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The Advent and Development of Chanties

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Gibb Sahib 15 May 18 - 08:05 PM
Gibb Sahib 15 May 18 - 08:23 PM
Lighter 15 May 18 - 09:50 PM
Gibb Sahib 15 May 18 - 10:28 PM
Steve Gardham 16 May 18 - 05:21 PM
Gibb Sahib 28 May 18 - 04:24 AM
Steve Gardham 28 May 18 - 12:22 PM
Gibb Sahib 31 May 18 - 04:07 AM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 08:45 AM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 03:22 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 03:41 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 03:51 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 04:00 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 04:11 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 04:25 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 04:37 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 04:52 PM
GUEST,Spot 30 Aug 18 - 08:30 AM
Lighter 26 Sep 19 - 09:36 AM
Mrrzy 27 Sep 19 - 01:18 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 27 Sep 19 - 03:05 PM
Lighter 28 Sep 19 - 09:02 AM
Mrrzy 28 Sep 19 - 09:37 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 28 Sep 19 - 06:10 PM
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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 15 May 18 - 08:05 PM

Hi Steve,

I don't have data from Villiers in my notes, which may mean that I didn't look or it may mean that I've looked through his books (for example, I reviewed a lot of books of that sort at Mystic Seaport's library) and decided the information was not so notable. Probably the former. Could you give us a summary?

Lighter,

The last account is pretty fun, presented as it is as an account of the "last" clipper ship. The attribution of a halyard song (as I believe "Whiskey Johnny" is *without* much flexibility) to the main sheet is something I don't recall seeing before. Which could mean this is either an interesting exception or a misattribution by the author. Hard to say.

The nature of the work of hauling the main sheet, in my experience, does not fit well with chanties in this form. Generally one pulls on the main sheet willy nilly until all the slack is taken out, and then one or a few so called "short drag" chanties may come into play to get the last slack out. Said differently, the task of hauling a sheet entails pulling until a line is taut (well, until the corner of the sail, sometimes stubborn, comes into place), versus hauling a halyard which lifts a yard gradually into place but which doesn't require such force.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 15 May 18 - 08:23 PM

Tangentially related:

I don't know whether I've shared this before, but I got a group together on a brigantine to try hoisting a fore and aft sail (gaff) with chanties. This is something I've never read of being done, so it was an experiment to see how it might work. Namely, it involves hauling on two different halyards in consort, while commands are given periodically for one or the other halyard haulers to hold. To do this, would you have one chantyman? That's very awkward. So, we tried having a chantyman at each halyard! Granted, the operation could go more smoothly if the crew was more experienced at being attentive to the mate's commands.

Here is an audio recording of the experience. I am chantyman on the throat halyard and one of my students was chantyman on the peak halyard. Note: We decided (based on experience) that towards the end of the haul, which tends to be more difficult, we'd switch from halyard chanties to short drag chants. Since the decision to switch to the short drag was based on the subjective impression of "when the work was getting too hard" (and since this was also affected by the inexperience of the crew, for whom it may have felt "too hard" at an earlier point than is usual), the short drag segments went on a bit long.

https://soundcloud.com/user-225366318/chanty-sing-while-setting-mainsail-on-brig

During the same voyage we conducted numerous upper topsail hoists (with chanties) on the foremast, varying the number of haulers, tempo and style of the chanties. But these did not get recorded.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Lighter
Date: 15 May 18 - 09:50 PM

Gibb, you should look up that entire article. It's a model of nostalgic schmaltz - the very best kind, if you ask me.

"Whiskey, Johnny" is the only chantey mentioned. And it's entirely possible that the reporter was a little hazy on what a "main sheet" is.

Meanwhile ...

On June 9, 1934, the Wellington [N.Z.] Evening Post printed a letter from 78-year-old John Hutcheson, listing the titles of chanteys he'd learned as an "apprentice in a Western Ocean packet-ship (Liverpool-New York)" in 1871:

"Reuben Ranzo"
"Johnnie Boker"
"Paddy Doyle"
"Blow, my Bully Boys, Blow"
"Tom's Gone to Hilo"
"John France Wah"
"Whisky for my Johnnie!"
"Hurrah, My Boys, We're Homeward Bound!"
"Santa Anna"
"Shenandoah"
"Heave Away, My Johnnie, Heave Away-ay"
"Old Stormalong"
"Oh! You New York Girls, Can't You Dance the Polka?"

