Rich Williams – DIY Mentality
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos by Nick Hook
A wise man once said, “When you talk you are only repeating what you already know. But when you listen, you might learn something new.” Rich Williams, co-founder and co-owner of Grindstone Barbers & Tattoo Parlour in Tiverton, personifies this approach more than anyone I’ve ever met.
I first met Rich after he opened Grindstone Barbers on 4th December 2017. As a resident of Tiverton and a fan of both traditional and modern barbershop culture, I was interested to see what the fuss was all about after several close friends had recommended him, only days after opening. As it happens, I was on the hunt for someone who could solve the conundrum that is my head of hair. Many have tried to tame it. All have failed. That is, until I met Rich.
He is an expertly-skilled barber and also reminds me of some of my closest friends growing up. We are in to a lot of the same sub-cultures; be it music, skating, films or fashion. In fact, we worked out once that we probably skated and hung out in the same spots in London growing up. I don’t remember him, but then I don’t remember a lot from that time of my life. That’s a story for another day though…
Upon my first visit to Grindstone Barbers, as well as being really impressed with my first cut (Rich is now my permanent barber and I wouldn’t dare go anywhere else), I was more impressed with his ‘chair-side manner’. He put me at ease, was generous with his conversation and seemed really genuine. He also struck me initially as someone with a colourful past, someone who probably had some interesting and varied views on life and also a good story or two up his sleeve. Having got to know him over the last year or so, I can confirm that all of these initial gut-feelings were accurate. He is an absolute legend!
Born in the UK, he instantly moved to the Middle East due to his Dad’s job as a Quantity Surveyor. He lived in Abu Dhabi, then South Africa until he was ten years old, when he moved back to the UK, to live in Southampton. This is where he spent his formative years, getting into skating and punk/hardcore music.
When he first landed in the UK, before even enrolling in school, Rich and his younger brother went out cruising around the local area on their BMX’s (the main mode of transport for kids that age) and noticed a really cool black Le Mans-style race car on someone’s drive. They stopped to take a look and two boys, roughly the same age as them, came out of the house. Those boys were Paul and Marc Churchill (for those of you that don’t know, Marc Churchill is now a very, very successful skater, presenter and commentator who has appeared in adverts and on TV as the presenter for the European X-Games as well as being the European announcer for VANS, Volcom, NASS and Boardmasters events over the past eight years).
Paul and Marc represented everything that Rich came to love about alternative and skate culture. They were into early Hip-Hop (a type of music which hadn’t really made it over to South Africa yet) and they built their own skate ramps near their house (just like Rich had done for his BMX back in South Africa). They represented the DIY nature of alternative culture. No-one is going to do it for you. Go and do it yourself.
Needless to say that Paul and Marc became close friends to Rich and his brother very quickly and influenced their formative years significantly. I’d go as far as to say that Rich wouldn’t be the person he is today if it wasn’t for meeting Paul and Marc that day.
Rich’s teenage years were halcyon days. Whether it was skating, being in his band Vegetable Remedy (which his Mum could never remember the name of and called it Remedial Vegetation), immersing himself in the punk, hardcore and metal live-music scenes of London or generally embracing this Punk DIY mentality, Rich had found his niche in life. A massive music fan, he religiously followed bands such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, Teen Idols, Untouchables, Bad Brains, Descendants, Helmet, Fugazi and Quicksand.
“The energy and attitude of skateboarding seemed to be as much about being punk as being a punk was about being a punk! Punk was DIY, skateboarding was DIY, my life was about to become DIY…Ramps were built at home, murals were spray painted on walls, bridges and underpasses, mixtapes were exchanged, bands were started in garages, hair was cut in kitchens with kitchen scissors and bleached with Domestos. Everything was DIY! A sentiment I still adhere to in 2018, thirty-one years later.”
