Episode 25. Lost Tapes.
I lived in Australia for a while in a beautiful house set in a quiet suburb of Melbourne. There all the neighbours knew each other and we often helped each other out decorating or gardening or fixing each other’s cars. One neighbour I became particularly friendly with was a man named Rod who had a passion for life, beer and music – we got along well. A lovely man, we spent many hot summer evenings sitting in his garden talking about the Rolling Stones, Cream, Black Sabbath and all the great classic rock bands. On one such evening, Rod mentioned that the first gig he ever went to was The Rolling Stones at the Kooyong Tennis Centre in 1973 which was particularly memorable for him because it was the famous outdoor afternoon show and the temperature was approaching 40C. (This was the same tour that The Stones had to cancel Japan because of Mick’s drug conviction). He reminisced for a while and then said ‘I recorded it all as well.’ Asking him to clarify exactly what he meant he explained that he had taken his reel-to-reel tape recorder to the gig with a couple of rolls of tape and set it up under his seat with two stereo mics and recorded the entire show. He added ‘I was quite near the stage as well so I got a good recording.’ Asking him about security he explained that back then in Australia there was none and providing you behaved yourself, nobody cared. I then asked him if he still had the tapes and he said he had, in a box somewhere, either in his attic or at his parent’s place. He said he did a few recordings back then but the other bands he couldn’t remember. I commented that he was the ‘Mike Millard of Australia’ and Rod asked “Who’s Mike Millard?”
‘Mike the Mic’ as he was affectionately known is probably the most famous concert recorders ever and if you have any good quality recordings in your collection of Zeppelin or The Stones from the L.A. Forum between 1974 and 1980, there is a strong possibility that they are from Mike’s tapes. Undoubtedly his best known Led Zep tape is ‘Listen To This Eddie’ (21st June 1977) which has been circulating for years as is his Rolling Stones L.A. Friday (13th June 1975) but there are still many of Mike’s tapes that have yet to be discovered. Famed for his work with recording Zep and The Stones, he also recorded pretty much every great rock show that came to town including Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Wings, The Who, Clapton, etc. In fact, his recordings were so good that Jimmy Page personally selected a track from Listen To This Eddie to play over the titles of The Song Remains The Same DVD release.
A Mike ‘the mic’ Millard tape, note the ‘copy’ written on it.
Other than his amazing ability to always get great recordings by being in a great seat, not much is known about Mike. He was born and raised in California, lived with his Mother his entire life and suffered from bad bouts of depression. His one love in life was rock music and he spent hours preparing to record shows, copying tapes for friends and refused to take any money from them for his services: he also refused to sell the master tapes for any price. He was against profiteering from illegal recordings and audio marked every tape he copied (usually with a slight volume fluctuation in one song) and kept a record of all the audio marks on all the copies he distributed. If a bootleg came out of his recording, he could listen to it and identify exactly who he gave that copy of the tape to. Unmarked, 1st generation copies are rare but occasionally surface.
Mike’s method was simple. Using a wheelchair, he would enter the venue being pushed by his friend Jim Reinstein, Mike sitting on his Nakamichi 550 stereo cassette recorder to hide it. Once inside, he would be wheeled to the handicap area where he placed the tape recorder in a bag he was carrying and attached two AKG microphones to his hat. He would then simply walk to his seat (usually in the 6th, 7th or 8th row) to record the gig and was known to often throw things at noisy fans to keep them quiet, lest it ruins his recording. At the end of the show, he reversed the process and was wheeled out. Back home he would copy the shows for a few close friends, audio mark the tape and log it in a book so as he knew which copy went to which friend, decorate the tape and often included a photocopy of the ticket when he sent it to them. His first known recording was of Yes on 19th March 1974 at the Long Beach Arena and his last was of Eric Clapton at the Irving Meadows Amphitheatre, 23rd September 1988.
By 1990, Mike’s depressions and health had worsened and one story has it that he committed suicide, destroying all of his master tapes before he did. Another story says that he died naturally and that his family (his mother) still has the master tapes in the room where he spent hours copying and logging them. Either way, Mike has gone and thirty years later, we have no idea where his master tapes are or even if they still exist (although quite recently, some master tapes have supposedly surfaced). Like Rod’s Rolling Stones Kooyong tape, they may never be heard again. I asked Rod a few times over the years if he had ever looked for those tapes of his but he never did and now, sadly, he and I have gone our separate ways so I may never know if he found them or not. It is quite possible that they ended up in a garage sale somewhere when his mother cleaned out her house or that his wife threw them away when she and Rod separated after twenty years of marriage.
