Hard News by Russell Brown

54

Kia kaha, Helen Kelly

"Helen Kelly is fighting for the rights of others to the very end," reads a comment under Life and Death and Cannabis, the trade union leader's new post at The Standard. And yes, she really is.

Kelly is taking cannabis oil to help manage the pain associated with terminal cancer. She knows she is in breach of the criminal law – and she knows she is not alone. She also knows she has the ability to speak frankly about it where others may not:

Since I have been public about it I have received so many very very sad emails from families also wanting access. Children with brain tumours, partners in their last stages of life zonked out on morphine and wanting something less brain numbing, people with elderly parents who are suffering from terrible arthritis and can’t cope with opiates so are basically in pain constantly and unable to move etc. It really has been incredible and quite heart breaking.

There's a reason that "Name Witheld" is the most popular byline on accounts like the letter to The Listener here:

I’ve never been interested in recreational drugs but tried cannabis as a last resort. I am now pain-free for most of the time, have been able to return to work and am again fully enjoying my life.

I would like to be able to share my experience with others who suffer from the same condition, but feel unable to for fear of prosecution, and for fear of jeopardising those who have helped me access cannabis.

This situation needs urgent redress. Although more evidence is urgently needed, those of us who have to rely on cannabis for our survival cannot wait for trials to take place. I know it works for me and has saved my life. I have conducted my own trials, carefully documenting the effects of every medication I have tried. Although I’m overjoyed to have my life back, it appals me to have to live in such a complicated and clandestine way.

And this Stuff column by a man who discovered that a very low level of cannabis use eased his inflammatory and arthritic symptoms and allowed him to return to work. It also helped moderate the effects of the prescription drugs he must take to treat his arthritic symptoms. Those drugs will eventually cause his liver and kidneys to fail. In that light, forbidding him to use cannabis because it might be bad for his health seems like a sick joke. He writes:

So although I have stepped out of the shadows to share my story, I am stopping short of telling you who I am. I would lose my job and my livelihood, I would lose everything I have worked so hard to create from the nothing when I was on the disability benefit.

My sense is that these stories are more common than is generally acknowledged. In the past, I've given a friend a pointer on where to access marijuana for a dying father, who had never used it before.

I also know of someone using cannabis oil (competently but illicitly prepared)  in a bid to shrink tumours. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound: the evidence that cannabinoids can reverse fast-growing tumours is mounting. Researchers  typically caution against self-medication with whole cannabis, but when self-medication is the only choice people have, such cautions may not carry a lot of weight.

Kelly writes:

Many are resorting to illegal supplies and this in itself is so far from satisfactory. They have no idea what the strength of the product is or what it even has in it some of the time. In countries which allow medical cannabis these things are sorted – Doctors are trained on its use and products are tailored to kids, elderly etc etc.

I'm not sure that even in more liberal regimes things are quite that "sorted" – this is new territory for everyone and it sometimes implies a departure from the precautionary principles of drug approval – but the lack of clarity on potency and cannabinoid ratios is a risk factor itself.

Which is why Helen Kelly – who you would think hardly needs the damn grief – has embarked on the process of seeking consent to import and use a cannabis-based product under the Medicines Act. You'll need to read her post to appreciate the full drama that involves, but it culminates in the required consent of the Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne.

Dunne is habitually, and often unfairly, pilloried in these matters. Yet in delivering the new National Drug Policy last year, he had to carefully navigate the National government's cynical and entirely political stance on drug law reform to become the first minister to acknowledge that a significant portion of the harm from illicit drugs lies in the laws that make them illicit.

Dunne is also constrained by the official advice he receives. Even when, as was the case in November when Pharmac's Pharmacology Therapeutics Advisory Committee advised against extending the subsidy for Sativex, the advice is frankly misguided. The committee advised against the funding in part because of the risk of "diversion" of Sativex for recreational use. Sativex is an oral spray containing a 50-50 ratio of the two main cannabinoids, THC and CBD – and is thus a poor candidate for getting high. The idea that criminals might seek to misuse it  when actual cannabis (which will get you high) is widely available is simply ludicrous. But that's the nature of the environment we're in.

