Posted: 06.02.21 at 12:19 by Hannah McGreevy
“It started as a four-pint conversation.” After making his dreams a reality a now clear-headed Kevin Jones and his Eel Pie Records co-owner Phil Penman are shooting for the title of ‘best independent retailer’ in the UK.
Twickenham residents will be familiar with the impeccable music selection and superior pukka bean coffee served up at the record store in Church Street.
Last week, Kevin and Phil took to social media with a humble request to customers for some “nice words” to strengthen their entry into the Music Week Awards, a celebration of major industry players.
They were inundated with positive reviews.
One fan said: “The best independent record store in London, run by two fine gents who go out of their way to provide incredible customer service, particularly since lockdown struck. An integral part of the local community.”
Another wrote: “For a community which has its very own unique musical heritage, EPR has fast become its beating heart. Friendly, knowledgeable and literally offers something for everyone!”
Kevin shares his thoughts on the feedback with Twickenham Nub News: “It’s just a bit of fun, really, but one of the things they invite you to do is get reviews from customers. We’ve got a track record of being a company with some substance to us and it’s really gratifying to hear that our customers like what we’re doing.”
Despite a recent resurgence, records shops have faced tough times over the past few decades, with many closing down.
Kevin has a frank theory for why that might be: “They had become a bit dusty, old-fashioned and run by grumpy men who wouldn’t really engage. I’ve been a record buyer all my life but going to those kinds of shops wasn’t much fun.”
Kevin and Phil met more than 20 years ago through their children and, discovering their shared love of music, football and beer, became close friends. Through their many conversations over the years, they found that one topic kept coming up.
“I describe it as a four-pint conversation. You get to the 4th pint of the evening and go, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to open a record shop?’ never really thinking you would do it.”
But as time went on, Phil, who had been a senior music industry figure, and Kevin, who worked in social housing for 35 years, decided it was time for a career change.
“One day it became a three-pint conversation, then two pints, one pint, until it was a coffee conversation where we were thinking seriously about it.”
In June 2017, Kevin and Phil opened Eel Pie Records, named after the nine-acre island in the Thames which was home to a famous Twickenham jazz venue in the 1960s. Their vision was simple: create a friendly environment and stock music that people actually want to listen to.
Phil and Kevin carefully curate the shop’s music between them and also employ young music aficionados to bring their own tastes, so that they continue to appeal to younger demographics.
The duo’s favourite album of 2020 was Hold Fast by Stick in the Wheel, a contemporary folk band from South East London.
Kevin gives a nod to Goat Girl’s upcoming new album On All Fours which is due to be released later this year: the band's drummer, Rosy, is his daughter – music must run in the family!
He discusses how creating a positive atmosphere has turned them into a real destination store. “People like to come in because it’s just a nice place to hang out," he says.
“We’ve tried very hard to embed ourselves into the local community. Church Street is very well-known in Twickenham and we’ve played a large part in helping with the street activities that go on.”
In 2019, Eel Pie Records organised the successful High Tide Festival, which saw thousands of people flooding the streets of Twickenham to celebrate music in their local community.
They decided to include a mix of relatively well-known bands (including Goat Girl) as well as plenty of new artists on their bill, hosting them across five stages.
“High Tide Festival was extraordinary. Twickenham has this huge musical heritage that’s quite well-celebrated. Rather than replicating what existed already, we wanted to make a platform for younger, emerging bands with more fresh sounds.”
Over lockdown, the company have found a new way to put smiles on their customers’ faces with their new #EelsOnWheels service. This sees the guys riding around for miles on their bikes to deliver records all over town.
Thanks to their speedy delivery service and can-do attitude, the record shop has managed to maintain its sales figures, and are encouraged by people’s decision to shop local.
“A lot of people seem to understand it is important to support local organisations that will employ their children and keep their highstreets vibrant.”
Eel Pie Records has previously reached out to the Twickenham community by offering work experience opportunities to local school children and autistic children through charity Our Barn. Kevin also takes an active part in local business, acting as Chair for Twickenham’s Business Improvement District.
These days, Eel Pie have been establishing themselves as a nursery record label for newer bands. So far, they have produced two albums, Buffalo Blood and The Man From Leith, with another on the way!
If you want to browse Eel Pie Records’ fantastic music selection or perhaps even summon one of their eels on wheels to your door, then you can visit their website.