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Now That We’ve Grown Up Together

March 11, 2015

My longest and best pal died on Monday.

He was a day short of his 46th birthday.

It’s hit me hard. Sledgehammer hard. Far harder than I ever could have imagined. I’ve had grand parents die when I was 9, 10, something like that. But never a friend of the same age. I am in pieces.

The fact that he died abroad on holiday makes it extra difficult. For a man from the West of Scotland, he had been in reasonably decent health.  There were no clues. He complained of feeling unwell at dinner time on Sunday, went to his bed and didn’t wake up. Just like that.

His poor kids were at home with their grandparents. His poor wife has had to fly home alone, the authorities not yet giving permission for his body to be repatriated. It could be another week, they say. Tragic.

We’d been friends since age 4. Gone through primary and secondary school together. Bought records, played sport, fashioned our hair into popstars together – he favoured the Bono mullet whilst I teased my hair into a James Grant quiff. We had our first pints together. Did daft, drunk, teenage boy stuff together; Clambered legless out of lofts. Played heady tennis with an unopened can of Tennents until Lager Lovely Sheena was buried 4 inches underneath the Bono do. Unsuccessfully chased a pair of beautiful-looking German girls around Ibiza for a week. Occasionally we’d fall out. One time there was a bloody nose (mine, not his) outside a kebab shop at 2 in the morning. But we remained friends. Best of friends.

I saw him more regularly than I see my own brother and sister.

For the past umpteen years we’ve shared a car and taken our sons to Kilmarnock games near and far, the odd trip to Hampden being the icing on a lopsided and inconsistent cake. Since the club redeveloped Rugby Park in 1995, we’ve sat together in the East Stand in the same seats for almost 20 years. Not always season ticket holders, but always the same seats. When our boys started going, his first, mine a few years later, we budged along a bit, proud that they were adopting the noble tradition of their fathers by supporting their local team and not one of the ugly sisters from the city just up the M77.

This Saturday we’d have had a quick phone call – “I don’t know if I can stand any more of this,” he’d always say. “We’ll do well to get any kind of draw today.” And then I’d pick him up at the same time and drive to the game, talking the same rubbish as the last time, listening to Richard Gordon give out the team news on Sportsound and park in the same space near Rugby Park before walking to the ground, buying my boy’s programme from the same seller and following our familiar pre-match ritual of a pre-match pee before going up and into our seats.

This weekend he won’t be there. “Where’s your brother the day?” the man next to me will ask. For years, he’s always thought we were brothers. “Is the big yin no’ coming?” the woman behind us will say. Her and her husband have a laugh every week at his expense when he shouts out badly-pronounced versions of the names of the players on show. English was never his strong point at school. And I’ll have to tell them that he’s not coming today. Or next week. Or ever again.

At 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon his seat will remain empty.

Here’s True Faith, his favourite record.

We both bought the 12″ of this on holiday on the Isle of Man. He bought the more straightforward (and better) version, whilst I bought the remix version; the one in the white sleeve with lots of falling leaves on the cover.

When we got home from our holiday, we played the records non-stop. In his room we put all the versions of True Faith onto one side of a C45. I still have it somewhere. The next time I’m in my loft I’m gonna have to try and dig it out.

 

 

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Step Brothers

March 1, 2015

In the latest Mojo, the one with the big piece on Physical Graffiti, Jimmy Page throws away a comment about The Beatles stealing an old r’n’b riff and fashioning it into their own I Feel Fine. Pots ‘n kettles, Jimmy! Pots ‘n kettles!

