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Gary Crowley - The Lord of Pop

gary crowley the lord of pop matteo sedazzari zani

The impact of hearing music for the first time on an adolescent can be a life changing moment. Suddenly life takes on a new journey, a spiritual connection is made and an obsession for music has begun. The need to know everything about music, to collect records and to follow a fashion is consuming. In many cases the inspiration to become an artist themselves is just as strong.


One musical movement that saw the rise of artists on a colossal scale was Punk. Like Skiffle, it gripped young people with a fever, overnight turning mild mannered children across the world into wild haired and rebellious teenagers. It took hold of young people like nothing before it and for every teenager that listened to the records, just as many started bands or took up playing the guitar. Nearly twenty years later Punk did just the same, infecting with the same kind of fever. It may not have been the first scene that made people want to form their own bands, but it certainly was one of the most exciting.

Contrary to a widely held belief, the sudden influx of Punk bands in 1976 to 1978 did not give them chart domination , as groups like Abba and Queen continued to outsell all competition, but what Punk did do was to give the disillusioned youth of Britain belief and a voice, a vital and essential influence that had been missing since the late sixties.

Of the long list of artists that were influenced by and involved with Punk during the seventies, there are many who are still highly prominent today; such as the film maker Don Letts, DJ Andy Weatherall, writer Tony Parsons and broadcaster Gary Crowley.

gary crowley lord of pop zani 1Gary Crowley, the chirpy cockney sparrow who has been involved in the mainstream media since 1979 and still hosts a regular show for the BBC, has been an ever present and steadfast beacon for independent music for the past thirty years. His radio show on BBC London Live 94.9 transmits live every Saturday evening between 18.00 to 20.00, playing an assortment of old classics and upcoming talents from across the world. In fact it is a show on which many new bands are eager to receive their first airplay, due to his uncanny ability to find the best new talent from the sackful of demo tapes which lands at his office each week. Gary Crowley was the first presenter to broadcast  Suede, Bush and Wham, finding them long before anyone else. Even today Gary Crowley’s show is still for many young bands, one of the few remaining credible and accessible steps to fame and recognition still available for the X factor, talent contest era.

There is one moment that stands alone though, that at ZANI we think deserves more praise than anything else. When Gary was asked to appear on the Saturday morning kid’s show, The Fun Factory, he famously held up high the single I'm Gonna Rough My Boyfriend’s Girlfriend up Tonight by Guns for Hire, ignoring the producers of the show, believing “if they won’t put them on the programme, then I’ll plug the band myself.” This moment alone makes him worthy of an interview, but for many other reasons ZANI interviewed Gary last month at his home in London. Below is the transcript of the conversation.

ZANI – Good evening, Gary.

Gary Crowley – Hi, how are you doing?

ZANI – I’m good. Can I start by asking you about the shoes you’ve designed? You’ve moved away from broadcasting and stepped into the world of fashion design, creating a pair of Desert boots for IKON footwear.  How did that come about?

Gary Crowley – Ha, I don’t know about moving into the world of fashion design, but it all came about from somebody knowing somebody; in this case it was Mark Baxter, who I meet through Paolo Hewitt. Mark used to DJ at our nights at The Social a little while ago. We soon became chums. Mark Baxter is a lovely easygoing fella with a great take on the world.  

Mark had started doing bits and pieces for IKON footwear and through him I met the owner of IKON, Peter Challis, whom I’d met backstage at the From The Jam gigs Christmas 2007.  We got chatting, and I am not exactly backwards in coming forwards, if an opportunity presents itself.  So I said to Peter I would love to design some Desert boots, as over the years I had donned many Desert boots. Then a few weeks later, low and behold through Mark Baxter, Peter Challis said if I was serious, then he would love to see my ideas.

ZANI – Like you, I love Desert boots, important attire for the Mods and the Casuals. I know you can’t reinvent the wheel, but what did you add as a new design the to the Desert boots?

Gary Crowley - Basically, taking bits from different Desert boots from over the years, and that is everything from Lacoste to Clarks’ Desert Boots.  But a Desert Boot is a Desert boot at the end of the day, and it is never going to look like a thigh end Fisherman’s boot.

