The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made it Happen by Graham Jones - book review
They're on the shelves now. You must have noticed, there among the toilet cleaners, tinned soup and that oh-so-tempting smell which wafts through hidden pipework all the way to the entrance from the instore bakery.
A sure sign that old-style music listening habits are back in fashion is the fact you can again buy shrinkwrapped 12- inch LP records in your friendly neighbourhood supermarket.
But, this book will quickly have you questioning whether such stores are really the appropriate purchasing point for the resurrected vinyl album because, in truth, the disinterred thirty three and a third never actually died.
Sales rep Graham Jones, something of a legend in the world of music retailing, has made it his mission to ensure that the army of independent record shops, who stuck with the format through thick and thin, finally get just recognition for their mix of loyalty and a fair amount of foresight.
By Jones’ own admission, his previous book Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened to Record Shops? – which even spawned a film of the same name – started out as something of an obituary for those outlets.
‘It felt like I was recording history for future generations who would learn what a fantastic experience it had been to shop at these magical places and to understand why they had closed.’
On his travels – and this is his 32nd year of selling new CDs, vinyl, cassettes and, in his early days, 8-track cartridges, to independent record stores – he had witnessed their decline from more than 2,200 when he started in the 1980s to just 269 by 2009.
In contrast, he reveals in his new book – appropriately split into ‘Side One’ and ‘Side Two’ – that more than 100 record shops have opened in the last nine years, saying it is beyond his wildest dreams. And he credits the launch of the annual Record Shop Day campaign as kickstarting much of this reversal in fortunes.
‘Many have been launched by young, enthusiastic music fans who have embraced vinyl and vastly changed the record shop model,’ he writes.
It is no exaggeration to assume that, through his ‘day job,’ Graham has visited more record shops than any other person. The success of Last Shop Standing made him realise there were thousands of record fans out there, just like himself, who loved their record emporiums and were concerned about them vanishing from their towns.
As the vinyl revival continues, hard-working, dedicated owners and staff are reaping the benefit of increased business, with lucrative spin-off from their efforts also being enjoyed by manufacturers of budget turntables, pressing plants, those previously-mentioned supermarkets and, not least Government coffers.
The first ‘side’ of the book is devoted to The Vinyl Revival, tracing the tale from the original marked decline in independent record shops to the much brighter future, with even a chapter advising on how to open your own store.
There is a look at ‘the last chain standing,’ scrutinising the changing fortunes of HMV, now the only national music store, which has again embraced vinyl.
Graham reveals that since its turnaround under new ownership, it overtook Amazon in 2015 to become the country’s largest retailer of physical music.
He suggests the iconic brand should be ‘more loved than it is,’ adding: ‘The pleasure it has given us music fans for more than 90 years is such that it should be held in the same regard as HP sauce, Heinz baked beans, Marks & Spencer or the Mini Cooper. We should cherish the brand and recognise the joy it has brought to millions of music fans.’
But for many readers, the most practical part of the book will be ‘Side Two,’ subtitled The Shops That Made It Happen, essentially a 273-page vinyl guide to UK record shops, arranged in alphabetic order by region or county, including address, contact and social media details, and a description of stock.
It is obvious Graham spent hours chatting to staff in many of these shops, and their fascinating and funny anecdotes which he shares should ensure that vinyl fans will feel like they already know the characters behind the counters when they venture through the door.
(Proper Music Publishing, paperback, £14.95)