All change in the DORJA camp; farewell Holly and welcome Sarah Michelle

Almost a year to the day since DORJA announced themselves with their track ‘Fire’, they have now had a change to the line-up. Founding guitarist Holly Henderson announced her departure last month, as her own solo career is set for lift-off. She has plans to play live with her new band, and with a new EP imminent and an album in the can for release later in the year she perhaps felt that she could no longer give her all to DORJA. With dates of their own booked for July, the remaining quartet (guitarist Rosie Botterill, drummer Anna Mylee, bass player Becky Baldwin, plus LA-based lead singer Aiym Almas) conducted an online search for a new guitarist, and they have today announced their new member.

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, new six-stringer Sarah Michelle has several years’ experience touring the UK and Europe, most recently with tribute act ‘The Magic of Michael Jackson’. Her guitar influences include Eddie van Halen, Gary Moore, Jimi Hendrix and Paul Kossoff, and she maintains a channel on YouTube with over 1.2million views at the time of writing. She appears to be a natural fit for this band, and I was hoping to get to a show or two in order to see for myself what she will bring to the party. However I shall be out of action for most of July having sustained a fractured ankle (following a recent gig, note not during it!) therefore I cannot travel to any of the scheduled dates. Beyond disappointed at that, since I know the other four members well and would no doubt enjoy their set, but it will have to be another time.

The dates for DORJA’s upcoming tour are listed below, if a show is reachable I recommend attending, since the band members can only come together at irregular intervals (singer Aiym Almas is based in LA, with Sarah Michelle in Dublin and the other girls all based in England).

For further information please see the band’s Facebook page.

DORJA UK dates July 2017
Lastly, here is a clip of Sarah Michelle herself from her youtube channel:

DORJA guitarist Sarah Michelle

DORJA guitarist Sarah Michelle

Breaking down the month of May with Holly Henderson

It’s been an incredibly active month for Holly Henderson, a talented musician and songwriter (and guitarist in female rock combo DORJA) who I have been following for some time now. At the beginning of May she played her first gig with her new live band at a music event in her home town of Maidstone, which your correspondent saw, having made the crazy decision to drive all the way there from Merseyside, watch her set, hang for a while and drive back – all on the same night! More on that later, but hot on the heels of that, one of the tracks from her upcoming album (‘Loneliness’, which she performed at that gig) has now been aired on BBC Radio Kent, and if that isn’t enough, she has just unveiled the promo video for her song ‘Breakdown’, a track taken from her ‘Opium Drip’ EP.

As well as all of that, she has been performing with DORJA, and has also appeared in a promo video for their track ‘Reaching Out’ which was shot in April, while all five band members were in the UK. (Vocalist Aiym Almas is based in LA while drummer Anna Mylee lives in Belgium.) DORJA will return for more UK live dates in July and I intend to see at least one, hopefully more of their shows.

Regarding the gig, which took place on the May Day bank holiday at The Style And Winch in Maidstone, this was as part of an all-day music event featuring several acts. However, I was only concerned with getting there in time to see Holly’s set and despite setting out in early afternoon, barely made it there in time. With the exception of the song ‘Your Hands’ (performed in rearranged form to suit the band format), taken from ‘Opium Drip’ I was unfamiliar with all of this material, since the album that will feature it is still to be released. The pacy rocker ‘Loneliness’ impressed me in particular, and she proved to be a natural fronting a band, displaying a welcome sense of humour in her between-song chats. She did have a few serious messages too, urging us (as a species) to ‘stop raping the planet’ before performing a number dealing with that topic. (As an aside, Delain’s ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’ is also concerned with that issue.)

Many of the audience were known to her, including her mum who was situated to the left of the room close to the front. She was backed by her ‘guitar compadre’ Jamie Chellar, backing vocalist Katy Chellar, bassist Martin Taylor and drummer Luke Phillips. All were impressive players themselves (especially the drummer, who got the chance to kick up a storm close to the end of the set) and a cover of Radiohead’s ‘High And Dry’ provided Jamie with a moment in the spotlight. This outfit is tasked with recreating live the music made in LA with guitarist Pete Thorn, drummer Blair Sinta and bassist Jon Button and although I’ve yet to hear the finished album, on the evidence of what I saw this group will more than do it justice.

