In the mid 80’s I became an obsessive collector of unofficial bootleg tapes of concerts of my favourite bands. It wasn’t just enough to have all the albums, the singles, the t-shirts, the books – I needed to hear more. These unique documents of gigs, many of almost unlistenable quality, often recorded in the audience with a tiny microphone, gave a rare insight to shows I had no possible chance of attending. The most exciting ones were those where the band did something different on one particular concert – a cover version, a new song or said something unusual from the stage.
When one of my favourite groups had started a new tour in another part of the world it would be time for me to contact bootleg suppliers and then yearn for the moment when the postman would drop a little spool of magnetic tape through my letter box with a full length recording. This sense of anticipation was something the instant accessibility of the internet and You Tube has destroyed. The tapes would come with a poorly photocopied black and white inlay card complete with track listing, date, location and a picture of the band stolen from the NME or Melody Maker. The suppliers of these tapes often produced detailed catalogues, with notes about each gig and the quality of the sound.
Some tapes were a little easier to digest – recordings from foreign radio stations, TV shows or better equipment had been smuggled in to make the bootleg. It was one of these, a recording of the Self Aid concert in Dublin –a huge gig arranged to highlight the chronic state of unemployment in Ireland where I first heard U2 covering Eddie Cochran’s C’Mon Everybody. At the time it sounded raw, edgy and impossibly exciting - a long way from their ‘big music’ that they were becoming known for. Not only did the song cement my love for U2 but it instigated me investigating the back catalogue of Cochran and savouring the original version as well as the likes of Summertime Blues and Somethin’ Else.
Listening back now U2’s version doesn’t sound anywhere near as great as I thought it did then. It’s rather like looking back at photos of an ex-girlfriend and wondering what you ever saw in her in the first place. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment. Listening to the announcer of the concert shout "Do you want to see a band from Dublin ? Do you want to see a band that you know and I know to be the greatest live rock band in the world?" and the deafening scream that followed it, it's easy to see why I did. It’s part of the adrenaline buzz of live music - moments that will be, for better or worse, part of the music that made me.