Archive | May, 2011

The Miserable Rich – Live in Queens Park 29/05/11

Posted on 30 May 2011 by Dorian

A couple of clips of The Miserable Rich playing at the Brighton Festival Freedom Picnic in Queens Park. It was a cold and windy day so the sound is hampered in parts by the wind on the microphone. The first song (above) is ‘Early Mourning’ but I can’t place the name of the second song (below).

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The Best Music Venue

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The Best Music Venue

Posted on 29 May 2011 by Dorian

In my brief bio on this website I’m very positive about Brighton’s record shops and they are some of the best in the country. I was pleased to see this recognised when Resident Records (where I spend most Monday lunchtimes browsing the new releases) was named “Independent Music Retailer of the Year” in the Music Week awards. This is in addition to their award for being “England’s Favourite Record Shop” in conjunction with Record Store Day 2011. It is a great record shop with a good range, decent budget items and some excellent in-store performances each year and they deserve both awards.

Resident Records

Resident Records

In the same awards another Brighton institution, The Concorde 2, was voted “Live Music Venue of the Year” beating The Royal Albert Hall amongst others on the shortlist. In my bio I’m less positive about Brighton’s range of music venues, something I should update soon as I’m not being totally fair. As the Great Escape demonstrated Brighton has a lot of venues and lots of them are actually pretty good. Considering the size of the city we are actually pretty well supplied and my reservations about a lot of the venues are equally down to my fussiness as they are to the shortcomings of the venue.

However, I do think it is important to have high standards and demand a decent experience from a live music venue. It shluld be a place that means you get the most from a performance, but also somewhere that enables an act to play at their best. I have some issues with The Concorde 2, mainly that the aspect and layout of the venue means that there are too many places where you can’t hear the band well enough (especially well full) but it does put on some of the best bands in town and I’ve had some great nights there.

The Free Butt was the subject of a campaign some time ago when it was threatened with closure. Despite this being one of the Brighton venues I have frequented the most I didn’t join the calls to save the venue. When the venue was renovated some years earlier a very bad job was done. The stage had a pillar front and centre making most places in the venue restricted view, the bar was cold and windowless like a prison waiting room and the toilets were several floors and minutes away. A bad job was done that didn’t show enough respect to audiences or artists and it didn’t deserve to be saved. The real shame was that promoters brought some of the most interesting bands there and the experience of seeing them was spoilt by the venue.

Brixton Academy

Brixton Academy

I don’t expect a venue to be perfect but it needs to either be a great way to see and hear a band, or a great place to be when seeing and hearing a band. Recently at The Roundhouse we struggled to find places in the venue where the sound was good, but the venue is a great place to be and we were able to find good sound when we hunted for it. Lots of outdoor venues have sound problems as well, but places like Larmer Tree Gardens and Somerset House make up for it by being great places to see music.

Old theatres and cinemas are generally the best places to see live music, designed with shows and stages in mind. When I ask people their favourite music venue the Brixton Academy (I can’t bring myself to add the Carling bit) is very often their first response. The shape of the venue and the sloping floor mean that there is almost nowhere in the house where you can’t get a good view (it is a particular favourite with anyone a little bit shorter for this reason as well). I haven’t been there for a while, but if a band I want to see plays the venue (and isn’t coming closer to home) I will always make a point of getting to see them there.

This isn’t to say that a converted building of another type can’t make for a good venue, I enjoy the rough and ready charms of The Green Door Store, but the dedicated theatre style venue is where you get the best live experience.

I’d be interested to hear your views of what the best live music venue is, in the UK and round the world, so please post your comments below.

By Dorian Rogers

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Jóhann Jóhannsson  – The Miners’ Hymns

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Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners’ Hymns

Posted on 26 May 2011 by Joe

In Rob Young’s excellent book Electric Eden, which charts the history of modern English folk music, the lines between the genres are blurred from the outset. The folk music of Young’s vision crop up in rock, mainstream pop, traditional music, dance and classical music. Whether it be the pastoral classical music of Ralph Vaughan Williams or the folk rock of Fairport Convention these musicicans take on traditional music share the same goal of respecting the past and creating something new.

It is this vision of English folk music that  Jóhannsson is continuing with this soundtrack to  Bill Morrison’s documentary  of north east of England mining communities, which uses original footage to show the brutal hardships of mining and the chaos of the miners strike of 1984.

Jóhannsson’s score, which is released on the indie label Fatcat,  was originally recorded live at the film’s premier at Durham Catherdral. It is a venue that Jóhannsson returned to for this live recording that once again features the magnificent catherdral organ and members of the union NASUWT Riverside Band, the colliery brass band that originally formed in 1877.

The results are quite simply breathtaking as Jóhannsson takes those traditional colliery band brass sounds and morphs them into a powerful, emotional and contemporary piece of music. At times the brass drones in the background but is constantly uplifted by a lone trumpet or the whole brass ensemble’s voice reaching out as one. Whether it’s a battle with police in 1984 or emerging from the mine into the sunshine during the 1930s depression the music beautifully fits the mood.

But it goes further than its original mining source. After the mines closed communities were left with nothing as the polices of Margaret Thatcher conveniently forgot to replace  the jobs and careers they had dismantled for whole communities across England. This could be the soundtrack to the lives of the call centre workers, who are timed and ticked off if they take too long going to the toilet, or the generations of unemployed families whose hope has been sucked out of them.

It is not out of place to consider this remarkable album alongside some of the great protest songs of the 1960s and certainly alongside Elvis Costello’s  Shipbuilding’, his bitter account of the demise of Liverpool’s shipbuilding industry and the Falklands war during the 1980s.

Even the messages contained in the tracklisting of the importance of community have a timeless political feel. ‘An Injury To One Is The Concern Of All’ and ‘The Cause of Labour is the Hope of the World’ are as relevant now as they were when England’s mines first opened.

This album comes at a time when the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society seeks to recreate these ideals of community. But Cameron’s vision is weak in comparison, it has no emotion, no money to back it up and from a political party that caused the urban decay and generations of unemployment that the Big Society seeks to redress.  I hope Cameron hears this at some point, sheds a tear and realises how hollow his words are. I doubt it though.

Jóhannsson may be from Iceland but he may just have created the greatest English folk album for decades.

9/10

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Mercury Rev live at The Roundhouse, London, 21/05/11

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Mercury Rev live at The Roundhouse, London, 21/05/11

Posted on 25 May 2011 by Dorian

The single album concert is all about nostalgia, a classic band playing one of their classic albums to a partisan crowd. This is a theme that ATP Concerts have been promoting for some years now since they started their ‘Don’t Look Back’ series of concerts. Tonight it was the turn of Mercury Rev to bring their Deserters Songs album to the Roundhouse in London.

First up, and sticking with the nostalgia theme, was ChamelonsVox, the current version of 1980s act The Chameleons. The Chameleons are an act that I’d heard of, but never knowingly listened to. In advance of the gig I checked out a couple of tunes on YouTube and was surprised to find a couple of songs that I knew amongst their early output. Original singer Mark Burgess was backed at this gig by a bunch of musicians that were able to pretty perfectly replicate that early 80s Manchester sound, complete with guitar pedal effects overload.

There were elements of many of their contemporary north west acts in their sound, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Joy Division all came to mind during the set. It was a professional performance but the lack of song familiarity, and a rather dour overall sound, make it hard to get too enthusiastic. The fans in the crowd seem to love it and I can’t really offer up a very educated opinion on the set. It is hampered a little by the slightly variable Roundhouse sound, several places in the auditorium offering up a very washed out audio experience. I move to find a better position to listen to the main event.

ChameleonsVox

ChameleonsVox

I’ve not been to a single album concert before, and it is slightly odd to know not just which songs will be played, but also the order they’ll be played in. First up is album opener ‘Holes’ and the song, performance and experience is pretty magical from the start. The band, lead by the angelic voiced Jonathan Donahue and the enigmatic Grasshopper, seem to be enjoying every minute and this is reflected by a very appreciative audience.

Mercury Rev

Mercury Rev

Listening to the set I’m left wondering why it has been so long since I listened to the album in full. The singles sound great, and get the best response from the crowd, but it is impressive just what a consistent concise and well paced album it is. It is also an album that retrospectively deserved a place in our top 100 list, but you can’t remember everything. Despite some extended versions of tracks the set ends quickly, limited by the length of the album, and the band leave the stage to rapturous applause.

The band return to the stage and play a very well chosen set of songs as the encore. ‘Car Wash Hair’ showcases the quirky early incarnation of the band and ‘The Dark Is Rising’ epitomises the overblown orchestrated drama of the post-Deserters Songs band. After four songs in the encore they leave the stage and the house lights go up. Some of the audience seemed unhappy with the overall concert length, but that seems to miss the point somewhat. What we got was a great set of songs played with passion and that seems like more than good value for money to me.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Top Five Bob Dylan Covers

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Top Five Bob Dylan Covers

Posted on 24 May 2011 by Joe

To celebrate Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday today we thought we’d compile a short list of some of our favourite Bob Dylan covers. Hope you enjoy, oh, and happy birthday Bob.

5. Stephen Malkmus – Ballad of a Thin Man

4. XTC – All Along the Watchtower

3. Jim James and Calexico – Goin’ to Acapulco

2. Nick Drake – Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright

1. Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower ….again. So good we had to include this track twice

Compiled by Joe Lepper

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The Great Escape 2011

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The Great Escape 2011

Posted on 18 May 2011 by Dorian

It isn’t possible to do a standard review of The Great Escape. You can only see a small fraction of the acts playing, you can’t guarantee getting in to see the acts you like best and, given the focus on new music, a lot of the acts will be totally new to you. So, I’ll try and give a flavour of the acts I did see and hopefully offer some hints and tips to anyone who is thinking of attending the event next year.

Day 1

My first act was upstairs for the start of the evening show at Komedia. The stage was sponsored by Mojo magazine and I was excited to see the evening introduced by their editor in chief Phil Alexander. This was probably only exciting to me as the majority of the crowd looked too young to have watched him in the middle of the night on Raw Power in the mid 90s. The first band of the night was Deep Sea Arcade, an Australian act with a big 60s influence. They had a nice garage sound and reminded me a little of The Coral. Their front man had a decent enough swagger but his slightly weedy vocals were one of the weaker elements of a pretty strong set.

Deep Sea Arcade

Deep Sea Arcade

On to The Corn Exchange and more Australian sounds from the much tipped Cloud control. Their sound is the epytomy of indie, sitting somewhere between The Go-Betweens and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Another decent set and despite the obvious influences they managed to sound pretty fresh. Mid-way through one of their songs they cover a section of the Butthole Surfers ‘Pepper’ and that makes me forgive any of their less inventive elements.

Back to the Komedia and, after some indecision, downstairs to the packed studio bar to see the second half of the Brasstronaut set. Brasstronaut are difficult to define, a group playing alternative pop music with jazz instruments rather than a jazz band playing pop (if that makes any sense). Whatever they are, they are pretty great on the evidence of the songs I saw and the crowd loved them. I’ll definitely check them out again if I get the opportunity.

Cloud Control

Cloud Control

Following some wandering, more indecision and a food break we ended up upstairs at the Albert public house. Setting up on stage, in front of another capacity crowd, were Dry The River. One of the hardest working bands at the event they would play four sets over the weekend and this was their second. They spent far too long setting up and tweaking the sound whilst the crowd got a bit restless, but when they did start playing it was worth it. They play what is weakly described as folk rock, and have the requisite facial hair for the job. The songs are good, the hooks memorable and you can take a look at a video clip here.