Hutcheson also quotes two lines from the forebitter, "The Stately Southerner," though he doesn't identify the song by name:

"When bending low her bosom in snow,
She buried the lee cathead.’”


Besides the "Western Ocean" shanties, Hutcheson mentions that:

“I have heard the Mississippi Screwmen (the very aristocrats of labour) screwing cotton in the hold till they raised the decks to the sound of 'Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that Flies the Single Star!' etc. I've heard the Jamaica niggers sing 'The Saucy Rosabella' or 'Waitin' for de Steamboat,' or 'Jimmy Riley,' etc., as they rolled the big hogsheads of raw sugar or hove at the winch discharging their coastal drogher; I've heard the coolies in Moulmein chanting as they staged rice over the side; but of all the sea songs, for real life and go, give me the good old vulgar, obscene Western Ocean chanty before them all.


Mention of “The Saucy Rosabella” is valuable. Horace P. Beck also found it being sung in the Caribbean in the 1950s. Hutcheson's 1870s date for "Can't You Dance the Polka?" may be uniquely early. I can't identify "Jimmy Riley" unless (as seems likely) it's "Old Billy Riley."]

Further, Hutcheson mentions that “The language of the average sailorman in those days was, as [the American humorist] Bill Nye puts it, ‘painful and frequent and free,’ and was scarcely fit for polite society. Some of the most popular chanties just could not be written - they'd set the paper afire!” Concerning sung complaints about the officers, the food, and the treatment, “It's wonderful what they got away with when expressed allegorically to music.”

Hutcheson seems unaware that any shanties had ever been printed. “Of course, the music could be scored, but that's a job nobody seems to have done yet.”


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 15 May 18 - 10:28 PM

Thanks for the more details of Hutcheson! I think you did present that one, partially, before; I have notes from it in my draft writing about cotton screwing. I've been trying to pull together a piece that makes sense of all the data on the topic.

Among the points that I hope to make is that the foremen of the chanty gangs (cotton screwing gangs) belong to the ports. The would scrape up the other four men to constitute the gang. That's opposed to 5 guys, which may have come off a ship, getting hired. This is significant because the foreman is the chantyman, and it suggests that he would be the one based in the local chanty singing practice, to which the migrant laborers would conform when hired.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 May 18 - 05:21 PM

One of Villiers' books is 'The Set of the Sails' 1949 which has lots of references to singing chanties. He was from Adelaide in Australia and he sought out the last of the tall ships to sail in in the 20s. I haven't got to hand the date he first went to sea. The useful chanty references in that book are pp 32, 40, 54, 86, 87, 92. There is an unusual text for 'Leave her, Johnny' on p54.

I know Villiers wrote several books. At times he came ashore as a journalist. I had a copy of his biography but passed it on to Les Fromull, I think. This would contain a list of all his works.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 28 May 18 - 04:24 AM

Hi, Steve-- thanks!

I know about Villiers, but I'm wondering what makes these particular references (in 1949, following the myth-making period and rather late to be memories of eye-witness stuff) distinguishable from other data. For example: Does Villiers provide good assurance that they are first-hand observations? Are they music or verbal texts that appear to be unique? Is Villiers making a commentary that provides quality evidence of the history/genre itself, or does it tell us more about Villiers and his time?


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 28 May 18 - 12:22 PM

Difficult to say, Gibb. I don't doubt that he had first-hand experience of Chanty usage in situ. He sailed out of Australia in some pretty basic sailing ships under dodgy conditions and seems to write with authority. He certainly had a great love of sailing the seas. He writes of the competing of tall ships in the run from Australia to the UK. I don't know of many other deep-water men of that time who wrote with authority and served before the mast. However, it wasn't long before he was skippering such ships as there weren't that many left with the required knowledge. In the latter years the tall ships seem to have been manned by very young Scandinavians who knew little about the chanties.


