I started looking for bootlegs in the late 1970s. At the time it was Genesis material. It was indescribably difficult for a provincial teenager well away from a major city to find them. You would see references here and there to names of mysterious albums: “Awed Man Out”, “The Bedside Yellow Foam”, but they were distant objects of desire and utterly impossible to locate.
Somehow, after answering every dodgy advert I could find in the music press, I found myself in possession of an American bootleg catalogue, which religiously pored through over and over and over again, and I was able to order something. I still don’t know how I paid for it – I think my Father arranged something – and I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And eventually, just as I was phrasing a letter of complaint in my head, a package arrived, and I had a Kornyphone bootleg. Not the one I had ordered, as I recall, but a double: “A Death in Anytown, Live at the Felt Forum, 1973”, a crackly muffled heavy vinyl item.
And with this – my most prized collection – I was instantly set up, because I could swap it for cassettes from other collectors. Without something to swap, you were nothing, literally. With an obscure album and a tape deck, all of a sudden I was able to join the party. I made quite a number of good friends doing it – transitory friends, but we all shared a common passion, and in many ways it was a coming of age. I’d been quite solitary up to that point, so finding I was able to interact with other people around common interests was welcome and refreshing.
But above all it was the tapes themselves that fascinated. My personal Proust’s Madeleine is the smell of a fresh TDK-D Cassette, no question, and the feeling of utter exaltation and pleasure of opening a package, smelling the uniquely glossy smell of the card inner, and finding a new concert within is something that I can recall instantly to this day. The first “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour recording. Some bizarre early stuff from Italy. It was a magical world, however poorly recorded or hissy the tapes were. I guess I lasted a couple of years before for some reason I lost interest, and gave the tapes away to someone I met in a pub. I still regret that.
So we move forwards a couple of years and I went to Sussex University. It would have been 1982 probably. About the first thing I found was one of the ubiquitous little markets that you found on campuses in those days, including, as was equally common, the cassette bootleg stall. It was a garden of illicit delights; wobbly letrastat and crooked zeroxed sleeves, with a ghetto blaster on hand to play samples, and just about every local concert and many from further afield available, usually the morning after the gig. The sound was always diabolical – low end muffled, high end hissing like buggery and distorting like fuck – but that wasn’t really the point. It was just so much fun to have the memento.
I refer to these as “Camden Market Cassettes”, as that was the hub of the industry, where famous figures such as “Big Al” made a mint and in fact raised the standards by use of equalization and reputedly bribing roadies to allow soundboard recordings, publishing the results in DayGlo covers. I’ve since learned that there was an unwritten code of exclusivity on the market stalls for about a week before copies of copies were made available by the other stores.
They became largely part of history after a few high profile busts, and I guess the rise of digital music in one form or another. I don’t think many people noticed them passing; I certainly didn’t, and it’s really only now in retrospect that I’m more and more fascinated by them. And that’s because, despite their utter ubiquity at the time, these tapes are absolutely like hen’s teeth to find now. I know, because I’ve searched endlessly. Everywhere. Every clue followed up. And virtually nothing has turned up.
And there’s another thing: if every local gig was recorded, as I remember being the case, surely lurking in someone’s loft or in a damp lockup somewhere are recordings of Prefab Sprout gigs that haven’t come to light? The more this thought rises in me, the surer I am that just as happened to most of the cassettes I bought myself, such recordings are either in landfill or destined for landfill because of the over diligence of the decluttering brigade. It literally horrifies me. I feel myself tensing
up just typing this.
So above are four examples I have – Savoy at the Boston 1984, Lyceum 1984, Bari 1986, Hammersmith 1986. I hear rumours that Barrowlands 1990 is available, and also pictured is a “Big Al” Portsmouth 1990 which a friend had but sadly lost.There are others: Newcastle Mayfair 1984 is somewhere around possibly, Leeds Warehouse 1985 I’ve seen, and a couple of scrappy In Concerts. And the original bootleg of Protest Songs.
And if you see any of these or anything else, or you have a lock-up full of masters, have pity on a poor bootleg obsessive and get in touch. I’ll make it very worth your while.