The hidden gem record store tucked away behind busy Bristol shopping street

Pleasantly surprised at my own hipness

Pleasantly surprised at my own hipness, I correctly identify the punk rock pounding from Gastro Vinyl’s record player as a Savages album.

My smugness dissipates, though, as store owner Alex Reed talks me through a section for vinyl releases from recent years, the names on the covers mostly alien to me.

“Melvins had a big influence on grunge – this is their new one,” he says. “You’ve got Dälek here, who do really dark soundscapes. And this is from Les Claypool, an incredible bass player, really funky.”

Getting recommendations from a music fan with encyclopaedic knowledge is one of the joys of visiting Park Row’s Gastro Vinyl, which reopened from lockdown on Monday.

It is a small space, only a couple of metres wide and not much more in length, but it is crammed with a wonderfully eclectic music collection, covering everything from Bristol folk punk outfit Surfin’ Turnips to classics from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison.

Alex, 44, reckons the shop is home to a couple of thousand records. It also sells music magazines going back to the 1970s, books, and cult DVDs and videos, with a coffee counter at the back.

Tucked away a matter of metres off the busy Park Street, Gastro Vinyl is one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets, though Alex would rather it wasn’t quite so well-kept.

“Every day someone comes in and says, ‘I didn’t know this existed.’ I’ve been here three and a half years, but a lot of people don’t know the shop exists. It’s not Park Street, but then if it was, the rent would be three times as much.”

Pleasantly surprised at my own hipness, I correctly identify the punk rock pounding from Gastro Vinyl’s record player as a Savages album.

My smugness dissipates, though, as store owner Alex Reed talks me through a section for vinyl releases from recent years, the names on the covers mostly alien to me.

“Melvins had a big influence on grunge – this is their new one,” he says. “You’ve got Dälek here, who do really dark soundscapes. And this is from Les Claypool, an incredible bass player, really funky.”

Getting recommendations from a music fan with encyclopaedic knowledge is one of the joys of visiting Park Row’s Gastro Vinyl, which reopened from lockdown on Monday.

It is a small space, only a couple of metres wide and not much more in length, but it is crammed with a wonderfully eclectic music collection, covering everything from Bristol folk punk outfit Surfin’ Turnips to classics from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison.

Alex, 44, reckons the shop is home to a couple of thousand records. It also sells music magazines going back to the 1970s, books, and cult DVDs and videos, with a coffee counter at the back.

Tucked away a matter of metres off the busy Park Street, Gastro Vinyl is one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets, though Alex would rather it wasn’t quite so well-kept.

“Every day someone comes in and says, ‘I didn’t know this existed.’ I’ve been here three and a half years, but a lot of people don’t know the shop exists. It’s not Park Street, but then if it was, the rent would be three times as much.”

“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” he says. “This used to be a surf shop, and I was in here shopping and chatting to the landlord, when I mentioned I wanted to open a record shop.

“He said, ‘How about this place?’ I told him I could never afford it, but he said he was dividing it into two shops, which meant it would be below the threshold for business rates. It happened fairly quickly after that.”

Gastro Vinyl may not be well-known, but it is an important asset to the area, which lost music shop Fopp in 2019. Park Street’s Rise Records also closed, in 2018, although its team joined forces with the Rough Trade store in the city centre.

Alex says: “I am trying to keep things unique. I try not to do exactly the same thing as Rough Trade. I like to do some obscure stuff, and specialise a bit in Japanese music.

“We do industrial and heavy stuff, and soundtracks, but I’ve also got your run of the mill ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s pop music.”

He jokes: “I try to stock music I like myself, which is probably not a good business model. I have regulars who come here specifically for more avant-garde music, and stuff which is dark and noisy.”

Alex thinks Beck’s 1999 album Midnite Vultures might be the most valuable in the store. He says he will take offers above £200 for it.

“It’s pretty sought-after because it was never reissued. They’ve been going for £250 to £300.”

A respected but somewhat Marmite record – which has appeared both in best and worst albums of all time lists – Alex says Midnite Vultures is his favourite of Beck’s: “It’s the funkiest.”

Alex, who is open to a bit of haggling, adds: “Most things in here are priced, but for the more rare, valuable stuff, I’d rather have a chat with someone.”

The stars of Cecil B. Demented – a film about terrorist filmmakers who kidnap a Hollywood A-lister – stare down furiously from one of several striking posters on the walls.

Alex aims to stock VHS films which are “unusual”. The collection includes obscure titles from decades gone by, cult films like Gummo and Nirvana concert tapes.

The shop also has thick piles of surprisingly fresh-looking old music magazines. A black and white NME from 1976 bears the headline: “Fleetwood Mac – a group without profit in their own land.”

A fascinating insight into underground culture and pop history, Gastro Vinyl is a shining example of what independent shops bring to the high street. Many are facing uncertain futures in the wake of the pandemic, although UK sales of vinyl records last year were the highest since the early ’90s.

Asked if he is optimistic for his shop’s future, Alex says: “Honestly I don’t know. I think there are going to be some good times in the very near future, the next couple of months. Longer term, I haven’t really got a clue.