A love letter to The Byrds – and the part they played in a musical journey

I love folk and have attended numerous folk festivals and countless gigs, taken part in seminars on the history of English folk song and enjoy writing about it, both on here and in other publications. However, unlike rock which I loved from my early teens, my appreciation of folk came later in life. But after getting into heavy metal as teenager in the early 80s, I started exploring back – to 70s glam rock and 60s beat groups.

And the key link that took me on a musical journey that led me to appreciating what folk music, as well as rock music, had to offer was The Byrds. I knew Mr Tambourine Man, of course, that perfect slice of 60s pop-rock and so one day at Preston Record Library I happened across a greatest hits compilation LP of The Byrds, which I decided to borrow. I taped it and soon fell in love with, not only the aforementioned Mr Tambourine Man, but many other gems like Turn! Turn! Turn, Eight Miles High and Mr Spaceman.

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One song, however, particularly intrigued me and that was the strangely-titled but beautifully sung The Bells of Rhymney. I learnt from the sleeve-notes that it was originally recorded by folk singer Pete Seeger, based on much older words commemorating a real-life mining tragedy in a Welsh coal mining village. It was my first taste of seeing folk songs as something that could be touching and moving and not simply something to joke about with your finger in your ear.

Over the years, I switched to CDs and began amassing the entire back catalogue of The Byrds and also began exploring other artists in the American folk rock vein, too. After a while I thought to myself that if I actually enjoyed American folk rock so much, maybe I might actually enjoy English folk rock, too. Fairport Convention followed, then Steeleye Span and then, as I got more and more enthralled with the beautiful singing of Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior and the fascinating stories behind many of the traditional songs they sung, I took the plunge and began getting into actual folk folk not just folk rock. It opened up a whole new chapter of musical appreciation.

While nothing in the world is ever going to stop me enjoying Black Sabbath’s Paranoid or Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize at full volume I am also tremendously grateful to Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke for helping open up the world of folk to me as well. In particular, a big thanks to The Bells of Rhymney which served as my gateway drug from rock to folk.

For Those About To Blog…We Salute You: Darren’s Music Blog

I was interviewed by Jason “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Oatcake” about my music blogging for his Rockin’ Chair blog. You can read it here.

The Rockin' Chair

There are loads of music and reviews blogs out there, more seem to pop-up daily, although you do need to filter out the cut ‘n’ paste reviews ones. Here we have Darren Johnson, of the aptly titled Darren’s Music Blogis well worth a read covering rock, folk and more.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging about music?

I’ve always been passionate about music. However, I was a local councillor for years and it often meant that I when saw gigs advertised I couldn’t go because I’d be at a council meeting or a residents meeting or knocking on doors or something. I was telling my brother that when I stepped down I was going to take advantage of all the free evenings and start going to loads of gigs. He said I should keep a blog of them all. Three years ago that’s how the idea of Darren’s…

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Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 30/3/17

My review was  originally published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

“He’s fucking sacked us,” Spiders bass player, Trevor Bolder, was seen to mouth when David Bowie announced at the Hammersmith Odeon in October 1973 that it would be the final Ziggy show ever. Tragically, like Bowie, Bolder and his former Spiders colleague Mick Ronson are no longer with us. However, three years ago Spiders drummer, Woody Woodmansey, teamed up with long-term Bowie collaborator, Tony Visconti, to tour The Man Who Sold The World, an album that both played on. Now their Holy Holy outfit have done the seemingly impossible and resurrected Ziggy and the Spiders, forty-odd years after Bowie declared it would be the last show they would ever do.

Would they pull it off? I was certainly keen find out. Much as I wholeheartedly agreed with all of the tributes last year about what a truly unique, talented and infuential presence Bowie was throughout his entire career, for me it was always the early 70s glam rock period of Bowie’s work that I was truly, unequivocally a 100% fan of.

