One year after opening one of just a few video rental shops left in the country, Caitlin Whittle meets with VideOdyssey owner Andy Johnson, to see what’s been happening in this video shop/events venue/fully equipped studio/community space. The first year of VideOdyssey’s journey towards becoming a thriving community space hints at a bright future for the dynamic team.
VIDEODYSSEY became a reality when Andy Johnson’s dad was downsizing his house and he had to decide what to do with the 300-plus video tapes he’d been hoarding in there. Andy has been passionate about video for years – he found an interest in the format as a teenager, after working in Apollo Video in Birkenhead. With an enthusiasm fuelled by nostalgia, Andy travelled around the US on a tour that exposed him to and nurtured his love for all of the bright colours and futuristic themes of video-era Americana. When decision time came – to move the videos or get rid of them – he knew it was now or never for opening up the shop he had been toying with. “When I saw that Toxteth TV studio was available for a space, I just thought it was a marriage made in heaven. There’s a magic in the air around here at the moment; really exciting things are happening, and we want to facilitate that.” Now, a year down the line, pushing past the naysayers claiming VHS is dead, VideOdyssey has been very successful, with nationwide interest in what Andy is doing, and people getting in contact from all over, wanting to get involved. The shop is growing in more ways than one; as well as the collection of tapes increasing to over 1,000, with Andy travelling regularly across the country to collect tapes for his vast collection, he is setting new goals for what the space can achieve in Liverpool.
Andy wants to collect and make accessible to the public what isn’t always readily available on streaming sites. “There are a lot of people, especially of an older generation, holding onto lots of tapes that perhaps didn’t ever come out on a digital format, and that is part of the reason I’m doing this. I’ve always got my eye out for things – we get a lot of people getting in touch to give video collections that they have inherited and don’t know what to do with. You never know what you’re going to find, and you never know what you might be able to save from disappearing.”
With the overwhelming choice that we’re used to with the internet at our disposal, there is much to be said for a hand-selected collection made by someone who really cares. There are several spots inside the building already for people to sit and watch things on an old VCR and vintage television. However, VideOdyssey has plans for building specialised viewing booths, so people can come in alone or with a couple of friends and watch an old TV show, or something rarer from the archive – honestly, something I’m very excited about doing on my next day off. Watching B-movies, and these relics from the past is one of the most fascinating time-killers available. Part of the goal now for Andy is to have a huge archive of film that people can come in and use as they please. The collection is still growing massively, as people from all over the UK get in contact to offer their collections and the network of video fans across the nation offer their support.
VideOdyssey is located inside Toxteth TV studios on Windsor Street, and is open afternoons and evenings from Wednesday to Sunday. What is truly exciting about this location is that the studio space is available for use at a low rate for local creatives to use, with a huge amount of space and professional lighting. Toxteth musician Yank Scally has used the space for a music video recently – the huge green screen was used to show the artist in his wizard robes against a sky filled with stars and lights. Andy is intent on getting more people in to use the space, not only for filming but also as an arts venue, or for virtually anything you can imagine; “Most people come in here and think it’s just a video shop. The past six months has been really encouraging, as people have been using the space for music videos and film screenings… I’d rather have it full every day with fringe theatre and different events than have it used three days a week by some big company at a commercial rate – I want to help up-and-coming creatives with their projects.” The studio itself can seat a lot of people, which is perfect for screening a film or throwing a watching party with friends and fellow fans of your favourite TV show or a project you have made.
At the moment, it can feel as though to find anything fun to do you have to fork out all of your wages; the cinema is too expensive and there are sadly not that many venues where you can see anything live at an entirely accessible price. However, inside VideOdyssey’s members’ bar, people have at their disposal an arcade-level amount of vintage video games; I see them browsing the tapes, or just sitting on the couches and chatting with a cup of tea. Which is exactly what Andy wants: to set up a creative hub for people to meet and discuss ideas, or even just hang out. It would be difficult to get bored in here, as the walls are covered in interesting and sometimes rare memorabilia. “It’s like a little smorgasbord of 80s retro mania; I’ve got all my old Ghostbusters toys in here, as well as vintage games like Street Fighter, Space Invaders, Pac-Man and lots of things I’d never get rid of, but don’t have room for in my marital home.” It is truly something special to be able to walk around someone’s personal collection that they have spent their lives building, and opened completely to the public. It’s also great to see someone so dedicated to saving what could easily be lost to obscurity – Andy has amassed a wealth of unique knowledge gained through the bizarre experience of collecting people’s rare video tapes.
The events are building up in frequency and scale, and the variety of things that are happening at VideOdyssey now is unreal. In January, they held an emotional David Bowie day celebrating the artist’s life, and massive impact on culture. More recently, they’ve hosted a 30th anniversary screening for Tim Burton’s Batman, and a Stranger Things party – as season 3 became available on Netflix – which boasted some impressive costumes! When I came in to interview Andy, I was surprised to find that I had accidentally attended An Audience with Waris Hussein, a legendary film and TV director responsible for Doctor Who when it began in 1963, making him the youngest and first director of South Asian descent. Upcoming at the end of July, there will be an Arnold Schwarzenegger quiz to celebrate the actor, filmmaker and politician’s 72nd birthday. In August, there will be an anniversary screening of The Lost Boys, and Andy has also told me we can be expecting a Quentin Tarantino season around the time of the director’s much-anticipated new release, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which will undoubtedly be very popular – so keep an eye out, and get your tickets fast. From filming, to gigs, to theatre, to salsa classes you can pretty much book the space for whatever you want, and guarantee you’ll have an enjoyable experience working with Andy and a team who are heavily invested in the community around them, and helping to facilitate its growth.
VideOdyssey is available for hire at a community rate for local artists, and can also host events ranging from live music to film nights.