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Archive for the ‘Gruff Rhys’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS-Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2004).

In 2004. Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys released his first solo album. The sung-entirely-in-Welsh Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.  It’s a lo-fi bedroom kind of recording.  Mostly catchy as anything, but with some typically weirdo songs as well.   Most of the songs are well under three minutes.

I’ve included some notes from Wikipedia (in italics) that offer translation advice.

The album opens with “Yr Atal Genhedlaeth” which is 8 seconds of warping looping nonsense.  In Welsh the title means ‘The Stuttering Generation,’ but ‘atalgenhedlu’ is also Welsh for a contraceptive.

“Gwn Mi Wn” is a proper song with Gruff singing over a drum pattern.  As the song moves along more looped vocals are added making the song bigger and bigger–almost trance like by the end.  Gwn Mi Wn translates as ‘I Know [that] I Know’, but could also mean ‘a gun I know’, a reference to the battle in the song.

“Epynt” is a 2 minute rocking raw song of guitar and synth and some shouted lyrics.  It’s oddly catchy.  The song is named after a mountain in Mid Wales, but is about money, with the ‘E’ standing for the Euro, and ‘pynt’ sounding similar to the Welsh word for Pound.

“Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn” is a slower, more electronic-sounding song (from the drums and sound effects).  Although guitars do move the song along.  There’s a kind of scream/laugh effect that’s played here and it gets repeated on other songs.  It translated as ‘Light programming’, but ‘lluniaeth ysgafn’ means a light snack.  This is also a catchy song that is a total sing along, if you know Welsh.

“Pwdin Ŵy” literally means ‘egg pudding’, or “egg custard’, two love songs.  “Pwdin Ŵy 1″ is a swinging song that features some nice layered vocals.  It’s upbeat and dancy.  “Pwdin Ŵy 2” is very different–it’s a mellow guitar song with a harmonica solo.

“Y Gwybodusion” (‘The Experts’) is a garage rock song with a cheesy synth solo.  The addition of a (cool) bass line half way through really fleshes the song out.

“Caerffosiaeth” is literally ‘sewage fortress’. ‘Caer’ is a common part of Welsh place-names used to indicate that there was a castle in the town.  It’s an all drum-machine rap full of sound effects.  As with all of the other songs he manages to make it really catchy by the end.

“Ambell Waith” (‘Sometimes‘) is a quiet folk song with interesting sound effects floating around.  The slight echo on everything makes it feel very full.  And the trumpet (!) solo comes as quite a surprise.

The final two songs are much longer than anything else on the disc.

“Ni Yw Y Byd” means ‘We Are The World,‘ but is not a cover.  It’s upbeat, four minutes long and feels fuller than the others.  It reminds me a bit of the melody of “The Gambler” and is therefore crazy catchy.  It’s even easy to singalong to even if you don;t know Welsh.  There’s a clapalong section followed by a flute solo.

“Chwarae’n Troi’n Chwerw” means ‘When Play Turns Bitter’ and comes from a Welsh proverb.  this song is a Welsh language standard originally written and sung by Caryl Parry-Jones.  It’s got a quiet electric guitar playing some lead riffs as he sings in a deeper register.  It ends with 30 seconds of quiet banjo playing.

This is a true solo record from Rhys–snippets, excerpts and home recordings.  It’s a quiet treat.

[READ: November 17, 2020] “New Poets”

When I started reading this story I was afraid that it was going to be one of those grimy violent stories that doesn’t exactly glorify bad behavior, but kind of revels in it.

The narrator, Monk, is recently sober, but he has had a string of bad luck and has moved in with an old college buddy named Dogman.  Dogman has not stopped drinking.  Indeed, he drinks a lot.  Which is odd because Dogman is an accountant in the Philadelphia office of one of the country’s largest banks.  It’s a boring job, so the weekend is for drinking.

They are in a pub (it’s the middle of the day) and Dogman tells Monk that a surprise guest is coming.  The guest is Sudimack.  Monk is really not happy about that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS-Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2005).

In honor of the author being from Wales and of me recently seeing Gruff Rhys in concert, this is a post about his debut solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.  The title is in Welsh, as id everything else.

If you don’t understand Welsh, as I don’t, Wikipedia gives us a guide line for the album which I’m going to trust.  There are 11 songs in just under a half an hour

  • Yr Atal Genhedlaeth [‘The Stuttering Generation’, but ‘atalgenhedlu’ is Welsh for a contraceptive] is 8 seconds of stuttering voices.  I feared the disc was broken when I put it on.
  • Gwn Mi Wn [‘I Know [that] I Know’, could also mean ‘a gun I know’, a reference to the battle in the song].  Gruff played this song live with two members on drums.  It’s a cacthy near-a capella song with just the drums and his voice.  He loops his voice here (and live) to make more and more harmonies of himself.
  • Epynt [named after a mountain in Mid Wales, but about money, with the ‘E’ standing for the Euro, and ‘pynt’ sounding similar to the Welsh word for Pound].  This song has a DIY punk feel–two chords, loud drums and chanted chorus Eh-pint, eh-pint.
  • Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn  [‘Light programming’, but ‘lluniaeth ysgafn’ means a light snack].  This song has an electronic drums and simple guitar chords.  Once again, it’s Gruff’s voice that carries the melody.  As with most of these songs, he makes a big song with very few elements.
  • Pwdin Ŵy 1 & 2 [literally ‘egg pudding’, means ‘”egg custard’, two love songs]  The first part is under 2 minutes with a slinky guitar and bass.  It’s fleshed out with all kinds of weird sound effects.  The second part (all of 3 minutes) is quieter, with just his guitar and voice and some quiet percussion.  The solo is either a melodica or harmonica, I can’t quite tell.
  • Y Gwybodusion [‘The Experts’] is a simple garage rocker.
  • Caerffosiaeth [literally ‘sewage fortress’. ‘Caer’ is a common part of Welsh place-names (for example, Caergybi), used to indicate that there was originally a castle or fortress in the town/city]  This is the strangest song on the disc–full of all manner of weird sound effects.  These effects accompany the simple (cowbell and drumbeat) electronic percussion that sets the tone for Rhys’ overlapping vocals.  This song sound the most like one you might try to insert English words into the Welsh that he is singing like maybe: “Blue-eyed fork, blue-eyed fork, I love your bag and your power torch.”
  • Ambell Waith [‘Sometimes’] opens with a pretty acoustic guitar melody as all manner of quiet sound effects skitter around in the background.
  • Ni Yw Y Byd – [‘We Are The World’] is not a cover of the charity song, it is an incredibly catchy folk song with a flute (piccolo?) solo.
  • Chwarae’n Troi’n Chwerw [‘When Play Turns Bitter’, from a Welsh proverb. A Welsh language standard originally written and sung by Caryl Parry-Jones].  This six-minute song starts quietly with just an acoustic guitar,  It starts to build and go a little faster when the drums come in. By four minutes, there’s cymbals and what feels like a full accompaniment.  The last minute or so is Gruff playing the banjo.

It’s a pretty album with pretty melodies and a splash of Gruff’s wackiness strewn about.

I don’t think you’ll learn any Welsh from this records but it is neat to think you can sing along with it without knowing what any of it means.

[READ: January 4, 2017] “The Edge of the Shoal”

I thought that this was going to be yet another story about a guy fishing–and how he and his father had bonded over fishing.  Because that is how it started.

He didn’t tell his wife where he was going–just left a note to make salad.  He assumed he would catch a fish, but his real reason for going out in the kayak was to disperse his father’s ashes into the water.  (I’m not exactly sure where this is set, but I assumed Europe–okay Cynan Jones is Welsh).

The narrator was still hearing his father’s voice as he cast out for the fish.  Frankly I was worried that this story was far too long if that’s all it was going to be about.

But then things take a very different turn. (more…)

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fivedials_no29SOUNDTRACK: BOB & DOUG McKENZIE-“The 12 Days of Christmas” (1981).

bob & dougThis is my preferred old school version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  It was one of the first parodies of the song that I had heard (and I was big in parodies back in 1981).

I loved how stupid they were (on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a beer).  I loved trying to figure out what a two-four was, and it cracked me up that they skipped a whole bunch of days.

I also enjoyed how they continued to snipe at each other throughout the song.  Not comedy gold perhaps (that would be “Take Off” recorded with Geddy Lee, but a nice way to start, or end, the season on these “mystery days.”

Evidently, decades after SCTV went off the air, Bob & Doug got an animated TV show (without Rick Moranis).  And they made a video of the song. Hosers.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2oPio60mK4]

[READ: December 3, 2013] Five Dials #29

Five Dials Number 29 was the first issue I had read in a while.  (I read this before going back to 26-28).  And it really reminded me of how great Five Dials is.  I don’t know why this isn’t Part 2 after Number 28’s Part 1 (there was no 28b either), but that’s irrelevant.  This is an independent collection of great writing.  I was instantly surprised and delighted to see that César Aria was included in this issue (I didn’t even know he had made inroads in England).

