Bear Tree Records was set up in 2015 by Joe Blanchard, a familiar face to many who have flicked through Record Collector’s vinyl racks over the years. Originally tucked away upstairs in the craft workshops of Orchard Square before it moved to a bigger spot in The Forum in 2018, the shop has an emphasis on handpicked, high quality vinyl – 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 fourteenth album by Popul Vuh as well as the Joanna Newsom LP you actually went in for.
We caught up with Joe to learn more.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’ve worked in various record shops – Selectadisc in Nottingham, Jack’s, and then Record Collector. I once had a small record shop called Blackest Rainbow, focusing on underground experimental music, from avant-garde jazz to outsider folk and noise. Unfortunately the shop didn’t last very long 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.
What made you decide to open Bear Tree Records?
I’d been considering doing something of my own again for some time, and finding the right place was 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. 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. Finally, I found the unit in Orchard Square.
What type of records do you stock?
Quality not quantity is the aim. Most people don’t have the time to go through a shop of 8,000 records, but 1,000 records that are interesting, well-presented – that’s more manageable. The aim is to cater for most people, so we cover a wide selection of genres. 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 second-hand vinyl is graded and all records have information included. 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, so come recommend me stuff! I’m also happy to try and source records – if you don’t see it in the racks, just ask.
It must be time-consuming to add notes to the records you put on the shelves?
I always love going to shops which have some information on the record, whether it’s a press release or personal writeup 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.
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.
- Words by
- Greg Povey
- Images by
- Will Roberts