhammer guitar songs.




 

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The town’s Rook Lane Chapel arts centre is hosting plenty of events. These two in particular caught my ear:

Snowapple
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Thursday 7th July 2016, 7:30pm
information

Snowapple is an outstanding female harmony trio from Amsterdam who draw on folk, classical and chanson influences, in unique, charming and beautiful arrangements of original songs. Having sold out the Granary for the last two years, Snowapple have earned a reputation all over Europe and the US, and this year appear in the perfect setting of Rook Lane Arts.”

Praying For The Rain
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
information

From the blurb: “Known for their dynamic and compelling live performances, Praying For The Rain blend contemporary folk, Celtic and world music with irresistible rhythms, memorable melodies, beautifully crafted vocals and inspired musicianship. Their music brings to mind a modern blend of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Robert Plant, to Fleet Foxes and the Dave Matthews Band, creating a truly uplifting experience. Following last year’s sell out concert, Praying for the Rain return to Rook Lane for Frome Festival 2016. Expect an exhilarating night of high energy, movement and wonderfully engaging songs.“

I’m sure I remember Praying For The Rain from when I was a regular at Martyn Swain’s wonderful Dreamhouse acoustic nights, a refuge of warm bohemian chic and unplugged music alongside the Splash Club in scuzzy mid-’90s Kings Cross. These were the same shows at which I was delighted by up-close performances from Marcy Detroit, Simons Warner and Whitaker and many more… there’s a little bit about Dreamhouse here, since someone’s been writing a crowdfunded book about the Splash years (and you can still pitch in to help it). Dreamhouse was the kind of night where you could expect table candles and belly dancing interludes most weeks; but during their own slot, Praying For The Rain completely overflowed the little Water Rats stage with finger-cymbals, accordions, cellos, cirrus-band harmonies and what seemed like about ten people on whispering percussion, temporarily transforming the place to a full-on New Age folk temple.

Although they seem rather more bluesy and straightforward-rootsy than I remember through the gauzes of memory, it’s good to see that they’ve lasted the twenty-year distance and garnered themselves a new up-to-date list of comparisons.


 
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Over at the Granary, there’s a semi-unplugged triple bill and a visit from a ‘Misfit City’ favourite.

Three Is The Magic Number presents:
Three Corners + Molly Ross + Gum Girl
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like

Regular Frome-and-Wiltshire unplugged night Acoustic Plus takes on a new identity for this three-act bill of “original songs, haunting vocals, mesmeric music” celebrating a diversity of approach via three different acts. Molly Ross offers fledgling piano pop touches on folk and R&B; Three Corners (with their roots in 1980s new-wavers The Impossible Dreamers, and featuring ex-Dreamers Nick Waterhouse and Caroline Radcliffe) play sparse, questing songs around more of a loose blues-and-jazz-informed tip; but the one I find most interesting is the dreamy beat’n’texture pop of Gum Girl.




 
Arch Garrison
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554307

As Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra mastermind Craig Fortnam and Stars In Battledress‘ James Larcombe explore gentle, intricate psychedelic folk: partly gentle clean chapel tones, partly kosmische textures, partly chalk-ridge geomancy. A duo of Craig’s nylon-strung acoustic guitar and James’ assorted keyboards (organ, monosynth, harmonium and piano), their two albums’ worth of songs have enabled Craig to bring the smaller and more personal songs he writes to life, when they don’t fit the grander feel of NSRO. Their ‘Will Be A Pilgrim‘ album was one of my favourites of 2014 – an unexpected gem of small voice and thinking space. Support comes from local favourites Dexter’s Extra Breakfast, playing Dave Clark’s soft-petalled and “Weltschmerzian” songs of middle-aged reflection.

 

* * * * * * * *

John D Revelator
The Griffin, 25 Milk Street, Frome, BA11 3DB, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free event

At the Griffin, John D Revelator will be bringing along their dark-tinged acoustic swamp-pop for a free show. Even if there’s not actually such a thing as the “Somerset Levels delta”, they’ll lie to their last tooth and their last busted guitar string trying to persuade you that it does exist.


