Wednesday 22 November 2017

Classic rock gets its YouTube

Niall Byrne

We all know where to look when we're looking for shaky camera footage of our favourite live acts. Off to YouTube we go, where you can probably watch a bit of last night's gig complete with super-loud crowd screams, distorted audio that sounds like a boombox going through a wash cycle and a song that cuts off before the chorus.

Sure, you can find some professionally produced modern live performances on sites such as AOL's The Interface, Baeblemusic and, but what if you fancy something from the pre-internet era?

The American site Wolfgang's Vault is now a treasure trove of concert videos full of rock's rich heritage ( going back to the 60s. It has taken four years and millions of dollars to digitise and archive a huge collection of video material filmed and owned by the legendary rock promoter Bill Graham and the bulk of it is now available online.

The cache, which was found in a San Francisco warehouse owned by Graham in 2003, included audio recordings, video footage, memorabilia, posters and photographs amounting to 30 million items which serves as an authentic retelling of American rock'n'roll history.

Named after Graham's given birth name (Wolfgang Grajonca), the Wolfgang's Vault site contains hours of concert footage free to watch from the likes of The Who, Santana, Ray Charles, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Van Morrison and many more. Basically, anyone who Graham promoted in concert from the mid-60s up to his untimely death in a helicopter crash in 1991 is featured.

There are some special moments captured. The Sex Pistols' last ever gig on January 14, 1978, in San Francisco where Johnny Rotten famously declared after a cover of The Stooges' No Fun, "Ever get the feeling you're being cheated?"

There are 67 songs from The Band alone performing with the likes of Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Joni Mitchell from 1976 up to 1983. There's The Ramones performing Teenage Lobotomy in 1978. There's black and white footage of a full Bob Marley And The Wailers gig in the Oakland Auditorium in 1979. You can watch U2 playing I Will Follow in California in 1981 and the legendary 1973 show by The Who where Keith Moon fell into his drum kit.

The site's audio section is just as wide-reaching. Live concerts from Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, The Cure, Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, Frank Zappa, Fleetwood Mac and thousands more from rock's rich canon can be streamed or bought. The merchandise section is another fascinating browse.

Genuine T-shirts from the era, vintage colourful tickets from the 60s and 70s featuring Led Zeppelin, a photography section of over 1,000 images, backstage passes dating from 1968, Rolling Stones laminates, water bottles, retro afghan rugs and even a Bryan Adams towel from 1986.

All this adds up to what the Wall Street Journal calls "the most important collection of rock memorabilia and recordings ever assembled in one business". Wolfgang's Vault is a must for nostalgic rock fans. Classic rock finally gets its YouTube.

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