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Image from Pixabay“I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.”

Ray Bradbury

I have in anterior posts (of which this is but the most recent instance) attempted to shed some light on that most mysterious and wonderful process by which creative acts such as writing and composing are effected.

I say ‘attempted’ – of course – because beyond simply reporting anecdotally my own experiences I am no more able to explain the phenomenon than is anyone else. Should you doubt that any such examination is more than likely to fall short you might care to Google the phrase “How does the creative process work?“. You will discover – as did I – that the first page of results alone contains the following ‘definitive’ responses:

  • The four stages of creativity” – preparation, incubation, illumination, verification – (apparently!)
  • The five stages of the creative process” – preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration – (some crossover at least)
  • The creative process – six working phasesinspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation – (hmmm!)
  • The ten stages of the creative process” – the hunch, talk about it, the sponge, build, confusion, just step away, the love sandwich(!), the premature breakthrough, revisit your notes, know when you’re done – (blimey! That’s…er… different!)

I stopped at this point for what are probably pretty obvious reasons.

And yet… and yet… None of these earnest theses comes close to elucidating an experience that I seem to encounter with increasing frequency – one in which I start out with a firm idea in my mind only to find that the act of creation takes on a life of its own and I end up with something almost entirely antithetical to that which I had originally intended. At the risk of boring the gentle reader I should like to share the latest such instance.

I am currently working on a couple of songs that are intended to complete a brief collection whose inspiration – or motivation, should you prefer – has been my recent exodus from the country of my birth. I had been making good progress on one such of these with the notion in the back of my head that it might turn out to be a gently whimsical look at the love of the island life – the which is of course shared both by many Brits and by those who live on Vancouver Island or in the Gulf Islands.

When it came time to concentrate on the lyric I turned – as is my habit – to the InterWebNet to pursue some lines of research of relevance to the subject. A busy day of chasing leads suggested that the following (amongst others) might be significant:

  • Shakespeare – ‘Richard II’,’The Tempest’
  • Tennyson – ‘Ulysses’
  • Rabbie Burns – ‘To a Louse’
  • Churchill – ‘The Island Race’

An article by Open University senior lecturer, Nigel Clark, entitled ‘An Island Race?‘ – chimed with my initial intention of focusing on the creative tension implicit in living on an island surrounded by the seas – the which afford both a powerful means of defence from attack but simultaneously the path by which such a nation might venture forth to explore (and mayhap  to ‘conquer’) the rest of the world.

It was another article, however – “Is England too Good for the English?“, by Oxford University’s Austen Saunders – that changed the tenor of my song. Saunders exploration of the illustrious ‘John of Gaunt’ speech from ‘Richard II’ majors on John’s view that the English – as a result of Richard’s politicking and fiscal mismanagement – are no longer worthy of the “other Eden” that is ‘England’ itself. It is impossible not to recognise an immense resonance between this somewhat melancholy conclusion and the state in which the United Kingdom finds itself today. The song that eventually emerged from my subconscious thus turned out to be a lament for this sorry state of affairs rather than the amiable whimsy that I had intended.

Should the gentle reader be one of those who does not view the current situation in which Great Britain – and in particular, England – finds itself to be as dire as I have described – then I wish you well.

I hope that you still feel the same way in five year’s time…

 

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“More than 80 theatre artists from across Canada descend on Fernwood this March for the Belfry’s annual SPARK Festival – an opportunity to see some of the best theatre in the country.

With love, from scratch, and with some of the country’s best theatre artists, we build, rehearse and create our plays in our own home, a renovated 19th century church in Fernwood – Victoria’s most interesting neighbourhood.”

From The Belfry‘s website

Victoria is blessed to have such an energetic arts scene!

To The Belfry last night to catch one of the shows in the theatre’s annual ‘Spark‘ festival. This excellent festival runs for nearly two and a half weeks in March and offers a number of full length productions in rep in The Belfry main house and studio theatres, in the Metro studio and in other locations across the city.

As I have mentioned before in these marginalia the Kickass Canada Girl and I have season tickets to The Belfry’s regular season and this year we took advantage of the accompanying reduced price offer to pay our first visit to the festival as well. It proved a most interesting evening.

The show that we had selected – Toronto’s Outspoke Productions’ “SPIN” – started at 8:00 of the evening in the main house, but for those who chose to arrive early a number of ten minute ‘mini plays’ could be sampled in odd nooks and crannies around the building. The Girl and I saw three – ranging from an interesting audio production for which an audience of three donned headphones in a tiny ‘broom cupboard’ to listen to a monologue whilst rifling through a treasure box of memorabilia – all the way to a Mohawk woman of a certain age shocking the genteel burghers of Victoria with knowingly racist humour.

SPIN” was itself an intriguing disquisition by singer/songwriter/actress/poetess Evalyn Perry on the early history of cycling – the invention of which turns out to have been a major feminist event. The show featured – and this was a first for me at least – a bicycle percussionist! By this I mean (should you require clarification) a man who uses a bicycle and its component parts as a sort of drum kit rather than someone who plays percussion whilst riding upon a cycle!

We enjoyed the show greatly and found the story of Annie Londonderry (not her real name!) – the first woman to ride a bicycle around the globe – both fascinating and moving. We felt, however, that as a whole the piece needed a little structural work; that perhaps the balance of the material was not quite right for the length of the show.

Very grateful as ever that we have such splendid endeavours on hand to inspire us.

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Image from Pixabay“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Mark Twain

Following on from the reminiscences of my last post… and in an effort to demonstrate that these meanderings are not as purely random as they sometimes appear to be…

Back in the day I was (and still am in a somewhat desultory sense) a bass player. In common with many novice musicians I proudly acquired my first bass with no thoughts as to what to use for amplification. Later – once I had grown out of the usual home-made setup cobbled together from various bits of domestic electronica – I set about finding a bass rig that would give me the biggest bang for my bucks.

As detailed in my earlier disquisition concerning PA systems, received wisdom at the time was that an extravagantly sized loudspeaker cabinet was required to produce the desired bottom end, with the speakers themselves also being as large as possible. I ended up with an impressively chunky setup loaded with 18″ speakers.

The band in which I was playing at the time had found itself a semi-permanent rehearsal location in a ramshackle outbuilding that formed part of a nursery located in the middle of nowhere. Tucked away in the midst of a swathe of decaying greenhouses we could safely leave our equipment set up and ready to go, so that we could crack on with rehearsals with the minimum of fuss. Further – one of our number was the proud possessor of a van!

Once that band had succumbed to the habitual form of musical entropy I was obliged to downsize my bass rig. I was driving a Mini at the time (my first proper car) and the equipment had to be sized accordingly. Over the years since I have tinkered with various different setups, but when we packed all of our goods and chattels into a container to head for BC in the summer 2015 the box that I loaded was still a weighty lump.

Having payed for its conveyance to Canada I was not best pleased to discover that there was no way of easily converting it to operate on 110V! The manufacturer had gone out of business and no parts or circuit diagrams were available.

I am – as always – the luckiest of chaps, however, and she who is possessed of all wisdom agreed to help me purchase a new amplifier as my birthday present.

Well – you will be unsurprised to hear that technology has undergone its usual magical transformation in the thirty years since I last went shopping for such and it is now possible to purchase a tiny, tiny wee box that can miraculously produce more bottom end grunt than any rig I have ever owned. This thing is minute, it weighs next to nothing but is built like a tank and there can be no doubt that this little mutt could easily take on the big dogs… and probably win!

For those who demand technical details this is a Traynor (solid Canadian brand not found much outside these shores) small block SB110. The amp provides 100W and the cabinet is rear ported and loaded with a single 10″ speaker and a tweeter.

This thing is seriously loud for such a small unit and has no shortage of room-rattling bottom end.

How is that even possible?

 

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“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Mark Twain

Way back in the mid-1970s when I was in my early twenties and playing in the sort of wildly optimistic band that so many of us did back in the day – only one thing was certain… none of us had any money! One of the effects on the musician, of course, was that we had to make do with whatever cheap and cheerful equipment we could cobble together.

It is a sad truism concerning the arc of the musician’s career that, at the point that he (or she) is young and just learning to play, he (or she) must do so on some hideous old nail of an instrument that makes everything a hundred times more difficult than it need be. Of course, should he (or she) eventually become established as a musical legend, able rip out licks and riffs even whilst comatose – then the manufacturers of the most precious, the most beautiful, the most infinitely playable of musical contrivances dispense them like candy – utterly free of charge – to those who no longer have any need of such largesse… in the pursuit of ‘celebrity’ endorsement!

‘Tain’t fair!

But where was I? Oh, yes…

So – when it came to trying to cobble together a PA (Public Address) system such that – if nothing else – our delicate (some might say fey – this was the 70s!) vocals might be heard, we were obliged to beg, borrow or steal what we might. The bottom end was a different matter. Bass bins were expensive, hard to come by and people didn’t just give them away. We had to build our own!

Image from Wikimedia CommonsI carried out extensive research at my local library (for the InterWebNet had not at that point been invented) into the acoustic design required to reproduce low frequency signals at a reasonable volume. It turned out that we would need to build bass ‘horns’ of which – because of the length required to deliver frequencies low enough – the horn parts themselves would need to be ‘folded’ if the enclosures were to be confined to manageable proportions. My calculations (and it must be said that maths was never my strong suit) suggested that the unfolded length of the horn would need to be some where between fifteen and twenty feet! The resultant boxes were enormous and weighed a (metaphorical) ton each.

Image by Rudolph Schuba from Wikimedia CommonsNow – if you have been to a large concert anytime recently you will have observed that the PA system simply comprises a number of curved columns of small(ish) units suspended from the ceiling. This interestingly fragile looking contraption is called a Line Array. Not only are these modern systems really rather elegant, but the sound produced is any number of light years advanced from the distorted offerings of yesteryear. There is simply no comparison with the systems in use at the first gigs that I attended back in the early 70s, for which either side of the stage would be girt with huge stacks of bass and other cabinets (I went to one gig at which the support act had their own massive PA stacked in front of the main act’s system. There was a very long intermission!).

The point is – when it comes to gear (and technology) – everything has changed.

But why am I telling you all this? Just a tease, of course, for the next post!

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Er – pardon?

One of the issues concerning which I consulted my new doctor (details here) during my introductory interview with him at the start of November was the mild but persistent tinnitus with which I am now cursed – though in my left ear alone!

This ‘irritation’ takes the form of a constant high pitched whine or whistle at a level such that, though it is apparent when in quiet surroundings, I really don’t notice it at all for much of the time. Its presence did – however – focus my mind on the fact that I have never actually had my hearing checked.

This little message from the gods was reinforced by our recent spate of attendances at musical soirees of one sort or another. As far as I am concerned my hearing is in itself unimpaired, but I am increasingly aware that my ears get tired more quickly these days after an evening of listening to music – or should I spend too long in the studio.

My doctor – being, as he is, admirably proficient at his job – did as he should and suggested that I visit an audiologist for a hearing check. This – following some initial research on the InterWebNet – I duly did.

The good news is that my hearing is perfectly good, with the exception of a slight dip in performance for my left ear at high frequencies. Given that this corresponds pretty closely to the range in which I have tinnitus it is most likely that other signals are being slightly masked thereby.

In conversation with staff at the audiologists I raised the question of investing in some ear protectors, for those occasions on which which I attend concerts or other events at which the sound levels can be uncomfortable. For the musician it is essential that ear protection should attenuate the audio signal without compromising the frequency response thereof. In other words – such protection should make the music quieter without altering its tone or timbre.

These devices are certainly available but are, as you might expect, a sight more expensive than simpler equivalents and must be made to fit the individual ear. I decided that my hearing is too important to me not to be treated to the best and I was duly tested, measured and an order placed.

