JAIMIE VERNON – DEMICS & DIODES & DISHES, OH MY!

Promo Shot_Twilight Zone_thumbAt the beginning of May I released my fourth book – ‘Life’s A Canadian (Punk) Rock – Who Wants Guns?: The Swindled Story (1973-1983)’ Check it out here.

In it I discuss my formative musical years and how an innocuous friendship with a high school punk took me on a two year roller coaster ride through the 2nd Wave of the Toronto punk scene as alleged guitarist in hardcore act Swindled. I had previously run the chapters as blog entries in Don’t Believe A Word I Say back in 2010. The band reunited in 2011 with the ever professional Cleave Anderson on drums, we recorded our long awaited debut album (only 30 years in the making) and everyone lived happily ever after. That chapter is the epilogue in the book.

LACRock1_smallThe part of the book that was never run in DBAWIS was the story of the long tail…the aftermath of being a punk, then not being a punk, then paying my respects to the 1st Wave Toronto punks 20 years later.

I wasn’t there during the first generation’s climb from the primal ooze of Queen Street’s staid bar scene to its culmination and collapse at the end of the 1970s. I have no anecdotes or opinions one way or the other on the Cult of Steven Leckie, The Crash ‘n’ Burn Club as punk Petri dish, or Michaele Jordana’s fempunk strides amongst the male snotterotti. Much has been written in recent years in an attempt to clarify the scene and its importance to the origins of punk on the world stage. I recommend Liz Worth’s book ‘Treat Me Like Dirt’ (http://bongobeat.com/index2.php) which is an oral history of the scene.

My experience with these legendary figures came as part of a revival in the early 2000s. Here, for the first time, is a bit of back story on the acts I crossed paths with and, occasionally, swords. 

THE SONIC REDUCTION

Bullseyelogo2011_colourOn December 7, 1998 I became the Canadian content editor at the short-lived Sam The Record Man.com website for legendary music retailer Sam the Record Man.

During JUNO® Awards week 2000 I was approached by Jason Sniderman one day to discuss something important for the company. His Dad, and store patriarch, Sam Sniderman wanted to honour 30 years of the Junos with a sale on all Canadian music product from past and present winners and nominees. After a week or two of research of the warehouse database and the floor of the massive mothership store on Yonge Street, I had to break the news to my bosses and Jason that out of the 1000+ winners and nominees over the last 35 years less than 200 compact discs existed, in Sam'sprint and as inventory, representing the voice of Juno celebrities. There was no product for some of the oldest stars and little remained in production from the remaining ‘superstars’ of our generation. The major labels weren’t bothering and the indie labels that once fed the industry like Attic, Daffodil, Arc and Yorkville Records were either gone…or quickly heading there. Needless to say, the Sam Sniderman sale to honour our Canadian superstars was a complete failure.

KlaatuThe Sam’s incident was the impetus to start investing in and building a Canadian classic rock catalog – one that would anchor Bullseye Records for nearly a decade. It would involve the likes of Goddo, the entire Klaatu back catalog, The Kings, Guess Who, Brutus, Brave Belt, Segarini, Killer Dwarfs, Santers, Moxy, Figures At Dawn, Silverlode, Honeymoon Suite, and various and sundry solo projects by members of these and other bands.

It would also allow me to honor my punk roots.

THE RESCUE ATTEMPT

The hunt was on for master tapes and their master rights owners for untapped punk and new wave releases.

Music historian and enthusiast Jan Haust of Other People’s Music had re-issued the much applauded Punk Hole of Fame series in the mid-1990s that featured complete and selected works from the likes of The Curse, The Ugly, The Mods, The Secrets, Forgotten Rebels, Teenage Head, The B-Girls and The Viletones. I approached him about Bullseye putting these releases back into circulation but he balked at the idea claiming he was working on reviving the series. Fair enough, there was other material he didn’t have that I decided to chase after.

