Jonathan Bellamy goes shopping to investigate Christian music retailing in Britain.

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However, although Dual Edge needs Nelson Word and Kingsway product to survive Andrew highlights a worry that Ann Landricombe pointed out: "For a lot of shops it is too hard to survive because too many people buy through record clubs and discounters. They undercut the shops and you can't compete with them."

This point was echoed too by George Baxter, pioneer of the now closed Christian music specialist shop Seventh Seal in Plymouth. In outlining the factors that led to Seventh Seal's closure in May after just one year George highlighted, "One of the things we found disappointing was the support from the Christian community, especially when you consider the number of people involved in record clubs. That was detrimental and it was something to try to contend with." George may be down, but he's not out. As part of a church outreach to "have some alternative to the occult and New Age shops" in Plymouth's Barbican area, "to reach people in a way that would attract them, hence through music," plans are already being discussed to reopen in a location more easily accessible and apparent.

The collapse of Seventh Seal however, illustrates the difficulty of the Christian music specialist to break through into some form of viability without having continuous financial support. One of the most exciting new developments therefore is the launch of the Good News Media Christian Music Centre in downtown Bath last February. It is exciting in that it has been born from a Christian bookshop structure. Admittedly, Good News Media is a little different from your average Christian bookshop. Its vision is to present the word of the Lord in all its forms, and so a worldwide mail order operation for the supply of books, cassettes, computer tapes etc was set up in 1981. For Good News Media the growth in Christian music only encouraged their ministry further. Ted Hudson got a vision "to take the music section and introduce it into a completely separate operation". As manager of both the music centre and the bookshop (only two doors away) Ted can support the music centre with profits from the bookstore.

The beauty of this centre is that here there is room for all styles of music. If you're into Taize worship or Verdi's Requiem, or you fancy an Oratorio or two then look no further. The complete range of sacred and choral works as composed over the last four centuries are in stock. Then, only feet away are racks full of a whole range of contemporary music, whilst on display in the high street window I found the new albums by Rachel Rachel, Newsboys and The Prayer Chain. Ted has also compiled a catalogue of over 3,000 available classical and contemporary recordings and this is to be updated six monthly. Keen to keep their regular customers, Good News Media have also set up their own music club, currently with over 30 members and one thing they are noticing is the variation in age. As Ted explained, "It is very interesting. We get a very broad age group coming in to us now. A lot of young people who are obviously more familiar with the contemporary side and also more from the 40s-70s bracket who want their Mission Praise or Methodist hymns."

Ted is the first to admit he's not a spring chicken, and to cope more with the contemporary side he employs Janine, 19, and assistant in charge James, 22. It is a union that works very well. "With my knowledge of traditional and classical Christian music," said Ted, "we complement each other and have a good balance."

GNM have high aims, and hope to become well known nationally. As Ted explained, "We hope to be able to perhaps present a blueprint for other resource centres which may well open or other bookshops who may wish to open similar centres across the country."

Perhaps it is an ambitious aim but Christian music retailing in the UK is certainly still in its infancy. Certainly, Ted Hudson believes it's worth pushing, and maybe other bookshops will sit up and take note. As he said, "I think the potential of Christian music hasn't yet been appreciated or realised by many people and the amount of space and investment devoted to it is therefore relatively small. In contrast we have found that the demand is actually very encouraging and that if it is presented in a much broader way than many Christian bookshops do at the present then there is a tremendous potential for real growth." 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.