November 2011

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14 brilliant tracks, including Grizzly Bear, Ganglians, Plush, Van Dyke Parks, Gruff Rhys and Sufjan Stevens

The day in October 1987 that the issue of Melody Maker comes out with a review I’ve written of Bob Dylan at what’s now Wembley Arena, I get a call from someone I can barely hear even though he’s shouting over the constant squawk of announcements being made over a startlingly loud public address system. It turns out to be someone I’ve never met called Larry Eden – “As in ‘Gates Of. . .’” he tells me. Larry, it turns out, is a big Dylan fan and he’s calling because he’s just read the new issue of MM and was surprised to find a review of Dylan in it and even more startled to discover that at a time when Dylan’s critical standing is at perhaps an all-time low, the review describes the concert as one of the most exciting, if contrary and confrontational I’ve ever seen.

Larry asks me if I’d like him to send me some live tapes he’s made of recent Dylan shows. Larry, it further transpires, doesn’t miss many Dylan concerts, is in fact at Heathrow, hence the background hubbub, waiting for a flight to Spain, where Dylan that night starts a European tour, Larry with tickets for every show, all of which he intends taping. “I have quite a collection,” he says with what turns out to be considerable understatement.

Anyway, as much as a month later, the IPC post room calls to say they’re in receipt of a special delivery for me that someone will bring up to my office. Not much later, a couple of burly fellows stagger into my office with an enormous cardboard box, big enough to pack a horse in.

What’s in the box, finally revealed after much hacking at the layers of sticky tape mummifying its contents, are hundreds of C90 cassettes, each one of a bootleg of different Dylan show, going back I don’t know how far, possibly from the sheer quantity of tapes all the way to Greenwich Village.

This is how I generally think of bootlegs at the time – clandestine recordings made at concerts by obsessive fans and then put into circulation for similarly obsessed types. There is, however, a greater bootleg sub-culture that amounts almost to a secret history of rock, the most famous example being The Beach Boys’ Smile.

With Smile finally getting an official release, like famous bootlegs before it, including records by Dylan, Bowie, The Beatles, Prince and The Who, we wondered if there were any great albums still only available bootlegs. The answer was a resounding yes and the 50 best are listed in this month’s cover story. As ever, let me know if we’ve missed out any records you think we should have included, via email to the usual address.

In other news, Uncut has teamed up with Sonic Editions, who specialise in high quality limited edition music photography, to host Sonic Editions Present The Uncut Collection At The Royal Albert Hall, an exhibition that runs at the iconic London venue from October 5 to November 1, 2011, which Sonic Editions rather kindly asked me to curate for them. Readers who aren’t attending any concerts at the RAH during the exhibition’s run can view it on special Open Days on October 8, 22 and 23, from 11-3pm