April 18, 2012
Interview: Pie & Vinyl
“Yeah, there are certainly some strange characters round here,” Rob Litchfield, co-owner of Southsea’s Pie & Vinyl, admits. “It’s almost like being in a David Lynch film sometimes. You see people rolling past in wheelchairs going backwards, using their legs to push…”
It’s an observation borne from affection, however, as Litchfield and business partner Steven Roger Courtnell both have utmost faith in their hometown’s ability to support a venture like theirs. Pie & Vinyl, a quaint café/record store located on the Portsmouth mini-city island of Southsea, must be one of the (very) few music retailers to have opened since the inception of Record Store Day in 2007, an annual event set up more to cherish than to save its ailing flock.
Southsea itself does certainly have an air of subcultural charm about it; a mesh of old Victorian housing, naval history and bohemia. The local area, too, appears to have been receptive to Pie & Vinyl as a concept. Throughout our interview, members of the public stick their heads round the door to enquire about opening times, or just to show support.
“Ultimately, people round here are passionate about living in Southsea,” Courtnell continues. “They are pretty receptive and open-minded to an idea like this. There are two comic book shops, an endless amount of vintage shops, two old-fashioned sweet shops, but no record shops.”
All support aside, there’s a reason for the large number of record store closures, and it ain’t a saturation of sweet shops. But perhaps Pie & Vinyl’s unique combination will see it through. “Pie and mash: it’s like a comfort food, isn’t it?” explains Litchfield. “We want people to have the idea that they can come in and relax, be comfortable. That’s why we’ve decked it out like someone’s front room.”
The heavily retro feel of the shop’s cosy interior, from the checked laminate flooring to the dusty piano in the back, is part of the Pie & Vinyl deal. “People like to imagine they’re in a retrospective era where things might have been — or you perceived them to be — easier,” Courtnell says, in respect to the décor. “You’d sit down, have pie and mash… it’s the whole experience. That’s something we’re wary of, and we want to provide that mixed in with a bit of modern.”
That ‘modern’ is supplied by another of the duo’s ideas: individual listening pods at each table that contain 20-or-so newly released MP3s. “I guess the idea is we’ll have a box with an MP3 player, with four headphones on the table,” Litchfield clarifies. “People can relax, listen to what’s coming out, and have the ability to order it from us.”
“We wanna get away from that kind of whole High Fidelity experience, where you’re thumbing through records in a quiet shop, then you take your selection to the counter and they laugh at you,” Courtnell chips in. “We wanna try to be open about the whole thing, and put our hands up and say if we don’t stock something, whether it’s Finnish tango or whatever, we’ll try our best to get it in.”
The pair are under no illusion as to vinyl’s role in music today — largely as an economy built on aesthetics and collectability — but they don’t feel stigmatised by this, as Courtnell explains: “At Christmas time you see John Lewis and Debenhams stocking vinyl purely to put into frames. I mean, there was a bit about vinyl on the flippin’ One Show the other night, you know. That’s when your mum’s about to tell you vinyl’s coming back!” He gestures up at the wall, where the likes of Perfume Genius, Tyler, The Creator and Adele gaze down. “I mean, they’re beautiful pieces of art. You’ve got the experience of holding the vinyl, looking at the artwork, putting it on, the stories of buying them.”
The focus here is most definitely on new music, something that would perhaps keep away the crate diggers and Quo fans (as well as the more Lynchian characters roaming Southsea town centre). “Record shops have that stigma: people are thinking you’re just stocking The Byrds back catalogue for £2.50,” says Courtnell. “But we’re very for experiencing new music and watching it develop and push forward.”
And then, of course, there’s the pie. Sourced from local butchers (as well as a few additions from festival favourites Pieminister) to provide a varied selection, Courtnell also hopes to get the personalised Pie & Vinyl edition, or, “a tribute to an artist or something. The Mama Cass pie!”
“The Karen Carpenter pie,” Litchfield chips in. “Might be a bit inappropriate…”
For now, Pie & Vinyl hold the monopoly on pastry-covered-meat-and-record combos in the Portsmouth area, and their Record Store Day opening period should provide an initial boost.
“Yeah,” says Courtnell, “until Cassettes & Jellied Eels opens up down the road…”
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON