It is a law of economics that wherever there is demand there will eventually be supply. When demand for rare soul records began to outstrip the supply of those records in the early 70's, the scene became a ripe killing field for bootleggers. Popular in-demanders such as 'Determination', 'What's wrong with me baby', 'Talk of the grapevine', 'Baby reconcider', 'Humphrey stomp', and a host of other big sounds of the day, suddenly turned up on the new Soul Sounds label. A corner had been turned. For those early fans of Northern Soul were faced with a dilemma - the outcome of which was to have massive ramifications for the development of our scene. The Soul Sounds label had hit upon the idea of mass-producing rare soul records to be sold at a fraction of the cost of the original issue. Good idea, huh? Except the label rather conveniently forgot to pay any money to the artists themselves; forgot to pay the writers, the producers, the music publishers or the owners of the record labels who owned the copyright. The records were illegal; they were 'bootlegs'. The use of the word bootleg to mean illegal pirated copies of an existing rare record was first used in rock circles, usually referring to albums by Dylan, The Beatles or The Stones. By the mid 70's it was more common to refer to Northern Soul bootlegs as 'pressins'.
The dilemma faced by potential customers of this new Soul Sounds label had grave implications. After all, they were sanctioning the principle that it was acceptable to 'rip off' some of the artists they were holding in such great esteem. In fact it probably isn't fair to use these soul fans as an example - I doubt if many of them realised that Soul Sounds records were actually bootlegs. In this case the discs were even manufactured (innocently, I believe) by President Records in the UK. So they carried an air of respectability. However, let's assume that these soul fans were cognisant of the true situation. They knew that these were bootlegs, not legal re-issues, and that some guy was selling them from the boot of his car outside a soul club - for this is how it started. Now let's get real. Soul fans who love the records they are hearing at soul clubs can see a guy selling bootleg copies on the cheap. Do they buy or not?
REASONS TO BUY.
to buy a copy of the record.
They can't afford
an original copy.
They can't find
an original copy.
The bootleg is easibly available
to buy, and it's cheap.
They don't care
about anything else as long as they've got the record.
REASONS NOT TO BUY.
Bootlegged copies carry less status
than the original copies.
Bootlegs often have impaired sound quality.
Bootlegging is illegal
and should not be encouraged.
Buying bootlegs is an immoral
As a society we reward people for their work, we value their contribution and we encourage their creativity. Artists, writers, arrangers, producers - all the people involved in making a piece of music - have the right to be paid for their efforts. If their work is bootlegged they get nothing; not a penny; zilch. They don't get any money, but it could be argued that many more people get the chance to hear the artists' work and this can enhance their reputation. However, good reputation don't pay the bills and I think it's fair to say that most singers would rather have the money please.
It's this moral argument - that it isn't fair to rip people off - that seems to be the most popular reason for the disdain of Northern Soul bootlegs from people outside the scene. But it is the lack of status that these boots have, particularly amogst serious record collectors, that carries the most weight in Northern Soul circles. Even people who buy them find themselves apologising for their indiscretion. How many times have you approached a box of records for sale at a venue, only for the shamefaced owner to say, "They're only a load of pressings". The only time it seems acceptable to get excited about bootlegged singles is in the first couple of weeks after they hit the shops. For rare and indemand sounds it then becomes open season for anyone to buy them with impunity. But to be seen buying an old pressing or re-issue can leave a person open to sneers and ridicule from certain quarters. Yet there are exceptions when it does seem to be acceptable to buy certain pressings: When they are unissued tracks which never made it to vinyl in the first place; where original copies are phenomenally expensive such as Robby Lawson or Bernie Williams; or where no-one is quite sure if the re-issues are legal or not.
These bootlegs, pressings, counterfeits or whatever you choose to cal lthem have been the subject of (gradually less) fierce debate for decades. As long as we continue to worship the glorious legacy of rare soul music which shelters under the umbrella of Northern Soul we continue to create a market for their existence. But they are not inevitable. They never were. If those first first bootlegs had been shunned, if no-one had bought them for ethical reasons, they would have sunk without trace. We would be part of a very different scene to the one we all share today. Okay, the legal reissues would still have appeared, but they represent only a small percentage of the market. And let's face it, if we had to rely on the UK labels to provide us with the sounds they have the copyrights on, we would be buying our pullovers from Greenwoods before we even had enough records for a party.
Just think, NO BOOTLEGS! We wouldn't be pig-sick of hearing 'If that's what you wanted' everywhere we went; we'd still travel miles to hear Dena Barnes; the Inspirations' 'No one else can take your place' would still be a massive sound; the turnover of rare soul records being played at all-nighters would have slowed to a crawl and you wouldn't be sat there reading SOUL GALORE.
Apart from the positively legal UK and US re-issues that have appeared on the market since 1970, how many records do you think have been bootlegged in the last 26 years? It's actually an astonishing 1200 titles. For over a quarter of a century we have actively participated in the systematic exploitation of a dedicated and talented genre of singers and musicians (most of whom, because of their class and ethnic background, were given fewer life chances than us). Some artists such as Lou Johnson, Eddie Parker and even Chubby Checker have had their records bootlegged consistently for years and years. Don't they - and all our other heroes - deserve something more substantial than our respect and admiration for all the pleasure they have given us?
Despite hoardes of letters in various soul journals to the effect of proclaiming th 'northrn' scene is dying, dead, or long buried, in one aspect the scene has never been healthier. The aspect is the commercialisation of the record scene and it's sundry spin-offs.
Only five years ago the few records sold at 'northern' discotheques were far and few between and most were genuine originals (with a few BJD / OOTP etc pressings) offered at fair prices. Today a visit to any venue will reveal a plethora of so-called 'collectors' buying and selling. Every major sound is pressed within weeks of it's going big (I wonder how much tie-in there is between d.j.'s and pressers - stories that pressings are ready even before a d.j. breaks a new sound may be more than just a malicious rumour) and sales are big. I see badges, sew-on stickers, bag stickers, car stickers, even posters etc can be readily had for 25p - 50p each.
Unfortunately this commercialisation appears to bring in a new breed of stomper - one with what can only be described as moronic tastes and senses of value. No longer are todays neophytes willing to buy unknown sounds at relatively cheap prices. They much prefer a pressing or a rip-off bootleg. Not only has the scene been diluted but its level of intelligence has dramatically dropped. A recent snatch of conversation at a well-known all-nighter went . . . . . "is it an original?" "Yes." "How much is it then?" "Only £1.50." "Oh the pressing is only £1.25, I'll have that then."
Not only must we inject new life into the whole scene but we must learn to educate the new people who turn into it. Let's throw out the morons who turn up to steal from record boxes and bags. Inject some fresh life into the scene I'm all for but let us examine carefully what's in our new serum.
(Name & Address Supplied to "Talk of the North")