BY ED GIBBS
It’s not every day that you can walk into a café to find it stacked high with vinyl – and serving live cuts on a Sunday. But then again, Lion Coffee + Records is anything but your average coffee-drinking locale.
The brainchild of rocker Chris Hayden and local business owner Lee Rigg, Lion offers a cosy, front-room type of vibe where atmosphere is king. It didn’t take long before Chris’s fiancée, indie record label owner Mairead Nash, jumped in as well. Together, they’re forging a unique space in a lesser-known corner of the East that’s ripe for discovery.
“Yeah, it’s very cosy,” Chris admits, the day before he jets off to South America on another tour with his rather successful ‘other’ job. “The capacity’s only 60 or 65 people. We’ve had Courtney Love play before, Gruff Rhys and Gabriel Bruce – all those guys brought down a good 200-plus people trying to get in the door. The place certainly creates an atmosphere.”
Although Chris and Lee have been Clapton locals for over a decade, it was only in 2014 that the pair decided to take the plunge and go into business together.
“We’re both music lovers, and I’m a musician, and we both drink a lot of coffee,” Chris says laughing, summing up their mutual desire to launch a café-with-a-difference. “We always had an interest in blending records with coffee. Plus we wanted a space where we could host gigs as well. Now, every other Sunday, we have an event called Clapton Unplugged, which basically brings in local talent and local artists, generally unsigned, to play.”
Although they bristle at the notion of gentrification affecting their neighbourhood, Chris admits the surrounds have changed a lot over the years, and much for the better.
“When we first moved into the area, it wasn’t that much of a desirable area to go,” he says. “But within the first six months of moving here, new shops started popping up. And the pubs became places you wanted to sit in – no more dark windows and sticky carpets. Some would call it gentrification – although I wouldn’t call it anything near that. It’s got better.”
For those unfamiliar with Hackney’s uber-cool neighbour, Clapton offers an off-the-beaten-track, in-the-know vibe – helped, no doubt, by the lack of tubes and trains.
“It is an interesting place – it’s kind of in-between everywhere,” Chris says. “You have to catch a bus to get here, so you don’t get all the hoards coming in for a big night out. It’s only seven or eight minutes from the centre of Hackney, but that makes all the difference.”
In the two years since they launched, business has steadily grown, he says. Added to that, there has been a surprise resurgence in people buying vinyl.
“There’s actually been a rise in record sales, for the first time in 25 years,” he says. “Being an independent, we stock around 2000 classics like The Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, which all go pretty quickly, especially the original mono pressings. Any big, new releases like Tame Impala do really well too. The Maccabees sold like hot cakes. And soundtracks tend to sell fast. So it’s a real mix. There’s never one day that’s the same, which I like.
And there will always be something different playing when you come in.”
118 Lower Clapton Rd, London E5 0QR