What Jimmy omitted to reveal is how the same riff more than informed Led Zep’s own Moby Dick.

bobby parker

The track in question is Bobby Parker‘s smokin’ hot 1961 r’nb stomper, Watch Your Step;

Bobby Parker’s story is the classic struggling musician versus the world tale of rip-offs, bad management and lack of recognition. Mention his name ’round these parts and folk like my father-in-law will wax lyrical about the Rangers and Everton player with the same name. The Bobby Parker we’re concerned with earned his chops tackling the music business and playing alongside Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. He toured extensively, sharing stages with rock ‘n roll’s founding fathers – Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly to name but a few. We’re all well aware of those names, but Bobby Parker? He remains niche, known only by contemporary musicians and musos, waiting to be discovered and elevated to his rightful place amongst the greats. An early b-side of his, You Got What It Takes, was recorded by Marv Johnson as one of the first singles for Motown, but upon release, to Parker’s dismay his name had been wiped from the credits and replaced, not for the last time, by that of the ever-canny Berry Gordy.

Stung by this, (“What was I to do? Fight Motown?!?“) Bobby Parker wrote what has since become his signature tune, Watch Your Step. Unlike the movers and shakers over at Hitsville USA, Parker was quick to acknowledge his references – the 12 bar blues, the similar riff and structure of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say;

and also to Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca, a skronking, relentlessly driving riff-laden jazz instrumental;

When asked about this a few years ago, he was admirable in his honesty.

I started playing Gillespie’s riff on my guitar and decided to make a blues out of it. What came out was ‘Watch Your Step.’

john lennon ukelele

Also admirably honest was John Lennon.

“‘Watch Your Step’ is one of my favourite records. The Beatles have used the lick in various forms.”

Most noticeably, as Jimmy Page was quick to point out, Watch Your Step‘s taut, snappy riff and structure lends itself quite well to I Feel Fine.

I was flattered,” said Parker later on. “I thought it was a cool idea. But I still had, in the back of my mind, the idea that I should have gotten a little more recognition for that.”

Sound familiar?

Listen closely and you’ll hear little flashes of what could be Day Tripper too;

led zep

The big baddies in the whole thing though are Led Zeppelin. For the record, I love Led Zeppelin. For the rocking, the rolling and the riff-riff-riffing there was no-one better, but they have nowhere to hide when it comes to this sort of thing. They’re certainly no strangers to the rape and pillage of the blues. Jimmy brazenly ‘borrows’ little riffs, indeed whole songs from blues’ back catalogue. I’ve written about this before, but much of the Zep’s entire recorded career was based on long-forgotten blues standards, arriving fully formed but twisted and turned into fantastically sounding ear-crunching slabs of heavy blooze rock. But nicked all the same. If they’d been more honest in their sticky fingerdness they might have been given more leeway, but it’s the deception and the credits to Page/Plant that rankle. Anyway, there are entire books and websites dedicated to uncovering such things, but this isn’t one of them.

When Jimmy was pointing out the similarities between Watch Your Step and I Feel Fine, he might, after all these years, have admitted to basing his own riff for Moby Dick on Bobby Parker’s single.

But he didn’t. Perhaps the pangs of guilt were such that at the start of the 70s Parker was offered a paltry $2000 to record a demo for the nascent Swan Song label, but nothing came to pass of this. If Jimmy truly felt guilty, he’d have given Parker a credit on Moby Dick.

Not for the first time, Jimmy got away with it. And not for the first time, Parker missed out on the credit.

Trivial post-script!

Have you ever heard the dogs barking during the fade out of I Feel Fine? The smart money is on Paul doing the yelping, but you never know…

You can hear tons of this sort of stuff over at What Goes On – The Beatles Anomalies List. It’s great!

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Romantic And Square Is Hip And Aware

February 23, 2015

William It Was Really Nothing is the sound of The Smiths in miniature. A breathless rush of brilliantly ringing descending arpeggios, bright as brass buttons, topped off with a vocal that distills everything about Morrissey’s much-loved kitchen sink dramas into a handful of lines worthy of Alan Bennett;

The rain falls hard on a humdrum town, this town has dragged you down……Everybody’s got to live their life, and God knows I’ve got to live mine……….How can you stay with a fat girl who says, “Would you like to marry me? And if you like, you can buy the ring”……

williamitwasreallynothing

Johnny’s playing is at its most stellar, riff upon riff upon riff of layered guitars nattering and chattering away like Elsie Tanner spreading ghastly gossip about goodness-knows-who over the garden gate. He was in a rich vein of form when he wrote this, was Johnny. He worked the chords out in the back of The Smiths’ van on the M1 somewhere between Manchester and London. Arriving at his flat in Earls Court, he committed his frantically scrubbed faux flamenco  pièce de résistance to tape, where it would sit alongside his other new compositions for that weekend, vying for the attention of producer John Porter come Monday morning. That the other 2 new tracks he’d recorded were How Soon Is Now? and Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want (the tracks that would turn up on the b-side of the single itself) just goes to show how prolific a tunesmith (tune-smith! See what I did there?) the barely 21 year-old Johnny was. Frightening, if you stop to think about it.

smiths autographs

William It Was Really Nothing – Peel Session (August 1984)

The Smiths clearly loved William It Was Really Nothing – they played it in concert before recording it (first for Peel, above) and continued to play it throughout the tours of 1984 and 1985. It still had its place in the ’86 setlists when the briefly 5-piece band were at their most rockist and was the second-last song The Smiths ever played live.

When John Porter got ’round to working on it from Johnny’s demo (and who knows how he chose what track to tackle first) he sprinkled a magical dusting of fade-ins and fade-outs, backwards bits and bursts of guitar that are the aural equivalent of one of those time-lapse videos of a flower blooming you see on nature documentaries. It’s just perfect, and even after 30 (gulp!) years, every listen reveals new things.

William It Was Really Nothing – Single Version

William It Was Really Nothing is over and out in little over 2 lean, mean and meat-free minutes, which, if I’ve timed it right, is just about as long as you needed to read this piece. Beat that!tumblr_mqyut7hT4l1sdytq1o1_500

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Yé-yé-yé!

February 15, 2015

Sept Heures du Matin is a track originally released in 1967 by French singer Jacqueline Taieb. I’m not too up on how to categorise my French Chanteusses, but I’m pretty certain Sept Heures… is a fine example of what is known as Yé-Yé music, a genre put together by pervy old men looking to exploit the naivety of the young girls in tight-fitting turtlenecks who were singing their double entendre-packed songs. And if all that sounds a bit too Serge Gainsbourg for comfort, well, any experts can correct me if I’m wrong.

jacqueline taieb 2

Sept Heures… reminds me a lot of a tamer version of Dave Berry‘s Don’t Give Me No Lip Child,

Dave BerryDon’t Give Me No Lip Child

but where Dave’s track is a stroppy adolescent huff of a record, Sept Heures… is more feminine. It swings as carefreely as the shining bob atop Jacqueline’s head and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if you told me that Bob Stanley owned all the 7″ copies of this in existence. It‘s literally a stompin’, snarlin’, finger snappin’ love letter to pop music, nothing you’ve never heard before; a trashy, garagey, walking backbeat underpinning three chords and a midly freaked-out fuzz guitar, but it’s essential listening.

Jacqueline TaiebSept Heures du Matin

Lyrical references to the pill-popping stutter of My G-G-Generation and Elvis’s take on Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti compete with nonsensical lines about looking for her toothbrush and fantasising about Paul McCartney – roughly translated the singer bemoans the fact that it’s 7am, she has an English homework assignment due in that day and (“Mmmmmm! Paul McCartnee! Pour m’aider!“) how she wishes the Beatles bassist were here to help her.

It’s a belter and I’m sure you’ll like it.

jacqueline taieb

à la prochaine….

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Six Of The Best – Stuart Cosgrove

February 9, 2015

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

 stuart cosgrove 1

Number 20 in a series:

Stuart Cosgrove is, to most folk in Scotland, the owner of that distinctive voice with the Tayside twang barking and cackling its way out of the tranny each Saturday afternoon between 12 and 2. “Ah yes indeed Tam!” could almost be his catchphrase. As co-presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball, he’s a bringer of much needed humour and mirth to suffering Scottish football fans up and down the land.

