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Sandy Denny


Country of origin:

England

Type of music generally:

Traditional and contemporary folk and folk/rock

Status:

Sandy Denny died in 1978 (she was born in 1947). Her discs have recently (2012) been remastered and re-released, and new compilations come out fairly frequently. Most recent is a limited-edition 19-CD box set entitled Sandy Denny (2010), which includes all her officially released music and then some.

See also:

Official Sandy Denny site

Wikipedia's page on Sandy Denny

A site by someone who has booked on official Sandy projects

A Sandy Denny site

Ectophiles' Guide entries for Sandy Denny & The Strawbs, Fairport Convention, and Fotheringay, bands Sandy Denny was part of at various times of her career.

Comparisons:

Really there is no comparison to her amazing voice and few people had similar careers. Richard Thompson is perhaps the closest similar figure, and her singing style is a little like Linda Thompson especially when she sang with Richard. Sandy Denny is one of those figures cited as a point of comparison for others, but no one comes close enough. (Neile)

Covers/own material:

Early in her career she sang many covers and a lot of traditional material; later she focused on her own excellent songwriting.

General comments:

In the liner notes for The BBC Sessions 1971–73 Robin Denselow writes that Sandy Denny
was blessed with a remarkable voice, that was both delicate, sensitive and powerful, and an eclectic taste that meant that she could switch effortlessly between different styles and eras of popular music.... Then there was Sandy the singer-songwriter, the composer of a unique catalogue of exquisite, often gentle melancholy ballads....
This describes her well. Sandy Denny has one of the most amazing voices ever and is an extraordinary interpreter of songs—those written by others and her own. I definitely consider her one of my own personal vocal goddesses. Many people in North America particularly don't know of her or haven't heard her best work because it is only now available here and the '70s sound of the first two albums to be easily found in the U.S. put them off. It may take some looking for find her best work—but you won't regret it. The power of her voice and her songwriting abilities are timeless. Sandy Denny is an abiding love of mine. I still strongly remember the first time I heard her voice when a friend of mine played a side of the Electric Muse compilation that came out in the '70s for me. When Fairport Convention's "Tam Lin" (from their album Liege and Lief) came on it blew the top off my head and I've never been the same. I think it was the day I acquired both my love of female vocals and of electrified traditional music. One of the few times when hearing one song opened a whole new world for me.
     Sandy has a voice and the power to use it to make songs come alive like no one else—the only downside to her career is that it was cut off too soon (for those of you who don't know her work, she only lived to be 31 and died as the result a household accident). Well, and there's the cheesy '70s production of Rendezvous and Like an Old-Fashioned Waltz, but that wasn't her fault.
     Those of you who haven't heard her, if you have any interest in '70s pop or electric folk, get yourself to a disc store and pick up a copy of The Best of Sandy Denny, or if you think you might like electric traditional folk, start directly with Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief. Listen to either of those often enough, and that will force you to pick up the boxed sets of her work Who Knows Where the Time Goes and A Boxful of Treasures, and then of course you'll have to get Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief if that isn't the one you started with, and the self-titled Fotheringay group album, and her other two original solo albums Sandy and The Northstar Grassman and the Ravens.
     And then of course by hook or by crook you'll pick up the rare The BBC Sessions 1971–73 and the one live disc released Gold Dust: Live at the Royalty, then gradually Rendezvous and Like an Old-Fashioned Waltz to have a complete collection of her original solo releases, and the other Fairport Convention albums she contributed to, then The Attic Tracks, and you'll have a nice chunk of your cd space dedicated to her work, just like I do.
     Either that or you need to go and get your ears cleaned out and your musical tastes adjusted ;). It may take time to get used to the kind of music she does if that's not already in your listening repertoire, but there's nothing like the evocative power of Sandy's voice—none of the ectophiles' goddesses have anything on her in terms of being able to use her voice in a way that gives me shivers. I'd listen to her sing phone book listings. She also worked with such excellent musicians as Richard Thompson and her husband, Trevor Lucas. She's someone I can't imagine not having as much of her music as I possibly can. (Neile)

