In the first in an occasional series of visiting – and writing about – record shops we love, Say It With Garage Flowers heads to Union Music Store in Lewes, East Sussex. We speak to co-owner Danny Wilson, who tells us why he won’t be stocking any Mariah Carey albums just yet…
Record Store Day is a chance for diehard music junkies to blow some serious cash on vinyl, but last year, Danny Wilson and Del Day took things one step further – they bought a record shop!
On RSD 2018, Danny, the frontman of alt-country, rock ‘n’ roll soulsters Danny & The Champions of the World, who is also one third of Americana janglers Bennett, Wilson, Poole, and music publicist and promoter Del, were announced as the new owners of Union Music Store, in the East Sussex market town of Lewes. They took it over from Stevie and Jamie Freeman, who opened the shop in 2010.
A short walk from the station, Union is small, but perfectly formed – new and secondhand vinyl albums are neatly filed in wooden boxes, band T-shirts are hung on the walls, alongside musical instruments, and there are a few CDs on shelves and a selection of rock ‘n’ roll biographies. Americana, folk, country, classic rock, jazz and alternative are the genres of choice – it’s a shop for music lovers, run by people who are passionate about what they do and really know their stuff…
The shop has a cosy, cabin-like feel – it’s very warm and inviting – and behind the counter there’s the ‘Wall of Sound’ – each week, Danny and Del fill it with records and then share the images on social networking.
On the morning Say It With Garage Flowers visits the shop, the wall is country rock and folk-flavoured, with LPs by Dillard & Clark, Nick Drake, Karen Dalton and Jackson C. Frank on display.
‘The Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!’
Say It With Garage Flowers does a spot of crate digging and is very pleased to find a limited edition, signed vinyl copy of Matt Deighton’s ‘horror folk’ album, Wake Up The Moths, which we duly purchase.
As we approach the counter to pay, Danny has just taken delivery of a pile of new records, including, much to Del’s displeasure, the Grease soundtrack. It turns out that Danny is threatening to include a musical theatre section in the shop…
“I’m really serious about it,” he says later, over a coffee in a nearby café. “Del is completely unhappy – the whole order that came in this morning was generally a variety of thorns in his side! If I’m being entirely honest, the Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!”
So now you’re running a record shop can you afford to be a music snob, or do you have to sell what you think people will buy?
“In truth, we’re a bit more High Fidelity than we are HMV – we’re curating,” says Danny. “We only have a certain amount of space and we don’t just stock everything. There’s no pop music in there. You won’t find any Mariah Carey – not because I’m a snob about it, but it’s not what we’re into. We’ll see… If you come back in a year’s time and there are Adele posters all over the shop, you’ll know which way it’s been going! We’d rather sell a Miles Davis album than a Miles Kane one!
“If someone comes into the shop and asks us, ‘what’s that record like?’ we’d like to be able to say with confidence that it’s great, or that it’s OK, but you should buy this one instead – at the moment, it’s got to be stuff we love…”
Q & A
How did you come to own Union Music Store?
Danny Wilson: Stevie Freeman, the head honcho of the Americana Music Association (AMA) UK , ran Union for about seven and half years – I first went in there during the first couple of years it was open. I was camping with my kids, went into Lewes, saw the shop and thought, ‘wow – that’s crazy’. It was a folk and Americana shop – I bought a CD by The Long Ryders.
I got to know Stevie. Del lives in Lewes and he’s been involved in PR and promoting Americana, so he knew Stevie really well. Del and I started a record label, Maiden Voyage. Stevie was getting really busy with the AMA stuff and she approached Del and I, as she knew we ran the label and had a love of records – she asked us if running the shop would interest us. We had a conversation for about two minutes…
Shopkeeping runs in your family, doesn’t it? There’s a song on the Bennett Wilson Poole album called Wilson General Store, which is about your grandparents’ shop in Melbourne, Australia. It was called Wilsons Emporium…
DW: Yes – it’s in my blood. My mum and dad met in that shop – my mum was the Saturday girl.
One of my uncles from Melbourne found out about Union and he tracked down some old doo-wop 78s from Wilsons Emporium – when my dad was a kid, one of his jobs was to fill the jukebox in the shop. My uncle sent me the records, so we’ve put them up in the shop. The Wilson family is very happy that I’m continuing the shopkeeping… I have two teenage daughters – they’re both really interested in coming to the shop and helping out, but that’s possibly more about getting 20 quid than a fulfilling, artistic, cultural, community experience… Having said that, they’re both really into music.
So is it a dream come true owning your own record shop?
DW: Yeah – totally. About 20 years ago, I used to work in Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill and then I was in the Goldhawk Road shop in Shepherd’s Bush, which sold reggae and soul – it was brilliant. Del worked in the jazz section of HMV for 11 years – he loves all music and had a really serious knowledge of jazz.
How is it working in a shop with Del?
DW: It’s hilarious!
‘We have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – there’s no pressure to buy anything’
On a more serious note, retail is tough, so how are you finding it running a shop?
DW: The idea behind the shop wasn’t to start a business that would one day become a chain. We have the label, Del’s doing his PR and booking stuff and I’ve got the band, but we wanted a hub to hang everything else on. That’s what it’s becoming – we have an office downstairs.
We’ve been putting on shows in the town – we had the Lewes Psychedelic Festival in February, with The Hanging Stars and Emma Tricca playing in the shop. We’ve done some in-store events. There’s loads going on and people are coming in and buying records – we have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – that’s what we want it to be. There’s no pressure to buy anything.
Stevie and Jamie have been very kind to us – they worked really hard to build up a database of people who are happy to go to rootsy and Americana gigs, so they’ve handed us an audience and it’s down to us what we do with it. I have no experience in running a shop or my own business, but I love it – I’m as happy as Larry. I play a gig, get in at 3am, get up, then drive the kids to school and drive here – it’s exciting.
Finally, any new releases planned on Maiden Voyage?
DW: Our label has a new record out [Reaper] by a band from Cardiff called ¡Que Asco! They sound a bit like Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, as well as Dinosaur Jr, with a bit of Fugazi – they’re really cool. We’ve put out 100 numbered LPs – it’s like a white label and it’s more DIY than the other stuff we usually do. We love the music!
For more information on Union Music Store and Maiden Voyage go to:
To purchase the ¡Que Asco! album Reaper (Maiden Voyage), click here.