Five Compass Lighthouse

I’ve been playing Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpleton‘s new album, Five Compass Lighthouse, for a few weeks now ever since the album launch night at Katy Fitzgerald’s.

It kicks off, much like the gig did, with spoken-word poetry Where I Was set to a soundscape – words that are later referenced in the lyrics of the songs that follow, and as the percussion kicks in launches straight into the punchy chords of Heads, Hearts and Voices.

This brought a couple of things to mind, both quite randomly, the ‘daaah daaah daaah daaah’ chord progression reminds me of Levellers’ Broken Circles (things reminding me of Levellers is usually a good thing, this is no exception!), but the lyrics oddly brought to mind the scene in Dirty Dancing where there holiday camp owner leads the singing of a song that features ‘join hands and hearts and voices’ – which probably betrays how many times I endured that particular film beloved of my first girlfriend more than anything!

It’s a great way to launch into a gig, and indeed, an album!

Throwing Lines is a bit gentler starting with acoustic guitar before the electric kicks in with decisive up-strums (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this). The tone for this one is much lighter and optimistic – evoking the idea that sometimes you just can’t control what’s going around you so might as well just go with the flow as best you can.

Waves is a bouncy cheery sounding song too, acoustic strums accompany the tongue-twisting vocals with some bouzouki accompaniment before the band kicks in. From reading Paul’s notes it’s actually about him selling his childhood home and moving away, this track gives the album its title too (which you can research yourself ūüôā ) – so it’s actually documenting a rather traumatic experience, but ultimately with a positive outcome. The song feels optimistic to me anyway!

The Last Day Before Bedlam has a much grungier feel which I like a lot – an empassioned chorus rife with self-criticism, it’s really energetic and really rather dark. But that gets betrayed a bit by how much fun it looks to play live (especially Matt, ha!). It kinda works on both levels really – it gets those feelings out there, and in a way that’s clearly fun to perform. This might be my favourite.

I’m Still Empty brings the intensity down with gentle acoustic guitar and more soulful lyrics. Quite philosophical lyrics, and eventually there’s layers of sound introduced from the rest of the band – and a great singalong opportunity with some ‘Whoa oh oh ohs’ which was enthusiastically taken up by the crowd at Katy’s.

The Road to Krumlov is actually really charming – a lament to the loneliness of touring, in this case in the Czech Republic. This song probably delivers the most heartbreaking lyric I’ve heard in ages: “… so I type in my postcode to the Sat Nav to kill a few moments, and I’m saddened to see that I’m more than a full day away.” You can just imagine some poor fella sat in a car park waiting until he can load his gear in missing a familiar face or two.

Glasgow starts with recorded background noises (from Glasgow, Paul’s blog informs me) before the song kicks in. It’s a cheery tribute to a trip to – wait for it – Glasgow! It’s made me want to visit now, as much like Paul my only visit here before has been fleeting – for a Ferocious Dog gig perhaps unsurprisingly – it was fun enough, but hotel, pub, gig, hotel, home is probably not the best way to showcase what a city might have to offer!

Twenty One Trains starts with moody acoustic guitar before the band joins in then the lyrics kick in. Apparently there are actually 21 trains featured in the recording too, Paul asks if ‘you get what I’m trying to say’ – I must admit I don’t, it’s not a happy song – the instrumentation reminds me almost of Joy Division which probably explains why it sounds unhappy if that’s what I associate it with. The lyrics are really personal and deal with insomnia, hopelessness and even potential suicidal thoughts. It’s really rather moving.

Wren is another dark moody track. Bird-related songs will always pique my interest and the throbbing bass and incidental guitar stabs only heighten the tension. It’s actually documenting something as routine as trying to save a wren that had been caught by a cat and failing to revive it. It sounds trivial – it’s the sort of thing that would absolutely haunt me for ages, so I find it satisfying that it’s inspired this epic grungy number running at almost six minutes.