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: In Swedes and Open Letters
Taylor’s usually chipper introduction is saddened by the contents of this one.  The discussion centers on Sweden and the city of Malmo, where integration is proving to be tougher than they’d hoped.  Black skinned people are profiled pretty explicitly.  Taylor talks about meeting the writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri (who they subsequently published in issue 21) who deals with issues of race.  In March of 2013, Khemiri wrote an open letter to Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask after she brushed off concerns about racial profiling. The letter went viral including getting translated into 15 languages.  So I guess there is some positivity after all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GORILLAZ-Plastic Beach (2010).

I have been a huge supporter of Gorillaz since the drew their way onto the music scene all those years ago.  It’s true that part of my love for the band was the art of Jamie Hewlitt, who I assume doesn’t really have any input anymore.  I also love Del the Funky Homosapien (who is also missing).  But I’m almost slavishly devoted to Damon Albarn, so I was pretty psyched when I heard they had a new album coming out and that it was getting rave reviews.

I was severely disappointed when I heard the record. 

“Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” features Snoop Dog who is phoning it in from a vacationland far far away.  He was more exciting on his cameo for The Lonely Island.  Even musically, it’s not very interesting.  “White Flag” is more promising, with the cool flute and string intro, but the rap by Bashy (which I wanted to like because of his accent) is just bland.  And Gorillaz must agree as the rap is less than a third of the song. 

“Stylo” has a cool bass line but the track overall is surprisingly discoey.  The Mos Def bit is interesting but I guess I’m not a fan of Bobby Womack, as I don’t care for his part of the song at all.  “Sweepstakes” has some interesting parts but the intermittent yelling of “Sweepstakes” kind of ruins it for me.  “Plastic Beach” features Mick Jones and Paul Simonon but you’d never know it.  And I actually don’t enjoy the manipulated voice much here, it sounds uncomfortably like early 80s technology.  “Cloud of Unknowing” is barely there at all (sorry Bobby Womack, I’m, not convinced)

It’s probably unsurprising that my favorite song with guests is “Superfast Jellyfish.”  I love De La Soul (although their “dopey” sounding rap is a bit much).  But I like that they play up the cartoon feel of the song (and the band).  I also didn’t even realize that the main singer was Gruff Rhys until a few listens in.  And since I love him, it all plays out nicely.  I also like “Glitter Freeze” because fun with keyboards can be interesting. I didn’t realize it was Mark E. Smith until recently.  I’m not really sure if that makes any difference since he just says a few words, but things are always more interesting when he’s around.  Of course, this song could have been 2 minutes instead of 4.  “Some Kind of Nature” features Lou Reed.  Reed has been hit or miss lately and this is more miss than hit.  “Empire Ants” features Little Dragon (unknown to me).  It is very slow to get to the interesting part, but when it does, the song is pretty cool.  The other song with Little Dragon, “To Binge” is wonderful.  It reminds me of a track from A Clockwork Orange and it also features some great lyrics. 

The few songs that I like on the album are ones that are credited to just Gorillaz.  “Rhinestone Eyes” is a bit lazy for my tastes, although the second part of the song really showcases the first decent melody on the disc, and the introduction of Damon’s voice is like a salve.  “On Melancholy Hill” has the best wispy keyboard intro this side of early 80s Madonna–a wonderful counterpoint to the title and lyrics.  “Broken” is actually a little too mellow for me, but again, the melody is a nice one.  “Pirate Jet” is a simple, dopey song that ends the album in a kind of limbo state.

I’m confused by all the rave reviews, especially the one that says the album is chock full of singles.  I mean, “Dare” now that’s a single.  I guess I just miss Del (and Russel) way too much.  And frankly, even the artwork is pretty lame on this one.

[READ: January 10, 2012] “Center of the Universe”

Simon Rich never fails to make me laugh. Sometimes his ideas are completely original.  Other times he takes a fairly common observation and runs with it into a land of lunacy.  And sometime he takes an idea that seems like it’s been done before but he puts a fun twist on it and makes it entirely his own.  Such is the case with this.

The very simple premise is that while God is busy creating the earth, his girlfriend is not only complaining that he never spends time with her, but she also feels slighted that he doesn’t seem to care how hard her job is.

A wonderful part of this scenario is that God has not yet finished making the earth–He’s only on the sixth day–but His girlfriend, Kate, is hanging out in Chelsea reading a magazine impatiently waiting for Him to show up.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANGER MOUSE AND SPARKLEHORSE present: Dark Night of the Soul (2010).

Seems like most things that Danger Mouse touches involve lawsuits.  I’m not entirely sure why this disc had such a hard time seeing the light of day.  But it is due for a proper release in July.  Although by now, surely everyone has obtained a copy of the music, so why would anyone give EMI any money for the disc (since they hid it away in the first place).

