a short site about The Divine Comedy

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27/10/2019, a short Q&A

A few months ago I was asked by a famous French music mag to answer a questionnaire for a series of articles on dedicated fans, with a focus on record collecting.
Finally the subject was dropped and instead of getting all these answers lost, publishing this Q&A here is the opportunity to share the ins and outs of my passion.

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What actually made you start a collection?
I always had a thing for collection. Generally, I like to collect records from bands I like, and when I really like them I tend to be a completist.
In the particular case of TDC for me, there are two aspects. For the official releases, doing the site where everything gets documented helps me to maintain the collection.
Then, when we are fan of an artist, we seek to discover the most unexpected and interesting things (demos, special performances, etc.). Every concert is different, and may have something special.
But, on the unofficial recordings, there is also an aim also to preserve a heritage, and so to get my hands the most of the recordings to get them properly restored.

What was the first item you bought?
The album Liberation in 1999 a couple of months after I got into the band. But I’d say the collection really started with the Secret History limited edition in late 1999. A compilation of demo and live tracks, which really gives the curiosity to look for more, and so to seek for the complete recordings.

What are the latest items you bought?
A Russian bootleg of Office Politics. Also an instrumental CD-R of Absent Friends, and a French cassette edition of Casanova. I was looking for that one for more than 10 years without any proof it actually existed. It does!
Recently I also managed to get my hands on live recordings of all the show DC did in my former hometown, including some masters that never circulated and which I managed to restore in good condition.

Even though size does not matter, how much place does it take?
There is a big CD flightcase, but I need another one for all the recent Divine Comedy Records CDs. Then there is another flightcase for the LPs, one for the 45s, and a case for the official cassettes. And then, I’ve got many magazines, newspapers, bootlegs, photo albums… and everything gets digitized with high end equipments.
Plus a lot of information grabbed from the Internet, so it takes more than 1Tb of data. All has a backup on magnetic tapes of course.

How is it organized?
Everything is well protected and put in a place according to its format. The problem is that I got things that went put in different places, such as the cardsleeves and the CDs. And I’d need to do an inventory to no longer have to spend time to look for something when I can’t remember where it is supposed to be.
In the computer, there is such an amount of data that it becomes to be an endless task. Sometimes I spend many hours just to look for a bit of information that I vaguely remember from 10 years ago… I’d need some big data processing, haha!
But it’s already a big deal to have done all this conservation. The site is a mean to bring to light a part of all that; but there is such a big documentation work to do, it doesn’t process as fast as I wish.

Is the main thing the hunt, the quest or to have the disc, the object?
Well, since the aim of the hunt is to have the item, I’d say the main thing is still to finally have it. But I don’t just own just to own, but it’s also part of a documentation process. I am always in quest for documents. Looking up eBay or discogs is only a background tasks. There are many people with who I am in contact with, or try to get in touch, to find some archives. That could be anything: audio, videos, photos, press articles.
Every find is a victory, but as long as there is still the fin, the quest is not completed. However, the quests lead sometimes to find other things we wouldn’t have expected. For example, thanks to a DC fan, we have managed to unearth uncirculated material from Led Zeppelin!
And if I get a demo tape for example, that wouldn’t just to say “I have an ultra-rare recording from Neil Hannon in 1989, it’s an old tape and it’s rubbish, hahaha!”. No, I’d take the chance to restore the recording in the best conditions, and respect the music for the place it takes in the band’s history.
Some of them can be found on the Internet indirectly thanks to me. However I wouldn’t put all my archives for download, in case you ask. But everything I have is documented on the site, people can get in touch; and most of private collectors don’t do this, they stay vague about what they have, and don’t necessarily manage to get things digitally restored. I am always open to discussion. So it is important that people get to know what I am doing, and I try to explain.

