Anna Rees, with help from Tony Cummings, reports on sellers-of-music large and small in Hanley's CULTURAL QUARTER

Anna Rees
Anna Rees

I am in Cross Rhythms HQ at Conway House in Hanley's Cultural Quarter. Hanley is one of the six towns which make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent and arguably the Cultural Quarter, in the city centre, sits as a hub at the heart of the city. Certainly it seems to live up to its name. In less than a square mile you will find three theatres, a renowned rock music venue, several night clubs, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and numerous cafes, restaurants and fast food outlets. Like just about every other urban area, it has been hit hard by the financial crisis of 2008. For music lovers though the retailing downturn has brought an unexpected bonus, the proliferation of charity shops and every one of such shops that I visited sold a few used music items, if only worse-for-wear singles by almost forgotten boy bands or battered vinyl copies of Hits Of The Shows.

I am at Cross Rhythms for a week of work experience in the Music Editorial department with Tony and Maxine Cummings. As it turns out, much of the "work experience" has resulted in me writing this article. The assignment is pretty challenging. Tony wants me to write about every shop in the community which is the cultural quarter which sells music, from the largest to the smallest, as well as Cross Rhythms itself which every day sends out packages of CDs and vinyl albums, new and old, via its Cross Rhythms Direct arm.

I begin the assignment with a chat with Tony about this particular part of Hanley. He said, "We don't think it's by accident that Cross Rhythms is in the middle of the Cultural Quarter and many relationships are being built with the people here. Our CEO Jonathan Bellamy for instance heads up a subgroup of the City Centre Partnership, the Culture, Leisure and Promotions group; our accountant is developing friendships with more and more business people in the Quarter; while my wife Maxine and I have visited just about every book shop, record shop, charity shop and cafe in the Quarter! Communities, in urban culture at least, revolve around shops." With this ringing in my ears Tony, Maxine and I don our coats and go out to check precisely who in the Cultural Quarter community is offering music for sale.

Age UK
Type of shop: Charity shop helping vulnerable elderly people
Address: 17 Stafford Street, Hanley ST1 1JW
Surveyed: Thursday 15th January 2015
As with just about every shop we visit the volunteer workers are friendly and the clothes and bric-a-brac look enticing enough.
A hundred-odd CDs are perched on a wall-length shelf at the back of the shop, flanked by empty photo frames and a tangle of necklaces. In the pot pourri of CDs I spot albums by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Susan Boyle.

Cross Rhythms
Type of shop: etailer serving Christian music buyers
Address: Conway House, Cheapside, Hanley ST1 1HE
Surveyed: Friday 16th January 2015
Cross Rhythms itself is a shop, but a very different one. As an etailer it could potentially receive negative feedback from bricks and mortar shops in the same business - selling music, but no one at Cross Rhythms has ever received any. I speak with Angela Selby, Customer Services manager of Cross Rhythms Direct (the online music shop for Cross Rhythms), and ask whether she thinks Cross Rhythms customers bought all their music online. "I hope not," responds Angela. "The majority of people who buy music from Cross Rhythms are Christians and I think believers have an important role to interact with as many people as they can. Part of that means balancing things so that we don't simply buy our music from the cheapest possible internet source but we also support the communities we live and work in."

I go on to speak to Cross Rhythms' CEO Jonathan Bellamy and ask him whether he thinks that people, understandably attracted to the lower prices and comfort of buying music from home, should get all their music via the internet? He responds, "For me it's not about whether you buy from the internet or from physical shops. For me it's about making the most of the money that is in your hands! And particularly as a Christian, how can you make the best return physically and spiritually out of that God given money/seed that you have? It doesn't just have to be about 'getting the product as quickly and as cheaply as possible.' It may be: 'I want my money to do more than simply get me the product. I want my money to also help the local economy and local community that I am a part of so I choose a local shop from which to buy it.' Or: 'I want to purchase from a certain organisation or charity because I want to maximise my purchase and invest into their work too.'"

Cross Rhythms is of course a charity. Part of its revenue comes from gifts from supporters. But part also comes from the sale of music - new and used - from Cross Rhythms Direct. As it says on its website, "Every penny of profit goes straight to the work of the Cross Rhythms charity - impacting thousands of lives every day." So in some ways it's not that different from Age UK or Donna Louise.