 

* * * * * * * *

Towards the end of the festival, the second of Frome’s two substantial concert halls is offering two very different performances on the same day. One is a post-lunchtime concert of vividly Catalonian Spanish classical music from the twentieth century; the other is an evening show of polymusical fusion from an all-star collective trio.

Elena Riu & Clara Sanabras: ’A Taste Of Spain’
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 1.00pm
information

Pianist Elena Riu and singing multi-instrumentalist Clara Sanabras (the latter on voice, harp, oud, charango and guitar) perform selections from the ‘Songs & Dances’ of Catalan impressionist/miniaturist composer Federico Mompou and the ‘Spanish Dances’ of his compatriot Enrique Granados, interspersed with Clara’s performances of the original Catalan folk songs on which Mompou drew.

Birdworld
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.30pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554308

“Birdworld is made up of musicians Adam Teixeira (drums/percussion), Gregor Riddell (cello/electronics); and Alex Stuart (guitar). The project came about when Gregor and Adam met during self-directed Banff Creative Residencies where they discovered a shared interest in blending electronic and acoustic sounds. Since Adam moved to the UK in 2014 they have continued to develop BirdWorld, adding Alex along the way. Combining their artistic voices as both instrumentalists and composers, the trio will showcase each members original compositions arranged specifically for this unique musical exchange. Creating a unified sound that blends the inspirations of modern jazz, world music, contemporary classical, rock and electronic music in a rare concert setting.”

Here’s a video of the original two-piece in action, to give you two-thirds of an idea of what might be on offer.

 

June 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Horsefight, Godzilla Black and HVMAN in New Cross (23rd); Victoria Park Singers, Kemper Norton, Settembre and Paul Reynolds take Daylight Music (25th); Copperhead Lucy and Boy And A Balloon play MAP Studio Cafe (26th)

20 Jun

Quick snapshots of three more shows for the week – a spiky south London rock gig, a warm/eclectic Daylight event, and an Americana/art-busk evening at MAP…

* * * * * * **

Horsefight/Godzilla Black/HVMAN @ New Cross Inn, 23rd June 2016

New Cross Inn presents:
Horsefight + Godzilla Black + HVMAN
New Cross Inn, 323 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6AS, England
Thursday 23rd June 2016, 7.00pm
information

Tight as fuck, gonzoid and with Berlin, Brisbane and London in their veins, Horsefight let their glam-prog/psychobilly/New Wave songs pogo about on giant spidery legs. They sound like a superimposition of The Fall, King Crimson and The Cramps, call themselves “obnoxious bounce music” and deliver songs on the verge of seizure, twitching over the Fall from Eden and going into near-hysterics about Derren Brown. A band up for hurling themselves into the heat of any given moment, they’ll eyeball it for a second and wet their lips before assembling a rapid strategy. They exist somewhere between spontaneity, rapid brainwork and the magnesium flare which upsets it all.



 

Still establishing themselves as one of the capital’s sharpest and wittiest propositions, Godzilla Black bring their snappy blare to New Cross, sounding like a horns-and-swagger big band that’s been carved up in a Peckinpah shootout and come out of it both crazed and leaner. Part sharp-dressed schizoid men, part lysergic spy movie cocktail, with an edging of amplifier hiss and flesh frenzy: the neurotic beast in the impeccable suit.



 
Up against these guys, and promising “big brash pop tunes with a sharp-edged alternative rock aftertaste”, HVMAN used to write glam-punk songs about beautiful people and E-numbers, full of blipping synths, dry songspiel asides and strutting guitar. They’ve now stirred in a deeper, rougher, and more yearning tone, some hurt-child dramatics, and the odd garnishing of bluesy resonator guitar. They’ve also added a new singer, Kane, who fits in with this sudden injection of classic-rock melodrama: although exactly how he bounces off the insouciant detachment of the band’s other singer, Louise, remains to be seen. For now, HVMAN (while citing Imagine Dragons, YYYs, Hurts and Talking Heads) suggest a clash of Ultrasound and The Flying Lizards over a few Eddie Vedder daydreams.


