Bunker Vinyl: “Everything’s Been Done on a Shoestring”

From social work in inner-city London to providing a space for music lovers in the city, Bunker Vinyl’s John Dwyer brings strong community spirit to his lifelong dream.

It’s one thing to harbour a dream, then tell yourself that maybe it’s a little bit wild for your circumstances, your headspace etc. It’s quite another, though, to drop everything after two decades in one place to finally pursue that ambition. Located on Cork’s Camden Quay, the unassuming surrounds of Bunker Vinyl & Studio are, for co-proprietor John Dwyer, the embodiment of such a decision. “I left London after twenty-one years of being a social worker. I’d always wanted my own record shop, since I was eight, so I started at Mother Jones’ Flea Market, selling out of there for nine months, then opened the shop. Here we are two years later.”

Selling music almost entirely on vinyl, Bunker is one of a clutch of shops that has grown in recent years off the back of the format’s mainstream comeback as an alternative to streaming. Even so, it must have been a challenge taking on something new after being in such a substantative role for twenty-one years. “It was, but I was kind of in and around record shops throughout the nineties in Brighton, I’d be obsessed. Even though I was a social worker, I’d spend my weekend at record shops, clubs, venues, etc. So… I’d the transferrable skills.”

With a strong interest in the UK’s musical underground and sociopolitical ethics fine-honed by his time in the UK’s social-work system, it didn’t take long for those interests to cross over, and for Dwyer to find his niche as a social worker. “Oh yeah, I used to run a music programme for kids with disabilities, and it was basically giving kids the chance to go into studios, learn how to record people, then we had DJ competitions for people. Work with disadvantaged kids, we had a music project in West London, which turned into gigs, and eventually a label, which was funded for a while, until that was taken away by the Tory government. So, it’s interesting to come back and see what’s changed since the boom and bust. Things seem to be improving – seem to be improving.”

After moving back to Ireland to pursue his dream, Dwyer got his start selling records at Mother Jones’ Flea Market, a hub for vintage culture, antiques, and specialist retail. The importance of community made itself apparent from the get-go. “It’s a good place to start. You’re there for three days a week, and you get to meet loads of heads there. There’s a good buzz around the place, you get to figure out who’s who in the city. The overheads are small, so it’s a good opportunity to start a business and see does it have legs, I suppose. Really good place.”

Once the business began outgrowing its capacity at the market thanks to a bottom-line of support and custom, Dwyer was faced with the decision to move, no mean feat two years ago, at the outset of the current property crisis. But doing so has allowed Bunker Vinyl to grow steadily. “Just finding the property in the city was quite difficult, but I luckily found this place, it was the third or fourth shop I looked at. Just a matter of stock, buying in records from all over the place, and doing so on a limited budget. Everything’s been done on a shoestring, only expanding as far as I can afford to, really, and that’s the way the business is growing.”

Alongside the record shop downstairs in Bunker, a studio space has been set up for Dwyer and co-conspirator Aileen Wallace, as a base for lessons, workshops and creativity. “I met Aileen when she was busking one day, she and a few friends were looking for a place to teach music. When I got into this space, I realised we could actually have two spaces within the shop, and Aileen was the first person I thought of that would be good for it. It’s a slow builder, but Aileen’s away doing different things as well, so it’s kind-of become our little musical nirvana.”

The importance of spaces like Bunker Vinyl + Studio to Cork’s music scene cannot be overstated, being as they are, as the song says, the ears of the town. Dwyer will be the first to outline that importance, and pride of place of record shops in the community. “A record shop has always been the place where the person running it is a complete music addict, wants to share music with other people. There is a lot of people that just come in to chat, tell you about their records. You get guys coming in doing posters, telling you about their gigs. You get to know everyone that comes through.”

Bunker Vinyl + Studio is open Tues-Sun at 1 Camden Quay, Cork City, selling music on vinyl and CD, new and secondhand.

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