Look Up!

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For those, like me, prone to gazing all around themselves there were some amazing scenes in the sky over the New Forest today.

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Bright sunlight playing on clouds at different height produced some striking images of the clouds’IMG_20160430_112237Not least among them was the curious rainbow effect generated when the louds covered the sun.

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Spring 2016

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Spring this year is turning into something of an odd, long, drawn out affair, with peculiar weather that seemingly swaps between seasons from one hour to the next.

That said the annual riot of fecundity is just around the corner, and there were some gorgeous, intense greens visible at Buckland and in Hordle today, along with the pristine whites of the blackthorn blossom as reflected by the sun between sleet and hail storms.

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Fun fact: Blackthorn blossoms emerge before the leaves, with Hawthorn doing the opposite.

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All Tomorrow’s Parties 2.0 – Curated By Stewart Lee

ATP-Stewart-Lee-2016-Daybreak630ATP 2.0 finally came and went, when many must have been wondering if it would happen at all, or if it would be worthy of the association with the legendary events of lore (oh how I yearned to attend at a time when I simply couldn’t gofamily reasons). As such it would be foolish of me to attempt a comparison, but I will go as far as to say that it for  was one of my favourite festivals, in spite of (or was it because of?) it’s considerable flaws.

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My fellow psych pilgrims, unbowed by an arduous journey up the M6!

To start with, having made the pilgrimage up from the South Coast to North Wales by van, we were greeted at Prestatyn Pontins by a wall of hi-viz and sniffer dogs, and a brutalist approach to holiday camp architecture that would have made Stalin well a year of joy. The accommodation was Spartan to say the least, barely offering accommodation for four adults with a double sofa bed, two skinny children’s beds and minimal eating implements that would make an interesting study of stinginess were it all to be laid out as an art installation.

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Shonen Knife

However, these obstacles overcome or situations adjusted to, our ATP experience was immediately transformed by the incredible Shonen Knife whose happy, passive-aggressive perfect pop punk was delivered in a way that generated joy and respect in equal measure, thereby setting the tone for the rest of the festival.

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Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods delivered a similarly joyful message albeit in a radically different way, with chief gurner and invective slinger  Jason having previously been seen taking pictures of the chalets in our block, complete with overflowing rubbish and abandoned linen. They were the loudest show of the weekend, and I was very glad of my earplugs as Andrew’s thundering bass rearranged my internal organs while my mind tried to process the rapid-fire observations of a life that couldn’t be more ordinary.

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Roky Erikson

Roky Erikson‘s performance was absolutely incredible, having been lovingly put together in such a way as to present his incredible voice and the groundbreaking and distinctive songs of the 13th Floor Elevators with all due deference and respect. Hearing him sing Slip Inside This House was worth the price of entry in my opinion and I sincerely hope he comes back this way one day.

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Wolf People

On Saturday Wolf People kicked off proceedings on Saturday in the earnest and understated way that typifies their almost shy stage manner. However, actions do indeed speak louder than words and their heavy folk rock sound was an absolute joy to hear through their equipment if you were positioned right in the middle and close to the front.

I recall seeing Giant Sand quite some time ago at the End Of The Road festival, and then much more recently at last year’s event. His witty observations delivered in that mellow, deep, resonant voice, combined with upbeat and far out country rock makes for great festival music.

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The Bevis Frond

One of the main draws for me was The Bevis Frond, a band I have been fond of for the last 20 years or so, and who seem to be ramping up rather than slowing down. The allotted hour spot falls quite a way short of their normal set so there was an intensity to the performance that, combined with the incredibly clear sound really worked for me. Nick and Paul’s guitar interplay was amazing, with my head following the sound from left to right as it swapped between them, while Ade’s loping bass and Dave’s precision drumming held the foreground. One of the highlights of the weekend for me, among a weekend of stellar performances.

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The Heads

The Heads were on the same stage as the Frond, and they were blessed with the same crystal clear sound which has a similar transformative effect on my perception of them to that of The Bevis Frond, in that what was previously perceived as a wall of sludgey stoner rock suddenly resolved into separate instruments. Paul Allen’s guitar is often down in the mix so it was great to hear that coming through loud and clear, and festival buddy Andy, who The Heads had somehow passed by, was totally blown away by their excellent performance.

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The Fall

When I was a nipper my best mate Hobbit (Andy Hobbs… go figure) loved The Fall, whereas I never really got them, save for the odd song. Living in Thailand as he does he’d no doubt be outraged to hear that, having heard one and a half shows I still don’t get them. Having secured a relatively comfy spot at the end of a long day I was prepared to sit this one out and just listen in, but they seemed a bit lacklustre so when my other mate Andy said he was heading back to our cell (chalet is a bit of a stretch, after all) after a couple of numbers, I joined him. Apparently Mark E. Smith pulled the band of stage for a managerial dressing down a couple of times after we left, so I guess I didn’t miss much.

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Trembling Bells

On Sunday Trembling Bells kicked off proceedings that in no way at all reminded me of Sandie Denny (lest vocalist Lavinia Blackwall set about me with scythe). Joking aside, had I been asked which other performers came to mind after the performance, I doubt very much indeed that the legendary Ms Denny would have leapt forth as their sound was more rock than folk to my ear, although to be fair Lavinia has a beautiful voice. There were, however, occasional folky interludes like the one shown above, when drummer and co-founder Alex Neilson stepped away from the drums to sing an unaccompanied solo song.

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Boredoms

Another unexpected discovery for me was the Boredoms the Japanese noise rock outfit whose captivating sonic sculptures tested some of the audience’s patience as they built slowly into magnificent shimmering masterpieces from the almost ritualistic/theatrical opening. Now admittedly the patience comment above doesn’t exactly come across as a ringing endorsement, but make no mistake I’d rush to see these guys again in an instant should the chance arise!

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Bardo Pond

Bardo Pond have a huge reputation but for some reason they’d never really clicked with me until this performance. However I am a sucker for a flute and that combined with Isobel Sollenberger naieve and ethereal vocal style were an excellent counterpoint to the barely constrained and expertly channeled energy of the lead guitars and rhythm section. I was pretty mellow by the end of the performance and didn’t fancy any of the other acts (I’m sure they’d have been great, but to be honest I was wiped out), so it was great to finish my ATP with an intrguing and exciting new band before I crashed.

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Surely worth a mention is the fabulous program which confirms, if confirmation is needed, what a fine fellow Stewart Lee is… ace comedian, lover of excellent music, and comic fan!

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So, overall I had a blast. Everyone I spoke to was lovely, including some of the security guys. We’re it not for the non-payment issues that bubbled up to the surface beforehand, and the cancellation of the ATP festival that was meant to take place the following week, I’d say it was a brilliant festival. Sure, the accommodation was basic, but it was adequate and Pontins prices were fair considering its captive audience. The security was way over the top, but that was apparently a condition of the licence. I sincerely hope that all of the artists got paid and enjoyed their appearances as much as I did, but in closing I think that Barry Hogan would do well to either put ATP to bed now, or sell the name on to a sympathetic company capable of funding future events properly and thereby restoring it to its former glory.

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Trees

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There are two huge oaks that tower over the end of our road and they are impressive at any time of year. This picture captures them shortly after their leaves have emerged and looks vaguely infra-red with the bright-green leaves showing up as almost white against the sky. It was in fact a result of snapping them in HDR mode on the Google Nexus 5, then converting them to B+W and bumping up the contrast.

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Dramatic as it is, sadly this is the crown of a fairly mature beech tree at Buckland Rings, snapped off some 10m above the ground and upended on its fall to earth.

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A short way from the toppled beech I found these two silver birhes, reflecting the spring sun’s lighta painting a more optimistic and positive picture for me to take away.

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An old favourite, the massive Buckland beech that had a massive trunk ripped off it byt he storms a few years ago showing its scar, apparently still flourishing despite this terrible wound.

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Truncated and stripped of its bark this tree in Barton-on-Sea looks as much like a volcanic landscape as a weathered tree.

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Gothic Chicken ‘Lift The Cobweb Veil’ Album Launch

GC_Marco_COL_1200x1600A friend recently invited me to join him at a Gothic Chicken gig in Weymouth. Initially I had no idea who they were, despite a niggling recollection that the name meant something to me, one which a quick listen on YouTube quickly confirmed as a Lucky Bishops connection. The aforementioned fortuitous clergymen came to my attention when they released Grimstone on Nick Saloman’s Woronzow record label in 2002, having supported the Bevis Frond on several occasions, if memory serves.

