"There's no gain for us at all." An interview with a video pirate.
ScottishTeeVee Jr. standing guard
In the depths of Covid-19, I found myself indulging in the never-ending resource that is YouTube. In my travels, I came across a video of The Sugarcubes playing on a strange TV show in 1991 uploaded to a channel called ScottishTeeVee. In the description there is digitizing equipment listed, band member list, and lyrics to the song they are playing. By YouTube standards, this is Smithsonian-like archiving, and his channel reveals the same effort repeated with years worth of quality digitized musical performance videos and interviews from the '60s on. Mr. Teevee's real name is "above top secret", but he is more than happy to share his collection with the world.
What do you do for work and where are you from?
I work in the Petrochemical industry. I live in the Falkirk area, Scotland.
What was the first music moment that blew you away?
I think that was when watching the Rolling Stones on TV, performing Paint it Black, I thought it was awesome. After it finished, my dad told me that before I was born, he had lived in England and attended lots of Rolling Stones concerts... he got to know the Stones keyboard player very well and had met all the Stones, then he downplayed it by saying “But that was before they were famous”.
How long have you been recording sets + trading tapes and what got you
I have been recording for 39 years now. I did not record much initially, due to tapes costing about £10 each. I simply liked to record and keep the tapes with no thought of trading. In early 1982, I noticed a classified sales advert in NME “The Great Rock & Roll Swindle” on VHS for £50. Which was a lot of money in those days. That got me thinking, there was money to be made here if I had the right video recordings. Then I saw another classified ad in NME “Video collectors to trade tapes, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Damned” The guy was in Sweden, so I wrote to him and he replied with a photocopied list of all the recordings he had. He asked for my list, so I scribbled down all I had, sent it to him, he asked for 3 hours of shows to be compiled onto a tape for him and told me to chose from his list what I wanted from him in return. My first trade and I had an understanding of how this worked.
When did you decide these tapes had value to you?
Almost from day one. I bought the VCR myself, cash. Cash I had saved to buy a brand new motorbike, but right away I was recording music tv-shows I wanted to keep, so for me, that was priceless.
Just a few in ScottishTeeVee's collection
What is your process for digitizing? How has it changed through the years?
Now I just copy the tapes straight onto DVD, rip the files using Handbrake, then edit on my iMac using iMovie. It’s fast and easy. 21 years ago, I was trying to digitize from VCR into capture box, into Windows PC, then onto DVD. It was a pain until a good friend who is a professional editor for television told me to get a Mac, so I bought a Macbook Pro and never looked back.
Has your collecting/trading always been for preservation purposes?
No, it was always just to get more of the recordings I wanted, primarily Sex Pistols and all the other usual punk bands, but then I got into other bands such as The Cramps, Fleshtones, garage punk bands, bands from Australia, Sweden, Finland, Spain, etc.
Have you traveled for tape trades or to buy tapes? How did you acquire
I have never traveled for tape trades, it was all done via Royal Mail. Packages arrived every day and every postman I have had would ask what I was up to, as I got the most international mail in town. I was the talk of the local postal sorting office.
What was a white whale (rare tape you had to search for) tape for you, if
you’ve ever had one?
The MC5, a True Testimonial, made in 2002. It was unreleased due to a lawsuit from the bands' guitarist. It’s not rare, very common as a decent quality bootleg DVD. But I always wanted to see a perfect version. It took me 18 years to find one and in a bizarre way. A good friend who lives locally asked me to check a few boxes of videotapes, I was to bin any rubbish and keep any rare items for myself. 50% was
junk, but there were around 15 BBC master tapes, gems, and one professional-grade tape in a case with a letter from the film company explaining that the tape was an extended version of a movie for screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival. My jaw dropped, it was A True Testimonial. I contacted my friend, he asked for the tape back and he returned it to the producers, 18 years late. Now you must be wondering if
I took a high-quality digital copy before returning the tape. Well...
Have you ever had any dangerous trades/interactions?
Four, one involved me and a friend being chased through Glasgow city center on foot. Another involved me being lifted by about six security staff at an Edinburgh concert venue and having my video camera removed. Another involved a person being an unwilling passenger in a car boot/luggage compartment and another had his fingers broken by a door during a heated discussion.
What is your favorite recording you have and why?
I have a few of the Cramps live at the Nepa Valley State Mental Hospital, the quality is rubbish, but I love it. Marc Bolan performing 20th Century Boy, on Musikladen Germany, live and raw. Radio Birdman performing TV Eye on Australian TV 1978 and the MC5 performing Kick out the Jams, also on Musikladen.
What is your philosophy on the accessibility of music?
I prefer that people pay for it, I still buy records, CDs, etc. I never used Napster etc, Even back in 2001, I could see that downloads could kill music or have a very bad effect in the long term. All my videos are monetized, not by me, money is earned for the copyright holder or publisher and I have no problem with that at all.
You stopped collecting in 2007, right around the time YouTube started. Why did you decide to share your collection, and what did you think of YouTube when it came out?
I stopped trading in 2007 because by then I was trading DVD only and there were lots of new traders appearing, but they were mostly dealing in downloaded video, from file sharing sites, the quality was getting worse instead of better, to the point that I could do a 10 DVD trade with someone new and most of the DVDs went in the bin, it was getting frustrating, with new traders quality was unimportant, they were all about quantity.
I decided to share, probably thanks to a friend I had tape traded with 30 odd years ago, his YouTube channel is TravisBickle1963. He uploads rare music videos just to share them and so I just did the same, there’s no gain for us at all.