The most beautiful story related to the collection (eg. finding an incredible item in the depths of an empty garage sale, meeting people through the collection, etc.)
I have met many good people thanks to the collection.
In the miraculous finds: finding an original copy of La Cigale for bargain!
And also I had this dream long time ago, I’d find in an obscure record shop in Paris cassettes of French concerts by the band. This dream finally came true many years later, I went to a record shop owned by a fan from the early years, we discussed and he got into his back shop to dig out recordings he did of the 3 Parisian shows from 1996; which I managed to restore.

And the worse?
That the band (or their management) got into the fashion of selling ‘unique recordings’, put up for sale for 50£ for just one demo track. For Foreverland, there was about 50 disc sold to different people. This was to create a buzz, and make some easy money on the fans, but it is rather insane. Releasing a triple CD-R album of all those demos would have made more sales (according to the fanbase’s size), and for the same price it wouldn’t have sound unfair.
They definitely crossed the line where the music became less important to the ego of their audience; people were satisfied of having something unique made for them, more than the song itself.

Has internet facilitated the collection or did it ruined everything?
Mainly helped. Most of the rare items come from outside France, and eBay really helped to find them.
Sadly the general use of computers did some harm because a lot of documents have been badly digitized. And youtube has made thing even worse! Some people believe they can digitize a VHS by filming the TV screen with a smartphone and upload this onto youtube! However, Internet helps to find contacts as well, and make researches that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
I was unfortunately too young to be there during the days of the fanzines. There was always a bigger respect to the fanzines editors/writers, since they were doing a proper physical object; while in those days it was considered ‘easy’ to do a home page.
Also, when I started the site, the Internet was different, and was much more about sharing the information, and I decided to stuck into that way; but it never get rewarded since nowadays, that’s the social networks that are in the air; and those who play to the gamification get the advantage. You can’t imagine in the 90’s someone publishing a fanzine full of selfies… but that’s what happens now. On the other hand, I don’t want to show myself, here I want to talk about the band not about me. But this has become more of a disadvantage.

Can we be friend with another collector of the same band?
Of course, as long as there is a positive communication, and some exchanges. If each other just want to show how big their collections are, it is not interesting.
Unfortunately – and that’s true for every band – there is a lot of competitions between fans. Not much sharing; or sometime generosity in disguise: if someone finds a rare item, it is likely that he’d just share a photo taken with a smartphone, instead of a 300dpi scan.
Some take the excuse of some ethic to not give access to some content but that’s bullshit – I mean their excuse are usually based on sophisms (for example the early stuff shall not be shared because Neil says they are not good; which means it makes no sense for commercial release, not that we’d be stabbed to death if we listen to it). If you’re a friend, and know how much it counts for me, friendship shall come before a so-called ethic. As a result, the story is always the same: opportunities get missed, time passes and things get lost. When that happens, I can’t see myself smiling at these people: “you’re a good fan”.

The Holy Grail, the item not found yet?
In the official items, there are still test-prints, instrumental CDs that are to be found.
After that, there are still many un-official recordings that exist but do not circulate. For example the shows with Michael Nyman in 1997, I know at least one recording exist… Or the complete recording of the Dublin Olympia ’94 solo show, it uses to circulate!
But the real Holy Grail would be the Liberation demos since they were the turning point between the early rock days and the pop days. I know that some people close to the label got to listen to them.
There are also video of the days before The Divine Comedy, but they never circulated. Does this material still lies somewhere in Ireland? Mystery…

Are you able to admit that at one point your loved artist was less good, disappointing?
Of course. In the recent years, Neil Hannon has sometime been less audacious than his beginnings. But I think he still got the same talent, and the latest albums showed he could still surprise us!
And I don’t doubt that he’ll have more and more recognition over the years.

Has this collection given birth to any others?
I have got other collections. Some are with linked artists, such as Duke Special, Matt Berry or Anthony Reynolds. Also on other unrelated artists, but it’s a different story. However, for none of them I have been socially involved in the fan circles; but I can be involved in different ways, it also depends of the band too (if it’s a band from the past, or even defunct). I probably won’t do any other website though, just writings for my own self, ‘cause experience has shown me that such expression, when not aimed to promote, is not well-considered.

Discuss!