Wandering through the streets we decided to check out Gang Gang Dance at The Pavilion Theatre and see what the fuss is about for one off the more hyped bands of the festival.  Walking towards the venue we soon saw that this wasn’t going to be possible, the queues for the venue, and the neighbouring Corn Exchange (where Warpaint were playing), stretched far up the road.

Tip 1: If you want to see any of the better known acts playing at the bigger venues later in the night you need to get there early. Probably at the start of the previous band if not earlier.

Day 2

The second days events started with a move towards some of the seafront venues to check out the entertainment in a different part of town. We headed downstairs at Audio to see the “dark and twisty” electro of Christian Aids. The music seemed to veer towards a fairly bland take on Euro-pop and to be honest the only thing that could be described as dark was the venue. It was so dark that you couldn’t see anything ion the venue except a bit of the stage where a group of men were stood drinking from water bottles fronted by a female vocalist. If the music had been more engaging I might not have minded, but it was a pretty dull and not very enjoyable experience.

Heading upstairs we found a totally different sound and atmosphere, with Modern Superstitions halfway through their set. They play a pretty traditional take on rock and roll, with a good level of stomp and a confident and brash female vocalist. It made me think of the Gossip (without the self conscious coolness or histrionic vocals) with just a little bit of Suzi Quotro (and I mean that in a good way). It was a great set from what I saw, and I wish I’d been up there from the start, one of my bands to watch out for from the weekend.

Modern Superstitions

Modern Superstitions

Next saw a trip to Horatio’s on the pier, a venue better known for the sound of karaoke and the smell of chip fat than new alternative music acts. We arrived for the end of Alias’s set, a young all-girl trio from Barcelona. Not enough time to get an accurate view on the band, their amateurish but melodic perfomance was enjoyable but could grate over a full set or an album. Following on the same stage were Tribes, a much hyped Camden act that (like a lot of the younger acts I saw over the weekend) took their template from the bands of the early 1990s. The band had a lot of energy and a decent swagger, and I enjoyed their influences with Superchunk coming to mind. The downside of the set was perhaps a lack of variety, but they impressed me enough that I’d be interested to hear how they translate on record.

Josh T Pearson

Josh T Pearson

A lesson learned from day 1 I headed to the Pavilion theatre very early to make sure I got a good spot for Josh T Pearson’s evening performance. Placed front left of the stage I had no preconceptions about the next act to appear, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou. Their sweet voices and close harmonies were lovely, and I really enjoyed the way they played. The microphone sharing brought a closeness to the performance that worked with their cheerful folk sound and I was reminded of Simon and Garfunkle in places. Trevor Moss does have an unfortunate similarity to James Blunt in his vocals, but it was a very refreshing set, watch them play here.

The act that had been looking forward to most was on the stage next, and he didn’t disappoint. A very intriguing figure, returning after a ten year absence (when his band Lift To Experience broke up) he was playing songs from his acclaimed solo album. Heavily bearded and downbeat he stood alone on the stage and his country tales were beautifully sung and played with real intent on a surprisingly noisy acoustic guitar. Between songs he was more talkative than I’d expected and told some dry jokes, which were mainly at the expense of musicians. It was a powerful and mesmerising set and a great way to end the day, see a clip of it here.

Tip 2: Pick an area of town with acts that look interesting and try them out. Walking backwards and forwards across town wastes a lot of time and finding new acts is an enjoyable part of a festival of this type.

Day 3

The Saturday was loaded with most of the better known acts and four of the bands I wanted to see most (White Denim, Yuck, Sufjan Stevens and Okkervil River) were all on at the same time. The organisers clearly have their eye on selling lucrative Saturday day tickets and spreading the bands better over the three days would greatly improve the festival.

Starting near the station in The Green Door Store our first act of the day, Hot Horizons, was another band that had a strong early 90s influence to their sound with a hint of shoegaze. The band had a good humoured and relaxed stage presence and it was an enjoyable performance. They played a tight set and the drumming in particular stood out, definitely a band with promise and one that I’ll make a point of checking out on record.