But I like them quite low in cut, and not high past the ankle. So, it was me really throwing some ideas at Peter, and he would come back to me saying “we can do it like this”, or “we can do like that”.  So it just rather mutated from throwing ideas around.

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ZANI - Being interested in clothes from an early young, have you always toyed with the idea of designing clothes?

Gary Crowley - I don’t know, like you said I do like my clothes and Sixties culture has always fascinated me. I could sit there as long as the day is long, looking through books from or about that era. I will see a picture of a shirt, and think why a modern designer doesn’t make a shirt like that. Again if the opportunity presents itself I wouldn’t say no.

ZANI – As I mentioned earlier, the Mods, and the Casuals both loved the Desert boots, who do think looked smarter in these boots?  I always liked The Casuals take on them, with the slit Lois jeans over the top.  

Gary Crowley – I have to say the Mods, as it is the image that has always ensnared me. There are many similarities between the Mods and the Casuals. This might sound a little bit silly in saying this, but there are also many similarities between the Punks and the Mods.

When I was 14 or 15 growing up in the Edgware Road, I got into the sixties thing. I was reading about the Mods, the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Kinks and Motown. I’ve said this before in interviews, but I was almost waiting for a band like The Jam to come along. Then bang there was this band wearing these sixties type suits and name checking all the bands that I liked. But I was also very much into the Punk thing. I loved the energy and the music.  I liked the look of the original Punks, before it got all scruffy with Mohicans haircuts.

If you look at the early photographs of the Clash, the Pistols, and the Buzzcocks and look at what they are wearing, you can see they had their own little vibe with a take on the Sixties look.

ZANI – It is a very sixties Art school look.

Gary Crowley – Yeah, it was. When you look at the early photographs of Generation X, with their T-Shirts, that was Mod.

ZANI - I loved the Generation X’ song, Ready Steady Go.  Anyway, in regard to your radio show, do you find it hard to maintain that trade mark Gary Crowley enthusiasm week in, week out or do you just take a break when it gets on top?

Gary Crowley – This year has been up and down for work, and you would think that after all this time that you would get used to it. But I am in such a happy place, being on the radio and playing the music that I like. I am very privileged as I am not dictated to and told what to play. The audience that listens to me do have similar tastes, and if they do suggest stuff, then we will have a listen to it.

We had a fella the other week who wanted to hear some of the Link Wray Collective, I didn’t have any of their stuff nearby, but Jim my producer had a compilation CD so we played it the following week. The show is all about getting the mix right with the music that we have grown up with a blend of new music.  I get a lot of free choice, which is becoming increasingly rare these days.

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ZANI - What is great about your show on BBC London Live is that it is symbolic of today’s current music trends. A little bit of new, with a little bit of old. For instance in your show you will play the Superimposers next to Jimi Hendrix’s All Along Watch Tower. That’s cool in my eyes.

Gary Crowley – Thank you.  Last year, I did a show for the Planet Rock station, called Planet Punk. That was great fun to do; it was nice to waddle in nostalgia you could say. But in the same breath these bands and records are still very much an influence today. And for me it was great to play that stuff, and interview the people that had made these classic records.  

ZANI - Another feature of your show is that you are really into giving new bands exposure. What new bands have you had heard in the last 12 months that have really blown you away?

Gary Crowley – As for what band has really blown me away, I would rather name check records.  The album I keep going back to, which has a nice retro feel, is a by a band called The Explorers Club.  They come from Carolina in the US; they have a very Beach Boys influence.  I like The Travelling Band’s Debut Album Under the Pavement, which I am listening to now. I am not sure where they are from.

I also like The Rifles, took me a while to get into them, but my brother in-law thinks they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I like Twisted Wheel, a three piece who Noel and Liam Gallagher are big fans of. I like The Dodos from California, and I love their album Visitor, which I go back to a lot.

The good thing about my BBC London Live show is the section we have in the show called London Calling, which is a great little outlet for new bands. We are always urging bands to send their demos in.

ZANI – Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of new and talented bands from your show.  Just out of interest, what do you think of Paul McCartney and Youth’s project, The Firemen?

