Bear Tree Records

City Centre

Craft Workshop 4, Orchard Square, S1 2FB

Open Wednesday-Saturday 10am–6pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm.

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As Sheffield’s music scene continues to show healthy sprouts of renaissance, a new destination for record lovers opens its doors in the city centre: Bear Tree Records.

Tucked away upstairs in the craft workshops of Orchard Square, Bear Tree has been set up by Joe Blanchard, a familiar face to many who have flicked through Record Collector’s vinyl shop over the past five years. Bear Tree Records has an emphasis on hand-picked, high quality vinyl-only releases – ranging from indie, punk and metal through to jazz, electronica, krautrock and obscure soundtracks. Each record comes with a personal description from Joe, meaning that you will almost certainly walk out with that forgotten 14th album by Popul Vuh, as well as the new Joanna Newsom LP you actually went in for.

We caught up with Joe when the shop opened in October 2015 to learn about his plans for Bear Tree (since then, the shop's expanded into a larger unit next door).

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’ve worked in various record shops over the years – Selectadisc in Nottingham, Jack’s, and then Record Collector.

After I left Selectadisc I had a small record shop in The Forum called Blackest Rainbow, focusing on underground experimental music, from avant grade jazz to outsider folk and noise. Unfortunately the shop didn’t last very long, a very short 6 months to be precise, but out of that my record label was born, also called Blackest Rainbow, which has been successful since it started in 2006. Blackest Rainbow has released various projects by all kinds of artists and bands from all over the world. Initially it was extremely small run cassette and CDRs, now I almost exclusively do vinyl-only releases.

Why have you decided to open Bear Tree Records?
I’ve been considering doing something of my own again for some time, and finding the right place has been the main issue. There are plenty of empty units in the city centre, but not much that is available for a reasonable price to start up something new. Doing a record shop is not an easy task, and it is a financial risk when you have to pay rent and bills.

It would have been easy to just do something online, but I really wanted to do a shop that people can come to, hang out in, browse with their hands and eyes, not just sit typing words into a search bar over and over. Finally, I found this small unit in Orchard Square. The location is great, really central, which is essential.

The shop is small, but I’ll be carefully curating the stock I carry there. It could easily get cluttered, so we’ll be keeping a tight control over stock. We could have gone for a larger unit, but it’s easy to end up filling some of that space with lower quality secondhand or not as interesting new releases. Quality not quantity is the aim. Most people don’t have the time to go through a shop of 8,000 records, but 1000 records that are interesting, well presented, is more manageable for a customer.

What type of records are you stocking?
The main aim is to try and cater for most people, so we’ll be covering a wide selection of genres, from indie to black metal, jazz to noise, reggae to folk, soundtracks to classic rock, and lots more. I have a pretty solid soundtrack section in the shop; I love soundtracks and films, the more unusual the better. There will be lots of interesting stuff you won’t see everywhere else, but then there’ll be classic LPs in stock too – whether a classic to you is a Beatles or Dylan record or Sun Ra LP.

All secondhand vinyl will be graded and all records will have information included about what it is. Hopefully we can recommend things and get people to discover some of the great stuff out there they wouldn’t necessarily know. And vice versa – I certainly don’t know everything… Come recommend me stuff! I’m also happy to try and source records for people. If you don’t see it in the racks, just ask and I’ll see if I can get stuff in for you.

It must be time-consuming to add notes to every record you put on the shelves?
I always love going to shops which have some information on the record about what it is, whether it’s a press release or personal write-up from someone in the shop. I’ve ended up picking up some great stuff that I’d have never bought if it hadn’t had some kind of information put there by the record shop or the label.

Why vinyl-only?
I love vinyl, vinyl has been on the up for the last few years, and that’s what I do for the label: vinyl only. I love looking through records, playing something new to see what it’s like, and honestly, all I want to do for work is sell records.

What are your future plans for the shop?
Once the shop gets going we’ll see how things progress, but I’d love to push it as far as I can, from working with artists doing shirts for the shop [BTR's logo is by Sheffield’s own Tom J Newell, and is available on a small range of t-shirts] to doing prints and posters. Things like that would be great.

Any special events planned?
We did Celluloid Screams festival, selling classic horror soundtracks. That’s the second time we’ve done that; it’s always fun catching films, hanging out with the guys from Arrow Films, Fab Press, Funkee Junkee Munkee and Celluloid Screams. It’s just fun chatting to people who are enthusiastic about records, from the audio to the packaging.

3 upcoming releases that you’re excited about?
I’m pretty interested to hear the Sievehead record on Evil Hoodoo which is in the works.

Fabio Frizzi's The Beyond and Ennio Morricone’s The Black Belly Of The Tarantula soundtrack reissues on Death Waltz will be pretty great. I am a big fan of the 60s/70s Italian soundtrack genre.

I’m enjoying the Blue Note vinyl reissue series which has been going on for the last year or two… they’re doing about five a month, four of which tend to be from the 1950s-70s. There’s been some great ones, so I usually look forward to grabbing those every month.

Top 3 bands/artists currently based in Sheffield?
Blood Sport, Ben Nash, Sievehead.

Favourite thing about Sheffield?
The people – the vibe is great. I can go walking with my daughter in the park and people will say hello to me that I’ve never seen before. It’s a good place full of good people. Even if the sky is grey for a large amount of the year.

Website and online shop coming soon.

Written by Greg Povey; October 28, 2015
Photography by Greg Povey.