Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Robert Plant, a rock icon, still growing

Correction: The number of Grammys Robert Plantand Alison Krauss won for their album Raising Sandwas incorrect in a previous version of this story.
NEW YORK — Think about Robert Plant and the images of the "golden god" come to mind — the thick, blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, slim physique — combined with a bluesy yelp that practically defined the raw power of rock 'n' roll.
While his face may show signs of age at 66, much of his rock-star look remains intact. More importantly, he aims to stay artistically creative rather than become a nostalgia act. The man who belted out Rock and Roll and Stairway to Heaven in the 1970s turns down lucrative offers to stage Led Zeppelin reunions. Now, he's plotting a smaller-scale 2015 tour in support of his 10th solo album, Lullaby and ... the Ceaseless Roar. The shows start in March, with four dates in Latin America, then continues with a U.S. appearance, just announced this week, as one of the headliners at the BottleRock festival in Napa ValleyCalif., in May. (More tour dates are expected soon.)
Settling down for an interview on a velveteen-covered couch in a cavernous room at the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan, Plant uses the example of another band to explain the type of audience he covets. "There were Deadheads, and it was a good place to be," he says.The Grateful Dead "didn't compromise. They weren't technicolor rock gods. They had such a huge following because they were coming from a place that, even though it was from an altered state, it was definitely real. …That is what I want."
Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980, and Plant immediately embarked on a successful solo career. His true creative breakout may have been 2007's teaming with bluegrass icon Alison Krauss for Raising Sand, a platinum album that won six Grammy Awards(including album of the year) and garnered him heaps of critical praise for a perceived change in sound. In truth, his sound has never been static.
"My preoccupation as a very young early teenager was a music form that I might have missed. ... If I had missed it, I would never have sung," he says. "If I hadn't heard theHowlin' WolfRobert JohnsonLittle Richard music, I wouldn't have been drawn to music. Most of the music we (in England) were surrounded by was slush, without any commitment. ... I was born again and saved and reincarnated by American music."
Dave Pegg, long-time bassist for British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, well remembers Plant's youthful musical passion. Monday mornings often found Pegg, Plant and other teens — including future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and future Traffic members Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi — waiting for Birmingham record shop The Diskery to open so they could buy the latest records.
"Robert and Jim Capaldi were kind of walking histories about blues and obscure soul albums," says Pegg. "Robert was always especially interested in the blues and, obviously, as he got older, he absorbed other styles. When he was younger, he was thinking about cabaret, sort of an Engelbert Humperdinck kind of singer."
Plant even recently lived part-time in the USA for two years, sharing a home in Austin, Texas, with singer Patty Griffin. Following the end of that relationship in 2013, he returned full-time to Worcestershire, England, not far from the Welsh border.
Back in England, he revitalized his former band, Strange Sensation, and christened the new group the Space Shifters. Almost immediately, the bandmates traveled to Chili, Peru and Australia. Through their travels, they developed the 11 songs on Lullaby and ... the Ceaseless Roar, which some label as "world music."
"It is appropriate for my time in life," Plant says of the mix of Americana, African music, blues and soul on the new album. "If it were world music, we would be the least-successful world musicians because we desecrate. I like to think it is different — something completely without … a name people would call it."
Plant's evolving musical philosophy also extends to his live performances and choice of venues, which sometimes vex his long-time fans.
While he was socializing after a recent show at the 600-capacity Brooklyn Bowl (yes, a concert venue and bowling alley), Plant's fans took to social media to gossip about why the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer would opt to play such a small club when he could sell out the likes of London's 20,000-plus seat O2 Arena. (He and Led Zeppelin did just that in December 2007 when they got together to play at the tribute to music industry titanAhmet Ertegun.)
"We went bowling there one night, and one of the club managers said, 'We'd love to have you play here,'" says Space Shifters guitarist Liam "Skin" Tyson. "By the time we went to L.A, Robert said, 'You know, we can go and do it.' So it was sort of impromptu."
That type of spontaneous schedule change is typical, says Tyson, noting the group has also played gigs in remote desert areas, outposts in the Arctic Circle and small clubs around the world. Indeed, at the photo shoot for this article, Plant told his manager he wanted to explore renting a flatbed truck so the band could play an Indian reservationin the Dakotas.
"We play anywhere," says Tyson. "We play wherever there is a gig. … The performances become more intimate at those shows. He feels natural, playing in those small places rather than in giant arenas in front of crowds."
This comes as no surprise to Krauss.
"Somebody like Robert, who is constantly changing, has a mystery about him because he can't get enough," she says. "It's like he is a constant student of music — and at the same time art, in general, and people and cultures."
While many fans and critics hope Plant's solo work is a tease to a Led Zeppelin reunion, others luxuriate in its originality. The album made a handful of 2014 critics' "best of" lists, garnering praise like this:
"It's possible to hear the weight of his years on Lullaby and ... the Ceaseless Roar — it is, in the best sense, mature music, dense in its rhythms and allusions, subtle in its melodies — but he never feels weary, nor does he traffic in false nostalgia," writes Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide. "He's building upon the past, both his own and the larger traditions of his homeland, both spiritual and actual, and that gives (it) a bewitching depth. It's an album to get lost in."
Space Shifters' guitarist Justin Adams celebrates such reviews, if only because they allow the music to stand away from that of Led Zeppelin.
"Sometimes with Robert it feels that it is hard to get anybody to hear what is going on now (musically) because people are so overwhelmed with his legacy" he says. "But it's exciting that some people are now seeing that he is doing something just as fresh and just as exciting as his past work, and it's happening now."
Plant makes it clear he has no intention of losing sight of his lifelong pursuit of setting his life experiences to music. "I hear the sound of time roaring past me," he says. "And there is no time to lose. "