At that gig Holly declared that ‘Loneliness’ would be the album’s first single, and it was played on BBC Radio Kent’s ‘Introducing’ programme on May 13 2017. This is a very ‘immediate’ sounding song, combining hard-driving guitar with Holly’s more tender vocal. She has said that while previously she has preferred to cover her vocals in reverb and other effects, she was encouraged by Pete Thorn to give her voice more prominence during the sessions for the album. Described as ‘awesome’ by BBC Kent presenter Abbie McCarthy, it bodes well for the album as a whole.

Finally, her video for ‘Breakdown’ was released on May 16 2017. This video was directed by George Mays, who personally invited Holly to LA in order to produce the clip after having heard her ‘Opium Drip’ EP. She flew out in November 2016 and spent around a fortnight on the project. The finished video features some special effects, literally of Holly putting herself back together after a ‘breakdown’ – there are scattered limbs everywhere, but it isn’t quite as horrifying as it sounds! The low lighting in the clip suits the mood of the song perfectly, and she is a natural in front of the camera.

Holly has come a long way from when I first saw her live (here in Liverpool) a little over two years ago; her inherent talent meant she could never be expected to play rhythm guitar in a covers band for ever. Even while doing that gig, she had uploaded to her Facebook page some snippets of her own playing, and demos of material she was writing (some of which ended up on the ‘Opium Drip’ EP) so the more awake fans of her then band could see clearly she was headed for bigger things. With the imminent release of her album and live dates in the pipeline, it won’t be long before the ‘tastemakers’ come calling. I fully expect her to appear on BBC Sound of 2018 at the start of next year… no pressure then 😉

Holly and her band at The Style & Winch, Maidstone

Clockwise from left: Holly, Katy Chellar, Luke Phillips, Martin Taylor, Jamie Chellar

The BBC Introducing Kent radio programme featuring Holly is linked here (available until mid-June 2017) and her song is featured at 45:27.

The video for ‘Breakdown’ (dir. George Mays) can now be viewed on Vimeo (YouTube coming soon)

Breakdown from George Mays on Vimeo.

Lastly – the video for ‘Reaching Out’ by her band DORJA (dir. Dan Coffey):

Caught Live: Women In Rock, Eleven, Stoke-on-Trent May 12th 2017

There seems to be an increasing number of live acts celebrating a particular ‘theme’ of music; for instance the touring Supersonic 70s (aka ‘Solid Gold 70s’) is a live band with male and female vocal, who celebrate all things 1970s with a selection of hits from the decade taking in many different musical styles, and all presented with a dash of humour and period clothes for the performers. It is a welcome change from the number of tribute acts out there; almost any reasonably well-known band now will know they’ve arrived when they have their own copycat tribute act. While it can be enjoyable, the idea of doing a show based on a theme rather than a particular band is starting to become popular and so it is with this show.  It is exactly as it says on the tin, as far as I’m aware this is the only act of its kind on the circuit in this country. Once again a live band, but with two (sometimes three) female singers out front performing songs made famous by prominent female rockers.  The band musicians themselves aren’t necessarily female, but on the occasion I caught them their guitarist certainly was.  I was here mainly because DORJA guitarist Rosie Botterill was playing; she had been invited to guest on guitar for this show alongside their regular band.

Looking at the website for this act, they seem to have a revolving cast of singers who come in as and when available. They have been known to include The Duchess from the band Space Elevator in previous shows, but for this show the singers were Emily J Clark (who has appeared with ‘Vampires Rock’ among other shows) and Aussie vocalist Sara-Louise. Eleven is a bar and function room set in an industrial estate, which is easy to miss from the road (I drove past it myself before realising) with a not-very-obvious entrance up a flight of steps. However once inside, the room is spacious with a decent-sized stage. The group came on stage just before their scheduled start time of 9pm, with the singers and guitarist Rosie accompanied by male musicians: bassist Steve Clay, drummer Mick Neaves and keyboardist Jamie Brooks.  They kicked off with a rendition of Pat Benatar’s ‘Heartbreaker’ which introduced the powerful voice of Sara-Louise and ran through a series of rock favourites, including Joan Jett’s ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’, Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ and Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge Of Seventeen’. The songs were sometimes performed as duets, with the ladies taking the verses in turn, or sometimes one would step to the front of the stage while the other provided a backing vocal.