It was then, in the kitchens of friends in Southampton that Rich first started cutting hair. The only local barbers was called Tony’s and was run by an Italian called, believe it or not, Tony. It was a traditional barbershop with photos of different hairstyles in the window. You would go in and sit, waiting to be called up for your haircut. At that stage, you would point at the photo that you wanted and, regardless of which one you picked, you would get a top-quality ‘Tony Flat-Top’. Apparently, everyone in Rich’s town growing up had a flat-top and, although they were bloody good haircuts, not everyone wanted that style.
So, Rich, with his DIY mentality, said to himself, ‘How hard can it be?”, and went about learning how to cut the hair of willing volunteers with rudimentary instruments like kitchen scissors. He became a dab hand at dreadlocking, mohawking, bleaching and colouring hair as well as more conventional styles too. There was no style too extreme and no style too traditional. Rest assured, he has seriously ‘levelled-up’ since those early experimental days!
Things were to take a temporary detour for Rich though as he ended up sofa-surfing in Newquay, then sleeping rough and being homeless for a time, before moving in to a luxury house in London with a short-term girlfriend and then finally re-locating more permanently to South Wales where he went to college.
After University, Rich met his now wife and was working at the time in a record shop. He felt that he should ‘get a proper job’ and so started working in an office, which he continued for years, despite hating it. Eventually, being a square peg in a round hole took its toll and Rich decided that enough was enough. The one thing which he had a longing to do was to get back into barbering, so he went and re-trained alongside his day-job, working weekends at a barbershop in Exeter where he swept up and made tea; literally doing anything to get back into the profession that he longed to work in full-time and long-term.
“This was the first and only time that I have done a five-year-plan. I decided that, in five years’ time I wanted to own my own barbershop and be self-sufficient. I was determined to do anything that I had to, to make that a reality. And that was almost exactly five years before I opened Grindstone last December. I think, essentially, I was sick of lining other peoples’ pockets with money and also wanted to be my own boss. There’s nothing quite like it.”
And what a year it has been for Rich since opening the doors to Grindstone Barbershop. He very quickly built himself a reputation for quality, attention-to-detail, being a stand-up chap and also working well with children (a rare skill for a modern barbershop). He was also passionate about offering a similarly high-quality experience in the form of an onsite Tattoo Parlour, perfectly suited to the aesthetic and culture of the barbershop.
Without any directly comparable businesses in Tiverton, it felt like Rich filled a niche in the market at just the right time and his popularity and loyal customer base have proven that theory (to the point where I now have to book a few weeks in advance otherwise there aren’t any appointments left!).
Rich’s first year in business hasn’t been without its difficulties though. Fairly soon after opening last December, Rich partnered with talented Bideford-based tattoo artist Jordan Clarke who quickly established himself as both an excellent colleague and also a close friend of Rich’s. Sadly, on Monday 18th June, Jordan passed away in a devastating road traffic accident, at the tragically young age of twenty-one. Friends, family, clients and colleagues alike mourned his passing in what was a tumultuous and dark time. As a sign of respect, Rich organised a Memorial Day with guest tattooists, fundraising efforts, lots of local food and drink as well as some time to remember Jordan together with his family and friends. They raised an impressive £983 to donate to the family and, given the circumstances, did a fantastic job of remembering Jordan for the popular and much-loved man that he was.
In recent months, after taking some time to rethink how to take the tattoo parlour forward after Jordan’s untimely passing, Rich is delighted to have partnered with well-known local tattoo artist Syluss who is now the resident tattoo artist at Grindstone. With an excellent portfolio and reputation, they are a match made in heaven and, who knows, I might even be popping in to see him sometime too…
At Grindstone Barbers, Rich has infused his personality, values and mentality into the business. It is a genuine treat to spend an hour in the chair having my hair cut each month; yes, because of the quality haircut, but also because I get to sit and talk about anything from punk and skating, to religion, politics and philosophy. Rich really is one of the good guys and I don’t have any doubts that Grindstone will go from strength to strength in years to come.
Follow Grindstone Barbers on Facebook to keep up with their journey.