Extracts from Graham Jones' 'Last Shop Standing': Week 1

Last Shop Standing lifts the lid on an industry in tatters. Graham Jones has worked at the heart of record retailing since the golden era of the 1980s. He was there during the years of plenty and has witnessed the tragic decline of a business blighted by corruption and corporate greed. Last Shop Standing is a hilarious yet ahrrowing account by a man who has been there and sold that.

After looking through endless requests for cleaners or dead-end jobs, something stood out at me like a diamond in a bag of nutty slack. Amongst all the dross was a job that was perfect for me – HMV, the UK’s top record retailer, was looking for a sales assistant in their Liverpool branch. “Wow!” I thought. “What an opportunity!”

The interview went well and the manager, Paul Johnson, was quite firm, although I did seem to gel with him. He asked me to name all of the other record stores in town, which was not a problem for somebody who bought lots of vinyl and who would always shop around for the best value.

The next question threw me, as I had never been asked this in any previous interview, “Do you play football?” “Yes” I replied. The questions then became more surreal.

“Do you play in the Wirral Sunday League?” Again the answer was yes, and then it was, “Are you a goalkeeper?” Blimey, I thought, Paul must be psychic, or the HMV football team needed an injection of fresh blood. He then explained that he had been playing a match on the previous Sunday; the score was 2-2, and with one minute to go his team were awarded a corner. The ball was floated towards him; he met it good and true and headed the ball towards the top corner. Just as he turned to celebrate what he thought was the winner, the goalkeeper had leapt up and turned the ball over the bar. “You were that bloody goalkeeper, weren’t you? I knew I’d seen you before.” He was correct. I was that goalkeeper, and we had a good laugh about it. I knew at that moment that I had the job, even though Paul told me over 300 people had applied.

This was in the days when CDs had just come out. I lost count of the number of customers who brought back CDs because they could not play them on a record player. The music industry had marketed CDs so that many people believed that you could eat your dinner off them and they would still be playable. This was a blatant untruth.

One lady brought back a CD single by Kenny the Kangaroo, complaining that it jumped. “What did she expect?” we asked. “That’s what Kangaroos do!” The humour was lost on her and she demanded a refund.

Often you had to be a bit of a detective. People would come in and ask for “that song off the radio”, and then look surprised that you required more clues, “Well, it’s a woman” they would say and that normally improved my chances by 50 per cent. I recall a lady who asked for ‘The Jogging Song’ and, after numerous guesses, I realised it was ‘Running Up The Hill’ by Kate Bush.

Another guy commented that he had heard a great song on the radio, and though he didn’t know the title, he thought the name of the band was something like diarrhoea. I soon deduced that the band was in fact Dire Straits. I thought this was the daftest thing somebody had said to me until a young man asked after a single by Squeeze and he thought the title was ‘Up The Back Passage’. Trying to suppress my laughter I suggested it might be ‘Up The Junction’.

There'll be more from Graham Jones' 'Last Shop Standing' next week...

'Last Shop Standing', £12.95, is published by Proper Music Publishing Ltd., London. lastshopstanding.co.uk