The following article was first published in the April 2017 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:
Record Store Day is a worldwide celebration of independent record shops, prompting many musicians to release special vinyl versions of their songs. “It’s like Christmas”, says Stevie Freeman of Union Music Store. The Lewes shop she runs with husband Jamie will be open from 8am on Saturday 22nd April for this year’s event, with queues of people expected outside. “Last year the first person was here at about five in the morning”, Stevie tells me. “Luckily Tanya [Laporte’s café] opens early for coffee. And then from 12 noon until 5pm we’ll have a stage outside with live music. We generally get a barrel of Harvey’s, so you can have a pint while you’re listening to your music as well.”
Behind the scenes, Record Store Day is serious business. A retail code of conduct commits participating businesses to not taking pre-orders or reservations for their exclusive vinyl stock. Stevie can’t tell me which of the Record Store Day discs she’ll have in stock because there’s a strict embargo until the end of March. “Around 800 special edition titles are released for Record Store Day. Some will have just 500 copies; the most that any release gets is probably 5,000 copies worldwide”. As a result, there are no guarantees. “We look at the list and ask ourselves what our customers would want. But we might order ten copies and just get one or two. Generally we won’t know what we’ve actually got until the week before, when stuff starts arriving. Then we’ll publish it on our website.”
Limited-edition versions of vinyl records aren’t simply collector’s items, Stevie explains. They’re also helping build a connection between artists, record labels, retailers and music-lovers. “That’s such an important thing. It had got lost but I think we’ve found it again. I might have one or two customers who collect and don’t play their vinyl but I’d say 99% of vinyl that I sell is for people who want to play it. I know this because last Christmas we sold more record players than anything else.” It’s surely no coincidence that December 2016 also saw UK consumers spending more on vinyl records than they did on digital downloads.
Last year’s Record Store Day witnessed half-a-dozen acts turning up in Lewes, so who’s expected this year? Another secret, sadly. “I haven’t got any names I can give you yet… but it’s going to be great”, Stevie assures me. Given that she’s attracted acclaimed Nashville fiddle players 10 String Symphony to the town for a show at the Con Club on Sunday 2nd April, plus award-winning folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow on Thursday 27th, it promises to be an entertaining afternoon. “It’s been great every year and we’ve had some surprise visits from bands. So come along on the day, even if you don’t want to buy vinyl. It’s a big fun party.”
1 Lansdown Place, Lewes. unionmusicstore.com