“It’s all about emotions with records. Emotions and memories.” So says Tom, the owner of the last record shop in the Teesside area of north-east England about this final bastion of all things vinyl, and the same sentence could apply to Jeanie Finlay’s documentary itself. Sound It Out is a film about music that’s not really about music at all, drawn out with wit, intimacy and care. To mark the film’s DVD release, we spoke to Jeanie about how it came about and why Teesside is like "an irritating family member”…
It was the horror of the shop’s manager when Jeanie went into to flog boxes of much-loved records to help pay for her wedding that first suggested there was a story to tell here. But it was not until her mother fell ill and she started spending more time at home – and more time in the shop – that she appreciated the power of the emotional pull vinyl, and this shop in particular held over her.
“It felt like a haven going into the shop and when I looked around I realised it was a haven for everyone who was in there.
“I had just worked on a bigger budget film with two units and after that I wanted to do something on my own. I like making films about smaller stories because through them you can tell much bigger stories.
“The shop felt like a microcosm of Teeside – the vinyl became a pocket mirror for all the industry that had died in the area – analogue struggling on.
“Also I liked the idea of a woman making a film about men, northern men. I was in there for a month and never saw another woman in the shop.”
Like so many great tales, it works equally well on both the universal and the personal level. Record shops are dens of obsession, but music is so much more than the final plastic product.
“Music becomes the signposts in people’s lives and I am interested in the way you can map out love, childbirth, heartache by what people were listening to at the time. If you ask people about music what they like they tell you everything about themselves.”
This combination of music-addicts loving to talk about their passion, and the things they may reveal while doing so, makes for some incredibly enlightening interviews.
“It’s human nature to like talking about yourself but I am always amazed how open people are. You have to treat their stories with care – that is so important.”
But it was also a story wrapped up in Jeanie’s own past, and her own identity, which shines through in a discernible but not self-indulgent way.
“For me it was an opportunity to make a film about home. Teesside is an area I have got a love/hate relationship with – it’s like an irritating member of the family – you don’t want anyone else to criticise them but you are filled with love and loathing about them.”
Fantasticaly, despite it looking during filming like the battle to keep Sound It Out open was doomed, it has remained open and continued to flourish. Jeanie insists it would be “disingenuous” to suggest it was her film that saved it, but she does believe, “it helped articulate just how important it is to the area. It hit home.”
The film was partly crowd-funded through the IndieGoGo website, the first time Jeanie has worked in this way but an experience she is hugely positive, if realistic about.
“It was the best fun, the best experience but you have to do a whole marketing campaign yourselves. Overall though 457 people put their hands in their pockets which was amazing. It was massively liberating – I did not have to sit through endless meetings with broadcasters talking about the story arc.
“It was like being an indie record label – fraught with the stress of not having much money but the connection with the audience is so much more direct.”
An apt metaphor for this uplifting loveletter to vinyl, and to a small shop, in a small town which continues to flourish.