In speaking out, Kelly also has the advantage – if it can be called that – of being terminally ill. The ethical case for denying cannabis for palliative care evaporates on examination, like a raindrop on a hotplate. If a dying person derives a subjective improvement in quality of life through the use of cannabis, there isn't really a moral argument for denying it. And there is a strong moral argument for alleviating the legal peril that use involves. At the least, no sane person is going to call for her prosecution.

Making this application will generate headlines. It will engender public sympathy. And perhaps this case – or the next one or the one after that – will transport the issue from being a moral one to a political one, thus bringing it within the ken of the present government. This is why it's worth trying.

I'm sure Helen Kelly understands this very well. She's smart as well as brave. But she could have simply kept her head down and got on with her own business. That she has not and that she has chosen to fight on a principle that will help others speaks volumes for the person she is.

Kia kaha, Helen Kelly. And thank you.

UPDATE: There has been some useful discussion in the comments below about the hoops Helen Kelly must jump through to gain ministerial approval to use a medicinal cannabis product under sections 20-22 of the Medicines Act 1981. The requirements are not part of the Act and were only recently published, in the wake of the Alex Renton case. Elements of them seem, frankly, unreasonable. The most obvious being the requirement that "patient hospitalised when treatment is initiated". The risk-benefit requirements are also irrelevant and unreasonable in the context of palliative care at least. I would hope there is scope for discussion of these requirements – a discussion that actually involves patients and their families.

33

Friday Music: The Wizards of Oz Rock

When I was young, we scorned Australian pub rock as everything our music wasn't. The deafening, unwavering four-on-the-floor of the bass guitar and drums, the guitars without finesse or shimmer, the squalling singer, the bogan tone.

While Hello Sailor blended soul, reggae and Reed, and the early Flying Nun bands tried to express what they were hearing in their Velvets, Love and Can records and lead breaks were considered to be in poor taste, Australia sent over The Angels, Rose Tattoo and Cold Chisel.

The music was unsubtle for cultural reasons. Or, more precisely, because it was a response to the environments in which it was performed: huge pubs and clubs full (or not full) of riotous punters, amphetamines and alcohol. It was an environment that chewed up and spat out Toy Love and most other bands who sought success on the other planet that lay across the Tasman.

The pub sound registered in various genres, from the rousing, tuneless protest rock of Midnight Oil to the comic country rock of the Johnnies. Even the Hoodoo Gurus, whose records paid tribute to classic pop, played their songs live as pub rock – you could see the Rickenbacker guitars on stage, but you really couldn't hear them over the drums.

The roots of that sound – and indeed of the identity of Australian popular music –  are brilliantly explored in Paul Clarke's new two-part documentary for the ABC, Blood + Thunder: The Sound of Alberts, which tells the story of how Ted Albert, the scion of a straightlaced Sydney music publisher, built an empire around two immigrant kids, George Young and Johannes Hendrikus Jacob van den Berg (aka Harry Vanda).

George and Harry were the nucleus of The Easybeats, who formed in the limbo of a migrant hostel and blasted out a string of Australian hit singles before decamping to London and making the classic 'Friday on My Mind', which was much less raw than their early records, before disintegrating.

As a production duo, and with the encouragement of Ted Albert, they guided George's younger brothers Malcolm and Angus to the AC/DC sound, which has barely changed in more than 40 years and remains the purest and most unshakeable expression of Australian rock.

Then they invented "Australian disco" for John Paul Young. They also moonlighted as Flash and the Pan and recorded a song called 'Walking in the Rain' – yes, the same 'Walking in the Rain' that Grace Jones made a hit. (You might also detect a strong similarity between Drake's 2015 hit 'Hotline Bling' and a later Flash and the Pan song 'Waiting for a Train'.)

Even if you don't have an affinity for some of the music, Clarke's work is fascinating. The archive footage from 1970s pub shows alone is worth the watch.

