Extracts from Graham Jones' 'Last Shop Standing': Week 2

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.

One day I noticed an advertisement in the Liverpool Echo. It read ‘Liverpool rock band requires manager’. Immediately, I recognised an opportunity to make further in-roads into the music industry. I phoned the number in the ad and it was answered by the band’s singer/guitarist John Byrne. He told me that the band were call The Cherry Boys and invited me over to his house, in an area of Liverpool called Old Swan, for an interview.

On the night of The Cherry Boys interview I was very nervous. Maybe this was how Brian Epstein felt when he was offering his services to The Beatles, I thought. As well as John, Keith Gunson, the bass player, conducted the interview whilst the band;s other two members, Howie Minns, simply the best drummer I have ever seen (should Paul McCartney or Brian Wilson be reading this, get in touch and I will give you his details), and Jimmy Hughes, who was a bit of a one man band, normally playing rhythm guitar and keyboards as well as singing a few songs, decided they had better things to do. The boys seemed more nervous than me, but I was confident that I had impressed them with my expert knowledge of their record. I mentioned that I had my own business, and I discovered, during the course of the interview, that they were huge Beatles fans. They were impressed when I told them that I was also involved in selling limited edition Beatles products, though it was probably a wise move not to expand on this subject in case they found out that it was Beatles fruit bowls.

The following evening John rang and informed me that they would like to offer me the position. He mentioned that my first gig as manager would be on Friday, at a pub in Liverpool city centre called The Dolphin. The pub seemed quite crowded, but I couldn’t see the band’s equipment and John informed me that they would be playing in a room at the back of the pub. Upon attempting to enter the room I was stopped by a lad on the door who demanded 25p to get in. “I’m the band’s manager”, I replied. It sounded really good – I had arrived in the music industry. Sadly the 25p entrance fee had clearly put up off the good people of Liverpool coming to our gig, as the audience consisted of just twelve people.

I had noticed during their performances that Keith, the bass player, kept shouting, “Give it rice!” This was his way of motivating the band to really rock. For the next gig I bought a bag of rice and gave it to Janet and Mo, who were two band members’ girlfriends, and told them to throw the rice at the band every time Keith shouted, “Give it rice!” The turnout for the next gig at The Dolphin was vastly improved. The atmosphere was far better than usual. ‘Kardomah Café’ went down fantastically and everybody cheered each time Keith screamed, “Give it rice!” and was pelted with hundreds of grains.

Word about the band that gave it rice quickly spread around Liverpool, and by the following week The Dolphin was full of people waiting to see the hot new group. Like the previous week, I had nipped down to the shops and bought another bag of rice, but I need not have bothered – it seemed like every person there had the same idea. The gig was a huge success and that night we left The Dolphin looking like a Christmas scene, vast quantities of rice covering everything.

The only downside was that the rice phenomenon was becoming bigger than the band’s music, and we were getting more venues refusing bookings because of the mess we generated. We reluctantly had to appeal to fans to stop bringing rice to gigs.

Most Liverpool bands received their first national exposure via that champion of new music, the late John Peel, and The Cherry Boys were no different. In an attempt to attract his attention I forwarded him a copy of a demo cassette the band had recorded, named ‘Give It Rice’. I packed this inside a real bag of rice, enclosing a feature from the Liverpool Echo on the band who ‘gave it rice’, and a letter to John which ended “The next time you come up to Liverpool, give me a ring and I will take you for a drink”.

A few days later the phone rang. “Hi Graham, this is John Peel. Do you fancy that drink?”

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

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