"In praise of bootlegs" - An examination of the pros and cons of the subject. Your Devil's Advocate for tonight: Alan Hewitt.
This is a subject which raises as many hackles as some religious disputes. Indeed, to many fans, bootlegs are a "religion" of their very own.
My first encounter with bootlegs occurred on an MGP coach (dear old MGP, remember them?) making its way home to England from a Genesis concert in Germany back in September 1982. I still vividly remember another member of our coach party thrusting the treasured C120 cassette into the hands of the coach driver with the instruction: "play this!" And so there I was, barely half an hour after the gig had ended, listening to a recording which was barely audible over the chatter on board the coach but nonetheless determined in my resolution to find out more about these mysterious objects, and to start acquiring these gems if it were possible, and more importantly if any other souvenirs of previous gigs I had attended were available. That, simply put, was my rationale for entering the perilous and on occasions extremely fractious world of bootleg collecting - to acquire souvenirs of gigs I had been lucky enough to attend in the past. That, I also think is one of the main rationales for anyone who embarks on this particular pastime, isn't it?
Bear in mind that in 1982 fans did not have the luxury of the Internet, and all communication was done via letter, telephone or word of mouth and so finding people prepared to indulge my new found hobby was not always an easy matter. The Genesis fan base in those days certainly seemed to be more indulgent of "newbies" than it is now and I was very lucky to find a few fans who were prepared to get my collection started. Ah yes, I remember those first parcels of cassette tapes delivered by a bemused postman. In fact the number of large "brown paper parcels" that arrived at the house might have even made our humble postie (a long standing Genesis fan himself, funnily enough) suspect that either I was a terrorist or a pornographer on a truly massive scale - NEITHER of which is the case, I hasten to add, folks! Finally hearing such treasures as "From The Mouth Of The Monster", "Living Revelations" and "Awed Man Out" for the first time was a thrill that hasn't dimmed with the passage of twenty four years!
The difficulty then, as it is now, was to get a collection suitably varied that could be used as a trading base from which I could entice fellow fans to trade for a selection of their salubrious "goodies". Strangely enough, this did not prove to be as difficult a proposition for me as I had originally thought and within a matter of months I had a sturdy and growing collection thanks to the help of a few dedicated but clearly insane fans several of whom are still collecting today and whom I am proud to call friends of mine. I was blissfully unaware of the "darker" side to collecting that is those obsessive fans who for reasons of their own who opt to keep recordings rare and unavailable to the general collecting public - a side of the bootleg scene which I only encountered once I acquired Internet access. Thankfully, even there the "Sharers" outnumbered the "Hoarders" and that's precisely the way it should be!
The fascination of this subject is something which can only be confusing to anyone outside the collecting arena and the only way I can really describe it to such outsiders is to refer to it as musical "archaeology". That analogy is not without merit either. With a band with as much history as Genesis and its solo members, there is much that has not been properly documented, badly stored, or indeed lost. The band's own archive of recordings is, as we have recently begun to find out; sadly lacking in many areas, which is where the existence of bootlegs can plug in gaps. A case in point is the compilation by the band (which sadly has yet to be released) of their session recordings by the BBC. A double CD set was compiled at the same time as the band released their second Genesis Archive set. A handful of these were pressed up as promotional CDs and I was fortunate enough to receive one of them which, of course made VERY exciting listening. What surprised me was the quality (or lack of it) of the final session on the discs which sounded as if it had been recorded on a biscuit tin! Apparently, the original master tape of this session could not be found at the time of the compilation and so an extremely low fi bootleg was substituted for completeness! Fortunately for all concerned, the original master recording IS safe and sound in the BBC archives should the band decide to give this wonderful compilation an official release.
More recently still; the release by Steve Hackett of the latest in his Live Archive series of official "bootlegs" focussed on his first acoustic tour back in 1983. Surprisingly enough, the recording was mainly sourced from an audience recording of one gig, padded out to completeness by parts taken from a closed microphone mix desk recording of another! Without the existence of that audience recording; the project would not have seen the light of day and fans would have been deprived of another vital slice of Hackett history. From a personal viewpoint, my own collection of bootlegs proved to be a vital resource when I was compiling material my book: Opening The Musical Box - A Genesis Chronicle and more recently, my ongoing work on Steve's biography. The lack of care with which parts of the band's heritage have been treated was also brought home forcibly to me during the work I did for the Genesis Songbook, and one small instance might suffice as an example to illustrate the point. The production company in charge of the project approached all of the UK TV companies as well as most of the major European ones for lists of available footage by the band still in their broadcast archives. It was then one of my more interesting tasks to go through those lists and assemble a shopping list of potential material for the project. One of the TV companies was well-known to me and they had recorded a feature on the band when they played at Roundhay Park in Leeds in 1987 for their local TV news programme. Imagine my surprise therefore, when upon enquiry as to the whereabouts of this footage the response was that it had been wiped! Fortunately for me at least; I have a broadcast copy of that feature in my own video archive! Even the extra unused interview/performance footage from the Genesis Songbook itself has suffered a similar fate - much to my annoyance because I now can't remember what I said about Abacab during my interview! Imagine therefore, the potential material from earlier periods in the band's story which have been similarly lost - tragic! Sadly, TV companies too are only just beginning to wake up to the commercial value of their own archives and tragically in many cases, where music is concerned, it is already too late.
That is the argument in favour of the humble bootleg. Of course, there are equally valid arguments against them. Many artists have no desire to air their "bad hair days" in public and Genesis in particular have been notorious for their "quality control" over live and TV performance recordings. Many TV appearances too are extremely embarrassing as anyone who watched Genesis's appearance on TISWAS in the early 1980's will agree and the artist has every right not to have their mistakes aired in public and indeed studio out-takes and demos have been another fertile field for the bootlegger over the years. Much of that material would surely only be of interest to extreme diehard fans anyway? From a commercial viewpoint, the subject of bootlegs takes on an entirely different context. Record companies view them as a legitimate threat to their activities. The sale of bootlegs, we are told deprives both the record company and artist of royalties; money which could be invested, in the record companies case into new and exciting artists and development; and in the case of the artist themselves; new studio recording equipment; stage kit or a brand new sports car depending on where their interests lie!
|Both record company and recording artist make their living from the sale of records/CDs etc. That is the commercial reality which eludes many fans. Genesis have often been accused of being "commercial". Of course, they are, folks! Genesis began as a song writer's co-operative determined to SELL their songs to others and when that didn't happen, they went on to SELL them themselves! Musicians make music as their way of putting bread and butter on the table, pure and simple and the sale of recordings etc is how it is done. Anything that threatens that ability to make a living has been frowned upon and dealt with in an increasingly heavy-handed manner by record companies.|
This has especially become the case in the last few years with the rapid growth of the Internet and the arrival of organisations such as Napster which have brought the whole issue into the light of day for all to see. Napster's downfall was its failure to realise that sharing files of COMMERCIALLY available music without paying either the artist or their record company for the privilege would only serve to bring down the wrath of the Gods upon them - which it duly did!
The Internet has been a positive Godsend for bootleg collectors and especially for new fans with more trading groups springing up than can easily be counted. The ethic behind most of them seems to be a simple one: getting previously unheard music out to the fans FREE OF CHARGE, which of itself is NOT illegal (not in the UK at least!) The days of buying crappy recordings in well packaged but deceptive sleeves for extortionate amounts of money are well and truly over. Witness the demise of "companies" such as Highland in Japan as proof of the power that these new groups have , which is more effective than periodic raids by the likes of the BPI for instance - who should be focussing their efforts on the bootleggers of COMMERCIALLY available product in my own humble opinion. The efforts that individual or groups of fans have expended not only in acquiring the technology to clean up recordings but also to package them in such a fashion that they could in many cases easily be mistaken for official product, is breathtaking and indeed in many cases puts the record companies themselves to shame! Sad to say, many fans are still not aware of these groups and are often ripped off by sellers on the likes of eBay when they should be looking elsewhere.
The sad thing is that the record companies and indeed the band themselves are unlikely to relinquish their control of exactly the kind of material that fans are most interested in and which is contained in the recordings which we are talking about here. Great examples where this kind of material HAS been made available; such as Steve's Live Archive and Peter Gabriel's Encore series of recordings have shown that there IS a viable marketplace out there for such product and it would be marvellous if the long-overdue release of some of Genesis's own archive of live recordings could be achieved. It would be even more remarkable and delightful if the two wings of this area could work together without the mutual mistrust which is the norm at present. For example; where no archival recording exists in the band's own archive; the gap is "plugged" by use of resources which the fan base have been carefully archiving for many years and instead of seeing each other as a threat, work TOGETHER to ensure that the band's remarkable legacy is preserved for future generations - as well as putting funds back into the hands of record company and artist into the bargain!
Maybe I am dreaming here but the potential that could be harnessed here for the benefit of everyone (record company, band AND fans alike) beggars belief and I for one am thankful for the work of those musical "archaeologists" and artists who have kept my own "musical box" full of wonderful music over the years.