This is a charming little documentary – part recent social history, part extended episode of the Aardman-animated Creature Comforts made flesh.
As the extended title suggests, it charts the life and times of the British independent record store through interviews with rock classicists and vinyl junkies such as Paul Weller, Johnny Marr and Richard Hawley and around two dozen shop-keepers.
It breaks down the story down three acts: the early days of the old 78s sold in the 1950s; the explosion following the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in the 60s and the ‘golden age’ of the 80s and 90s when, in the words of one of the shop owners, ‘we thought we would go on forever’.
But all things fade to grey and ‘forever’ proved wildly optimistic.
We’re told that 500 shops have closed in recent years – taken out by a combination of supermarkets (‘They were selling albums cheaper than we could buy them’), the internet (‘butchery’) and record industry decision-making (‘They sold CDs on better sound quality – it wasn’t true’).
Yet the film’s makers are optimistic. They see a success in shops diversifying into hosting live gigs, selling specialist releases unlikely to crop up in the aisles of your local supermarket and the growing popularity of Record Store Day.
So, that’s the social history bit. Now to Creature Comforts.
As with the Aardman animation series, Last Shop… employs a static camera to capture one or two everyday people sharing their stories in their own words, unguarded and unaffected. Small tales told undramatically but with warmth.
Its perhaps a testament to the skill of director Pip Piper and writer Graham Jones (on whose book of the same name the film is based) that his subjects – whose profession is typified as having a miserable churlishness as its default disposition – come across so warmly.
One woman from Liverpool remembers serving some young customers who would go onto be the biggest band in the world – ‘We couldn’t believe that this bunch of boys who would come in to buy records would become The Beatles’.
There are recollections of the shenanigans record label agents employed to hype their releases up the chart, while one bloke shares a version of Staying Alive that sounds like it’s played on kazoos – ‘This could make your ears bleed,’ he says, with some pride.
The film premiered at the Ritzy in Brixton on September 5 and is available to buy on DVD from, of course, all good record stores.
Here’s the trailer.
And if it has you thirsting to pick up some vinyl and you’re in London, you could do worse than visiting some of these stores, compiled for this year’s Record Store Day.