When YouTube came out I was one of the early users. I think my first video, on another channel, was uploaded in 2006 about a year after it started. On that channel, all the videos are filmed, edited and produced by me and it has just short of 212 Million views, then I started another channel, with all my own work and that has a further 8 million views, ScottishTeeVee is my third and most recent channel with almost 11 million views.
What bands have you supplied your tapes to? How did that go?
Most bands are great, if you own the DVD boxed set by AC/DC you will see my name in the credits as having supplied some video, great to deal with. I’m also credited in the recent John Lydon (Public Image Ltd) movie. Again, nice to deal with and that’s the case with 95% of the bands, famous and not so famous, that I have encountered. The problem ones have blocked videos, made threats of legal action, and then demanded the videotapes. They should have done it the other way around, asked for an HQ DVD of the tape, uploaded it to their channels, then blocked my uploaded version.
What has been your reaction to the popularity of your channel? Some videos have a lot of views!
I’m fine with it, I have about four videos coming up for a million views and I average 900,000 views per month, which seems a lot, but I have 1300 videos on that channel, so the views are spread thinly.
Tools of the trade
You list equipment on each video. How did you learn to use this equipment? How do you organize your archives?
I learned to use the equipment myself, self-taught. There was never anyone nearby to learn from, I just had to figure it all out. With the VCRs it was easy, far more tricky and costly with digital capture in the early days from say 1999-2000. I think the first DVD writer I ever bought was £500. Organizing the archive was first needed in about 1986, when I had 200 tapes. Although I have cataloged most of the recordings, I was having trouble locating clips, so I started numbering the tapes. Then I had to go back into my lists to note the tape that each recording was on. This made it far easier for me to compile tapes for trades. I stopped using videotape in 2001 when I had just over 2,000 tapes. There are still at least 50 that I have never bothered to catalog. I switched to DVD trading only in 2001 and gave up in 2007, by which time I had around 5,000 DVDs, 99% cataloged, numbered, etc.
What is your favorite band you’ve personally seen live and why?
It was The Sex Pistols, I loved them, I bought everything I could find, all legal releases and bootleg LPs, singles, etc., and saw them a few times on the reunion shows. But my favorite live band, The Ramones, the first time I saw them I left the venue concussed as if I had just been in a car crash, love them.
The channel is mixed in band genres. Are you a fan of all these styles of music, or do you just upload for the people?
I admit it is a weird mix and yes I am a fan of most of it, in my car the music goes from Belle and Sebastian to Ella Fitzgerald, to Chas n Dave, to The Presidents of the United States of America, onto Van Halen, Nat King Cole, R.E.M, Jilted John, Soft Cell. I know it's crazy. However, my wife has recently hidden my Chas n Dave CD.
What do you think of today’s music? Do you favor any modern bands/acts? Do you still go see bands?
I hear people say “There are no good new bands” That’s wrong, they are just listening to the wrong radio stations. Thankfully, here in Scotland, we have BBC Radio Scotland, with shows by Vic Galloway, Ricky Ross, and Bryan Burnett, which all play good new stuff and older favorites.
I do still go see bands, but nothing for the last year or more due to Covid.
What's a UK band you love that is underrated and people should know about?
Oh, well I’m not sure, I’m getting to the age where I am not sure where I was yesterday and the names of new bands are starting to escape me, but they are out there, I promise.
What's an annoying part of dealing with most of your collection being on tape? Do you ever get nervous about their imminent demise because of the format?
Tape rot is the annoying part, my tapes are all well stored on shelves in good, dry, cool conditions, but some tapes are now covered in mold, in some cases lost forever. So if your readers have any rare tapes, do get them digitized, as they will not last forever.
What do your family and friends think of your collection and archiving?
Most really do not know what I do. 99% I guess have no clue, or they see me share the odd post of Facebook about a music video I have uploaded to YouTube and they just think it’s a little pastime, they just don’t get it.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of running the channel?
I like seeing the comments from viewers and I reply to hundreds, there are many subscribers who I look out for such as Edward, Martin, Jonathan, Joyce, and more. The least part, the haters, every YouTube channel gets them, but thankfully YouTube has the “Block” button and if the person is abusive to me other others, then there is the “Report” button.
Is there a broadcast/concert you missed that you wish you could have recorded?
Many, but I get so annoyed when I miss something, that I block it out of my mind.
Tell me some funny or interesting musician interactions, if you've had any? I loved the Maria Mckee
story on your channel.
Oh Maria, what a girl, I loved her in Lone Justice. Never imagined I would have any dealings with her and then she moves in with a friend, in Glasgow, how strange is that? I met the Ramones a few times. The second time, was at the stage door of a venue, just two or three fans waiting, a people carrier van with the band appears, we cannot see inside due to smoke, the door slides open, the band staggers out, apart from Dee Dee who is still seated, but with his face on the floor close to unconscious. I got a few photos and autographs from Johnny, then Joey who were fine, then Dee Dee sort of woke up and had no clue where he was, but he was able to sign a few autographs.
Has anyone ever been discouraging to your collecting?
All of my ex-girlfriends. One said to me “it’s me or the tapes” So... I moved out. The present Mrs. TeeVee has been here 20 years, she accepts it, just.
Any last words or stories you’d like to share?
15 years ago, the local newspaper ran a feature interview with the Fire chief who explained that in a recent fire a large collection of videotapes had been a serious problem at a house fire, due to the fumes and intense heat generated. So he asked that anyone with, I think, more than 100 tapes inform the local fire department and they would make a note. So I phoned, “How many tapes sir?” “Umm…2,000 plus” There was a few seconds of silence. “Really?” “Yes, really.. and about 5,000 DVD's” There was a long pause. “Porn?” “No not at all, not a single tape or DVD, just music”.
He then asked, “Can I come see this, with an officer?” at which point I thought, I could be in bother here and hung up.