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Last flight of HS 121 Trident 1 ‘Papa India’ on 18 June 1972




It is said that when two or three airline pilots gather together, they speak about the ‘four Ss – namely, Safety, Security, Seniority and Salary! In the sixties and seventies, British European Airways (BEA) was no different. Their local chapter would have been a member of the British AirLine Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which in turn was a founder member of the International Federation of Airline Pilot Associations (IFALPA) even recognised by the United Nations. These matters are discussed at length at various fora.

In those days, traditionally, there was quite a gap between the pay of senior pilots and juniors. These matters came up regularly for discussion. The British aviation authorities had realised, at the end of the 1950s, that soon they would be running short of Airline Captains who were mainly WWII veterans as they would retire soon. Therefore, a scheme was put in place to train captains at an airfield called Hamble, Hampshire (Hamble College of Air Training) with essentially two streams of recruitment from school leavers and graduates. Previous flying experience was not a requirement. The other main flying school which cadets were hired from was ‘Oxford’. The products of Hamble and Oxford were very good, efficient, militant and vociferous about pay and conditions. There was a difference of opinion between seniors who flew aircraft as a passion and the juniors who were more career-minded. That’s how the process of ‘industrial action’ was initiated by the latter.

Unlike their captains (of the ’old school’) who drifted into flying after WW II, the young pilots were trained to be airline captains of tomorrow. While they were well versed in theory of flight and leadership, they still lacked the all-important experience, which was still the domain of the senior captains.

On 18 of June 1972, a war veteran, and training captain, by the name of Stanley Key, on standby duties, was activated by BEA to fly to Brussels, Belgium, along with two young low-time Second Officers (S/Os). Capt. Key was an anti-strike activist, so well-known for his dissenting views that there was even graffiti on board some of the aircraft flight decks including that of ‘Papa India’, referring to him.

When Capt. Key reported for duty for flight BEA 548 (Radio call sign ‘Beeline 548), he was accosted by a militant, Senior F/O who was not a member of his crew, in the crowded Crew Room. With just four years before retirement (he was 51 years old at the time), his views against strike action were very strong. He is supposed to have got into a heated argument. This was witnessed by many including S/O J W Keighley, one of Capt Key’s crew members. It was also reported that Capt Key apologised for his outburst almost as quickly as it started. It is not certain whether S/O Ticehurst, Key’s other S/O, was also there. They were both flying with Capt. Key for the first time. The aggressive demonstration of the Captain’s feelings would have had some negative effect on the two young S/Os of his crew. It wasn’t a good first impression. 


HS 121 Trident

The aircraft that they were flying that day was a HS 121 Trident 1 registered as G-ARPI, known by all at BEA, as ‘Papa India’, the phonetics of the last two letters. The Trident aircraft was well ahead of its time with a perfectly shaped wing for high speed flight at high altitude with engines at the rear and a ‘T shaped’ tail. In fact, it was the fastest civil jet plane before the advent of the Anglo French Concord! It could cruise at 90% the speed of sound. It could also carry out Instrument Landings in very low visibility–– even in fog as thick as pea soup! The Trident 1 was an aircraft designed to operate with the Captain seated on the left-hand side Flight Deck Seat and of the two S/O’s. Usually, one S/O, known as the ‘Monitoring Pilot’ operates the Flight Engineer’s Systems Panel located behind the two pilots outbound from London Heathrow while the other S/O would sit on the right-hand side seat with the controls. On the return (inbound) leg, the two S/O’s will swap seats and their functions. To operate the Flight Engineers Panel, the Monitoring Pilot had to undergo additional training under the watchful eye of a BEA Supervisory First Officer (F/O) (seated on a fourth seat behind the captain) until the trainee demonstrates competency and was ready to operate the panel by himself. Supervisory functions were additional duties for senior F/Os and because of the prevailing industrial action, they had opted to withdraw from these additional duties. As a direct result of that, there were S/Os who could carry out Right Hand Seat duties only and could not sit on the Monitoring S/O’s panel. Therefore, as far as Capt Key’s crew was concerned, the monitoring Pilot, S/O Ticehust though more experienced, could not relinquish his seat to the low-time S/O Keighley and had to be operating the panel on both outbound and inbound legs. Captains, if they had a choice, usually prefer to have the most experienced pilot in the co-pilot’s seat.

