REMEMBERING ROCK RECORDS IN HONG KONG, ROBERT FREEMAN AND BEATLES BOOTLEGS

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

It was a hole in the wall in the basement of a shopping arcade in Johnson Road down Wanchai. It’s where us record collectors went to find the unusual- mainly vinyls and obscure exports during the time of the CD.

For myself, Rock Gallery was THE place for bootlegs, especially Beatles bootlegs. Us hardcore Beatles fans visited one particular shop whenever in Tokyo for memorabilia and the occasional bootleg by the Fabs. But for over two years, Rock Gallery was the only dumping ground for thousands of obscure Beatles bootlegs. These were mainly from Italy. And for just HK$120 each and HK$380 for a box set.

Being with EMI at the time, and the Parlophone label being under the music company, we helped ourselves to all the various lavish box sets by every EMI artist we wanted- Sinatra, the Beach Boys etc and the Beatles. They were signed to Parlophone. By the time the “previously unreleased tracks” on the Beatles Anthology were released, a few of us already had these. Almost three years earlier. Still with me is a CD with over twenty different mixes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” opening with Lennon home made demo.

There were then hundreds of tracks featuring what could be termed bloopers- especially intros with mistakes. Wrong count-ins. Guitar flubs. Everything mentioned in Mark Lewisohn’s incredibly comprehensive “The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes 1962-1970”.

The original version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” recorded as a ballad with a different third verse? Bought two years before finally released on “Love”.

There was also “The Dakota Sessions”. Fourteen Lennon originals including a demo of “Imagine”. All these bootlegs ended up in Hong Kong and Rock Gallery under the Yellow Dog label from Italy.

How did they get the tracks? How and where did they make money? No idea. As music fans and collectors, we didn’t care. How did YouTube have so much Beatles content when everything was supposed to be owned by EMI? No idea.

For about 3-4 years, Rock Gallery was where we stocked up on the best bootlegs around. And not just by the Beatles. There were box sets by Led Zeppelin, The Who, Doors, Dylan, hundreds of rare CDs by Queen and extremely good quality ‘live’ recordings by those mentioned plus James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Nick Drake, Talking Heads and the more obscure artists.

When my wife and I divorced, she could have had everything. But never that record collection from Rock Gallery. Nor the rare photographs of the lads given by their one-time official photographer Bob Freeman.

With work in the UK hard to come by, he and then wife Tiddy made Hong Kong their home and worked on a number of television commercials. Being in advertising at the time, we became friends, he did some work for me and always surprised me with Beatles memorabilia. And what stories he had…Robert Freeman was there. He hung with the Beatles from 1963-66.

This wonderful artist had created the first Pirelli calendar, was part of the whole Swinging London scene and who caught the attention of Beatles manager Brian Epstein through his black and white photographs of Jazz greats, created some of the most iconic Beatles album covers.

Listening to his stories about how this work came about and the stories about the boys was wonderful. Never mentioned was the rumour that Lennon had a secret affair with his first wife and model Sonny Crane, below. “Norwegian Wood” was apparently written for her.

Money can’t buy any of this. The memories. The stories. The sharing. It’s all part of being a music fan. It’s friendly oneupmanship between those who really know and those others who wish to be seen as knowing. The Nowhere People.

Though not on Facebook anymore, one redeeming quality about the social media platform are those REAL music fans there who share unselfishly and with the knowledge to answer questions and not embarrassed to ask. It’s what separates the wheat from the chaff. In more than just music.

#Music #RockRecords #Hongkong #TheBeatles #RobertFreeman #JohnLennon #NorwegianWood #SonnyCrane

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