I took delivery of my new ear-pieces just the other day (see the above illustration) and jolly splendid they are. The silicon based moulding sits snugly in the ear and the attenuation capsules can be changed for those of other values should the need arise.

Now to see if they do the job…

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWhen Bob Dylan set out in the latter part of 1965 on the American, Australia and European tour that would wind its way long into 1966 – having already that year shaken the American folk scene to its core with his first public amplified appearance at the Newport Folk Festival – he took on the road with him an electric band… the Hawks.

The Hawks – based in Arkansas – had been the backing outfit for rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins before striking out on their own in 1964. Following a recommendation from a friend they were hired by Dylan in 1965 to back him for the electric component of his upcoming world tour. The format of the shows comprised two parts – a solo acoustic set by Dylan followed by the more controversial amplified section.

For an outfit based in the deep south the Hawks had a strong Canadian component – at one point featuring four Canadians and one American. One of those Canadians – who had headed south on his own as a sixteen year old in 1959 to join the band – was Jaime Royal Robertson… better known now as Robbie Robertson.

The Hawks famously morphed into The Band. Robertson emerged as a major songwriter whose later history need hardly be catalogued here. Suffice it to say that the man who wrote “The night they drove old Dixie down” is a legend in his own right and I have recommended him before in these jottings with reference to his wonderful recording – Music for the Native Americans.

Robertson – now seventy three – has recently published a first volume of his autobiography – “Testimony” – and Victoria’s excellent Bolen Books invited him, somewhat speculatively, to come to the city for a reasonably rare public appearance. Roberston – never having visited Victoria – agreed and the ensuing event – at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium – drew a crowd in excess of a thousand souls, each of whom received a signed hardback copy of the book as part of the package.

Needless to say I would have crawled over broken glass to attend the event. Our coming to Canada – and coincident attainment of a certain venerable stage of life – seems to be offering us opportunities to reconnect with those who have become our heroes and exemplars over the years. Given the tragic number of such who have passed beyond these shores during this strangest of years this is clearly an important and necessary experience.

Robertson described the effect on a fresh-faced twenty three year old of having to endure – night after night over a period of some nine months across three continents – the fury of Dylan’s acolytes at their hero’s adoption of the electric guitar and the accompanying band. The start of the second set was routinely met with boos, heckles, the throwing of objects onto the stage and – infamously at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall – the denunciation as ‘Judas‘ of the recent Nobel laureate.

If one can endure this sort of experience as a young man I guess one can endure just about anything.

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musicHard on the heels of my last post (which detailed the first two days of an elongated weekend of musical delights here in Victoria) and following a brief intermission, comes the second half… as it were!

To The Belfry theatre on the Sunday for a matinee performance of a new entertainment – “I think I’m fallin’” – based on the songs of Canadian singer/songwriter (and all round icon) – Joni Mitchell.

Now, one might argue – were one being particular – that this is not strictly a piece of theatre at all… at least not in any form that I have previously encountered. It is in fact more of a performed homage. There is certainly no overall narrative and such character as there be rises largely unfiltered from Mitchell’s poetic lyrics themselves.

The five massively talented singer/musicians brought their full vocal and instrumental gifts (including a couple of particularly wonderful voices and some gorgeous harmonising) to bear on new and in some cases most imaginative arrangements of the songs. Inhabiting the stage in a variety of configurations the cast mercifully resisted the temptation to over dramatise the selected numbers; the songs being allowed to breathe on their own and all the better for it.

If the above comments intimate in any way that I might not have enjoyed the piece then they have misled. Certainly it helps to be a Joni Mitchell enthusiast to fully embrace the show – but there is, as you might expect, no shortage of same in Canada. I came late to Mitchell (as to many things!) but I am now a perfect proselyte.

The final event in our busy (extended) weekend actually took place on Tuesday – giving us a much needed night off on the Monday. Along with 1500 other like-minded souls we gathered at the Theatre Royal in downtown Victoria to re-kindle acquaintance with a face from way back when; Roger Hodgson – co-founder and former member of Supertramp.