Not everything was obvious 1980s classic rock however; some surprises included Skunk Anansie’s ‘I Can Dream’ (which Sara-Louise described as more modern. It is, kind of – but it’s now 20 years old!) and ‘Remember My Name’ – a minor hit for Stevie Lange which is best remembered as a theme to a perfume ad from the early 1980s. Whatever they sang, the vocals were impressive from both women. These songs aren’t exactly crooned, after all! Sara-Louise took on the daunting ‘Alone’; described as a Heart song (it was a huge hit for them, but was originally written and recorded by the obscure act i-Ten) while the power ballad quota was maintained with Cher’s ‘I Found Someone’. After an impressive cover of ‘I Got The Music In Me’ (a 1970s hit for Kiki Dee) there was a short interval.

The band returned for their second set with the singers having changed costumes, picking up where they left off with ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’; originally a Simon & Garfunkel song of course but included here on account of the fact that the Bangles had a hit with their 1980s cover. They went soulful with ‘Piece of My Heart’ next, though the arrangement was closer to the Joplin (Big Brother And The Holding Company, if we’re being pedantic!) version than the Erma Franklin original, once again demonstrating the sheer vocal power of these ladies. In this set they included a few more recent covers; Sara-Louise impressed particularly with her delivery of Evanescence’s ‘Bring Me To Life’ (which also meant bassist Steve Clay stepping to the mic in order to deliver the male vocal parts) and Halestorm’s ‘The Rock Show’. Other recent-ish covers were Pink’s ‘Just Like A Pill’ and ‘You Oughta Know’ – the Alanis song featuring the only F-bomb of the night courtesy of Sara-Louise (!)

The act did tread some more familiar ground, covering Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ and ‘Because The Night’, a song which was a hit for Patti Smith in the late 1970s but co-written with Bruce Springsteen (who has performed a version himself with different lyrics). They closed out with Suzi Quatro’s ‘Can The Can’, before ending as they started with a Benatar cover (this time ‘Love Is A Battlefield’). The encore was a Bonnie Tyler medley/mashup , starting off with ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ they segued into ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, which saw both Emily and Sara-Louise come to the fore. And that was our lot!

Special mention must be made of Rosie, who had only a short time to learn a lengthy set and did a terrific job of filling in for their regular guitarist (Alex Ward). I got to speak to her afterwards (and get an obligatory photo!) and she said that she would be performing again with this act, although she didn’t know yet exactly when. She was concentrating hard on her playing, usually she is a little more expressive with her trademark ‘bounce’ as seen with DORJA and in her previous life in a punk cover band, but here she was more restrained, taking the lead when prompted but largely giving the singers the spotlight. She is a self-confessed fan of Slash and this show was therefore special for her to perform in his home town.

All in all then, a great night of female-fronted rock performed by two mightly powerful singers, and all for less than a tenner. They do a wide scope of material, but as a fan of the European symphonic metal scene I’d like to see that side of female-fronted rock represented too. They get close with Evanescence’s hit, but I did suggest to the girls afterwards that maybe one or two from the likes of Nightwish or Within Temptation would fit nicely in this show. Whether that’s taken on board remains to be seen, but your correspondent did wear a Delain T-shirt for the occasion, as their singer is my favourite when it comes to ‘women in rock’ (!)

This act plays frequently across the UK and so I will aim to see them again when they come to the North West.

