Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 21/08/20


I can't remember after all this time why I was looking for the information, to be honest. But I think I know.

When I first got online in the summer of 2001, I started thinking about all those songs, pieces of music and so forth that I remembered from earlier times which I had not heard in all the years since, or had had no luck in finding on record anywhere.

So I set out - using the search engines available at the time (which included the Copernic aggregator program, which utilised all the search engines to bring you the results) - to see if I could find out more about those tracks.

Now bear in mind that this was well before YouTube was even founded, so you had to find what you could where you could. If you were lucky.

I soon became aware that there was software which you could use to download music which wasn't even as semi-legitimate as Napster; these were the days of the 'peer-to-peer' networks, decentralised systems where the users shared and downloaded files. The names of those programs will resound in the memories of anyone who was seriously online at that time: WinMX, Soulseek, Shareaza, KaZaa, Ares Galaxy and others.

A whole new vista of possibilities opened up for me to get the music I'd been trying to retrieve for years, although my progress in this regard was retarded by two considerations: firstly, my concern about my own security in terms of both what exactly I might be downloading and whether or not I would be being tracked by state or corporate entities who would then either figuratively or literally knock my door down; and secondly by the fact that the 56k connection I was stuck with at the time would automatically be disconnected by my ISP after three hours, so that any file which took a long time to download (as I said, 56k, y'dig?) would fail to complete and would have to be tried again.

After a few months of this, though, I found that I had quite a collection of tracks downloaded and saved. The question then arose of what I should do with them. I knew that I needed to back them up somewhere (a software glitch in my system which necessitated a complete reload of Windows just a few weeks after I'd had my first PC taught me the essential lesson of regular backups which I have maintained to this day across nineteen years and three different systems), so I burned them to CD-R.

But then the thought occurred to me that, although they were safe, they would only be playable in that format on a PC. Which was OK, but more than a little limiting. Then I had the idea of burning them as audio CD-Rs as well. And this brought another facet of my weird psychology into play. Because I had - as had a lot of people during the 1980s and 90s - made what were termed 'mixtapes' for myself. These usually involved tracks I'd heard on John Peel's show which I wanted to keep, and meant dubbing sections from the shows which I recorded onto a second tape for repeat play in the future. This, I thought, would be a technological step on from that very process.

But if I was going to do it, then I wanted to go full-on and do proper CD booklets with composer credits, timings and sleeve notes. And so the need arose to do some research into each of the tracks I was archiving.

The information was not always easy to come by, however; such repositories of musical information as Discogs were in their infancy in 2002 in as much as they existed at all, so I struck empty air as often as not and had to go with incomplete information.

Over the following few years, I would reach the point where I had enough tracks downloaded to fill two CD-Rs and then I would compile a double album under the general title of Caught On The Net (I would also put together similar single-disc sets of humourous, comedy and novelty material under the rubric of Demented Discs as a tribute to Dr. Demento, whose shows I was able to pick up online at that time from the few US radio stations which still ran his shows).

It must have been when I was compiling (I think) Caught On The Net Volume 11 in the summer of 2010 that I discovered - probably whilst attempting to track down composer credits for some of the thirty tracks on that collection - a site called 45cat. This purported to be a catalogue which had the aim of collecting in one place all the 7" singles ever released in the UK, along with all of the artists, composers, producers and labels information pertaining thereto.

45cat logo

I had found the motherlode!

Moreover, because the site hadn't been running for very long, I saw that I had singles that they didn't yet have, so the bait was well and truly taken. After a few days of pondering (because I've never been a natural 'joiner' of anything), I signed up. There then followed a process of scanning the labels of my singles which they didn't have (or, sometimes, didn't have that particular variant of) and uploading them to the site, whilst at the same time starting to comment on some of the existing entries. This went on for just over a year until one of the site's administrators (Alan Hake aka 'Dr. Doom', and a man who had run Must...Destroy records in the previous decade) invited me to become a moderator for the site.

Now this is both a privileged and onerous position, meaning as it does the maintainance of the integrity of the information submitted to the site, making any corrections of amendments which are needed, being available as a knowledge resource and (mercifully rarely) dealing with the more cantankerous of the members. I was a bit wary at first, but - just as I discovered late on in my civil service career a latent ability to mentor the less knowledgeable of my colleagues - I took to it quite comfortably in the end, even when the workload increased markedly when Alan and his co-administrator Colin Roger (aka Orbiting Cat) decided to make the site international in 2011.

Of course, many of the more prolifically-contributing members are obsessives; it's a subject as passionately pursued as philately, trains or any other such 'niche' interest. But the level of specialised knowledge which is displayed is breathtaking: be it our prime expert on reggae an' ting Andy Lambourn (who seems to know every living exponent of Jamaican music personally); or the US user known as 'W.B.lbl' (who knows so much about pressing-plant variations and characteristics); or the late David M. McKee, whose expertise on the records issued on the London label in the UK led to his publishing two highly-regarded books on the subject. And the rest of us have our own little niches where we can contribute (my own being the figuring out of entries in Cyrillic or - at least until the recent arrival of an actual Greek moderator - Greek script).

In about 2013, a member who was a prolific contributor to Discogs let us have access to a database of over 30 000 label and sleeve images (both of 7" singles and other formats), which I and several other moderators and members spent months knocking into shape to fit the house style and uploading, which was an education in itself.

(A sister site - 45worlds - was started in 2012 to cater for all other recorded music formats (except digital; we haven't got a handle on that yet) in addition to DVDs, movies, TV, books and so on. A further site - 45spaces - for people's personal collections of what-ave-yews - football programmes, teaspoons (!), crisp packets and the like - also came on stream in 2015, although I confess that up to now I've had nothing to do with that site).

45cat now has over 85 000 members (although it has to be said that only a fairly small proportion of them post so much as a single comment) and a team of over a hundred moderators (which still seems to be not enough to keep up), and the site's reputation is zealously guarded.

The value of my involvement with these sites is not merely informative; when I was practically housebound following my steep descent into (and somewhat slower rise out of) decrepitude in the first three-quarters of 2016, modding the sites was an essentially therapeutic act to keep myself mentally active during my effective confinement. I'm hoping that it will have a similar value during my 'retirement'.

I mention all this because today marks ten years since I first joined 45cat (hence the title of this piece; 45 x 10, innit?), and I - at one and the same time - can't quite figure out where that decade has gone and can't remember a time when it wasn't a daily part of my life. Long may it continue, and long may it continue to be so.