Gary Crowley – I have not heard the entire album Electric Arguments yet, but I love the track that opens on the album Nothing Too Much Just out Of Sight, awesome.  Sounds like it could have fallen off the back of The White Album.

ZANI – Yeah, it certainly has that Helter Skelter feel. I love The Fireman, two great musicians, Paul McCartney, and Youth.

Gary Crowley – It sounds they are having a ball, and going for it.    

ZANI - The reason why I asked about Paul McCartney’s project with Youth is that I understand The Beatles were your first love, musically, before you got into Punk.  I am a big Beatles fan, so the answer to my next question might be a bit obvious. But what was it about The Beatles that made you become a fan, their camaraderie, the clothes, the music, or all of it?

Gary Crowley – I was into all the glam stuff, as a kid, and then I saw a clip of All You Need Is Love one Saturday night on the TV, that made me become a fan.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Palmer, the director of All You Need Is Love.

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ZANI – Life changing moment?

Gary Crowley – Yes, it certainly was a life changing moment. I can remember after seeing The Beatles on television I wanted to devour anything I could on them. It was becoming a fan of John, Paul, George and Ringo that initiated my journey into music.    

ZANI - Like most kids of the sixties and seventies, did you think all bands lived in a big house, like the Beatles in Help and the Monkees?  

Gary Crowley – Ha, I suppose so. Yeah, they all hanged out 24 hours a day and there was a lot of love. But you soon found out, there wasn’t any love. Well, there might have been a lot of love at the beginning but it didn’t last long.  In saying that, I think U2 have done extremely well to last this long, with no break-ups or deaths.  They still have the original line up from 1978.  

I think it is important for bands to sometimes pull back after the first initial flurry of success and not be in each other’s pockets, because that is when the problems start.

ZANI - True, as familiarity often breeds contempt. I understand your uncle was an original Mod in the Sixties. Was he also instrumental in shaping your musical tastes?

Gary Crowley –Uncle Dave was a Mod circa ‘63, ‘64.  He was brought up around Church Street around the Edgware Road. Had a scooter and went to all the Mod clubs.  When he would come over to the flat, I would grill him about his clothes, the music he was into and what the clubs were like. His wife, my Aunt Christine she was an ex-Mod, was heavily into Motown and Stax.  And when I got my first record player, she gave me a lot of their old singles, you know like Smokey Robinson, The Supremes and Chris Andrews.

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ZANI – “Aunties and Uncles and people who like us.” Sorry, I couldn’t recite quoting some Jam lyrics. But it does bring me to my next question. You started a fanzine called The Modern World, of course this is in homage to The Jam and their second album and third single entitled This Is The Modern World.  How did this fanzine start and how did you get to interview the likes of The Clash and Paul Weller with very little experience?

Gary Crowley – In was the start of the summer in 1977 and the choices you had if you were into Punk was either you formed a band or you started a fanzine.  I had already tried to learn to play the guitar, but to little avail.  Writing has never come easy to me, but it was something I kind of can get involved in. Me and a couple of mates from School, Dave Dorrell, Chris Clum and few others with a little bit of help from a cool English teacher basically hijacked the school magazine and turned into our fanzine.

We were bang in the middle of London and our school ran parallel with the Edgware road.  We had Paul Cook and Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols living around the corner. I tracked Paul Weller down, by reading an article in Melody Maker on The Jam, which, in a fact file on the band was their manager’s telephone number. The manager’s name was John Weller and I thought this has to be his Dad. So I called the number, spoke to his mum, who got Paul on the phone. That’s how I got the interview.  

A couple of weeks later I was walking down the Edgware Road to get some chips during my lunch break and Joe Strummer came of the tube station.  I went up to him in my school uniform and told him about the fanzine, that I was a fan and was there any chance of an interview. When I think about it now, it all seemed so easy. Joe Strummer said “yeah, great. Come to our rehearsal studios in Chalk Farm tomorrow.” I think about of six of us turned up, but there was only meant to be two of us.

We walked into their rehearsals in our school uniforms, with me at the front. I was always pushed to the front and Rodent their roadie, said “What’s this, a fucking school outing?”  He was quite an intimidating guy. I started crying like Stan Laurel and said, “Joe said it was cool.” Then the entire band turned up, and it was amazing.  Joe done the interview. I remember always insisting on having my photograph taken with the band. 

gary crowley lord of pop zani  joe strummer the clash zani 1.

ZANI -   What seems great about those times, is that your passion sealed the interviews, and you bypassed the press officers and managers.  Do you think that today it is much harder to obtain interviews with major bands, as passion does not seem to such an important factor in the music industry anymore?

Gary Crowley – It was easy to do at the time and that was the great thing about Punk. You see that whole band fan relationship thing was knocked for a while. But with Punk, if you went to see a band, and you got there early, there was always a good chance that you would get into a sound check.  I did that many times, not just with The Jam or The Clash. But with Generation X, The Rich Kids, or any one else I fancied.

ZANI – Do you think those days have gone?

Gary Crowley – I am 47, so I don’t know. But I am sure it still does happen now. Many bands do have a respect for their audience, some don’t but I think most do. The bands from Punk knew fanzines and their fans were important. The Who had a good relationship with their fans that went to see them at the Goldhawk Road, and The Beatles did with their fans at the Cavern before it went ballistic.

ZANI - Can you remember the first article you wrote for The Modern World, and do you still have it?

Gary Crowley – I reckon it be must The Jam interview.  But I don’t know if I have a copy close to hand.

ZANI - Did you interact with the other fanzines, or were you a fanzine snob?

Gary Crowley –. I remember Pattie Smith, having a fanzine conference when Horses came out.  All the fanzines were invited one afternoon to Arista Records. This shows you how important fanzines were to the artists.  There I got to meet Peter Barrett and Adrian Thrills, it was good to meet these other fanzine editors, so I was far from being a fanzine sob.  

ZANI - And from being a fanzine editor, you got the job as receptionist at the NME. In addition, you were filling the shoes of another fanzine writer, Danny Baker from Sniffin Glue.  

Gary Crowley - True, a hard act to follow. When I took the job as the receptionist at the NME in 1978, it was fantastic time to be there.  You had the likes of Paul Morley, Adrian Thrills, Charles Shaar Murray and Tony Stewart as the writers, and there were great photographers like Pennie Smith. I might be looking back with rose tinted glasses. But the great thing about being the receptionist at the NME was that one day Mike Scott would be dropping something off, then Paul Weller would be the next day. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but everything seemed natural. But I didn’t get this job off the back of The Modern World.

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ZANI – Sorry, what was your job before you got the job at the NME?

Gary Crowley - My first job was as an office boy at Decca, which at the time was probably the most unhip label going. Then it was the NME, and then I went to work with a guy who is still a good friend of mine, Clive Banks. Clive is a very successful plugger for Radio and TV.  He initially asked me, if I had a friend who wanted to work for him, and I said I was interested.  

He was plugging my favourite bands, The Jam, The Who, Elvis Costello and The Attractions and all sorts of people. And I’d like to think that I brought a few people to his attention, like Bananarama.

ZANI – I was going to ask you that. Did you get Bananarama signed to Demon Records?

Gary Crowley – Yeah I did, as I used to go out with Siobhan Fahey’s little sister, Niamh.  When I was the office boy at Decca, Neve was the receptionist there.  From working with Clive, I started meeting people in Radio because I was taking records there. First I was given a chance by a lovely guy called Jeff Griffiths. He got me to co-host on the In Concert shows on Radio One. I would do some of the newer bands, and Pete Drummond who went to form The JAMS and KLF would do more of the mature bands.

At Radio One I met a guy called Tony Hale, who went on to become the head of music at Capital Radio. Tony called me up and said, “Have you ever thought about presenting a Radio Show?”, and I said “No”, but he felt I could do it.  I didn’t think they would let me on the radio, with such a strong London accent. I went to Capital Radio a few times for a Radio test, but I was never happy with the results. Obliviously Tony Hale was happy with them, because he called me up and offered me a Tuesday night show on Capitol.

ZANI – Cool.