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From what I can make out Gothic Chicken started life as a side project that ran alongside the Lucky Bishops, which makes sense as the musical connection is immediately obvious. That said, Gothic Chicken strike me as a lot more than a simple reversion to a former incarnation, and doubtless the years that have elapsed inbetween and Alan Strawbridge’s time with Schnauser has added something to the mix, too.

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Lift The Cobweb Veil is both challenging and clever, in the thought-provoking way rather than being inaccessible or irritatingly up itself. Both the vinyl and live performance reveal strong contributions from the whole band, with everyone taking a turn on vocals and standing out at various points. Sometimes it’s catchy pop-psych, others it’s lithe prog workouts, with a bunch of seriously accomplished and familiar musicians rocking out and generally having the best time. Despite straying into interesting and thought provoking lyrical territory it remains uplifting and entertaining throughout, never more so than live, and we had an incredible time one at one of those out-of-nowhere gigs that you look back on fondly and marvel at your good fortune!

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We were also lucky enough to see them perform a second set which was essentially a selection of classic psych/pop covers which included gems like Itchycoo Park and Time Of The Season, and it wasn’t long before the chairs were cleared and people were up and happily dancing energetically down the front of the newly restored Weymouth Old Town hall, a lovely little venue with more than a little history itself.

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And so, just having enjoyed Lift The Cobweb Veil on a slightly more cerebral level, it was nice to get off my backside and have a little dance to these excellent and loving interpretations of much-loved classics, many of the originals so tightly woven into the fabric of my childhood it was a pleasure to hear them so joyously reimagined thus, with such attention to detail and reverence.

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So in closing my advice is that, presented with an opportunity to buy their limited release album, or indeed see them live, you really do want to go for it, as they are a rare example of a fun, very accomplished and genuinely exciting band. I believe that there may be an electric gig (as opposed to tonight’s ‘acoustic overdrive’ set!) in Weymouth in the summer, and I will be doing everything I can to be there.

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Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia 2015

pzyk-scheduleDamn, I am so lazy, I can’t believe I allowed almost six months passed before I wrote the first sentence for this draft! Oh well, the upside I guess is that this will be mercifully brief given the state of my memory, unless my pictures can miraculously restore it!

So, somewhat jaded from 2014 I was prepared for the worst this year, but Liverpool really came through and it was an epic festival, totally devoid of the intermittent twattery that took the edge off 2013’s offering, and that was despite me hobbling around on a walking stick, medicated up to the eyeballs with painkillers.

LPF2015_Jacco_Gardner_COL_1600x800One of the new bands I was introduced to at Liverpool this year was Jacco Gardner. One of the great things about the festival is that it brings amazing bands from all over the world and concentrates them in one place for a weekend, which is perfect if, like me, you live out in the provinces and find regular trips to London a bit punishing on your wallet and annual holiday allocation.

mashupLiverpool was a lively, interesting and welcoming as ever. This year we’d opted for cheaper accommodation slightly nearer the festival, which was just as well given my back was utterly stuffed and long walks were off the cards. In terms of quality it was evident why the prices were lower than Hotel Indigo and Hampton By Hilton, but it was clean and comfortable with a decent view so no complaints.

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Looking back at the lineup there wasn’t a great deal on my must-see list for the Friday, save for Carlton Melton, and they were technically playing on the Saturday as they weren’t due onstage until 0100. This left lots of time for generally hanging out, meeting people, buying records and checking out the new extended District area, a welcome addition to Blade, Camp & Furnace that not only provided another small venue, but also somewhere to go to chill, away from noise and smoke.

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Carlton Melton were, as ever, ace, plus they had a day off the next day so I got to bother them with questions about their music an generally make a nuisance of myself. That said I had to take advantage of the proximity of our hotel so that I could have  little lay down between 2300 and 0100, which meant I had to pass up on some of the bands I wanted to drop in on, but such is life.

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Saturday was definitely the big day for me with a raft of bands appearing on Dave Cambridge’s Cardinal Fuzz curated stage, including no less than The Heads, Kandodo 3, Lumerians, Cult Of Dom Keller and Dead Sea Apes lining up more-or-less one after the other!

Kandodo 3 actually turned out to be Kandodo 5 (essentially The Heads + Carlton Melton’s Rich Millman), and they turned in an amazing and totally unique set. I eventually passed on Cult Of Dom Keller on the basis that I have seen them several times and they clashed with Magic Castles, a band who were a long way from home and unlikely to be passing this way any time soon. Their dreamy recorded sound had a definite edge to it when played live, and I was really glad that I made the effort.

LPF_Lumerians_8_1600x1200The most visually striking act of the weekend were definitely Lumerians, whose intense keyboard driven psych was a striking and impressive as their spangly hooded garb. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when the stage manager powered their gear off when they overan slightly, and I felt that could have been handled better.

LPF2015_Heads_03a_COL_1200x1600The big act of the night though, and indeed the weekend, were The Heads, who returned to the stage a couple of hours after playing as Kandodo 3 and played an absolute blinder of a set that makes me hope that they continue to play and perhaps even record despite the various other groups the members play in.

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Worth a special mention was this year’s PZYK Vol. 1 compilation, a triple album of contributions from bands who have all the played the festival over the last few years, housed in a gorgeous cover along with two CDs for ripping or playing in the car. Indeed the merch stand was a record collector’s joy, run by the excellent Piccadilly Records and topped up by the various bands as they passed through, there was some gorgeous gear on hand to drain any funds that hadn’t been spent on beer or food.

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Yep, Liverppol Psych Fest really upped their game in 2015, and there are some great bands already announced for 2016!

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Fuzz Club Festival – London Fields Brewery 13/14th Nov 2015

fuzzclubfestHaving fallen well behind with my reviews I am going to try and keep this one brief, which is entirely in keeping with the size and duration of this excellent and unexpected end to this year’s festival season for me in a way.

Through their excellent split single series and cracking compilations Fuzz Club have introduced me to numerous terrific bands, so when a festival showcasing a number of these bands popped up on the radar Michael and I popped along to see what was going on.

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On the first (Friday) night 10000 Russos was the only band I had really heard of, but we were thoroughly entertained by Throw Down Bones, The New Candy’s (sic) and Telescopes before they eventually came on and we bottled it, leaving after only two songs to be sure of making the train and avoiding an expensive taxi ride. Now those two tracks were great, but Telescopes were the band that really blew me away with the incredible sonic sculpture they boldly crafted from howling, squalling guitars shortly after the took to the stage, and then proceeded to maintain for what felt like half the set. The second number was equally impressive, but by then my brain was jelly while my hands were occupied holding my slack jaw up, so no description will be forthcoming I am afraid.

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Day two (Saturday) billed several bands that I knew and wanted to see, namely The Janitors, Mugstar, and Cult Of Dom Keller. On top of that Myrrors were closing out the festival and Michael and I felt a little braver with regard to the timing and availability of public transport, so we stayed for the end for their epic performance. Leading up to that The Janitors played a great set, despite their incredibly frustrated guitarist being plagued with pedal problems for a large part of it. Mugstar (this time firing on all four cylinders) played a blinder having previously stopped to chat with us about all manner of things beforehand. The Cult Of Dom Keller set was equally impressive, their dark sound growing along with their confidence every time I see them.

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Having heard many good things about Myrrors from Dave ‘Cardinal Fuzz‘ Cambridge I was pleased that they lived up to such a prestigious recommendation, crowding the stage (and front row) with personnel and fill the room with the sound of seven, so I am told, guitars!

All in all this was a great inaugral outing for the Fuzz Club Festival, and I’d definitely be up for going again next year if the opportunity arises, although I’d be tempted to get accommodation near the venue to eliminate the buzz-kill that was legging it across London after the show.

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White Hills – The Lexington, London, 13th March 2016

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Setlist:

01 – Dead
02 – Radiate
03 – No Will
04 – Lead The Way
05 – Paradise
06 – Don’t Be Afraid
07 – In Your Room
08 – No Game To Play
09 – £SD Or USB
10 – Walks For Motorists
11 – Oceans Of Sound

Terrascope have a rock solid reputation where championing good music is concerned, and firmly cemented that on Sunday night when they presented an excellent show with White Hills headlining, supported by no less than Teeth Of The Sea!