Donna Louise
Type of shop: Charity shop raising money for children with terminal or life-limiting illnesses
Address: 29 Stafford Street, Hanley ST1 1JU
Surveyed: Thursday 15th January 2015
Rails of clothes and glass cases of ornaments adorn the shop, with shelves of bric-a-brac wrapping around the walls inside. In the far corner, a clear plastic box is filled with approximately 30 vinyl. Next to it is a pile of 30-odd CDs. On top of the pile is a CD entitled 'Music For A Country Church', and there are also three other CDs by Christian artists. As for the vinyl, that turns out to be much more promising, if you are into Jim Reeves (three items) and Glen Campbell (two albums).

The Cultural Quarter: Selling music in a vibrant Hanley

Type of shop: One of the 133 shops in the entertainment chain (as of August 2013)
Address: 212 The Potteries Shopping Centre, Intu Potteries, Market Square, Hanley ST1 1PS
Surveyed: Tuesday 13th January 2015
The constant blare of music, combined with display stands of DVDs, video games, t-shirts and CDs make it clear that I am standing in HMV. Though most of the people here hurrying to buy the latest video game or flicking through the Lady Gaga CDs probably wouldn't know it, Stoke's HMV store has suddenly become a significant place for many of the city's church-goers. Recently the giant entertainment chain announced that their 133 stores would be stocking Christian and gospel music. At first I have to search hard to find the evidence. Camouflaged near the back of the shop, seemingly as part of the "Easy Listening" section, is a selection of newly released Christian CDs. There are approximately 70 different titles including albums by big names like Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, Bethel Music and Life Worship. The thought strikes me that all of these CDs are worship music and I can find no trace of the three Skillet rock CDs that this week are featuring in Britain's Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart and there are only a couple of gospel compilations (though confusingly there are a couple more vintage gospel CDs in the blues section on the other side of the rack). One small contribution I can make to HMV's brave new step into the Christian marketplace is to move the cardboard divider and the three CDs it identifies from the "C" section to the "R" section for Rend Collective. Presumably whoever filled the display unit thought that Rend Collective was a person, not a band! As we are leaving the store Tony tells me that Cross Rhythms radio will soon be interviewing the manager of the Stoke store to help publicise HMV's brave new venture. Cross Rhythms may be an etailer but it also is keen to support other music sellers.

Type of shop: Charity supporting women in crisis pregnancies
Address: 79 Stafford Street, Hanley ST1 1LW
Surveyed: Thursday 15th January 2015
A whitewashed bookshelf stands at the side of the shop, cluttered with hardback autobiographies and secondhand board games. In a disarray of children's novels and puzzles sits a row of approximately 80 CDs and 30 vinyl. Out of these, only one - a Jim Reeves vinyl - could classify as marginally Christian.

Marie Curie
Type of shop: Charity shop supporting cancer patients
Address: 25 Stafford Street, Hanley ST1 1JW
Surveyed: Thursday 15th January 2015
Inside the brightly lit shop are a jumble of greetings cards, clothes and toys, all of which have been donated to the charity by local people. At the back of the shop is a crowded shelf bearing videos, books and CDs. There are nearly 60 CDs, yet only one is by a Christian band. Tucked out of sight below the shelves is a plastic box containing approximately 15 vinyl albums, and again, only one is by a Christian artist.

Methodist Book Centre
Type of shop: Christian book shop
Address: Bemersley House, Gitana Street, Hanley ST1 1DY
Surveyed: Friday 16th January 2015
Many people might think that the Methodist Book Centre is called Saltbox, due to the confusing signage. Once inside I encounter a nicely laid out bookstore though it takes a little while to locate the music racks, where I discover that one is completely empty! On enquiry I find that the rack has been emptied so that they can conduct a stock take in another room. I count well over 500 CDs on display in the two remaining racks with a lot of hymnody and more middle of the road releases. When the stock take CDs are wheeled out for me to have a quick glance at, I am told that this is their "contemporary" section. It's just about entirely modern worship music though some of the releases date back a few years. Tony talks to a staff member who tells Tony demand for music CDs has tailed off significantly in this long established shop and that now they are likely to sell about 15 CDs in any one week.