QuintonI’d already licensed two Goddo titles from Peter Burnside of re-issue label Pacemaker Entertainment (http://www.pacemaker.cd) as he was momentarily cash strapped. I did the same for the album ‘David Quinton’ – he of The Androids/Mods/Stiv Bators Band fame – and Bullseye took over the license to re-issue which allowed me to work with David directly on the re-mastering and packaging which was handled meticulously by former Diodes manager and graphic style guru Ralph Alfonso. The resulting compilation disc, ‘Bombs & Lullabies: 1981-1988’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnJE5crf_XI, contained most of that seminal debut album plus completed demos for his unreleased 2nd album for Capitol Records – which was never completed after he agreed to tour as Strange Advance’s drummer as a favour to the label. It was something that left a sour taste in his mouth and caused him to walk away from the music biz as a performer for many years. Thankfully, that didn’t last forever.

In 2007 we had planned to repackage the production with even more bonus material – demos, live tracks and outtakes. I had already re-recorded an Nightmare @ 20,000 Wattsupdated version of my favourite track of his called “When Lullabies End” with Brian Gagnon (Frank Soda, The Hunt) for my next solo album ‘Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts’. I thought it would be fun to get David to do a vocal call-and-response on the track for my album plus a straight re-singing by him on the lead vocal for his own CD re-issue. His version wound up on Bullseye’s ‘Unsigned, Sealed & Delivered V2.2: In Pop We Trust’ compilation in time for release during the Toronto International Pop Overthrow Festival.

Unfortunately, my solo album and the Quinton solo material rere-issue never materialized due to the global economic collapse in 2008. However, the ‘duet’ of David and I on “When Lullabies End” did make it to iTunes.

WOLFGANG SPEGG: THE KING OF GERMANY

Bomb Logo2The original label for David’s solo album was Bomb Records and when Bob Segarini – who was part of a new collaboration with Greg Godovitz called The Anger Brothers that I was bankrolling – found out about it he suggested I talk to Wolfgang Spegg who used to co-own the label.

Bomb had been dormant since 1982. Rumours persisted that the label was bankrupt and the catalog was lost in legal limbo with the master tapes lost forever. The only way to find out was to talk to him about it.

Bob was also signed to Bomb in the late 1970s and he was happy to arrange a meeting with the promise that I’d put as much effort into re-repackaging and re-issuing his Bomb solo releases as I had with the Quinton material.

Musicmusicmusic-LogoBob was working daily on Wolfgang’s newest enterprise MusicMusicMusic – a streaming MP3 radio station years before Spotify or Pandora. It would be crushed in its infancy after the company went public and its shareholders dismantled it. A shame – it was a brilliant model and years ahead of the curve (this was pre-Napster days after all).

Bob took me to meet Wolfgang at his swank Toronto condominium apartment. What I didn’t know going in was that Bob had already sold me to Wolfgang. He wasn’t interested in the money I was offering so much as the preservation of the material itself. He still loved music. He loved the small legacy he had grown, but had languished, in that brief shining moment when Bomb Records was making entertainment news. Wolfgang just wanted the music back out there.

He signed a deal on the spot assuring me that he was the legal rep for the master recordings. Sadly, he confirmed that the master tapes had been lost years before. I’d have to scavenge from pristine vinyl to create new masters from Ebay, Musicstack.com and Kop’s Collectables on Queen Street (thanks Chris!)

Comp Cover BlackThe collection, in toto, included Segarini’s three albums ‘Gotta Have Pop’, ‘Goodbeye L.A.’, and ‘…On the Radio’; Twitch’s “Twitch & Shout”; The Battered Wives’ self-titled debut and ‘Cigarettes’, Michael Holland’s ‘Do She Want Love’ and True Confessions’ self-titled debut. It also allowed me to add rogue singles, demos, outtakes and anything else I could get the former band members to dig out of the vaults for added value to the CDs.

What I didn’t have access to was American band The Romantics’ ‘Tell It To Carriehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd3hdS0mdIw  EP produced by Bob Segarini that was controlled by Greg Shaw at Bomp! Records; The Scenics’ debut album which was controlled by band leader Andy Ramesh Meyers; The Secrets’ debut album or the Holy Grail of all Toronto punk releases: ‘The Last Pogo’ soundtrack now in the hands of Jan Haust. Apparently, Wolfgang had leased him the rights for 20+ years for $1.00. And Haust was gearing up to release a 25th anniversary version of ‘Pogo’ to coincide with the original concert and Colin Brunton’s seminal movie.

I was undaunted. I’d been successful in licensing material before and was sure I could get at least a track or two from each of these projects to assemble a ‘History of Bomb Records’ compilation CD when I eventually launched the stand-alone titles of the other artists I now controlled.

The Bomb catalog proved to be a land mine of on going anger and recrimination by many of the former artists who were still pissed at the way Bomb and Wolfgang handled them – or didn’t in the case of those who were never paid.

I had to re-assure the acts that it was I who would be handling the re-issues and the royalty payouts – not Wolfgang. I had to win the trust of a lot of musicians who’d been burned, not just by Bomb but by the music industry itself. It was a lesson in diplomacy and respecting the ideas and input of each of them in getting the albums off the ground again. The babysitting of egos had begun.

BATTERED AND BOWED

Battered WivesThrough my ongoing maintenance of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia online I’d managed to make the acquaintance of The Battered Wives’ Jasper Klassen, Cleave Anderson and Cleave’s replacement Pat Mooney online. Later Greg Godovitz introduced me to guitarist John Gibb who lived comfortably in the countryside north of Toronto with his wife. He was effectively retired and watching the star rise on his musician daughter Rebecca Gibb and her all-girl alt-rock band Harlot. The band would eventually implode but Rebecca would go on to become Mrs. Pat Smear – he of Nirvana/Foo Fighters fame.

With the first two Battered Wives albums https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzWtkg2FrJI

now in my possession I called John to tell him the news and that I wanted his input on the re-issues. He was incensed. The albums had already been re-mastered and re-issued by Pacemaker in the 1990s (which I’d written the liner notes for) to little financial gain for him and the band but he was still holding a grudge against Wolfgang & Co. for untold indignities dating back two decades before. He would agree to working with me only if the Wives got some money up front against sales and that all the former members were on board and involved in the packaging and marketing of the albums. It wasn’t an unreasonable request though I failed to see how his music business war wounds were my problem.

Battered Wives_CigarettesThis was an issue that reared its head time and again with many of the artists I worked with at Bullseye. The general consensus was that by inheriting a re-issue I was also inheriting their past miseries – if not their debt.

The monkey wrench in getting the albums re-issued would turn out to be the band’s focal point, Toby Swann, who was missing and presumed sailing around the world avoiding all manner of life’s unpleasant realities. If we couldn’t find him we couldn’t have a consensus on the re-issues.

I also needed access to Toby to re-issue his ‘Lullabyes In Razorlandhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVbZVhledvM post-Wives solo album from the defunct El Mocambo label. Former label owner Robert-Charles Dunne controlled the title and was considering allowing Bullseye a re-issue if I could get Toby to sign-off on it.

Toby didn’t materialize until 2011…on Facebook of all places. By then Bullseye was a non-entity and the deal with Wolfgang had long expired. The Wives have since re-issued the albums on iTunes themselves.

TWITCH & SHOUT

Though Bob Segarini was never a punk – having invested the majority of his career in the creation of pure pop and honest-to-goodness Rock and Roll DBAWIS Crash and Burn(like the masters used to create) – he did walk among them and has always been a vocal advocate of the scene going back to the days of Ralph Alfonso/The Diodes’ Crash ‘n’ Burn club. Bob worked in television for CITY-TV, on radio for both CHUM-FM and Q107 while simultaneously recording and performing live as a solo artist and with The Segarini Band.

