Discovery, adventure + community
Any rider knows that when you get your first ride the community comes hand in hand. The Mutt community is a wild bunch, filled with folks from all walks of...READ THE STORY
As the folks who make ‘Black Metal from Birmingham’, you might think that here, at Mutt, we like our musical offerings on the heavy side. And, of course, you’d be damn right.
For us, heavy metal and motorbikes go hand in hand, like apple pie and custard. Charlie Woolley, the owner and manager of London’s one and only specialist heavy metal record store, Crypt of the Wizard, agrees. “I fucking love bikes! Growing up, bikes, tattoos, and metal was all one thing, and that was all you wanted in life,” he told us as we chatted outside his store on Hackney Road.
The journey all started for Charlie when he was at a festival with friends in rural Sweden called MUSKELROCK. A fantastic old school metal festival breaking a lot of new bands into the scene but also bringing back the classics - well worth a visit for any metalheads who haven’t ventured that way yet. “We just got talking about doing something. Whatever the ridiculous idea was, I was keen to join in and be a part of it because I didn’t have anything better to do.” Eventually, they decided that creating a heavy metal-only record store would be it. So they all quit their jobs and started working towards this unique new venture. “That was sort of Crypt of the Wizard 1.0.”
For anyone not up to date on their metal music history, we should probably fill you in on the story behind the store’s name sooner than later. Crypt of the Wizard takes its name from a compilation album by Norwegian artist Mortiis. “Mortiis is someone who has featured in the metal world for a really long time. He’s a mixed character. He was pretty important in the early black metal years, being a member of the band Emperor (which was already a big deal). Then he invented a genre of music. But he’s sort of a figure of fun to some degree.
He’s always been an easy target to sort of make fun of a bit, with his goblin mask and wings and stuff. I think having a bit of an ability to laugh at yourself within metal is quite important because, you know, it’s a balance of the ultraserious and the sort of silly. So the name just popped into my head when we first opened, and my little group of mates were throwing names at each other. It just stuck as one that seemed to be functional. Now we’re referred to as ‘The Crypt’, and then there’s this wizard figure who sort of stands aloft it all. I knew it would stand out.”
The original set-up at Crypt of the Wizard was “quite a different shop to the one we’re in now”. Time has helped Charlie and his team develop it into exactly what they dreamed of that day in Sweden. “With the original shop, we were trying to please quite a broad swathe of people.
We didn’t want anyone to come in and be disappointed, and that doesn’t work because you’ve got a little bit of something for everyone, and it’s too thin that way.”
“So what I decided to do when the new Crypt of the Wizard opened was to please myself and try and build it up around that.” Now Charlie focuses almost entirely on underground releases as one of the store’s key niches. “I don’t really bother with any major label stuff because you can get it elsewhere fairly easily at the end of the day. There’s a lot of loyalty, and I love that. I buy a lot of records, and if I can get them cheaper somewhere else, I will because when you’re buying hundreds of records a month, you’ve got to think about how much you’re spending.”
The new version of the shop is fuelled 100% by underground releases, including some proper DIY bedroom labels. “I just started stocking a tape label called ‘Horrible Room’ from Russia. He can only give me two of each release because he only makes like twenty. And there’s a French-Canadian label called ‘Murder On Ponce’, which is again a similar situation. They sell instantly because no one else is stocking them. I want to make a place where you really can’t get most of the stuff anywhere else, you’ve got to come here, and that’s the fun.”
Charlie’s love for music and discovering new music is indisputable and, clearly, a crucial part of his life both when it comes to work and play. “What interests me is new bands and new music - that’s what gets me up in the morning.”
So, how the hell does he manage to keep it so relevant? “It’s an endless fucking nightmare! I see music forums in my sleep. You just do what you can - you’re never 100% on top of it. You always miss stuff, and you kick yourself all the time, but I do what I can; I’m only one person.”
On top of this, Charlie also runs his record label named after the store, working with real old school British heavy metal bands like Heavy Sentence. He hosts radio shows for NTS Radio and does podcasts interviewing people over Instagram. If that wasn’t enough, he also puts on gigs at Helgi’s in Hackney. So it’s not exactly a ‘phase’, this music lark.
“It’s a 50 person capacity, so I’ve been putting on gigs that only 50 people are likely to come to. There’s no money in it - I can just about pay the bands for their travel and all that stuff. I brought Hail Conjurer over from Finland, one of my favourite ongoing projects. He’s only been going for about four years, and he’s done an album every year - that gig was unbelievable, with Sump (UK black metal band) supporting. People came from all over England because it was quite a special thing. You can find 50 people who desperately want to go to that gig, but you couldn’t find 300/400. I like doing stuff on that scale” Charlie has definitely found his niche and seems to be doing a better job of nailing it than anyone else.
The big question, as always, is: Can he ride? “I was halfway to getting my bike licence, but things got in the way. I’ve got a sweet little ‘90s Honda CG which I’m definitely too big for. So I did my CBT and rode that little thing around for a couple of years until I had kids and never quite got onto the next stage. So it’s what’s happening next - I’m looking forward to doing it and getting up to the full licence. I used to ride them without a licence, but I can’t do that now - I’m a responsible adult.”
Of course, we have to ask him the inevitable question. If Charlie could pick a famous heavy metal musician to join him on an epic road trip across Europe, who would it be? “It’s got to be Lemmy [Kilmister, of Motorhead] - I don’t think he ever rode a bike in his life. Who’s a bike rider? Wino, Scott Weinrich, from Saint Vitus, is a legendary chopper rider; he’d probably be good. Still, he’s a bit too much into his [redacted for legal reasons…]. Lemmy would be more fun; you’d have a giggle and get in trouble.” Now that would be a trip.
So let’s do the good thing and support this amazing record shop
(otherwise, these cool independent shops will disappear, folks).
Drop into the East London store or visit www.cryptofthewizard.com to buy online.
CRYPT OF THE WIZARD
264 Hackney Rd, London E2 7SJ
ALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY GAVIN WATSON