Promised Lullaby is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a song Paul promised to write. It’s beautifully gentle, which a lullaby should be really. Gentle layers of accompaniment to the acoustic guitar and vocals are perfect without distracting – the tone is of reassurance and nurturing – its placement on the album after the trauma of the garden bird massacre is perfect.

fAR REACHING Rage is a rare foray into politics – actually, in kinda isn’t, it’s really a fairly self-evident appraisal of one particular figure who arguably isn’t actually a politician anyway, just a self-serving rabble rouser (okay, so maybe that is a definition of politician). The clue is in the capitalisation of the track – this is actually, subject aside, a really fun song, with another corker of a lyrical masterpiece in the chorus “The country is a better place with the absence of your face, I hope they blast you into space, why don’t you go away?” – all set to a chunky rock soundtrack.

Bible Chords issues a challenge of “so you think you understand this song” – in truth, no, sorry Paul! It feels like it’s quite a personal rant – a bit of a reckoning, a rise from a slumber of over-familiarity and realising there’s a need to chart a new course. I think we’ve all been in that place at one time or another – self-imposed isolation, and eventual realisation there’s an alternative to that. This features lots of recordings of people Paul asked to contribute some ‘Whoas’ – Facebook’s algorithms clearly denied me the opportunity to join in. Bastards!

Nothing O’Clock starts with sea noises, and who I suspect might be Frank the dog yapping happily around. Gentle acoustic guitar and vocals start to paint a picture of the scene by the seaside, lilting into philosophical musings – the guitar picked melodies are lovely. There’s almost Nick Parkeresque observational lyrics of people-watching. Just before half way percussion gently joins the party, then a little while later the picking gives way to strumming as the percussion gets heavier and finally with a cymbal crash the tumultuous arrival of the rest of the band for a frankly triumphant finale.

Except it’s not quite a finale – the track ends with more sea noises, with the return of the guitar picking and a final spoken word piece, weaving together lyrics from the songs we’ve just heard. It’s affirmative and positive – bookending what does feel like quite a journey, whilst maybe not entirely autobiographical or chronological – there’s a sense that this album has developed over a seismic period of Paul’s life and has in that sense provided a documentary of kinds of that journey. And mercifully it feels like a journey that’s heading in the right direction.

A fantastic and brave achievement – amazing songwriting, and awesome work from the other Simpletons in giving them the depth and intricacies they need – which translate brilliantly to a live setting too. It’s been out more than a month now so hopefully you have it already, if you don’t, then you should remedy that omission posthaste.

Freeborn Al / 8th December 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

We’re just Lost Folk..

Unusually for a Wednesday night I was unfeasibly excited on 21st November in 2012. Despite being full of cold and feeling rotten, I was off to Rock City to see the mighty Levellers, and by virtue of winning a charity auction I’d been handed a backstage pass to go and collect my swag directly from the band. My love of live music had been reignited by Ferocious Dog, and looking back made me once again more receptive to new music that I’d struggled to find in the mainstream.

Nestled under the righthand staircase (which has subsequently moved in a remodel of the venue) nursing a Diet Coke and sporting a ridiculous Movember moustache was where my enduring love affair with Gaz Brookfield began – and it was love at first sight. I couldn’t even tell you the set list he chose that night, I definitely remember The Ballad of Elizabeth Duke being in there, and either Thin or The West Country Song (or maybe both – I definitely remember a singalongy song).

Whilst awkwardly hanging around the dressing room door after the gig I mumbled something incoherent about how much I enjoyed his set to him as he was presumably gearing up to depart (as we now know, from Land Pirate’s Life, the promised lift on the tourbus went unutilised due to the rubbishness of our rail network) for the next leg of the tour in Leeds at the O2 Academy. I then captured a series of awkward selfies with the Levs – ridiculous moustache instantly regretted!

Citizen Fish followed Gaz and didn’t really do it for me, so I popped downstairs to the merchandise stand and availed myself of the CDs he had on offer – either Trial or Error or Tell it to the Beer, again, possibly both. Since then I’ve avidly consumed his prodigious output and taken in as many live shows as I can – aided not least by his hooking up with Ferocious Dog on their From Without tour.

That love blossomed for a solo acoustic guy, but his incisive lyrics and catchy songs don’t get lost when backed by a band and incrementally flashy production or extras as we step through the albums. I remember Gaz posting that he was ‘throwing everything’ into this recording – and here we’ve got loads of layers, there’s brass, piano, synthy sounding things and more guitar effects along with the more customary acoustic guitar, percussion and fiddle.

Whilst this might be an album for the Lost Folk, you can easily navigate your way through the complexity of layers – the songs cut through loud and clear. The depth and layers of instruments might be considered the mirrors and the smoke of this recording – to steal a line from the title track – but you certainly don’t get lost in it.

Like in his homage to Loudon Wainwright III, Gaz’s semi-autobiographical tendancy either through charting his musical career, personal life or topical musings without getting preachy is both brave and poignant, and I guess being in a very similar age bracket there’s a lot of resonance in those musings for me – perhaps not so much in the musical career musings – but ultimately as humans we’re all fragile with the same kind of life concerns.

Title track Lost Folk opens up the album at pace, I love the addition of brass and chugging bass with swirling keys in the background. Typically catchy lyrics – creating or maybe defining in a demographic grouping I’m sure lots can relate to. Not quite old, definitely not young, politically marginalised in an increasingly polarised world and not interested in the sanitised and saccharine mainstream musical offerings. I’ve been in a few fields full of those kinds of people. It’s more of an attitudinal grouping I suppsoe than a demographic one!

The promise of bigger and more ambitious is delivered without comproming the essence of Gaz’s music. IOU is an uplifting tribute of thanks, The Glorious Adventure Co. slows the pace but doesn’t dull the mood – a bit of googling suggests it’s charting a motorcycle based tour given Gaz’s love of his two-wheeled conveyance – imagery of getting lost for the sake of it is always appealing to me, I do that quite a lot albeit usually walking rather than on a motorbike. I’m far too clumsy for that!

Afterthought has swirling fiddle and brings the pace back up to a bounce – a supportive anthem of how we need to look after each other and it’s really important to not be afraid to talk about your problems. Sage advice – did you know in 2018 there were more than 6,000 suicides in the UK? Men are three times more likely to make up that statistic – and most likely to be in the 45-49 age bracket. Awareness of mental ill health is becoming less stigmatised – but there’s still a way to go, it’s a good subject to address.

We’ve heard Aged Revolt before – an anagram of a popular hotel chain who wouldn’t give Gaz and Jake permission to use their name for their collaborative album. It’s given a facelift here – Ben’s fiddle in particular is rather spectacular! Given the overall theme and feel of the album it does make a lot of sense to revisit it here, and it’s a banging tune he and Jake collaborated on.

Any excuse to use Ella’s awesome shot from Farmer Phil’s a few years back!

Whilst I’ve talked a lot about the layers and complexities – it’s nice to take a break in the middle of the album with just Gaz and his guitar for Pen to Paper – you might’ve seen him open recent shows with this songwriters block lament with two chords and no chorus (although as the lyrics suggest he does sneak some E minors in amongst the Gs and the Cs!).

Snakes and Ladders kickstarts us back into high energy territory with electric guitar, robot-trumping synthy noises and – once of those gently nearly-political ones that ultimately concludes we might just take life a bit too seriously. Oalaego has a swaying feel to it, with an almost country feel to it – I have a nagging feeling I’ve heard Gaz explain the backstory to this song but I’ll be damned if I can remember it – googling or anagram hunting hasn’t helped, I’m sure it’ll come to me!

Uneducated Guess has a much rockier feel musically and notably in vocal delivery – machine-gunned at you over chugging guitars. It works really well for me, unusually for Gaz might prove a tricky one to sing along to (the verses at least).

Another reprise from Aged Revolt is the charming Great Minds Drink Alike with Jake Martin, a bromance of a duet with a bit of a facelift – most notably the piano giving it a pub knees-up feel which is very fitting, with the crowd at the Beehive in Swindon providing backing vocals as the track builds (I was gutted I couldn’t make the logistics work to join in with this – I’m sure I can hear Jamie Westwood on there though!).

Which leaves the finish of Just Another Day, starting with just vocals and guitar and again picking up the themes of ageing but ultimately acceptance as bass, percussion and keyboard joins the mix. The preference of a local pub to a noisy club is something I’ve been able to relate to since my early twenties, so this is definitely up my street – the brass section starts to come into the mix as the track builds and ultimately is simply faded out to bring us to the end.