I would like to also very highly recommend two other essential Fairport Convention albums (other than Liege and Lief) which also feature incredible performances by Sandy as well as Richard Thompson. The titles are What We Did On Our Holiday (also simply titled "Fairport Convention" in the U.S.) & Unhalfbricking. Both of these have mezmerising Sandy performances. Unlike the majority of anyone's late '60s & early '70s recordings, these albums (&Liege and Lief) do not sound dated at all. To anyone here who has never listened to Sandy Denny, I can't encourage you enough to do so! (ABershaw@aol.com)

A rare talent who is much missed. (nightwol@dircon.co.uk)

I wholeheartedly second Neile's suggestion to check out Sandy Denny if you are unaware of her body of work. Sandy is/was an amazing artist with a gorgeous voice who tragically left us in her prime. To me Sandy Denny was the female voice, if not THE voice, of '60s and '70s British Folk. Yes, there were other great bands from that era with outstanding female vocalists like Jacqui McShee of Pentangle and Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span. None of them had the range of emotion that Sandy expresses with her pure and crystalline voice. Sandy had the incredible gift of interpreting the essence of the song lyric and breathing life into the music. Her voice could be powerful ("Tam Lin"; "Matty Groves"; "The Battle of Evermore"), joyful ("Come All Ye"; "Listen, Listen"), longingly melancholy ("Crazy Man Michael"; "The Pond and The Stream") and beautifully poignant ("Late November"; "The Banks Of The Nile"). These descriptions in no way do justice to the moods that Sandy created for each song that she blessed with her unique and truly beautiful voice. (wpm@value.net)

...going towards the fey, haunting and haunted side of ecto, there's Sandy Denny. (bossert@suddensound.com)

Recommended first album:

The Best of Sandy Denny is readily available and a great starting point. There is also a new compilation, also from her solo work, Listen, Listen, which is only available in the U.K. Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief is essential listening for fans of electric folk. It's easy to expand from there. I highly recommend Who Knows Where The Time Goes (the 3-CD box set) and of her four solo albums, Sandy is my personal favourite. Gold Dust: Live at the Royalty is an excellent example of her later songwriting and the power of her live performance. (Neile)

Recordings include:

A complete database of recordings is available at The Sandy Denny website


The Original Sandy Denny

Release info:

1967 (re-released 1991), Mooncrest Records, UK, Crest CD 002

Availability:

Can be found in U.S. and U.K.

Ecto priority:

Must have if you like her other recordings but not a first priority. (Neile)

Comments:

This is a collection of her first recordings, before her work with The Strawbs and before Fairport Convention. The arrangements are quite simple—lively guitar and vocals. Her voice is the feature of this collection of folk songs both traditional and '60s—even this early it's clear to hear that her voice is a force to be reckoned with, moving from gutsy folk/rock to light and beautifully lyrical ballads. If you're a fan of '60s folk, you'll love this—if you're a fan of the female voice, this will knock you over. (Neile)

The North Star Grassman and the Ravens

Release info:

1971—Island (U.K.)—IMCD 133; re-released Ryko/Hannibal (U.S.)—4429

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Must have for lovers of British folk. (Neile)

Group members:

Sandy Denny—vocals, piano, acoustic guitars

Guest artists:

Richard Thompson—electric & acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, bass, accordion, vocals
Jerry Donahue—electric guitar
Pat Donaldson—bass
Gerry Conway—drums
Trevor Lucas—acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Tony Reeves—bass
Ian Whiteman—piano, flute organ
Barry Dransfield—violin, backing vocals
Royston Wood, Robin Dransfield—backing vocals
Harry Robinson—string arrangement
Roger Powell—drums
Buddy Evans—pedal steel guitar

Produced by:

Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson & John Wood

Comments:

This is my second favourite of Sandy's solo albums. A collection that really grows on you, and of course Sandy's voice is sensational. It's got kind of a gritty, jumpy flavour because of the choice of songs like "Let's Jump The Broomstick" and Dylan's "Down In The Flood". It also has some classic moody Sandy ballads, like "Late November", "John The Gun", "Next Time Around", "Wretched Wilbur", the traditional "Blackwaterside", "The North Star Grassman And The Ravens" and the delightful "Crazy Lady Blues". Highly recommended. (Neile)