Like the recent documentary on The Saints and the Brisbane scene, it unfussily encompasses social history. Clarke seems at pains to make the point that the creative energy of the phenomenon came from two migrant waifs. Given that the Villawood Migrant Hostel, where George and Harry met, is now the infamous Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, you'd hope the point was heard.

Let's not go too hard here. While 'Friday on My Mind' tops the list of the Top 30 Australian songs pubished by Apra in 2001, AC/DC's 'It's a Long Way to the Top' is the only other Alberts production in the Top 10 (which also includes 'Don't Dream It's Over'). But Blood + Thunder's thesis that this is uniquely ours resonates.

There might be a similar story to be had here in, say, Stebbing Studios. But it's hard to imagine how such a film could currently be made for and about New Zealand in the absence of a proper public broadcasting service. And that may, in the end, be the point we should ponder.

Happily, both parts of Blood + Thunder are on YouTube already. I recommend them:

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It seems appropriate to remind you of what was happening in fringe Brisbane at the same time. If AC/DC set a hard rock template that a million bands took up, in 1976, a bunch of snotty kids helped invent punk rock with this timeless debut single:

Oh, and 'Walking in the Rain' by Vanda and Young as Flash and the Pan? It's actually not bad.

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There are a few gigs lined up for Auckland in the week to come. Tomorrow night at The Wine Cellar there's a very good lineup of electronic music from Boycrush, Introverted Dancefloor (aka Bevan Smith) and Will Slugger (aka Ryan McPhun).

A cluster of shows has emerged from the debris of Echo Festival. Jamie Xx plays the St James on Monday night and Kurt Vile and the Violators are in the same room on Tuesday – it's the only show with the full band on Kurt's mini-tour. Disclosure play the Logan Campbell Centre tonight and 2014 Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers squeeze into Casssette Nine on Monday. Mac de Marco plays the King's Arms on both Wednesday and Thursday.

But the one you've got no excuse for missing if you happen to be in the Auckland CBD is The Chills' free show as part of Summer in the Square in Aotea Square at 12.30pm on Monday. Huzzah!

PS: Further out, after going through some outrageous legal bullshit with the Thames Coromandel District Council, the Chronophonium collective has found a friendly local authority and is heading north to Lake Ngatu on February 6 and 7.

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RNZ has aired an adventurous, intriguing two-part feature called Aotearoa Futurism, in which Sophie Wilson and Dan Taipua explore whether Afro-futurism, an established frame for understanding the work of artists from Sun Ra to Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton and the Ultra-Magnetic MCs, also resonates in Maori and Pasifika music and art. The background is here and you can listen to (and download) the programmes here:

Part One (featuring Mara TK and Che Fu)

Part Two (featuring Lisa Reihana and Coco Solid)

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Tunes!

Tim "Jizmatron" Checkley has produced a cool collaboration between Coco Solid and Disasteradio:

And also posted an instrumental version:

Both of those are free downloads.

Princess Chelsea is also in a giving mood, having posted her spectral cover of 'I can't Help Falling in Love With You' for free download. This is quite lovely:

You want some anthemic groove? You could do no better than this edit of Candi Staton's version of the Doobie Brothers' 'Listen to the Music'. Another freebie by way of Christmas and seriously Ibiza:

Aaaaand ... to bring us back to the opening theme, Digital Visions has just popped out this downloadable edit of 'Love is in the Air'. Get some Aussie disco down ya, cobber.

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

25

Music: Lemmy

Eleven thousand four hundred and eighty days have passed since the night I met Lemmy in Napier. I think I'm on safe ground in supposing that I've had more sleeps since than he did.

Motorhead were on a 1984 regional tour of New Zealand conceived by the mainstream promoter Stewart McPherson. It was unusual for a band of Motorhead's stature to be playing this sort of tour – last night Palmerston North, tomorrow night  Rotorua – and not every house was full, but no one in the touring party seemed to mind. They drove between shows and marvelled at the scenery. It probably helped that McPherson had the impeccably cool Graeme Nesbitt running things on the road.