 

* * * * * * * *

On the other side of the fuzz pedal, Daylight Music are striving even harder than usual this week to merge community music, pop experimentation, and wood/string/space acoustica. Since this is the third or fourth time this season that they’ve put a scratch-choir singing pop hits on the bill (and the first time they’ve had one as the headliner), I was about to complain about a Daylight cosiness epidemic. Having had a look further down the list of the weekend’s acts I’d rather applaud them for their guile, their stealth and their soft-power persuasiveness. I shouldn’t have doubted them.

Daylight Music 229, 25th June 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 229 – Midsummer Madness: Victoria Park Singers, Kemper Norton + Settembre + Paul Reynolds
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 25th June 2016, 12.00pm
free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

“Obviously Daylight Music should hail the solstice; it’s the most Daylight possible!

The Victoria Park Singers are a big community choir, singing a special selection of summer melodies, including songs by Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Marvin Gaye.

“The ‘coastal slurtronic folk’ of Cornishman-turned-Brightonian Kemper Norton uses digital and analogue hardware and software, acoustic instruments , field recordings and traditional song to explore neglected or original areas of landscape and folklore. His most recent album, ‘Loor’, was inspired by real and imagined cities from childhood, bathed in traditional folk, found sounds and community chants, celebrations and invocations. ‘Loor’ (which is Cornish for moon) represents the next ambitious transmission in the expanding audio landscape that Kemper Norton is creating. The songs on the album are a loose trilogy of nocturnal encounters, searches and awakenings, often with Kemper Norton revisiting old foes from previous albums and encouraging new treacherous encounters. Today he also performs his solstice inspired songs.


Settembre is a duo formed in 2015 by London-based Italian musicians Angela Cicchetti (vocals) and Ivan Imperiali (guitar). They take the essence of Italy’s songwriting tradition, and reshape it with elements from the great Brazilian, Spanish and Portuguese schools, creating a delightful combination of delicate singing and classical guitar informed by cantautori, fado, bossa and choro forms amongst others.

“Also this week, Paul Reynolds (usually to be found as the guitarist of Vespers) will be at the piano, weaving his chilled improvisations and atmospheric melodies through Daylight’s Summer celebration.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Copperhead Lucy + Boy And A Balloon @ MAP Studio Cafe, 26th June 2016Copperhead Lucy + Boy And A Balloon
MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Sunday 26th June 2016, 8.00pm
information

Further north in Camden, Map Studio Cafe continues the live sessions from local bands with a show by Americana quartet Copperhead Lucy. As they describe themselves, Copperhead Lucy were “formed after a chance encounter in a cello shop in Camden and based around the delicate voice and songs of Abigail Newis… (their) songs describe lives sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, often morbid, set to a backdrop of junkyard drums, double bass and smoking hot guitar lines. Taking inspiration from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Portishead and PJ Harvey, the songs run from ethereal whispers to raucous, tantrumic shouts.”

Here are a couple of videos, the second being a recording of the band’s first gig, back at Kentish Town’s Abbey in 2011 (a short, drunken stagger away from Map).



 
In support is Adam Hall, otherwise known as Boy And A Balloon (who played a Daylight Music show earlier in the month). Bringing his experience both as street musician and soul/pop session man to bear on a growing aesthetic of spontaneous roughness, Adam plays his own deliberately simple songs through a battered three-quarters-scale nylon-string guitar and a scratchy-toned broken-signalled busker’s amp, pursuing a philosophy of “songwriting will shine through roughness”, drawing on his own thirty-year span choice of pop music (from the ’40s to the ’70s) and musing on “the innocent and inevitable loss of something human, precious and innocent – so apparent in today’s fast paced and overwhelming technological world.”


 

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