Sandy

Release info:

1972—Island (U.K.)—IMCD 132 848 746-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Must have for lovers of Celtic or British folk. (Neile)

Group members:

Sandy Denny—vocals, piano, acoustic guitars

Guest artists:

Richard Thompson—guitars, mandolin
Pat Donaldson—bass
Timi Donald—drums
Dave Swarbrick—solo violin
Pete Kleinow—pedal steel
John Bundrick—organ, piano
Linda Peters [Thompson]—backing vocals

Produced by:

Trevor Lucas

Comments:

This is my favourite solo Sandy Denny album. It's amazing to me that it's the only one of the four that is exceptionally hard to find in the U.S. All the songs on this are Sandy's own, except a cover of Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time". I have obsessed over several songs on this collection, including "Bushes and Briars" and "It Suits Me Well" and there are other excellent songs here like the knockout "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" and "The Lady". Good music, great voice. Don't miss this. When I was reviewing it for this page I found I couldn't bear to skip ahead and had to listen to this all the way through. I almost hit repeat, too. (Neile)

Sandy Denny has been quite rightly lauded. This is one of her best solo albums. (nightwol@dircon.co.uk)


Like An Old Fashioned Waltz

Release info:

1973—Island (U.K.)—ILPS 9258; Ryko/Carthage (U.S.)—4425

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

low (higher for fans)

Guest artists:

"Sandy plays and singers with: Pat Donaldson, Gerry Conway, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Danny Thompson, Alan Skidmore, Ian Armit, Jean Rouseel, Jerry Donahue, Trevor Lucas, Richard Thompson, Diz Disley & Rabbit.
     Orchestral arrangements by Harry Robinson with whispering bass by Bob Leaper"

Produced by:

Trevor Lucas and John Wood

Comments:

I like Sandy Denny, but her material and arrangements tend to be so uneven I think of her as a song artist instead of an album artist. I wonder what kind of music she'd be doing now if she were still alive. So many of her songs here are pure schmaltz that I cringingly picture her as a lounge singer. Whatever, her good songs are very, very good, and her bad songs (and bad arrangements that ruin good songs) are to wince for. Her voice, always truly wonderful, makes her a frustrating artist to listen to, because I want her material to be as good as her voice always is. (vickie@enteract.com)

True, the cheesy '70s production is difficult to listen to at this point in time. Still her voice shines through, especially on such lovely songs as "Solo". I would recommend other albums before this one (it took me a long time to bother to pick this one up on cd to replace an aged tape) but I'm still happy to have it. (Neile)


Rendezvous

Release info:

1977—Island (U.K.)—ILPS 9433; Hannibal (U.S.)—4423

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

low (higher for fans)

Guest artists:

Musicians—John (Rabbit) Bundrick, Jerry Donahue, Timmi Donald, Pat Donaldson, Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg, Steve Winwood, Junion Murvin, Brother James, Jimmy Haines, Nigel Frank Ricotti, John Gillespie, Dick Cuthell, Richard Thompson, Billie Livesay, Bob Weston
Singers—Jess Roden, Sue Glover, Sunny Leslie, Kay Garner, Claire Torry, Bennie Gallagher, Graham Lyle, The Ladybirds
Silver Band—John Husdon, Alan Holmes, Ray Grand, Gordon Bland, David White, Robert Richards, Peter Lockett, Philip Goodwin
Orchestral arrangements—Harry Robinson
Brass arrangements—Steve Gregory
Silver Band arrangement—Robert Kirby

Produced by:

Trevor Lucas

Comments:

A very uneven album. (vickie@enteract.com)

Cheesy '70s production, but that is an artifact of the time it was recorded and wasn't her fault. Unfortunately, it does at times overpower her voice. The album starts out with a powerful version of Richard Thompson's "I Wish I Was A Fool For You" and the excellent "Gold Dust" but loses steam with a very '70s-sappy overly stringed version of "Candle in the Wind". Other great tracks on this are "One Way Donkey Ride" and "I'm A Dreamer". As Vickie says it's uneven but the good moments make it worth it for me, though I would give other albums a much higher priority, particularly for those of you daunted by heavy string arrangements which unfortunately dominate the otherwise lovely "All Our Days". Tastes have changed, which sadly date this album. (Neile)


The Best of Sandy Denny

Release info:

1987—Hannibal (U.S.)—HNCD 1328

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Must have—unless you have Who Knows Where The Time Goes, the box set from which these songs come. (Neile)

Comments:

This is a wonderful compilation of Sandy's voice, including material from her solo albums, from Fairport Convention, and Fotheringay. It includes "Tam Lin" which alone is worth the price of the disc. An excellent introduction to her work. (Neile)

I agree with Neile that The Best of Sandy Denny is a very good place to start as an introduction to Sandy's work. As Neile states, "Tam Lin", which is a true classic taken from the seminal "Liege and Lief" by Fairport Convention, is worth the price of admission. There are many other very memorable songs, culled from the full breadth of Sandy's unfortunately short career, on this disc. My personal favorites on this collection are "The Lady", "The Banks Of The Nile" and "Who Knows Where The Time Goes". The whole disc is excellent and would be a worthy addition to anyone's collection. (wpm@value.net)


Who Knows Where The Time Goes (3-CD Box Set)

Release info:

1985—Rykodisc—5301

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly, highly recommended

Compiled and produced by:

Trevor Lucas and Joe Boyd

Comments:

This posthumously-released record collected together all sorts of material recorded by Sandy during her career. It included tracks which had been released, demos of tracks which had been released, live versions of tracks which had been released and songs which had never been released, and examples of her solo and group work, her traditional folk songs and contemporary rock. Incredible listening all the way through. This compilation will show you why people continue to be touched by her music 20 years after her death and the absolutely undated quality of her music. (Neile)

The Attic Tracks, 1972–1984

by Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas & Friends

Release info:

1995—Raven Records, P.O. Box 2027, East Ivanhoe 3079, Australia

Availability:

Australia, and can be found in the U.S. and U.K.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Sandy fans.

Guest artists:

Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas and friends

Comments:

There will never be another voice like Sandy Denny's. Some tracks here than are among her best work. The Trevor Lucas stuff is good, but for me it's the Sandy rarities that make this worth tracking down. The cd was compiled by Trevor Lucas' friend John Penhallow, whom he and subsequently his widow and children gave access to his personal collection of tapes. The cd includes Sandy's last recorded song, "Moments" and a French language version of "Listen, Listen" one of Sandy's most affecting songs which doesn't lose any of its power in translation. There are also two solo tracks, "One More Chance" and "Rising For The Moon" she recorded for the other members of Fairport Convention to learn for their 1975 album, Rising For The Moon—these are stunning vocals, simply backed by piano and "Rising For The Moon" also has a metronome ticking in the background. What a voice! The liner notes call her version of Little Feat's "Easy To Slip" blistering, and they're right—so is "Losing Game", a Flying Burrito Brothers cover. "Still Waters Run Deep" was recorded at the time of Rendezvous—a nice track. "The King And Queen Of England", as the booklet says, is a lovely, plaintive song—simply Sandy and her piano. "No End" is an extended solo version of the songs from Like an Old Fashioned Waltz and shows how lovely that album would have been without the production popular in those days. The cd ends with 3 tracks from what would become Gold Dust: Live at the Royalty. The individual tracks here are amazing. (Neile)

The BBC Sessions 1971–73

Release info:

1997—Strange Fruit—SFRSCD006

Availability:

Extremely hard to find because of a legal dispute. Only 3,500 copies released

Ecto priority:

Now supplanted by the Live at the BBC compilation

Group members:

Sandy Denny—vocals, piano, guitar

Guest artists:

Hughie Burns—guitar
Pat Donaldson—bass
Willie Murray

Produced by:

Jeff Griffin, John Muir, Tony Wilson

Comments:

