Broken Records return to the live circuit in their homeland was as much a farewell as it was a triumphant homecoming. This was the first time in a year that they had played the city which had been there home during their rise to become one of the most exciting new bands in Britain 18 months ago, but it was also to be the last time that their original line-up would grace the stage as one.
Two of the bands members, Gill and Arne, are moving on to new things- the former “full time employment” and the latter Germany. Both were integral parts of debut album Until the Earth Beings to Part, which earned the Edinburgh seven-piece plaudits and comparisons to Arcade Fire. This air of nostalgia was clear in this set- the largely local crowd wanted to here the hits that put the band on the map in the first place.
For a large part, they got what they wanted; lead singer Jamie Sutherland’s haunting and potent voice interweaved with a plethora of musical accompaniment- drums, bass, keyboard, electric cello, trumpet and three guitars featuring at various stages- that give this band a powerful presencethat makes it hard not to pay attention.
But Broken Records’ new material is equally commanding. There is an increasingly lively sense to the tracks that will dominate Let Me Come Home, their follow-up due for release in October (you can read my interview with Sutherland about the album here.) Again, the ranging instrumental mix matches Sutherland’s lyrics beautifully- despite the stage looking a bit cramped, there is no sense that there is too much going on musically.
Not that the new album, based on their Edge festival performance, leaves behind their trademark sound. A duet with Jill O’Sullivan from support act Sparrow and the Workshop exhibits authoritative vocal prowess and would have been well placed in the band’s debut. Whatever alternative direction the band’s direction takes in the coming months, with a full UK tour planned, there is no sign that they will abandon the formula that got them noticed in the first place.
Whilst Broken records have not quite reached the levels of academies that would perhaps suit their plethoric sound, Modest Mouse have. Playing the Picture House the follow night- a comparatively intimate venue for a band used to gracing stages at musical festivals around Europe and North America- there was again the instrumental mix that defined this weekend.
Whilst it may have been 2007 when Modest Mouse really hit the ground running in terms of success, they have developed a committed following over the past two decades, and this gig was about exhibiting their extensive back catalogue. There is a sense that the formula here has been strictly followed- a large part of what Modest Mouse do sounds similar, with little room for any radical divergence. Not that this is a bad thing- there is a reason that they have had a following over such a long period of time, and a reason that so many of those enthralled by We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank continue to delve into their older material. Those fans that only swing into action for hits like ‘Float On’ stand in happy appreciation of the band’s pre-2007 material.
Modest Mouse have also seen comparisons to the Canadian outfit Broken Records were constantly likened to in their early days, but that seems to be little more than a reference to their large, stadium-esque presence. They have their own recognisable style, though the fact that much of this set can be related to their biggest hit- ‘Float on’- may be an indication that they have not made the stylistic jump that Broken Records are currently in the midst off.
Political relationships are never far from the top of the agenda at the Book Festival. Whilst some bloggers may be quietly pondering the death of political memoirs, they were top of the minds of those politicians, journalists and other interested parties gracing Charlotte Square for the final weekend. By the looks of today’s papers, it was the spark that lit the fuse for the final few days of campaigning in the Labour leadership election.
I recently interview Alistair Darling and Polly Toynbee about their views on the 13 years of New Labour in office that came to end just three months ago. My colleague Neil Pooran blogged on Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s event on Saturday. But another two political heavyweights were vying for pole position in the battle to define the Brown-Blair years this weekend.
On Saturday, it was the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley, described by chair Iain Macwhirter as a man who knew Tony Blair “better than he did himself.” Rawnsley is a man of tremendous political pedigree, and his recent The End of the Party is seen as a key contribution to the memory of New Labour, not least because it was published in the midst of the election campaign.
Rawnsley, as the paper’s Chief Political Commentator, offers a fantastic insight into the relationships behind closed doors in Downing Street. He has often been seen as a staunch support of Tony Blair and an ardent critic of his successor- at one point Macwhirther offers the a description of his colleague as “Tony Blair’s bitch.” Yet he was content to go into detail of Brown’s achievements. Had a snap election been called in 2007, Brown likely have won after his reaction to floods which devastated the country. The banks, he said, would have collapsed had Brown and Darling not “saved us” by winning over international leaders- not least Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy- to their interventionist plan. This, he believes, was Brown’s best moment and impressed a number of top civil servants even if it was questioned by the electorate.
