I well remember the first record that I bought on my own (and no it was not that embarrassing). I also well remember the record shop that I bought it in – a small store in an arcade in Bridgend, and the delight in searching through and playing records in the store.
At University I was lucky enough to have (now defunct) Andy’s Records at Cambridge Market a short walk away from where I lived – and their range and knowledge was sensational to me.
Some of those memories were evoked a few years ago when I was judging retail stores for Dundee City Council/Town Centre Management. One of the stores was the wonderful Groucho’s, which was easily the best independent store we visited.
And these memories have come flooding back watching a new film – Last Shop Standing – which charts the “rise, fall and rebirth of the independent record shop”. As the film notes in the mid 1980s there were over 2200 independent record shop in the UK, but by 2009 there were only 269, and the figure may be fewer now.
The film is based on a book of the same name by Graham Jones, which was published in 2009, and I am busy reading that at the moment (and it is well worth reading). The film concentrates on a selection of independent record stores and the stories of their owners about the good and bad times, drawing on parts of the book, but bringing the stories to life.
The film is not simply an exercise in reminiscing about, and pining for the rosy past, nor is it about simply pinning the blame on the supermarkets, as is so often the case in such decline stories. Rather it is a celebration of records and people and the places where they come together. Yes, supermarkets have their part to play in the decline, but the film and its raconteurs point the finger at the chart-hyping greed of the record companies, their blinkered drive to impose the CD format at a high price and the ongoing societal shifts through technology (the internet and downloading for buying/not-buying music).
Whilst it has its nostalgia and its depressing shop closure components, the film is also uplifting in its championing of the independent record store and the small renaissance through the rebirth of vinyl and the surge in live music. The stores in the film embrace new technology, build communities (“libraries for your ears”), show off their specialist knowledge, add and diversify into live music, ticket agencies, cafes and so on. They are truly special(ised) and valued by their customers. Whether that is enough for all to survive will be found out in the coming years, but there is no doubting the enthusiasm for them and events such as Record Store Day.
Like the stores, the film has embraced new technology and local engagement. The director wanted a particular feel for the film. It was crowd-funded through Indiegogo and is now being screened around the country as well as being available on DVD. As well as being an interesting way to spend an hour or so, the film is also useful for me as a way of kick starting discussion in seminars about the changes in retailing, technology, towns and people and some of the steps that might make places interesting and engaging.
Which takes me back to Groucho’s. If you are near Dundee, go and have a look, buy something and support them, as such shops add colour, variety and expertise to our towns and lives. Their website also tells their great story and adds to those in the film.
Now if you’ll tell me your first record, I might tell you mine!