2014 has marked the best annual vinyl sales in a very long time. It is the first year since 1996 for sales to break the one million record mark. It’s something that can be attributed to several things, and most will instantly jump to conclusions relating to Record Store Day, and the increasing attention to poor sound quality on online music streams.
However, Nick Pollard had other ideas, having spotted some very unusual music shops popping up around the UK over the last few years. Nick visited one such store, Pie & Vinyl in Southsea, a ‘record cafe’, to chat to Steve Portnell – one of the founders of the rather distinguished shop. No prizes for guessing what they have for sale.
(NOTE: If you do visit Pie & Vinyl, the pie really is marvelous. I recommend the wild mushroom and asparagus pie. Nom.)
What compelled you to open Pie & Vinyl?
It was believed that people still wanted to buy physical format music, but using a different experience. That’s the key to Pie & Vinyl: an experience. We’re a record shop first and foremost, and we offer food alongside that. We just sell modern vinyl. Brand new music. And as you probably know, often comes with CDs or download codes inside. Plus it’s the 18-25 year olds that are the biggest part of our customer base.
Has there been a big wave of customers?
Yeah. A lot of kids are buying records again, purely because they’ve never been able to buy them before. The fact that they pick them up and they realise there’s a ‘Side A’ and a ‘Side B’. All these mind-boggling things that we take for granted. It was the belief that people didn’t just want to press RETURN for one song, but want to actually buy a physical album, look at the artwork. The sound quality is vastly improved compared to a CD. MP3s are horrible. They run at 3-bit, CDs at 12-bit and vinyl at 24-bit. It’s not compressed either. You can hear the bass, and all of the diferent layers. The vastly improved sound is a big thing as well that young people have appreciated.
The records are all heavyweights as well. They’re all 180-gram standards, so they’re very thick, the grooves are deeper, and the sound quality is a lot better. So that’s a kind of standard thing now, whereas in the Sixties and Seventies, the albums were very thin. They were shellac then.
I would appreciate this more were my record player not broken!
Well we fix them here, mate! You’ll have to bring it in. We sell hi-fi as well. We’re actually going to open a unit just down the road, called Pie & Hi-Fi. We’re hoping to open it this weekend, and specialize in hi-fi equipment, separate styluses, repairs, brushes, alcohol… cleaning alcohol I should add!
How busy was it here around Record Store Day?
Record Store Day is a great day. It’s great for us. The idea of Record Store Day is obviously get more people in for it, and then come back again another day. This year we had the road closed and we put some bands on. We had the Young Knives play. We had a week’s worth of events in the days leading up to Record Store Day. We showed a film in here, Last Shop Standing, about the rise, and the fall and rebirth of record shops.
We’ve got a big, drop down screen here. We have lots of in-store performances as well. We take all the furniture out, and you can fit 60-70 people in here. The performances are usually full to the brim, and we have some very well regarded artists. We’ve had Frank Turner play in here. The night before he played The O2, and he came here! He’s a local lad isn’t he, and he’s always played around here. There’s a strong music scene here. He’s really supportive and hasn’t forgotten those days. We have loads of artists from The Feeling to The Wedding Present, so some pop acts as well as alternative acts. The support that’s out there… I guess they realise that we sell their product, so we work together! It’s fantastic.
The (look of the) shop is all very Southsea. Everything decorated is sourced locally and it’s all got like… a local affiliation as well. There is a lot of Portsmouth and Southsea memorabilia around.
Which is the biggest draw, the pie or the vinyl? Or the ‘and’?
They work very closely together, and nine-times-out-of-ten people buy both. We play nice music, people come in, they talk about music, and especially at the weekend they come in and have pie and mash as well. So, yeah. It works well together. We sell an experience, but we are a record shop first and foremost. Everything we do is based around music.
The shop is the experience. We sell pie and mash alongside music. Basically a hub for people to discover music, discuss music, and eat high quality food. People are very conscious of what they put into their bodies now so we offer a very healthy selection of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free pies. They’re award-winning pies. You can’t get a better pie around here, I can guarantee that!
How much vinyl do you have in here?
Do you want me to show you around? It’s good fun being creative with the space that you have. Here we have our new releases. Every Monday there are about thirty new releases, both 7”s and 12”s. This is our classic reissue box. We also sell limited edition screen posters. These are some of the hi-fi bits that we sell, but they will move soon into the other unit. Our merchandise is really popular as well. We sell lots of T-shirts. This is a Record Store Day Pie & Vinyl one. There are record bags, and hats are very popular. People around Portsmouth and Southsea are quite passionate about the area and we like to support that. There are a lot of independent shops in it, and it has a kind of anti-corporate feel to it all, which is fantastic. So there’s lots of grubby little independent shops around. It’s good not only in the Portsmouth. It’s getting a bit of a reputation nationally as well. We sell a lot on our mail order service. A good way to support independent record shops.
I’ve just noticed some cassettes over there as well. And your own record label. You’ve been busy!
Yeah! Cassettes have come back as well. That’s another factor of why vinyl has come back so strongly – because they contain a CD or download code in them. We’ve got our own record label as well, so we’ve released things from three artists – B of the Bang, The Boy I Used to Be, and Rickyfitts.
How much do you have to restock for orders?
We order as we need replenishment. We work with twelve different distributors and labels, and nothing’s changed in that respect. You still go to the labels and distribution and there are weekly pre-sale order sheets and lots of catalogues that come out that you order from.
We’ve got quite a bit of stock, and when we get new music we turn over some of the A-Z section quite often to keep it all fresh, as we continually get new releases in. Every week on average, we get at least twenty new releases in a week. This week, it’s probably about thirty. We also restock as we get a lot of orders coming in online.You’ve just got to get to know your customer base, take a bit of a punt and being a music fan is obviously a big help. You certainly satisfy that, because you keep buying lots of records!