|Dead End Drive-In: Now Showing - ‘Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall And Rebirth Of The Independent Record Shop’|
|Written by Johnny H|
|Saturday, 01 December 2012 04:00|
I have a confession to make here folks – I don’t do “going to the cinema”, I haven’t for quite some time now, in fact the merest thought of it makes me agitated and look for any old excuse not to actually go. This probably has more to do with what "going to the cinema" has become over the last decade or so rather than me being some kind of celluloid philistine, but I just don’t get how people enjoy going to one of those multiplex places and I probably never will. So it takes something rather special to get me through the doors of what these days is termed “a cinema” I can tell you.
Thankfully then the screening of ‘Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall And Rebirth Of The Independent Record Shop’ that I witnessed recently took place in a local arts centre, which certainly helped soften the hammer blow of having to sit down with other people and watch a film. However with the film being a documentary loosely based on the superb book of roughly the same name by Graham Jones, telling the story of independent record shops in the UK, at least I was assured that Chardonnay and Jayden would not be testing my patience all the way through the 50 minutes of its running time, laughing in all the wrong places, talking, and worst of all – EATING!!!!!
Please don’t get me wrong, I do believe that deep down inside there is good in most of us, it’s just that when I sit down to watch a film I want to watch the film, not be distracted by someone getting a text message. And this belief I hold on on life is just as well really because when it comes to ‘Last Shop Standing’, if I took one thing away from this excellent talking heads type feature, it is that its director Pip Piper also believes that there is an intrinsic streak of good in almost everyone, albeit it’s just all the more prevalent in people who avidly buy music – and the good old format of vinyl in particular.
Spilt into three chapters – entitled (I guess you may already be ahead of me on this one) The Rise, The Fall and The Rebirth, the fast and frantic editing within the movie hits you full on with story after story of what independent high street record stores really mean to not only some of the UK’s most renowned independent stores still around today but also leading industry heads as well as some more clued in musicians and radio DJ’s.
Without wanting to spoil your enjoyment of this stunning piece of work by revealing any of the anecdotes contained within the film, things start with the introduction of one Keith Hudson of CE Hudsons, a gentleman who as you will soon discover is a key figure central to the whole film’s mantra, his shop being founded way back in 1906. We then journey (via the aforementioned talking heads all neatly strung together by the book’s author acting as interviewer), through the birth of big band music and the advent of 78’s, through Merseybeat and the huge impact that had on singles sales, through prog rock to punk rock and the albums boom that followed this particular period, before gallup-ing (sic) right into the excesses of the 80’s and the subsequent chart rigging nonsense that followed, without once stopping for breath. It’s certainly refreshing to hear people involved in the industry openly talking about the Gallup days almost like it is an admittance of them shouldering part of the blame for what was to follow, and this makes for some truly compelling viewing.
Having worked in a record shop (albeit not an independent one) through the period that follows in part two of this film I can 100% relate to what comes next, and it is probably best that I simply illustrate this by saying when I started working for the store with the elliptical donut logo back in 1989 my manager listened to everything from Terrorizer to The Andrew Sisters (sometimes even at the same time) and Monday mornings were always like Xmas morning, however by the time I finished working for them around about 1996 my then manager might as well have had us racking up cold cuts of meat for us to sell, he was that disinterested in what was actually on our shelves, that even my interest in music started to fade.
One classic PDR of mine involved me telling the area manager why the chain in question were doing it wrong by going for the easy money racking high and selling (not so) cheaply, I was told I was an idiot and that everyone who bought a record was in fact “a music fan”, to which I argued that statement itself was of course idiotic, but as you would expect it got me nowhere. You know the day that particular chain closed down I must admit a smug grin did cross my face as I thought “told you so”.
The reason I’m telling you this is that for every Spillers Records, Sister Ray or Rough Trade East represented within this film each talking head has a story just like this about how the nineties was the death knell of music on the UK high street. With the death by a hundred cuts that ensued via the industry looking for more profits via selling their product in places like supermarkets and garages, whilst deciding that vinyl was dead without once factoring in the impact of the internet and Napster in particular, this segment proves to be as damming an indictment of the people who saw no further than the next Jive Bunny or Robson and Jerome album as you will ever see. Question is though two decades on what have the people in those same roles learned? Not a lot it would seem.
As the film enters into its final chapter the hard facts are laid out for all to mull over as the stark realisation that of the 2,200 UK independents that were trading in the eighties only 269 shops remained by 2009, when Graham Jones first started to tour each and every one of them preparation for the writing of his ‘Last Shop Standing’ book. And sadly some of those left are still facing closure.
But it’s not all doom and gloom and that’s why this final third of the film is easily the most heart-warming segment of the film, as what it reveals is of those 269 shops just how hard each and every one of them has fought to stay open, harnessing the reach of the internet to extended their shop fronts by diversifying into new genres where vinyl was still king, rather than sitting still looking to lay blame at each new technological development as to why they weren’t selling quite as many units as they were before.
It’s kind of ironic that when you look at what is now such a key event in the independent record store calendar as Record Store Day through the eyes of the people featured within ‘Last Shop Standing’ it’s almost like them receiving an olive branch from the record companies that once tried so hard to screw them so badly, the big boys almost admitting “yup we fucked up guys”, so here “have something back”. The fact that this event is also like, as one store owner admits, ten Christmas Eves in one day is also a stark reminder of just how important it is to these shops that we all get out there and support what is left of this once thriving industry, because these shops are the true punks of the industry right now.
‘Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall And Rebirth Of The Independent Record Shop’ (to give it it’s full title once more), is not so much the film of the book, as the perfect companion piece to said book, so where the hard facts are dealt out across page after page within the book, here the film centres on the optimism that lies in the hearts of each and everyone of the record stores and its patrons (celebrity or otherwise) and with regards to the latter the film is not unlike Jeanie Finlay’s also excellent ‘Sound It Out’ documentary.
So if like me you equate the death of music on the UK high street to the dumbing down of what music is really all about to just pounds, shillings, and err pence, then you will definitely need to step inside the many fine record shops that feature in ‘Last Shop Standing’, because as Richard Hawley so rightly points out “even though you go in one of these places wanting to buy one particular thing you can rest assured you’ll leave with armfuls of things you didn’t go in there to buy in the first place’. For me my local record shop is a world away from where the multiplex children of this world reside and ‘Last Shop Standing’ has captured this secret garden of mine perfectly.
Now get out there and see it!
The following website contains details of screenings countrywide plus look out for special Q&A screenings featuring the good people behind the film.