Tucked up a side street in the centre of Newport is one of South Wales’ finest record shops, home to a vast array of vinyl delights covering numerous genres and catering for everyone from the casual consumer to the ardent audiophile. Diverse Music first opened their doors in 1988 and, having relocated twice, now combine over the counter trade with a thriving mail order presence. Sixteen years on from purchasing Baby Bird CD singles and – don’t judge me – the odd (and it was very odd) Kula Shaker 7” from their old shop, it seemed as good a time as any to take the pulse of this excellent independent store. ClashMusic spoke to co-owner Matt Jarrett.
Describe Diverse's mission statement:
To provide the good people of Newport with quality music and give the world a mail order site they can rely on for good service.
The shop has a big web presence. How important is the web retail side of the business and are you still able to build up relationships with customers as you do over the counter?
Very important. The shop wouldn’t be here without it. Unfortunately, to keep a shop going these days you need a hook, whether that’s mail order, a coffee shop, Bruce Springsteen or being the oldest in the world, you can’t just rely on people to flock in and buy records every Saturday. We still manage to build up relationships with mail order customers by taking the show on the road. We often travel around the country to hi-fi shows and individual events organised by ourselves and shops. Our customers come out and it’s good to put names to faces.
Every year there seems to some national news article about the 'return of vinyl'. How popular actually is it as a format these days?
It’s strange for us because we’ve always sold vinyl. I’m sure shops that stopped selling it, noticed more and more people asking but we’ve always had our regulars. Even then they fall into two categories. There’s the kids that are starting to buy records rather than CDs, which is great to see - these are the people that come in the shop and buy the new indie rock type stuff. Then our mail order customers tend to be a bit older with a few more quid in their pocket. Quite a few have listening rooms and have spent a fortune on hi-fi equipment. They’re not worried about spending £50 on an American 45rpm import.
Record Store Day seems to be as much about celebrating vinyl as it is about celebrating record shops. What have your experiences of it been?
Broadly good. It’s a brilliant day in the shop but given its first come, first served nature, it does tend to frustrate our mail order regulars as they have to make do with leftovers if they don’t live near a shop. At the end of the day, the aim is to get people back in their local shop and I think most people understand this. There are some cracking releases and it’s great seeing customers excited about them. There may need to be a limit to the number in future though, as many shops can’t risk taking quantities of everything in case they’re stuck with it. You can’t send it back and there’s no use having a good sales day if the profit is all in the split 7”s you can’t sell!
How important a day in the music calendar is it for you?
It’s the busiest day of the year in the shop by miles. In previous years it tended to be all of our regulars piling in on one day but this year saw a bit of a shift and I saw a lot of new faces. One encouraging thing was that a fair few customers took the time out to visit both ourselves and Spillers in Cardiff.
Is the Newport music scene currently thriving and how involved do you get with local bands?
Yes and no. We’ve had the aftermath of TJs closing and the negativity that created, but out of the gloom has come some good bands and a DIY ethic not seen since the 90s. We have a member of local glunk (glam punk to the confused people out there) band The Sick Livers working in Diverse; they’re funding their own album by playing gigs and selling merch and releasing it on vinyl. The old fashioned way. Science Bastard did something similar and there are some other great bands coming out of the city too: The Boy Royals, Dirty Goods, The Lash and The Vestals to name four. The future of Le Pub [Newport venue up for sale after the current owners decided to retire] is still far from certain and if that disappears then it’ll be back to square one. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Although record shops used to be seen as a gathering place for the young, can you describe your 'average' customer in the 21st century?
I don’t think we have an average customer. We have kids buying 90’s indie reissues on LP, 50 year olds buying the latest alt.country CD, jazz fans, the odd doom obsessive, people buying tickets for dance events: all sorts. We can’t believe nobody has based a sit-com in a record shop. Newport would be ideal!
Have any artists or even specific records come to define Diverse's life to date?
Well, Goldie Lookin Chain are pretty constant! Both in album output and frequenting the shop. The best selling LP here is still Dark Side Of The Moon. And always will be!
Make a bold prediction about music retail in the future:
CDs will die out and we’ve nearly reached the end of record shop closures. There are less music fans that want physical product than there used to be, but enough to keep the ones that have fought their way through difficult times going.
What lies ahead for Diverse? Any changes planned or is it a case of if it ain't broke....?
Probably not too many changes to the shop, it is what it is. We may start selling the odd turntable to encourage the younger crowd into buying vinyl, but we don’t have room for too much else. We’ll keep trying to improve our online experience and the record label we run may have a few tricks up its sleeve for next year.
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Find Diverse Music online here.
Words by Gareth James