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The Times: “Meet the stars of a very small kingdom”

December 1st, 2011  |  Published in News, Reviews

Will Hodgkinson:

A film-maker from the North-East has made a warm, funny and insightful portrait of her home town – and its last record shop

Record shops up and down the country are facing closure. Three hundred have shut in
the UK over the past decade, partly because of a loophole that has allowed online music
companies to avoid VAT by shipping from the Channel Islands, thereby offering prices
that record shops couldn’t hope to match. One quietly inspiring film-maker from the
North East, however, may have helped to turn the tide.

Jeanie Finlay wanted to make a film about her home town of Stockton-on-Tees, a place
she describes as “like Middlesbrough, only less glamorous”. Hearing that an old school
friend called Tom Butchart was running the last surviving record shop in Teesside, she
began filming. Sound It Out is a warm, funny, insightful portrait of the community based
around the shop — also called Sound It Out — that has been a hit in America, after its
premiere at the SXSW Festival and a review in The New York Times that raved: “Like a
mint pressing in a bargain bin this film is a rare find.” It also helped Butchart to win
Stockton’s Small Business of the Year award, and it has shown how important record

The story of Teesside’s last record shop | The Times

shops can be.

“It’s an accidental film,” Finlay says. “Stockton is like the annoying member of your
family that you don’t want anyone else to slag off: the high street may be nothing but
charity shops and pound shops, but I’ve still got a lot of affection for the place. When I
heard that Tom, who I remembered as a shy boy with a stutter, had opened this record
shop where he was the king of a very small kingdom, I decided to go up there and start

Finlay soon realised that she wasn’t making a film about the plight of a small record
shop, but portraits of the people for whom Sound It Out is a haven. We meet Shane, an
obsessive Status Quo fan who says “there’s nothing better than playing Quo solid for a
week” and plans to be buried in a coffin built from his melted-down record collection;
Mack, who comes in from the pub and sings the record he wants until Butchart identifies
it; and a pair of teenage metalheads who explain how if it wasn’t for buying records they
would have killed themselves long ago.

Finlay’s film is as non-judgmental as it is revealing, with people on the margins of society
celebrated for their eccentricities.

“The interesting people soon revealed themselves,” Finlay says. “Everyone kept saying to
me, ‘Have you met Shane?’ I hadn’t because he was following Jean Michel Jarre on tour.
Then he came back, and I knew he was brilliant from the moment I met him.”

Shane Healy is an example of the kind of person the shop attracts. A middle-aged B&Q
employee with a shiny pate and long hair at the back and the sides, he was born with
cerebral palsy and water on the brain and says that he has been treated as “a spaccy” for
much of his life. The shop is one of the few places where he is accepted for what he is:
different, but also bright and charismatic.

Then there are Frankey and John-Boy, an unemployed DJ and MC duo, who make a
tinny style of dance music called makina. They look like shaven-headed tracksuit-
wearing delinquents who you would cross the street to avoid. “When I was a kid I did
judo near to their estate, and I was scared of boys like them,” Finlay says. “Then you find
out they’re sweet lads who are nice to their mums.” As Butchart says: “The shop is
somewhere for people to go and escape their lives for an hour. That’s important.” Or, in
Mack’s words: “You can get anything you want in there … except loose women from

Finlay specialises in turning her camera on marginal figures. One of her most popular
documentaries is Goth Cruise, which follows 150 black-clad self-proclaimed outsider
types on a luxury liner cruise from New Jersey to Bermuda. “I went to a Goth wedding a
few years ago,” Finlay says. “They were talking about this cruise and I thought: can you
be a Goth in the tropical heat, on a floating shopping centre?”

Absolutely. Armed with total sunblock and black bikinis, the Goths frolic on beaches and
make the most of the duty-free shopping. Then there is Home-Maker, Finlay’s debut,
which follows the lives of housebound people in Derbyshire and Tokyo. “It started off as
a community project. I was meant to show elderly people how to use computers,” she
says. “But they had absolutely no interest in learning; they just wanted to chat.”

The story of Teesside’s last record shop | The Times

If you’re wondering how Finlay funds her ventures, she doesn’t. Sound It Out had no
backing; the editing, distribution and marketing was paid for through crowd funding,
which works in much the same way as a sponsored swim.

“I’m friends with a lot of American film-makers who have no funding; they just get on
with it,” she says. “You don’t know what you are making until you make it, so although
I’m broke, you end up with something interesting.”

Finlay has two projects in development. The Great Hip Hop Hoax is about a pair of
Scottish singers who pretended to be American rappers to land a record deal with Sony,
and Orion is about the rise and fall of Jimmy “Orion” Ellis, a masked American singer
briefly marketed as Elvis Presley returned from the grave. When Ellis took his mask off
his career collapsed.

Sound It Out is emerging as George Osborne closes the VAT loophole that has hit record
shops so hard. “Music sales have declined gradually, but CD sales migrated to offshore
internet retailers at a rapid rate due to the VAT advantage,” says Richard Allen, an
independent retailer who lobbied the Government to change the law. “Normally
politicians and the music industry don’t mix very well, but in this case George Osborne
has made a decision that could save record shops.”

Shops such as Sound It Out may occupy a small place in British culture, but that’s what
makes Finlay’s film special. “Sound It Out is about a small shop, in a small street, in a
small town,” she concludes. “I’m interested in making small films. That way I get to turn
the camera on people that I would never normally meet, but who turn out to be very
interesting indeed.”

Sound It Out screens at selected cinemas this week. For details and to
request a screening, go to

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Glimmer Films in association with Sideshow present a film by Jeanie Finlay; SOUND IT OUT.

Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.

SOUND IT OUT is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside, North East England.

A cultural haven in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, SOUND IT OUT documents a place that is thriving against the odds and the local community that keeps it alive. Directed by Jeanie Finlay who grew up three miles from the shop.

A distinctive, funny and intimate film about men, the North and the irreplaceable role music plays in our lives.

High Fidelity with a Northern Accent.