TwitchPromo2He also produced other artists – including the previously mentioned Romantics EP, The B-Girls’ independent debut single “Fun At The Beach” and B-Girls frontwoman Lucasta Ross’s studio act Mensroom. Bob also took a young London, Ontario band named Twitch under his wing after lead singer/guitarist Garwood Wallace tracked Bob down to praise him for his debut album ‘Gotta Have Pop’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6BoZdPfZGs

Segarini became something of a mentor to Wallace resulting in Garwood playing guitar and singing on the sessions for Segarini’s second solo album GoodbyeLA_Cover_HIREZGoodbye L.A.‘ At one point, Wallace asked Segarini to attend a Twitch showcase at the Nickelodeon on Yonge Street in Toronto. Segarini was impressed enough with the energetic band that he had them do an opening slot for him and his band that same night across town at the El Mocambo on Spadina. Thus, the very first Twitch gig in front of a live audience was on June 2, 1979 to a packed house.

They became the house “opening act” at the El Mocambo for much of the summer of ’79, doing shows with the Ramones, Link Wray, John Lee Hooker, and the Tourists, among others.

Segarini also recorded a Garwood Wallace song, “Rock ‘n Roll Moment”, for the ‘Goodbye L.A.‘ album. By the Fall of 1980, Twitch recorded and released “Sad Girl” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua2Uuj4JFVY, their first single and video for Bomb Records. In February 1981, they began the sessions for the album ‘Twitch And Shout‘, which was produced by Greg Warren and released in June of that year. The album and its first single, “Take It Back”, received a lot of airplay and Twitch played extensively across Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. Various factors typical of the music scene in the early eighties contributed to the band’s demise and they played their final show together at Larry’s Hideaway on March 11, 1982.

In the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ category, I already knew Garwood. He was a floor manager at Sam the Record Man’s flagship store on Yonge Street while I was there working for Sams.com. We’d initially found a common AbrahamsChildreninterest when my music encyclopedia editor at Canoe.ca asked if I could find someone to de-click and digitize his copy of 1970s bubble gum pop act Abraham’s Children’s ‘Time album. Garwood offered his service as itinerant audio restoration hobbyist. The work he did on the re-master would later be used by the band to sell to their fans online.

Garwood proved to be the perfect guy to take on the Bomb re-masters – especially given his close personal connection to the material…and the people involved.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent a tonne of personal time with Garwood and his awesome wife Janice who watched Garwood suffer through the success and demise of Twitch first hand. I wanted Garwood on the ground floor helping to rebuild Bomb’s image as one of the great, short-lived indie labels.

I think Garwood was sold when I gave him carte blanche in re-mastering the Twitch album and anything he wanted to add as bonus tracks. I also hired Janice to restore all the Bomb album cover artwork from my personal collection of near-mint pressings.

Garwood became the Bomb Records official re-mastering technician – a job that aided in his becoming an independent restoration professional following his departure from Sam’s. We are both exceptionally proud of the work he put into the re-packaging of ‘Twitch & Shout’.

WARM KITSCHENETTE

I don’t recall the exact details in meeting former Dishes member Steven Davey – most probably from emails through The Canadian Pop Music DishesEncyclopedia to  correct (or improve) the band’s entry on the Canoe.ca website. It might have also been through Ralph Alfonso. I don’t recall.

Regardless, Steven and the former members of the band were looking to have their recordings released on CD. Word got out that Bullseye was the place to do it.

As Steven was the food critic for Toronto’s weekly NOW! Magazine, he asked me to go out for lunch – which he’d order on my behalf so that he could get a sense of more than one dish in his restaurant review. We did this on several occasions so we could get to know each other and he could explain the vision for the Dishes’ re-issue.

It was important to capture a sense of their place in the Toronto Queen Street circuit during its infancy. In fact, there is strong support for the notion that they started what would soon become the simultaneously exploding alternative and punk scenes.

In the suburbs of Toronto in 1975 Scott Davey and Tony Malone decided to form a band that was the complete antithesis of the mind-numbing music heard on local FM airwaves. They dubbed the band the Dishes.

After some line-up adjustments, in February 1976 the Dishes featured Murray Ball (vocals), Michael Lacroix (saxophone), Ken Farr (bass), and Scott’s brother Steven Davey (drums). They quickly found began a weekly residency at the Beverly Tavern in Toronto. With a strong visual image coupling short hair ‘n’ uniforms and original material that owed much to art-rock pioneers Roxy Music, David Bowie, and the Kinks, the Dishes were an immediate sensation with Toronto’s burgeoning avant-garde art scene.