But he also described the “two sides” of Brown- a man with intense moral conviction but often treating his colleagues “atrociously.” As prime minister, Rawnsley said, he did not have the presentation or interpersonal skills that helped Blair succeed. Waiting for the top job entrenched Brown’s character flaws and made him increasingly anti-Blair, to a point where this was what defined him rather than any ideas for positive change. By the time Brown did get the top job, he “didn’t really know what to do.”
Arguing that it is impossible to fully understand the workings of government without appreciating the relationships of those within it, Rawnsley said the complimentary talents of Brown and Blair that had served the party well in its first term had became a problem from then on. However damaging the timing of the book’s release may have been for Labour, he maintains that he had the support of a number of cabinet ministers, many of whom helped him with their accounts of the tumultuous relationships in Labour’s old guard.
Little mention, however, of the so called third man, bar one reference to his book as a slippery account of “the truth.” His opportunity would come the following day.
Peter Mandelson’s eagerly anticipated session was intensely personal, with the former Business secretary admitting to being bruised and broken before his 2008 return to the cabinet. “Needing to be wanted”, he said, led to his reconciliation with Brown when he returned from political exile to eventually become the most influential member of his inner-circle.
The two had been separated by the diving lines of the Blair-Brown rows, the former being a staunch ally of the prime minister. Mandelson, in typically personal fashion, claimed that he had tried to nurse Brown through the pain of not being the party’s leader. It was, he said, “personal and brutal on his [Brown’s] part.”
Like Rawnsley, he was happy to talk about the intensely bitter relationship between the prime minister and chancellor after 1997. Brown had a physical need to row with his boss according to Mandelson, thinking that he would be better at the job, Mandelson said. He was egged one by supporters, notably Ed Milliband who Mandelson allegedly sees as a potentially disastrous leader, which made the situation worse. This was not a sole characteristic of the labour government- it had plagued Thatcher towards the end of her reign as prime minister, he said.
And again similarly to Rawnsley, he said that the two had complimentary talents. Blair was the great communicator who was intuitive and knew how to deal with the public, Brown was the ideas man who “got all the policies right.”
As is described in his book, The Third Man, Blair considered moving Brown to the Foreign Office as a result of this relationship breakdown, but feared doing so would cause a Brown led backbench revolt. Mandelson, however, says it would have been a “risk worth taking”- Brown would not have wanted to bring the government down and thus risk his chance of eventually becoming PM. With Brown remaining chancellor, Mandelson said, the country would ultimately have been better had he taken the reigns of power earlier, as was agreed with Blair.
However insightful Mandelson’s accounts of government are it is hard to escape his personal tales, littered with his own sensitivities. He discussed his relationship with the Milliband’s (at one point quirking that Ed should have called his son Peter as a testimony to their closeness) and his regrets at not having more time to develop his policies at the department for trade and industry. He was hurt that his chances of becoming foreign secretary were effectively ended after he resigned from the cabinet in 2001 (despite rumours to the contrary in 2009) and admitted to being “ultimately unfulfilled” by his time in government. In an apt ending, in response to an audience question, he described the term Mandelsonian (does it exist?) as “subtle, strategic, hard-working and ultimately very loyal.”
However important these accounts of the past decade are, the contributions at the book festival seem to agree that the New Labour mentality is the only way for the party to succeed. These may be discussions of past issues, but they are likely to play a central role in the future politics of Britain.
Who ever thought of Arcade Fire’s hit album as destined for a theatrical movement piece? Some school students in Canada did, and got the band’s approval.
Bounding onto the stage at T in the Park last month, Arcade Fire might not have looked the part, resembling as they do a dysfunctional family that wouldn’t look out of place in Little House of the Prairie. But they certainly played it. Cultivating a near-religious following, the Quebec-based seven-piece have risen to become international superstars and one of the most tantalising live acts of the 21st century.
So perhaps it’s inevitable then that some fans would take a fascination with their multi-instrumental, rock-indie-pop-alternative-baroque style more seriously than others.
Students at Canterbury High School in Ontario have interpreted the band’s second album, Neon Bible, very earnestly indeed. Their one-hour production—The Neon Bible Project—is centred on their dark interpretation of the band’s 2007 offering, acted out on stage by a group of 16-to-18 year old students.