Another awesome album – and reflecting on looking at the array of talent involved, it brings be back to the start of the post on discovering new acts through old favourites. There’s the likes of Chris Webb, Jake Martin, Nick Parker involved who of course are all songwriters and performers in their own right who through osmosis I’ve subsequently discovered through following Gaz. Supporting the support is the gift that keeps on giving!

Now I really need to get my arse into gear and work out which of Gaz’s tour dates I can make!

Freeborn Al / 28th September 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

We the Collective..

There’s always that extra bit of excitement at the prospect of a new Levellers album dropping through the letterbox – unfortunately for me the postie arrived when I wasn’t in over the bank holiday weekend, so impatient I had to resort to iTunes to have a listen before picking up my goodies this morning. ¬†Reading reactions online has been a bit like those irritating Marmite adverts on TV (for the record, I definitely fall into the hate camp for Marmite) – with fans seemingly either loving it or hating it.

Having not made it so far to the live tour – my postponed date in Milton Keynes has been rescheduled for when I’m at a wedding, sadly – so I’m going to have to peruse the fixtures for another suitable date to check it out. ¬†The new arrangements of familiar songs were a surprise to me, and I’d say a very pleasant surprise! ¬†Recorded in the famous Abbey Road under supervision from John Leckie, and some musical assistance from The wonderful Moulettes and Tobias May this is the familiar (mostly) rendered in a very different way.

I can kind of understand people’s cognitive dissonance – the Levellers music has lived with many of us for years, a comfort blanket replete with meaning both in the merit of their own lyrics and melodies or through life events they provided a soundtrack to (or in mosh pits they’ve been danced to in). ¬†I’ll be honest, I struggled when ‘wrestled with our’ became ‘whispered all our’ fears on the 1998 re-release of¬†One Way. ¬†I still bristle a bit when they still sing it that way now (I wonder if they did on the Levelling the Land anniversary tours? ¬†I’ll have to check on the Live CD!).

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Freeborn Al / 3rd April 2018 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Star Botherers are Happy and Angry with a new album!

I’ve been looking forward to Star Botherers releasing their album ever since it was announced it was in progress – and by gosh it doesn’t disappoint. ¬†I think all but one of the generous fourteen songs on here I’ve heard performed live, and there’s a fair few that have appeared on EPs released before. ¬†But these familiar friends have been lovingly caressed and enhanced in the studio so even these songs you think you’ve heard before take on new and interesting dimensions without losing their charm.

The once semi-novelty duo – mixing in originals, cover versions and games of bingo into chaotic sets, have been slowly but surely building their portfolio of songs and once you see them laid out here you realise it’s quite an impressive canon. ¬†They’ve managed to retain their fun and irreverence whilst adding layers and sublime production. ¬†Brad has of course joined often on stage to add more intricate percussion, and we’ve seen both Joel and Ellis add extra stringy things of late – and the album is full of this.

Joel too has been responsible for all the technical wizardry in mixing and mastering the now more complicated audio channels – we know from Black Thorn’s album how adept he is at this, and this will sit alongside that as a fine testament to his technical skill. ¬†This really is an album to be proud of – the songs rollercoaster you from amusement, nostalgia, cutting political observations, meloncholy and at times downright hilarity. ¬†Bart is a very clever lyricist and he’s assembled an expert team to augment his guitar in accompanying the words.

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Freeborn Al / 3rd November 2017 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Who put the crown on the head of the clown?

I do bloody love 3 Daft Monkeys, there’s no denying it. ¬†They’re playful yet poignant, irreverent but relevant, mischievous and mystical – they weave and fuse their modern folk sound with celtic and balkan type influences – they bring smiles, they bring tears. ¬†It was a real honour to be sent a preview copy of their new album – The Year of the Clown. ¬†I’m always touched to be asked to review something somebody has created, it’s a personal thing and I’m only too eager to make sure that I treat it with the respect it deserves.

The CD arrived whilst I was galavanting at Rockstock and Barrel – I excitedly put it in the car when going to take Ella back to Stevenage only to be greeted with the dreaded ‘disc error’ message – oh well, I’ll rip it when I get home, I thought. ¬†And I did – but only nine of the twelve tracks copied successfully… modern technology is great though, a quick email and Tim kindly furnished me with digital copies of the remaining tracks which I’ve spent the last few days getting to know whilst commuting, doing chores and well, basically any time I’ve been listening to music.

Accompanying the disc is a press release – Year of the Clown is a deliberate reference to the frankly terrifying global political stage – it positions the album as being very personal, 3 Daft Monkeys exposing their bare bones and their souls. ¬†It shows in the sound too – in typical style there are powerful observations masked by catchy melodies, mischievous rhyming devices and swirling soaring fiddle journeys. ¬†It’s unmistakably 3 Daft Monkeys, but with a degree of themeatic reinvention we’ve seen in their last few albums – and going another step toward trying to capture their raw live energy on a recording.

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Freeborn Al / 6th April 2017 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Travelling along the (longer) ancient road!

My list of releases to write about never seems to get any shorter! ¬†But that’s no bad thing, and The Silk Road are the next on my list – with a self-titled album to follow up from their EP released in the summer last year. ¬†Back then when I wrote about it I drew parallels with both Levellers and Ferocious Dog in their sound – and that still stands. ¬†As an aside, one of my friends once described FD quite disparagingly I thought at the time as ‘Levelling the Clash’. ¬†To be fair, back then they probably had a few Levs covers in their set.

I’ve subsequently mentally reappropriated the description to be a badge of honour (maybe that’s how it was intended, to be fair!). ¬†So if Ferocious Dog are ‘Levelling the Clash’ then I reckon The Silk Road are more like ‘Levelling the Pistols’. ¬†And much like the former, the latter belies some of the intricacy and individuality on offer – but with the music often tending to the punk end of the folk-punk spectrum (although not always), and Tich’s visceral sneering vocals (although not always) it feels like a suitable pithy description.

All the tracks from the EP are reprised, along with eight companions – here we have a much more polished (without losing the bite) and varied collection of songs. ¬†So whilst I might have suggested that The Silk Road are more punk than folk, there’s plenty of glimpses at their softer underbelly in here too – with traditional energetic instrumentals like¬†Montagu’s Harrier which featured on the EP, and the frankly lovely¬†Elizabeth Rose¬†which almost sounds like it could morph into a McDermott’s 2 Hours song.

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Freeborn Al / 15th March 2017 / Other Bands, Photos

Gaz clearly doesn’t know his place..

I’ve been impatiently waiting for Gaz Brookfield‘s new album to drop only to realise at the eleventh hour I’d not updated my address from the order, so I didn’t get the sneaky day or two bonus time before release to get my teeth into it. ¬†But thankfully the Bandcamp download became active before I had a chance to visit my folks to pick up the CD, giving me the chance to spend the last few days getting acquainted with¬†I Know My Place whilst commuting to and from work. ¬†And quite a bit in between!

From following this album’s progress on Facebook and having a natter with Mr Goodman in Banbury shortly after he’d had a sneak preview it was clear that Gaz had big plans for this production – rather than stick to the mantra of his previous releases and setting off as a solo acoustic guy (maybe with some fiddle from Ben Wain) he enlisted the help of a veritable who’s who of musician friends to add some depth and layers – and packaged it all together in a lovely digipak complete with an awesome piece of cover art by The Famous Artist Birdy Rose.

It’s no secret on these pages the esteem I hold Gaz in as a songwriter and performer (he’s quite a nice chap, too) – so I must admit it was a mixture of excitement and nervousness when I finally got my download onto something I could blast through my loudest speakers. ¬†Would the¬†Gazness of this album be diluted by the influence of all these other talented folk or would it be enhanced with their input? ¬†Mr Goodman was absolutely raving superlatives about it, but well, you can’t always trust a cockney geezer, can you? ¬†But in this case, you most certainly can.

