TapGoing Straight

I have a collection of music tapes; not commercial ones but bootlegs; every now and again I get a twinge of guilt.

Looking back at the history of this, my collection started when I was a poor student. I spent a significant portion of my grant on buying records. (Aside for younger readers: a grant is something the government used to give you to help with your further education, not to be confused with a loan. I don’t have any feelings of guilt over that, my education didn’t suffer in any way due to lack of funds and it was probably better for me than booze). Friends of mine did the same and, as I had a tape recorder (Akai 4000Da big reel-to-reel thing), I recorded copies of theirs which increased my collection at lower cost. It was always my intention (honestly) to buy the records when I had the cash.

Then came the cassette. I adopted this format late and reluctantly because the quality at first was awful. It only improved a little later. My reel-to-reel recordings were transferred to the compact medium and the big beast put away in a cupboard. I remember at the time buying some of the records to replace them as I had a good job by then; but many were deleted and unobtainable.

Around this time (mid 1970’s) I had new friends with their own record collections. They had great recordings that I didn’t have and these were no longer obtainable either—so I took copies. The justification now was definitely that there was no other way to obtain the record.

Here we need a little political history. There has been an intermittent debate over home-recording rights for at least the last 35 years since the home cassette recorder became popular. The argument from one side was that we were stealing from the musicians—Remember Home TapingHome taping is killing music;” and on the other hand that the record companies were profiteering. The latter argument was boosted by regular stories of how musicians had been tricked into bad contracts. Every now and again the idea of a “home taping levy” on blank cassettes was brought up but it never came to much. There was a brief revival with a levy on blank audio CDRs but that is now dead as no one uses them any more, everyone uses ordinary data CDRs. It was really silly when it was apparent that the same companies who made the home recording equipment (notably Sony and Phillips) were also the owners of the record companies complaining about home recording. Now the attention is on downloading from the internet and sporadic attempts at prosecution. It is my firm belief that home recording boosts record sales. Without access to other collections over the years I wouldn’t have bought anywhere near as many for myself. There is also the argument of duplicate media for different locations but I have never got into that, not trusting cassettes to the car for instance.

Back to my story; In the 80’s I was doing a lot of music for parties, initially for children at the local schools but also for 21’st birthdays and wedding anniversaries. My trademark for this non-profit service, at least for the adult ones, was as a “human jukebox.” If there was a hit from the 60’s or 70’s then there was a good chance I would have it and could play it. A lot of the more obscure ones were (are) on tape obtained from scouring friends collections.

In the last 10 years I haven’t listened to music very much at all, but I have noticed a change in what is available. Suddenly all those records that were deleted only a few years after they were issued were being re-released on CD. I bought a few and retired the tapes but not with any great enthusiasm.

David and Marianne DalmourRecently two things have happened. I am going digital and we have been clearing out some cupboards and came across all the old reel tapes and the recorder. The recorder is still working fine—no rubber perishing or other problems, though it still has an intermittent fault with one of the playback amplifiers and some of the knobs are missing. More sadly, I have discovered that I had erased some of the tapes after transferring them to cassette and also that the lists of what was on them have got lost. It takes a lot of internet searching to identify recordings and I know that I will never find out what some are (I had a brief liking for atonal and “musique concrète.”)

So, at the end of it all, my Christmas list this year will be filled with requests for old and obscure recordings to try and replace them on CD. That will be a challenge for the children. The unobtainable I will digitise from the best copy I can find and I am only resorting to internet downloads when the CD I own refuses to rip.

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