The Cultural Quarter: Selling music in a vibrant Hanley

Music Mania
Type of shop: Sells new and used CDs and vinyl
Address: 4-6 Piccadilly, Hanley ST1 1DL
Surveyed: Friday 16th January 2015
As all long-time music buffs will tell you, after years of decline the independent record shop is beginning to make a bit of a comeback. As soon as you step into Music Mania, located half way down an arcade at right angles to one of the Cultural Quarter's main streets, Piccadilly, you are faced with racks and racks of music. The first thing your eye rests on is an impressive display of new vinyl releases. Clearly this vibrant music merchant is ahead of the game concerning the vinyl album comeback. I've heard from an HMV staff member that it's only now that the giant chain are about to re-introduce vinyl. Standing in front of Music Mania's counter I gaze out at the stock of approximately 14,000 new and used albums. They have a good cross section of CDs on offer and Tony tells me that in the last year he has bought from them a couple of different vintage gospel compilations (which he was amazed to hear being played in the shop when he walked in) and most recently a Korn album. My enquiry about the three Skillet albums draws a blank though.

Type of shop: Charity shop serving People's Dispensary for Sick Animals
Address: 6 Piccadilly, Hanley ST1 1DF
Surveyed: Tuesday 13th January 2015
I am greeted by a mismatch of standard hats, belts, jigsaws and jewelery. Across the polished wooden flooring, at the back wall of the shop, between rows of DVDs and toys, are two shelves of approximately 100 pre-owned CDs. A closer look reveals two or three Christian albums, one being by the fine but unknown Australian act Garage Hymnal. At 50p it's an absolute bargain. The staff are exceptionally friendly.

Salvation Army
Type of shop: Charity shop supporting the homeless
Address: 23 Stafford Street, Hanley ST1 1JW
Surveyed: Thursday 15th January 2015
The warm interior of the shop is well-organized and provides a respite from the cold of the darkening afternoon outside. A man browsing the shelves of CDs has found a Tom Jones album to buy and tells Tony that he also enjoys listening to jazz, New Orleans and rock & roll. "I buy CDs, download them onto my iPod and listen to them in the car," he explains. The shop has a large variety of music on sale, including seven new and sealed copies of a Salvation Army compilation 'Hymns In Brass'. There are 50-odd vinyls on offer but like in all the charity shops I visit, the upturn of interest in the format has ensured that there are no rock music albums for sale. At least, though, there is some Christian music of the Harry Secombe and Aled Jones variety.

Type of shop: Charity shop supporting the homeless
Address: 38 Piccadilly, Hanley ST1 1EG
Surveyed: Tuesday 13th January 2015
A large red sign sits above the shop's doorway. Inside, the walls are draped with previously worn clothes and hanging folded umbrellas. At the farthest end of the shop are two rotating stands displaying approximately 400-odd CDs, yet I don't spot a single Christian CD. But the staff are friendly and there is a promisingly large display of books.

The Cultural Quarter: Selling music in a vibrant Hanley

St Vincent's
Type of shop: Christian charity shop aiming to tackle poverty
Address: 54 Piccadilly, Hanley ST1 1EG
Surveyed: Thursday 15th January 2015
The newest of all the charity shops to open in the Cultural Quarter and with an excellent window display and friendly staff it creates a good impression which only gets better when I espy two prominent crates of vinyl, and beside it, a pile of approximately 170 CDs. As usual, the vinyl selection is devoid of rock music though I did spot a Handel's Messiah vinyl and two Harry Secombes. The friendly manageress, Rebecca, tells Tony that she doesn't think physical shops should consider themselves in conflict with etailers and that those involved in bricks and mortar retailing need to ensure that people had a good "shopping experience." Certainly I do.

Anna's time at Cross Rhythms has come to an end and while still editing her excellent report I, Tony, go shopping with my wife. Suddenly I have a "half-memory" that I had once seen a few CDs on sale in Webberley's Bookshop so I decide to check them out. Hence this additional piece.

Webberley's Bookshop
Type of shop: General book shop
Address: Percy Street, Hanley ST1 1NG
Surveyed: Saturday 17th January 2015
This long established book shop plays a vital part in the life of the Cultural Quarter and its well-stocked shelves and friendly service have ensured that I am a frequent visitor. I find there are five or six CDs on sale, all relating to northern soul and tying up with the recent Northern Soul feature film, filmed in part in Stoke-on-Trent.

When people hear the name Cultural Quarter they tend to think of the theatres, radio sttations and art galleries which are enjoyed in this particular part of Hanley. But for me, the record stores and book shops, the florists and newsagents, the indoor market and the cafes all play a vital part in making this community a very special one. Cross Rhythms is thrilled to be a part of it. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.