Remembering Tom Butchart Of Sound It Out Records

Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay and John Doran pay tribute to the well-loved record shop owner and star of the film Sound It Out who died recently

All portraits of Tom courtesy of Jeanie Finlay

Tom Butchart died unexpectedly last month, leaving an unfillable hole behind him. For those who don’t know, he was the convivial owner of Sound It Out Records, a shop in Stockton-On-Tees, and a familiar face to fans of second hand vinyl and CDs in the Teesside area. He will be sadly missed by his family, friends and those that knew him well.

During the couple of days I spent hanging out with Tom in his wonderful grotto and during the several subsequent conversations I had with him via email and social media – arguably deeper, more serious discussions than the framework of nerdery over obscure post punk 12”s would initially suggest – I began to realise that he was a nice guy and a bona fide force for good to boot. And I would hope that when people read the phrase ‘owner of a record shop’ they don’t feel I’m subconsciously appending with the word ‘just’. The owner of a record shop – certainly in the way that Tom fulfilled the role – acts as the social glue in a community focal point; they are the creator of a safe, friendly space often for people who have nowhere else to go; the provider of affordable dreams; the guardian of sacred knowledge. Even if you didn’t know Tom, I’m pretty sure you know someone who fulfils this role near to where you live. Or at least I hope you’re lucky enough to.

I was aware of Sound It Out before 2011 thanks to a pernicious weakness I had for mail order vinyl but it was really an early encounter with Jeanie Finlay’s wonderful documentary in 2011 that made me develop something of an obsession with the place, an obsession that led initially to a pilgrimage to this mecca of the spiral scratch and ultimately to me playing a gig in store.

On 8 April 2013 – a date I will always remember as news was just breaking about Margaret Thatcher’s death – I pulled up outside the shop with my partner and then just-shy-of-two-year-old son. The experience made a deep impact on me and I wrote about the visit, initially in a feature for VICE and then in my book Jolly Lad.

My initial thought on being in the shop, slavering over his extensive selections of records by The Fall and Killing Joke, was, very excitedly, ‘This is like being in the film!’ And then a period of reflection wondering if this was a weird thing to think, before realising that it most definitely wasn’t. As Sound It Out offers clearer insights into what the function of music is than the majority of celeb studded music films made with comparatively huge budgets, it made complete sense to be excited. While I was there a hip young kid bought an original copy of Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’ 12” off the wall and two evergreen, self-identifying rock chicks came in to discuss how many points you get for ‘felatio’ in Scrabble and to put deposits down for the new Gary Numan and David Bowie LPs.

Tom made time to speak to me even though he was run ragged trying to prepare for the following week’s Record Store Day and I even got to meet his Mum and Dad. I asked on the spot if I could come back and do a reading, Tom agreed and then, just over two years later, I was back, this time with the poet and Brian Eno collaborator Rick Holland and Kjetil Nernes, aka Årabrot. There were, if I’m being honest, about ten people watching us that evening, and that was including Tom and regular staff member Kelly, but it was a great night and, honestly, still very exciting, via a feeling of temporarily being plugged into a wonderful network of fans and obsessives, it’s connectivity running out to all corners of the UK and beyond to the entire world.

Tom Butchart was born in Brancepeth, County Durham in 1972, his family relocated to Eaglescliffe, Stockton-On-Tees when he was young. His initiation into working in music was as an indie/alternative/goth DJ in Teesside. He worked at Track Records on Stockton High Street before buying Sound It Out in 1998.

Tom was just shy of his 51st birthday when he died. He was opening up the shop when he became suddenly ill. He was cared for by customer Mark Singleton and Shane Healey, the heroic Status Quo fan from Sound It Out, who alerted his wife Clare and paramedics.

I watched the film again this week, on what would have been Tom’s 51st birthday, and was stopped in my tracks by a scene in which Jeanie is heard off camera asking, ‘What would you do if…’ To which Shane quickly interrupts, ‘Don’t even go there.’ The thought, even then of the shop shutting, was unthinkable. Understandably it looks like, sadly, the shop will remain closed. It was due to celebrate its 25th anniversary next month.

Our thoughts are with Tom’s family and friends. I’d ask you spare a thought for Tom today; but also to spare a thought for what Tom represented and continues to represent: some of the best aspects of this ragtag but brilliant community of ours.
John Doran

‘Hit The North’ – The Fall

‘Genius Of Love’ – Tom Tom Club

‘Grimly Fiendish – The Damned

I am listening to a playlist that Tom made me, again. It’s an online record of the tracks he carefully selected for my birthday party last year, just like he did for my wedding 14 years ago… and just like the clear c90 tapes he made for all of us when we were barely teenagers. He had a canny knack of always knowing the tracks you wanted to hear.

I first met Tom when we were both just 14 years old after he transferred to our school. He was a shy baby goth with a stutter, a strong accent and a passion for music. The Butchart brothers intersected the Finlay siblings. I liked him immediately. We’d descend en-masse to his house during those long, hot, teenage summers and pretty much moved in.

When Tom progressed to DJing – first at Centrefolds and then Gotham City and Blaises in Middlesbrough – we’d all show up, chuffed that it was our friend behind the decks. Just two weeks ago he sent me music by an unsigned band from Thornaby that I thought I’d like. This week I arranged for my last bag to be sent to me. (Tom used to put records aside in bags for customers.) It held, somewhat appropriately Nails by Benefits, the Teesside band he was so proud of. He soundtracked all of our lives.

A favourite joke we shared was that every time a goth dies they join the choir of ‘This Corrosion’ by the Sisters Of Mercy. Hey now, hey now now, Tom.

‘Here Comes The Sun’ – James Last

‘Peek-A-Boo’ – Siouxsie And The Banshees

‘Rock Steady’ – Aretha Franklin

Sound It Out Records was a haven for all of us, no matter our musical tastes – metal, makina, northern soul, Dolly, Quo – Tom loved it all; the only thing he loved more was his wife Clare and the boy, Tommy The Dog.

For many years I kidded him that I was going to make a film about his shop. When we both realised I was serious, Tom didn’t hesitate and he opened the door of Sound It Out wide.

His openness and ability to always be himself whether the camera was there or not, and to extend that grace to others, is why I chose to make a film with him. The film is a bit ramshackle and shonky, like the shop at the time, but it was made with a full heart and it found its audience.

When we premiered Sound It Out at SXSW in Texas, Tom was adamant that he wasn’t going on stage. The crowd chanted his name until he changed his mind and he took his well earned applause. That night we rode pedicabs to a rave in a former power station and danced our legs down to the knees. We took the film on the road, showing at film festivals, in record shops, in fields and met thousands of people all over the world. It was a good, good time.

‘The Jean Genie’ – David Bowie

‘Spinning Wheel’ – Shirley Bassey

‘Witchita Lineman’ – Glen Campbell

In amongst the shock and the sadness of Tom’s passing I am grateful that people outside of Stockton got to learn about his brilliance through my film. He was too special only to be known just within those four walls.

“It’s emotions and memories. Records hold memories”.

What adventures we had Tom. Thank you for being my friend, my bones-deep friend.

‘Ain’t Nothin’ But A Houseparty’ – The Showstoppers

’10:15 Saturday Night’ – The Cure

‘This Corrosion’ – The Sisters of Mercy
Jeanie Finlay

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