I have recorded chanties myself in the 60s from deep-water seamen and these can be listened to on the British Library Sound Archive. I'll put some details out when I can get the time. I'm working on a presentation at the moment.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:07 AM

Steve, you're not catching my subtle implication... which has nothing to do with authority (I consider everyone to be an authority on their own experience), but rather: Just tell us some specifics of the book's contents! ;)

We have 80% (I'm randomly guesstimating!) of available sources posted up here with details here, and we *can* discern whether Villiers' info and/or examples fits into well-worn narratives or if it's fresh etc etc. We can check up on whether his "Leave Her" matches what we've seen before, for example. We just need to know what it is!


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 08:45 AM

Got you.
Will do.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 03:22 PM

Apart from his biography the only book of Villiers that I have read so far is 'The Set of the Sails-Adventures of a cape Horn Seaman' 1949.

p32
'The second mate shouted at boys aloft to overhaul buntlines, clear gaskets, see what the hell was in the way of the t'gall'nt sheets. the strong young sailors, drunk to a man, manned the haliards lustily and mastheaded the two tops'l and t'gall'nt yards as if they had been broomsticks. they went at everything with such a will that they never finished a chanty, and the chanties they sang were such as I had never read in any books.' (I think this was his first sea voyage before the mast as a youngster)


p40

'Eight bells! Struck mighty fast , and the clock flogged by the impatient mate.
"All hands close-reef the main tops'l"

We struggled up on deck, where the fierce wind cut into us after the fug of the half-deck. A hurried muster; no shout of relieve the wheel and lookout as usual (they could remain where they were till the tops'ls was subdued), and all hands hastened in their heavy oilskins and sea-boots to the main rigging, port watch to port and starboard to starboard, and in a moment the melodious shouts of the chanty-singers rose against the tumult of the west wind. the yard was lowered to its lifts, the reef tackles manned, and the reef cringles in each leech hauled snug to the yardarms.'


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 03:41 PM

P54
….there were rude comments in the chanties at the many pully-haulie jobs. The soloist in the chanties had traditional liberty to improvise and was free to criticise anything. In this way the sailors let off some steam. no one ever paid attention to their broad and frequently blasphemous hints.....

The favourite time for a rousing chanty was when the tops'l halliards were manned, which was generally at the change of the watches. there was a Welshman for'ard--one of our few Britishers there who sang extremely well and was a first-rate improvisor.
    "Oh, our old man he don't set no sail!" he'd begin, all hands trailing on the stout line ready to come in with two mighty shouts of "Leave her, Johnny, leave her" and two hearty synchronised hauls which would shift the yard about a quarter of a foot.

    "An I could 'a stayed in a lovely jail!" Again the soloist sang melodiously.

"Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her,
With all night in and plenty of ale.
Leave her....
'Stead o' driftin' about the Tasman Sea.
Oh, a Jackshite's life it ain't for me!
Leave her...….
Cos there ain't no grub an' there ain't no pay!
Leave her......
But they tell me we'll come in some day,
Leave her......
Before then we'll be eating hay!
Leave her ......
Now it's time for me to shout belay!


"Belay the halliards there! Do you want to jam the parral in the bloody cross-trees?" Jackie would shout, and a couple of strong men would run to the fore-part of the halliards, by the block, while at a shout of "Come up there!" all the others let go, and the line was quickly belayed round its pin.'


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 03:51 PM

p86
The ship had run out of tobacco while running round the west coast and the sailors wanted to pull into Fremantle to remedy the situation.

'The chantymen in both watches added verses to their chanties drawing pointed attention to their need for a smoke.'

p87
'In any other lime-juice ship the poor food and the ordinary discomforts of the sea life would have formed the basis of dogwatch songs, to be sung round the main hatch to the accompaniment of music played on dilapidated combs. Except for chanties there was little singing in the 'Bellands' that voyage.'


p92
'As at last we warped her through the lock gates at St. Nazaire, the chantyman shouted verse after verse of long-prepared imprecations upon her, for her tobaccoless voyage, her ham-fisted sailing, her food shortage, her long swelter in the doldrums. I sang the choruses as loudly as the rest, but it was not the ship that should have been criticised.'


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:00 PM

Here are the online references for some of the chanties I recorded from old capehorners in the 60s. At the British Library Sound Archive if you search my name it will bring up my collection C1009. 2 chanty singers are at C1009/2.

Jack Smith was an east coast bargeman out of Hull, tracks 6 to 20.
Includes
Bold Princess Royal
Rolling Home
Blow the Man Down
A Roving
Dogger Bank
Ten Thousand Miles Away
Wild Rover
Kitty Wells
Tom Bowling

Ted Calcott was a Londoner and old Cape-Horner before the mast
, tracks 21-29 include
Ratcliffe Highway (Blow the Man Down)
Rolling Home
Whiskey Johnny
Rio Grande
Sacramento
Ratcliffe Highway again and talk of Shenandoah
Then some Cockney popular songs from the 1890s


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:11 PM

Captain Norman Yates I recorded in 1970. This is on C1009/6 tracks 5 - 23.

Includes
Sailor's Alphabet
Rio Grande
A-Roving
Blow the Man Down
Whiskey Johnny
Drunken Sailor
No more pulling on the lee-fore brace
Spanish Ladies
Rolling Home
Sacramento (Blackball Line)
Roll the Cotton Down
Blow, Boys, Blow
than some repeats
All accompanied on banjo.
I suspect these are more likely to be derivative.

I also have a tape somewhere I have had since the 60s which was passed on to me of a group of seamen singing chanties. I don't remember who gave me it or know who is singing on it. It didn't make it onto the BL online collection because it wasn't something I had recorded myself. It does sound like real seamen singing rather than folksingers. I'll try to find it and at least transcribe what they were singing.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:25 PM

Ted Calcott was on the Argentine meat run in tops'l riggers. He talks about shanghaiing sailors on the Barbary Coast and of killing and eating a cabin boy when cast adrift in a lifeboat.

He was born in Willesden in London and first came to Hull (where I recorded him) in 1899. He was 86 when I recorded him in a pub in 1967. Therefore born in 1881.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:37 PM

Captain Yates served his apprenticeship in sail and was a Cape-Horner of many years standing. He was 78 in 1970 when I recorded him. He recorded the chanties himself as a sort of voyage scenario with the orders to go with the tasks. The songs I recorded from him were the forebitters and other pieces.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:52 PM

Ah, I've found the transcription of the tape. I acquired it in 1969. The quality of recording is very poor but could perhaps be digitised. The singers are German and English seamen on board ship accompanied by an organ/accordeon of some sort.

Among some modern songs they sang Sacramento in German, Rolling Home, and Shenandoah which I haven't transcribed.


Sally Brown (First 3 verse seem pretty standard.)

O Sally Brown, she's a bright mulatto
Way, hay, she roll and go
O she drinks rum and chews terbaccer
Spend my money on Sally Brown

Seven long years I courted Sally
She's my own, my favourite Sally

O Sally Brown was a Creole lady
I know she's got a n.....r baby

O Sally Brown I kissed goodbye ter
I've sailed too long across the water

O Sally Brown has a big buck n.....r
Her bow is big but his starn is bigger.

O Sally Brown she wears red laces
O man aloft the white pull stays'ls (not sure if this is right)


What shall we do with a drunken sailor etc.

Put him in the longboat till he's sober etc.

What shall we do with a drunken skipper? etc.

Rub on the belly with a (not clear) etc.

That's what we do with a drunken sailor. etc.



A hundred years is a very long time
Oh, yes, oh
Yes, a hundred years is a very long time
A hundred years ago.

They thought that the moon was made of cheese
You can believe this if you please.

They thought that the stars were set alight
By some angels every night.

I thought I heard the old man say
that this old ship was leaving today.

(Ever since 69 I have incorporated these last 3 verses into my version of John Kanaka)


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: GUEST,Spot
Date: 30 Aug 18 - 08:30 AM

Here is a 'major piece of work' on shanties in case people have not seen it. It is by a well respected blues historian, so may be of interest.


https://www.earlyblues.com/Essay%20-%20Blues%20at%20Sea.htm


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Lighter
Date: 26 Sep 19 - 09:36 AM

Dr. J. E. Crockett of Boston wrote a *very* brief note to the Boston Herald in 1916 about chanteys he'd sung at sea in his youth:

"The words of the solo of all chanties were mostly made up or improvised, mostly as hits on matters pertaining to the ship, officers, and crew."

He gives on stanza of a chantey that used the pattern of "Sing Song Kitchee Kitchee Ki Me O" (as "Sing song Polly, can't you ri-me-o?")

He gives one couplet to illustrate:

"I knew a fellow and his name was Bill,...
And he went around gathering swill."

Crockett mentioned that he'd recently "turned 83."


So he was presumably at sea about 1850.

The use of couplets (often with a repeated line) with nonsensical refrains to satirize people, places, and things may have reached a pinnacle in World War One's "Hinky Dinky Parlez-Vous."

"Johnny Fill Up the Bowl" (and"When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" functioned similarly in the Civil War.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Mrrzy
Date: 27 Sep 19 - 01:18 PM

Question: are y'all positing that the shift from dugout/early boat to sails and requiring a crew brought a *qualitative* change in the worksongs sung? That actually might make sense, given the class distinction between crew and officers which was likely absent in canoes. The dugout folks would certainly have had seafaring work songs. Which we don't call chanteys for a reason which escapes me (2nd question).
I am thoroughly enjoying this thread. Thanks, refresher.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 27 Sep 19 - 03:05 PM

Naval science considers the Battle of Lepanto (1571) to be the turning point from muscle to wind power but large vessels continued to use oars and sweeps as auxiliary propulsion until the advent of steam.

The chanty era began and ended entirely within the steam age. The steam powered rotary printing press had far more effect on popular culture than sails, oars or engines.

Chanties sound less like 18th century plain song or plain chant and more like 19th century popular song because... they were produced, packaged and consumed by 19th century popular culture.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Sep 19 - 09:02 AM

Mrrzy's musing about why rowing song are not usually thought of as chanteys, led me to check the definition of the word in major dictionaries.

Definitions range from extremely specific (Chambers's 1908): "a sailor's song, usually with a drawling refrain, sung in concert while raising the anchor, &c."    (Sorry about "sung in concert": hmmm, meanings change.)

To the most general (Macmillan): "a song that sailors sing."

As for the two most prestigious dictionaries, Oxford allows wiggle room:

"A sailor's song, esp. one sung during heavy work"

that Merriam-Webster doesn't :

"a song sung by sailors in rhythm with their work"

Folklorists generally require that a "chantey" must be sung by sailors for shipboard work. If rowers are sailors and small boats propelled by oars are ships, then folklorists should consider rowing songs to be chanteys.

But they don't, because they're not. On the other hand, the teeming millions who define "sea chantey" as "any song related to the sea" would have no problem applying the word to a rowing song.

And, of course, one may speak "figuratively" too.

So that's settled....


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: Mrrzy
Date: 28 Sep 19 - 09:37 AM

So there have been chanteys as long as there have been boats. That's what I thought... Yet the examining of the 19th century ones remains fascinating. Of the English ones at least. Must be Dutch Spanish Portuguese ones too, 19th c I mean.


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Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 28 Sep 19 - 06:10 PM

Maritime work song tradition is measurably older than the English (chanty) + French (chanson) languages laid end-to-end.

And there are more allowances, and synonyms, for 'sailor' than one can count. American cotton screwers were land based unions working alongshore. G. E. Clark's and Charles Nordhoff's chantymen wouldn't meet the dictionary definition of chanty. Neither would T.W. Higginson's gospel singing, U.S.A. infantry oarsmen.

U.S. and Royal Navy fiddle, fife & drum instrumentals or Catholic vespers as capstan cadences would not be a 'qualitative' step backward on any scientific or practical level. Both are older than, and coexisted with, the chanty era.

The usage of the chanty genre label and the practical application of nautical work song have entirely different critical attributes and sorting criteria.


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