Thursday, 24 January 2019

Destination: Richmond

I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking Isn't it strange that he has so much less to say about his weird, spoddy little music-shed project than he does about getting told off by various Yorkshirewomen?

Or you might be thinking I've read that Hi-Fi mag article already. Is that the best he can do? But lots of people won't have, there's a newer issue out now (so hopefully they won't mind) and I have actually taken the time to get the copy in a readable form. And also, everything else I have to say about my spoddy little music-shed project will need to make reference to this lovely article from time-to-time, in a post to follow soon. (Yes, I know you've heard that one before. Shut up and read it.)

Neil Young’s On the Beach is off the wall and on the turntable and HFC is on the sofa with a mug of Yorkshire tea, leafing through a vintage NME, sitting across from friendly and engaging host Tim Barnes. 

Tim’s a longstanding record collector, blogger, craft brewer, motorhome veteran and entrepreneur, and we’re catching up inside BLUES NIGHT, just before its opening in mid-November. Not only a project years in the making, it’s a strong contender for the most pleasant shop HFC has visited in this series so far. Approximately 25 square-metres of cool, the converted barn is compact, but its lines are clean and it has the aesthetics of an independent US or Scandi record store. 

Refreshingly, all of the LPs, 12”s, 45s, 78s, CDs and cassettes are for sale at realistic prices, and none of that uncluttered space is taken up by racks – the record sleeves are in lovely old seventies Suffolk County Library crates, on a chunky shelving unit. “I didn’t want sections or dividers,” Tim explains. “I wanted people to grab a whole crate, sit down with it, and peruse its contents slowly and enjoyably. Seats and tables are there because I want people to take their time, have a drink, maybe even talk to me!”

One reason for the lack of categorisation is that it’s all the blues – or at least Tim’s inventive interpretation of it as a broad church. “I came to the blues as many others did, via the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and the rest. I’d say they were all blues bands. I’d say Bob Marley was a blues singer and Underground Resistance records are bluesy. And a lot of people would assume that I am bonkers. Look at the blues section in your average record shop and you’ll see that this inclusive philosophy of the blues is not a popular one.” Tim’s belief is that it’s the cornerstone of all good music, yet it’s a niche interest that is misrepresented for the people who prefer to stay outside of it.

Blues Night’s kit list makes for covetable reading. “I’ve always been more into hi-fi than DJ kit, but for the shop, I never thought about anything other than a pair of Technics 1210s,” Tim explains. These came via eBay, along with the Allen & Heath mixer. There’s also an ancient Goldring Lenco GL75 to play 78s on. The Nakamichi 600 tape deck is the most recent arrival: “I enjoy making a mixtape even more in my forties than I did in my teens,” he adds. “Sometimes it’s useful to record onto CD – the closest I get to digitising – on a Sony RCD-W100. A series of British amplifiers came to an end when the Marantz PM6003 was all I could afford and it seems it will last forever.” The speakers are bi-wired Musical Fidelity Reference 4s. “I’ve had them since I was a teenager and I love them like brothers.”

For now, all the stock on sale is from Tim’s own collection: “This is music I’ve been playing out in pubs, sharing it since I was a kid. Which is why the shop is called BLUES NIGHT. It’s not just a shop, it’s a musical project. It’s an attempt to share some excellent music, a lot of which doesn’t get heard very often.” Setting up the shop has led to moments of musical rediscovery, too: “It’s been exciting seeing the front covers of records that have been hidden away, apart from maybe a few square centimetres of spine, for decades,” he adds. “Records I’ve forgotten I had. Records I’ve thought were incredible, but only played once or twice. If I sell them all quickly, then I suppose I’ll be reinvesting as much of that as possible in more records that I can enjoy while they’re on sale. Or if I hardly sell any at all, I’ve still got lots of great records! It seems like a win-win situation to me.”

BLUES NIGHT aims to blur the lines between business venture and public service. “If I can get this project to make enough money to justify me spending most of my waking hours on it, it will be worth doing,” says Tim. “I really don’t know what to expect from it, long-term. I hope there will be live music, opportunities to sell the beer I’ve been making to occasional decent-sized crowds, and that it’ll be a venture that my boys can enjoy enough not to want to hide its existence and their connection to it from their school friends. I hope that people will listen to and enjoy music that they would never have picked out for themselves.