The most petty and ill-informed football show on the radio‘ is a must-listen to in my house – it’s the central part of my pre-match warm up before I head off to Rugby Park to watch my team lie down to whoever they’re up against that week. Although primarily a football show, there’s a fair smattering of music references. Sometimes, one of the guests will be of that ilk, other times Tam and Stuart will discuss their musical preferences, with Stuart the black music obsessed yin to Tam Cowan’s cabaret ‘n crooners yang. And there’s always a record to play out with, a thematically-linked song that encapsulates the mood of that week’s big (or petty) talking point. It’s my favourite show on the wireless by some distance.

stuart cosgrove

In the 70s, Stuart was a buttoned-down and baggy-panted Northern Soul fan, a collector of rare 7″s who was fond of hopping on the overnight Perth to London train and disembarking at Wigan just in time for the Casino to open. In the 80s, Stuart indulged his musical passions further by writing for the fanzines before graduating to the NME and The Face. He was an early champion of electronic dance music and his job gained him access to all sorts of musical royalty, from Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Ruffin to Prince and the hallowed halls of Paisley Park. He’s long-since moved onwards and upwards (would you still want to be writing for NME nowadays? What/who could you muster up any enthusiasm to write about?) and is now a high heid yin at Channel 4. Somehow, inbetween the radio work each Saturday, working in London through the week and going to as many St Johnstone games as he can fit in, he’s found the time to write a book.

Here’s the blurb;

Detroit 67, The Year That Changed Soul is the story of the city of Detroit in the most dramatic and creative year in its history. It is the story of Motown, the breakup of The Supremes and the implosion of the most successful African-American record label ever, set against a backdrop of urban riots, escalating war in Vietnam and police corruption. The book weaves through the year as counterculture arrives in Detroit and the city’s other famous group, the proto-punk band MC5 go to war with mainstream America. The year ends in intense legal warfare as the threads that bind Detroit together unravel and leave a chaos that scars the city for decades to come.

 

It’ll be right up my street, and no doubt many of yours too.

Ahead of its publication at the end of March, Stuart somehow found the time to contribute to Plain Or Pan. Keeping with the Detroit theme, Stuart tells us his six favourite Detroit musicians. In what must surely be a serendipitous moment, most of them have graced this blog countless times already.

 

Marvin Gaye
The original black crooner who wanted to be the black Sinatra but ended up fronting the greatest album of all time ‘What’s Going On.’

Marvin GayeInner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

David Ruffin

The bespectacled lead singer of The Temptations was the most complicated character at Motown and at war with himself. He eventually died of a drug overdose.

The TemptationsMessage From A Black Man

Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul came from a famous Detroit family whose father was the city’s most flamboyant preacher.

Aretha FranklinSave Me

Mary Wilson

Often seen as ‘the other Supreme’ caught in a bitter war between Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, but her voice effortlessly floated from jazz, to soul and even opera.

The SupremesAutomatically Sunshine

Ronnie McNeir

An outsider who often won local talent contests in the Motor City but was in his sixties before he joined The Four Tops as a stand in for the legendary Levi Stubbs.

Ronnie McNeirLucky Number


Jonnie Mae Matthews
The godmother of Detroit soul and a pioneer who had a voice rougher than sandpaper and smoother than silk.

Jonnie Mae MatthewsThe Headshrinker

 

Stuart Cosgrove is the author of Detroit 67. You can read more about the book and its author on the Detroit 67 Facebook page. Afterwards, you’d best get on the good foot and pre-order your copy from here (or your usual online book retailer.) I’ll see you at the front of the virtual queue.
detroit 67
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It’s Bjerk, To Rhyme With ‘Twerk’, Not ‘Fork’.

February 1, 2015

Huv ye goat that record by thone wee Chinese lassie Byoing, the ‘shh-shh’ song?”

Any guesses?

Music retail could prove to be a real winner some days. The customer was looking for Bjork‘s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet‘, but you knew that already.

Since the last time I looked, Bjork has released about a gazillion albums. Some as apps. Some as super-limited thingies. And some as good old-fashioned, fully-fledged proper physical releases. She’s just rush-released her latest, Vulnicura, after, quelle surprise, it found itself all over the internet ahead of its release date. Something really should be done about that, but stone me if I know the answer.

 bjork2

I kinda lost my way with Bjork a wee bit round about her Vespertine LP in 2001 (gulp!) By then I was immersed in the world of portable digital media (a mini disc player – still brilliant, if y’ask me) and with the immediacy of it all, I suppose my attention span started to wander. No longer could I focus on subtleties and slow-burning things of beauty – I wanted melody and instant catchiness and I wanted it NOW! This is a common theme for the digital generation. Don’t like the song? Skip it. Don’t even download it. Don’t own it. Ever. Can’t play that tricky riff on Sweet Home Alabama? Pop over to ultimateguitar.com or YouTube, where someone better than you will show you how it’s done. Having trouble getting past those pesky guards in the latest Sonic the Hedgehog platform pleaser (they still have Sonic the Hedgehog, aye?) A quick Google will sort you out with a ‘cheat’. That’s why the current vogue for vinyl is pleasing – it might help slow things down a bit. Let folk take time to appreciate what they have, not what they’ve not.

Anyway, where was I?

sugarcubes live

Oh aye. Bjork. I loved The Sugarcubes. Saw them live a couple of times early on and bought all the records. Life’s Too Good is still an insanely brilliant listen, one that has easily stood the test of time. The Sugarcubes were bonkers, but in a good way. Formed out of an Icelandic arts collective, they were a kinda prog version of punk, too far away from the epicentre of pop culture to be totally influenced by fads or fashions. The band could’ve been any mid-late 80s band. Plenty of chiming guitars, polyrhythmic drums and tasteful keyboards. But there, any similarities ended. On vocals there was Bjork, a one-off singer whose vocals surfed the stratosphere somewhere between Kate Bush and Liz Fraser. On alternative vocals, when he wasn’t blasting his trumpet in any key but the right one, was Einar, a shouty, scary, skinhead of a man.

One time after a Barrowlands show we were all at Level 8, Strathclyde Uni’s indie disco. In walked most of The Sugarcubes. No Bjork though. Fuelled on cheap drink and the daft idea that the band had time for their fans, I went up to Einar and offered him my hand. “Great show!” I said. I meant it too. Einar stared me down for a good, ooh, 15 to 20 awkward seconds, my hand still out to greet him but unshaken. Looking me straight in the eye he sung to me. “We will! We will! ROCK YOU!” Eyes ablaze, he spun round and onto the dancefloor where he pogoed to Rise by PIL before disappearing out a side door, never to be seen again. I remained shaken. And stirred.

bjork

That debut album is full of weird ‘n wonky prog/punk. Anytime I found myself with a bass guitar in my hand (not very often, if truth be told), Blue Eyed Pop was my riff of choice. I love the way Bjork soars over the top of the melody towards the end – “Something wonderful’s about to happen,” she sings. Magic.

SugarcubesBlue Eyed Pop

Better still was Coldsweat, the band’s second single. ‘Hot! Meat! Metallic! Blood!’ goes Einar. What he meant was anyone’s guess, but enough folk bought it to take it to Number 1 on the indie chart, if such a thing is a barometer of hip opinion.

Bizarrely, the band stuck a twangin’ countryfied version of Coldsweat as the last track on their patchy second LP, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! More Rawhide than skewed alt/pop, make of it what you will.

SugarcubesHot Meat

My favourite Bjork solo track? That’s easy. All Is Full Of Love. Slow, sweeping and graceful, as cool as the land from where it was conceived. The track itself suffered from a multitude of twitchy, glitchy, contemporaneous remixes, but the straight-forward album version is the way to go.

I still say Bjork, as in ‘fork’. The same as I still rhyme Brett ‘n Bernard’s old band with ‘bread’ rather than ‘played’. It’s a Scottish thing.