For many of us who were in our late teens back in the UK in the early 1970s Supertramp provided an essential part of the sound track to our growing up. Their beautifully produced and quirkily dramatic songs put them into much the same camp as Genesis and other similar(ish) progressive rock outfits. It turns out that – if anything – the band was even bigger in Canada than in Europe.

Supertramp were unusual in that they featured two main songwriters – in Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies – who shared the writing duties in a roughly even split. When Hodgson decided to leave the band in the early 80s Rick Davies carried on as the leader. Eventually Supertramp stopped playing Hodgson’s songs completely whilst the latter – now touring as a solo artist – featured just those compositions.

As is often (though not exclusively) the case neither constituent has been able to match the achievements of the original line-up (at least in the eyes of the record-buyers/concert-goers) and in both cases their later careers have consisted in the main of providing a nostalgic revisit to the glories of the past…

…in which – in this instance – we were happy to indulge.

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indexI am habitually to be heard at around this time of year bemoaning the sorry reality that the weather has turned against us, that the nights are drawing in, that everything natural is dying and that this be my least favourite time of the year (at least until the following February or March; which months frequently offer strong competition). Shortly after voicing such jeremiads I am highly likely to be heard again – apologising to those for whom November is their birth month and as a result the main event in a much loved season!

Since our arrival in Victoria last year I have been obliged to modify this inveterate impression somewhat. The Victorians – presumably as a means of counteracting similar bouts of ennui – appear to have chosen this particular quantum of the pre-Christmas season to stage a wide range of quite unmissable events. Thus is was that over the weekend just passed we found ourselves with no less than four delectable entertainments to attend in five days.

In a post from early October last year I wrote:

“Friday found us back at the Mary Winspear Centre for another charity event for which the Girl’s best friend was helping to organize the silent auction. The most worthy cause on this occasion was the raising of funds to support the excellent work done by ‘THRIVE Malawi‘.”

This year’s equivalent fell a month and a half later – but still on a Friday. The main attraction was also a repeat performance:

“The centrepiece of the event was a concert by local ensemble – The HiFi. All you need to know about this assemblage of musos – who describe their schtick as “New Orleans, West Coast brouhaha” – is that not only are all concerned amazingly talented musicians, but one of them is actually an internationally reknowned boogie pianist appearing under a pseudonym for contractual reasons. Anyway, they all appeared to be having a lot of fun – as were we!”

We have now seen The HiFi twice and – frankly – we love them most dearly. If you live around Victoria do keep an eye out for them at Hermann’s Jazz Club, where they are regular – if infrequent – performers. Should you appreciate good music in any form you would surely find it difficult not to be impressed.

On the subject of the ‘dearly beloved’ – come the Saturday night we were back at the Mary Winspear to catch Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express. Barney Bentall was a leading figure in Canadian music in the 90s and had a string of hits with his band – The Legendary Hearts. Of The Cariboo Express Barney’s website reveals the following:

“The Cariboo Express is a one-of-a-kind variety show cast with renowned Canadian musicians, led by Canadian superstar Barney Bentall, along with Ridley Bent, Dustin Bentall, Kendel Carson, Matt Masters, Wendy Bird, various special guests and a backing band comprised of some of Canada’s finest musicians. Each of the core members have music careers of their own, but every November the group convenes to raise funds for various worthy charities in the spirit of song, community and giving back to society.”

Saturday was our second time with the Express and it is difficult to put into words just how much fun this show can be. With up to fourteen musicians on stage at any one time – each of them having a seriously good time – no audience could possibly resist.

We didn’t even try!

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birthday-clip-art“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.”

Plautus

The start of October is for us always a period for celebration, for it encompasses the joyous revels that mark the Kickass Canada Girl’s birthday. This year it has also seen the first anniversary of the purchase of our North Saanich abode, so the occasion has been especially elevated.

Some years a great deal of work can go into trying to organise a suitable programme of merrymaking; in others things just fall into place with the least possible effort. This year was one of the latter.

On Friday last one of the Girl’s favourite Canadian miserabilist bands – the Cowboy Junkies – played at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. The Girl was so delighted at the prospect (even more so when I purchased her a ticket!) that she generously decreed that I need not join her for the event. (She once took me to see the Be Good Tanyas at the Albert Hall in London – the which experience equipped me with enough melancholic ennui to last a lifetime!).

Needless to say, the Girl enjoyed the concert greatly – even though the band omitted to play her very favourite number (in spite of announcing that they would do so! I think this was just done to make everyone even more miserable!).

Scarce had twenty four hours passed than we were back at the Mary Winspear with our dear friends from Saanichton to attend yet another musical soiree – this time featuring Séan McCann – erstwhile singer and guitarist with Newfie folk/rock band – Great Big Sea. Now, Séan isn’t miserable at all. In fact he is really quite chipper, particularly since abandoning the bottle (and, indeed, Great Big Sea!) a few years back. He was in fine voice and made sure that all present had a really good time.

Sunday afternoon found us – yet again in the company of our lovely friends – back at the Belfry Theatre for the first of this year’s season ticket productions. The play – a slightly puzzling ‘contemporary’ take on Henry VIII’s last wife, Catherine Parr* – might not have been the best thing that we have seen at the Belfry (in fact it was quite some distance therefrom…) but it was none the less a nice way to round out the weekend.

All that remained was for me to whistle up on the barbecue (for the operation of which I still bear my ‘L’ plates!) a hefty but most succulent piece of rib-eye and to uncork a rather spiffing southern French red. Cheers!

A very happy birthday to the Kickass Canada Girl!

 

*Drat! I realise that in the first published version of this post I missed the opportunity to describe the production as ‘below par’! Oh well!

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Image from Pixabay“Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming, saying something about a queen.”

Neil Young – ‘After the Goldrush’

I had a hankering – just the other day – to listen again to Neil Young’s splendidly mysterious classic – ‘After the Goldrush‘. I don’t recall now what brought the song to mind… maybe I heard a snatch of it – or read something somewhere… It matters not.

What I did not want was to listen to Neil Young singing it! Nothing against the Canadian ‘national treasure’ of course – it is just that for this particular piece I have always had a different sound in mind – one which involves the female voice. This whimsy is probably the result of having loved the 1970s ‘a cappella’ rendition by Prelude – which is the version of the track that I heard first.

The recording of the Prelude version is – however – sadly showing its age somewhat these days, and I found myself scouring the InterWebNet for a more recent cover that might achieve a similar effect. As ever such a thing was eventually uncovered – in the (slightly) more up to date version (1999) by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt (and who would have ever thought that I would be be listening to that combination?!).

The exercise started me thinking. There are instances when only a specific genre of music will do. This particular mood – for example – clearly demanded the dulcet tones of the old-fashioned female torch singer in delivery of eloquent and poignant versions of classic tunes – perhaps with a slightly twist of mystery for good effect.

Time to put together a suitable compilation CD – I decided – commencing a further search. Herewith the list of tracks and versions with which I have come up thus far to satisfy this requirement (in no particular order):

  • Alfie (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) – Vanessa Williams
  • Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb) – Cassandra Wilson
  • Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) – Joni Mitchell (from the ‘jazz’ album ‘Both Sides Now’)
  • One (Harry Nilsson) – Aimee Mann (album version)
  • Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton) – Diana Krall
  • After the Gold Rush (Neil Young) – Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt
  • The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Robbie Robertson) – Joan Baez
  • Somewhere (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim) – Barbra Streisand
  • The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress (Jimmy Webb)  – Judy Collins
  • This Woman’s Work (Kate Bush) – Kate Bush
  • Unchained Melody (Alex North, Hy Zaret) – Sarah McLachlan
  • That’s What Friends Are For (Burt Bacharach, Carol Bayer Sager) – Trijntje Oosterhuis (live with guitarist Leonardo Amuedo)
  • Nothing Has Been Proved (Chris Lowe, Neil Tennant) – Dusty Springfield

Should the gentle reader care to add any suggestions of his or her own before I commit this list to plastic such would be reviewed with great interest…

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