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4 – Deserving

Caught Live: DORJA (supporting LiveWire AC/DC), Robin 2 Bilston 31st March 2017

Once again the dreaded Same Night Syndrome struck here, I had originally planned to go and see Blackberry Smoke this night but when the three dates for this all-girl band were announced things changed, since the only one I could possibly make was at this Black Country venue on that very night.  I’d long planned to go and see the band again after seeing them make an impressive debut last July in Birmingham, in the meantime I’d been following events closely as they demoed material and, at the beginning of the year finally went into a studio to put some of the songs they’d written down on tape. (Do they still use tape these days? 😉 )

When I saw DORJA last year I was already familiar with some of the band members, having seen them play on numerous occasions in their previous band (which performed covers of punk/new wave classics). At that time they had only recently left that act (and had shed the stage names I’d known them by until then); that, plus the fact that the new band would not only feature their own material but be in a more traditional hard rock direction, meant that I was still adjusting to the change when that gig took place. We were also introduced to a new face that night in vocalist Aiym Almas; a Kazakh-born, LA-residing singer who had been recruited by drummer and founding member Anna Mylee during her own time spent in LA. The band impressed those who’d come along, despite the singer suffering from illness which forced the other band members to take occasional vocal spots too.

By the time of this release and series of gigs I and others had got to know the band and their members better, mostly via a series of social media posts which provided updates on what they were doing. The girls (without the singer) met up in Anna’s Belgian homeland last autumn to demo material and also conduct an interview, while they had maintained regular contact with their US-based singer via the magic of Skype. When they played this time around, it was with Aiym firing on all cylinders, and I’d heard great reports from people who had attended the previous two dates. So, no pressure then, as I said to Anna during a pre-gig chat at their merch table…!

Anna’s kit was set up stage right (house left), as the LiveWire backline took up a lot of the stage. She came out first and pounded a rhythm reminiscent of Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance With The Devil’ before launching into opener ‘Reaching Out’. Straight away, it was obvious what a powerful and soulful singer Aiym is, this brought it home that last year we only saw about 30 percent of what she can do. In addition, she has real ‘stage presence’; almost regal in the way she carries herself. This band may be made up of attractive women (sorry girls, but you are!!) all of whom have confidence, ability and presence themselves (particularly dynamic bass player Becky Baldwin who is never stood still) but, I for one found it difficult to tear my eyes away from that captivating frontwoman.

All the tracks from the EP were performed, as well as some material that did not feature this time around including pacy hard rocker ‘Turn In All Around’ and ‘Far Gone’, a bluesier number that features a ‘Moby Dick’-style drum solo in the middle. (It’s kept short!) It is to be hoped that these do feature on another release in the near future.
Although the revelation for me was the singer, there was great playing from all concerned, and it was guitarist Holly Henderson who provided much of the backing vocal for the singer, their voices blended well together on the soulful ‘Not In My Shadow’. Across the stage, Rosie Botterill on the other guitar was responsible for my breaking out the air guitar, during ‘Fire’ 😉

They ended their set with a medley/cover, combining The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ with Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, both with a raunchy and throaty vocal from Aiym.  They were given around 45 minutes by LiveWire and made the most of the opportunity, wowing the early arrivals and, judging by the amount of people at their stand afterwards, winning many new followers.

The band must surely be pleased with how these shows went; all the girls have plenty of other irons in the fire musically but when this five-piece do get together, they’ve showed in the few gigs they’ve performed so far that collectively, they’re really something special. LiveWire are to be commended for inviting them to support (they did a good -lengthy- set themselves, featuring two vocalists who cover both Bon and Brian material) and if DORJA can land themselves a support tour of this country opening for a ‘name’ band playing Academy-type venues, there’ll be no stopping them. I gave the EP four inflatable guitars, live they’re something else and therefore the five are awarded here 😀

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5 – Delightful

EP: DORJA ‘Target Practice’ (self-released)

It has been a long time in coming, but finally there is a physical CD of material available from this hotly-tipped all-girl hard rock band who were last seen on these shores in July 2016.

DORJA launched in June last year; formed by Belgian drummer Anna Mylee during a spell in Los Angeles, she recruited fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas before turning her attention back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up. She had worked with guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill before, touring the UK extensively and gaining many admirers, and so both were drafted in from the covers band they had been part of previously. In turn, they invited bassist Becky Baldwin (one of the most active performers on the live scene currently, also a member of trio iDestroy and metallers Triaxis) into the fold, and the five initially conducted writing sessions via Skype before the whole group met up in LA in May 2016.  Whilst there, they recorded one of their new songs (‘Fire’) and released it as a download-only single. That track also features (unchanged) on this EP, while the three accompanying tracks were recorded at the beginning of 2017 in England, with the singer adding her vocal tracks from her LA base.

