Soon before closing time on a recent Tuesday evening, Friendly Records certainly lives up to its name. Run by Tom Friend and Michal William, the shop on North Street has quickly become a melting pot of music-obsessed people from across Bristol and beyond.
Inside, it’s cosy and made even cosier by the amount of customers that are chatting over the counter or looking at the carefully organised records, as Michal and shop assistant Bruno (pictured below) do a quick stock take of t-shirts featuring their cheeky mascot.
It’s hard to believe that the Bedminster staple has only been around for a year, but this week, Friendly are throwing a party celebrating the shop’s first birthday. With DJs, live music and lots of records to take home after, it’s sure to be an event worthy of everything the team have achieved so far.
With their move up the road to larger premises imminent, Tom and Michal (but mostly Tom) explain what it’s really like to run a record shop in 2017.
How did Friendly Records come to be?
Tom: There was a sort of a conversation in a pub that turned into – not a dare, but people encouraging me to do it. And also, a ridiculously expanding record collection that my wife wanted me to do something with.
How big are we talking?
Tom: I never thought I had that many records. I know people who have more. I mean, there was thousands, obviously.
Tom: And then a friend of mine – a DJ in Bristol called Boca 45 – had an idea of doing a bike shop and a record shop. I was coming to the end of teaching at BIMM, and I wanted to do something else. So, a year ago, a friend of mine had this shop and offered it to me just on the sort of month to month thing just to see if it worked. And here we are. And it’s just sort of grown. It’s avoiding getting a proper job, which has been my entire life, really.
So, it wasn’t your dream to own a record shop?
Tom: It was, really – I like physical records as much as I like music, if not more, actually. Obviously, it helps if the music’s good too.
What do you mean?
Tom: Well, I like the actual format and I like the artwork and I like reading the stuff on the sleeves and I like the historical aspect to it. I also like the collecting aspect to it, and I like the rarity of some of them, and I like the memories, remembering where you bought them from, or the person that gave them to you. I can go through records I had from the age of 11 or 12 when I first started buying them, and I can pretty much work out or remember who gave it to me, what shop I bought it from, why I bought it.
Do you think those reasons you just mentioned have contributed to vinyl’s recent peak in popularity?
Tom: Completely, yeah. It’s the best format. And if you’re going to spend, fifteen, twenty pounds, twenty-five pounds on some music, then you might as well have a thing to go with it. I think people are fed up with being told they don’t need to own things and to have things up in the Cloud, you know? It’s a kind of heritage, and we’re in pretty weird times where things aren’t great for a lot of people – I think that being able to go back in time or have memories of better time might be comforting. I think records help, as do books and films and other things.
Do you find it disheartening that maybe record shops have to sell other things apart from records now to survive? Would you say that’s true?
Tom: I think it probably is, and I think it’ll become even more so. I think there’s very few record shops that are just record shops anymore, and if you speak to anybody in the music industry, they often have very tight budgets and margins. They are just about surviving.
The reality is that most people make music because they love music, and sold music in shops because they love it. I’m not doing this to make money, I’m doing it to meet interesting people and to spend my time surrounded by music and people who like music. That seems weird, because it’s a business, obviously – but it’s like when I worked in labels. They didn’t start record labels to make money. They started record labels because they love music and then they have to make money to survive and to keep going and to be able to sign more bands.
So, it’s the same for us. We need to sell records to survive, and so we can buy more records, and so we can deal with things that we’ve got planned. We want to expand and we want to do interesting stuff.
My memories of record shops were always places where people met people and you would quite often run into either people you knew, ’cause you know they’d either be at a certain pub, or they’d be at a certain record shop, or they’d be around someone’s house, whatever. And we see it in here, where people bump into friends they haven’t seen for years. It brings like-minded people together.
Was there any record shops that you particularly frequented when you were growing up? Or acted as an inspiration for this place?
Tom: There’s quite a few actually, and I spent far top long and far too much money in lots of them. In Bristol: Revolver, Tony’s on Park Street, Replay, Purple Penguin… We used to go to other cities too, so Piccadilly Records in Manchester, and Rough Trade in London, and Honest Jon’s and Dub Vendor… there’s tons. It’s still my favourite thing to do, really.
If I go to a new city or go to a new town, I try to find a record shop and if they haven’t got a record shop, I find a charity shop where they might have records in it. I went to Copenhagen last year with my wife and I ended up feeling quite sorry for her, because all I really wanted to do was just find new record shops.
What made you think that a record shop would fit here?
Tom: Well, there isn’t one south of the river – there used to be but there aren’t anymore – and kind of pigheadedness – “build it and they will come,” sort of thing. And it’s the most popular it’s been in ages. We get lots of people in here from all different ages and different backgrounds buying records, some for the first time, some continuing a kind of lifelong obsession.
It just felt like it was a good decision, but it could have not worked. I was lucky that early on Michael, came in and saved the day. He arrived and said, “Do you want a hand?” at the point where I was sort of drowning in records – unpriced records, actually. People kept going, “How much is this? How much is this? How much is this?” And I kept going, “Uh …” I’m very disorganised. My brain is like a sieve. Whereas Michal hasn’t got a brain like a sieve and is very organised. The two of us work well together in that sense.
Is there a record you sell the most of?
Tom: I like to think that there’s definitely records that we play in here that we champion, then people buy. It’s like in the film High Fidelity – “I’m going to play the Beta Band and watch how many people buy it.” It’s the oldest trick in the book, but it’s no different to playing music to a friend and saying, “You’re going to really love this.” And that’s what we’re sort of really doing in a record shop. We’re just trying to encourage people to buy records that we really like.
Do you try and champion Bristol music when you can?
Tom: Not really any more than I would any other music. I mean, this year, a band called Crescent from Bristol has made a record that’s one of my favourites of the year. But it’s really easy to sell good music – I would never get behind a Bristol band just because they’re from Bristol. That would make no sense and also it would make us look pretty stupid if we were sort of championing stuff that wasn’t really good. But there really are great Bristol bands – IDLES and Spectres are doing really good things.
What are your hopes for your new location?
Tom: To stay open and to carry on the trajectory that we have done. More records, more live music and more events. We’re going to be between The Old Bookshop and The Old Butcher’s, and I like the idea of us being part of that family of shops and things that are going on there. I think we’ll really benefit from being there and vice versa. I’m also looking forward to being able to put a bench outside – and people can park a lot more easily. And it’s a bit bigger. We might get an office, which would be amazing. What are the other hopes and dreams for the new space?
Michal: I want us to have more dividers and more categories.
Tom: That would be definitely be nice. Michal excels in is categorising things and dividers. It’s actually deadly serious. We talk about categorising things to the point where there’s categories of categories of categories of categories of stuff. I think that’s a fantastic thing.
You can find Friendly Records online at www.facebook.com/friendlyrecordsbristol, but we heartily recommend popping in to their shop at 8 North Street. Check out their birthday event over at www.facebook.com/events/683665601835143 which will feature live music from Snails. It takes place on Saturday, July 22 from 10am till 6pm.
All photos by Adri Bof
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