Damn. No one has a voice like this—rich and expressive in both traditional songs and her own. Such a delight to find alternate live & radio versions of these great songs. I especially like the simple arrangements (with some of her work the style of the arrangements can be a barrier for me really enjoy the songs). I could listen to Sandy forever. This was the single most expensive disc I bought in 1997 and worth every penny—it's a total knockout: just Sandy, piano, guitar. It gives me shivers. It's hard to think of enough superlatives to describe this collection. Sandy's voice is exquisite—rough, powerful, gentle, sweet, a force of life itself.
     The collection is composed of six stunning tracks in concert at the Paris Theatre, and 14 tracks from four different BBC sessions. The sound of the concert is lovely. The acoustics of the BBC sessions are rougher but the renditions are magic. This is another album compiled by John Penhallow and Sandy fans owe him a huge vote of thanks for making this material available. (Neile)

Gold Dust: Live At The Royalty (The final concert)

Release info:

1998—Island/Polygram—IMCD 252 524493-2

Availability:

Available in the U.K.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Sandy fans

Group members:

Sandy Denny—vocals, piano, guitar

Guest artists:

Dave Mattacks—drums
Pat Donaldson—bass guitar & backing vocals
Pete Wilsher—steel guitar
Trevor Lucas—acoustic guitar & backing vocals
Jerry Donahue—electric & acoustic guitars (added in 1998)
Rob Hendry—electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Simon Nicol—backing vocals (added in 1998)
Chris Leslie—backing vocals (added in 1998)

Produced by:

Trevor Wyatt—executive producer

Comments:

From her last gig in 1977. Still my favorite singer after all these years. Not the CD to start with but a definite necessity for all Sandy fans. (ABershaw@aol.com)

These are wonderful versions of her songs and her voice is in fine form. If you're interested in hearing her voice but don't want to hear '70s strings and arrangements, this is a great choice. These are mostly her own compositions (plus one Richard Thompson and one Dylan cover) and the concert includes many of her best songs and show what a great songwriter she was besides having that stupendous voice.
     When they were mixing these tapes for the cd there were some technical problems, hence the rerecording of the guitar and backing vocals. (Neile)


Listen, Listen

Release info:

1999—Island (U.K.)

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Recommended as a possible starting place for her solo work

Comments:

The 17 tracks on this compilation are all taken from her four solo albums (The North Star Grassman and The Ravens, Sandy, Like an Old Fashioned Waltz, and Rendezvous), with nothing from either Fotheringay or Fairport Convention (her group work) or from the recent live album, Gold Dust and no new previously unreleased material. There is some overlap with The Best of Sandy Denny. Given that The Best of Sandy Denny does include some of her work with Fotheringay and Fairport Convention, I would recommend that compilation over this one. (Neile)

No More Sad Refrains: The Anthology

Release info:

2000—A&M Records (U.S.)—314 542 747-2

Availability:

Wide in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Essential for Sandy Denny fans, highly recommended for others

Comments:

This two-disc collection has recordings from all of Sandy's incarnations with the exception of her very early work (like with The Strawbs) and also has a couple of demos and two tracks from a one-off gathering of English folkrockers, The Bunch. I would say it's an excellent introduction for someone new to Sandy. Rather than attempting to pull together the loose ends of her career as the box set does, it's an attempt to show the range of her career. Highly recommended for fans who will want the rarities here and to those new to Sandy's work. (Neile)

The collection is comprehensive and a great intro to her work (with some rarities added in there as well). (wpm@value.net)


The 20th Century Masters—The Millennium Collection: The Best of Sandy Denny

Release info:

2002—A&M

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Comments:

Just finished listening to the "Millennium Collection". Really it's not bad for a one-CD, 10-song album. No substitute for No More Sad Refrains or anything else, but good remasterings, some nice photos (nothing you haven't seen of course) and good liner notes from Dave Thompson. Not much Fairport Convention/Fotheringay material. (EGoodst285@aol.com

A Boxful of Treasures

Release info:

