RSD13: Last Shop Standing – A Visual Record (Of Record Shops)

The official film of Record Store Day 2013 is the wonderful Pip Piper interpretation of Graham Jones’ fine book of the same name. The deluxe DVD edition hits the racks on Saturday and below I explain why this is a MUST see. 

Whether you’ve used the same record emporium since you hit puberty or you’re the sort to check if there are any music shops in a location before you visit or even book a holiday there, ‘Last Shop Standing’ is a fifty minute celebration of the people who put so many great records in your hands. As Ashli Todd, of Cardiff’s Spillers Records, puts it, “Even though everything’s supposedly accessible on a computer at the end of your fingertips, nothing beats the buzz of meeting somebody face to face across the counter and saying ‘Hey, have you heard this?'” For those of us who still value the personal touch, the hugely exciting opening montage essentially works like a vinyl geek’s game of ‘been there!’ A glittering cast are dangled before us tantalisingly, all to be woven into a film which offers hope amidst a sense of missed opportunities and some potent 20/20 hindsight.

Graham Jones, author of the book with spawned this technicolour treat, acts as host through his narrative bursts, initially offering a whistle-stop history of the industry, neatly embellished by long-time occupants of the coal face: Diane Cain from Liverpool’s The Music Box and Keith Hudson from Chesterfield’s Hudsons. The story really kicks in with the profligate industry spending of the Eighties, with tales of gentle chart rigging by reps and shops receiving records they didn’t want or pay for, just so they could be sold cheap and aid the artist’s ascent of the Top 40.

The film’s mid-section focuses on the grim disappearance of so many record shops, with the well-worn reasons for the independent music store’s decline getting another airing. Alongside this are some astute observations about the sweeping devaluing of vinyl as a direct promotional strategy for CDs. A fascinating period advert for the arrival of CDs, featuring John Cleese no less, essentially works to the narrative: “Records are really shit, aren’t they? Buy CDs and if you miss all that horrible noise, make it yourself.” Cue smug laughter. From this position in time, it seems mad that the industry was so keen to toss overboard a format that had done so much for so long. Several contributors bemoan the labels’ loss of love for vinyl in the late Eighties and early Nineties, with Gary Smith of Oxford’s Truck highlighting how the poor quality of pressings at the time almost seemed designed to drive people away, and there seems to be a general consensus that this ‘all or nothing’ approach was the wrong way to go. Predictably, in a documentary partly concerned with the resurgence of vinyl, the CD gets a gentle shoeing in return, most perfectly captured by former EMI CEO Tony Wadsworth: “The CD had a hell of a lot going for it; it’s convenient, it’s pretty consistent sound quality depending on whatever you’re playing on it and portable and so on. But you can’t love it. You can’t actually love CD. You can love the music that’s on it, but you can’t love the format. Whereas vinyl was a format people really treasured. “

Last Shop Standing’ is undoubtedly preaching to the converted, but that was always going to be the case when you’re asking people to pay a tenner for fifty minutes of record shop porn. That said, there are several genuinely stirring moments in the film, not least the moment when Keith Hudson is captured stood amongst the detritus of his shop, Hudsons, having reluctantly admitted defeat after 106 years of trading. While the film’s director, Pip Piper, entirely correctly loiters on the perils of music retails for some time, there remains a lingering sense of positivity at the close of proceedings. Shop owners share their strategies for bringing in customers, whether it be live performances or diversifying of stock, and certain music luminaries glow with the thrill of talking about the rush of picking out a new record at their local store. Paul Weller lounges against the racks of Honest Jons whilst Johnny Marr evangelises about the power of vinyl and the joys of Kingbee Records.Indeed, Marr hypothesises that the magic wax lost its appeal by losing its prominence: “There seemed to be this idea that record shops disappeared because people didn’t want to buy vinyl, when I wonder if it isn’t the other way round, because people don’t buy vinyl because their record store’s disappeared.” The deluxe edition provides the full twenty five minute interview with everybody’s favourite Smith, along with extended interviews with the likes of Richard Hawley, Weller and Billy Bragg. A short update visits Southsea’s Pie & Vinyl  to see how the challenge to diversify has been embraced, while a brief collection of amusing outtakes and anecdotes makes you wish the whole thing had a little bit more of the people that really matter – those behind the counter.

It’s heartening to see just how many of those indies still fighting the good fight look like small town indies. The UK is not crying out for a new chain, nor is it likely that something which might play well in one specific market will be immediately successful replicated elsewhere in the country. Music buyers want character, they want identity and they want an experience. It’s not difficult to see how all of the shops featured in this film keep customers coming through the doors and the process of shining a much needed light on the fact that there are excellent, innovative and remarkable independent stores all over the country is at the heart of ‘Last Shop Standing’. The real trick will be showing this to people who like music but haven’t visited an indie store in a while. The infectious magic captured here should be enough to push people back through the doors where they’ll be guided towards something they don’t yet know they want. As Xfm DJ, 6 Music supersub and all round lovely person Jo Good puts it, “You need a physical record shop full of people who are going to help you and guide you.” Well, quite.

‘Last Shop Standing – Deluxe Edition’ is released on DVD via Proper on Record Store Day, April 20th. The original 50 minute film will receive its TV debut via Sky Arts on Friday April 19th at 9pm, with a repeat on Record Store Day itself at 5pm. Further clips and information can be found at the film’s website.

More RSD:

Read the Just Played guide to RSD13 here

Read Ian Rankin‘s record shop tales here

Read Pete Mitchell‘s musical history here

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