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In conversation with Graham Jones

Daily Info in conversation with Graham Jones, author of The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made It Happen. This book has become The Vinyl Revival, a 43-minute documentary that follows on from acclaimed Last Shop Standing and directed and produced again by Pip Piper. The film tries to answer the whys of vinyl’s revival, the human need for belonging, the love of history, and the stories of how the humble little record shop has shaped so many lives. Book your ticket to the screening, which is followed by a Q&A with Pip Piper and Philip Selway (Radiohead), here.

Amelia Gabaldoni: Hi Graham, thanks so much for talking to us. How was it working with Pip to turn your book into this new film?

Graham Jones: Obviously it was really exciting. My first book was called Last Shop Standing and Pip originally contacted me to turn that into a film, which of course we did. When he originally contacted me, about a week earlier I'd read about a bloke getting a million pounds for their book being turned into a film so I was quite excited. I met him at the pub and he bought me a shandy and a ploughman's lunch...

AG: Straight back down to earth then?

GJ: Yeah and that's all I ended up with really in terms of payment. But both films are made by music fans for music fans and there's an incredible amount of love in them. We follow the stories of the books by going around the UK and interviewing record shop owners and musicians in their favourite record shops. The new film tells the story of how vinyl saved the record shop, and how the record shop saved vinyl. But also how everyone else is now cashing in on all the good work they've done and how we're starting to worry about the future of record shops. That's upsetting given how much work has been done to get them going again through the vinyl revival.

AG: Your distaste for music snobbery is really refreshing to hear throughout the book, especially as you say the record shops that survive are the ones that look after their customers and tailor stock to them. But there seems to be a trade off with big names like Ed Sheeran and One Direction putting out vinyl releases. Do you think this big-business vinyl is a kind of necessary evil to keep the smaller stuff going?

GJ: It's really interesting about the Ed Sheeran stuff, Divide was last year's biggest selling vinyl album, but only 4% of that was sold in independent record stores. For me, the more people who get into vinyl, whatever artists they're buying, it can only be a good thing. If you think back at the taste you had when you were 12 or 13 it's completely different to the taste you have when you're 21 or 30 or whatever. You move onto buying more things. The problem lies with the supermarkets. They dominate the charts because Sainsbury's or Tesco only stock maybe 50 albums - they rack them up and sell them cheap - and of course all these sales count towards the album chart. You find, last year for instance, that 15 of the 20 best selling albums were heritage artists - your Beach Boys or Beatles. For me what record shops do is support the current local music scene and that's why they're so important.

AG: Do you think that these huge pop stars could be doing more to help Record Store Day?

GJ: That's a great question, and is something that I point out in the book. It's great that these artists are putting out releases for record store day. But what you tend to find is that it's up and coming artists who'll be playing in-store. On the very first Record Store Day, Metallica and Tom Petty played in record shops in America. We've not really had an artist of that calibre or status playing in the UK. Phil Jupitus serves behind the counter on the day most years and it would be great if artists went down to their local shop and helped with sales, or turned up and played a few acoustic numbers. It would be amazing if major artists got involved a bit more. They'd gain so much from it.

AG: You'd think that given how much they'd improve their image and sales they'd be more keen to do anything they could to help.

GJ: The bottom line is, they'd love it. They'd have a fantastic day and people would be delighted to meet them. I've worked in record shops - it's the best job in the world and if it paid more I'd still be doing it now. They'd have great fun and it's something I'm really trying to encourage with artists who work with my record company to do.

AG: Going back to the supermarket problem, I've always found it jarring to go into Sainsbury's and see a sideshow of vinyl next to the kids clothes or food aisles. You're pretty clear in the book that they're responsible in part for the demise of the original record shops and that the desire to purchase music, or at least a wide range of music, is a much lower priority for people now - just an afterthought during their weekly shop. Do you think that the desire to consume music is any lower?

GJ: Society's different. If you go back 25 years there'd be queues outside a record shop on a Monday morning for new releases. Music isn't as important in our lives but it is a lot more accessible. If you want to hear an album you can listen to it on Spotify. You don't have to queue outside a shop to discover what the album sounds like. One of the things I always argue - people often come up and ask whether vinyl really sounds better than digital, it's not about that - is that the more we listen to music the better and that independent record shops should be integral to the way people purchase their physical music. There's a good line in the film where Nick Mason of Pink Floyd says that comparing digital to vinyl is like comparing a standard tea bag to the Japanese tea ceremony, and I always prefer the ceremony!

I drive around the country selling to record shops. When I'm driving round in the car I can't have a record player in there so I have CDs. But when I'm finished I throw the CD on the passenger seat or in the glove compartment. If I have a vinyl record at home I don't hurl it across the room. I make sure I don't get any fingerprints on it and put it back in its sleeve and on the shelf. People treasure vinyl.

AG: Being in my early 20s, I've never really had the experience of finding my music through record shops but one of the positives I do see with streaming services like Spotify is that they allow young people who are into music to easily develop really eclectic tastes. That being said, it does get fatiguing trying to seek out new music when all that's recommended back to you are tracks that you haven't saved or put onto playlists because you know you don't like them. I think that frustration, and the ease with which we can skip through or dismiss albums means that by contrast we've fallen in love with having this physical thing that represents our love of music and is valuable to us. What would be your tip for someone who listens to a lot of music, but online, to start their own physical collection?

GJ: There's nothing wrong with listening to things online. The amount of stuff I've purchased because I heard it online is huge. The great thing about it is that you don't have to pay out £15 in advance; you can get a feel for any album that you like without risking that voyage of discovery that could end in not liking an album, and then you get to go out and buy something you know you like.

What I would encourage any person who wants to get into vinyl is to visit their local shop, especially on Record Store Day, and feel the excitement of collecting those things. For me, I can look at my record collection and I can remember every single record and where I bought it. It's like the story of you life - what circumstances you were in, who you were going out with or whatever. That and your collection is always going to be worth a lot. The whole collection brings back memories, where the only memory of streaming or downloading is sitting in front of your computer in your bedroom. Vinyl is a special thing for me and it's the independent shops that we have to thank for rescuing a format that the music industry deliberately tried to kill off.

AG: You must be really pleased that record shops have become meeting points; community spaces for creative contact.

GJ: I am honestly so, so happy about this. It's my 32nd year of driving around the country and I'm convinced no one has visited more record shops than me. But for 10 years when the industry was killing itself it was depressing because all my customers were struggling and having to close their shops down. They were losing their houses and having breakdowns. I'm a really positive person and I was trying all the time to cajole them and reassure them that the releases I had that week would sell well and help them out. But to go from that to a situation where there are so many people, especially young people, opening record shops who are excited about music and vinyl is amazing. They didn't have the 10 years of sadness and have come in at a time where sales are through the roof. You come into shops and they're enthusiastic! That's so much nicer than feeling like someone's life support machine - it's like those patients are up and running again.

AG: I've just got one more question... what was the first record you bought?

He laughs

And more importantly, do you still like it?

GJ: There's a nice part in the film where we ask that to a record store owner and he gets incredibly embarrassed and is thinking whether or not he should tell us. He goes 'Oh, on vinyl?' and he sighs and tells us it was The Wombles. For me, the first single I bought was 'Ball Park Incident' by Wizard. There's a magazine called Long Live Vinyl who've asked for 150 records that people should listen to but they might not have heard of, and the first record I bought I wrote about for this feature. It's called Kimono My House by a band called Sparks. There you go.

To find out more about the film and secure your ticket for the screening at the Phoenix Picturehouse, you can visit the website here. You can purchase Graham's book from Blackwell's.

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