Graham Jones’ “Last Shop Standing” a friendly tour of the UK record shops

book cover - last shop standingGraham Jones, the man behind Proper Records — makers of some of my favorite box sets and compilations — has the sixth edition of his Last Shop Standing coming out just in time for this year’s Record Store Day. It’s appropriate, as last year, the documentary based on the book was the official RSD movie.

The book is combination memoir and tour of the record shops of the UK. It’s like taking a tour with your favorite uncle, as he introduces you to all his pals and shares their best stories. Granted, the story-telling is pretty bog-standard: there’s a bit of a sense that these stories are much funnier in person.

Readers outside the UK are going to need Wikipedia up on their computer or mobile as they’re reading this, because the references to minor hitmakers and the like begin to confuse after a bit. If you know who Cliff Richard is, you’ve got a leg up on most readers, but for others, you’re adrift in a sea of obscure artists who’ve never been played on American airwaves. I assume they’re all essentially the overseas versions of Mike and the Mechanics or Loverboy.

Now, what’s depressing is that — if you’ve seen the film — then you know that several of the stores Jones posits as being one of the titular last shops standing have actually closed since the first edition of this book came out. Just digging through the index of American stores, I can see several from my neck of the woods which have gone under.

However, what’s heartening is the fact that the new edition of the book will feature a chapter on new record shops which have opened since the book came out in 2009. Jones asked each shop owner exactly one question: “Why did you open a record shop?” The answers are enlightening, as you see that many folks felt a need to feel a vacancy left by the closing of a chain store and wanted to offer something to their community.

Of course, many do admit that it’s a tie in to an obsession (one owner’s response is simply “Because I am mad”), but they all have their heart in the right place, and a general sense of wanting to give something to their computer, as well as supporting “a terrible habit that simply won’t go away.”

A delightfully fun book, and well worth getting if you enjoy digging through the bins on the regular. It made me want to hop a transatlantic flight as soon as possible, then just spend a good amount of time following Jones’ journey across the country from shop to shop. He makes these people seem warm, personable, and you really get a sense of each shop and shop-owner’s personality.