I’ll admit to bearing Teeth Of The Sea a grudge since Liverpool Psych Fest 2014, when they severely stuffed my hearing with some insane sound levels during their set there. However tonight they redeemed themselves several times over with a really impressive set and levels that barely necessitated the fancy earplugs I bought as a direct result of said stuffing.

My friend Alan, who had not heard any TOTS prior to this evening, was so impressed with their performance that he went for the one-of-each approach at the merch table, which I think is a fair comment on the proceedings from their point of view.

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As usual the lighting at The Lexington was minimal, and White Hills were further obscured by intermittent puffs of dry ice, so my pictures are, shall we say,  somewhat less than optimal. Luckily though the sound was excellent, as was the setlist, so we were treated to a ‘between releases’ set that included many old favourites, not least among them the truly epic Don’t Be Afraid. As with the last show I caught, Dave W. abandoned his guitar for a couple of tracks, firing up his box of electronic wizardry instead, and expressing himself with his hands instead of throwing himself around the stage, axe in hands, as he is wont to do.

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Dave announced the drummer as Quiet Thunder, but I am pretty sure it was Nick Name from previous tours; whoever it was played a tireless set, and the precision during the longer numbers was spot on. He was tucked away stage left and largely unlit, but still featured prominently and significantly in the aural sense.

While not quite so hidden, Ego was mostly obscured from a photographic point of view by a combination of dry ice  and soft blue lighting, although fortunately not from an aural one where her bass combined with the drums to power the set along.

The overall effect was, simply put, the best White Hills show I have seen, and I have seen some good ones. I plundered the merch table for a vinyl copy of No Game To Play, and was lucky enough to grab the last of their Euopean tour CDs.

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Finally, having only on the night discovered The Lexington’s fine food and frankly vast array of American whiskies, I have to say that to say that there is very little I can fault with the venue, save perhaps the lighting, which is either inadequate or behind the band. Oh well, the sound is excellent, and it’s better that way around than the other I guess.

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Monitor Audio Silver 1

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So, having fretted overe the increasing deterioration of my Gale GS401 loudspeakers I finally bit the bullet and bought these excellent Monitor Audio Silver 1 replacements. I say replacements… alternatives would be a better word really, although I would not like to imply any notion of inferiority with that statement.

As much as I love the Gales (I hope to upgrade the failing components at some point), these were definitely the right choice, certainly at this pricepoint, and according to the research I did some time ago, well above and beyond it too.

Anyway, having received them as a gift at Christmas they finally bedded in properly about a month ago, and I have to say they sound just fine. I won’t attempt to bore you with any waffle or jargon, I’ll just say that they do an excellent job of filling my small-to-medium sized, living room with well separated, clear, powerful sound, to the extent that I am more than happy to wait for as long as it takes to sort the 401s out properly before I eventually hook them up again, something which would certainly not have happened had the Silver 1s been inferior. And if I have inadvertently lured you here in hope of finding a proper review the best I can do is send you over to WHAT HI*FI where you’ll find this one.

The Silver 1s are incredibly well made, and beautifully finished in a real wood veneer, looking good with the magnetic grille on or off. However, they demand a solid platform to present them properly, so I grabbed a pair of heavy, stout Atacama SL400i stands, which were designed for a bigger speaker and therefore seemingly an odd choice given the underlap (sic), but they do the job I want them to do and look great too.

All-in-all I am happy with them, which is remarkable on account of having auditioned much more expensive speakers that I ultimately found lacking or simply unispiring.

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Old Burley Road Walk

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I found myself out walking the dog on Saturday, feeling lousy with a cold that had come on the night before, trudging along over a barren and grey Clay Hill that was still waiting for Spring.

One of the features there is an old road that used to run from, I’m guessing, Sway to Burley, but which has been decommissioned to varying degrees along its length for decades now.

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Despite the dull nature of the light and the loussy nature of my mood there were still some things that caught my eye and demanded a photograph, with nearly as much insistence as Ripley was demanding I throwh her stick.

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The old road, which is scabrous tarmac in places, bare metal in others and grass for the most part, certainly resonated with me, and posting these images now I wonder if all roads will look like this one day.

The other feature was the two trees that were entwined, one bare and the other in leaf.

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