There is a classic collectors’ dream. Most of us who collect have had it: you visit a shop, possibly in a foreign country, and you find a large selection of previously unknown items of desire, wonderful things, albums unheard and unheard of. I’ve had it with Prefab Sprout, loads of times. It’s very exciting until you wake up, having never quite managed to get the CDs to a playing device.
That’s the world beyond the velvet curtain of dreams. Very very occasionally, something like that happens in real life. “Crimson/Red” was one such manifestation: suddenly from nothing and nowhere a new album appeared.
And there’s a sort of half world between the two where mythical objects live, glistening in the distance but unattainable. There are some mundane examples, of which my favourite by far is a recording of the Rotterdam 1990 concert. This particular grail first surfaced in the early 2000s on the “Zorrophonic” Yahoo Group where the owner mentioned she had it and gave a track listing. Now 1990 tapes are the very epitome of hens teeth, incredibly difficult to find, so this would have been a fantastic find. But it never turned up. I tracked down the owner myself a few years ago – the delightful Edith – and she told me that it was locked, like some latter day Anne Frank, in a secret room behind a wardrobe in her Rotterdam apartment that she was unable to move (oh, what a tantalizing image!). Time passed, and she eventually opened the room, and there it was, gone. It must be somewhere there, but elusive to the nth power, and there are limits to how often one can nag about something.
Or the 1986 Red Wedge tape which was the concert in Newcastle where the Smiths burnt the place down unannounced, and at which Paddy made the best Sprout joke ever when he explained he was going to be joined on stage by “…one of the Smiths!!! YES!! Wendy Smith!!!”. Which is in the loft of someone who has become a dear online friend but is completely unable to find the fucker.
And then we have in no particular order, the soundboard recording of the Jordan Tour that was to be issued as a live album; a complete video 8 recording of a concert on the same tour, apparently locked in the attic of a vindictive ex-wife who will destroy it if it is ever asked for; various tape copies of “Let’s Change the World With Music” with deleted songs; a tape from the 1984 German tour, and various other similar items. However many leads you follow up, these things never quite turn up, but sit on the horizon shimmering like some capricious sprite.
But all of these probably have existed at some point. Where we really start poking into the velvety mirk is in stories such as I am about to tell…
I have contact details strategically placed on a couple of websites leading to a generic email address, and this sometimes results in people getting in touch. It’s not quite Juliet letters territory, but I get a surprising number of letters to Paddy, the odd reminiscence or request for material (never a problem incidentally if I have it) and occasional offers; the ICA show came through this way. And the most intriguing one ever was last year, when someone got in touch and asked me for copies of unreleased material. When I said I had a few things, what did he want exactly, he became very specific. Almost angry actually because I was explaining I had mostly live material and a few demo’s, but what he wanted was, and I quote:
“I check with my mate and he says that there is a CD with all Steve Mcqueen demos (14 tracks), called ‘Bullitt’ and Andromeda hieghts demos called ‘no strings attached’, and a Trawl the Megahertz CD of demos (10 tracks) called ‘radio frequency’. They are on private sale for 75 US dollars each – these are what I wanted”
And immediately you find yourself in the little record shop in the dream world, flicking through the racks, and finding treasures you know in your heart don’t really exist, but not quite wanting the alarm clock to go off to pull you back to the real world.
Now obviously I did spend a lot of time searching and following leads to see if these existed, and of course there was no trace of them anywhere. Probably his mate was winding him up, or maybe he was winding me up, who know? But I’ve never quite managed to shake the idea they might. After all, unreleased albums did make it out into the wild… Great titles too.
Suffice to say, if you know where I can find these, I have the $75 per item, on the proviso they won’t just dissolve in the dawn dew.