Robert Plant Prepares For Woodland Tour

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters
The Forestry Commission have been holding regular shows for some time, recruiting big name acts for once-in-a-lifetime woodland sets.
Returning with Forestry Live this summer, the project has coaxed Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant into joining them.
The vocalist is now working as part of Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, who recently released groundbreaking fusion record 'lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar'.
The band will play Westonbirt Arboretum near Tetbury, Gloucester on July 10th, before heading to Cannock Chase Forest in Staffs on July 11th.
Tickets are on sale now.
Catch Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters at the following shows:

Robert Plant Slams Idea of Zeppelin Tour: 'I'm Not Part of a Jukebox'

Robert Plant performs
Robert Plant performs in London. Samir Hussein/Redferns via Getty Images

It could have been the biggest tour in the history of rock & roll, a stadium juggernaut to dwarf even recent efforts by U2, Roger Waters and the Rolling Stones. Had they agreed to a two-year trek, taken on sponsors and charged exorbitant rates for tickets and merchandise, Led Zeppelin could possibly have been the first act ever to gross $1 billion on a single tour. They spent nearly a year prepping for their reunion show at London's O2 Arena in December of 2007, but just when his bandmates, concert promoters and fans all over the world were practically salivating over the thought of the group's first tour since 1980, Robert Plant walked away from the group, and nothing was going to change his mind.
Nearly all of Plant's peers are happy to deal with such a circus considering the insane financial rewards. "Good luck to them," he sneers. "I hope they're having a real riveting and wonderful late middle age. Somehow I don't think they are." 
Needless to say, Jimmy Page has a very different take on the situation. "There's bound to be fallout if you just do one show," he says. "At the time of the 02 show we were led to believe there were going to be more. You'll have to ask Robert why he changed his mind. I don't even know if he considered it. I don't know what he thinks."
When Robert Plant walked away from the group after the O2 show, Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham continued to rehearse together in England, even auditioning singers for a possible Plant-free tour. Most names have remained secret, but Steven Tyler and Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy have both admitted to spending a few days playing with the group. 
"Singers were being thrown at us from here and there," says Page. "The material we were coming up with was really, really good. Obviously, other people wanted to just get us out on the road quickly. I wasn't feeling comfortable. Going out with the three members from the 02 show and another singer might have looked like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. I wanted to see what we could come up with musically."
Tour plans were put on hold and Page, Jones and Bonham continued to hold secret rehearsal sessions through 2008. They only stopped when John Paul Jones got an offer from Dave Grohl and Josh Homme to play bass in their new supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, which he eagerly accepted. "I guess," says Page, "that was a pretty definitive statement."
Jones (who wouldn't comment for this article) made no secret about his deep disappointment with Page and Plant in the years after the break-up. He initially wasn't even invited to their reunion at 1985's Live Aid, getting phoned up only the day before and forced to play keyboards on "Stairway To Heaven" while Plant's touring bassist handled his parts. He didn't even get the courtesy of a phone call about the 1994 Page and Plant reunion, hearing about it on TV. At a press conference for the tour, Plant joked that Jones was parking cars out back. When the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Jones, through gritted teeth, thanked his former bandmates for "finally remembering my phone number." 
Them Crooked Vultures toured throughout 2009 and 2010, and Zeppelin didn't come back together in any incarnation when the tour ended. At this point, any sort of tour — with or without Robert Plant — appears extremely unlikely. "People ask me nearly every day about a possible reunion," Jimmy Page says with a sigh. "The answer is 'no.' It's been almost seven years since the O2. There's always a possibility that they can exhume me and put me onstage in a coffin and play a tape."
That said, Plant refuses to make a Sherman-esque statement forever ruling out the possibility of him fronting Zeppelin again. "I don’t think there’s any reason for me to do that," he says. "Otherwise we’ve got nothing to be mystic about...Everything will develop as it develops. All doors are open. All phone lines are open. I don't hear from anybody. Talk is cheap...But I just think everything has to be new. Then you can incorporate history."
Does that mean he's open to the idea of recording new songs with Zeppelin? "You can't be the marriage guidance clinic here," he says, clearly irritated by this line of questioning. 
Strangely, he's among the few people who felt it was a good idea for Zeppelin to carry in without him. "They kept rehearsing after O2 and they had a singer," Plant says. "I don't know what happened. It seemed like a great idea to me."
Plant stands up to leave, but turns on his heel. "Do you know why the Eagles said they’d reunite when 'hell freezes over,' but they did it anyway and keep touring?” he asks. "It’s not because they were paid a fortune. It’s not about the money. It’s because they’re bored. I’m not bored."

Robert Plant show bumped to Sept.; Pixies to play Detroit

Robert Plant says he's "furious, frustrated and silent" amid a bout of laryngitis that's forcing him to postpone Tuesday's scheduled show at Meadow Brook Music Festival.
Plant's concert with his band the Sensational Space Shifters has been reset for Sept. 10. Tickets will be honored for the new date, though refunds may be obtained at the point of purchase through June 19, according to promoter Live Nation.
Scheduled opener the Pixies will not appear on the Sept. 10 bill, but if you were hoping to catch the band, you can now do it in the intimate environs of St. Andrew's Hall: The band has scrambled to put together a Tuesday night show at the 900-capacity downtown Detroit venue, with $25 tickets going on sale at 10 p.m. tonight at ticketmaster.com.
Plant had already been forced to nix his scheduled Sunday night show in Toronto, saying in a statement that "I woke up this morning and found that I had more of a similarity with a crooning Kermit than my normal Golden self."
In tonight's announcement postponing the Meadow Brook date, Plant said: "Sunday morning I woke up with a flu that's developed into laryngitis. I'm really disappointed as I've only missed one gig in 15 years and now here's two in a row. It's heartbreaking. I'm furious, frustrated and silent."

Robert Plant to Headline 2015 Lockn’ Festival With Two ‘Completely Different Sets’

Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Robert Plant is bringing his Sensational Space Shifters to this year’s Lockn’ Festival for a pair of very unusual headlining sets.
According to a press release, Plant’s appearances are scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13, and will find him delivering “two completely different sets” over the two-night span. “Plant has never done anything like this in his career,” adds the announcement, “and it will undoubtedly make for some unique and historical moments.”
This year’s Lockn’ Festival will take place Sept. 10-13 at the Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Va., and features a bill that also boasts appearances from Phil Lesh & Friends with Carlos Santana, Jorma Oaukonen and Jack Casady celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane, Gov’t Mule, Little Feat, the Doobie Brothers with the String Cheese Incident and an exclusive performance of Mad Dogs & Englishmen featuring Tedeschi Trucks Band, Leon Russell and other special guests.
Tickets for the festival are on sale now, with a four-day general admission pass going for $285. For more information about Lockn’ Fest or to order tickets, visit the official event site.
Plant’s stop in Virginia will come toward the end of a crowded summer and fall touring schedule that’s seen him traveling the world in support of his most recent studio LP, lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar. In addition to his official calendar, he’s been making sporadic unannounced appearances, including a recent surprise visit to the Ludlow Fringe Festival in early July. Check out the complete list of shows below.
Robert Plant 2015 Summer/Fall Tour
7/16 – Molde, Norway
7/18 – Pori, Finland
7/19 – Salacgriva, Latvia
7/21 – Charlotta Valley, Poland
7/23 – Brno, Czech Republic
7/25 – Nyon, Switzerland
7/27 – Lyon, France
7/29 – Frankfurt, Germany
7/31 – Notodden, Norway
8/08 – Landerneau, France
8/11 – Munich, Germany
8/12 – Colmar, France
9/10 – Rochester Hills, Mich.
9/11-13 – Arrington, Va.
9/15 – Toronto, Ontario
9/18 – New York, N.Y.
9/20 – Boston, Mass.
9/23 – Chicago, Ill

Pobert Plant

Plant, Robert

Singer, songwriter
With the 1988 release of Now And Zen, Robert Plant celebrated his twentieth anniversary as a reigning vocalist of hard rock. Plant has been at rock music's forefront since he joined Led Zeppelin in 1968. His best-known songs, including "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love," are classics that remain the definitive expressions of early 1970s rock. Since the 1980 demise of Led Zeppelin, Plant has undertaken a solo career that reflects his mature but ongoing interest in his chosen genre. Now and Zen has received better reviews than any of his Led Zeppelin work, and heralds a new direction for the thoughtful rocker. Plant told People magazine that when his group disbanded after many well-publicized disasters, he still had the ambition to make good music. "My intention was to go in the complete reverse direction from sliding into obscurity," he said. "After the end of Zeppelin, I didn't really see anything. But as time went on, I started to pick up the pieces." Now, touring on his own to sellout crowds, Plant has proven himself an artist "with deep roots in the music's past but a lively interest in its present—and future—as well," according to Rolling Stone reviewer Kurt Loder.
In early 1968 Plant was an obscure singer with a band called Hobbstweedle, based in England's Midlands region. Rolling Stone contributor Stephen Davis described the British teenager as "a great tall blond geezer who looked like a fairy prince and possessed a caterwauling voice. They called him the Wild Man of Blues from the Black Country." Plant's name came to the attention of Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds; Page was trying to start a new band and needed a charismatic lead singer. Page and some friends travelled to Birmingham to hear Plant perform at an obscure teachers' college. Plant amazed them with his keening soprano, so out of context with his tall, rugged physique. "It unnerved me just to listen," Davis quoted Page as saying. "It still does, like a primeval wail." Davis noted that Page was soon convinced that Plant had the very voice he needed, one with a "distinctive, highly charged, sexual quality." Plant accepted the opportunity to work with Page, and convinced his friend John Bonham to join the group as well. In October of 1968 Led Zeppelin was founded, with Plant, Page, Bonham, and John Paul Jones.

The Rise and Fall of Led Zeppelin

People correspondent Jim Jerome wrote: "From its launch in 1968, Led Zeppelin seemed to be testing the dubious proposition that heavy metal could be lighter than air. Yet through the 1970s, rock's fiercest foursome was more than buoyant: Led Zep sold some 40 million LPs worldwide [and] set concert attendance records all over the planet." Plant hit his stride as a lyricist while in the group, composing songs such as "Kashmir," "Black Dog," "Misty Mountain Hop," and the winsome "Stairway to Heaven," based on ancient Celtic legends. Davis claimed: "With its starkly pagan imagery of trees and brooks, pipers and the May Queen, shining white light and the forest echoing with laughter, "Stairway to Heaven" seemed to be an invitation to abandon the new traditions and follow the old gods. It expressed a yearning for spiritual transformation deep in the hearts of a new generation. In time, it became Led Zeppelin's anthem."
Unfortunately, in a tradition they helped to spawn, the members of Zeppelin conducted themselves with reckless hedonism while on tour, abusing alcohol and drugs and indulging their sexual appetites with ever-willing female fans. Plant told Rolling Stone that he recalled few details from those days. "I can remember a stream of carpenters walking into a room as we were checking out," he said. "We'd be going out one way, and they'd be going in the other way, with a sign, CLOSED FOR REMODELING, being put on the door. It's kind of embarrassing."
Dire predictions followed the excessive behavior, and indeed the group began to be plagued with extreme bad luck. As Davis put it, by 1975 "the old Zeppelin carnival atmosphere had dissipated." In that year Plant and his family were involved in an automobile accident; two years later, Plant's young son died unexpectedly of a severe respiratory infection. A certain rivalry had always existed in Led Zeppelin—especially between Plant and Page—and this also escalated. The group finally split up in 1980, following the alcohol-induced death of Bonham. Plant toldPeople that Bonham's death "was one of the most flattening, heartbreaking parts of my life. ... It was so final. I never even thought about the future of the band or music." When he began to recover, however, Plant returned to the stage with one determination—he would not be content to rehash the Zeppelin classics for the rest of his career. "I went out and stifled whatever cries there were—not the least of them from myself—for Zeppelin material," he said. "People don't want to let go of something they loved so much. It's a shame to say goodbye."

In Search of an Identity

"Scorned by the punks and embarrassed by cheap Zeppelin imitators, Plant spent his first three solo ums roaming the shifting terrain of Eighties rock in search of an identity that had nothing to do with lemon squeezing or 'stairway to Heaven,'" noted David Fricke in Rolling Stone. "He never found it. ... For all of their adventuresome drive and hip future-rock angularity, Plant's solo records in general lacked the unbridled passion and risky spontaneity of Zeppelin in full flight." Undaunted by the new critical indifference to his work, Plant continued to experiment. One such lark, a five-track EP called The Honeydrippers, Volume One, went platinum in 1985. In that short set of songs, culled from vintage rhythm and blues tunes, Plant was joined by Page, Jeff Beck, and pianist Paul Shaffer, among others. All were surprised by the success of The Honeydrippers, but courageously decided not to proceed exclusively in that direction.
Plant returned to his solo career, forming his own backup band and trying his best not to load his concerts with Zeppelin songs. His fourth solo album, Now and Zen, was a critical and commercial hit. "This record is some kind of stylistic event: a seamless pop fusion of hard guitar rock, gorgeous computerization and sharp, startling songcraft," wrote Loder. "[It] is so rich in conceptual invention that you barely notice that Plant sings better on it—with more tone, control and rhythmic acuity—than he has in the seven years since Led Zeppelin imploded. Better, in some ways, than ever."

For the Record . . .

Born Robert Anthony Plant on August 20, 1948, in Bromwich, Staffordshire, England; married wife, Maureen, c. 1969; children: Carmen, Logan Romero (a second son, Karac, died in 1977).
Rock singer/songwriter, c. 1965–. Prior to 1968, played with Hobbstweedle, Band of Joy, and Alexis Korner; joined Led Zeppelin, 1968; member until 1980; per formed in film The Song Remains the Same, 1976; founded the Honeydrippers, 1985; solo artist, 1980–; released solo albums beginning in 1982, including Pictures at Eleven, 1982; Now and Zen, 1988; Fate of Nations,1993; Dreamland, 2002; Mighty Rearranger, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Website— Robert Plant Official Website: http://www.robertplant.com.
With the success of Now and Zen, Plant softened toward his Zeppelin music and began adding a substantial amount of it to his concert sets. "I wanted to establish an identity that was far removed from the howling and the mud sharks of the Seventies," he told Rolling Stone. "So if I go onstage now and sing 'Misty Mountain Hop,' it's cool because I've given it the time in between. I can come out and do it without having traded on it all the way down the line." Asked if he was pleased about the enduring popularity of Led Zeppelin music, Plant concluded: "When I look back, I don't get any sense of great achievement out of the fact that people still like [the music] a lot. I get achievement out of the fact that it was good."

Finding a Voice

Critical and public acceptance of Now and Zen reinvigorated the adventuresome Plant to further his musical and thematic explorations. His follow-up album, Manic Nirvana, went gold despite yielding no hit singles. In 1993 he released Fate of Nations, another critically lauded effort that featured socially conscious and personal themes in such songs as "Great Spirit" and "I Believe," the latter a song inspired by the death of Plant's son in the 1970s. Musically, Plant employed the same core band as on his previous effort, and collaborated with them on the songwriting, which gave the album a cohesion missing on much of his earlier solo work. The band willingly accompanied Plant on his excursions to exotic musical territory, whether it was the Middle Eastern and North African flavor of such songs as "Calling to You," the Celtic backing vocals of "Come into My Life," or a faithful rendering of Tim Hardin's folk standard "If I Were a Carpenter."
In 1994 Plant reunited with Page for No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, a successful television special and subsequent album release that was almost as well known for its exclusion of Zeppelin bassist Jones, with whom Plant had publicly feuded since the dissolution of their band. Unledded contained acoustic reworkings of such classic Zeppelin tunes as "The Battle of Evermore," and three new songs. Two of the original songs were recorded in Morocco and featured world musicians. The duo toured in 1995, and released their first album of original material since the demise of Zeppelin, 1998's Walking into Clarksdale. The album's title refers to the Mississippi Delta town where the blues genre took hold. The partnership between Plant and Page then went into hiatus.
In 2002 Plant returned to recording with Dreamland, a strong album of cover material and original songs. Among the covers included on the album are the 1960s' garage rock chestnut "Hey Joe," the Tim Buckley ballad, Song to the Siren," and Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee." In 2003 Plant released a two-disc retrospective of his solo career, featuring recordings made both before and after his tenure with Zeppelin. He reunited his band from Dreamland, now collectively known as the Strange Sensation, for the 2005 release Mighty Rearranger. The diversity of styles and earnestness of Plant's performances prompted Uncut critic Nigel Williamson to write: "Call it a comeback, if you like. The simple truth is that as a mature statement by someone who's done it all, but still retains a desire to create something new and fresh, Mighty Rearranger is a record of considerable depth, admirable adventure and surprising passion."

Selected discography

Solo albums

Pictures at Eleven, Swan Song, 1982.
The Principle of Moments, Atlantic, 1983.
Shaken 'n' Stirred, Es Paranza, 1985.
Now and Zen, Atlantic, 1988.
Manic Nirvana, Atlantic, 1990.
Fate of Nations, Atlantic, 1993.
Dreamland, Universal, 2002.
Sixty Six to Timbuktu, Atlantic, 2003.
Mighty Rearranger, Sanctuary/Es Paranza, 2005.

With Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin, Atlantic, 1969.
Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic, 1969.
Led Zeppelin III, Atlantic, 1970.
Houses of the Holy, Atlantic, 1973.
Physical Graffiti, Swan Song, 1975.
Presence, Swan Song, 1976.
The Song Remains the Same, Swan Song, 1976.
In Through the Out Door, Swan Song, 1979.
Coda, Swan Song, 1982.

With the Honeydrippers

The Honeydrippers, Volume One, Atlantic, 1985.

With Jimmy Page

No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, Atlantic, 1994.
Walking into Clarksdale, Atlantic, 1998.



Davis, Stephen, Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga, Morrow, 1985.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1979.


Entertainment Weekly, May 13, 2005.
People, August 27, 1979; August 9, 1982; May 23, 2005.
Rolling Stone, January 31, 1985; July 4, 1985; March 10, 1988; March 24, 1988; July 14-28, 1988.
Uncut, May 2005.

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