I had just turned 22 and had arrived in Napier by bus, dreaming dramatically to the sound of Bill Direen in my headphones and talking to a very friendly blond chap who was heading back home after his release from prison (I didn't ask).

On arrival, I paid a visit to a fresh-faced John Drinnan, then a cub reporter at the Napier Daily Telegraph, before heading to the Municipal Theatre, venue for that night's show. Graeme met me there and after an hour or two had passed, facilitated the arranged interview with Mr Kilmister.

Lemmy said what he said many times before and since: "We play rock 'n' roll." He expressed disdain for bands who wore spandex tights and teased their hair. He drank bourbon and coke. He was larger than life. And he mercilessly look the piss out of the serious young music journalist. I couldn't really object: he was fucking funny.

Outside, in the gloom, Napier was not looking like the art deco treasure chest in the tourist literature. There were some heavy dudes gathering on the streets and I thought it prudent coming back from dinner to remove my own leather jacket.

The gig itself was – spoiler alert! – really loud. But they rocked pretty fuckin' hard to a two-thirds full theatre. Graeme had given me a backstage pass, so I was able to confirm that they were also very loud from the side of stage. Dredging up this memory has made me say to myself: Seriously? I was side-stage with Motorhead?

Their onstage sound guy spotted me wearing earplugs, which I had bought specially and for the first time in my rock'n' roll life, and he, too, took the piss out of me.

Afterwards, the tour party adjourned to a lock-in bar where The Dance of the Flaming Arseholes was performed. This ritual had been mentioned earlier in the evening as a potential, and it turned out to consist of this: two members of the road crew were furnished with a pint each, then stood on one of the tables, lowered their trousers to their ankles and had a length of toilet paper inserted between their buttocks. At the word, the end of each length of toilet paper was set alight, and the players had that long to drain their pints, unclench their buttocks and avoid the burn. It was quite spectacular.

I don't know if they played this game every night, but it would be fair to say that Motorhead and their crew embraced life on the road. But also that Lemmy himself, even then older than many of those around him, was content to sit back and watch the others and have a laugh.

That turned out to be the first and last time I saw a Motorhead show. I met up with the tour again in Auckland, but a series of events on a somewhat Lemmyesque night out meant that I arrived for their second show at Mainstreet just as they had finished. It wasn't the only time that night I thought "well, this is bizarre".

But I'll always be glad I met Lemmy. One of the lessons from those early years interviewing people who made music was that charisma is real – just not universal. Some people tried too hard, some people had it. Lemmy had it.

A good deal of heavy metal music sounds pretentious and lame to me – there's nothing in it that I would aspire to – but I always loved Motorhead (and, to be fair, the parts of Hawkwind where Lemmy is front and centre). No Sleep Till Hammersmith , with Phil Taylor hammering away at his double kick-drum, might just be the best live abum ever.

Everyone with an interest knew that Lemmy's heath was not good. A couple of Motorhead shows had been cut short and the tour postponed because he'd taken ill. He already had an internal defibrillator and his legs didn't work very well. He'd long switched from Jack Daniels to vodka "for health reasons". But the sheer rapidity of his death – given a terminal cancer diagnosis on Boxing Day, carked a couple of days later at home, playing a pokie machine transported from his local pub – was quite remarkable.

But as Kim Kelly wrote for Noisey, it was still hard to accept:

Accepting that he would one day leave this mortal coil was as scary as acknowledging that my grandfather, with his strong back, big laugh and quick temper, will do the same. It just seemed impossible—until it wasn’t. We can never truly prepare ourselves for the loss of a hero, but unfortunately, it’s not something we have much say in. The past few years have eased us into the idea that Lemmy might possibly be mortal but still, no one ever really believed that the end could be near—until it was.

But it was. No one is immortal, although it's sometimes the most mortal who seem that way.

Cheers, Lemmy. Thanks for the rock 'n' roll.

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Lemmy always said he never settled down because the true love of his life lost hers to heroin when she was 19. He hated heroin. But he nonethless fronted up to declare (to the Welsh Assembly, at the invitation of an alarmed Conservative MP)  that the only sane response was to make heroin and other drugs legal and regulate them.

