Phil Barton, owner of independent record store, Sister ray sat down to talk to Madame Soho recently about the shop’s historic roots, Soho’s changing landscape and the future of the physical music format. Sister ray is synonymous with Soho as it reflects the area’s primitive history of underground music scenes, its independent businesses and the location’s connection with youth cultures.
Madame Soho: Hi Phil, can we start by asking you where you’re from?
Phil Barton: I’m from Forest Hill, South London. I Currently live in Brighton.
MS: How long have you been at Sister ray?
PB: I’ve been involved since the beginning, and been the owner since 2003.
MS: How long has the shop been serving the masses?
PB: We started it in 1987.
MS: The name is synonymous with a Velvet Underground record, are you a fan?
PB: I used to play Velvet Underground & Nico a lot back in the mists of time. I find it all a bit whimsical now, although you couldn’t say that about the “Sister Ray” track. It’s funny really, it wasn’t my idea for the shop name & I’ve never taken drugs! But it feels right.
MS: Just thinking about Lou Reed and Soho, do you think there are significant parallels with our Soho in London and the Soho in New York City?
PB: Very much so, their respective cities owe them a debt of gratitude for the amount of progressive culture that has come out of them.
MS: Sister ray is a cultural landmark in Soho. With the regeneration spreading throughout the neighbourhood, is the shop at risk of being closed down like other important cultural havens such as The 12 Bar Club and Madame Jojo’s?
PB: Maybe, but that’s life. I’m a very now person. If it happens we will move on.You can’t stop developers by moaning. Developers develop that’s their job. If you want to stop them then moan about the planning laws.They are the same planning laws for Soho, Hull & Penzance.
MS: What do you love most about Soho?
PB: Coming to work, the myriad of good businesses doing good business, the people, the market. It’s a great place to be based in.
MS: What is your fondest memory of the area?
PB: Nights in The Blue Posts, The John Snow, The Shaston, The Ship and The George. Record Store Day 2013. The smell of beer, piss and shit.
MS: I’ve been coming to Soho since I was a kid bunking off school and one of the things I loved about the area is its social diversity. You could be whatever you wanted round here. Is Soho still an area that has a collective, but unconventional feel?
PB: Do whatever you want. Be nice and people will love you.
MS: I’m a music collector and love the sleeve notes, artwork and general feeling I get when I buy a physical form of music. How do you see the future of the physical format, what with the digital revolution?
PB: Physical has a huge advantage, especially the vinyl record. It just looks and feels so…right. However, the new generation doesn’t give a stiff one really. They will consume music in the way they want it and some old tossers in a shop called Sister ray cannot stop them, or want to. We’ll see. There’s a few years left yet.
Words and Interview by Ray Kinsella Photos by Ki Price