Starting out with The Width Of A Circle from The Man Who Sold The World, the seven-piece band go on to perform the Ziggy Stardust album in full, treating the crowd to blinding versions of Starman, Ziggy, Suffragette City and all the other gems from that iconic album. Once the final song of the album Rock n Roll Suicide plays out they give us to a spectacular run-through of other Bowie classics including Changes, Life On Mars and Space Oddity.

Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory delivers superb Bowie-esque vocals with the familiar phrasing that we all know and love from the records, while at the same time avoiding descending into a “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be…” pastiche. Post-punk icon James Stevenson absolutely nails the Ronson guitar licks in what is a talented band of world-class musicians. And, of course, it goes without saying that Woody Woodmansey is still an exceptionally talented drummer. The outpouring of affection for him throughout the night is thoroughly deserved.

The capacity crowd sing along to every word and the whole thing is joyful and celebratory. As we inevitably lose more and more of our twentieth century rock icons it becomes more and more apparent that we continue to have a tremendous yearning to still hear the music they made being performed live. We are no more going to forget Life On Mars in fifty years time than we have forgotten A Wonderful World almost fifty years after the death of Louis Armstrong. The challenge is to find an appropriate way of continuing to celebrate such music in a live setting. Holy Holy perhaps provides the template. They don’t claim to be the original band, although they’ve got a living, breathing direct link to it in the form of Woodmansey. They are not a tribute act, in that they avoid the role-playing and dressing up which can risk turning contemporary live performances into the musical equivalents of historical re-enactment societies. They do, however, pay tribute to the music in a way that is accurate and authentic and which delivers the songs with great love, care and affection.

In short, Holy Holy shows a way forward as to how we can continue to enjoy some of the greatest music of the twentieth century well into the twenty-first. A genuinely and truly impressive gig.

Setlist:
The Width of a Circle
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Five Year
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy
Lady Stardust
Star
Hang On to Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
All the Young Dudes
Oh! You Pretty Things
Changes
Life on Mars?
Space Oddity
The Supermen
Black Country Rock
The Man Who Sold the World
Watch That Man
Time
Heroes

http://www.holyholy.co.uk/

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Related:
The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences here

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner at The Stables, Hastings 22/3/17

My was review was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here

Peter Knight will be known to many as fiddle supremo for folk rockers, Steeleye Span, over four decades. The Gigspanner trio initially began as a side project of Knight’s but he left Steeleye Span for good in 2013 to concentrate fully on Gigspanner. While there are numerous cases of artists carrying on doing exactly the same old thing as they’ve always done in a brand new band with a similar sounding name, this is far from the case with Gigspanner. Of course, Knight’s virtuoso fiddle playing is still at the heart of Gigspanner’s sound; but rather than the typical ingredients of the classic folk-rock band, Gigspanner is a complete melting pot of musical influences: English folk meets Cajun hoe-down meets French waltzes meets Latin-American drumming and much more besides. All of it producing a magically diverse texture of sounds that is awe-inspiring and utterly enthralling.

The band has performed at the old town’s Stables Theatre on a number of occasions now and seasoned Gigspanner followers will have immediately noticed a change as soon as they walked into the auditorium and seen a different percussion set-up as they glanced towards the stage. Indeed, conga drummer Vincent Salzfaas who had been with the band since its formation recently departed due to changes in his personal circumstances and he’s been replaced by Sasha Trochet. Salzfaas’s congas were such an integral part of the unique Gigspanner sound I was wondering what impact the new arrangements would have. Fans of the trio have nothing to fear. While Trochet introduces a much more varied selection of percussion instruments the essential ingredients of the Gigspanner sound are still there and are added to, rather than diluted.

The band have strong Hastings connections, of course. Knight was resident here for many years and a familiar figure in music pubs around the town. Guitarist, Roger Flack, is Hastings-based and also plays with local band The Tabs, as well as being a regular participant in folk sessions in the Dolphin. A Hastings gig, therefore, always has something of a home-coming feel for the trio, particularly as a number of the band’s songs are directly inspired by the town. ‘Seagull’, for example, one of the songs written by Knight that is performed tonight, was inspired by regular sessions of shove ha’penny in the Lord Nelson. It’s also noteworthy for being one of the songs that Knight plays the fiddle, not with a bow, but by plucking. Just as the fiddle supremo produces a whole range of beautiful sounds using his bow, there’s a whole set of other sonic delights that come from his fingers, too. Other songs include traditional folk staples like ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ reworked to give them that unique signature Gigspanner feel.