Those who have followed this outfit from the start will already know ‘Fire’; a hard-hitting number with chunky riffage and a powerhouse vocal. Lyrically, it also sets a tone (heard throughout this record) of empowerment (“No, you’re not winning this game; I’m not a prize that you can claim”) which gives this material more depth than a party-hard lyric often heard in hard rock of this style. (Not that I’m against a bit of hard partying, of course!)  The lyrical theme continues on ‘Not In Your Shadow’ (“Hear me speak, it’s louder than what you might remember”) but on this number, the guitars are dialled back a little allowing a more soulful, passionate vocal.  The heavier guitars are back on ‘Reaching Out’, with another defiant lyric (“And I will survive, because you don’t fight my fight”) delivered over Anna Mylee’s syncopated beat, accompanied by some tasty lead soloing from Holly Henderson. The title track ‘Target Practice’ closes this EP, a mid-paced rocker featuring nice vocal harmonies, which builds up into a guitar-heavy crescendo.

For such a new band, this is an accomplished first offering. All the material is self-written (credited collectively) and this outfit is already starting to fulfil its huge potential. In particular, they have a real star in that lead singer, she has both raunch and tenderness in her delivery and knows when (and when not!) to deploy either quality.

The logistics of having an international membership mean that they only get together and perform some of the time, however I believe that if they were given the chance to spend more time as a unit (even if that meant a wholesale decampment to Los Angeles) they could deliver a fantastic debut album, one that would stand the test of time. Certainly if given the backing their talent merits, they must surely become huge in the years to come.

DORJA have just performed a trio of UK dates to launch this EP; a writeup of their set supporting LiveWire (AC/DC tribute) at Bilston will follow. They will return in July for festival shows, be sure to go along and catch these girls live.

targetpractice

Click image or link to go to DORJA webstore including CD and other merch

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4 – Deserving

EP: Holly Henderson ‘Opium Drip’ (self-released)

Available online via Amazon, Google Play and iTunes, this release is billed as an EP but is actually more of a mini-album, with seven tracks recorded solo by musician and songwriter Holly Henderson. Not yet 21, but with extensive experience already performing live as well as writing and recording her own material, she was previously known to many as guitarist ‘Kitty Vacant’ from her time with all-girl band The Sex Pissed Dolls. To those who only know her for blasting out powerchords and joking with the fans this EP will come as a surprise, since the material is very laid-back and chilled out. She is also known for her artwork, and this EP features a piece of her work as the cover art.

Artwork for Opium Drip

Artwork for Opium Drip by Holly Henderson

The songs are all home recordings, produced whenever she could find time in her busy schedule of touring and all collated for the first time on this EP. She lures the listener in with first track ‘Breakdown’ with some gentle guitar noodling and a dreamy, etheral vocal. The template is similar throughout the EP, although she does play some tastefully bluesy licks in ‘Life Has A Bug (I Fell Ill)’. There are harder guitar parts there too, blistering solos are introduced when you’re already lulled into a false sense of security such as the stunning solos on ‘Your Hands’ and title track ‘Opium Drip’. These songs are not heavy in the rock sense, but are very heavy on feel and emotion, you really sense she’s poured much of herself into these songs, they tend to start off slow and quiet but build into climactic crescendos.

Overall, this EP is best listened to when played late at night with the lights dimmed, sat on your favourite chair with a glass of wine. She was always destined for far more than spending her evenings bashing out I-IV-V chord sequences, and this material shows a far greater depth to her talent than was apparent during her Kitty Vacant days. I look forward to seeing how her songwriting develops in the coming years, be it solo or with DORJA (the all-girl hard rock band she is a member of currently), as she has already demonstrated the ability to pen two-minute punky thrashabouts as well as radio-friendly hard rockers. Now we see a more introspective side to her writing, and I predict she will be much in demand both as a performer and as a writer in years to come.

Available to download via:
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/opium-drip/id1138146772

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Holly_Henderson_Opium_Drip?id=Bbnqgj63ssgauxl2oeuieprkcbu&hl=en_GB#details-reviews

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opium-Drip-Holly-Henderson/dp/B01L9Q5F6W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472775223&sr=8-1&keywords=opium+drip

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: DORJA, Wagon and Horses Birmingham 22 July 2016

New all-female hard rock band DORJA made their live debut this past week, with three gigs including a festival appearance at PKD in Dalgety Bay, Scotland. The band were only formed earlier this summer and feature three former members of The Sex Pissed Dolls. Despite that, the musical direction of this outfit leans more towards classic hard rock rather than the punk the girls had been known for until now. The band have already released a single (‘Fire’) as a download, recorded in LA where drummer Anna Mylee and vocalist Aiym Almas have been based for the past year. With the remaining band members (bass player Becky Baldwin, plus guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill) based in the UK, it was the turn of the drummer and singer to make the trip ‘across the pond’ to play their first gigs in this country.

The Wagon and Horses is a pub sited in Digbeth, close to the centre of Birmingham and near other well-known venues such as the o2 Institute, and the Irish Centre. They were playing as part of a multi-band bill, but were the only hard rock band on the bill while the rest of the bill was more punk-orientated. Days before these gigs took place, the band had posted on their Facebook page that their singer had been suffering from laryngitis, and was in a race against time to get fit enough to play these dates. She’s been described as having ‘the raw energy to challenge Janis Joplin’ and certainly delivered a powerful vocal on the single, but in order to play these dates the rest of the band helped her out by taking vocals on the cover tunes they performed amongst their own, newly-written material.

I caught some of the other acts on the bill but if I’m honest, as good as the Terrorsaurs were (a three-piece who each wore scary Slipknot-style masks but sounded more like The Hamsters live), I was there for DORJA mainly. That seemed to be the case for most as the venue (an outdoor terrace at the back of the pub with only a canopy covering the stage and terrace) filled up the closer it got to the girls’ stage time. They eventually got on stage at around 9:30 and ran through a nine-song set, including four covers and with ‘Fire’ performed last. Their own material went over well, with Aiym still sounding strong despite her illness. She has a really soulful bluesy voice and I look forward to seeing her again firing on all cylinders. On one of their own numbers, she traded vocal with Anna Mylee (‘do you know any other singing drummers?’ asked Aiym – well yes, thought I – I saw one very famous one only last month!)  and for their cover of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge of Seventeen’, she handed lead vocal to Holly Henderson. Holly feigned trepidation (you were feigning it, weren’t you Holly? 😉 ) but gave a great delivery of the classic track while fellow guitarist Rosie Botterill provided the ‘chug-a-chug-a’ guitar riff throughout.

I did notice that the lead solos were more evenly split in this band than was the case with the Dolls; the majority of the lead guitar was handled by Rosie in that band while Holly gave them a very solid footing with her heavy rhythm sound. However both are capable lead players and it’s likely that this outfit will allow the former Kitty Vacant more chance to shine. Rosie took lead vocal on ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight’, which was originally performed by… Spın̈al Tap!

Anna Mylee’s time in LA has, she says, taught her a lot and she gave a superb performance behind the kit; she locked in superbly with Becky Baldwin. Indeed, although the musicians are all in their 20s there was a good deal of experience on that stage, with the three former Dolls having played many gigs and Becky already a veteran of several other bands even before forming this one. They ended with ‘Fire’ and a reprise of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ before departing the stage to big cheers. Many present had travelled some distance to support the girls in this venture, and the ex-Dolls were clearly delighted to find they had not been forgotten by fans of their previous band.

This was only their second gig but they showed a lot of promise; you’d never have thought that they’d only got together for the second time a week previously in order to play these dates. On speaking to Anna following the set, she told me that the plans are to record and release a full album towards the end of the year and schedule a more comprehensive tour of the UK in 2017. I’ll be there to see them whatever happens, but there are some cool venues in this part of the world as well, ladies!

DORJA setlist Wagon and Horses

DORJA setlist

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4 – Deserving

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