He was also in a video game. As James Rae Brown explains, he "voiced a character called The Kill Master, a man who could heal people by playing rock music on magical strings spun by giant metal spiders."

He was also interviewed by Dylan Taite. On their next visit here, in 1991:

Check out Phil Taylor's post-pee cameo at the end. Ha.

Lemmy: The Movie doesn't seem to be on YouTube, but the Live Fast Die Old documentary is:

And oh yeah – Hawkwind. It couldn't last. Some fucker's playing a flute!

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Meanwhile, the New Statesman on on Wilko Johnson – the rocker who was told he was dying, announced so frankly – and then didn't. And he's quite pissed off about the way it all happened.

And The Specials' drummer John Bradbury, who has died.

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I talked to Melody Thomas of RNZ Music 101 about the year in music and technology – which turned out to be a year in which the technology was settled and the business was in uproar:

And The Wireless wraps up the summer festival season.

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In another musical world, the New York Radio show Retro Grooves has posted a mix from the expat Aussie DJ Copycat and it's reworked vintage funk, hip hop and electro galore. Free download, click through for track listing:

Ahead of his January 17 Auckland show (click the ads on this site for details and tickets), John Morales has posted a groovy household chores mix that he claims will "get your cleaning done in half the time". Free download.

And designed for lazing in the sun, a new Loop Recordings mixtape features Electric Wire Hustle, Latin Aotearoa, Spycc and others. Free download:

These should help put some groove in your New Year's Eve.

Me? DJing and having it large at a friend's party.

But if you're looking for options in Auckland, there's the Jafa Mafia party at the Edinburgh Castle, which will be full of reggae goodness. 

And Anthonie Tonnon has a free New Year's Eve show at George the Bar in Ponsonby. With lazars!

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

102

Incoming: Summer

Things will be a little quieter on Public Address over the next month or so. I'll still be around (if I don't answer the door I'll be out on the deck) but I thought it would be a good idea to make you a thread to report on where you'll be, where it's at and how it is for summer.

We'll be pretty much staying in Point Chev, keeping an eye on the tide, spotting tui and enjoying the gloriously empty roads, but I'm keen to hear from y'all wherever you are.

Feel free to post photos, too. You can do that by click the "Choose file" button under comment window and selecting a pic (note that this only works if you've already typed some text into the comment window). You can use the edit button to add up to three pics to every comment. Try and keep your images to about 1MB in size.

Enjoy!

Meanwhile, here's me after the first swim of the season down at the Chev on Monday. Bit windy, but the water's warm ...

59

Music: The year the second-greatest Christmas song beat the greatest to number one

So I read the news stories about Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' breaking streaming records and I thought what does that even sound like? So, dear reader, I added one more to the 155 million views of the song on YouTube and found out.

It actually starts really badly with some dreadful trilling and caterwauling – but then the chorus kicks in and it turns out to basically be a 60s girl group number with a beat straight from some kind of 70s glam pop like you'd hear on Top of the Pops, were it actually the 70s. It might have been better had Phil Spector actually produced it, but now I have listened to this very well-known song, I think it's okay, and not actually what I expected.

But it did get me thinking about a particular genre of Christmas song, and more particularly, this brilliant song from 1973:

Remarkably, 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day' was denied the Christmas No.1 spot in that year by Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody':

Personally, I'd switch them around. But I believe it cannot be denied that this was was golden era of Christmas songs.

If you've lived through Christmas in Britain, you'll know what an important cultural tradition the Christmas No.1 is – albeit one ruined in recent years by shitting awful cack from TV talent quests. The list stretching back to the birth of the charts in 1952 is actually quite interesting and includes both memorable hits and songs you'd love to forget.

In 2015, the winner of X Factor is well off the pace and the race has been between Justin Beiber and the NHS Choir. Frankly, Bieber doesn't need it and NHS staff could do with the morale boost. Bieber will probably be declared the winner in a few hours. I blame the Tories.