As the evening draws to a close, once again the Stables audience respond with rapturous applause and once again, Hastings can be immensely proud of a music scene that has played a part in gifting the world a band of this calibre.

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http://www.gigspanner.com/

Slam Cartel at The Carlisle, Hastings 25/3/17

This review has also been published on the Get Ready to Rock website here

“It’s quite overwhelming having all these people singing these songs back at us,” lead singer, Gary Moffat, tells the audience at the Carlisle at one point during tonight’s gig. Clearly, the Kent-based hard rock outfit, Slam Cartel, have something of a following in Hastings and they have made regular appearances at the Carlisle in recent years. However, regardless of how many times gigs you perform, it’s not every lesser-known band producing wholly original material that is rewarded with impromptu crowd sing-alongs throughout the night. It just goes to emphasise the sheer quality of this band’s song-writing. Or, as one of their enthusiastic supporters told me afterwards, “What I like about these lads is that they really know how to write a good chorus.”

With a hard n heavy yet infectiously melodic approach, a charismatic and energetic front-man in Gary Moffat and, as mentioned, a superb set of songs, Slam Cartel are thoroughly deserving of the response they got tonight.

Combining the irresistible hook-lines of 80s metal with the down-at-heel honesty of grunge and the attachment to melody that every great classic rock band has always aspired to, Slam Cartel have created a distinctive sound and a musical identity for themselves that they carry off with self-confidence.

Songs from the band’s début album Handful Of Dreams (released prior to Moffat joining the band) dominate the set-list. Given it contains great catchy rock songs like Powerstorm, Wishing Eye and Once In A Lifetime, it would make no sense at all for the band to turn their back on these, particularly as Moffat has absolutely made them his own in terms of delivery. Songs from two more recently-recorded singles, however, also make it into the set including the superb Vanishing Worlds.

With the reception they got in the Carlisle, once again, I’m sure it won’t be too long before Hastings is treated to another energetic night with Slam Cartel. In the meantime, there’s also a new album to look forward to, currently being recorded and due out later this year.

Radio-friendly, melodic hard rock that is fresh and contemporary, yet at the same time gets you singing along like you’ve known the stuff for years, it’s immediately apparent why gig-goers in Hastings have taken this band to heart. Let’s hope the rest of the rock world soon follows suite.

Setlist:

Powerstorm
Mismatched Ties
Worldstarlove
Free Again
Vanishing Worlds
Goldenstream
Strike No. 1
Wildflower
Hold Me
Hypnotised
Wishing Eye
Handful of Dreams
Storm Seasoned
Sundown
Breathe
Once In A Lifetime

http://www.slamcartel.com/

17521957_10155191598023573_877491994_oPhoto credit: Sue Stevens

The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs

Baby-boomers, Brexit and classic rock bargains

I’ve rarely been able to go past a charity shop without having a quick browse through their second-hand CDs. To be fair this usually doesn’t take long. Shops usually have a shelf or two with around 100-150 CDs for sale and usually the majority of them hold no interest for me at all as they fall into two categories:

1. Old-time easy listening – the likes of James Last, Vera Lynn, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe and so on. You get tons of these in most charity shops. My guess is that they belonged to people in their late 70s/80s who have either died or gone into nursing homes and their CDs have been passed on to the charity shop by their families.

2. 90s/00s chart pop – the likes of Take That, Spice Girls, Ronan Keating and numerous X Factor winners. Again, you see tons of these in charity shops and my guess is they belonged to 30-somethings or early forty-somethings who have offloaded them, either because of changing musical tastes or because they don’t want to have anything as desperately uncool as CDs in the house and have switched to downloads. Occasionally, you see some Britpop-era CDs amongst these and (particularly as I wasn’t able to afford to buy too many CDs back in the 90s) I’ve been able to pick up numerous second-hand bargains by the likes of Blur, Cast, The Boo Radleys, Ocean Colour Scene, The Levellers and so on to add to my collection.

However, what was very rarely seen, until recently, was the kind of classic rock albums that are the mainstay of my CD collection. This is starting to change it would appear and in the past year I’ve picked up numerous CDs for 50p or a pound by the likes of Ray Davies, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, Fleetwood Mac, Meatloaf, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy.

It could be that these are the result of people either switching to digital (or switching back to vinyl) and disposing of their CDs in the process. But I doubt that accounts for the bulk of them somehow. My guess is that just as we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of rock star deaths – guys in their 60s and early 70s being tragically taken away from us, we are probably also witnessing a similar trend amongst rock fans as well. A tragedy for their families, certainly, as I know only too well. But good news,perhaps, for the quality of the CD shelves in charity shops.

The baby-boomer generation may have unwittingly cast a huge question mark over their grand-children’s futures by voting for Brexit in such overwhelming numbers but at least their impeccable good taste in music is available for the benefit of future generations and can now be snapped up at bargain prices at a charity shop near you.

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Folk: album review – Inlay ‘Forge’

My review was originally published in the March 2017 issue of fRoots

Formed in 2010 while studying music at the University of East Anglia, Norwich-based band Inlay released their well-received debut album in 2012. A wait of over four years for a follow-up seems like an age and, according to the sleeve-notes, various other ideas have been tried out and lain unreleased. However, with a collection of self-composed tunes and songs and a few traditional numbers thrown in as well, Inlay have come up with a folk album that is fresh-sounding and coherent, and, most importantly, something that is worth waiting for.

Built largely around fiddle, banjo, guitar and accordeon, Inlay have developed a trademark sound but one that doesn’t risk becoming predictable. Classically trained but with a shared and long-standing passion for the folk tradition, the band have not been afraid of bringing a wide variety of influences both to their playing and to their compositions.

The Road To Varanasi is inspired by a north Indian ‘Kalyan’ rag following a trip around India by two of the band members, with suitably evocative sounds played on a bansitar (a cross between a sitar and a banjo) and melded with some lovely accordeon playing. Other tracks draw their influences from closer to home, whether it’s the Norfolk landscape, the Pembrokeshire coast or the London tube.

Choral influences are evident in much of the singing which, again, helps to make Inlay more than simply one more talented folk band on the scene. Subtle but beautifully atmospheric percussion also adds to the mix making Forge a fine album.

This second album from Inlay helps showcase both their considerable musical talents as well as the breadth of their musical influences. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next one.

Released October 2016

http://www.inlaymusic.co.uk/Inlay_Folk_Music/About.html

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In praise of Action Records, Preston

Tales of a teenage record-buyer in 1980s Preston

Action Records is a long-running and much-celebrated record store on Church Street in Preston, Lancashire. I know it’s still going – although I must confess I haven’t been in there in almost three decades. Living in London and now Hastings for twenty-odd years it’s really not that convenient for me. And trips to Preston these days tend to be a frenzied whirl of family visiting rather than a time to browse record stores. But as a teenager Action Records was an absolute goldmine of musical discoveries for me.

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It was the early 80s, a few years before CDs became ubiquitous, and the second-hand vinyl racks at Action Records at the scruffy end of Church Street were something I poured over at least once a week. New albums back then were comparatively expensive we must remember. Although you could see numerous name bands at Preston Guildhall for just three or four quid (tickets that would cost you almost ten times that these days) to buy a new album you were talking £4.99. My paper-round and (later) my glass-collecting job in the local pub wouldn’t run to many of those. So going to Action Records, with its huge range of second-hand vinyl from around £1.20 to around £1.80, became quite addictive.

On starting out my lifelong obsession with buying rock music not only was I able to rapidly acquire the back catalogues of bands that everyone who was into rock and heavy metal at school was talking about (the likes of Rainbow, AC/DC, Whitesnake and Status Quo), it was also a treasure trove for seeking out the more obscure stuff, too. Albums that had long been deleted from bands that had been forgotten and that 80s fashion dictated should be completely ignored could be snapped up for next to nothing. It’s purely thanks to Action Records that I got turned on to the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Humble Pie, Mott The Hoople, The Sweet, Widowmaker and The Yardbirds.

These days it’s so easy to seek out information on vintage acts and it’s pretty easy to purchase their entire back catalogue. However, pre-internet, unless you knew your music history inside out there was quite a bit of guesswork involved. I would often go by the very scientific method of buying albums through either (a) recognising the name of one of the musicians as someone who had played in another band or (b) liking the cover. I developed a lifelong love of Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter (neither of whom I’d heard of and about whom absolutely no-one was talking about at the time) purely after being drawn to the bright, florescent pink cover of the ‘Mott’ album and being prepared to shell out £1.20 for it.

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Musically, for me it was an exciting voyage of discovery and Action Records made that possible. Sometimes there would be some helpful bits of advice from Gordon, the proprietor, but never in a way that made you feel small or outside some hallowed music aficionado clique that you were not part of.

I’ve still got much of my Action Records second-hand vinyl, even though I mainly listen to CDs these days, and I’m absolutely delighted that it’s still going. It certainly played a major part in my musical appreciation and, who knows, maybe it’s finally time to pay a visit again next time I’m in Preston.

Thank you Action Records.

There’s a short 2015 film celebrating Action Records’ legacy here: https://vimeo.com/125335358

Record Store Day this year is 22nd April 2017

http://www.actionrecords.co.uk/

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Memories of my first ever live gig – Slade at Donington 22/8/81

When I went to Monsters of Rock at Donington, aged 15, in 1981 it was not only my first ever festival but also my first ever live rock gig of any type. It still remains my favourite gig of all time, in particular the set by Slade that afternoon.

We arrived at Donington a little late and by the time we had parked and got into the arena the band More were most of the way through their set. The next band on were Blackfoot who I have no real recollection of at all. What I do remember is the anticipation of waiting for Slade to come on. After several years in the doldrums Slade had burst back into the charts a few months earlier with ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. Their storming performance at Reading Festival the previous year (when the band replaced Ozzy Osbourne at the last minute) had already become legendary and this all meant that in the space of a few months Slade went from being a band that sang about Christmas that I vaguely recalled from my childhood to being my number one favourite band in the whole world. And that was even before I witnessed what would become (and still remains) the most remarkable live performance I’ve ever seen. Loud guitar-driven rock, commanding showmanship, unforgettable songs and sheer over- the-top-eccentricity, it was an absolute master-class in compelling live performance.

On the back of the previous year’s Reading appearance, the early 80s heavy metal crowd had really taken Slade to heart. Looking at the setlist from Donington now the songs basically fit into three categories. Firstly, there were, unsurprisingly, the 70s hits like ‘Gudbuy T’ Jane’ and ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’. Secondly, there was newer material like ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ and a sneak preview of their soon-to-be-released new single ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’. Thirdly, there were the old 50s rock ’n’ roll covers, which Slade had begun inserting in their set in their wilderness years in the late 70s but had kept in as they began to be embraced by the heavy metal crowd. Although the look couldn’t have been more different, this latter group of songs demonstrates how much late 50s rock ’n’ roll and early 70s glam rock had in common in terms of song structure, lyrical themes and instantly memorable choruses.

