XpoNorth 2019 – The story of Duncan

Reading Time: 9 minutes

First and foremost, I am a music appreciator and I am most definitely not a musician. Nor am I a musical creator and I do not work in the music industry. But, I spend a vast amount of my spare time listing to music, either at home or while driving as I go to gigs. And I go to a lot of gigs. Really a lot. At the time of writing, I have been to 148 gigs so far this year, seeing 406 individual performances. I have a further 81 gigs planned until the end of the year. I am sure there will be more before the year is out. I like my gigs.

My favourite kind of gig is one involving local bands starting off, who play a half hour set of original music and then watching them grow as they mature, gig after gig. XPONorth is an ideal platform for these bands’ showcasing and so 2019 is the 4th year running that I have been in Inverness for this event.

Like Woolly, I did not attend the seminars. I was purely at XPONorth 2019 for the music. But, unlike Woolly, I saw a whole load of different bands.

I had the basics of my two evenings planned out, which stretched from 7:30pm to midnight. My must-sees were bands and artists I had seen many times before and knew they were unmissable, namely –
Wednesday = The 101, Moonlight Zoo, False Friends, Cara Rose and Annie Booth.
Thursday = swim school, Walt Disco and Luke La Volpe.

There were no clashes with these but it still left me a few gaps to allow the discovery of new talent; to review previously seen talent and to poke my head around the door of something interesting. The weather was ideal. Dry, warm and still. Nice.

The 101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My starting point was The 101 at the Ironworks. They are a good band, although perhaps just a bit bloated by having 3 guitar players. Still, with one of them on backing vocals, it all adds up to a good sound. Having seen them before, I broke away half way through and walked the maximum venue-to-venue distance (a 3 minute walk) to The Tooth And Claw to catch Elisabeth Elektra.

Elizabeth Elektra

Sadly, she was not my type of music and singing solely to full-on backing tracks does seem like karaoke to me but she makes music that is clearly popular right now and the crowd liked her style. Her energetic performance included heading into the crowd at times, which can be quite intimidating so they politely kept a safe distance. She has a single launch gig soon in Glasgow, if you wish to investigate it.

Having seen enough, I dashed to Hootenanny where the rising stars Moonlight Zoo played a blistering set to a near-capacity crowd. Make no mistake here, they have really catchy songs; a great stage presence and vocals which will astound you. That was 30 minutes of sheer animal bliss.

Moonlight Zoo

Instantly I was off to the next venue; erm upstairs! To Mad Hatters where Lunir was having a bit of difficulty setting up. The beauty of XPO North is they run a very tight ship and the music starts at the allocated time and ends on or before the allocated end time. So, any late starting does mean a truncated set. They finally sorted things out and started 7 minutes late so I guess they had to cut it short. As I listened to the first two songs I realise their soulful sound were not my scene so I decided to head off to the PentaHotel.

There, SHEARS was playing. I have known Rebecca for many years and her recent reinvention fits the mould of the current trends of music. Her voice is utterly amazing but her music is not really for me so I bid a hasty retreat and went back to The Tooth And Claw to try out Folda.

Folda

They are electro pop and probably quite interesting but time was marching relentlessly onwards and one of my must-sees was up next at the Phoenix. False Friends were calling me. If you are keeping track, they are band number 7 so far.

False Friends

False Friends always put on a great show and are so much fun to watch. You have a front line of Irish voices, all four who are on vocals at some point. Jonny on acoustic guitar with Anna on keyboards share the main vocals and they put all their might into it. Corrie is on bass with shaved head and Fearghal on lead guitar and they both supplement the sound so well. Callum is on drums at the back, holding the whole lot together. To their absolute credit, they played mainly new songs. I know because that was the 17th time I have seen them live. Jonny debated whether playing new songs was a good move or not but sometimes when it is the first time people have seen a band, any song is new. The crowd enjoyed their set, as did I but Cara Rose was up next at the PentaHotel so I had to run as soon as they were done. I did a lot of running.

I suppose that “unmissable” means just that, but Cara Rose is one of those artists who is truly and utterly unmissable. Her solo piano playing style is a joy to hear and her vocals are wonderfully clear. Her songs are remarkably mature for someone so young and she is a very relaxed and happy performer. The venue was about half full for her set but as her set progressed you could tell they were being quickly won over. I spoke briefly to her an hour later as I spotted her in the Ironworks. She was genuinely surprised but pleased that I liked her music and I had no qualms in telling her this. Good music needs to be appreciated.

Cara Rose

Indeed, what happens at these events is that the artists themselves become fans of other bands. I lost count of the number of performers I knew who were in the audience for other sets and thoroughly enjoying it all. It has long been said that the Scottish music scene is perhaps unique where bands will praise other bands when they gain success and do not just humph about it with a “why not me?” attitude. That camaraderie is a testament to its strength and potential to grow. It was also nice to see music pundits Vic Galloway and John Robb in the crowds, loving every minute of it.

Zoe Tait

I missed Acrylic as I wanted to hear Zoe Tait back at the Phoenix. There is an engaging quality to the loud and forceful delivery of her own songs. Her lyrics are still quite teenage but I can see a lot of potential as she will inevitably move into more mature subject matters than just bad break-ups. One to watch.

Keir Gibson at the Ironworks was someone I had encountered before, although I did not realise this until I looked up my gig history a lot later. With the help of a guy on piano and backing vocals, the half hour was filled with good songs, well sung and the crowd knowing they were seeing a class act. It was after this set I chatted with Cara Rose but I had to be brief as I had that running to do.

Emme Woods
Keir Gibson

What then happened was a comedy of errors. I caught Emme Woods play to a capacity crowd in the Phoenix dry ice fog but a restricted view meant I tried out The Woods quickly next at Hootenanny. This was a solo act doing a really long looping song which I did find quite tiresome. Escaping, I headed back to the Ironworks to catch Annie Booth. Once there, I realised she was not the band who was setting up. I was confused and it was 11:30pm at night. My brain really could not process why she was not there so I gracefully retired back to my hotel room. Only as I was falling asleep did I realise I had gone to the wrong venue. Duh me. I was too late to remedy it but was happy that I had seen 12 bands in full or toe-dipped and I had had a really good day.

Thursday evening was set to be much of the same but the daytime need to get out of the way first. So, I hire a bike and cycled the 30 mile very scenic loop around to Beauly and back. As you do.

Goodnight Louisa

Seconds away and round two. 7:30pm was seeing Goodnight Louisa at Mad Hatters. I could only stay for the first 15 minutes but that was a good set. I had not realised that Skjor had broken up and this is what Louise is up to now. Very nice indeed.

Swim School

A dash to The Tooth And Claw allowed me to catch the full set by my current favs swim school. They play superb songs and even threw in a new one, which I spotted. The crowd liked them too and that is always nice to see and hear. Another quick dash back to Ironworks and I caught the tail end of Fauves who really know how to get the crowd going.

A few experiments were next and I saw Ukku who were really not my scene. So, I went to see Lizzie Reid charm the socks of everyone at Phoenix. That band really knows how to play well. I saw most of False Friends in the audience and caught up with half of swim school too as I headed out to my next gig. The next blind date was Spoke Too Soon who played a superb set at Hootenanny. They are well worth seeing again.

Spoke Too Soon

Outside there was pavement art persuading anyone and everyone to see Ivy Flindt upstairs next. Well, I am not one to decline such positive invitations but was sadly disappointed by the music which really did not have that much substance to it. So, I went to see A Dazed Digital Age back at the Ironworks who have the sound that is currently bubbling up from nowhere which everyone will love in the next 6 months or so. They are going to be big. Mark my rather feeble prediction.

The Dazed Digital Age

The cream of the night was the fact that Walt Disco were scheduled for Mad Hatters and that venue was just not big enough to contain them. Right from the start, they blew the roof of it with an explosive performance which is as infectious as it is spectacular. If you have any chance of seeing them live, never pass it up.

Walt Disco

They were band number 9 of the night and things were starting to thin out. I went to the Market Bar for the first time that trip and it was packed to the gunnels with folk waiting to see Pleasure Heads. It was clear they could put on a show but the crowd’s very boisterous enthusiasm meant that even seeing them was difficult and so I had to leave to actually be able to breathe! People were being turned away at the door as there was literally no room left inside.

I headed back to Hootenanny and am very pleased that I did as it was a first time see for James Gordon And The Power who were a late substitute for the unable-to-make-it-due-to-family-matters Mark Sharp And The Bicycle Thieves. James put on a superb show with great songs. Once again a nice find and another to put on my watch list.

Finally, as pumpkin time approached, the last band to see were Luke La Volpe at the PentaHotel. Imagine, if you will, that George Ezra bloke but with so much better songs and a much better attitude and you are half way there. They are a superb band and the lack of audience did not do their great music justice. Prior to that though, I had a lovely chat with Anna & Jonny from False Friends. Such nice people.

Midnight and I was truly done. Another 12 acts seen and a fantastic time was had. XPO North is cementing its place as a music festival of pure quality and long may they continue to support these up and coming bands in Inverness. A big thank you to the organisers for all their very hard work.

 

 

Jocktoberfest 2018 – Friday – Chips and Gravy

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Ah, Jocktoberfest. For those of you who don’t know, Jocktoberfest is a two-day celebration of local beer and great music – or as I see it – an excuse to get pished in the wild. It’s a festival loosely styled on the German tradition of Ocktoberfest (with more hay and less lederhosen) held on an old farm just outside Inverness – the famous Black Isle Brewery itself. Yer man here was foolishly trusted with a pint and a pen, so here lies my review of the whole shindig. Well, the memorable bits of the shindig – I did say there was beer.

Now, full disclosure, I’ve been to Jocktoberfest in previous years. Granted, this was before I realised I could put words in order and publish them on the internet so I could bask in my own literary prowess, but those are stories for another day. I knew it was going to be a weekend full of booze and bands, and I knew I had a tent to kip in, that was all I needed. After a short and swift journey, I arrived at the site, ready to take on the weekend. Well, I would have been, had I realised I was two hours early for the arena opening. “Not to worry, I’ll get my tent up” I thought to myself, “that shouldn’t be too hard.” Fucking BOLLOCKS TO THAT. All the old Gods and the new had decided it was time to blow a bastard of a hoolie and simultaneously pish it down, leaving me scrambling for sheets of ‘waterproof’ fabric and bendy sticks whilst miserably cold and moist. It worked in my favour though, I passed those two hours.

The arena was easy to find as ever – go straight ahead at the Haggis Emporium – not what my hangover would need in the morning, but never mind – and through the gates. After a glorious four minutes in a portaloo I’ll never get back, I wandered over to the Dutch Barn (also known as the main stage) and settled in for an evening of tunes and tribulations.

First up we had Keir Gibson, a delight of a young man. I have various notes comparing him to Ed Sheeran, Connor Oberst, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and a ‘somehow less-depressed’ Passenger. Ultimately, he was good, eh? He looked a bit nervous up there alone, but in fairness he was opening a music festival, I’d have shit myself silly in his position. Playing songs from his new EP, his voice was heavy and emotional whilst his guitar was twangy and melodic. Even this miserable old bastard’s heart was touched by his music – something that hasn’t happened since the Max Headroom incident scared it right out of my chest, taking any semblance of joy with it and leaving behind an empty, gaping void yearning for the mechanical giggling to stop. Ahem. Moving on.

Keir Gibson taking one for the team – he’s an expert fly catcher.

 

Following my emotional reawakening were local band Table for Four, giving it big licks to the sounds of Britney Spears. I didn’t think metal and 2007’s biggest mistake was a combination that could ever work together, but like sausages and jam, they did (just). Noticing that there were four of them but no table, the band cracked out a rather crude number called “The Blowjob Song”.

Actual footage of me trying to figure out the above dilemmas.

 

At least, I think it was called that. If it wasn’t it should have been. The lyrics were something along the lines of liking a girl but she’s busy “sucking on his dick”. I was left with questions. Was this misogynistic despite a female singer? How would I feel about it if the singer was male? Why aren’t I at the bar? With that, I went to the bar. It was the only logical next step.

T44 – Table for 4, table 4 4, table 4 four Tfor4. T4four, hashtag something something table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite my emotional anguish, I did enjoy Table for Four. They were just the right amount of polished and energetic, without being irritating or wanky. Had I taken more notes I’m sure I’d have something more insightful to say here but true to form, I disappoint. Come on, it wouldn’t be a Chips & Gravy special if I said anything useful.

 

Thankfully, there was some more music to be greedily lapped up by my thirsty ears; a cover band named Guilty Pleasures. The clue is in the name; they performed covers of every cheesy pop song you can think of from the last few decades. Donning stripes and sparkles even I was jealous of, the singer belted out updated versions of old favourites; Michael Jackson, Bananarama and even Lionel Ritchie. I remember thinking initially that Guilty Pleasures would have been more suited to a wedding or pub performance, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The audience were cutting shapes and taking names and the band were clearly having the time of their lives. As someone who contemplates a skinny dip off the Kessock Bridge when cheesy pop surfaces, I did not expect to enjoy this band. I was pleasantly surprised, and that surprised me.

I’d look this smug if I was this good, too.

A couple of pints later and it was time to get in about Tweed – a local Ceilidh band who were noticeably devoid of any tweed attire. Not that this deterred me, I was already keen for a ceilidh, but nothing gets me in the mood like an accordion playing the Tetris song. I couldn’t believe my luck when they belted that one out. “These are my people,” I thought. As I was stumbling through my own drunken version of the Gay Gordons, the band called out the group of wee roasters ruining everyone’s fun in the middle of the crowd. In my experience, audience bad behaviour generally goes unnoticed or unannounced by folks on the stage but not this time. Tweed politely asked them to calm down, stating that they’d “rather have a happy dancefloor than six happy punters”. Nice one. The group of ‘lads lads lads lads’ were told in no uncertain terms to go away, and joy once again descended on the audience. The atmosphere was electric as the band flawlessly performed a Scottish folk version of A Ha’s Take On Me, followed by Runrig’s Loch Lomond. With not a dry eye in the house, the crowd begged for one more tune. The evil stage managers were not originally keen for this, but the audience very much were. After some time of booing and audible disdain, Tweed were granted ‘wan mare choon’ and normal service was resumed. Pints were had, dancing was judged, and it was time for a short and damp trundle off to bed for me.

Don’t let this photo fool you; the drummer was more than just an arm.

You’ll be glad to know I stayed for Saturday too, and I have some more words and that coming for you in the next few days. I know you can barely contain your excitement but do try, there’s only so much wild-eyed adoration I can take.

Jocktoberfest 2018 – Friday 7th September – official – Woolly Dermal

Reading Time: 10 minutes

A wee day out and that

 

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JOCKTOBER!

So we took a wee trip out to the Black Isle to the hallowed ground that is the Black Isle Brewery, ready for what the weather said would be a cold and wet weekend. The forecast was a bit of a shame, as last year was brilliant on that front. Boots packed, lots of jumpers and a rain coat. Camera memory cards cleared up this time after a rather rushed last minute process for Belladrum earlier this year. In fairness, that’s because most of the two nights leading up to the aforementioned festival involved making the oversized bunting for the Burke and Hare stage, leaving little time to pack. How rock and roll is that? Not very I guess, but there were complications with planning things this summer, so that was the most economical way to get in. I know it’s probably bad journalistic craic to start waffling on about a festival unrelated to the one you’re covering, but hear me out.

We’re still very much the new kids on the music review block, so Belladrum was our first attempt at festival coverage. We could have done a bit better, and are still a little behind with our review of that, but everything is a learning process. So there’s the odd situation where the full Jocktoberfest review is coming in before the other one is finished.

Press passes were supplied from the nice folks at Jocktoberfest, which gave us a wee kick to get this one out as a priority. This makes it our inaugural ‘official’ festival coverage, and importantly, that gave us stage access for some better photos, which hopefully has paid off a bit.

One of the reasons I really like Jocktoberfest is the size of it. It’s not too big, in a compact enough space and has a good mix of talent. The stages are timed so for the most part you can see as much as possible if you want to, and not miss out on seeing some new or familiar talent. That’s how Belladrum started off, and they did good eh! Bella has grown and evolved into something different since then, and has done well with that, and is a fine festival – but Jocktoberfest, please, never change; we love you!

No heads were harmed in the making of this photo – the gent fell back into the lovely hay in awe of the food!

Jocktoberfest is a brilliant wee festival, and part of the Scottish Food and Drink fortnight, that’s a bunch of events and festivals around the country where you can sample some quality energy provisions for your palette – more info about that here. The Black Isle Brewery beers, both the standard ones, and the special limited edition ones they put out on rotation are chuffing lovely – especially gratifying was the Strawberry Wheat Beer on the Friday evening. The real culinary hero of the event is always, always the lamb burgers though. Last year I had my kids with me, and I think we consumed about eight of them between the three of us. I *may* have had four of those eight, but they are so, so good! The plan was to take them this time, but that wasn’t possible, so this, if nothing else is something they can read about, and see the copious amounts of videos and such like that we’ve put up on our facebook page.

Perfect setting to try the Black Isle craft Beers

Other things that are greatly welcomed at this craft beer extravaganza are the clear signs with which band is on where at which time. There’s no need for lanyards, which I tend to find a pain in the tits at bigger festivals, having to flip back and forth to see which bands and events are on where. An easy to read bit of signage does the trick nicely. If I was being picky, I’d say it would be good to have another chalkboard with all of the bands listed in alternating colours in chronological order, but that’s probably because I was lazy and working off a notepad.  Seriously though, Jocktoberfest bossed it, publishing times and stages well in advance, online for free. It’s the way to do it!

DINOSAURS EVERYWHERE!

Hay Dino!

The Jocktober-team love a theme, and this time the theme was one million years BC (Before Craft!) Having a theme in a small festival is hilarious, the purveyors of the dino and caveman chic were all mingling between each other, which was surreal and giggle inducing. Hats off to those dressed as dinosaurs too, as the weather turned out to be toasty hot. We’ll be sticking a small gallery of pictures up on another page, in a sort of lazy journalism, ‘out and about, seen in the town’ sort of thing; but with dinosaurs. Linky linky.

On arrival a few folk I was camping with were already there and had set up the gazebo, and the beginnings of a circle of tents had started forming, the gin and ice was out and some of my fellow nettlers, friends and associates were already getting into the spirit of things. Or it was getting into them. Tent went up, a bit of craic was had, cameras and notebooks were loaded, and into the arena a couple of us went.

In the beginning

I’m a determined sort of fella, so I was keen to see as many of the bands as possible, I think I only missed two or three the whole weekend, so if you happened to be one of them, sorry and that; I did my best, feel free to get your friends to drop us a line and come and help! Normally I’d be more gonzo-ish in my reviews, and there’s a couple of TheNettle.scot writers are also covering Jocktoberfest, but this is the formal, music one.

Keir Gibson

Keir Here

So Friday opened with Keir Gibson giving the beginnings of the crowd his acoustic guitar and verse. He’s a talented fella and has what I’d call a classical voice – it’s well rounded and confident. If I was to describe it like a gin or wine, the music was very current, hints of George Ezra, notes of Mumford and Sons and a subtle taste of Paolo Nutini. It was pleasant and he’s only going to grow in popularity – it was a good fit and gentle feel good start for the opening of Jocktoberfest. I don’t know why, but his voice seemed to fit with the good warm weather that we were apparently not getting, but did.

After he’d done his number, there was a wee break before Table For Four (T44) took over the stage. I’d seen them as a two piece band under their previous incarnation, Bunny and the Bear in the Tooth and Claw before, but hadn’t quite managed to catch them as Table for Four. Sometimes evolutions can go bad, like, I wish humans had kept their tails, it seems rubbish that we don’t get to keep them. I’d love a tail. Table for Four’s final form was a progressive metamorphosis though, rather than a “they were good back in the day, but now they’re shite” sort of thing. The four piece took the tempo up a wee bit with their presence.

These people need a table for four, but they are Table for Four. Someone get them a table!

They opened with an instrumental song, which worked well as a bridge from Kier Gibson’s set, before hitting out the track ‘Mcloving’ – not a Superbad reference, as the lead singer Sarah, or (Jeremiah Dingdong, as she referred to herself)  clarified. It was the second track where you started to get a feel for the band. They’ve got a good voice in Sarah, and the pop-punk track that they shared was ear pleasing. The wee team of either habitual restaurant bookers or bar dwellers (I’m second guessing the band name origin here) then gave us three songs in quick succession, with a good 90’s vibe to them. Loser was the first of the ménage à trois of songs.

Rocking and bopping

We got T44’s version of a Britney Spears song, a new song, their track “One man Band” and a Ramones cover. The vocals were rocking, and I’ll iterate again that I liked their sound. On a side note I caught that the guitarist had a T-shirt on from the Market Bar’s “Never Mind the Wedding” foodbank fundraiser, with the delicate embrace of two lizards fornicating. Well done Claire Maclean Illustrations, your reach is wide. It fitted with the Dinosaur theme of the festival too.  Anyway, the foursome left us with the track “Jealousy” to finish, and in return were treated to the band’s first experience of having “One more tune” called back to them. That’s got to be a testament of good feedback.

On from the rock

 

The Guilty Pleasures were up next. They’re a very sleek outfit and I’d seen a couple of their promo vids before. My only other previous experience of the singer, Michelle, was promoting a music class for little ones, which had looked really cool at a baby show. I’d wanted to take my son to it, but my partner of the time wasn’t keen for it.  She’d seemed confident and warm back then, so I’d wondered how the stage presence had progressed. The band arrived in glamorous attire, suited and booted, or in Michelle’s case sparkly as a diamond.

Lead singer Michelle

Opening with Shocking Blue’s ‘Venus’ they showed off their polished professionalism, and ran through a few tracks, Video Killed the Radio Star, Mamma Mia and Beat It, to name a few. We did live stream them, but I managed to flip the camera over to my dish whilst streaming, so we didn’t save the video. No one wants to see a Blair Witch style beanie wearing nasal shot half way through getting into “Hot Stuff”.  I’m not generally a huge fan of cover bands, but it worked really well, and as a ‘working band’ they’re good. I can see them getting bigger over time. Coincidentally TheNettle.scot  received an enquiry for music bookings last week for a function, and signposted the requester towards them. They worked in the early afternoon setting and helped shake any timidity away from the crowd, and into the dancing groove.

The function band, being functionally grand, on the stand.

I got my first beverage of the evening at this point, the aforementioned Strawberry Wheat Beer was my tipple of choice. Wetter than an otter’s pocket – it was lush.

Tweed Ceilidh Band 

Fiddle me this

If the Guilty Pleasures lubricated the crowd, Tweed electrically charged them. An accordion, drums, and a fiddle on stage can go one of a few ways. It can go with the sing-songy very trad ceilidh bands in a sort of White Heather Club style hell, the interim Corries style, or my preferred instance, the modern, lets get this party going way. Shit the bed! – There was no frigging doubt that Tweed were in the last category.  The hay started flying, and the audience was irrepressibly buoyant, the cavemen were waving their inflatable clubs around in a frantic and joyous manner.

Powered by joy, and powering the crowd

The animated crowd were only matched by the fiddle player. What a hero – he was cutting some serious shapes and the revellers were like putty in the band’s jams. (Puns ahoy!) A wee shout out to the Netsounds guys at this point for being awesome generally. Tweed Ceilidh Band took us on a musical tour, with a rendition of Korobeiniki, which yer ma knows as the Tetris theme song, then some Cossack dancing music and some reggae. One thing I wasn’t expecting was an Oi! Oi! Oi! punk elation feeling from them, but they were full force, hyper tempo mentals. I can’t think about that part of the evening without grinning, the highlight of the night for me. They went over their time allocation, which delighted the now fanatical crowd that they’d bonded with through sweat and kinetic energy. There was absolutely a Need for Tweed, and a Need for Tweed 2 would be most welcome next year!

Blair here

To finish up the night DJ Blair Massari took us into the stars, with a good mix of soulful funk, psychedelia and disco music. It was a perfect chilled vibe to bring the night in and let us all dance our way to the campsite.

Blair there

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting back to the campsite, there were only four of the twenty or so folk I was with still standing, or nestling on camping chairs. A bit of craic was had, and a self-congratulatory beer or two. I’d’ve indulged in more, but I wanted to catch as much of the festival as possible. We were covering it, and there’s only two stages, so it should be viable to catch most of the acts, and I was determined that TheNettle would do that this year! Also by this point, it was freezing; so I left the last remaining party people to get some kip. Tomorrow, you can read some more about the festival, but ta ta for now.

 

What happened next? Read our Saturday part one here:

 

Jocktoberfest – Saturday 8th September – official pt. 1 – Woolly Dermal

 

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