Gary Crowley –It was pretty cool.

ZANI – Yeah, that’s the only word I can think of to describe landing a dream job.  

Gary Crowley - I think cool is the best word you can use when a 19 year old gets a break on the radio. I know I wasn’t the first presenter with a strong London accent, because Danny Baker had done the London Weekend show.  But you still didn’t hear that many regional accents.

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ZANI – It was still BBC Middle England.

Gary Crowley – It was very much so.

ZANI – From Capital Radio you went on to present White Light and The Fun Factory. White Light was a great show.

Gary Crowley – The good thing about White Light was the music, you had bands like The Specials and Madness.

ZANI – Wasn’t it White Light that gave U2 their first TV break?

Gary Crowley - I think it might have been.  But if I had to watch re-runs of White Light that would be my idea of TV hell.  The music concept was good, but a lot of the other stuff is very much of the time. White Light reminds me of The Young Ones piss take.

ZANI – Nozin’ Around.  

Gary Crowley –  Yes, Nozin’ Around, that was us. After White Light I went to do a show called Hearsay, which took over from The Tube’s slot.  Then I did the pop version of Run-around, called Pop-around. That was good fun, and inspirely titled. It was the first TV show that The Pet Shop Boys ever did. I have some good memories of Pop-around. I done bits and pieces through the late 80’s, and early 90’s on TV and Radio.  Then I started presenting a TV show called The Beat around 93, 94, just before The Brit Pop thing kicked off, fortunate times.

ZANI – I remember The Beat well, a good show. Would you like to do another TV show like that?

Gary Crowley - Yeah, I’ve been doing a programme for Rock World TV, which stopped a few months ago. I really enjoyed it because with Rock World it was carte blanche to who I could have on the show.  Again it was that great combination of the bands I have grown up with and the best of the current crop.

ZANI - You have bought out some compilation CD’s, like Punk Rock Jukebox and Where The Action is. Perhaps this concept would make a good idea for a TV show. Gary Crowley presents….

Gary Crowley – Possibly, but I am still optimistic for Rock World TV.  The TV station has just been taken over by a couple of guys. And at this moment in time the channel has been put on hold, but I know they are looking to get some funding. I am hoping this year that Rock World TV might come back, because I had a ball doing the show.

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ZANI - Talking of interviews I would love to know the preparation you do before an interview, as your style is relaxed and people seem to open to you?

Gary Crowley – I do the questions about a week before my radio show. Then I like to go back and change things. I always like to have some questions in front of me,  but If somebody rips the questions out of my hand, I know I can do the interview as long as I have got an idea in my head in how I want the questions to flow. But if they take it off in a different direction, then you have to ad-lib.  But I always have a structure in my head in what I am going to say.

ZANI - Staying with interviews, what dead person would you have liked to have interviewed and why?

Gary Crowley – Good question, perhaps JKF, the Kennedy’s have always fascinated me. No scrub JFK, put Peter Lawford in. Peter was John F Kennedy’s brother-in-law and a member of The Rat Pack.

There is a great biography on Peter Lawford, called The Man Who Kept The Secrets. Apparently he was the last guy who spoke to Marilyn Monroe and allegedly was the guy who got girls for JFK.  I think Peter Lawford would be a great anecdote teller as well.

ZANI – Going back to your younger days. Was The Jam the first gig you went to?

Gary Crowley – Yes, it was Battersea Town Hall with The Boys supporting. That was like what a baptism of fire. The Jam more or less played the In The City album, from Art School to The Batman theme, and then they came on for an encore and done In The City again.  It was a Monday evening school night during the summer of The Queen’s Jubilee in 1977.  I can remember getting there at 6 o’clock, and it was still light.  We are queuing up for ages, and there was a rumour going round that these Teds was coming down to bash every one up. Remember it was all Punks not Mods then. We went in our school uniforms because we thought our uniforms looked like Jam suits.

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ZANI – Perhaps you looked more like Angus Young of AC/DC. Anyway, did the Teds turn up?

Gary Crowley – Cheeky sod, Angus Young. No, the Teds didn’t turn up. It was just a rumour.