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Freeborn Al / 12th December 2016 / Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments

Finally..

a0694865893_16.. the title of the album by Paddy Stratton and Friends, and an apt one for this blog piece too. ¬†I’ve been sat on the CD for a good few weeks now and finally had a chance to have a good listen. ¬†When Simon sent the CD through his name rang a bell, but it wasn’t until reading through the accompanying press release that I realised I’d probably spotted his name in writing credits on Levellers CDs down the years – he co-wrote¬†Believers and contributed All Your Dreams, Sea of Pain¬†and¬†American Airdo to their musical canon.

Getting CDs to listen to and write about still spins me out a bit – I love music, but I’m not musical in any way – but I guess that’s true of a reasonable number if not most music fans out there. ¬†I got the disc just before jetting off on holiday and had a cursory listen and worried it would be one of those occasions that I get something that I don’t get on with, but mentally filed to have a proper go when I got back. ¬†Of course once I was back I’d forgotten until I got a gentle reminder (thanks Simon!) so in between a resurgently busy time of gigging and festivals I’ve now had a chance to get to know it.

My first impressions (pre-holiday) were that whilst I could appreciate the craft of songwriting and quality of the production it was a bit too far down the country and western spectrum for me – however on reappraising I was a bit hasty. ¬†No, very hasty indeed. ¬†It was released back in November 2015 and Paul Fitzgerald shares the writing credit with Paddy – despite enjoying the songs he wrote for the Levellers for many years, he’s never made it onto my radar until now, more’s the pity.

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Freeborn Al / 4th April 2016 / Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments

Solo acoustic guy..

IMG_2033It’s no secret on these pages that I’m a huge fan of Gaz Brookfield – his latest recorded offering Solo Acoustic Guy landed on my doormat on the day he played Rock City along with Mad Dog Mcrea and Ferocious Dog providing me with the perfect soundtrack for heading on into Nottingham. ¬†It’s a product of an agile musician – announcing the idea, canvassing Facebook fans to choose tracks, recording, producing and sending within a few weeks.

This CD straddles the divide between a studio and live recording – recorded in a studio, but in a one-take live style. ¬†The promise of mistakes, bum notes or forgotten lyrics being included – a warts and all expos√© of an artist clearly not feeling too vulnerable with being able to deliver the goods. ¬†Bearing in mind that by the time this was being laid down he was probably already starting to suffer from the lurgy that rendered a couple of FD’s dates sadly Gazless.

For a mere tenner (or more, if you feel generous) you’re treated to nineteen tracks chosen by frequency of comments on his Facebook page, with enthusiastic levels of suggestions from his back catalogue. ¬†Ella and I made it our mission to get¬†Glass Half Empty¬†on there – even though I reckon we are the only ones who put that one forward we were delighted to see it there nestling on track fifteen amongst the other selections people made.

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Freeborn Al / 2nd December 2015 / Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments

The Splendour of the weekend to come..

Splendour-2015_IndianaWhilst I’ve been still basking a bit in the warm fuzziness of last weekend at Wistful, it will be good to get a bit of full-on Ferocious Dog this weekend at Nottingham’s Splendour Festival. ¬†I’m not generally a huge fan of Splendour, it’s pretty pricey (although I guess if you divide the ticket price by the number of acts you want to see it does work out good value this year). ¬†FD played it last year but an early slot on a small stage so I didn’t indulge, although I did go to it when the Levellers played a couple of years back.

The list of terms and conditions are potentially entertaining too depending on how many Hell Hounds descend for the 5:15 showtime. ¬†We shall see! ¬†Definitely this year I won’t be attempting to smuggle in a litre and a half of rum (successfully) like I did on my previous visit… after consuming that I found myself practically asleep ¬†against the crash barrier for much of the Levellers set. ¬†Mercifully this rendered me unable to ‘appreciate’ the headline act of Dizzee Rascal too so perhaps it wasn’t such a bad plan!

This year though with Roots Manuva, The Specials and James on the bill too there’s more to look forward to than just Ferocious Dog which is always a bonus, and there’s sure to be new acts to discover.¬† The other drawback to Splendour is the lack of camping option – on account of the potentially vicious deer in the park – although whilst not my current home Nottingham is a place I can find places to stay pretty easily – and I’m sure there’ll be a few folk out and about to make it into a suitably fun party!

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Freeborn Al / 16th July 2015 / Band, Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands / 0 Comments