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Readers And Writers

January 24, 2015

It’s the 25th January. If you’re an Ayrshire man or woman, that date is indelibly stamped on you subconscious. It’s a date that’s as easily remembered as Guy Fawkes Day, Christmas Day and your own birthday. The 25th January. Robert Burns’ birthday.

burns

If Rabbie was alive today he’d be 256 years young. His poems and songs are read and recited at Burns Suppers the world over. This weekend alone, an estimated 150,000 Burns Suppers will take place in countries as far afield as Russia, Japan, India and the United States. You might even be attending one yourself.

Not everyone attending those suppers will know exactly what’s taking place – weird rituals involving knives and haggis. The bagpipes, fiddles and occasional kilts – not something worn in Burns’ time, but now seemingly the de-rigueur dress code for the event. People talking in a strange language. People singing while holding hands in an unusual manner – by the way, it’s Auld Land Syne, as in ‘sign‘, not ‘zine‘. Only English folk, Americans in movies and Brian Wilson pronounce it with a zed.

A Burns Supper is a very Scottish thing, yet the content of Burns’ work is universal – he was a nationalist yet is loved internationally. He could paint a picture with the words he wrote. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Ayrshire, we all understand the thoughts and feelings in the words he writes; whether it’s the feeling of love for someone dear or the feeling of despair at man’s attack on nature or simply complaining about a bad dose of the toothache. Burns was both a romantic and a realist, something that even the most hardened of Calvinist Scots are at some times in their lives.

His songs can be a strange breed. In the best traditions of folk music, the tunes were passed down from his mother, and once learned, he added his own poetic twists and melodic turns to them. Organic and ever changing, he’d probably be horrified at the more traditional readings of his songs. Burns Suppers can be awfy stuffy affairs. Don’t sing the song in the ‘right’ way, and a thousand sniffy noses turn upwards in disgust.

Two folk who’ve kept the tradition alive while remaining true to themselves are Michael Marra and Eddi Reader.

michael marra

As is often the way, Michael Marra is probably now more appreciated in death than he was when he was with us. That’s certainly the case in my house. I am ashamed at how little attention I paid to him when he was a jobbing, gigging musician. I now think of him as the Scottish Tom Waits – uncompromising, totally unique and each song a little rough diamond packed full of soul. Why was I wasting my time with the latest Primal Scream album when I coulda been discovering Michael Marra? He’d often turn up to play Irvine Folk Club with an old ironing board taking the place of his keyboard stand. The sparse audience would be warmly welcomed into his Dundonian world sung in that coarse voice of his. Like Burns, Michael Marra could be romantic one minute, unbelievably sad the next and ridiculously funny when you least expected it.

Michael MarraHamish

His song Hamish, named after Dundee United’s goalie Hamish McAlpine and written about the time Princess Grace of Monaco turned up to watch a European game at Tannadice between United and Monaco is typical of his work.

Gus Foy pointed to the side of the goal and said

‘There’s Grace Kelly by ‘Taylor Brothers’ Coal’

Michael MarraGreen Grow The Rashes

Green Grow The Rashes is almost standard fare at a Burns Supper. One of Burns’ most popular songs, it’s been sung by many people in many ways. Michael’s version comes from the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow a few years back. Pin-drop quiet, he hammers out the tune on a grand piano and sings it superbly. Not an ironing board in sight. The thunderous applause at the end tells you all you need to know.

One singer one song? Not quite…

eddi and john

Oor ain Eddi Reader, Ayrshire by way of Glasgow, does a terrific version of Green Grow The Rashes.

 Eddi ReaderGreen Grow The Rashes

Fronting an assembled stellar cast of folkies that includes John McCusker, Phil Cunningham, Heidi Talbot and Mr Eddi Reader, John ‘Trashcans’ Douglas, this live version of Green Grow The Rashes fairly skips along, the band playing the sort of arrangement that wouldn’t sound out of place on Led Zep III while Eddi’s voice floats above the melody like a bird on a breeze.

A bit like haggis, I know she can be a bit of an acquired taste for some, but give this a listen. Then go and catch yourself one of our wee furry friends and have your own Burns Supper to yourself.

haggis

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