“Arcade Fire’s music is so theatrical,” explains the show’s director, Paul Griffin, who teaches at the school. “Unlike a lot of groups today, they tend to make music that when you listen to an entire album you think ‘wow, there’s a story here’.”
Their version of the story is presented through a medium ambiguously described as a musical. The group have rearranged tracks from the album and added a few from their debut, Funeral. But rather than performing the tracks themselves, the original recordings bellow through speakers whilst the troupe acts them out on stage.
“We think of it more as a movement piece. We play the music and act out what are like dance pieces but aren’t really dance pieces. People who came to see it [when it played in Canada] described it as like watching modern art.”
A bit more probing reveals an intense plot, one that might not automatically spring to mind. The first act focuses on a crumbling society, managed by an organisation which has near-total control over the populace. However, its figurehead rebels after coming to understand the corrupt nature of the organisation’s work, and decides to lead a group in search of a better society.
The second section sees the same figurehead in a post-apocalyptic world, leading a small band of followers in search of safety. We aren’t told exactly what has happened, but we know that it’s not good. “In the end it all comes to nought and ends very darkly, though there is a hope at the same time” says Griffin.
It’s nine in the morning where they are and two in the afternoon in Fest’s office, yet I am the one guilty of being foggy, unsure of what I’ve got myself into. Could this be further away from 60,000 people in a field singing along to Canada’s biggest musical export of the last few years? I ask how the group came up with such a gloomy focal point?
“We would basically listen to a song, try exploring it in groups physically, then we would bring it together, discuss it and try to shape whatever we had come up with to fit the whole thing and see how these ideas connected in a story,” says Griffin. “There’s a simplicity to the songs that made it all connect.”
But for me, it still doesn’t come together. Fiona Sauder, an 18-year-old student at the school, elaborates.
“When we first heard the album and sat down to listen to it together, we thought; how does this come together as a theatre piece? The thrill of just making a collective piece where we didn’t know the end product and what that would look like outweighed the fear that we had at the start. It was just really the excitement of knowing that we could do absolutely anything with it.”
This freedom was mostly down to the fact that band member Richard Reed Perry, who can normally be found plucking a double bass on stage around the world, is an alumnus of the Ontario school. He gave permission for the album to be used in its entirety, no strings attached.
“They haven’t actually seen it yet – we are sending them a copy of the show to see what they think,” ponders Matt Rodgers, another cast member.
“It’s really exciting because they obviously made the album with something in mind and they are telling stories within their music. But we have our own interpretation in the play so it will be interesting to see what they think about it.
“Within the music there are a lot of themes of paranoia, fear and being closed in. We tried to interpret these emotions in the music into the different pieces within the show.”
But despite its apparent abstraction, there’s something attractive, even endearing about this project. The cast are excited about bringing the show to the Fringe (“the music is hugely popular in the UK so hopefully that will bring in some crowds” says Sauder) and they are intent that this is a legitimate way of portraying one of the most important albums of the last decade.
And it has been praised. Recent dress rehearsals at home in advance of their Scottish foray saw crowds exceeding two hundred, two months after receiving national press over the project. Whether it’s just because of the quirky theme or a genuine interest in how the production works, the idea of twenty teens performing their interpretation of Neon Bible has a certain strange attraction—something outside the mainstream that mirrors that band itself. As Griffin concludes, it’s the dark side of their music that deserves to be presented.
“There is a real sense of weight to everything, a kind of claustrophobia that is certain part of the music, and we feel that it’s part of the show.”
The Labour Party’s longest period in power is over. But was New Labour a success? And what will its legacy be? Nick Eardley speaks to Alistair Darling and Polly Toynbee, two people intimately connected to the party.
11 May was the end of an age for New Labour. As Gordon Brown turned away from his lectern on Downing Street, bidding farewell to the country, the weight of the world seemingly lifted from his shoulders, he knew that the next day would be the first for thirteen years that the party he had been at the fore of for almost two decades would awake in opposition.
The Blair-Brown years had been the most rewarding for the party in its history: three successive general election victories, 13 years of uninterrupted government. Britain has changed almost beyond recognition since Blair’s heroic arrival in Downing Street in 1997 and the days of “Cool Britannia” – an extended NHS, devolution, peace in Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Act. But it has also seen some of its greatest challenges, arguably areas where the most significant failures of New Labour are evident: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a failure to regulate the banking system so costly it led almost to the collapse of the financial system, the worsening of income inequality. How will the party’s dominance of Westminster politics be remembered?
Sitting in his Edinburgh constituency office, a two-minute walk from Charlotte Square where he will give this year’s Donald Dewar memorial lecture, Alistair Darling explains how the recession was not the government’s fault, and tells me the ways in which his party improved the country. Darling was one of just three ministers to serve throughout Labour’s time in power – along with Gordon Brown (who made him chancellor) and Jack Straw. Perhaps surprisingly for someone still serving in a Labour shadow cabinet, he is prepared to deviate from unwavering praise, conceding that Labour should have done more.
“You can always do things better—there are people in different parts of the country who can quite rightly say you could have done more—but I will not say that everything we did was wrong.
“In terms of economic reform and greater opportunities for people, we have a lot to be rightly proud of that did make a real difference. But obviously at the same time as that you had Iraq, which dominated politics, certainly in the early part of this last decade, which is deeply controversial.”
Darling’s concessions may not quite amount to a denigration of Labour’s time in power, but they hint at the feeling that the party did not go as far as it perhaps would have liked.
The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee is well versed in assessments of the former government’s triumphs and shortcomings. This autumn will see the publication of her third book on the subject, co-written with her partner David Walker. It will be a full evaluation of New Labour between 1997 and 2010, one that she admits is more “pessimistic” than the pair’s previous analyses.
“I think there is a strong underlying passion for more equality and they are sort of shocked at themselves. They thought they’d tried hard. But even then they hardly managed to stand still in the growth of inequality, and not to reverse it, and I think they are all pretty depressed at themselves about that.”
Toynbee is reluctant to pinpoint exactly how the Brown-Blair years will be remembered; as a Labour cheerleader she believes that as the coalition implement far-reaching cuts as part of their austerity programme, more will look back and say that the relative largesse of the New Labour years was a good thing. Nonetheless she thinks Labour’s achievements came largely in the 1997-2001 term. She talks of the New Deal, the minimum wage, devolution – “the best stuff they did.” But Iraq left a gaping wound that never properly healed.
“All the most memorable things date back pretty much to the first year; after that is was a sort of continuing disappointment. That would be putting it mildly with the Iraq war, but certainly that was the great error that broke the spirit of the party. It broke them internally, even all those obedient people who voted for it. It left them deadened in a way, and unadventurous about new things.
“They will be blemishes forever, we are never going to forget them. I don’t think Blair’s reputation will ever be what it might have been because of it.”
However destructive Iraq was, Labour won the following election – albeit with a reduced majority in parliament. Darling and Toynbee agree that the fundamental shift in the party that came with the rewording of Clause IV in the mid-nineties saw it appeal to the middle ground in a way it had never done before. This, they contest, will not change.
“There is no way they could go back to that” says Toynbee “or if they do it will be a tiny rump of a party with nobody left in it.”
Darling agrees: “Where the Labour party failed in the seventies and eighties is that it never adapted to the world in which everyone else lived.”
Britain seemed to favour change, as opposed to continuity as represented by Brown when it went to the polls in May. With him on the ropes after the economic crash, after thirteen years of ups and downs, and with internal squabbles moving towards open rebellion, the demise seemed inevitable.
Darling, however, thinks differently. The party was not destined to return to opposition simply because of the public’s desire for change. It failed to win the argument.
“I think we could have made a stronger argument, but we didn’t. We lost and we have to accept the consequences of that.
Perhaps those at the top of the party were too concerned with the government’s legacy, and how they would be remembered.
His incisive questioning of Australian society has seen his latest novel The Slap become a best seller and won him the Commonwealth Writers Prize. We talk about multiculturalism, class and getting into the minds of his characters.
The most important stories can begin with the tiniest events. Take the central act in the latest novel by Christos Tsiolkas, the decision of one adult to smack someone else’s misbehaving child. The slap echoes differently for different people: what is for some an unacceptably violent act is a reasonable form of discipline for others.
But Tsiolkas has grander ideas. Never one to shy away from tackling the big issues, his novel—The Slap—takes this seemingly trivial event as the starting point for nothing less than an analysis of the often-uneasy social interactions among the diverse individuals and groups of suburban Australia.
The book delves into the minds of the eight witnesses to the fateful blow, who between them comprise a cross-section of modern Australian society. Tsiolkas explores each individual’s reaction in a different chapter, all written in the first person singular. The remarkable way in which each character observes the world and people around them shows how the societal tensions—of culture, race, gender and class—play out from their unique perspectives.
A Greek-Australian himself, Tsiolkas has a clear ardour for analysing the tribulations of his home country.
“It is a book about morality; it questions what I think Western liberal-democratic societies have abandoned or been scared to ask.”
The Slap has garnered rave reviews for the author’s capacity to explore the multiple identities of its characters, as well as winning him the Commonwealth Writers Prize—the prestigious award for fiction across the 32 Commonwealth Nations—an experience he describes as “incredibly satisfying and humbling.”
The novel has been described, almost routinely, as controversial – perhaps because of its tender starting point and the immediacy of the book’s central dilemma; perhaps alluding to the way it has dissected the often-ignored prejudicial undertones of modern society. Its author believes that such portrayals say something about the audience.
“If it has been controversial it goes with what I have said that it reveals a selfishness at the core of contemporary Australian life that makes us uncomfortable. Australia prides itself as being ‘egalitarian’, as having escaped the inertia and pervasiveness of the European class system. But in the last two decades Australians have grown richer and richer and more selfish as they have done so. Less egalitarian, more xenophobic. It is this tension between what we believe about ourselves and who we are that may make the novel ‘controversial’.”
The legacies of colonialism are a common feature in discussions of Australian culture, not least in literature. Tsiolkas’ counterparts, he believes, try to make sense of their countries past with literature set in a historical context – the relationships between the ethnic groups that migrated to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
But Tsiolkas’ Greek heritage has given him to a different outlook on these issues. The Greek-Australian community began to become a significant element of Australian society in the 1950’s, when immigration was encouraged as a means to fuel Australia’s economic expansion.
“You can’t separate the politics of multiculturalism from the politics of class, from the rest of the politics of what is going on in society. In Australia, multiculturalism worked because after World War Two the country went through a great period of industrialisation and it needed migrant labour to make it succeed. Australian society is least tolerant, most xenophobic when there is economic uncertainty: during the recessions of the early eighties and early nineties for example. It is not a particularly Australian phenomenon. It is a global tension, I think.”
Tsiolkas’ accomplishment in The Slap is to shed light on this tension through the experiences of eight individuals – four men and four women of different classes; Greeks, an Indian and a French Jew among them. How hard is it to relate to such diverse characters?
“For a long time I was scared to write in the voices of women, in the voices of other cultures. But I have experience in writing now. I have learnt something about the craft. If I cannot imaginatively express different consciousness, different experiences, different points of view, then I should give up writing now. That is what I do as a writer of fiction.”
A writer of fiction, but not just a novelist. Tsiolkas has written a handful of plays and film scripts, the most recent of which was 2000’s Saturn’s Return, a sensitive exploration of the fragility of the relationships formed by Australia’s modern youth. More recently he has stuck increasingly to literary fiction, but his output remains impressive – nine novels and scripts produced in the last decade. The work keeps coming, and he was recently surprised to find that he needed a change – if not a break, at least a retreat.
Tsiolkas was a resident at the Cove Park artists’ colony in Argyll for two months earlier this year and believes that this experience might have put him on the path to his next project. It has certainly introduced some much-needed quietness into his hectic life.
“Scotland has seduced me, the drama of the landscape and the historic link of its people with Australia. Being here has granted me another sort of peace, has allowed me to filter out some of the white noise that has hampered me starting a new book – the white noise that is an inevitable part of a literary life.
“It is good to learn I can escape it. I have started on the next novel, and just the other day pulled out a first draft of a play that I have not looked at in years.
“I have begun to work again.”