Because its wing was made for high-speed flight it had to be modified with the use of Leading Edge and Trailing Edge high lift devices enabling it to fly low and slow for take-off and landing. At the trailing end of the wing there were the flaps which in effect increased the area of the wing. In the leading edge were devices called ‘Wing Droops’, which, when extended, altered the curvature of the wing and smoothened out the airflow over the wing allowing it to fly at a relatively slow speed.

That afternoon, along with Capt. Key, and his junior two crew members, there was also a Capt. Collins, a freighter Captain, occupying the fourth seat in the Flight Deck. While the weather was overcast at a thousand feet, to witnesses all seemed normal on BEA 548 on the taxi, start up and take off from London, Heathrow, in a westerly direction. Then it commenced a left turn to an East bound heading as required by the departure procedure. Then, suddenly the aircraft which was supposed to climb to 6000 ft, started losing height and crashed in a nose high attitude with hardly any forward motion. It was obvious to the investigators that the aircraft had fallen out of the sky, killing all six crew and 112 passengers on board. This was all within two and a half minutes after brakes release.

A small boy, at Stains, witnessed the accident and informed a neighbour, a retired nurse who was the first to be at the scene. She found only one person alive who sadly died a while later.

Immediately after arriving on the scene the accident investigators from the Accident Investigation Branch (AIB) of the Board of Trade, realised that the Trident aircraft had descended on a steep trajectory as it had cleared some high tension wires before impacting the ground a few yards away and didn’t move forward.

The Accident Investigators had the luxury of using two Flight Data Recorders which were installed on board.

The wreck of ‘Papa India’ was carefully moved piece by piece to a Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) hangar at Farnborough airport in Hampshire, assembled, thoroughly examined and mechanical failure ruled out.


Noise Abatement Departures

Because of noise considerations, in the neighbourhood outside the airport, it was a mandatory requirement that Trident Jets climb at Take-off Power to as high as possible with the wheels selected up, wing droops extended and trailing edge flaps selected to 20 degrees, within the airport premises. Then at 90 seconds after brakes released, they had to reduce engine power and retract the trailing edge flaps and then climb to 3000 ft before the Wing Droops were to be retracted after achieving 225 kt. climbing speed. There were two separate leavers to control the Flaps and the Wing Droops.

On analysing the Flight Data Recorders which were in good working order, the investigators discovered that one of the four crew members (Capt Key, S/O Keighley. S/O Ticehurst or Capt Collins) had prematurely retracted the leading edge Wing Droops, before reaching 3000 ft and 225 kt. When the Wing Droops were retracted, the control columns of both Key’s and Keighley’s mechanically shook (vibrated) to give tactile warning that the aircraft is about to stall. No corrective action was taken like re-extending the Wing Droops or increasing speed by the pilots, an automatic pneumatically operated stick pusher activated, sharply reducing the nose-up attitude. In fact, the investigators found that it had happened twice and then someone had deactivated the stall warning (Stick Shaker and Pusher) system. By whom and with what intention, was a mystery. Because the Stick Shaker and the Stick Pusher activated in quick succession someone could have assumed that the system was malfunctioning. The aircraft then entered a deep stall from which it was impossible to recover as there is no airflow over the tail to enable the pilot to push the nose down, by then a well-known phenomenon in ‘T’ tail aircraft. (On 3 June 1966, Trident 1C registration G-ARPY entered into a deep stall while on a test flight and crashed at Felthorpe, Norfolk, killing all four crew members)

How the airflow over the tail of a Trident Aircraft gets disturbed by the wing, at high nose-up attitude and develops into an unrecoverable Deep Stall. The Blue arrow is the relative flow of the air. (See figure 1)

 The post mortem examination of three of the four crew members proved to be normal while Capt Key’s heart was found to be in bad shape through the years and was experiencing a heart attack just before his violent death. Was it due to the argument he had with the senior F/O about 90 minutes before his flight and the resultant rise in blood pressure? How was he classified as ‘fit to fly’, after a seemingly normal Electrocardiogram (ECG) at his last Medical Examination a few months before for renewal of his flying licence? Did the Captain’s heart attack create a distraction to the rest of the crew? Was the Captain obviously incapacitated for the others to see? The last radio call from the Air Traffic Controller was acknowledged by him. Was it a case of subtle incapacitation then? Why didn’t S/O Keighley take over and fly as he was supposed to do? Was he confused as regards the flaps and Wing Droops control handles? Was the ‘intra cockpit authority gradient’ between Capt Key and S/O J W Keighley too steep and made the 22-year-old S/O freeze at the controls? Why didn’t S/O Ticehurst do or say anything? Did Capt. Collins, who was also an experienced Trident Pilot, do or say anything to help?  A host of questions needed to be answered.

Geoffrey Lane the Commissioner of the Public Inquiry to this unfortunate accident in his report stated, “There is a danger of assuming that we have all the facts before us and that the only problem is to assemble them in the right order. Had we had the benefit of a cockpit voice-recorder this might have been true. As it were there may well be some vital piece of information missing which would, if known, change the whole picture”

The report went on to state, “This accident has shown that data as to the height, speed, attitude and movement of controls of the aircraft, however valuable as eliminating any suggestion of mechanical failure, do not always provide as full a picture as possible. The investigator is still left in the dark as to what was passing between the crew members by way of orders, comment or exclamation.”

Within a year of the Accident Investigation Report going public, the UK Board of Trade mandated that all turbine powered in the UK registered civil aircraft above the weight of 5700 kg shall have Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVRs). Australia and America were already using Cockpit Voice Recorders. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) also followed suit. Hawker Sidley, the manufacturer of the HS 121 Trident also installed a speed lock to prevent the Wing Droops being retracted below 225Kt. The Trident was the first British aircraft with leading edge high lift devices. Similar American Aircraft, like the more successful Boeing 727, had only one Flap/Slat handle to control all leading edge and trailing edge device eliminating confusion. There were allegations that the original ‘tri jet’ concept was stolen by the Americans.  But that’s another story!

The Boeing 727 with another type leading edge (Kruger) Flaps out (different to Trident Wing Droops).

It was also pointed out by the Report that BEA Technical Crew had neither been briefed nor trained on handling incapacitated crew members at critical stages of the flight.

The report also highlighted that the ECGs for pilot licence medical examinations should not be carried out on pilots at rest only (in bed), but regular Stress ECGs should also be carried out. The critics say that Capt. Stanley Key’s heart condition was a one-off case. We are medically examining Airline Pilots and not Astronauts! The retirement age for pilots is now 65 years, the last five years of which includes, ‘Blood work’ and stress ECGs amongst other routine medical tests.

Flight BEA 548 was the deadliest plane crash on the British soil until the Pan Am crash in Lockerbie Scotland.

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President picks up the gauntlet



by Jehan Perera

By proroguing parliament President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given the parliamentarians, and the country at large, a reminder of the power of the presidency. There was no evident reason for the president to suddenly decide to prorogue parliament. More than 40 parliamentary committees, including important ones concerning public finances, enterprises and accounts have ceased to function. The president’s office has said that when parliament reconvenes on February 8, after the celebration of the country’s 75th Independence Day on February 4, the president will announce new policies and laws, which will be implemented until the centenary celebrations of Sri Lanka’s independence in 2048. Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew transformed Singapore from a relatively underdeveloped and impoverished agrarian society into one of the world’s most developed countries in the same 25 years that the president has set for Sri Lanka.

President Wickremesinghe has been getting increasingly assertive regarding his position on issues. Recently he attended a large gathering of Muslim clerics, where he was firm in saying that society needs to modernise, and so do religious practices. He has also held fast to his positions on reviving the economy and resolving the economy. There have been widespread protests against the tax hikes being implemented which have eroded the purchasing power of taxpayers. First they had to absorb the impact of inflation that rose to a rate of 80 percent at the time the country reneged on its foreign debt repayments and declared bankruptcy. Now they find their much diminished real incomes being further reduced by a tax rate that reaches 36 percent.

But the government is not relenting. President Wickremesinghe, who holds the finance minister’s portfolio, is going against popular sentiment in being unyielding on the matter of taxes. He appears determined to force the country away from decades of government policies that took the easy route of offering subsidies rather than imposing taxes to use for government expenses and development purposes. In Sri Lanka, the government’s tax revenue is less than 8 percent, whereas in comparable countries the tax revenue is around 20 to 25 percent. The long term cost of living off foreign borrowings rather than generating resources domestically through taxation has been evident for a long while in the slow growth of the economy even prior to the economic collapse.


Another area in which the president appears to have taken the decision to stand firm is the issue of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict. This problem has proven to be unresolvable by governments and political leaders who give deference to ethnic nationalism. Being an ethnic nationalist in the context of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious divisions has been a sure way of gaining votes and securing election victories. No leader in Sri Lanka has to date been able to implement the compromise solutions that they periodically arrived at, the last being the 13th Amendment. Earlier ones included the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965 which could not even be started to be implemented.

At the All Party meeting that he summoned to discuss the ethnic conflict and national reconciliation, President Wickremesinghe took the bull by the horns. He exchanged words with ethnic nationalist parliamentarians who sought to challenge his legitimacy to be making changes. He said, “It is my responsibility as the Executive to carry out the current law. For approximately 37 years, the 13th Amendment has been a part of the constitution. I must implement or someone has to abolish it by way of a 22nd amendment to the constitution by moving a private member’s bill. If the bill was voted against by the majority in the House, then the 13th amendment would have to be implemented. We can’t remain in a middle position saying that either we don’t implement the 13th amendment or abolish it.”

The 13th Amendment has not been fully implemented since it was passed by parliament with a 2/3 majority in 1987. Successive governments, including ones the president has been a member of variously as a minister or prime minister, have failed to implement it in a significant manner, especially as regards the devolution of police and land powers. When parliament reconvenes on February 8 after prorogation, President Wickremesinghe will be provided the opportunity to address both the parliament and the country on the way forward. Having demonstrated the power of the presidency to prorogue parliament at his discretion, he will be able to set forth his vision of the solution to the ethnic conflict and the roadmap that needs to be followed to get to national reconciliation.


It is significant that on February 20, the president will also acquire the power to dissolve parliament at his discretion. By proroguing parliament, the president has sent a message to both parliamentarians and the larger society that he will soon have the power to dissolve parliament with the same suddenness that he prorogued parliament. On February 20, the parliament would have been in existence for two and a half years. The 21st Amendment empowers the president to dissolve parliament after two and a half years. Most of the parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party are no longer in a position to go to their electorates let alone canvass for votes among the people. Under these fraught circumstances, they would not wish to challenge the president or his commitment to implementing the 13th Amendment in full.

On the other hand, the taming of parliament by the president does not guarantee the success of an accommodation on the ethnic conflict and a sustainable political solution. The ethnic conflict evokes the primordial sentiments of the different ethnic and religious communities. Political parties and politicians are often portrayed as the villains who led the country to decades of ethnic conflict and to war. However, the conflict in the country predates the political parties. In 1928, in response to demands from community leaders in Ceylon as it was then known, the British colonial rulers sent a commission to the country to ascertain whether it was ready for self-rule. The assessment was negative—the Donoughmore commission wrote that the representatives of the biggest community held to the position that their interest was the national interest. All the representatives of the smaller communities who were divided one against the other were united against the biggest.

An important role therefore devolves upon civil society not to fall prey to the divisions that come down the years. There is a need for enlightened leaders of civil society to work with commitment to explain to the people the need for a political solution and inter-ethnic power sharing that the 13th Amendment makes possible. There were signs of this during the height of the Aragalaya when the youth leading the protests called publicly for equal citizenship and non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and caste. They pledged not to be divided by ethnic nationalist politicians for their narrow electoral purposes. It is ironic that the government led by President Wickremesinghe has made these enlightened youth leaders the target of a campaign of persecution instead of making them a part of the solution by constructively engaging with them and issuing a general amnesty.

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Privatisation of education and demonising of students of Lanka



Student union leader Wasantha Mudalige with prison guards

by Anushka Kahandagamage

Sri Lanka is trapped in debt due to decades of corruption and short-sighted economic policies. To come out of the trap or, I would say, escape the moment, the government is seeking loans from the IMF, or anybody else who is willing to lend, no matter the conditions. To this end, under the IMF’s tutelage, the government is seeking to privatise education, aware that it will face the wrath of the people. In this setting, to suppress the protests, the government has adopted a strategy of demonising students, in the public education system.

School children as “drug addicts”

A media empire, which has strong ties with the current Lankan regime, recently sent shockwaves through schools, and their communities, by reporting cases of school children hooked on harmful narcotics. Following these reports, there were many write ups, social media content and stories published on the menace of drug addiction, among Sri Lankan students. That media network even released a video, interviewing two schoolgirls who claimed to be addicted to harmful substances. In the midst of the media frenzy, the police carried out surprise checks in schools, searching students’ bags. The state humiliated and terrified school children by using the police to conduct surprise checks in the schools and peek into the students’ backpacks, instead of investigating the avenues through which dangerous drugs enter the country. After a week, the Minister of Education claimed he was unaware that the police were conducting surprise checks in schools, with sniffer dogs, adding that there was no need to deploy the police force for this purpose. If the Minister was not aware that the police raided schools, it is not surprising that the state would also turn a blind eye to how narcotics enter the country. While there is a risk of students addicting to dangerous drugs, the state cannot place all the blame on students. Instead of taking responsibility for the state of affairs, and acting to keep harmful substances off the island, the state places the burden on schoolchildren and simply refers to them as “drug addicts.”

Bhikku students as “alcoholics”

The next example is from the Buddhist and Pali University, in Homagama. Similar to the first story, the same media network reported some irregularities occurring in the University. Those irregularities included the student monks forcing incoming students, also monks, to consume weed, liquor and party. Following this news report, some investigations were conducted in the University and empty liquor bottles were found in an abandoned well. Then we witnessed several press conferences where University authorities questioned the student monk leaders. While one cannot and should not disregard students’ violence upon another student, it is interesting to note the way the government is taking up the particular incident, at this particular point of time. There was a massive social media campaign to show that the student-monks are immoral and unworthy of education. It cannot be a coincidence that the student monks, at this University, were actively involved in the Aragalaya. In other words, the government was trying to defame the University, and the students, by labelling them as oppressors and alcoholics.

The Rajapaksa regime continuously used Buddhist monks, in their political operations, especially to incite conflict and win elections. The state has frequently deployed Buddhist monks to further its nationalist agendas. When the state used monks for their agendas, including to instigate violence, the monks were not framed as ‘immoral.’ The higher Buddhist authorities did not take action against groups, like Bodu Bala Sena, or Ravana Balaya, or their violent activities. It is ironic that the Government seems to be concerned about the ‘morality’ or ‘discipline’ of Bhikkus at this moment when many student Bhikkus have joined hands with the people to protest against the state.

University students as “terrorists”

The last example is the most pressing at this moment. On 18th of August, 2022, the police arrested Wasantha Mudalige, the Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Along with him, the authorities detained Hashan Jeewantha and the convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), Galwewa Siridhamma Thera. The state labelled the politically active university students as “terrorists”. Again, this cannot have happened by chance; we all know the Aragalaya against the Rajapaksa dictatorship was heavily influenced by the Inter-University Students Federation and the Inter University Bhikku Federation. The student unions were the muscle of the people’s protests against the oppressive and corrupt regime. The Ranil-Rajapaksa regime labelled the student leaders’ terrorists and started arresting them.

The state’s stamping of University students as terrorists is a folly. If the state labels its own youth as “terrorists,” it means that the state has failed miserably because it is its own actions that have pushed them toward what is labelled as “terrorism.” The state should take a step back and reconsider its decisions.

