Loose Booty 3: The Man Strikes Wack
People who dedicate their careers to stopping contraband businesses often not only do not understand the game they are dedicated to destroy, but actively make it all worse by playing around. Those that are not real cops, but part of industry associations with no real legal powers of their own, do this even more, even dumber and even more comically. Being an "Inspector" for some kind of industry watchdog snifflog body is a job for someone who wants to be a cop, yet is too cowardly and incoherent even to succeed as a mall security guard.
The BPI, the lobbyists and enforcers for the mainstream majors that today dedicates itself to positive press releases when Adele "album" sales are up by 0.3% and trying to bully internet companies into revealing the identities of 12 year olds who may have downloaded a Rizzle Kicks MP3, decided to play dress up Detectives.By the late 70s, the big bootleggers Stateside had gone underground again as the law had changed and the heat was on. Elvis conventions in Memphis were raided like crack dens in search of illegal takes on The King. No more reviews of illicit LPs in Rolling Stones, and in most places Class As were easy to come by. Bootlegs were once again a nudge, wink head shop, fan club and swap meet obscurity. They didn't die - as declining record sales and demand for vinyl meant there were plenty of plants in LA ready to take the cheddar. But in Old Europe, the big presses were still cranking - especially to satisfy the needs of people into Punk and Post Punk sounds. And to the BPI, Customs and Cops were not taking it all seriously enough.The Law in the UK is usually not as stupid and cruel as in the USA. You can see the difference in the fact fucking speed cameras are signposted here, while in the US they operate as a kind of surprise tax on movement. Tonnes of bootleg LPs were coming across from the Continent, with no clear illegality given complex copyright laws. Customs either delayed them while dealers explained the situation, or just turned them over with a shrug. The new Punk fad meant there was a major gap between the demands of fans to hear their new heroes and a lack of legit recorded material of the same. Johnny Rotten's ex-friends were passing rough mixes and show tapes to shady characters and coining it big.The Police were more interested in lost wallets. Someone had to stand up and strike a blow for the majors.That man was BPI chief Hobby Bobby, Bill Hood.Bill had clearly been watching too many episodes of The Sweeney in a state of some chemical distress, so came up with a cracking plan. What if the BPI made it's own bootleg and traced who bought it, where and why? Like a bad ITV special, "Operation Moonbeam" was thus born.Bill and the BPI approached Bowie's confused label, RCA, with a proposal. Bowie's 1976 shows were particularly hot with punters, and a Japanese LP of one of his Wembley dates, "Don't touch that dial", had appeared in the Dutch mail order trade. Technically legal in Japan, and made in Japan, it was one of those gray market wonders causing so much bother. It was one of the rarest and most sought after Bowie boots of the day, and the BPI was about to make it a lot easier to get.Bill hooked up with some two bit bootleggers from Manchester, posing as a bent pressing plant manager. The BPI made new stampers of Don't Touch That Dial and re-labelled it as The Wembley Wizard Touches the Dial. A typical bootleg run of 2,500 copies were pressed, and passed to the Manchester crew.In the subsequent sting/bust/PR stunt/total fuckup 250 of the boots were "recovered" and some legal bother was created for the minor players.Except one. Rough Trade. Virgin had been busted in 1973 for carrying shifty product, and the spotlight now turned to Ladbroke Grove.Today's hipster darling label was mostly a shop back then and Punky bootlegs were part of its scheme, especially for mail order customers in the States. That stopped. However, the rest of Operation Moonbeam was covered in dog mess steam. Stores that never had a bootleg before stocked the BPI knockoff, and charges were served to the wrong names with duff addresses. The Police first were frustrated, then livid. The Courts were even less helpful - reminding all that stung wholesalers were "perfectly entitled to stay silent about their customers and suppliers...alleged offenders protected from self incrimination by long standing legal privilege." The Judges involved curled out much angry scat on the BPI and its faux cops.Retarded press statements were made by Bill and the BPI, a lot of congratulations all round until the dust settled on a pint of the cold piss that is reality. A tonne of punters had been turned on to bootlegs. And the confusion around international copyright had also been exposed. Western acts had no protection in Japan, and on the Continent major