Record Store Day is this Saturday, April 22nd, and I could not think of a better way of celebrating the day than by interviewing someone from the UK that I never met, but got to know through his book and DVD Last Shop Standing; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of The Independent Record Shop.
Cornwall is a lovely bit of Britain. It is the western most region of the country rich with its nautical history and tales of intrigue upon the high seas. I found myself spending a good deal of time in Falmouth where I happened across JAM, a lovely independent record shop. It’s the kind of place Evelyn Waugh could call home with its upstairs and downstairs. The below ground being decked out in British mid-century decor and furnishings made for an idyllic nook where one could listen to music, take tea and read a book.
The book from upstairs grabbing my attention was Graham Jones’ Last Shop Standing: A behind the counter look at the rise, fall and possible rise of record shops. It all sounds very Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, but deserves a serious look. With the market flourishing in the 60’s, 70’ and 80’s it was only a matter of time before technology/digital caught up. Compact Discs, streaming services and downloads made it on the scene, but yet we’re seeing a Vinyl Renaissance. It is not a revolution, nowhere near that volatile and calling it a resurgence doesn’t do it justice. Or as Reggie, might put it, is this all a lot of GROT?
Let’s see what Graham Jones, (GJ) the man behind the book, the DVD, the counter has to say about all this in 2017.
DB: What brought about the rise of independent records shops from the outset of recorded music? Why didn’t the larger chain stores immediately monopolize this sector of the retail industry?
GJ:. In the early days of music retailing record companies were a bit snobby about who they provided stock to. EMI would not supply a record shop if they did not have a front window to display their wares. With the birth of rock n roll younger people started opening shops which were in-tune more with the music teenagers required. Many of these became family businesses. It was when The Beatles started big business suddenly realised that the was money in selling these vinyl discs and joined the party.
DB: What prompted you to write the book LAST SHOP STANDING and subsequently the film? Was there anything in particular you would have liked to come about after its publication and its premiere?
GJ: Since 1984 my job has been to travel around the UK selling to independent record shops. When I started, we had over 2,200 but by 2009 we were down to just 269. Nobody seemed to be noticing the shops vanishing. I decided to tell the tale of the independent record shop decline and explain the reasons behind it.
My goal was for readers of the book to be inspired to go and visit the local shop. I explained why I thought vinyl could be the saviour and am absolutely delighted by the vinyl revival. It is such a pleasure to hear so many people who have opened record shops in recent years say that they were inspired to do so after reading the book or watching the film.
DB: Are we indeed in the midst of a Vinyl Renaissance? Does this newfound appreciation and interest in the LP have any real staying power? Is there some medium up the road poised to supplant?
GJ: You can never predict the future of technology but I am confident vinyl will be here for a long time. It was the format the industry tried to kill. The are thousands of people like me who are glad they failed.
DB: Why are millennials flocking to what should be on paper, by all rights, an outdated format? What is the draw? the attraction?
GJ: When I interviewed Johnny Marr for the Last Shop Standing film he told me that for him listening to vinyl is an experience that you enjoy and remember in the same way you do with a film . He told me when he would review his day in his mind he would remember taking the record from the sleeve, putting the needle on the record, recalling the order the tracks were played in and turning the record over to listen to the other side. Most days he confessed that he would also download tracks but when he thought about the songs he downloaded it wasn’t a listening experience. He would remember some of the songs but not much else.
Vinyl is an artefact to treasure. When I am driving around the UK visiting the record shops I listen to CDs in the car. When I have finished listening to a CD I will throw it in the glove compartment. I would never dream of hurling a vinyl record across the room after listening to it.
DB: What do the present shop owners think of all this? Why are so many shops opening at a brisk pace? Is the market healthy enough to support them all/
GJ: When I was visiting shops in 2009 the was an air of doom and gloom amongst record shop owners many thinking it would not be long before they closed too. What a difference now to visit shops who are now positive about the future. The amount of new record shops opening is staggering. I visited 38 new record shops since RSD 2016. Many are vinyl cafes and I would say that some have opened thanks to the media hype over the format. In the last two years 14 adverts have appeared on UK TV featuring vinyl. (Yes, it is a bit sad that I keep a record of this).
DB: What do the retired shop owners have to say about all this? What have they been telling you? Have any of them decided to jump back into the business?
GJ: I certainly have had shops that closed and the owners have since started off again. For some people record retailing is in their blood. Anybody who opened a record shop between the 60’s till the mid-80’s is likely have done well. The shops who opened after that it has probably been one long struggle to survive until the vinyl revival came around.
DB: What do you think the music industry is making of all this? Are they long on this phenomenon? Do you, yourself see and end to this story that must now come? Or, will it be with us just as long as a new profitable medium fails to emerge.
GJ: You would have to be mean spirited not to be delighted that record shops are booming. I think most of the industry is delighted that these bastions of taste and culture are back helping us all discover new music and promoting local bands.
DB: What does the future hold for Graham jones?, and the LAST SHOP STANDING franchise?
GJ: I continue to champion independent record shops through the talks I give. There are still many places keen to screen the Last Shop Standing film. The events include me telling comic tales from the crazy world of record retailing. Some taken from my second book Strange Requests and Comic Tales from Record Shops.
The last two years I have been writing a guide to UK record shops which will be released next year. Due to so many new record shops opening it is taking me a little longer than I originally thought.
It with sadness that I shall not be attending Record Store Day this year. I am mortal, and as I am going to be reporting on the AXPONA HiFi Show in Chicago this weekend, being in two places at the same time is just not on the cards. For all I know there may be something special going on at the show’s marketplace booths. From the list of exhibitors there will be more than a few record labels and emporiums hawking their wares.