Tim has previous, having worked in a second-hand London record shop 20 years ago. “It was the only job I’ve ever had that I enjoyed. But I was getting paid £60 a day, and I thought maybe I’d try teaching for a while. I have been planning my escape back into my own record shop ever since.”

The eventual push for the escape plan was bitter-sweet, however. “Living in the capital, I never had any money – and rarely actually had any time to just sit and listen to music either. And an old friend died two-and-a-half years ago. I realised that while he’d never had much money to spend either, he had always done what he wanted to do – seeing the world, playing records in clubs, managing DJs and having a good time. That was my eureka moment: I knew I had to do it now or accept that I never would.”

Tim and family sold their
South London house and hit the road in a motorhome, driving round the UK in search of the perfect place to create the perfect record shop, dropping anchor in gorgeous Richmond, North Yorkshire. (Their adventures are documented in a thoroughly entertaining blog, “I fell for the town and the premises instantly,” Tim adds. “It’s beautiful, in a glorious part of the country, and it seems, to me, to be a little bit of a secret. BLUES NIGHT will be a secret within a secret; a shop that’s not a shop, tucked away in a courtyard out the back of a Georgian terrace, the entrance hidden under a jungle of clematis.”

Tim’s commute certainly sounds enviable. “I decided it was going to have to be a premises inside my own home for a few different reasons,” he explains. “First, even if it was in a prime city-centre retail location, there would have been times when I’d be sitting there on my own drinking coffee in the morning thinking: ‘I might open up a couple of hours later tomorrow’. I got talking to a guy who’d started a shop stocked with his own collection several years back, who said he had essentially swapped thousands of brilliant records for a few years of rent payments to somebody he hated. The flip side of this is that I hope I might be getting phone calls from people saying they’ve come two hundred miles for a browse, so is there any chance I can get out of bed and let them in?”

It’s taken a few months to get BLUES NIGHT ready, not least because of the need to provide accommodation as well as a comfy sofa. One important aim is to be a community hub in his adopted home town. “Wherever we went, we were always looking for a place we could sit down, have a drink, have a chat with somebody who knew the place a bit, all of that stuff. Now I want to provide that place. The shop and the town should have a mutually beneficial relationship –the shop should be a good place for locals or visitors to go, but also be a reason for a few people to want to visit the town, and then while they’re here, they’ll discover what a nice place it is.

Looking around the beautiful space that he’s created, Tim reflects on what BLUES NIGHT means to him. “This is all about getting these great records I’ve been collecting for 30 years or so off the shelf, and into people’s hands. Out of the sleeves and onto the platter. Taste is subjective, of course, but this is certainly stock of a higher quality than you would usually find in a second-hand shop. Obviously, I need it to make a certain amount of money, so that I can pay the bills, but the need to make money has never been the driving force behind this project. I’ve always said I will have failed the moment I find myself looking at a visitor and thinking: ‘Are you going to buy anything, or not?’”

Shopping list

Tim picks eight greats from his substantial personal archive, all part of Blues Night’s stock. From fingerpicked guitar wizardry to hip-hop and back, via folk, blues and gospel. 

Bert Jansch 
Bert Jansch
“A young man and an acoustic guitar. A collection of pieces of music recorded in a kitchen that could very well be the best album ever.”

Dirty Mind
“Can I choose the tape? Succinct pop perfection. Bang, bang, bang, bang. Four great songs. Flip it over, and bang, bang, bang, bang. Four more.”

Rolling Stones
Beggars Banquet
“The Stones are my favourite band. My favourite Stones album cycles through Exile, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and this. At the moment, it's this.”

Various Artists
I Have To Paint My Face
“I honestly consider Chirs Strachwitz's recordings for his Arhoolie label to be the single most important body of work in the history of human civilisation.”

Silent Introduction
“An album of house music that stands up to close scrutiny. Every track has a soulful musicality, an urban toughness, and a rhythmic intensity.”

Various Artists
Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
“A remarkable blues and spirituals recorded in the Sixties. It took me years to track down a copy. Then, predictably, it was reissued.”

The Champs
“I suppose I feel the same about 78s as some younger people feel about vinyl. A good party tune, on shellac, is just automatically cooler.”

The Ganja Kru
Super Sharp Shooter

“My kids really couldn't give a monkey's about my records in general, but this is one track I have often blasted out and made them dance.”