Last Shop Standing - The Belmont, Aberdeen 07/11/12

Last Shop Standing, based on the book of the same name by Graham Jones, charts the trajectory of the independent record store over the last sixty years and tries to explain why there has been over an 85% decrease in the number of independent record stores in the UK since the 80s. With the recent announcement that Avalanche Records, Edinburgh is to close early next year, this film seems to come at none more an appropriate a time.

Act One: ‘The Rise’ sees record store owners reminiscing about the golden age of the 50s and 60s, where they’d sell Elvis and Beatles 78s faster than they could buy them in. Musicians and DJs such as Paul Weller, Billy Bragg and Norman Cook talk about their experiences of record stores as “community centres” and as “an education” in their formative years. Johnny Marr enthuses about the virtues of vinyl alone for about ten whole minutes over the course of the film. Even as recently as the 80’s the industry looked strong as label representatives gave away thousands of records for the stores to push up the charts.

Then comes the inevitable Act Two: ‘The Fall’. Everyone has their own opinion of where and when things started to go wrong. Some blame Napster and the digital revolution or when supermarkets started stocking albums at prices that independent record stores could not compete with. Others blame the introduction of CDs or the decrease in quality of vinyl. Oddly enough, the current economic recession is not cited as a reason at all as many assert that the damage had already been done by 2008. What does become clear is that the decline of the record store was not down to a single event alone. As Paul Quirk, Chairman of Entertainment Retailers Association states in the film, ‘If you look back at the history of why record stores started to decline, it was death by a hundred cuts’. Indeed: in recent months, visiting One Up (probably my favourite place in Aberdeen) has been an increasingly foreboding experience, as it has been in decline for a while now. The final minute of Act Two is Keith Hudson of C.E. Hudsons, Chesterfield gathering a few things in a bin bag before closing the shop for the last time. C.E. Hudsons was open for 106 years and went out of business earlier this year during the production of the film. It is a sobering and provoking portrayal of the very real threat that the film is drawing attention to.  

The film could end there, a testament to the state of emergency for the independent record store. However, Act Three: ‘The Rebirth’ see the owners take hold of the situation and begin to turn it around to their advantage once again. They emphasise the importance of International Record Store Day, in-store gigs and their ability to change with the marketplace. "Where did that come from?" exclaims Christos Stylianou of Derrick Music in Swansea about the resurging interest in vinyl from younger generations. In a current economic climate where corporate giants assert the futility of the record-store and phrases like ‘lost cause’ and ‘too little, too late’ are bandied about supporting the trade’s struggle, it is refreshing to see that the people at risk do see a future for themselves. They have reassessed their position, and embraced that their appeal is niche but immeasurably valued by their customers. A nice touch is that on the Last Shop Standing website, the option to purchase the DVD points you either in the direction of your local record store, or towards the specialist music website Obviously, the DVD is available from other online and high-street retailers, but it’s good to see the team behind the film are being responsible in the film’s distribution, rather than walking away afterwards. The message by the end of the film is: "It’s not too late."

So, how did I feel leaving the screening of Last Shop Standing? More informed? Yes. Guilty? To a certain extent, yes. Despite best intentions, we’ve all conceded to the convenient attractions of online market places at some point. Was I reaffirmed in my infatuation with record stores and all that is holy within? Very much so. However, if I have one gripe with Last Shop Standing it is the demographic the film is aimed at. Yes, the film is convincingly proselytising, but it’s preaching to the choir. Looking around the auditorium it was obvious that the people attending the screening were people like myself who already supported the plight of independent record stores and are worried about them. Ultimately, I think this film should be broadcast on television or added to the National Curriculum on business and economics courses. If the film is to have any effect, it needs a wider audience.

So, do I recommend YOU to go and see Last Shop Standing if a screening is near you? No. I recommend you to drag as many of your friends/family/unwilling passersby to go and see it. I recommend you to buy the DVD (I know for a fact that One Up currently stock it) and show it to people. But more than see the film, I urge you to go out to your local independent record store and support them with your regular patronage, because that is the only way this film will make a difference.

You can find out more information about Last Shop Standing, screenings of the film and where your local independent record store is on the Last Shop Standing website.