4 CD Box Set: Castle 1998


The Transatlantic Group

Xtra (mid-price Transatlantic label)

Transatlantic reminds me of a rough shag. Every Monday, the Disques-A-Go Go in Bournemouth was transformed into Dave Steele’s Folk Club just for one night. You stumbled down the dangerously narrow stairs to the stuffy cellar which was filled with serious girls in black polo necks, black skirts and black stockings. The men wore thick scratchy polo neck sweaters and thick scratchy beards. The air was full of rough shag tobacco smoke from furiously puffed pipes, and the ceiling was only six inches above your head, so most people sat or lay on the floor to try and gasp some air.

It was open mic, a term not yet invented, so we called it ‘From the floor.’ i.e. you could wander along, raise your hand and go up and perform. Everyone joined in raucously to The Chastity Belt, or looked solemn and teary to sub-Joan Baez versions of Deportees (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos) by two girls with long straight hair and guitars. The young Al Stewart was a regular performer, knocking them dead with Dylan imitations, and very good he was too. When I saw Paul Simon in Bournemouth in the early 2000s he reminisced about coming down to a folk club. As he lived in the same building as Al Stewart and Jackson C. Frank, it would surely have been Dave Steele’s Folk Club, which I never missed. Not that we would have known who he was then.

There’s an air of the folk club that wafts in with the Transatlantic label.

Transatlantic was the folk scene label par excellence. Its range was wider than pure folk, and embraced comedy, novelty and blues as well.

It was started by Nathan Joseph in 1961. He started importing the odder American records; religious, folk, language tuition. That’s why it was called Transatlantic, a name that became increasingly irrelevant for the main label after 1964 when they were focussed on British folk, with just a few American licensed issues. However, they also distributed many American labels, but under their individual identities. They didn’t follow the London-American or Stateside route of swallowing up the records they distributed.

Nathan Joseph: Looking back, which I don’t do much, it’s easy to romanticise Transatlantic Records – or ‘Tranny’ as it was affectionately known by its employees – as an idealistic dream which logically progressed from A to B and indeed Z. In fact it was a largely unplanned series of eclectic and sometimes opportunistic leaps from one thing to another, which only in retrospect seem to encompass logically most that was innovative, interesting and exciting in British music (particularly acoustic music) and comedy in the 1960’s and 70’s. Frankly, in 1960/61 having graduated from university and spent a year teaching and then bumming around the USA, I had to earn some money. While in the States I became conscious of the rise of the record industry and since I had always loved music (almost as much as theatre), I returned home from England determined to start a record company.  I had obtained some agencies for US labels including language records and some folk and religious recordings, and imported these on the basis that I got ninety days credit from the US suppliers and had to sell them and get paid in sixty days to start to build the capital I hadn’t got. I trudged daily around Southern England carrying samples in paper bags. 

It worked. Sales built up, capital built up; but I needed a real breakthrough, a record which would be produced in the UK, not imported, and would provide a substantial fund of cash for future productions. What were the three things which at the time appealed to the British Public? Royalty, money and sex were the answers. I couldn’t get the Queen and money seemed a dull subject for a record, so sex was the answer.
Nathan Joseph: The Transatlantic Story CD Box Set booklet, 1998

Live With Love: Dr Keith Cammeron, Transatlantic LP TRA101, 1961

His first success was with three LPs by Dr Keith Cammeron (the sex therapist Dr Eustace Chesser). TRA 101 was Live With Love: A Comprehensive Guide to Sexual Behaviour. In 1962. He sold 100,000 copies of the three “sex” albums, which should have got Transatlantic in the chart easily, but didn’t. Chart compilers didn’t like that sort of thing. Conversa-phone were Dr Keith Cammeron’s American label and the evocative cover is only on the UK edition.

He followed through with actors Isla Cameron and Tony Britton doing Songs of Love, Lust and Loose Living (TRA 105)and then recorded poets Christopher Logue and Adrian Mitchell.

Political releases were another aspect. Sheila Hancocks LP Putting Out The Dustbin was best known for the opening track, Coming Down From Aldermaston.

Putting Out The Dustbin: Sheila Hancock with Sydney Carter, Transatlantic TRA106, 1962

Nathan Joseph was also willing to issue poetry by Adrian Mitchell and Christopher Logue.

Poems: Adrian Mitchell, 1964 EP

I saw Adrian Mitchell read his own work twice, and it was a full-on charismatic performance. Christopher Logue and Laurie Lee were on a Folkways LP, distributed by Transatlantic (Contemporary English Literature).

For Folk’s Sake

So in the early Sixties, Joseph got heavily into the emerging folk scene (which was always partial to songs of lust and loose living), especially the Ian Campbell Folk Group, who had “Folk” in the middle of the name just in case anyone hadn’t noticed. Confusion was potentially there because four of the five lacked beards. Dave Swarbrick was an early member, as was Dave Pegg. The vocalists were Ian Campbell and his sister, Lorna.

Bill Leader: I was standing in Collets Folk Record Shop one day and in came this bright and breezy character, Nat Joseph who wanted me to carry stock of this record he’d just made, called Live With Love, the first of three LPs of sex education he’d signed import rights to various educational records over there (in the USA), mainly language. Though it was a folk shop. Collets had a big foreign language thing, so we were interested. Then he said he wanted to make some entertainment records – the label was going to be called Transatlantic. He was going to start by recording Cy Grant, and was I interested in helping in the studio?
2005 interview, in the sleeve notes to ‘Never The Same’ CD.

Cy Grant was from British Guyana and a war hero as a navigator on Lancaster bombers. After prison of war camp, he qualified as a barrister. He went into acting to improve his vocal delivery in court. He auditioned successfully for Laurence Olivier. Then he decided to add singing and film acting. He was a regular on TV and radio, often performing folk songs or topical calypsos made up on the day on BBC’s Tonight TV programme. An aside, I was at a party where he was in around 1970. He sang a few songs, and I chatted to him about music. I just wish in retrospect I’d realized what a fascinating person he was.

Cy Grant, 1963 TRA 108

We bring you the news you ought to know
On Tonight’s topical calypso …

Cy Grant, nightly on the BBC Tonight show

Bill Leader had been recording folk artists for Topic. His first ever was with Ewan MacColl at his house in Croydon. MacColl had a Ferrograph tape player presented to him by the BBC for his archive folk recordings. They recorded Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.

Nathan Joseph: I met Bill Leader, then the manager of Collets Folk Record shop in New Oxford Street and a prime customer for our US imports. We struck up an immediate friendship and Bill, who already produced traditional music recordings for Topic, introduced me to the folk scene. I was soon “hooked”. Visits to Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger’s club in London and Ian Campbell’s Jug of Punch in Birmingham made me into an immediate enthusiast. Particularly Campbell’s club, where I sensed a more joyous and modern approach. Lorna’s voice, Ian’s musicality and gritty candour and integrity, and Dave Swarbrick’s swooping and soaring fiddle playing fired me up. I wanted to sign and record my first group, and later did – The Ian Campbell Folk Group
Nathan Joseph: The Transatlantic Story CD Box Set booklet, 1998

Joe Boyd: The performances are natural and spontaneous and the sound stands up well. In his Camden Town flat, or in a musician’s home, he would set up his two track Revox, place the microphones in the liveliest room, nail blankets over the windows and make the musicians comfortable. His obvious love for the music and concern for the artists is something I will never forget. The hundreds of LPs Bill produced from the 50s to the 70s provide the backbone of any collection of British traditional music.
Joe Boyd White Bicycles: Making Music In The 1960s, 2005

He continued to do the same for early Transatlantic, such as the Bert Jansch eponymous album. There’s nothing wrong with Revox, given the right mics and conditions. I had two of them set up in a spoken voice studio in the late 70s and they were perfectly adequate.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group had already recorded with Bill Leader for Topic Records in 1962. Transatlantic signed them in 1963. They were still semi-professional.

Ian Campbell By ’63 we were working so hard as a group that I was the only one who managed to retain my job. All the rest of the group were constantly losing their jobs because they were leaving on Friday lunchtime and not coming back until Monday or Tuesday.

Marilyn Monroe: The Ian Campbell Folk Group, Decca 45, 1964
Production: Transatlantic Records

In 1964 Joseph licensed the Ian Campbell Folk Group 45 rpm records (which were already on Transatlantic LPs) via Decca. Chris Blackwell at Island was doing the same with Millie and Spencer Davis Group – licensing the 45s to a larger label with better distribution. Island chose Fontana. Transatlantic chose Decca back in 1963 with a 45 by Sheila Hancock, My Last Cigarette.

The Times They Are A-Changin’: Ian Campbell folk group. Picture sleeve without a title.

They had a minor hot with The Times They Are A-Changing had a picture sleeve (then very rare in the UK), though cannily it had no title on. That was TRA-5. Still TRA-6, Come Kiss Me Love also had a sleeve with no title, but it did hve a printed catalogue number.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group recording of Come Kiss Me Love relegated Ewan MacColl’s First Time Ever I Saw Your Face to the B-side, six years before Roberta Flack realized its full potential. In their strumming and picking style, Come Kiss Me Love works far better than the B-side. In retrospect First Time Ever I Saw Your Face sounds horribly misguided, so much has the Roberta Flack interpretation imprinted itself. But a good tune is always a good tune. However, Ewan MacColl hated Roberta Flack’s version intensely. In 1965 picture sleeves on singles were rare, but Transatlantic gave them one.

Their song The Sun Is Burning (Topic Records) was covered by Simon & Garfunkel on Wednesday Morning 3 a.m.

I like some of their material, and the male / female vocal (siblings) is great, especially on Across The Hills, but I’d like them a lot more if they didn’t put banjo at the front of the mix.

Joseph added The Dubliners, The Johnstons and The Fureys for an Irish hat trick, then John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Pentangle, Stefan Grossman.

Harvey Andrews EP TRA EP133 1965

There were astute covers versions, such as Harvey Andrews covering Paul Simon’s A Most Peculiar Man. Topic were after Paul Simon, then UK resident, at the time. Martin Carthy played guitar on the Harvey Andrews record (courtesy of Fontana Records, it says prominently), as well as playing Scarborough Fair in front of Paul Simon and having his arrangement lifted. The sleeve photo set a future Transatlantic theme: glum bloke with guitar case standing outdoors. With titles like Child of Hiroshima and Death Don’t Come Easy you would be glum, let alone the words to Most Peculiar Man:

He died last Saturday
He turned on the gas and he went to sleep
With the windows closed so he’d never wake up
To his silent world and his tiny room

Transatlantic didn’t get every artist they pursued either. Joe Boyd describes Nat Joseph’s pursuit of The Incredible String Band, who Boyd signed for Elektra by adding £50 to the advance he’d been allowed to offer by his American bosses.

At this point,


So Topic had Dominic Beehan, CBS had The Clancy Brothers, Transatlantic had The Dubliners early work.


In Person (EP): The Dubliners 1965
A Sample of The Dubliners (EP) 1965


The Dubliners 1964
In Concert 1965
Finnegan Wakes 1966

Nathan Joseph: The eclecticism continued with folk to the fore; the marvellous Dubliners following the Campbells onto the roster, signed by Bill Leader and myself on a memorable trip to the Wickford Hills, which included meeting Dominic Behan for the first time, hearing amazing music through a starry night and drinking more Guinness than seemed possible. It was the start of a long association with Irish music – the Johnstons and the Fureys in particular.
Nathan Joseph: The Transatlantic Story CD Box Set booklet, 1998

Bill Leader: (Nat) was looking around, and he’d heard of a group called The Dubliners. so we went over and signed them up, and they made a couple of records here … the first one was a live session with an audience, big studio. The sort of thing we were never able to afford with Topic, he was able to do.
2005 interview, in the sleeve notes to ‘Never The Same’ CD.

The 1966 45 sleeve design on this Dubliners’ 45, with revised centre label is particularly good. It doesn’t turn up very often either.

Surrounded By Water / Off To Dublin In The Green: The Dubliners, 45 single 1966 TRA SP8

Picture sleeves appear on other early singles:

Nelson’s Farewell / The Foggy Dew: The Dubliners TRA SP9 1966
One Eyed Reilly: The Campbells TRA SP 10 1966

In 1968, they entered the Sampler field, hot on the heels of CBS’s The Rock Machine Turns You On, Transatlantic’s aim with SAM1 Here’s To The Irish was to show the width of their Irish folk catalogue. They claim it was the second British sampler in that “we want to sell you an LP” style.

Here’s To The Irish: Various Artists. Transatlantic Sampler LP, 1968

Note the list of two dozen Transatlantic and Xtra LPs on the rear sleeve.

The Young Tradition

Chicken On A Raft: The Young Tradition, Transatlantic EP 1967

The British folk scene was a small closed shop in many ways. Bert Jansch and John Renbourn shared a flat in the same building as The Young Tradition.

Bert Jansch: At Somali Road, me John (Renbourn) and Les (Bridger) were upstairs, and downstairs was a group called The Young Tradition who were an a cappella traditional… mob. The place was mayhem. They made more noise, drunk more, and smoked more dope than anybody else. And they also had personal friends like Spider John Koerner, these American bluesmen. It never stopped – it was 24 hours.
Uncut 13 March 2013

Peter Bellamy’s The Young Tradition were folk purists in the Ian McEwan tradition, which was NOT young in any way. Peter Bellamy was one of the true greats of English folk music, and I have sought out Peter Bellamy and Young Tradition albums in recent years. Heather Wood and Royston Wood (who were not related) made up the trio.

Heather Wood: It was a case of being in the right place at the right time: London in the Swinging Sixties. But instead of being into rock ‘n’ roll we were into traditional English folk music. The Young Tradition happened by accident. Peter ad Royston met when they were both camping on a friend’s floor, and started making harmonies together. I ran into them at a folk club (there were two or three back then) and just joined in from the audience. Then people started offering us gigs. We travelled all over the UK and did four tours in Canada and the US.
1996. Quoted in The Young Tradition 2 CD set notes. BGO, 2013

Sad to say, back in the day, I saw them twice and loathed them. In London it was the “no instruments” folk club. Hand clapping and toe tapping was about as far as accompaniment could go. However, they did have accompaniment on record. Heather had a whistle, Royston had a tambour and tambourine and for those big orchestral moments, Peter Bellamy had guitar and concertina.

At the time the combination of nasality and what I perceived as a fake Mummerset accent was what irritated me. In recent years I realize their combined voices have a strange hypnotic effect.

Martin Carthy I feel that the only person successfully to accompany Peter Bellamy was Peter Bellamy.  To do so, he hacked out a totally unique style on concertina and occasional guitar, that was a triumph.  Singing, however, remained his ruling passion, and his belief in the importance of improvisation led him, when in full flow, to flights that were truly awesome in their scope, daring and execution.
Sleeve notes to Both Sides Then, 1992

Suffice it to say I have picked up any of their albums I’ve seen.

The Young Tradition: The Young Tradition, LP 1966
So Cheerfully Round: The Young Tradition, LP 1967
The Young Tradition Sampler: The Young Tradition, LP 1969
Galleries: The Young Tradition,1968

Galleries was bought second hand and has burn marks, plus a couple of tiny burned holes. The previous owner was ‘Mandy’ and I suspect this was a joint-rolling sleeve. The record’s fine. I expect they were listening to something else.


In the early 60s, Blues was seen as a sub-genre of folk, so you had Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly or Muddy Waters described as a folk singer. American licensed albums by Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly were considered important enough to list their nameson the 45 sleeve, though so many labels issued LPs or EPs by those two. I can’t find any releases by Broonzy or Leadbelly, except earlier Folkways LPs, which they may have distributed under the original imprint. In 1968 they issued Leadbelly Sings Folk Songs on Xtra, and in 1969, they reissued Big Bill Broonzy Sings Country Blues on Xtra. However the single sleeve is several years earlier.

The interesting one was Alexis Korner’s Red Hot From Alex, recorded by Bill Leader, though not in his flat. It’s not as seminal as their live Marquee recording from two years earlier, but it’s still an important blues record. It was recorded at Olympic in March 1964. It’s unexpected … Skippin’ is closer to jump jive than blues. Woke Up This Morning with the horns harks back to big band jazzy blues. Herbie Goins (from Herbie Goins and The Nightimers) sang.

Herbie Goins: The atmosphere was very relaxed and Alexis didn’t worry about the band making mistakes: the main thing was to capture how we sounded at a club appearance. If one of us made a major goof, we’d just stop and re-take. It didn’t matter because we were all having such a fun time.
Sleeve notes to Sanctuary CD reissue

Bassist Danny Thompson was later in Pentangle, Transatlantic’s most successful band..

Danny Thompson Even now, I don’t think i’d change anything about the way I played at those sessions. I remember being totally inspired by those around me. The three horn players were fantastic and i really enjoyed working with Alexis and Herbie.
Sleeve notes to Sanctuary CD reissue

The 2001 CD version from Sequel for Castle, which was part of Sanctuary faithfully uses the original Transatlantic logo

Bert Jansch

Annie Briggs had introduced Bert Jansch to Bill Leader.

Bert Jansch: Transatlantic first album, 1965 TRA 125

Bill Leader: It was a very early bit of freelance work, did it in the back room of our flat in Camden Square. Bert had just trodden on his guitar and ruined it, so he just had to borrow. He used two different guitars on that one. He just sat on the edge of the bed, we stuck up a fairly decent microphone and we recorded on what now appears to be a crappy piece pf tape., because the drop-out was just outrageous on that recording. We managed to flog it to Nat Joseph of Transatlantic Records, much against his will, because he didn’t think there was going to be any sales from it. I think it was a hundred quid outright, he wasn’t going to do any deals. Bert got seventy and I got thirty. That’s that one.
2005 interview, in the sleeve notes to ‘Never The Same’ CD.

Bert Jansch: I didn’t think in terms of career. I never have. In those days, you didn’t rely on media to get anywhere. Your reputation would precede you.
Uncut, 15 March 2013

Needle of Death (EP): Bert Jansch, Transatlantic 1966

It’s hard to believe that tracks like Bert Jansch’s Needle of Death and his version of Anji weren’t singles, because they summon up the era so strongly. Needle of Death was an EP.

Bert Jansch It’s inspired by a friend called Buck Polly, a folk singer and one of the people I met when I first came to London. Buck used to drive [folk singer] Alex Campbell to gigs, because what he did for a living was repair cars – we would drive along in these jalopies. About six months after meeting Buck and Alex, I was with them one day. Buck was in a bad mood: his wife wouldn’t let him see the kids or something, something to do with money. And we went up to Goodge Street, a pub there called Finch’s. Buck scored from a dealer. And the next day, I’d heard he’d died.
Uncut, 15 March 2013

All his albums are collectable, and in the last few years they’ve been reissued too. In the massive compendium of reviews of 60s and 70s albums, Galactic Ramble, Bert Jansch gets two double spreads with multiple adverts and LP sleeves. The authors must have agreed with that ‘Next Bob Dylan’ tag he had at the time. I’m not sure about him. Though Scots he goes for a standard ‘folk accent’ on things like Rosemary Lane.

Bert Jansch, 1965
It Don’t Bother Me, 1965
Jack Orion, 1966
Nicola 1967
Birthday Blues 1969
RosemaryLane 1971

Bert and John

Bert Jansch: It was one of those albums that me and John did virtually in an afternoon.

John Renbourn: (The sound of) sitting about plunking a lot of the time. It was either that or working, and we were both far too sensitive for that … All we ever did was play things that were semi worked out and made up on the spot. We just played back what we had and gave them titles afterwards.
Quoted by Michael Heatley, Record Collector 448, Christmas 2015

Bert and John: Bert Jansch with John Renbourn 1966

John Renbourn

John Renbourn thought of himself as a blues guitarist rather than folk originally.

John Renbourn: There was a folk movement, as it were, which was people trying to revive the British tradition of very po-faced stuff and opening up so-called relaxed pubs and clubs where they were actually torturing people with academic versions of folk songs that they could hardly sing properly, and a bunch of people like myself hated all that.
Interview, Sussex Sounds, April 2014

John Renbourn This is the first record to come out under my own name. And it had my picture on the cover. That was in 1965, back in the days when the record company was under the impression that a picture of me might be good for sales. Most of it was done in a little demo studio not far from Les Cousins in Soho. Someone had the keys to the place and a bunch of us went across and played for fun after the pubs closed. The material is fairly typical of the time — so-called British Folk Blues, direct from the Dorking Delta, plus some guitar tunes of mine — the sort of thing I had been making up since I first had a guitar. Bert Jansch was among those present, if not correct, and the two tunes with both of us probably represent the earliest in the Bert- and-John ‘Folk Baroque’ department. First of many in the ‘made-up-on-the-spot-and-never-to-be-repeated’ tradition.

John Renbourn For my first record, they sold the tapes to Transatlantic and it became a record of mine with my picture on the cover – it just happened. It was never planned.
Interview, Sussex Sounds, April 2014

Legend has it that Transatlantic acquired the tapes for next to nothing after the studio went bust.
Michael Heatley, Record Collector 448, Christmas 2015

John Renbourn 1966
Another Monday 1966
Sir John A Lot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte 1968
The Lady & The Unicorn 1970
Faro Annie 1971
The Hermit 1976
The Black Balloon 1979

Nathan Joseph: John was a brilliant musician, very articulate and always a pleasure to work with, and when he started what would be called folk-baroque, he sold better than Bert (Jansch). Sir John Alot … was his peak – I loved that album and it sold wonderfully well. I used to play ita lot for personal pleasure, which is always a good test.
Quoted in Sussex Sounds, 2014

The Pentangle

Travelin’ Song: The Pentangle: Big T 45 in custom Pentangle sleeve

Bert and John again.

Uncut: By 1968, Nat Joseph, who ran Jansch and Renbourn’s label, Transatlantic, was attempting to re-invigorate the Jansch brand. He gilded Bert’s lily, placing him in an orchestral setting (with ‘Nicola’, 1967), and attempted to coerce he and Renbourn to write music for moot West End musical productions (“Sound Of Music kind of things,” says Bert. “Worse…”). Neither plan worked. Strangely, to convince Joseph of the merits of a group based around the personnel that attended jams at the Cousins, and the Horseshoe pub on Tottenham Court Road, was a major struggle. It was Pentangle, however, and its often enthralling fusion of jazz and traditional forms that would command much of Jansch’s energies until 1973. Though the group was commercially successful, it was when it was at its most searching and improvisational that it was most satisfying.
John Robinson, Uncut, 13 March 2013

John Renbourn (in a contemporary letter): Bert and I have formed a group called Pentangle which has got Alexis Korner’s old bass and drums, and a lady called Jacqui McShee who sings and looks moody. It’s a weird sound, a cross between Albert Ayler and Tommy Steele, but the crowd love it. We have a club, The Horseshoe, which we play every week. It’s in Tottenham Court Road, which gets packed solid and five people proceed to get well out of their minds and turn up every available amplifier- and the fun begins.
Quoted by Michael Heatley, Record Collector 448, Christmas 2015

Pentangle were a folk-jazz supergroup who sold lots and lots of albums. Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Jaqui McShee, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. Five of them, which accounts for the name. While not as ubiquitous in secondhand shops and charity shops as Sky, they are still not rare, meaning they crossed over to the general audience. They really mined Pentangle when they ceased in 1972, issuing four compilation alums in three years.

Sweet Child 1968
The Pentangle 1968
Basket of Light 1969
Cruel Sister 1970
Reflection 1971

compilation albums:
Pentangling 1973
History Book 1972
The Pentangle 1973
This is Pentangle 1975


Sallyangie Featuring Mike Oldfield and Sally Oldfield recorded Children of The Sun in 1969 which was catchy top ten material years before Tubular Bells.

Children of The Sun The Sallyangie, 1969. Both sides of the sleeve.

Ralph McTell

Ralph McTell is a consistently under-rated as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Yet if you go to see him live, the concert will be sold out, packed to the doors. Enough people know about him. I saw him in Poole and he told a tale of living in a beatnik commune over a butchers in Poole High Street where he started writing. I’d never heard that piece of Poole history before. Once he graduated from busking to professional, he was close friends with Jacqui McShee and Martin Carthy. As above, the British folk scene was small. His first album was for Transatlantic and was produced by Gus Dudgeon, with arrangements by Tony Visconti.

My Side Of Your Window: Ralph McTell 1969

Ralph McTell had written Streets of London in Paris in 1965, and recorded it on Spiral Staircase as an LP track in 1969 for Transatlantic, five years before his re-recording became a number two hit on Reprise. (See below). The original was a single take, voice and guitar. Now over 200 cover versions of the song exist.

Eight Frames A Second Ralph McTell 1968
Ralph McTell Revisited 1970

John James

Folk guitar virtuoso. Head in The Clouds, from 1975 is a favourite Transatlantic sleeve:


Nathan Joseph: Then the Scottish scene: Hamish Imlach, one of the largest, friendliest and funniest of men; Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty, The Humblebums (Connolly and Rafferty in unharmonious but melodious partnership), The McCalmans and the Boys of the Lough.  Connolly then metamorphosed, with some encouragement from me, from a caterpillar of a folksinger to a multi-coloured butterfly of a comedian and we recorded his first major concert and his massive double LP hit “Solo Concert.” 
Nathan Joseph: The Transatlantic Story CD Box Set booklet, 1998

The Hamish Imlach Sampler 1969

Hamish Imlach had half a dozen albums but they were all released on the mid-price Xtra label rather than the main Transatlantic imprint, with the exception of The Hamish Imlach Sampler in 1969. Like Watt Nicol, also released on Xtra, maybe they had worked out that mid-price was the place to put some folk.

Alex Campbell Sampler, Transatlantic LP, 1969

Alex Campbell & Friends had sold very well on the low budget Society label from Saga by keeping prices low … 10/6d for an LP. Cheaper than a standard EP. Everyone I knew in the folk club days had Alex Campbell’s 1963 Society LP Alex Campbell Sings Folk, and many added Way Out West where he turned his hand to American folk songs. He was so popular that it was a surprise that he stuck to budget releases, including his 1967 Saga album, which featured a young Sandy Denny. He eventually moved to Transatlantic in 1969 for Alex Campbell Sampler.

Transatlantic had taken to the ‘Sampler’ name. It seemed restricted to men with neatly trimmed beards.

First Collection of Merry Melodies 1969
Open Up The Door 1970

The Boys Of The Lough show the complicated relationship with Bill Leader’s Trailer label. Their first two albums are Trailer, then their first Transatlantic album is Boys Of The Lough III. This is later Transatlantic (they moved on to Topic). Wish You Were Here is an odd choice of title, given Pink Floyd’s major album three years earlier.

The Boys of The Lough III, 1975
Good Friends … Good Music, 1977
Wish You Were Here 1978
The Pied Piper’s Broken Finger, 1976

The Pied Piper’s Broken Finger is out of chronological order above, so as to display its John Patrick Bryne artwork. (SEE ALSO The Art of The LP: John Patrick Byrne)

The McCalmans did one album on Xtra, but then graduated to Transatlantic for the next two in 1977 and 1978.

Side By Side By Side, 1977
Burn The Witch, 1978

Big T

New Musical Express, 20 July 1968

Rock music was at an oblique angle when it was added. Singles from 1967 on carried the BIG T logo and reference numbers rather than the folky TRA ones. The Big T / Transatlantic division was singles v LPs. Having introduced the BIG catalogue numbers for Big T, they soon dropped the TRA catalogue numbers for singles, so regardless of label, they were all BIG …

LPs would be Transatlantic, singles from the same LPs would be Big T for the period between 1967 and 1970. Essentially, Big T was not a record label, it was no more than a centre label design for singles.

Granny Takes A Trip: The Purple Gand, Big T single, BIG101, 1967

Granny Takes A Trip by The Purple Gang was the first release with a Big T label, and was produced by Joe Boyd. The song took its title from the hip Kings Road, Chelsea boutique of the same name, and was recorded in the studio next door to the one where Pink Floyd were cutting Arnold Layne in the same week. The lead singer was named Lucifer (real name Peter Walker), and they were from Stockport, not generally known for psychedelia.

It gained notoriety when it was instantly banned by the BBC who described it as:

a song with a dubious title designed to corrupt the nation’s youth – and a band that boasts a warlock for a singer will not be tolerated by any decent society 

It’s actually a chirpy jug band ditty about an elderly lady who wants to be a movie star:

So once a year Granny takes a trip;
Always first class and she’s well-equipped:
For the movie auditions in Hollywood town
She always turns up, but she’s always turned down

Kiss Me Goodnight Sally Green: The Purple Gang, 1968

The follow up Kiss Me Goodnight Sally Green was more typical. BigT reduced the size of its logo too.

The LP, The Purple Gang Strikes was Transatlantic, not Big T,

Unicorn’s folk rock sound on Jimmy Webb’s song P.F. Sloan was also Big T, as was early Gerry Rafferty.

Can I Have My Money Back: Gerry Rafferty 1971 shades vary considerably

Transatlantic signed Mick Farren’s band The Deviants and Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias. Some material was licensed in from the USA, and issued as Big T, such as Chuck Wood’s fine sweaty soul Roulette recording of Seven Days Is Too Long in 1967.  

The Fugs Crystal Liason followed on Big T in 1968.

LP design

Basket of Light: Pentangle, 1969

By 1971 Transatlantic had introduced its iconic centre label for LPs. It has the globe with the Atlantic and a plane and ships, but the flags include Britain, but avoid the USA and Canada, and the other flags appear invented, unless one is Italy reversed, or Ireland reversed with a reddier version of orange. We’re more into the folky area of whalers.

It’s difficult to judge when designs changed, because albums stayed in print for a long time, and they didn’t necessarily change centre designs when they reprinted. On some they didn’t, on others they did.

A major element in the marketing campaign which helped to consolidate the Transatlantic brand in the early seventies was their creation of a new label design to replace the rather dated-looking trademark icon in magenta and white. At the time we probably underestimated its significance, but now the characteristic, almost nostalgic full colour illustration of flags, birds,  boats, ships and an aeroplane seemed to capture something unique and particular to the spirit of the company.
Laurence Aston, The transatlantic Story, 1998

Like Vertigo, it was in then novel style of no titles on Side One, information for both titles on Side Two.

Spiral Staircase: Ralph McTell, 1969. Side two has the titles for both sides

My copy of Ralph McTell’s Spiral Staircase, TRA 177, is dated 1969, but has the new design and the Marylebone Street address (which office opened in 1971), so it would be a 1972 copy capitalising on the Reprise label hit with Streets of London, which opens the album.

LP designs chronologically

The Ian Campbell Folk Group’s first LP This Is The Ian Campbell Folk Group from 1963. The bar version of the logo.

The Johnsons Colours of The Dawn LP, #TRA 231 is 1971 and has the purple and white design. At this point, The Johnsons included singer / songwriter Paul Brady in their line-up.

John James and Peter Berryman’s Sky In My Pie is TRA 250 and has the colourful centre on the A side, information for both on the B-side. It also has an expensive textured sleeve.

This copy of The Humblebums is a reissue from 1978, when Logo was  reissuing some of the catalogue, and is TRS107, but has a black on cream version of the globe design on both sides of the disc.

Into the 1970s with rock

In 1969, Transatlantic released The Mothers of Invention double album Uncle Meat licensed from Frank Zappa’s Bizarre label. It’s the valuable copy, containing a 16 page book. It stands as an oddity, because it was Reprise worldwide, as subsequent albums were.

Mick Farren & The Deviants were the Ladbroke Grove underground band. Mick Farren was a journalist, songwriter, singer and science fiction writer. Their 1969 album The Deviants had the nun with ice lolly cover, not too different from an image used on Avenue budget EPs.

The solo album, Mona – The Carnivorous Circus followed in 1970. That added Paul Buckmaster on cello, and John Gustavson on bass guitar. It added This album is approved by Hells Angels M.C. East London. Altamont, anyone? It added a pre-punk version of Summertime Blues.

Zig Zag, No 15, September 1970

As they diversified to include more rock after 1970, there was a flurry of advertising. They had never managed to find much space in New Musical Express or Melody Maker, but they took three full page adverts in Zig Zag in a single issue. This as just before they moved to larger premises in Marylebone High Street, and started describing themselves as a ‘minor major (label)’.

Zig Zag, No 15, September 1970

Jody Grind were a short-lived prog band, led by keyboard player Tim Hinkley. One of the first definite sidesteps for the label was signing them. They sound as if they’ve supported Spooky Tooth and Blossom Toes and have been heavily influenced.

One Step On Jody Grind 1969
Far Canal Jody Grind 1970

Far Canal (Farkin’ ‘Ell) was the sort of title favoured at the time. Compare Caravan’s Cunning Stunts. It was like the school playground where someone gave you a bit of paper with ‘Whale Oil Beef Hooked’ and were told to say it aloud fast.

Peter Bardens (1945-2002) was a Hammond organist, briefly in a later version of Them. He went on to form Camel. He also played with The Alan Parsons Project and toured with Van Morrison. The Answer featured the guitar of Peter Green. The Answer starts as jolly baroque rock.

The Answer 1970
Peter Bardens 1971

The move into rock wasn’t too successful. Around that time, bands were looking at Island, Chrysalis, Deram, Harvest, RCA, A&M, all of whom signed the more promising acts on the college circuit. Stray were the best bet- they could get headliner at the Marquee (where half the audience were A&R guys some nights). I’d say second on the bill on a typical three band university weekend bill. Top of the bill at a smaller college. All In Your Mind is so predictable, it’s a track you’d use to demonstrate typical club band 1970. On Saturday Morning Pictures (1971) the four female backing singers include P.P. Arnold, and Barry St. John.

Transatlantic signed Stray in 1970. At one early stage they were managed by one of the Kray twins. It was a definite venture into prog / hard rock for the label. They did well in Europe. They still have an active website and following.

Stray 1970
Suicide 1971
Saturday Morning Pictures 1971
Mudazas 1973
Move It 1974

Can I Have My Money Bak: Gerry Rafferty 1971

An act with a golden future was Gerry Rafferty, taken solo from The Humblebums. Can I Have My Money Back? previews his work with Stealers’ Wheel. The sleeve was by ‘Patrick’ who was Glasgow artist John Patrick Byrne (LINK TO ARTICLE ON HIM ON THIS SITE), who also did The Humbebums sleeve (above), and the two Stealers Wheel sleeves. The Humblebums did a song called Patrick in tribute to him.

The title track was made for a popular audience who were into Mungo Jerry. Overall the album was full of ideas, but wore its whimsical Beatlesque style too strongly. His success was to be with A&M not Transatlantic. Just as Ralph McTell was going to hit his success by moving to Reprise.

Transatlantic’s power was in non-mainstream music, and they carved out several fascinating niches. Mainstream popular rock wasn’t one of them.

Alexis Korner returned for an album in 1973, Accidentally Born in New Orleans credited to Alexis Korner, Peter Thorup / Snape. It was recorded with three ex- King Crimson players, Ian Wallace on drums, Boz Burrell on bass guitar and Mel Collins on saxophone and flute, plus Zoot Money joining them on piano for Gospel Ship. Visiting backing singers were Mike Patto, Olly Halsall, Steve Marriot and Tim Hinkley.

With the right promotion, Gospel Ship should (and would) have been a major hit.


Gryphon came at a point where Transatlantic were trying to up their games in terms of presentation and distribution. The first Gryphon album has a soft matt stippled gatefold sleeve, illustrated by Dan Pearce. The stipple effect, as on the second LP by The Band in 1969, was an expensive addition.

Richard Harvey: I was still at music college and living with my parents the day I got a phone call from Laurence Aston of Transatlantic Records … In fact Transatlantic Records had provided me with most of my listening pleasure up until then with Pentangle and John Renbourn being the most influential among their varied but always interesting roster of artists. So when Transatlantic became keen to sign the band, the label seemed to be exactly right for us.
1996 2-on-1 CD reissue pf Gryphon / Midnight Mushrumps, Castle 1996

I’d seen authentic medieval instruments bands when I was studying drama (accompanying Medieval Mystery plays), but Gryphon were something else. Three Jolly Butchers has sublime backing with an Adge Cutler & The Worzels’ jokey bucolic voice. The Devil and The Farmer’s Wife continues the mood but veers into comedy / novelty. Pastime With Good Company is credited to King Henry VIII, not a composer credit you often see. They appeared on all four BBC radio networks all in the same week too. The second album opens with a 19 minute suite, Midnight Mushrumps. Richard Harvey had just worked with Peter Hall on The Tempest which he says inspired the suite.

Gryphon: Gryphon, 1973

Gryphon did four albums between 1973 and 1975. They had a classical background with a nod back to medieval / renaissance music. Electric instruments gradually added to their wide instrumental capabilities. Their publicity tag was Henry VIII in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

David Oberle: Red Queen to Gryphon Three is an instrumental album consisting of four lengthy pieces, presented in a symphonic structure and inspired by a game of chess. This was the album that took the band to America in the autumn of 1974, where we appeared as special guests of Yes. During this tour we played numerous dates including Madison Square Garden and the incredible Houston Astrodome as well as recording for many US radio shows.
Sleeve notes to CD reissue

By Raindance their sound was veering to rock, which had strong aspects of Terry Riley, Philip Glass and the minimalists, and electronic film music … not a predictable path from their early work. They included a cover of The Beatles Mother Nature’s Son. The title track was composed by Richard Harvey who was to continue on through session work into becoming a major film composer and conductor (as well as playing all the woodwind on The Lion King soundtrack).

Gryphon 1973
Red Queen to Gryphon Three 1974
Midnight Mushrumps 1974
Raindance 1975


Nathan Joseph: However at the same time we recorded such diverse talents as John Bird hilariously ‘imitating’ Idi Amin (a comedy bestseller), other folk comedians such as Richard Digance and Mike Harding as well as the amazing post-modern Portsmouth Sinfonia.
Nathan Joseph: The Transatlantic Story CD Box Set booklet, 1998

Private Eye’s Blue Record: Transatlantic LP 1965

They were responsible for recording the Private Eye album in 1965, Blue Record.

They first found Billy Connolly in The Humblebums, a duo with Gerry Rafferty. Billy Connolly was the biggest selling comedy artist on the label with three albums. Comedy on record lasted well from the late 50s to the late 70s. No videos, no catch-up, few radio stations. Many an evening was spent listening to Monty Python, Derek & Clive., Billy Connolly, Max Boyce, Jasper Carrott. Video killed the comedy LP. I can still recite bits. Billy Connolly’s Solo Concert was a major hit album.

Richard Digance

Richard Digance did four LPs in 1974 to 1975.

England’s Green and Pleasant Land 1974
How The West Was Won 1974
In Concert 1975
Treading The Boards 1975

Transatlantic were upping their game on promotion by the mid-70s. This promotion pack was enclosed with promo sets of the Treading The Boards album.

Promo pack for Treading The Boards with enclosed single, 1975

Bernard Wrigley

A singing comedian from Bolton who wasn’t funny, unless you find a Lancashire accent intrinsically comic. AKA The Bolton Bulldog. He released 16 albums between 1971 and 2011, and acted in Waiting for Godot with Mike Harding. Monologues were an added speciality. His three first albums were on Topic, then he moved to Transatlantic. The Tea Bag In My Coffee was a Transatlantic single.

Songs Stories & Elephants, Bernard Wrigley, 1976
Ten Ton special, Bernard Wrigley 1977


When Transatlantic issued the obligatory sampler, A Stereo Introduction to The Exciting World of Transatlantic in 1972, it was on the budget Contour label, not on Transatlantic’s own imprint. Contour was owned by Polydor’s British division. Contour’s back catalogue was licensed wholesale to Pickwick in the late 1970s, before being scrapped in 1983.


The Portsmouth Sinfonia originated at Portsmouth College of Art in 1970 and the intention was performance art rather than music. Anyone could join the orchestra, but anyone with special training on an instrument had to play a different instrument. The other rule was no one could play deliberately badly. When Eno played with them, he played clarinet for the first time. They played mainly well-known classics. Their best-known track was Also Sprach Zarathustra. They stopped playing in 1979, as due to their popularity and number of performances too many f them had become skilled on their instruments.

Portsmouth Sinfonia Pays The Popular Classics 1974
Hallelujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia at the Royal Albert Hall 1974

Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias were a comedy / pastiche band, heirs to the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and The Barron Knights. They were formed by C.P. Lee (later a noted writer and Dylanologist) in 1972. By 1975 they were headliners on tours. The playing is impeccable. Try DeadJaws the reggae pastiche.

Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias  1976
Italians From Outer Space  1977

Their third album, Skite was on Transatlantic’s replacement Logo label.

The end

Music Week, 27 Match 1976

The little company that’s credited with breaking so many big names that we’re too modest to list them.

The label’s greatest hit was The Floral Dance by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, a tribute to the effects of constant rotation on Terry Wogan’s breakfast show on Radio Two. The band had been going for nearly one hundred years, and is still going today, recently recording with The Unthanks. The song was composed in 1911 in Cornwall by Kate Moss

The Floral Dance had attracted the attention of the producer of BBC Radio 2’s very popular early morning ‘Terry Wogan Show’. Several airings on national radio followed and Terry Wogan himself, already knowing the song, sang along to it in his usual jocular style. On Radio 2 it eventually attracted the coveted prime-playing slot of the morning, played on many occasions just before the 8am news bulletin. The demand by the public to play the music on all the popular music stations grew, consequently along with tremendous record sales. Even Terry Wogan eventually made his own singing version of the song.
Brighouse and online

The Floral Dance: Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band 45, 1977

The balloon sleeve looks great and apparently can match to Transatlantic discs with the balloon logo of any colour. Against that, there are copies of The Floral Dance in every charity and secondhand shop in the country in white sleeves. The balloon company sleeve is in a minority; most are in plain white.

Many copies of Transatlantic at this point were Polygram pressed with the plastic centres:

Why Do Fools Fall in Love: Magnificent Mercury Brothers, 45 1976
Sleeve reverse

John Renbourn: Nat was a little, very bright Jewish guy and he was great company. I really liked him, he was very irreverent, and he liked the idea of being a British mogul, which he wasn’t. He was notorious for one phrase, which was ‘far too expensive.’ It was such a shoe-string production place, but it was nice, you felt right at home there.
Interview 2014

It is striking that the roster of Transatlantic discoveries who moved on to larger labels with better distribution, meaning higher sales is so long. Bill Leader thought them ready to spend money compared to Topic, then John Renbourn remembers the mantra being far too expensive and describes it as ‘shoe string.’

It may go back … both the first Bert Jansch and John Renbourn albums were bought outright for a fee. It happens in music and book publishing. Then royalties get instituted for the next project. It sells. The royalty rates rise, but artists, however much they like the company boss, never forget that first outright purchase. The resentment remains, specially as it continues to sell on the back of their later work. The Brighouse & Rastrick record sold so well because (their website says) Transatlantic introduced new distribution and marketing in 1976 … after the sale to Granada brought more investment. That would be because of seeing how well the likes of Ralph McTell and Gerry Raffery were doing after they left the label.

The Black Mikado (OST): Transatlantic TRA300, 1975

In 1975, a majority share in Transatlantic was sold to Granada TV. Nathan Joseph retained a share which was sold to Logo Records in 1978, and artists were switched to Logo, though some Transatlantic releases carried on until 1981. Nathan Joseph moved into theatre.

Joseph’s personal love of theatre, literature and poetry led to Transatlantic recording and releasing many spoken-word albums and cast albums of pioneering stage shows. Poets such as Adrian Mitchell, Christopher Logue and Dominic Behan made recordings for the company. Cast albums ranged from West End productions such as “The Black Mikado” and the Old Vic stage adaptation of the children’s TV series “Playaway” to the cutting-edge satirical feminist troupe – The Sadista Sisters. Joseph became closely involved in the theatre staging of “The Black Mikado” – at that time the first major production in the West End to feature a primarily black cast. Among the cast members Joseph championed were Derek Griffiths, Norman Beaton Patti Boulaye and Floella Benjamin OBE.

Transatlantic bowed out with a series of The Vintage Years compilation LPs in 1979 (credited in tiny print to Logo).

Here’s the irony on Best of The Blues compilation. Look at the tracklist, in brackets on every track, it says (deleted).

The 45 centre label designs, single and EP

1965 to 1967

The 1966 reverse sleeve for The Dubliners indicates the label’s self-image. Before and after that, Transatlantic used plain white sleeves.

The Times They Are a-Changin’: Ian Cambell Folk Group, 45, 1965
Chicken On A Raft: The Young Tradition, 1967

Big T

Light Flight (Theme From Take Three Girls): The Pentangle 1970
Unicorn: P.F. Sloan 1971, closed centre design

The 1969 Pentangle disc is early for a stereo single, hence the extremely detailed advice on the label on styluses and such.

Single series

My Delicate Skin: Dave Cartwright 1973 BIG 510 open centre
Move It: Stray 1973 Transatlantic logo BIG 516 catalogue number closed centre

Singled Out

Streets of London: The Johnsons 1972 reissue of 1970

The Singled Out series is mainly for for reissues.

The Streets of London is numbered BIG 505 (FORMERLY BIG 132). It was BIG 132 in 1970, then BIG 505 in 1972 to cash in on the revised version on Reprise.

The Watersons release Rubber Band / Red Wine & Promises is BIG 507 from 1972 and comes from Bright Phoebus which is a Trailer LP, but Trailer never issued singles. It’s not a reissue, but was ‘singled out’ from the LP. Red Wine & Promises is just Norma Waterson with Martin Carthy on guitar.

The balloon series

Dream Lover: Greyhound 1975 paper centre
Dream Lover: Greyhound 1975 Injection moulded centre

The Floral Dance: Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band 1976  First version
The Floral Dance: Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band 1977 Red version

The Tea Bag In My Coffee: Bernard Wrigley 1977.
Already “Produced by Logo Records.”

The last series

This reverts to the earlier design.

Brass Pinafore: Midland Phil & Friends 1977

Castle Communications CD:

Gryphon 2-on-1 CD reissue, Castle 1997


When you search for the Transatlantic label on websites, 90% of the items on sale are LPs. The 45s are a far smaller than normal proportion for British labels. Always at the margins, always quirky, sometimes a bit po-faced, often provocative. That sums up Transatlantic.

Transatlantic’s idea of its most memorable tracks are represented on the 4 CD box set. it’s not chronological either, but in four themed sections:

CD: The Transatlantic Story: 4 CD box set Castle 1998

A great box set with superb sleeve notes BUT on a computer in iTunes several tracks are mis-labelled.

LPs in the charts

The charts were not their aim. They were conscious that mainstream popular albums were a different field. Staying in print for years was more the aim.

The DublinersThe Best of The Dubliners1967#25
The PentangleThe Pentangle1968#21
PentangleBasket of Light1969#5
PentangleCruel Sister1970#21
Billy ConnollySolo Concert1974#8
Billy ConnollyWords and Music1975#51
Brighouse & Rastrick Brass BandFloral Dance1978#10

Selected singles

The Ian Campbell Folk GroupThe Times They Are A-Changin’196542
The DublinersSurrounded By Water1966
The Purple GangGranny Takes A Trip1967
Chuck WoodSeven Days Too Long1967
The Purple GangKiss Me Goodnight Sally Green1968
The FugsCrystal Liason1968
The JohnsonsBoth Sides Now1968
Bert JanschLife Depends on Love1968
PentangleOnce I Had A Sweetheart196946
Ralph McTellSummer Come Along1969
PentangleLight Flight (Theme from Take Three Girls)197043
Ralph McTellKew Gardens1970
The JohnsonsStreets of London1970
UnicornP.F. Sloan1971
Gerry RaffertyCan I Have My Money Back?1971
The HumblebumsCoconut Tree1972
Skin AlleyYou Got Me Danglin’1972
GreyhoundDream Lover1975
TraderSweets For My Sweet1976 
Brighouse & Rastrick Brass BandThe Floral Dance19772

See also sub-pages continuing the story. All in red are linked.

The Transatlantic Group
Audio Fidelity
Trailer, Leader


3 thoughts on “Transatlantic

  1. One of the joys of these being online is that I continually add things to past articles. It was impossible to be comprehensive, but you’re right Gryphon are interesting …with three excellent sleeves too. Raindance is on the 4 CD box set too. I’ll add something.


  2. Great article. I know a lot of the music here. I played the Humblebum’s records until they wore out. I had albums by so many mentioned- Ian Campbell, The Johnsons, Hamish Imlach, Bert Jansch, The Boys of the Lough. I saw Billy Connolly as a brilliant folk singer and raconteur and I can remember laughing so much when the brilliant Hamish Imlach sang ‘Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice’. Great acts grew out of this scene – Paul Brady, Gerry Rafferty, John Martyn was Hamish’s helper. I love Pentangle – I was a second wave fan with Jacque McShee describing how younger people started appearing at their concerts. Yet, there are bands in this article that I don’t know. The article is beautifully illustrated and I love John Byrne’s art work. My favourite album cover of all time is Gerry’s ‘Can I Have My Money Back?’. Thanks, Peter.


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