It was Noddy Holder’s masterful ability to connect with the 65,000-strong crowd, however, that was perhaps even more memorable than the songs. Witty, irreverent and on a mission to entertain no matter what, in spite of the non-stop rain, Holder was able to strike an instant rapport with a huge festival audience in a way that few can. And that’s before we even get on to discussing the surreal sea of moving objects that danced above the heads of the crowd throughout the entire set. Although ever-more hostile missile throwing was to mar a number of festivals around that time, with Slade it was turned on its head and rather than being fuelled by aggressive machismo, chucking stuff about became a life-affirming celebration of communal craziness. White plastic beer bottles full of beer, bundles of hay that had been laid on the ground in an attempt to soak up the mud, packed lunches, burger buns – everything that could be thrown in the air was thrown in the air . The band, of course, joined in with one toilet roll after being another lobbed out into the crowd during Mama Weer All Crazee Now. When the crowd called for Merry Christmas at the end of the set Holder told us all that if we wanted it we would have to sing it ourselves, which is precisely what everyone did…

After Slade finished, and soaking wet from rain, beer and mud and covered head to foot in hay we made our way further towards the back of the crowd to catch our breath and I wondered whether I would ever see anything on stage quite so magnificent ever again. There were more fantastic performances to come that day – with memorable sets from both Whitesnake and AC/DC (once a completely underwhelming performance from Blue Oyster Cult was out of the way). However, even though I’ve seen many exceptional performances from many exceptional bands over the years, nothing has ever quite matched the intensity of seeing Slade at Donington.

Setlist:

Dizzy Mamma
When I’m Dancin’ I Ain’t Fightin’
Take Me Bak ‘Ome
Lock Up Your Daughters
Everyday
Somethin’ Else
Pistol Packin’ Mama
Gudbuy T’Jane
We’ll Bring the House Down
Get Down and Get With It
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Cum On Feel the Noize
Born to Be Wild
Merry Xmas Everybody

Related posts:
Slade at Minehead 2015
Slade at Hastings 2015
Slade Fan Convention 2016
Slade, strikes and the three-day week

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News: Bernie Tormé releases new triple album – Dublin Cowboy

New album ‘Dublin Cowboy’ out April 7th and available for download and pre-order now

Retrowrek Records RTRK204

‘Dublin Cowboy’ is the new three-disc album from former Gillan guitar legend, Bernie Tormé, comprising an electric disc, an acoustic disc and a live disc.

Bernie: “I always wanted to do a triple album and also an acoustic album, and combining the two seemed like the obvious idea though truth is it nearly killed me: I’m still in recovery! But on top of all that, and with two albums of screaming wails and dive-bombs, I am totally knocked out with how the shred-free acoustic album has been received! Fans who pledged and have heard it absolutely LOVE it! Quadruple album next time? Nah, I really don’t think so!”

The album was made following a phenomenally successful pledge-fund appeal that hit its pledge target in less than nine hours. Containing twenty-nine tracks in total across the three discs, the first two are made up of brand new material, including title track ‘Dublin Cowboy, and the infectiously bluesy ‘Power Of The Blues’ on the electric disc; as well as the rich unfolding tapestry of sounds on ‘Shine’, and ‘Wolfgirl’ which both appear on the acoustic disc. The third disc, recorded live in South Shields in January 2016, contains live versions of classics that span Bernie Tormé’s career, including old favourites ‘Wild West and ‘New Orleans’.

The album is available for purchase in CD and digital download formats via pledgemusic.com/projects/bernietorme2017

Fan reaction from pledge-funders has been overwhelmingly positive:

“This acoustic one cuts me to the core. Can’t stop listenin’…Love it!!” DP

“What I’ve heard is sounding great, and Janus is just awesome!” PW

“Beyond the obligatory 5 stars!” OBN

“My favourite is the live one where it can be seen if an artist still has the “beans”. U certainly do dude, u absolutely rocked it.” RS

To tie in with the release of the album there is a 2017 UK Tour next month and the album will be formally launched at the Borderline, London on 7th April. Bernie: “Got a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll pint-spillers from the new Dublin Cowboy album that we will be rocking out live on the tour! I can’t wait, get ready people, this one will be total killer!”

UK tour dates are as follows:

1st April SOUTH SHIELDS The Unionist Club
2nd April GLASGOW Nice n Sleazy
3rd April EDINBURGH Bannermans
4th April GRIMSBY Yardbirds
5th April MANCHESTER FAC251
6th April WOLVERHAMPTON The Robin 2
7th April LONDON The Borderline
8th April BRIGHTON The Prince Albert

http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/

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