Digging vinyl at Nelson’s Family Jewels Records.
“I THINK THAT A TOWN THAT DOESN’T HAVE A RECORD SHOP IS CULTURALLY IMPOVERISHED,” SAYS GRANT SMITHIES, WHOSE LOVE FOR OLD VINYL RECORDS LED HIM TO INSTALL EXTRA PILES UNDER HIS HOUSE TO SUPPORT THE WEIGHT OF HIS MUSIC COLLECTION.
When Nelson’s The Everyman record store closed down after more than 35 years in business, Grant decided to step in to ensure his adopted town continued to have access to vinyl. He’d already been hosting record fairs for a couple years at Free House, a welcoming watering hole for craft beer enthusiasts. Grant and his wife, Josephine Cachemaille, an award-winning installation artist, asked Free House owner Eelco Boswijk if they could convert the beer garden’s tiny office into a record store. Eelco agreed, and the affordable pop-up space became a permanent pop-up on Friday and Saturday afternoons.
“I poke speakers out of the door and people come in from the garden asking, ‘What the hell is that?’” Grant says. Once, an unsuspecting patron from New Orleans was sipping a brew and out floated a triple LP of 1960s New Orleans funk. Grant loves facilitating that kind of magic. “Music is a shortcut to our emotional life, to the ways you were feeling. It’s great that people can come in and find stuff they connect with.”
In a world where streaming dominates music consumption, Grant reckons people are drawn to the thrill of hunting through bins for records.
“Four girls came into the store after seeing the movie about Queen,” Grant recalls, “then they pooled their bus money and bought a Queen album. They were proud to walk back home, having put in the work for their find.” A regular customer is a woman in her 70s whose musical taste ranges from “jazz to strange rock and folk.” He’s thrilled that the store “feels like her place too.”
While the store was closed during the first lockdown in 2020, Grant delivered records to people’s homes. “I was like the Red Cross of record deliveries.” When the lockdowns lifted, a flood of customers spent money at Family Jewels to ensure it could stay afloat. Grant reinvests the shop’s earnings into finding ever more interesting and obscure records, which he raves about on their Facebook page. He says it’s an “entirely pathetic marketing strategy”, but the posts are an entertaining form of musical education.
Grant is the rare person who enjoys their job — or jobs in his case. He weaves music into everything he does. He’s a longtime music feature writer and has interviewed the likes of Lou Reed, Neil Young and Paul McCartney, which comes in handy when customers ask about their records at the shop. “I can say, well the artist thought this about that record,” he says, “which is kind of cool.” This doesn’t come across as name dropping. Rather, it’s the words of a true fan and confirmed music nerd who adores his vinyl. “It’s like a cultural artefact which is freighted with cultural information besides music, like typography and style,” Grant explains. “Every soul record from a certain timeframe always has a photo of guys with their shirts off.”
He’s delighted that people are rediscovering the ritual of taking the record out from the cover. If you visit town when Grant is spinning Jamaican dancehall, Afrobeat and Hi-Life at Deville Cafe & Bar just up the road, you’re in luck. What’s old is new again, and now is always a good time to dance.
WORDS: ROXANNE DARROW PHOTOS: MIKE WILSON