I have to admit to being guilty of losing valuable recordings as well. Towards the end of 1985, Bronze Records which was home to both Girlschool and Motorhead – both managed by Doug Smith from his office 15 Great Western Rd in Westbourne Park, London – was in financial difficulty. Doug had been told that Bronze would not be able release a record by either artist in 1986 at which point, Doug negotiated the bands out of contract and set about looking for another label. It was during the following January that Doug called and said “I hear you are a qualified electrician. I have some work for you.” Events had come to pass that had led Doug to decide to start his own record label to runout of the same offices of his management business (I don’t think he knew the phrase ‘Conflict of Interests’) and he wanted the basement of the building fitted out electricity and lights as that would be the record company floor. I went up there, Doug told me what he wanted leaving the details to me and then told me Tom Docherty would be in charge – go and see him. Tom was a lovely man and we always got along well and he took me down into the basement which was stacked floor to ceiling, wall to wall with cardboard boxes, none of them labelled. ‘You’ll have to shift all that lot first’ said Tom, ‘Did Doug mention that?’ ‘No he didn’t Tom’ and we gave each other a knowing look.
15 Great Western Rd in Maida Vale, London. In 1986, the offices of Doug Smith; the basement window which can just be seen.
The next Monday I started in earnest to go through the boxes. Half of them were old unsold tour T-shirts of various sizes and quantities, sweatshirts, caps, badges, posters and tour programs of which I made an inventory and moved them all to a storage place behind the office building. Then there were boxes and boxes of old papers. There were letters, tax documents, company documents, record contracts, international correspondence, tour itinerates, tour accounts, receipts and a whole myriad of other scraps that I just labelled ‘Documents’ and moved next to the old merchandise. There were a half a dozen boxes left, the first three were stuff with unused promotional 10x8” b/w promotional photos, one was labelled ‘Do Not Use’ and rather intriguingly, empty and the final two were…oh my! Each box seemingly contained about 200 cassettes of demo tapes, rough studio mixes, rehearsal recordings and gigs of the bands Doug managed.* I went up to the top floor and asked Doug what I should do with them. He rather dismissively replied ‘Oh that lot? Throw them away’. I offered to take them home and sort through them. ‘Yeah if you want to but there’s nothing in there worth keeping’ he said at which needing no more prompting I returned downstairs, loaded them all into carrier bags and over the next few days took them home on the bus.
As it happens, Doug was almost right. I spent about four weeks playing through them all and 90% were unlistenable, badly recorded or of no significant difference to the final released versions; there were also many duplicates. There were however a few gems including Motorhead live at the Roundhouse 24/4/77 which to my knowledge has still never been released; 2 Tank early demo tapes and about a dozen unreleased Hawkwind live recordings of which I cannot recall the dates and may well have been released by now. Sadly these have all been lost by me somehow but there were also some unreleased Girlschoool recordings which of course I still have.
There were a few records but other than the test pressing of Hit and Run, Doug wanted to keep them.
There were others I somehow amassed from places and people. I used to have the original demo tape made by Marillion that got them the record deal with EMI – that one got lost when I moved from England to Australia. At the same time, several great radio recordings of gigs that I have never seen bootlegged were also lost including The Kinks, Rick Wakeman and Ian Gillan. I also had an extensive video collection, many of them given to me personally by bands of unedited footage they filmed themselves, all of which seem to have vanished. When I lived in London with Rock Goddess, we had our own rehearsal room on the top floor of the house and there were many late night sessions there with musicians who were just starting out but have now achieved great success. Danny, Luke and Harry from Terraplane (now Thunder) often visited; the guys from Samson as well (Bruce of course is now in Iron Maiden), FM and many more would stop by for a late night drink and jam. I recorded all of these on a Fostex Portastudio and left them in the house when I moved, not realising until a year or so later when everybody else had moved out the house and the tapes had been thrown away.
It’s sad when recordings like these disappear forever but it’s even sadder when record companies and TV companies hide tapes away for years for no reason. It seems that sometimes, even official films will never be seen by fans. The terrific Kate Bush Live at the Hammersmith video which was released in 1981 was only fifty-three minutes long and the show itself was over two hours. Where is the missing seventy minutes? Surely it is time for whoever owns the rights to release the entire concert. The Stones are doing the right thing by releasing their stuff in high resolution that has been bootlegged before and The Beatles’ film Let It Be is finally getting an official release some fifty years after it originally came out but there are many others laying in vaults collecting dust as a Beatles collector myself, I estimate I have at least a dozen different bootlegs of Let It Be so I will be very happy to be able to have a clear-out once the Blu-Ray is released. As for clearing out anything else though, no, I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way.
*At various times, Doug Smith managed Hawkwind, Motorhead, Girlschool, Tank, Fastway and at that time was also the European contact for Twisted Sister.