ZANI – All part of youth. What other memorable gigs have you been to, I know there must be many.

Gary Crowley - Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds at The Royal Festival Hall a couple years ago. Nirvana at Queen’s Hall Belfast, when Nevermind had just exploded onto the music scene. You had 10,000 Northern Irish teenagers going mad. There have been so many.

Perhaps Oasis at Knebworth, because that was such an event. I was lucky enough to compere for their Saturday show. That was pretty spectacular. I can remember walking out on stage, and absolutely bricking it. I was looking out straight ahead, the crowd seem to go on forever, and I thought I would go to the left, because it won’t be so busy that side, but it did exactly same. But a brilliant buzz.

ZANI – Sounds good, what other band have you introduced over the years?  

Gary Crowley – One of my favourites is compering for Wham on their first tour.  I suppose that’s the nearest I’ll ever get to being in A Hard Day’s Night.

ZANI – I didn’t know that, that sounds a good gig.  

Gary Crowley – I was the first person to play Wham on the radio. I used to play football with George and Andy in Regents Park in the early 80’s.  You have to remember at the beginning, Wham were a cool band.  It wasn’t until the second album when George Michael went for the pop jugular, that they lost their cool status.   

On the first tour, there were a lot of girls, and boy did they scream But there were also 30 to 40 per cent blokes in the audience.    

I have such fond memories of that tour; they had no support band so I was the warm up DJ. It was Wham-mania and it was very innocent.  No one was drinking nor taking drugs, it was almost like a glorified school trip that seemed to last for a month that went across the width and breadth of the country. The girls were even screaming at me, Mr Puniverse in Fila T-shirts and shorts.  

ZANI - That sounds like a memory to treasure forever and Wham’s first album Fantastic stills sounds good today, with Ray of Sunshine and Love Machine.  

Gary Crowley – Great album.

ZANI - Finally Gary, what is the most prized possession you own in regards to musical memorabilia?

Gary Crowley – It’s got to be the poster that I’ve got in my front room, which I nicked from Battersea Town Centre, from my first gig, The Jam. It has got to be that, because that was such a pivotal night for me. I can remember that evening as if was yesterday; the build up to it, the excitement of getting buses across London, waiting for The Jam to come on. Watching the band, catching the bus home talking about The Jam and going to bed reliving the gig.  I knew from after that night, all I wanted to do was to be involved in music.

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ZANI – Well, you have certainly done that and thank you for keeping us entertained over the years.

Gary Crowley – Thank you.

Gary Crowley’s Jam poster is certainly an essential piece of memorabilia that is highly symbolic of his career, a career that has been driven by impulse and enthusiasm, not calculation.

Like the best music fan Gary Crowley is always searching for new music, whether it is new bands or uncovering hidden tracks from the past. As a presenter he brings his love for old and new music to the mix.  For the listener his format is a joy to listen to. His show reflects the current taste in music, as people these days can quite happily play the Buzzcocks alongside Amy Winehouse, young or old. His show demonstrates that music in the 21st century is not just a phase in a teenager’s life, but a way of life.

Upon reflection it is perhaps not fair to portray Gary Crowley just as an artist from the Punk era, as his values stem from deep within the Sixties and the Mod scene. That influence on his style and direction has lead him to design some great Desert boots and mix with the most stylish pop stars, from The Jam to Liam and Noel Gallagher. However, it was Punk that gave Gary Crowley the direction and confidence he needed to become a fanzine writer. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.
 
From chatting to Gary Crowley, it is fair to say there is no difference between his media persona and him as his individual. He talks fervously with amazing articulation and accurate detail. He bounces round the conversation with relish, intelligence and zest, making his words pleasurable to listen to. He has not lost his direction or the passion that he first developed when he fell in love with music because in all honesty Gary Crowley is still that spotty teenager editing his fanzine The Modern World in his lunch breaks. A charm and ideology that he has carried over with care into his professional life.

Moreover with his zeal still running high, he will be around for a long time to come and that certainly is a good thing, as we desperately need the fans of music on the radio or television speaking to the fans of music, not the egos.



(c) Words - Matteo Sedazzari/ZANI Media

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