The Dishes’ success soon inspired their audience of frustrated musicians and artists to start their own bands. Within a year of their debut, The Diodes, Martha And The Muffins, The Cads, The Curse, Johnny And The G-Rays, The Government, and The Viletones were embedded in the scene. Even more significantly, the Dishes’ Beverly Tavern gigs – 14 weeks-worth that year alone – kick-started the about-to-be-hip strip’s scene of cool clubs, art galleries, and trendy eateries.

In May 1977, The Dishes released their EP ‘Fashion Plates‘ on their own Regular Records label. It would sell 4,000 copies. By this time, Malone had left The Dishes to start Drastic Measures and was replaced by 18 year-old Glenn Schellenberg. That year The Dishes worked with performance artist David Buchan on two shows – ‘Geek Chic’ at the King Edward Hotel Ballroom and ‘Fashion Burn’ at The Diodes’ Crash ‘n’ Burn club – as well as a show called ‘Hot Property’ with international art stars General Idea who performed it at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The band were also featured several times in the pages of General Idea’s ‘FILE’ Megazine. The Dishes also became a regular opening act for Carole Pope and Rough Trade.

Dishes_HotPropertyAt the end of the year, TVOntario recorded The Dishes in concert for its program ‘Night Music’, and broadcast the results over 20 times.

Early 1978 saw the release of The Dishes’ second EP – Hot Property, with cover art by General Idea – and the band’s return to the Beverly Tavern for a series of standing-room-only appearances. They also appeared with Talking Heads at the re-born Horseshoe Tavern that Spring.

Material was gathered from the two 7” EPs and a restoration of the audio from the famed TV Ontario ‘Night Music’ performance at Queen’s Park and packaged as ‘Kitschenette: The Best of The Disheshttp://www.therealdishes.com. We ran into a brief hiccup when Tony Malone caught wind of our plans and attempted to derail the disc saying that the material didn’t represent his contributions to the early growth of the group. In lieu of him providing audio evidence to support his claim – which he was willing to provide only if he could master the disc and supervise all the song choices, artwork and liner notes – we pressed on without him.

Artwork was designed by long time friend of the Queen Street scene Erella Vent showing the group’s playful photogenic whimsy. The alternative press reviewed the disc favourably and the former members seemed pleased that their place in history was finally set in stone.

DRINK TO ME: THE KEITH WHITTAKER EPITAPH

FrontCover_thumbSteven came to me several years later about another project near and dear to his heart which was initially in the hands of Ralph Alfonso’s Bongo Beat label. Steven was anxious to get it out to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of The Demics’ Keith Whittaker.

Ralph had worked on a lot of Bullseye projects over the years as graphic designer and when I asked if I could expedite the project for Steven he was reluctant but eventually said yes as his schedule was becoming increasingly more pressed for time in those days.

The Demics began in the late ’70’s in London, Ontario and soon moved from the small club setting where their style of punk was barely appreciated to the hotbed of the Canadian punk scene itself – Toronto.

DemicsSoon, the band found itself the showpiece act on fledgling indie label Ready Records in Toronto and a 5-song EP called Talk’s Cheap‘ led to some notoriety on cutting edge Toronto radio like CFNY-FM with their track “New York City”.

They were wooed to Tom Treumuth’s Hypnotic Records label who were more equipped, along with the Intercan label, to take the band farther with its distribution deal through Pickwick Records.

The result was the self-titled debut album in 1980 and a re-recording of “New York City” which divided radio listeners and long-time fans who had grown fond of the earlier, raw reading of the tune https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwfkpW63Nj8.

The Demics’ rising star was short lived and the band split up amidst lack of a clear vision and musical direction following the loss of their deal on Intercan/Hypnotic.

In 1996, Jan Haust’s Other Peoples Music released a compilation CD of the Demics’ material. This was followed by Chart Magazine’s declaration of “New York City” as the greatest Canadian single of all time.

Whittaker spent years floundering and bristling at the notion that people thought The Demics were mere one-hit wonders. He openly scorned “New York City” – refusing to play it live with his solo acts.

