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

Good cover choice for 6 Music

A few years ago, I encountered Jo Good hosting a report from some summer festival or other on one of the MTV channels. Her clear passion for the music combined with an intelligent and, most enjoyably, surreal sense of humour left its mark on me and I duly noted the name and resolved to keep an eye and ear out for her in the future. Her barely disguised ridiculing of some of the cheesier soft-porn offerings found in the dance music countdown, The Galaxy Chart, which it turned out she also hosted, was a refreshing alternative from the customary ‘that was… this is…. aren’t they both amazing?’ style of MTV presenting.

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Some time later, Good turned up at Xfm, having previously been networked around numerous commercial stations doing a live music programme sponsored by one of the big mobile phone companies. This struck me as a remarkably good fit, although her stint there didn’t last all that long in the end. As the playlist got ever more strict and depressingly predictable, it seemed that Xfm was determined to dispatch, or drive out, most of the decent on air talent and Jo’s show was shown the door.

Last year, she then popped up on her ‘local’ commercial station, Key 103, doing weekend lates, playing NOW albums on shuffle. But then, in a stroke of genius, the 6 Music chiefs opted to use Jo for some cover on the station and a perfect match was uncovered. With sufficient musical freedom to influence and shape the sound of the programmes and a core playlist of splendid stuff, it meant that you weren’t only listening for the bits between the songs. Whereas many DJs are criticised for not caring about the music or for not communicating honestly with their audience, Jo sounds like an intelligent, articulate, fanatical consumer of music who is simply speaking to like minded people and loving every second of it. Her approach to her shows on 6 Music so far has been hugely endearing, her genuine love of the station and its audience so audibly clear for all listening. She’s back on the station from tomorrow (Sunday 14th March) for six days solid, 10am-1pm, firstly filling the slot freshly vacated by Jon Richardson and then as part of a week of cover for Lauren Laverne. I suspect she’ll do the remaining couple of Sundays before Cerys starts in April, but I don’t know for certain. In light of recent news about the station, it seems a little odd to describe Jo Good as a rising star at 6 Music, but the controllers would do well to ensure that we get to hear more of her in the future. If you can have a listen at some point this week, I really recommend you give her show a go. Last time she was on, Jo caused me to buy the Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve remix of Midlake’s ‘Roscoe’ and an album by Margo Guryan, entitled Take A Picture’ and both are well worth a listen. In that sense, she fits in perfectly with the culture of the very best shows on 6 Music – Gideon Coe, Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, the Freak Zone – in that she’s a trustworthy voice in the wilderness of discovering music that’s new to you. Exactly what the BBC should do, no?

A Week With… 9. BBC 6 Music

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On Monday morning, Gideon Coe tweeted that, having completed a week’s holiday, he would be back on his 6 Music evening show later that day and for the rest of the week, before spending a week covering the breakfast show. I was overjoyed at this news, Coe having previously been a regular, and unsurprisingly excellent, deputy to Phill Jupitus during the early years of his breakfast show. This additional role at the station came to an end and seemed unlikely to ever be reprised after Gideon was buffeted off the morning show and shunted to the late show in place of his daytime replacement, George Lamb in the latter part of 2007. A return to breakfast cover seemed to suggest a positive repositioning of 6 Music, potentially in light of the recent BBC Trust report which suggested that the station needed to commit itself to presenters with strong musical knowledge. Things were looking up. And then I listened to Tony Livesey’s 5 Live show on Thursday night.

The report in The Times that was being discussed declared, with no hint of ambiguity, that the BBC would soon announce that, as part of a raft of cost-cutting measures, it would close 6 Music. I was quite surprised by how taken aback by this news I actually was. It soon became clear how much I actually value this curious digital radio station. Marc Riley, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Guy Garvey, Adam & Joe, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Bacon, Stuart Maconie and, most of all, Gideon Coe, host shows that I adore and, while I may not catch every second of every one of their shows, when it comes to radio listening, there’s little else to tempt me towards my radio coming from other sources, and absolutely nothing from the commercial radio sector. Say what you like about fair competition and BBC monopolies, but there isn’t a single commercial radio station that could hold my attention for more than thirty minutes, let alone command repeat listens. I’m sure that plenty of that does come down to the fact that the Beeb can broadcast programmes without the fear of poor advertising sales for the ad-breaks, but that doesn’t negate the point that widespread suggestions that music fans will be catered for elsewhere are complete bollocks.

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I go through phases of allowing myself to listen to Gideon Coe’s late show (Monday-Thursday, 9pm – midnight) as a result of the financial implications associated with each three hour programme I consume. This week alone, I ordered CDs as a result of three of the four shows I listened to. Indeed, so expensive is a week of Coe shows that I’m increasingly convinced that we have incredibly similar tastes in music, only he knows an awful lot more about it than I do. He is a warm, convivial and humble host, making you feel thoroughly involved in every show. Coe conveys his great enthusiasm for the music he plays in an understated, unassuming and yet hugely contagious fashion. I truly believe that is the best music show you can hope to hear on British radio. The Sam Prekop, Mojave 3, A Certain Ratio and Lee Hazlewood tribute album CDs which I’ve been enjoying greatly over the last couple of days would not be in this house were it not for that one particular radio programme. There are dozens of other examples, just from that one programme alone. I’ve also encountered, and subsequently purchased copies of, brilliant music on Lamacq’s afternoon show, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone, Craig Charles’ Funk and Soul Show, Marc Riley’s evening and on the recommendation of regular cover host, Jo Good. I’m sure that are numerous other recommendations which I’m forgetting right now, but even that list says a lot about how utterly in tune with their listeners the 6 Music team are.

I make no bold statements about the need to join Facebook groups or to add a twibbon to your picture on Twitter, but I do think it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge what a wonderful station 6 Music is. Yes, George Lamb was a mistake that took a long time to sort out and yes, sometimes the daytime playlist can get a little clogged with identikit indie bands, but the vast majority of the 6 Music output is excellent and occasionally it’s truly outstanding. As a station, its musical scope makes it unique and its presenting team isn’t too shabby either. I am a staunch defender of the BBC and consider it to be ludicrously good value for money. I am well aware of why its competitors have their reasons to campaign fiercely against it, but some of the more general anti-BBC sentiment has always baffled me. I can only hope that the mass outpouring of something bordering on grief at this dreadful news may have some influence on the final decision. I’m preparing for the worst but, for now, I’ll continue enjoying radio’s best. Jarvis is on right now and Gideon’s on breakfast tomorrow. That’ll do nicely.