The name that is not listed above is David Lynch, who is an important contributor to the project.  He creates all the visuals (and the visuals in the book that was the original release format).  He also contributed vocals to two tracks on the CD.  (His vocals are weird and spacey, just like him…and if you remember his voice from Twin Peaks, just imagine Gordon singing (but with lots of effects).

The rest of the disc is jam packed with interesting singers: Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips), Gruff Rhys (from Super Furry Animals), Jason Lytle (from Grandaddy) on my two favorite tracks, Julian Casablancas (from The Strokes), Black Francis, Iggy Pop, James Mercer (from The Shins), Nina Persson (from The Cardigans), Suzanne Vega, and Vic Chesnutt.

I’m not sure if Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous wrote the music already knowing who the singers were going to be, but musically the tracks work very well.  And yet, despite the different sounds by the different singers, the overall tone and mood of the disc is very consistent: processed and scratchy, melodies hidden deep under noises and effects.   Even the more “upbeat” songs (James Mercer, Nina Persson) are dark meanderings.

It took me a few listens before I really saw how good this album was.  On the surface, it’s a samey sounding disc.  But once you dig beneath, there’s some really great melodies, and it’s fascinating how well the songs stay unified yet reflect the individual singers.

EMI is going to have to pull out all the stops to make it a worthy purchase for those of us who have already found the disc.  Since The Lynch book was way overpriced for my purchase, (and they surely won’t include it with this CD), they need to include at least a few dozen Lynch photos (and more).  And with a list price of  $19 (NINETEEN!) and an Amazon price of $15, the disc should clean your house and improve your wireless connection too.

[READ: June 1, 2010] Bloom County Vol. 1

Boy, did I ever love Bloom County.  Back in high school I had more drawings of Opus and crew in my locker than anything else.  (I used to reproduce the cartoons by hand, I was never one of those “cut out of the paper” people.)  And so, there are tons of punch lines that I still remember twenty-five years later.

And yet, despite my fondness for the cartoon (and the fact that I owned (and read many times)) all of the collected books, I was amazed at how much of the early strips I had no memory of, at all.  True, some of the really early ones are here for the first time in collected form (according to an interview there are hundreds of comics in collected form for the first time in these volumes).   But those early 1980 comics…wha? (more…)

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tomine.jpgSOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS-Candylion (2006).

candy1.jpgI’ve mentioned before that I really like Super Furry Animals. This is the lead singer’s solo album. It sounds very similar to an SFA album, although it’s a little less bizarre, a little less indulgent (which somehow seems odd for a solo album, but whatever.) Overall, it sounds somewhat more mellow, but it’s not exactly a mellow affair. The title song is a pretty little ballad. However, the album also has some great, if not rocking, then certainly rollicking songs that are great to sing along to like “Cycle of Violence” and “Now That the Feeling is Gone.” There’s lots of la la’s and Whooos! to add to the exictemnet.

And, even better, there are two songs in Welsh: “Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru” (that’s most of the lyrics, and it means “Drive”) and “Ffwydruad yn y Ffurfafen” which is just fun to imagine how to pronoucet. So, overall it sounds not unlike any other SFA album,

There is one thing though, the last song is a near 15 minute epic story called “Skylon!” It tells the tale of a mundane flight that turns into a near plane crash. There’s an actress on board as well and a bomb, and, well frankly, between Gruff’s accent and the meandering nature of the song, I’m not exactly sure what’s happening. And yet I like and learn more of the song with each listen.

I accept that this record will never be a big seller, except maybe in Wales, but you can do your part by ordering it and enjoying all of the coolness that is Gruff.

[READ: Feb 29, 2008] “The Shelter of the World.”

When the Satantic Verses came out, I was in college, and was somewhat friendly with an Indian guy (who two years later turned out to be the best friend of my then roommate…small world? Nope, small campus.) Anyhow I was talking to him about the hoopla and the fatwa and, he, very smugly, I felt, told me that I would never understand the book because it was very Indian, and an American like myself simply couldn’t get what was going on. I was rather offended by this, (and I’m sure I remember it being much more insulting than it actually was). But, when I finally read the Satanic Verses a few years after that, it turns out he was completely right. I had no idea what was going on in that book. And even though I may someday try again, I’m still pretty sure I won’t get it. That didn’t stop me from reading and enjoying Rushdie’s other books. However, I haven’t read much by him lately. So, when I saw this story in the New Yorker I thought I’d give it a go. (more…)

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