Privatization of Education

The government and the government-validating media demonize students, labelling them as drug addicts, alcoholics and terrorists. The government undermines and defames the country’s student body. By doing so, the government is strategically isolating the students from the larger society and eroding public faith in them. Ironically, drug addicts, alcoholics, and terrorists are all confined to the public school and state university system, not private educational institutions. The media propagates the idea that students enrolled in the state education system are ‘immoral’ and ‘disobedient’. Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the puppet President of the Rajapaksa allies, proposes a new economic system which he thinks will counter the current balance of payment crisis. The proposal includes establishing an educational hub in Sri Lanka, which promises to privatise higher education in the long-term.

The state agenda of privatizing education is not a recent one, but it has been reenergized by the Ranil-Rajapaksa government in the context of crisis. Well before demonising the students, in the public education system, in June 2022 the government, national education commission, came up with an education policy framework.

Biased towards Rajapaksa ideologies, the national education commission that developed the policy, proposed to expand the privatization of higher education. In their report, the committee presents a table demonstrating how Sri Lanka allocates less money on higher education compared with the other middle-income countries. The next section outlines the way Sri Lanka relies more on government grants for higher education than other middle-income countries, which is confusing and contradictory, perhaps reflecting the grossly inadequate overall investment in higher education in the country. Then the report goes on to analyse how the poor school education system creates an unskillful student who is unable to think critically. It finally recommends promoting private participation in higher education, not only through funding but also by matching the curricula to fit the market and increase the “employability” of students. While on the one hand government pushes for privatising higher education, on the other, it demonizes the students in the public educational system. The State has seized the problem by its tail. The government is unable to perceive its own flaws in short-sighted policymaking, law enforcement, and corruption, and instead accuses and defames students, to distract them from its concerted effort to privatise education.

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

(Anushka Kahandagamage is reading for her PhD in the School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)

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Janaka…Keeping the Elvis scene alive



Janaka Palapathwala: Recreating the Presley era…through song.......

For the past three years, local performers have certainly felt the heat, where work is concerned, beginning with the Easter Sunday tragedy, followed by Covid-19 restrictions, and then the political situation

Right now, there seems to be a glimmer of light, at the end of the tunnel, and musicians are hoping that, finally, the scene would brighten up for the entertainment industry.

Janaka Palapathwala, whose singing style, and repertoire, is reminiscent of the late Elvis Presley, says he was so sad and disappointed that he could not reach out to his fans, around the world, because of the situation that cropped up in the country.

However, he did the next best thing possible – a Virtual Concert, early last year, and had this to say about it:

“The concert was witnessed by so many people around the world, in 12 different countries, and I take this opportunity to thank all those who showed a great interest, around the world, to make the show a mighty success. Lasantha Fernando of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the USA, went out of the way to pull a huge crowd, in the States, to make the concert a massive success. Lasantha, by the way, has done many shows, in Minnesota, including a concert of mine, four years ago.”

Toward the end of 2022, the showbiz scene started to look good, with musicians having work coming their way – shows, sing-alongs, events, overseas tours, recordings, etc.

Janaka added that the Gold FM ’70s show was back after six years, and that the music industry is grateful to Gold FM for supporting musicians with such an awesome event.

“Also, the unity and the togetherness of the Sri Lankan western musicians, scattered around the globe, were brought together, once again, by the guidance of Melantha Perera.

“The song ‘Baby Jesus Is Fast Asleep’, written, composed and directed by Melantha, was a true Christmas gift to people around the world.”

Referring to his career, Janaka said that these days he is involved in a mega video production project.

“I intend to do a road show for a total Dinner Dance Promotion package, titled ‘Janaka with Melantha and the Sign’.

“Phase One of the project is already completed, and we are now heading for the second phase, where we plan to get Sohan Weerasinghe, Clifford Richards and Stephanie Siriwardane involved in the cast”.

Janaka also spoke excitedly about his forthcoming trip to the USA.

“I’m so excited to tour the USA, after three years. The ‘Spring Tour USA 2023′ is going to be different.

“I’ve done formal concerts, in the States, but this Spring Tour will be a series of Dinner Dances where I would be seen in action, along with the top ranked DJ of Washington D.C., Shawn Groove, and some of the best domestic bands in the States, and I can assure all my friends, and fans, in the US, that this new venture is going to be doubly exciting.”

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