Monday, December 20, 2010

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Hunting Down Blur Recordings


Also, I think I'm going to make this the first in a series of articles on the collecting/detective work that goes on behind tracking down rare and uncirculated Blur recordings. What do you think? Would this be interesting to you?

A poster on the Facebook page recently expressed interest in an article talking about what goes in to tracking down rare and uncirculated live recordings of Blur. I agreed with him that this would make a great idea for an article…I felt that it could offer insight into the meat of a project like this, which is, of course, the music. Also, as a collector myself, I always enjoy hearing these “behind-the-scenes” stories and I figure most other people would as well. Right up front, however, I’ll just mention that I am going to leave names and specifics out of this article, since a lot of the collectors/tapers I deal with like to remain behind the curtain, so to speak, and I’ll honor that (you’ll see that honor is quality that important as a collector…patience is another one, and we’ll get to that later!) and thus they’ll remain anonymous.

First, a bit of background: I grew up as a huge music fan and always enjoyed live albums in addition to the studio ones. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when I was finishing up high school, that I had my first exposure to bootlegs and live recordings. I was browsing the Led Zeppelin bin at my local record store at the time (In Your Ear Music in Plymouth, New Hampshire, sadly defunct) and found a CD called “White Summer” which I had never heard of. On the back it said “Recorded live at the BBC Playhouse Theatre in June 1969.” I promptly bought it and went home to listen to it and was astounded at the quality of the performance (I was also spoiled by the fact that it was a pristine soundboard recording, as most bootlegs sound far inferior!). It blew my mind because the only official Led Zeppelin live document (at the time) was the The Song Remains the Same album, and this was a world apart and had different songs. Some months later I was in another now-defunct record store in Dover called The Lost Chord, and the fellow had a box set of Beatles CDs called Unsurpassed Masters Vols. 1-7. Again, I had never heard of these and bought them. When I got home I realized these were studio outtakes and unreleased tracks, and some of the stuff on them was truly amazing. From here it grew to buying bootleg tapes and CDs from vendors at the local universities (including my own…yes, they used to sell bootlegs at colleges!) until, with my first exposure to the internet in 1997, I began tape trading and later on, CDR trading. As the years went by, technology advanced to the point we’re at today with torrents and online uploading and swapping of digital files…I still engage in the odd CDR trade here or there, but for the most part, snail mail trades are dead.

All of this brief background brings me to the gist of this article…tracking down and acquiring rare and/or uncirculated recordings. Because what ends up happening when you collect any band long enough is that, eventually, you end up getting a hold of everything that is available, but you know there is more out there, so the search begins. In the days before the internet, it was quite a challenge since everything was done by word of mouth or through the mail. Nowadays, it’s much easier (although it’s not *easy*) to search stuff out. Learning about the existence of rare tapes and figuring out who has them can happen many different ways:

1) A person who you’ve traded with already has some rare stuff they decide to let you know about and share it. This happens fairly often, where someone had been holding something back and will eventually let you know they have it and offer to trade it. Quite often, there will be conditions attached, such as not being able to tell anyone where you got it, not being allowed to share it out yourself, and so on. It’s always a good idea to honor these requests, as it’s the right thing to do from an honor standpoint, and also it shows that you’re trustworthy and keeps the tape pipeline open.

2) Someone you trade with knows someone. This happens quite a lot, too. Once you’ve become known as a serious collector of a band, a lot of time a trading partner will know someone (either personally or through their own trading circles) who has rarer stuff. These interactions can either be tricky or relatively smooth depending on how receptive the person your contact knows is to sharing with a stranger at first. I’ve been lucky in that every instance I’ve had this type of dealing, my collecting counterpart has always been very friendly and eager to share.

3) A kind and generous soul contacts you, offering a rare tape. This happens quite a lot, as well, although only since the advent of the internet. One thing I’ve been blessed with while working on my Blur book project (and my own collection) is this type of interaction, many times over. Whether they’ve contacted me via email, my blog, the Facebook or Twitter page, or just randomly, many kind souls have offered me recordings. I always offer something in return, but more often than not, despite my insistence, they decline, saying they don’t want anything in return. These are the best kind of people, willing to share with you simply to help out!

