It’s at this time of year, with Record Store Day only a week away, that my interest in vinyl ramps up a notch or two. In preparation for the big day, I’ve been watching favourites from my collection of music documentaries, including Sound It Out, a film directed by Jeanie Finlay about the last remaining independent record store in Stockton-On-Tees in the North-East of England.
Sound It Out was the official film of Record Store Day 2011. It is a warm. funny and affectionate portrait of the obsessive music fans that either work at or frequent Sound It Out Records. The film explores the importance to the local community of an old-school record shop.
Sound It Out Records is run by the dryly philosophical Tom Butchart, whose wealth of knowledge helps his customers find the song they’ve just heard in the pub or track down that elusive rare vinyl they need to add to their collection. The shop is a cultural haven in one of the poorest areas of the UK.
The film follows a number of the shop’s long standing customers, from the Makina boys and a devout Status Quo fan, to the presenters of a dance music radio show run from a garden shed in Billingham. Sound It Out Records stocks all types of music from Abba to Zappa, and everything in-between. If you’re wondering, Makina is a form of high-speed dance music, a sub-genre of hardcore techno, only popular in the North-East of England and some areas of Spain. I’d never heard of it either. Owner, Tom, says:
I tend to sell a lot of hard music, but it’s a hard area.
Tom provides the kind of personal touch that you won’t find in large high street stores and the shop supports artists and bands from the local area by hosting live performances.
Director Jeanie Finlay grew up three miles away from the shop and went to school with owner Tom. She cites the shop as having helped shape her love of music and life-long obsession with vinyl. In the five years prior to the making of the film, an independent record shop closed in the UK every three days. Jeanie wanted to capture the shop for posterity and all that it means to the people who visit regularly. Jeanie says:
It’s so much more than vinyl. As I learnt through making this film, records hold memories. I can still remember the first single I bought with my pocket money and the album that I fell in love to and the tracks that healed my broken heart. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same about an MP3.
The film is micro budget, homemade and a bit ramshackle in places but so is the shop. I raised the budget through crowd funding on Indiegogo.
In an age of digitisation and soulless brands, it is heartening to witness, against all the odds, the survival of a local record store, and be reminded of the vital role that such places play in the cultural life of a community.