The Festival Hub

The Festival Hub

After an early and extended break for food and the FA Cup final we headed down to see what was playing at the festival hub. The late afternoon break in gigs is another of the festivals less successful elements. It is hard enough to see acts over the weekend and it seems a strange decision to stop activity for a three hour period in the afternoon. Some bands were playing during the lull on the outdoor stage at the festival hub and it seemed a good way to pass the time, but the sound was too quiet and any impact the bands would have had was lost. An outdoor stage for smaller acts and surprise sets is a great idea but it didn’t seem to quite come off in practice.

Heading back indoors took us to the studio bar at the Komedia for the 2nd time in the weekend. Irish singer-songwriter Rhob Cunningham, also of the band Our Little Secrets, took to the stage for a solo set to a busy room (one of the best things about the weekend is that I never saw a quiet gig, the crowds were good everywhere). This kind of Dylan influenced ‘one man with a guitar’ act is ten-a-penny and needs to have something to make it stand out. Luckily for Cunningham his voice is strong enough, and his songs are catchy enough, to make him stand out. I enjoyed the set a lot and you can see a clip of him here.

Rhob, like most of the acts I saw was incredibly polite and appreciative of the audience. I’ve always been a fan of acts that appreciate and respect their audience, I’ve always found the Liam Gallagher style disdain and arrogance tiresome. (And Liam really should grow out off it, it was pretty boring when he was young and starting out, now he is  nearly 40 and a millionaire it is pretty pathetic)

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens

We arrived at the Dome concert hall at the advertised time to see support act DM Stith, only for the lights to come up and reveal Sufjan Stevens and band launching into an dramatic version of ‘Seven Swans’, Sufjan himself with swan/angel wings outstretched. The disappointment of missing DM Stith was soon forgotten as we were treated to a truly epic 2 and half hours of music, lights, dancing and drama. The set was heavily taken from The Age of Adz and he was celebrating the more electronic sounds and taking the opportunity to face his fear of dancing in public for the festival crowd.

The more celebratory and expressive set meant that there were some real opportunities for light and dark shades through the evening. A big set piece would be followed by a quiet folk number and this worked perfectly and didn’t jar as it could have with a less talented and sophisticated performer. I could write about the show for pages and pages, the Lady Gaga elements of the performance (including giant glitterball costume), the lengthy between songs explanations of his challenges and motivations (including a slide-show about his muse, the outsider artist Royal Robertson) and a dozen other elements.

The performance of ‘Impossible Soul’ (almost as long as the 25 minute album version) brought the show to a close and is likely to have divided some of the audience. My friend questioned his use of auto-tune saying it brought to mind the kind of terrible pop exemplified by The Truesteppers featuring Dave Powers (sic), but he concluded that the show was 95% excellent none-the-less. Stevens returned to the stage dressed down in jeans and t-shirt for a solo piano reading of ‘Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’ which highlighted how brilliantly he could move from showbiz to intimate. The band returned to join him for an inevitable performance of ‘Chicago’, complete with balloons, before calling it a night after one of the most memorable performances I have seen in many years. Stunning stuff, you can watch a clip here.

I like to end on a high, and decided to make that the last act I’d watch of the weekend. The Great Escape is flawed and not the place to go if you want to guarantee seeing lots of your favourite acts, but I thought it was a big success and I enjoyed seeing so many packed gigs over the weekend. I’ll definitely be back next year.

Tip 3: I think it is a great idea to pay the few pounds extra to see one of the big Dome shows over the weekend. If you don’t have a particular preference avoid the Saturday night set as it is when the organisers are most likely to schedule a lot of the better known acts. (Not that I’d have missed Sufjan Stevens for any of them).

By Dorian Rogers

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Trentemøller – Late Night Tales

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Trentemøller – Late Night Tales

Posted on 18 May 2011 by Joe

Danish electro-goth producer Anders Trentemøller is the latest artist to take over the curator’s decks for the late Night Tales series.