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For some proper Christmas morning goodness, let me commend to you Strut Records' Souful Christmas Special, a vinyl-only mix of yule tunes that does not suck. Thanks to Jen Ferguson for the heads-up.

VF Mix: Strut Records' Soulful Christmas Special by The Vinyl Factory on Mixcloud

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I'm pretty excited about my musical January, just quietly. Not least because it sees the return of the DJ I enjoyed more than any other in 2015. John Morales' mid-year gig at Society & Nook was just a lovely affair and there were folks even older than me (I know, I know) dancing to his beautiful disco.

Morales apparently didn't even see daylight that time – he arrived on the evening of the gig and was on the red-eye to Australia hours later – but this time will be very different. Murry Sweetpants has put together a lineup at Mantells, the indoor-outdoor function space that overlooks Westhaven marina.

Shipshape with John Morales, 3pm-11pm on Sunday January 17, will also feature Frank Booker, Murray Cammick and others. Tickets (earlybirds are still open) are available here, but guess what, groovers? I have a double pass to give away. Click the email icon at the bottom of this post and send me a message with "Morales" as the subject line. I'll draw it tomorrow and it can be someone's Christmas present.

Meanwhile, download this:

As noted in late-breaking news last week, the horrible collapse of Echo Festival has been rescued somewhat by other promoters picking up some of the headline acts – including Jamie Xx, who brings his In Colour tour to the St James on Monday, January 11.

If it's anything like his Glastonbury 2015 set, it'll be bliss:

And then, in a completely different vein, on January 28, Gillian Welch returns for her first show here in more than a decade, at the Civic in Auckland:

Now, just months after accepting a Lifetime Songwriting Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association in Nashville, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings bring their show back to New Zealand featuring a set that’s likely to include well-chosen covers by Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Ryan Adams and Woody Guthrie that fit perfectly alongside their own beautifully crafted songs.

And of course, a few days later, there's Laneway 2016, with Beach House, Grimes and another very welcome Echo refugee, Courtney Barnett. But I'll write that up in more detail in a later music post. Note that if you're coming to town for Laneway, Fat Freddy's Drop play Ascension Wine Estate in Matakana on the Saturday (Sunday's show at Cable Bay winery on Waiheke is already sold out).

A little further out, into March, you may wish to make a note that the creators of two of my favourite albums of the year, Anthonie Tonnon and Nadia Reid, are teaming up with Darren Hanlon for a "urban folk" tour which will stretch from Okarito to Auckland. The concept sounds great:

Three widely acclaimed songwriters from New Zealand and Australia will team up this coming March for an urban folk tour of New Zealand. The trio will play together and alone - flipping a coin to decide the set order. They will perform folk songs which have been written largely out of sight of pastoral scenes, and instead in bedrooms beside motorways, in old warehouses waiting for demolition, or in crowded restaurant kitchens between orders. They will also play some select versions of favourite urban folk touchstones, by writers such as Billy Bragg, The Magnetic Fields, or Courtney Barnett.

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Showing an impeccable disregard for conventional commercial wisdom, The Conjurors have released a new video for the title track of their EP, Hints. There's a tui and and for some reason the bass player vomits.

Matthew fails to explain what it's all about to Cheese on Toast.

With much greater dignity (well it wouldn't he hard, would it?) Jay Clarkson has debuted a nice new website for her music, including her latest album, Spur, which is on Zelle Records, a New Zealand music label running out of Austria.

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So this came up:

And its true! Fela's catalogue, in high-quality digital formats, there for $US9 an album (nb: but not actually for streaming). This would surely be a starter for Bandcamp's new buy-the-whole-catalogue-for-one-price feature.

This reminds me that there's a lot I don't know is there on Bandcamp. I use it fairly frequently, for the file quality and the better return to artists, but I almost never go in the front door and have a look around.

Does anybody else have some hot tips for back-catalogue on Bandcamp? Do share.

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And finally, this popped up in my Facebook feed today and it's just joyous.  Joe Strummer in 2002, singing 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' with the help of a crowd that knows every word ...

Merry Christmas everyone!

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant