I’ve known Danny Wilson a number of years now, mainly through going to see his band Danny And The Champions Of The World but, more recently, sitting outside the wonderful Betsey Trotwood pub in London chatting endlessly about records and bands we love. Those drunken nights eventually led to us setting up a record label, Maiden Voyage Recording Company in 2017 on which we have released a number of albums from such diverse acts as Donald Byron Wheatley, Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou and limited vinyl release from a Welsh post rock trio ¡Que Asco! In 2018, out of the blue I received a call from Stevie Freeman, the owner of my local record shop in Lewes, asking if I would be interested in taking on the shop. A ten minute call to Dan and it was a done deal - we were the new owners of Union Music Store!
We took hold of the reins in June 2018 and, although paying due respect to all the things that we both loved about Union, our musical palettes stretched a lot wider than the current Americana-only USP of the shop so we restocked with all manner of new and exciting (to us) albums in order to form a basis of what we wanted the shop to be. I suppose in essence we are both pretty ‘old-school’ in that way. We both wanted a record shop that, as regular vinyl junkies and cratediggin’ fanatics, would be one that was both welcoming yet informative, personally curated yet open to following any musical whim that either of us might be enjoying. We wanted a record shop that we could be proud of. Nearly two years on and we are very happy to say we think we have done just that. The racks now are full of everything from jazz to reggae, ambient to esoteric guitar music, classic rock to killer blues. Amongst the new vinyl we have acquired some amazing pre-loved collections that have added two-fold to the amount of vinyl available for our growing band of regulars to flick through whilst enjoying our trademark cup of tea. Building on what Stevie achieved at Union over her eight year ownership we certainly feel we have been embraced fully by the local community - I’ve lived in Lewes for twenty years - and certainly feel Union is really a hub of the local arts scene. Lewes is a town full of musicians, writers, actors, designers and all manner of creative types, it’s a great air to breathe and we are really proud to be one of the places where they can all come and hang out, chew the fat and discuss music. It’s really quite inspiring.
Over the last year we have written a monthly page in the local Town & County Magazine basically recommending classic albums on which to underpin any burgeoning record collection. We have our own column in Long Live Vinyl magazine, ‘Counter Culture’ which has so far discussed topics like ‘Is string bending dead?’ and ‘Why it’s now ok to buy Heaven 17 albums.’ We run a monthly ‘Album Club’ which due to the current lockdown situation is taking place on Zoom and all the fun that entails, and we regularly put on live performances in the shop either as a free Saturday afternoon session or a limited ticketed event in the evening. In the past year the likes of Josienne Clarke, Emily Barker and The Hanging Stars have all played in the shop. It’s a great room for live music - tiny but amazing acoustics! We occasionally venture out into Lewes into what is a great live band scene already and put on live shows but, to be honest, we are really focusing on the shop at the moment and trying to keep everything under the one roof. Alongside the label we also run a PR company, Ark PR, and we are currently booking a tour for Canadian Justin Rutledge.
The COVID-19 lockdown has obviously had a major impact on us as a small independent retailer but we have been determined to not let it defeat us. We’ve ventured out into the world of online sales, both through the shop’s own website with new product and on both Discogs and Ebay with our prized pre-loved stock, which has thus far proved really productive for us. Long may that continue. To be fair the labels and distributors, who are equally in the same situation as us, have been really helpful and keep us up to date with all the new release information. Likewise ERA have been truly superb in their efforts in keeping in touch and providing all kinds of incentives and opportunities for us small record shops to feed off and help us navigate our way through these unprecedented times. We can’t praise them enough to be honest. The support we have got from our customers has been incredible and truly graciously received. It’s heartwarming to think the shop means as much to them as it does to us. We hope we can open up soon and get back to what we love doing - chewing the fat about records, listening to records, recommending records and ultimately selling records. Prior to lockdown Dan revisited his old painting and decorating skills and did a whole revamp of the shop. We hope to get the outside done as well this month so we will be spick and span when the time comes to reopen the door. That can only be done when it’s safe to do so and we will be raring to do so once that is the case. We have sure missed it. The kettle is wondering what the hell is going on!