Originally published at http://fest.theskinny.co.uk/article/99752-christos-tsiolkas
A year after hotly-tipped debut album Until the Earth Begins to Part hit the shelves, local seven-piece Broken Records are back. Frontman Jamie Sutherland speaks for the first time about their new album, growing up and the pressures of being called “the Scottish Arcade Fire”
Broken Records have had a tumultuous journey over the past three years. Lauded as Scotland’s answer to Arcade Fire by critics who seemed to be fixated by little more than their seven-strong lineup and wide array of instrumentation, the Edinburgh indie-rock-folksters were tipped for big things on the back of internet demos, which have seen so many catapulted to super-stardom in the last few years.
Long before the band had begun recording their debut album, they were seen as the next Scottish act that would penetrate the music world, aided by their haunting sound and incredible musical diversity – what frontman Jamie Sutherland acknowledges was “press without having actually released anything.”
But it was the release of this debut—Until the Earth Begins to Part—that indicated that such associations were fanciful. Refusing to pander to the indie popularities of the day, the band were adamant that they would not be forced into a corner in which they were not comfortable. They wanted to make their own music – a sound that rendered comparison moot.
12 months later, recording for their second—as yet unnamed—album is finished. They are now free from the shackles of the hype that acted as a mixed blessing to a band looking to set themselves apart in a saturated musical scene. Equipped with a more mature sound, they are ready to unleash a plethora of new material on an ever-appreciative home crowd in the newly refurbished Liquid Room.
A brief walk from where the final touches are being applied to the venue which was left badly damaged after a fire in December 2008, Sutherland ponders the lessons of the past year. Having reflected on the impact of the pre-debut album hype that gave the band recognition two years ago, he admits that it was impossible to live up to the expectations, or imaginations, of a curious audience:
“We couldn’t. Some people were expecting Funeral [Arcade Fire’s debut album] part 2 or something like that from us, and we never wanted to do that. We made the record we wanted to make.
“I think the last album was almost trying too hard to be noticed. I guess it was like a spoilt younger child and this one’s more of a middle child album; it’s a lot quieter, a bit more nuanced, with a lot more guitar”
The abundance of instrumental input in their debut—accordion, violin and cello all featuring—gives the band the live intensity that attracts so many. The resulting orchestral feel is one that defined Until the Earth Beings to Part. The follow-up, however, will see them return to their roots.
“It’s not trying to blow your head off with every single tune,” Sutherland says.
“I was really pleased with how the last record came out but we kind of felt that the rock band element, it wasn’t lost, but it wasn’t as well represented on the first album as we would have liked.”
Sutherland seems relaxed. This is the first interview he has given about the new album, and he acknowledges that it was hard to think of a way to describe what fans should expect. It is clear, however, that the personal journey and challenges of the past year will take centre stage.
“I think it sounds very unsexy to spell it out, but it sums up a certain stage in your life. It was a realisation of what happens after – if this weren’t to happen anymore what would you do? Where can I get a job? There are the pressures of trying to keep a long-term girlfriend, a house, friends, family and it boils down to what’s happening around you. The record just deals with what I was going through at the time in a kind of self-indulgent way, but that’s what music is all about.”
Self-indulgence may not seem the most endearing trait, but Sutherland is not self-obsessed. Rather, there is a remarkable honesty and introspection – no doubt the by-product of six months in a recording studio and a desire to get back to playing to audiences.
“Music is, as with any other art, compulsion more than anything else,” he believes. “I can’t do this because I go crazy. The last six months have been horrible because you have to sit on your hands and you can’t play music to people, which is all I’ve done since I was 11 years old. That’s why you do it and you hope that people like it.”
This compulsion will be eased at the Edge Festival, where the band will play their first headline gig in the UK this year, before heading out on tour with the new album’s release imminent. It is hard to think of a more welcoming return for the band to unveil the new album – last year’s gig at the grand Queen’s Hall saw one of their largest headlining shows to date, and expectation will be high.
“I guess because it’s home you’ll always have the familiar and friendly faces in the crowd and it’s almost like you have to put on a better show than anywhere else. It’s your home crowd and they’re the most generous so when you get the two working together—the band trying really hard and the crowd really willing it to be a good show—you get great shows.”
Originally published at http://fest.theskinny.co.uk/article/99732-music-broken-records
For the next wee while, I’m going to be helping out with the Guardian’s Edinburgh beatblog. You can find it here. The site is part of an ongoing project to offer hyperlocal news, based on blogs, news sites and other sources, to people in the capital. Please feel free to comment on the articles or email me if you have any stories you think should be covered.