loopholes about what was recorded live, when, by whom and the nationality of the artists concerned appeared like magic in the dusty law books. The stage was set for a new explosion of bootlegs from Europe. Bill retired in mockery. Ken cracked a knowing smile and put up the mainsail.The big bugbear for the majors at the dawn of the CD era was "home taping" which they tried to say was "home piracy". For reasons including recession, video games, video tape and a million other new things for people to consume - as well as a lack of 60s scale new stadium filling acts, record sales were on a downward slope. Pre-recorded cassettes had not been good to the big boys. But why? They sucked. Take even a somewhat battered LP and copy it to a high street tape, in real time, and it sounds a lot better than a shrinkwrapped shop bought version. Why? Major labels used the thinnest, nastiest tape stock possible and mass duped them at high speed. These things sounded shite on the first play and were a snake pit of hiss and horror by the third. And cost as much or more as an LP.All the blood, sweat and fears that could have been spent cleaning up the loopholes and confusion revealed by Operation Moonbeam were instead wasted trying to tax and criminalise tape. Even Lord Sugar's Amstrad was sued into submission to stop it making even more cheap two deck sets available on the high street.One of the biggest artists of the 80s, the criminal waste of talent that is Prince, and one of the biggest of the 60s created an opportunity to test the limits bet
ween bootlegging and all out piracy for a canny Brit. Tim Smith was a smart player on the scene, made his mood, and was busted in a way that again underlined the massive loopholes in it all.Prince had not yet disappeared into his own vas deferens, and intended to follow up the magic Sign O' The Times with a somewhat unsatisfactory attempt to reconnect to the Black audience he'd abandoned for Suburban girls with Purple Rain. It was to become the biggest sort of bootleg of all time. The Black Album.in 1987 Warners had pressed a tonne of CDs, promo tapes had gone out and press releases were issued. Then the pint sized Paisley Park Duke had some kind of breakdown. Not stable at the best of times, some say a combo of good acid and bad MDMA made him think the Devil commanded him not to release the record or the world would end. Or something. Either way, it was pulled long after the first orders were en route to the shops. Within minutes, vinyl, CD and tape copies were all over the place.Paul McCartney had a messianic mission to help end the dying Cold War, in his own mind. So recorded a load of old rock covers as The Russian Album. This Gift for Peace was only available in the USSR.Tim was busted for both, but had bruisers for Barristers. The BPI had to prove The Black Album was illegal - yet had no proof from Prince or Warners the record had been cut under contract and therefore belonged to anyone. The Russian Album was an even bigger problem. No copyright or trade agreement existed between the UK and USSR. So it was not a crime to copy it. At the end of a very expensive trial, the only charge that stuck on Smith was tiny one of infringing copyright on one Black Album track that had a later official release, "When 2 R In Love". The Police, who had been told Tim was Mista Bigg of a multimillion pound international crime ring, decided to screen all calls from the BPI for years to come.While this stupid sideshow burned through cash, German and Italian entrepreneurs were putting out a motherlode of quality bootlegs from the biggest artists. In the dusty Courtrooms of Italy, some interesting conversations were happening. What if a label got a real tight understanding of The Law? So tight that quality bootlegs could find their way even into HMV with no hassle?Bob Dylan, long an obsessive love of bootleggers, made another appearance. Via German connections, but with Italian flair waiting to take the magic from wax to CD and create a new golden age of bootlegs.The Gaslight Tapes were a wondrous sample of acoustic Dylan housed in a three LP set and made available in all mainstream shops across Europe in 1985. It came out weeks before the official CBS archival mess, Biograph, hit the shops late. So much so that punters looking for the official product often left with the boot.How did it happen? In Italy, after twenty years had passed live recordings were Public Domain. And with CD sadly eating the lunch of vinyl, it was time for a Legal Bootleg label to open the floodgates for all the perfect performances this twenty year rule made available. These releases were called "Protection Gap" records. And a Lawyer-ed up Italian label called Bulldog was the first to break that ice with a HMV stocked CD of The Gaslight Tapes in 1987.The Man did not know, but a new dawn of better bootlegs was dawning.