4) The last type of person you’ll deal with is someone who you contact out of the blue. Often times I’ll find these people’s lists while trawling the internet looking for shows. Sometimes it’s someone I used to trade with year ago who won’t remember who I am. It could be someone on DIME or another torrent site who seems to have some rare stuff, so I’ll send them an email, or they could be listed at a database site like Tape Trader or Etree. In any event, this is the hardest type of person to deal with since you have no idea what they’re like beforehand, and you’re contacting them out of the blue. I’ve found over the years that you need to be gracious, humble, and not too eager…I know in the past I’ve scared off quite a few potential trading partners by being too overeager and pushy, at times. The key here is to give them space and approach gently until you get to know them. I would say 95% of the people I’ve dealt with in this fashion have ended up being really cool and easy to deal with. The other 5% either ignore you, stop replying to your emails after agreeing to a trade (which is so aggravating!), or tell you in no uncertain terms to f**k off!

So the type of interactions I typically have in tracking down these Blur recordings are summarized for the most part above. I should add that, thanks to the internet, while the vast majority of these people hail from the UK and USA, I’ve also dealt with people all over the world, from Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, Canada, South America, and so on.

I mentioned how it pays to be honest in your dealings with trading partners, especially those who are sharing out rarer material. This means don’t stiff anyone on a trade, keep the lines of communication open, and so on. There is one other quality that is ESSENTIAL and one I’ve gotten better at over the years: PATIENCE.

It can be excruciatingly slow sometimes to trade with some collectors. Oftentimes they’re very busy with work and their life and have to fit in your wants when they can. Some people don’t respond to emails for a long time. And some people are just SLOW. I’m currently in the middle of a trade I started in April of 2010 with a fellow…it was a small trade, 3 shows. I sent him the shows he wanted from me in April. I’ve gotten one from him and am *still* waiting on the other 2, which need to be converted from cassette to WAV. And, to top it all off, this fellow goes months in between replying to my emails. It’s frustrating, but I have to keep my cool and stay polite and patient. In the end it will be worth it. There was another fellow who promised to send me a rare tape, with nothing in return, in May 2010. He even asked for my address so he could send it right out. Not only do I not have the tape, I’m still waiting to hear back from him (he hasn’t responded to any emails). Some people have gone so far as to set up trades with me and, after emailing back and forth for over a year, have stopped responding. There are two great fellows I’m trading with right now who are taking a while, but that’s because they’re busy with life/family/work, and I know they’re doing a favor for me by taking the time to convert their tapes and send them to me…you guys know who you are if you’re reading this, and I thank you! In fact, that goes for everyone I’ve traded with since 1997, and everyone who has sent me ANYTHING for my collection and for the Black Book project. Without you it wouldn’t be nearly as detailed, complete, or fun!

I’ll end this article, for now, and leave you with a little (and true) anecdote. About 8 years ago, when I was a graduate student, I found a trading website run by a fellow from Australia. He had a few rare Blur tapes I’d never known about, ones he had recorded himself. I emailed him to set up a trade, and he had said he could do that, and instead of sending him tapes, could I buy him something off of eBay and have it shipped to him (he’d cover postage, but he wanted to get a better deal on the currency exchange rate…sounded reasonable to me). However, my wife and I were newlyweds and really strapped for cash at the time, so I said I couldn’t do it at the moment, but how about a trade in a few months. He said sure, no problem. Then I never heard from him again. Fast forward to 2009. Every few months since 2002 I had continued to send a gentle “hello” and reminder email to the fellow’s email address. It never bounced back, but I assumed he never used it anymore. And then, in 2009, a few months before I published Black Book, he replied! He’d been getting my emails and had always meant to write back but forgot and had just been so busy with life. He gladly agreed to trade the recordings to me, and within weeks I had the tapes I’d been pining away for since 2002. While most of the time, if you miss out on a trade, it’s gone forever, this was one of those rare, happy times where dogged persistence paid off. I’m currently doing the same thing with another tape I’ve had my eye on since 2001…I last heard from the fellow in March 2010, so we’ll see how that one ends. ;-)

Special thanks to Jon Muller from the Facebook page, who mentioned he'd be interested in reading about this subject. I thought it was a great idea for an articleand I hope you do, too!


  1. Great article :D It may sound weird but : I'm glad you exist Mr Magpie! :)
    Merry Christmas in advance to you and your familly!!

  2. Well thank you very much! I'm just glad you and others appreciate it, I only do it for fellow Blur fans so we can all share in the music :-) Thanks for the Christmas wishes, and a very Merry Christmas to you, too, whoever you are, Anonymous!

  3. I will share my bit of background. I am writing this in spurts - mainly because I have so much to talk about. I have good things to say about trading in addition to some negative things I want to disclose too. I will span this from 1996-2010.

    I first got into bootleg trading in late 1996. This was when I became heavily involved in Genesis. In the beginning, I wanted to hear different live versions of certain songs, because I was curious. So my first live bootleg was this tape recording of a Genesis show in Mannheim Germany - 1987. I remember the guy who copied the tapes for me. I was very eager to get them through the mail (and it took a while)! It arrived around December 1996.

    The following year, I got into taping concerts. The first concert I ever recorded was a Phil Collins show at Anaheim. I started with a piece of shit Aiwa walkman with a super piece of shit 10 dollar microphone. Needless to say, the recording sucked and I tossed it out some years later. I don't regret that action - even though it was the first concert recording I ever did. I also got a more complete and better copy from my friend Frank - who I will introduce you to.

    In October of 1997, I received an email from a guy named Frank. This email took a while to download - and before long, I saw one of the biggest trade lists that I've ever seen. Soon after that, we had trade arrangements that have occurred regularly over the years.

    By the following year, 1998, I was going to even more concerts. This was happening with the help of my friend Frank - who paid for the ticket to have me attend the show to record it. As a result, I attended other performers that were miles apart from my core interest at the time. It help me expand my music interests to all new levels.

    During the 1997-98 time frame, I met a guy named Nassim - who is one reason why I will explain why trading and dealing with bootlegs can be a disaster.

    Nassim lives in France. I started dealing with him online in 1997. At this time, he had a fairly good trade list and wanted to find certain items. I got acquainted with him via IRC and we had a friendship - but this friendship was sooner or later going to be tainted by his decisions to try and control my dealing with certain people and items that I rightfully traded for.

  4. Sometime later, he also found out about Frank and they traded. So Frank, Nassim, and I all had a common connection.

    In 1999, there was a drop box of recordings by Frank. What happened was Frank wanted to know which recordings Nassim and I wanted to get copies of. The only catch was we had to provide our own blank media. Frank really didn't want to send this out overseas due to postage issues, so I ended up getting the package sent to my house instead of it being sent to Nassim in France. Nassim asked me how much he thought it would be to copy the media - because he wanted things on Cassette and DAT. I told him 100 dollars - since that would also cover the media and postage costs too. He agreed and sent the money. I worked on copying this stuff for about one month. If I recall, the whole package to send back cost about 40 dollars to France. I didn't keep an exact total of the cost of this, but the ball park figure for everything was close to 100 dollars. This is important because this issue would be brought up much later.

    During this time, I acquired some unique items from trades I had with independent people. As Nassim and I talked about these things, he suggested that I should keep them and not trade them around. I felt that made sense since I worked hard to get them - but I also gave Nassim copies because he claimed to have rare items too.

    In 1999, there was a contest that Nassim rigged so I could go record this Phil Collins show at some LA Premiere. I did record it, but he made conditions on the recording saying I can't trade it or give it to anyone else. I felt that was bogus, since Frank and I previously loaned him equipment and we never made such conditions on the shows he recorded with it.

    In the meantime, Nassim used a fake alias to acquire items from a guy named Volker. As he told me about that, I wanted to get those too - but I didn't want to get them dishonestly like how Nassim got them. I said I will trade with Volker using items I rightfully obtained. Nassim was upset because he wanted me to get the items from him - so our trade relationship wasn't the same again.

    In 2000, my activity in taping decreased because I was due to process in the military. As a result, there were no major taping projects I did from around 2000-2001. I didn't pick the habit back up until 2002.

  5. In 2003-4, I had contact with Nassim, but he was accusing me of cheating him out of money back in 1999 in addition to violating agreements about the LA concert I recorded in 1999 because his ex-friend played him a copy when he went to his house. As a result, I not only sent him back 100 dollars in disgust to his attitude - but I have spoken out about him and the things he has done. Speaking out might have had some consequences from that trading community, but I felt people should know about him and beware of his actions.

    The consequences of his actions meant retaliation from people like Volker. Volker has a friendship with Nassim and didn't like any of the things I said. Volker conspired to gave out a recording that I told him that I had no intentions on giving anyone other than my friends (because I recorded it upon my own free will). As a result, I gave this show out to everyone in the bootleg community for free - by sending out copies of the CDs around the world - postage paid.

    Little did I know around this time, Nassim had been on a watch list by the Genesis/Phil Collins management because of his illegal activities. He was selling bootlegs, in addition to entering in private soundchecks and recording them.

    In 2007, I attended a Genesis concert in Linz Austria and Nassim walked up to me and wanted to talk. I told him I don't want want to talk to you and I walked away.

    In 2010, I saw him again in NYC for a Phil Collins show. This time, he didn't come up to me or anything. It made my day better.

    There are some obviously some positives and negatives I have disclosed through this entire message. There are many things that people can take out of trading, but I took away both the good and the bad from all of it. I still talk to Frank, but I have no dealings with people like Nassim and Volker. Considering speaking out about it has caused friction between me and the trading world, I don't care anymore. I knew by then I should retire from trading - because I was getting tired of it. I still record shows - but there are no plans to ever release these to any active traders. You can thank Nassim and Volker for that.


  6. PS. Thinking about it now, the only other recording I gave out as a freebee since 2004 was this one Frank Black show I recorded in Omaha in 2006. This was because someone also recorded it, but it sounded like shit. I provided an upgrade - but as it would turn out, the uploader from Dimeadozen got the credit and I got zilch props. I swore never again that I will give out free recordings to everyone.

    Perhaps I am the poster child of what's wrong with trading. I really don't care if I am called that or not. It's all a thing of the past to me now. I am fine with recording concerts and keeping them. If others have a problem with that, they should try walking in my shoes.

  7. Got Black Book as a Kindle e-book this morning - great piece of work - thanks very much!

  8. I love reading about this kind of stuff. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Hi Dr Blur, I wrote to you a while back when I bought the Black Book via EBay from you - great stuff. I was wondering if that person on the Blur forums that was going to share a show from 1990 (I think) that you offered help for ever contacted again?? Also has that person that put Superman up ever been in contact about the rest of that show - I remember at the time of him sharing Superman he'd wait a while since the doco was coming out around that time.

  10. I'm glad you're enjoying the book, thanks for the kind words!

    No, that fellow hasn't contacted me regarding the rest of the show. He promised it to me in October 2009 and only sent two tracks to me...since then, nothing. I wonder what's going on, but right now it's looking doubtful we'll ever hear that whole show (although I'm still trying).

    Regarding the Superman song/show, there are legal issues relating to the NDLTR film that prevent that from being out there for everyone (at least at the moment). I will say, however, a review of that complete gig will be in the next edition of my book, but I honestly can't and won't say any more on that!

  11. This was a great article, I had almost lost hope in finding more shows, not through lack of patience I just assumed no one traded anymore. Not that I have anything others don't already have haha.

    I will continue my search, my goal is to end up with all of the bootlegs listed on Veikko's Blur Page here.

    I only need about 12 now! The search continues!

    Finally, keep up the good work Dr Blur!

  12. Thanks, Simon! It can get frustrating, as I know firsthand. There's still a LOT of stuff out there, and I know loads of shows and who has 'em...the challenge is getting them to share, which can range from easy to impossible. But that's part of the fun of the hobby, the hunt! The internet has "ruined" trading a bit,'s made it so easy to share, which is good, but so many people expect something for nothing that it turns off a lot of those of us who contribute while getting nothing in return (think Dime or other torrent sites). It's something I'm not entirely at peace with, which is why I don't do charity, only trades.