Sound It Out

A documentary about our love affair with independent record stores is 'heartbreaking and always engaging'

So, who remembers Dr Robert, Heroes and Villains, Hector’s House, Makin’ Tracks, Caroline Music, Golden Discs, the Gramophone Shop, Harrison Musique, Koinonia, Dougie Knight’s or that place in Smithfield with all the picture discs on the wall?

If you spent your youth rifling through the racks of any of these long-gone Belfast record emporiums – or their counterparts around the country – Sound It Out is the film for you.

Jeanie Finlay’s documentary about the last surviving independent record shop in Teesside, north east England, kicks off the final day of this year’s Out to Lunch festival, and it proves to be a sublime bit of programming.

The afternoon screening has attracted a small but passionate crowd, many of them lone males sporting the record collector’s uniform: beanie hat, black-rimmed glasses, band t-shirt, bulky record bag.

Few will have visited Sound It Out Records in Stockton-on-Tees, and many may not share its customers’ appreciation for Status Quo, Meat Loaf or Dire Straits. But these are kindred spirits on the screen. Tucked away next to a Jobcentre and a fishing tackle shop, Sound It Out is a haven for Stockton-on-Tees’s obsessives and eccentrics.

If you don’t recognise anything of yourself in, say, the rather serious auditor whose apartment is piled high with alphabetically and chronologically ordered Bowie LPs, or the denim-clad hard rocker who works nightshifts at B&Q to feed his Quo addiction, you’re probably watching the wrong movie.

Finlay never sneers at her subjects, not even the hardcore dance DJs whose love of frankly unlistenable music has freed some of them from criminal pasts. It’s inspiring stuff.

This low-budget mini-masterpiece suggests that even in a time of recession in one of the most socially deprived parts of the UK, people will do all they can to hang onto their sense of humour and their lust for life.

Perhaps the most affecting scene is the one in which the Quo fan, Shane Healey, who has mental health issues, reveals he was bullied as a child for being a ‘spacker’, and talks about his plans to be buried in a coffin made from melted-down vinyl. You don’t know whether to laugh, cry or drive to Stockton and give him a hug.

Sound It Out’s proprietor, Tom Butchart, fondly refers to Healey and the rest as ‘random people’. Indeed, they seem more like pals than patrons. Being neither angry nor aloof, Butchart belies his occupation, making a quite disarming host.

The droll thirtysomething reveals how he listens to every release that comes into the premises, and jokes with staff – his sister, a Zavvi refugee, a bloke recruited to promote Record Store Day with a loud hailer – over the cataloguing 'system' the shop uses.

Often hilarious, at times heartbreaking and always engaging, Sound It Out is as good a film about our love affair with the physical format as we are ever likely to see. It should do for the record-collecting community what Anvil: The Story of Anvil did for ageing heavy-metal bands, or Spellbound did for kids who enter spelling bees.

And the DVD should be one release that will be immune from illegal downloading. Especially if they release it as a limited-edition gatefold poster-bag with free sticker.