Robert Langley or ‘Mr. Toad’ passed away c. early January, 2018.
The bootleg world has always been made up of budding entrepreneurs of all sorts – not many were as bold or as brassy as Robert Langley or ‘Mr. Toad’ as he was pronounced but being noted as the UK’s biggest bootlegger at the event of the CD bootleg was a badge of honour to wear.
Behind a stack of labels in the late ‘80’s and the 90’s such as Silver Rarities and Wanted Man to name a few, his was one of the biggest voices in Clinton Heylin’s book, ‘Bootleg’, his simple terminology about how he dealt his business in the halcyon days of the trade in silver disks was an enthralling read and threw entertaining light on some of the mundanity of his ‘hobby’ but also highlighted the risks that our underground chums faced while getting their product out there.
The fortunate few of you might have met this happy character while out collecting as he no doubt had a tale to spin out of his skippy adventures. Apparently he felt in to the trade by accident through a completely different business and another tale was that he spent most of his advances on one of the biggest and best rigs knows this side of a space station or Who concert. His collection of music overshadowing that of some of the more humble collectors. He was a music fan as much as a business man, out for the thrill of new tapes as opposed to new money.
One of the true heroes of the trade, Bob, though he was quieter in the last few years, is to be thanked for building your collection in ways that some labels will only aspire to. No doubt you’ll still own some of his original CDs too as they were far too good to be upgraded for the next.
Robert, thank you and fare thee well.
just a after note…..
what i don’t understand…suche big player and suche easy target…
ever imagine that mr Cat will go to fairs and sell his own productions? or..other bizz..that drugs producers sells their own cookings on the corners of the street?
Why didn’t he use cat catchers to stay out of trouble?
– he was sewn by one of the biggest collectors of zeps…mr zep himself….(Redacted) Page!!
Thanks Jules. A well written personal and moving tribute. Was great to hear some background on the history of Robert. He made a big contribution to the bootleg community and many tapes are in circulation directly because of him.
Thank you to everyone that has contributed to this thread – Don’t stop yet! I can only suppose that Bob would love to know that we were still talking about him in memorium. I’ve spoken to a few people who have remembered his work fondly, while raising a wry (written) smile at thoughts of the man. As with all auteurs, he’ll divide opinion but we’ll be all the richer (Or poorer!) for his career.
Bob Langley (17th July 1949 to 3rd January 2018)
– a personal tribute
By Jules McTrainspotter
Bob Langley died on the 3rd January 2018 at his home. He reached notoriety via Clinton Heylin’s book “The Great White Wonders, A History of Rock Bootlegs” published in 1994. A second edition, called “Bootleg! The Rise & Fall of the Secret Recording Industry” was published in 2003. In these books he was referred to as ‘Mr Toad’, which was a singularly unpleasant and rotten thing to call anyone. That name stuck and was used by the media during his appearances in court.
I first met Bob at a very large record fair in London in March 1992. In the days before the Internet and file sharing online, the best way of acquiring Live material was on bootleg CDs. Of course you could also build up a collection by trading cassettes or transfers onto DAT (thereby retaining the generation integrity) with fans. Bu as I did not have a collection (except my vinyl boots) I could not go down this route, and instead embarked on the extremely expensive path of buying as many CDs as I could. These days any concert that you want can be downloaded in minutes, and there are so many carefully and honestly fan remastered versions that “silver” CDs are almost superfluous. But I speak of a time long ago.
From Bob I built up a massive collection of CDs, seeing him with my friends every couple of weeks, and all of us excitedly discussing our new purchases in a nearby pub afterwards. At the time I did not realise that he was the mastermind behind a number of boot CD labels, many of which I bought from him. The following labels were all his:
Wanted Man (exclusive Bob Dylan label)
Slowhand Masterfile (exclusive Eric Clapton label)
Tattytura (copies of Tarantura releases after he fell out with this label)
Scorpio (the original label, with an American dealer, until he fell out with him too)
Page/Plant “Together Again” series
Page/Plant “Get Rid of the Smoke” 1995 UK tour 20 CD box set, all recorded by him
There must be others too. In addition, he supplied many sources for CD releases to both Empress Valley and Tarantura, but he fell out with both these prestige labels (falling out with people will be a constant theme in this tribute).
It is detailed in Heylin’s books that Bob found a CD pressing plant in the UK and they produced many discs for him. As his empire and sheer vast quantity of CDs increased, he rapidly became the biggest and most important producer of bootleg CDs in the UK. I am sure that everyone reading this article knows what a bootleg CD is, and how very different it is from a pirate CD. Unfortunately this simple differentiation was and remains rather difficult to grasp by the authorities and the media. However this huge output was deemed totally unacceptable by the music industry authorities. And from 1994 onwards a number of attempts were made to arrest Bob and commit him to trial. This is the chain of events that eventually led to his final arrest and successful trial (in Glasgow in 2007).
NEC record fair, Birmingham, March 1994. This was the biggest record fair in the UK, a vast room filled with dealers from all over the world. The BPI hit this record fair hard, but they were not able to land their biggest fish! Bob Langley had arrived late, and did not enter the hall when he got wind of what was happening. I was there and saw the drama unfold as an eye witness.
Camden record fair, March 1995. This was the usual fortnightly haunt for myself and friends as we all descended on the ballroom to get our fix of the latest releases, adjourning to a nearby pub afterwards to compare purchases over a few pints. The BPI raided this fair, and Bob was duly arrested (along with one other dealer). Bob hired the best barrister that money could buy, and his case was thrown out of court in November 1995. UK Customs & Excise were involved in this raid, in the hope that VAT had not been paid, as the draconian powers they have make the Gestapo look like the Girl Guides. This fell flat as Bob was fully up to date with his VAT payments.
Tonbridge record fair Spring 2003. Bob was arrested at this fair, but I cannot find out any information as to what happened to him. It is detailed on page 298 of Heylin’s second edition “Bootleg!”. Any more information about this is welcomed. I can only surmise that he managed to get off, yet again.
SECC, Glasgow, March 2005. The big one, and the law, (albeit the very different Scottish rather than English law) finally got Bob Langley. He was committed to trial with charges of selling bootleg material, with copyright and trademark breaches, all denied by Bob. The trial eventually took place at the end of July 2005, at Glasgow Sheriff Court. No chances were being taken to ensure that he would be found guilty. Jimmy Page was the star witness on 26th July, and his evidence was such that Bob did not stand a cat in Hell’s chance of getting off. However on the 30th July Bob pleaded guilty, no doubt hoping that leniency would be shown to him. On the 30th August 2005 Bob was back in court, and incredibly he was given a custodial sentence of 20 months in jail. It beggars belief that the offences warranted such a harsh judgement. The total rubbish written in the press about Bob during the trial and after sentencing were blatantly fed to them to regurgitate, complete and misleading drivel in the main.
The BBC news website reporting the sentence had this to say (try not to wet yourself laughing at the total twaddle dictated to them):
“Bootlegging is a specialist area of music piracy, where performers’ live performances are recorded without the permission of the artist or label and are sold on the black market.
Once the main area of music piracy, bootlegging has all been wiped out with the trade now dominated by organised criminal gangs who mass-produce replicas of genuine recordings or illegal compilations.
The BPI welcomed the sentence. Its piracy manager David Wood said Langley was a “notorious” music pirate who was the last of about 10 major players who had previously dominated the bootleg scene. “Serious organised criminals now control the distribution of fake CDs, DVDs, games and software, and internet piracy has engendered a culture of mass online copyright theft,” he said”.
Reading some of the Rolling Stones fans reactions on a website sums things up well:
“Seems a very severe sentence to me. I’m sure a lot of you out there have bought bootlegs, so what do you think? Was the person who sold you “Brussels Affair” such a serious criminal that he needed to be locked up?”
“That’s about what the sentence they get for raping a child where I live”
“Jimmy Page suing someone over copyright infringements is about the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever seen anyone do, considering the amount of songs Led Zeppelin stole”
“This stuff really pisses me off, and Page should be ashamed of himself. From what I’ve read Pagey was involved in this conviction from the start. He was the reason this came to court and he gave evidence against the man. Now someone is serving jail time for providing a service.
Jimmy Page is worse than Lars Ulrich. At least Lars never got anyone jailed.
As someone else pointed out …Led Zeppelin ripped all the blues guys off and claimed the songs as their own. Now that IS criminal”
In addition to the 20 months sentence in a Scottish open prison (of which Bob served 15 months out of the 20), there was also a proceeds of crime enquiry trying to claim £250,000 (sic) alleged to belong to Bob as profits from his “crime”. This failed, but it caused really terrible anguish, stress and immense worry to Bob’s partner, who was a totally innocent party and was not involved with Bob’s boot CD and DVD sales in any shape or form whatsoever.
I had started to call in to see Bob at his home on my way to the East Midlands, when I went to visit my then girlfriend every few weeks, around 2002. We remained friends right up to his release from jail in 2009. In fact I was one of the few people who stayed friends with him during the time that he was in jail. Bob could be a very trying and difficult person to get on with. He could be arrogant and always wanted his own way. I tried to humour him but very unfortunately he was very rude to me in 2009 and I severed all links with him. It was at the start of 2018 that I said to myself that I really must get in touch with him and mend bridges, alas too late. Ironically another friend of mine, who was also a good friend of Bob’s was thinking exactly the same thing.
When Bob came out of jail he blamed everyone but himself for his downfall. And he never recovered from the experience of being in prison. Prison is supposed to reform those who are sent there, but for Bob it broke him and eventually contributed to his death. He did not look after his health, and by 2012 he had put on a great deal of weight, back to how he was in the early 1990s when I first met him. This caused him to have diabetes. Towards the very end of 2017 his health went into what would be a terminal decline. He had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). This gave him very bad coughing problems. At Christmas 2017 he caught the terrible flu bug that was affecting so many people with tragic results, which turned into pneumonia. He then had a gastro-intestinal haemorrhage, and he died, peacefully in his bed, on the 3rd January 2018, aged 68. Such was his bitterness at what happened to him at the trial, he did not want any Led Zeppelin music played at his funeral.
I had known Bob Langley from 1992 to 2009, a period of 17 years. We had our ups and downs, but until the final and permanent break in 2009 we had always kept in touch and seen each other, at record fairs or at his home. He was originally from Burton upon Trent, a famous centre for brewing, and also railways. Bob knew of my love of steam railways (and real ale) and he often mentioned things he saw in Burton during the good old steam days in the 1950s and 1960s. My one big regret was that I left it too late to get back in touch with him. Because of him I have got some superb Led Zeppelin CDs, which have stood the test of time. “Rock Hour” from 1969 (Antrabata), “BBC ZEP” from 1971 (Antrabata), and “Listen To This Eddie” from 1977 (Silver Rarities Master Series). Sonically all three are still as good sounding as anything that has come after them. None of this ridiculous EQ cranked up to the max. The court sentence in 2007 was a travesty and was far too harsh. I hope those involved know that they played a part in the early death of a man. His legacy is the many superb CDs that he was behind, often beautifully packaged and mastered with great care, giving the true fans what they wanted. Nobody forced any of us to buy these boots, we bought them because we loved the bands and wanted to hear concerts and unreleased outtakes. In fact the mass of Led Zeppelin CD boots contributed considerably to keeping the fans hungry for official reissues and remasters, and in flying the flag for the band. These reissues have generated many millions in revenue for CD and DVD sales. As thanks for doing this Bob Langley was sent to prison.
He had a very dry sense of humour not sure I liked him when I was at college and first met him in London.But it was at the Page and Plant Unplugged for MTV on both Nights at the London Television Centre on the South bank (thanks to Dave Lewis for the ticket) ,in 1994 that I started to like him sitting next to him we started a conversation before Crowley and Percy started ..I said I thought I knew a lot about Rock music and rare concerts ,of which Bob relied (Ya do Laddie but not as much as me)LOL.I have met him quite a few time since over the years…Jezz Uncle Bob even got the genius of William Stout to do the Legendary Zeppelin Burn like a candle.He will be sadly Missed..My condolences to his family–I will be sinking a few pints of Guinness at his funeral tomorrow- here is to you Bob Eye Thank You..Trade Mark of Quality —
R.I.P Bob I miss the pre-internet days of collecting, when you could pick up titles at record stores in NYC. Those underground stores no longer exist, an era long gone, but fondly remembered.
Terry, youre right..though i must admit that that kinda places , where you can buy suche gems are growing slowely.
i remember the time when boot vinyls were out of fashion. Collectors went into the silverdiscs,
bootrecs could be easely found for wholesale prices at recordfairs. i still see the guy responsable for imtrat/livealive as i later found out…bought boxes full of boots of tmoq,takrl..all of the old amercian labels, for only a few bucks. Think the same will happen with cd’s. When the policy incase the ‘grey’ live recordings changed, dealers hurried up to slle their stock , also at wholesaleprices.
Think for the cds, crystal cat is the tmoq of the cd area. Now easely available, but after some time..who knows. But i do agree with your opinion, go out and search in your local underground store, or waiting for your monthly orderform from your fave bootdealer …that good old days….
Ah…sad to learn this. I met him many times, he was a fixture at record/music fairs big and small around London and also at Brighton. I would pick up all the new Zep releases from him, he was a fan himself. I remember he sometimes kept a few scarce releases out of the racks and would offer to the regular/repeat collectors. I also remember him telling me about some “horribly expensive new Japanese label” then a few weeks later debuted the first Tarantura batch at the London Victoria fair, the prices of which floored me.
He foresaw the end, there was a time he was considering a private gathering of collectors due to the heat being brought by the BPI but alas, all too late. I never did realise how deep his involvement was as a bootlegger until his arrest and trial, to me he was just a friendly reliable seller who could seemingly get anything. RIP Mr Langley, thanks for the memories of great collecting times.
breathtaking last line…
What a sad day it is to hear this news.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bob on many occasions and I must say he was always a delight to talk to and enjoyed sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge by virtue of being, first and foremost, a music lover.
Larger than life in so many ways Bob was never the fittest man in the world, but some will be of the view that perhaps the time spent at Her Majesty’s pleasure will not have contributed to extending his time with us, and furthermore some may feel that the action that led to him being there was over-zealous at best, or even vindictive.
Either way I am sure that he and the also greatly missed Gerard Sparaco are, even as we mourn them both, together and debating the finer points of the latest EV, Tara, or No Label release.
R.i.p. Bob, a gentleman I am delighted to say I knew.
Very sorry to hear about his tragic passing away…may he RIP in heaven, where he’ll have absolutely no chance in hell of meeting the likes of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, etc., etc.
I probably have a dozen or so factory-pressed silver original boot CD releases on the Silver Rarities label, so I can’t say that he never meant anything to me.