Whittaker’s health, and social graces, began to deteriorate – but Steven Davey remained his closest ally who constantly pushed Keith to be creative without the Demics monkey on his back. Some home-made acoustic demos were recorded at Davey’s apartment and showed a more human side to a singer whose public persona was always presented as a caustic affront to his followers.

On July 16, 1996, Keith Whittaker died of cancer in Toronto.

Steven Davey had the demo recordings digitally mastered and sequenced for CD. I assembled the artwork around Steven’s liner notes and Don Pyles’ photos. True to the spirit of Keith’s material, Steven chose a cheesy 1960’s modern prairie cowboy motif and we inserted a faux sticker on the cover that announced: “Does NOT include ‘New York City’ by The Demics.” Keith would have appreciated the anti-marketing of that statement.

We launched the ‘Drink To Me’ disc at the very bistro in Kensington Market where Steven & Keith used to drink regularly while Keith held court and told his tall tales. A whose who of Keith’s friends and supporters showed up including Crazy Steve of the Bunchofuckingoofs, members of the Dishes, Greg Keelor from Blue Rodeo, Ian McKay from The Diodes and others. The consensus was that Keith would have loved and hated all the attention.

UN-RETIRED FROM WAKING UP TIRED

Diodes 77As Ian McKay and I got re-acquainted at the Whittaker launch party he asked about the re-issue of the Diodes third studio album ‘Action/Re-action’ which Bullseye was initially supposed to release in 2001. The album was an important closing chapter for the band and they wanted the re-issue to be meticulous because the initial release had gotten short shrift when it came out on Orient Records in 1980.

However, with members John Catto and Paul Robinson now permanently ensconced in England it was difficult for the tapes to be re-mastered, the video footage for the single “Catwalker” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOkvX9gS8_I to be restored and the artwork to be assembled in a timely fashion with all hands on board in the approval process. So it was delayed.

Meanwhile, a bigger battle plan was launched as Ralph Alfonso – still acting as their manager 20 years later – single-handedly cajoled the band’s former label, Sony, into re-issuing the Diodes’ first two albums on CD in 1999; Making way for the group to have a proper comeback – and reunion.

The Diodes did select shows and generated new interest in their history – from humble beginnings in 1976 to becoming press darlings and the first Canadian punk act signed to a major label.

Ralph

Ralph Alfonso backed by Dave Rave & The Plastic Heroes at Lennon’s Pub, Liverpool 2007. Photo: Wil Woodrove c/o IPO.

Fast forward to 2007 where Dave Rave (ex-Shakers, Teenage Head) who was also signed to Bullseye, The Diodes and I were performing at David Bash’s annual Liverpool International Pop Overthrow Festival being held at the Cavern Club, Cavern Pub and Lennon’s Pub on Mathew Street.

A triple threat at Lennon’s Pub the first night of the festival featured Dave Rave, Ralph Alfonso (backed by Dave Rave and The Plastic Heroes) and the reunited Diodes. All three acts blew the roof off the joint.

Following the amazingly exhaustive sets and Ralph’s and Dave Rave’s impromptu post-gig man-on-the-street sidewalk interview with BBC Radio’s action ReactionSpencer Leigh, we headed off to an Indian restaurant for a late meal. The Diodes held court and the question came up, once more, about the illusive re-issue of ‘Action/Reaction’. By this point the license for Bullseye to release it had long expired and Ralph’s own Bongo Beat Records currently relinquished control.

John Catto finally spoke up and admitted that the production had been delayed because of him – he just hadn’t been happy with the re-mastering and had spent the better part of a year fixing the recordings which were extracted from sources that needed a lot of TLC.

bongobeatTo everyone’s delight Bongo Beat finally released ‘Action/Reaction’ in 2011 and it was well worth the wait! Ralph never disappoints with his amazing CD packaging and presentation. Ralph would also do graphic design and layout for our re-issue of New York City punks The Fast as well.

I highly recommend checking out any or all of these re-issues. Most are available on Ebay and even Amazon.com

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

=JV=                                                                            

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com

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