If you are unaware of this excellent series it features 20 or so songs of the curator’s choice to snuggle up to at night, including at least one cover by the curator and one spoken word piece.

With a background in doom and gloom gothic electronic music, it take Anders a good few songs to approach anything near a snuggle, but when he does it turns out he’s a fairly  huggable chap underneath his  love of thudding bass and atmospheric bleeps.

Given his sombre tastes the opening few tracks, including ‘Waves Become Wings’ by This Mortal Coil and ‘Science Killer’ by The Black Angels, were to be expected and  left me a little too scared to sleep or relax.

But by track seven, with The Velvet Underground’s scary but marvellous ‘Venus in Furs’ Trentemøller gets into his stride and so starts a fine, even upbeat segment that includes 1960s French singer Jacqueline Taieb’s cheeky ‘7Heures Du Matin’ and M. Ward’s jaunty ‘Poor Boy, Minor Key’. The Papercuts’ ‘Unavailable’ and The Shangri-La’s ‘(Remember) Walking in the Sand’ are other highlights in this middle section.

The cover Trentemøller has chosen is one of my secret favourite tracks Chris Isaac’s ‘Blue Hotel’. However, this version sung by Marie Fisker and Steen Jørgensen, is only creditable rather than amazing. The inclusion of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s ‘The Proposition #1’ gives the  collection a movie soundtrack feel and things draw to a close with Paul Morley taking the spoken word slot reading from his short story ‘Lost For Words.’

As with all these Late Night compilations if you like the curator chances are you will enjoy their laid back look through their favourite tracks. Even though Trentemøller’s work doesn’t appeal to me, some of his influences, particularly from the 1960s certainly do.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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Obviouslies – Pinky

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Obviouslies – Pinky

Posted on 17 May 2011 by Joe

Columbus, Ohio, band Obviouslies are starting to get some deserved attention over this side of the Atlantic thanks mainly to some globally focused championing by their hometown music blog TheIndiehandbook.

Already Tom Robinson has played one of their tracks in 6Music and now we’ve been passed a copy of their debut album Pinky.

Such interest over here in the UK is  perhaps unsurprising as there is something reassuringly familiar about their brand of indie rock, that is not too dissimilar to our own Shrag and many others that regularly play at the Indietracks festival. Sure, this formula of Dinosaur Jr style bass padded out with distorted guitar is not going to break down the barriers of music,  but Obviouslies’ edge and sense of fun is undeniable.

Opener ‘Caca Culo, Pedo, Pis’ sounds a little like  CSS and among our highlights, as are ‘Always Wishes’ with its joyous opening riff and obvious single ‘Trapped in a Laff’. ‘All Messed Up’ is another fine track

‘I lose friends dub’ is among the more interesting, a change of tempo and delay on vocals make this an indie-dub oddity and things slow down even further with the wonderfully titled and atmospheric ‘Suicide Note Signed with a Smiley’. The electro-pop meltdown about halfway through indicates a possible change of direction on future releases should they get bored with pounding indie bass and distorted guitar.

Although Pinky arguably lacks a little direction and feels like a band finding their voice it undeniably shows an act with genuine promise. The organisers of Indietracks should book them up now where an appreciative audience awaits.

7.5/10

by Joe Lepper

Pinky is available as a free download and CD-R. Nick from the band tells us that it will be on LP “at some point”.

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Sufjan Stevens – Live at The Great Escape 14/05/11

Posted on 15 May 2011 by Dorian

This clip shows Sufjan Stevens performing ‘Too Much’ live at The Great Escape at Brighton Dome on Saturday 14th May 2011. This was the 2nd track of his epic two and a half hour set. Apologies for the shakey camera work, I was a bit too far from the stage and the lights confused the camera a little.

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Rhob Cunningham – Live at The Great Escape 14/05/11

Posted on 15 May 2011 by Dorian

This clip shows Rhob Cunningham performing ‘Her Cup & Her Arms’ live at The Great Escape at Brighton’s Komedia on Saturday 14th May 2011.

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