2004—Fledg'ling Records—NEST 5002

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Sandy Denny fans

Comments:

A 5-CD set of live and rare tracks, many of which appear elsewhere (such as on the Who Knows Where The Time Goes box set compilation and The Attic Tracks, 1972–1984) but a few of which are only available here. This is lovelingly compiled and the booklet alone, full of well-reproduced pictures and an excellent long article, is worth the price of admission. Of the discs, though, my favourite is disc 5, Home recordings, with 12 demo versions, 2 alternate tracks, and 3 live Fairport Convention tracks. Lovely, lovely stuff. Her voice is jaw-droppingly powerful. (Neile)

Live at the BBC

Release info:

2007—Universal ISland Records—984 992-8

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Essential for the Sandy Denny fan

Comments:

3-CD + 1 DVD compilation. One disc of "in session" recordings, one of "in concert" and one of "off-air" recordings, as well as a DVD (PAL format) with the three available live tracks of Sandy solo, as well as bonus diary, photos, and a discography. The attractive packaging includes a very nice attached booklet of photos, etc., but really this is a case where it's the wonderful unavailable-elsewhere music that is the star. This includes all the material on the so-briefly-released 1997 compilation, The BBC Sessions 1971–73 and then some. The recordings include material from 1966 all the way through 1973. Highly, highly recommended. But I warn you that you're going to also want the companion Fairport Convention Live at the BBC set. (Neile)

Sandy Denny

Release info:

2010—Universal ISland Records—532 869-5

Availability:

Limited release physical copy + iTunes (UK [and Australia?] only for now)

Ecto priority:

Highly, highly recommended for fans of Sandy Denny

Comments:

This lovingly produced limited-edition box set is a work of art in itself, and is clearly a labour of love and a fitting tribute to Sandy's all-too-brief career. It is beautifully designed, with newly commissioned artwork and a wonderful attention to detail. Yes, I'm gushing, I know. It includes: 19 CDs; a gorgeous 72-page hardcover book with photos, sleeve notes, recollections of Sandy; reproductions of a notebook of Sandy's handwritten lyrics, a promo poster, a 1974 press pack; postcards. The CDs include studio outtakes and home demos and her complete studio recordings (all her solo work, and work with Fairport Convention, Fortheringay, and The Strawbs). As someone involved in the production explains, the box set includes:
...the duet with ian Matthews, and 'it's a boy' from Tommy—we couldn't secure permission for 'Battle of Evermore' as zep don't allow their music to be compiled (music weaver comp was a rare complicated exception). Fotheringay 1 & 2 are included and Sandy's performances with the band at Rotterdam. The only things not on here are some tracks on other people's albums where sandy performs bv's only or plays piano, where sandy's contribution was not significant enough to merit inclusion—also this material is available officially elsewhere for the curious/completist.

Live shows that have come out later like Oslo, are not included, as they are not 'official' releases from island/universal—no bootlegs are included in this release. LA Troubadour with Fairport in 74 was an official recording that remained largely unreleased, and was not mixed from the master reels till now hence its inclusion here.

There are over 100 previously unreleased recordings.

I am on a Sandy Denny listserve where people have had various quibbles with choices made during production of the set, but I am just thrilled that it exists, despite already owning so many other collections of her music. The set is unique and a wonderful, deep collection of her work. Heartbreaking that she could produce all this and not be a household name and have died so tragically young. Truly an amazing thing, and I agree with the forward in the book—Sandy Denny deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as the best 20th-century vocalists, such as Billie Holiday. If nothing else, this set is proof of that.

The bad news is that the set was expensive to start with and is already out-of-print—and the prices they're asking for re-sold copies are insane. (Neile)


Further info:

If you're interested in joining the Sandy Denny/Trevor Lucas mailing list, send an email message to: SandyDennyList-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

There are also a few bootlegged cds of her live and rarer work.

Thea Gilmore released an album, Don't Stop Singing in 2011, where she used lyrics from Sandy Denny's songwriting notebooks to create her own songs.


Thanks to Neal Copperman for work on this entry.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2012-10-31 19:40:51.
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