The bootleggers who strike discord

Click to follow
Some bands give away their unofficial recordings, but is this just a smart move against piracy? Fiona Sturges reports

SO that's that. At the end of a long and winding saga, the former members of the Beatles yesterday won their court case, and Lingasong Music of Waltham Abbey, Essex, will not be able to release CDs of the group's 1962 performance in the Star Club in Hamburg.

But other musicians are often perfectly happy to hand out unofficial recordings. Some even make a point of it.

At a concert just last week at the Hanover Grand, in London, Money Mark (better known as the Beastie Boys' keyboard player) sat a tape recorder on his keyboard and taped himself performing his most popular track, "Cry". At the end of the song he threw the tape into the audience, saying, "I've made a bootleg copy of this song in every city that I've played."

Money Mark is by no means the first musician openly to endorse bootlegging. The cult Sixties psychedelic band, the Grateful Dead, were outspoken in their approval of music piracy, viewing it as part of the creative process, while Eighties rock outfit Dire Straits distribute bootlegs via their fan club.

But what is ostensibly an acceptance of this illegal practice may be a smart ploy to put pirates out of business. Artists who bring out their own free unofficial recordings leave little room for bootlegged editions. Before a concert on Radio One in 1991, U2 distributed blank tapes complete with track listings and covers so that fans could make their own recording.

Illegal tapes can, on the other hand, create a market for concert recordings or unreleased tracks from which record companies and artists can benefit. Illegal recordings of Bob Dylan concerts had long been distributed until Colombia released two box-sets - Biograph and The Bootleg Series 1-3 - in 1991. These contained the same bootlegs that were being sold illegally, but of a superior quality.

Since the updating of copyright laws in 1988 record companies have come down hard on perpetrators.

Last year Oasis battled with illegal versions of their album Be Here Now, offered on the Internet before its release. A fan, Steve Pockett, had pirated songs from a preview tape and left a message on an Oasis website offering copies. Creation and Sony issued a writ claiming colossal damages. The law now says that copyright generally lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years after his or her death. The Act also outlaws the selling and distributing of any sound recordings without the consent of the artist and/or record company.

And it's not just the fans who get caught out. The Verve were forced to hand over all their royalties for "Bitter Sweet Symphony" to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and former manager Allen Klein after using an orchestral version of the Stones' "The Last Time" even though the reference was felt to be "subliminal" by lead singer Richard Ashcroft.

The British Phonographic Institute's anti-piracy library has compiled a list of the most bootlegged artists in the UK. Needless to say, the Beatles are at the top of it with a staggering 280 titles. They are closely followed by Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Elvis Presley, Oasis and Tori Amos.

Dance acts have also come a cropper over sampling, an area of bootlegging where the legislation is still unclear. Musicians have been caught out assuming that their samples are undetectable or too obscure. The KLF (Kopyright Liberation Front) illegally used Abba samples in their 1987 album What The Fuck Is Going On? - they ended up taking thousands of recalled copies to Sweden and publicly burning them in a pyre. The album was later released without samples. The result is a mostly silent recording, with instructions showing how to rebuild the original album with your own samples.

But where established acts can afford the cost of sampling, others find it financially crippling. Blueboy's first chart-topping track "Remember Me" samples US jazz musician Marlena Shaw's "Woman In The Ghetto". In handing over 25 per cent of royalties, Blueboy believe the sample to have cost them pounds 250,000. Antony Johnson, managing director of their label, Pharm Records, said: "Blueboy have made a classic out of a record nobody knew."



THE BEATLES: Ironically enough the album the court case was about is available on bootleg - a 1962 recording of the band in Hamburg. But the most sought after Beatles bootleg is Anthology Plus. Available for pounds 25 at record fairs, this contains material not included on the group's recent three set Anthology collection -albums of studio sessions the band released because they were fed up with being bootlegged.

LED ZEPPELIN: One can pay three figures for a rare Led Zep concert. As with a lot of bands, notably The Beatles, some of the most sought after recordings were the sessions done at the BBC. These have now been officially released on both sides of the Atlantic.

BOB DYLAN: Still the most collectible. The most prized remains Live At The Royal Albert Hall. It can fetch pounds 200 plus. It is Dylan's 1966 concert with The Band shortly after going electric and is a pulsating performance. It even has an audience member shouting 'Judas' at Dylan for betraying his folk routes. The concert actually took place in Manchester - but that's bootlegs for you.

THE ROLLING STONES: The key period is 69-73, the Mick Taylor years when many thought them at the height of their powers. But the biggest prices can still be fetched for a recording of the July 5 1969 free concert in Hyde Park where Jagger paid tribute to the recently drowned Brian Jones. This album is generally known as Stoned In The Park.

PRINCE: Live concerts have proved fruitful for bootleggers. But the most precious for fans is a studio recording The Black Album which was planned to be a follow up to Sign Of The Times before the artist scrapped the release. The funky fusion of black rock and psychedelic can fetch up to pounds 300.


As George Harrison said in court, the 1962 recording was the "crummiest" ever associated with the group. And aside from John Lennon's haunting early versions of Strawberry Fields, few of the Anthology 'rehearsals' matched up to the released songs. As for live recordings - theri concerts were incredibly short and the sound appalling.

Bootlegging Led Zep was a notoriously risky business. Their late maanger Peter Grant despised bootleggers and had staff eject them violently. He once got staff to frighten a man with a tape recorder and smah his gear. He turned out to be a city official measuring noise levels.

You might pay your pounds 200 only to find it released officially by the end of the year. Dylan has already released the much bootlegged Basement Tapes and a triple CD of material on other bootlegs. His record company say there are also plans to release the Royal Albert Hall album.

Bootlegs of the Stones' excellent R and B sessions at the BBC from 1964 onwards have been popular, but will soon have little value as the BBC has collated them and will release them on CD before the end of the year.

The artist himself has now taken some of the best bootlegs, remixed them and put them out on the internet. The resulting album, Crystal Ball, is available in record shops as an import at a price bootleggers would be proud of - around pounds 50.