Most people’s idea of a record shop owner probably strays close to Jack Black’s layabout character in High Fidelity, or perhaps some sort of audiophile cousin of Black Books’ Bernard Black. Jon Tolley is about as far removed from those characters as you could imagine. The owner of Kingston independent Banquet Records, Tolley recently swapped vinyl for electoral pamphlets en route to a political victory that is pretty inspiring evidence of how anyone – from the music world or otherwise – can cast real change in their local areas. Friday (July 17) saw Tolley win a seat as Lib Dem councillor for the Grove ward in a landslide win, beating his nearest competitor, the Conservative candidate, 1577 to 688. We spoke to Tolley about punk, policies and the changing face of politics in music…
What inspired you to stand as a councillor?
“We have an annual carnival in Kingston that was cancelled for no real reason and I was kinda badgering people about what’s happening. I got involved with the council after that. Then, after the general election, I woke up with a Tory government and was like, ‘Oh God. Lets try and do something to fight this’ because we have a Tory council, Tory MP and Tory government here in Kingston. I wanted to try and give kids a voice because it’s something they don’t seem to have at the moment.”
What do you aim to achieve?
“Obviously the arts are huge for me. Part of the problem of the redevelopment in Kingston at the moment is that we’ve got three big venues. One is definitely going to be knocked down, one is probably going to be knocked down and the other one costs two and a half grand a gig to hire. So right there you’ve got an issue where the council are apparently deciding that live music isn’t important. People of all ages should be able to watch bands in a safe environment. Then there are other kinds of more social issues. Kingston’s got one of the worst records in London for the provision of social and affordable housing and that needs to be something that is addressed.”
Do you hope the fact a record store owner can become a political success story will inspire others to engage more with politics?
“I want to show people that you don’t have to look like a politician to do this, you know. I think the important thing is that anyone can do this. If you want to change your community for the better you can get involved. You can reach people via social media because that’s our world. It’s all about communication both ways and if we can try and help that then that’s what we’re there for. I’ve done all the sort of knocking on doors too and the people you meet behind those doors aren’t the people you’d meet behind the counter at a record shop. You sometimes see people who actually have real bad situations in their life to deal with.”
Do you think the music world should engaging more with politics?
“I’ve always believed that punk is an ethic and a lifestyle choice rather than a music type. So you know the idea of DIY – putting on gigs, hanging out with friends and people that share a common cause to try and make something better – is quite political in essence. It’s what we should all be doing in our daily life. I think the problem is that people think that what they have to say won’t get listened to and it doesn’t matter. All musicians – punk musicians in particular – should have a say in politics. And the ones that do, even if you disagree with them, you should kind of admire that they are still trying to say something. As long as it’s without being too preachy.”
What bands do you look to as good examples of that?
“I think there are still some bands out there saying something political. You can look at people like Enter Shikari who are actually trying to get a message to a bunch of people who might not normally hear that message. I think Enter Shikari are a good example of a band trying to say “Look guys, this is wrong. This is why you should think this is wrong.” And even though I wouldn’t agree with all Frank Turner’s politics and policies, I agree with some of them and more than that I absolutely admire that he just speaks from the heart and that he’s a real person.”
How do you think this new position will affect your work at Banquet? Will you be able to juggle both?
“I think so, or I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Banquet is my life and I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise that. But I think if we have no gig venues in Kingston then there’s no point in having a record shop. You know like one of the things about Kingston is that there are so many gigs. I mean even we put on two hundred gigs a year in Kingston in the store – it’s something that’s very important to us. But we can’t put those gigs on if there’s no gig venues left. So there is a bit of a mutual interest there.”
How did you celebrate your win?
“It was literally back to work. I don’t really think of it as “OH MY GOD! WE DID IT!” because realistically, while I’m stoked that I’ve got a seat on the council, it’s one seat of many and the Lib Dems are still in the minority in Kingston. So the question is what can we do from here and until we can actually see real results from me being on council there’s nothing to celebrate yet. I haven’t actually done anything yet. But I intend to.”