You are in the Falconer Theatre in Copenhagen on May 31st 1978. David Bowie is playing on stage in front of you. After an intriguing set opening of Warszawa, “Heroes” and What In The World Bowie swings into Be My Wife. You get the picture now that what you are witnessing is a cracking concert. What you don’t know is that near by there is a “taper” in the audience recording every note played on expensive recording equipment, normally smuggled in through all manners and means.
Fast forward to January 27 2014 and somewhere in Brisbane, Australia there is a very happy Bowie fan who is listening to that very same concert recorded almost 36 years ago.
The world of bootlegs is considered a seedy industry by some. For those of us who know better it is one of the greatest industries that we have ever had the pleasure of embracing. We are the dedicated band of merry fans who have been with the artist we love for many years. We own all the studio albums, normally in five or six different formats for some albums. We have bought the singles, books and just about every official item there is. But like a heroin junkie we want more. But where do we turn to?
Bootlegs of course!
My fascination with Bowie bootlegs on vinyl began in 1993 when I saw a copy of “Slaughter In The Air” on the racks in one of the big city record stores. It was around $50 at the time so with only $20 on me I picked up the said album and made my way to the counter. Within moments it was now tucked away in the back room hidden from the prying eyes of other Bowie collectors in a brown paper bag with my name and a collection date on it.
Two weeks later I was back and “Slaughter In The Air” was mine! A beautiful recording of Bowie live at the LA Forum recorded by a “taper” on April 4 1978.
The album came home with me and spent the following days revolving around my turntable. I suspect that it was played around a dozen times in the first few days of my ownership. These days I actually own two copies of “Slaughter In The Air” but I don’t remember how the second copy came into my possession. Strange that.
Through the 90’s I gradually picked up more and more vinyl bootlegs. I was buying and ordering CD boots throughout the same period but that is a story in itself. Vinyl bootlegs were where it was at for the serious music fans. We treasured our purchases. I remember ringing my local post office on consecutive days when I was awaiting an order to arrive from England, thanks to a dealer by the name of Marshall Jarman. He was one serious Bowie merchant who specialised in not just Bowie but Prince and Madonna. I must have spent thousands over a ten year period buying Bowie items of Marshall. I’d love to meet him one day. He actually appears in Bowie’s video for DJ, filmed in London during the summer of 1979.
Many collectors dating back to the 70’s traded cassette tapes but that was never really my thing. From memory I only ever traded a handful of concert tapes.
With the turn of the new century came a new way of collecting. It came in the shape of CD-R trading! Within the exchange of a few emails and sifting over collectors listing you would have, normally with two weeks, a pile of 20 or more bootlegs on CD-R and all for the cost of a small package in the post and a few hours of your time. It was great to have access to so many shows but somehow you felt like you were cheating on old traditions.
Gone were the days of meeting new friends and cute girls in record stores. Gone were the Sunday afternoons spent at record stall days and fat old men with receding hairlines selling their prized possessions. No more coloured vinyl, limited editions or the ownership of rare collectables that very few others had. Now we were dealing with silver CDs and shock horror, MP3 sourced shows!
What on earth was the world coming to?
The bootleg vinyl industry, strong since the late 1960’s was in decline after more than 30 years. For the curious music fans out there, the very first known bootleg appeared in America and was a collection of Bob Dylan recordings that came under the name of “The Great White Wonder” in 1969.
As the new millennium progressed more and more concerts began to appear. Bowie’s famous and rare gig at Aylesbury from 1971 turned up on the open collectors market sometime in 2001. I had heard in years gone by of this mysterious concert, taped and owned by a select few and now, here it was, on the open slather for all to share! What followed took my breath away. Early Ziggy shows from 1972 and a feast of from Bowie’s tours in 1974, 1976 and 1978 almost overnight began to surface on traders lists. My collection grew, so fast that at one point I had around 40 shows sitting in wait for me to listen to.
The only downside to all these new shows meant that many began to circulate as poorly sourced MP3 recordings. Shifty traders who elected not to put in time and effort took the easy option And flooded the market with average recordings. Others even had the hide to charge hefty sums of money for these CD-R quality concerts.
Allowing fans access to a previously secluded part of the music industry came at a price. Quality was being sacrificed for personal gain through these shifty traders.
In recent years the world has become accustomed to Torrent files. These have helped steer the bootleg ship back on course thanks to serious collectors with the right sound equipment to “clean up” many of the previously poor quality shows and render them to a state of high quality once more. Access to bootlegs is now a rather simple process should you know where to look. More and more shows that we had imagined never to exist or only in the hands of a select few have now become available to anyone who wants them. And that has to be a good thing.
As I approach 37 years of age my passion and deep love for music has only grown stronger. I own a monstrous collection of bootlegs from not just Bowie, but many other artists and bands including The Smiths, The Beatles, Suede, Radiohead and The Who to name a few. Friends label me an obsessive music nerd. Others just don’t understand me. Yet, on a personal level……nothing makes me happier!