Record stores - and the people that work in them – have a reputation. Like Championship Vinyl in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity they are often regarded as a home to music snobs, who look unfavourably on anyone buying a record which has ever troubled the charts.
The opposite, however, is true of own Jumbo Records in Leeds, which has been pushing vinyl for the best part of 50 years. Being in a city which values live music, from the ever popular Leeds Festival at Bramham Park to the annual Live At Leeds event, helps.
Initially opening on the balcony of the Queens Arcade, before an increase in demand required more space. While a brief tenancy in the Merrion Centre occurred in 1974, it was in the St John’s Centre where Jumbo really found a home for itself, moving in during 1988 and staying for the subsequent 30 years.
Home to racks vinyl records, CDs, cassette tapes, various pieces of memorabilia, magazines and the odd fanzine to boot, the store has kept one foot ahead of its competition by staying true to its roots.
While the record industry might be undergoing a vinyl renaissance right now – with chain stores and supermarkets capitalising on the renewed interest in the a physical format – Jumbo always suspected that those who predicted its death were being a little premature.
Needing room to breathe, the store swapped its slightly odd – yet charming – triangle shaped space last month for a new outlet just a short walk away in the Merrion Centre.
However, while the postcode might be different, little else has changed. The walls of the new store are similarly covered in posters advertising new album releases, upcoming shows and local artists still in their infancy, Jumbo acted as a shrine to music of all genres. Any and all available space and the ticket section, with its lovingly handwritten and constantly updated colour-coded sales board, came too. So too did the customers.
“We’ve still got regulars who first started coming when Jumbo first opened in 1971,” says assistant manager Matt Bradshaw.
“Some of those people now have grandchildren, so there’s three generations of the same family who’ve all become customers.”
Regulars are a theme at Jumbo, and are the backbone of the store’s continued success. “One of those lazy stereotypes about record shops is that you’ll be served by someone who is a music snob. There is the odd shop like that, but the majority aren’t. The truth is you just wouldn’t survive with that attitude, not in this environment. We attract music fans, and when they realise it’s ‘one of them’ behind the counter, suddenly we’re all in the same boat. It’s a hard industry, but because we offer good service, people realise when they’re buying from us that they’re paying for our wages and paying back into the music, which is a great thing.”
The irony of starting Jumbo new chapter right back in the centre it vacated almost three decades ago is not lost on either Matt or store manager Adam Gillison.
Away from the mundane world of purchase orders, operations management, planning logistics and fielding emails by the hundred, Jumbo is built on the relationships it has created with artists, local venues, show promoters, record labels and, most importantly, its clientele.
According to store manager Adam, the relaxed nature of the shop is one of the reasons why so many people keep coming back.
“You can have a good wander around without being hassled, but we’re always there to help if needed. For example, I know every third Saturday of the month, three guys will always be by the door at 9am, and have been for 30 or 40 years. I think the fact that they’re still coming to meet in Jumbo speaks for itself, really.”
These aren’t isolated incidents, either. Go to any local gig, or a festival anywhere in the country, and you’re likely to pass somebody wearing a Jumbo Records branded T-shirt. There’s an appeal and badge of honour that seems to come with not only being a customer, but a part of a wider community.
“That sort of thing is quite funny, really,” smiles Adam. “It’s nice though. I was actually on holiday in Lyme Regis a couple of years back and my son spotted somebody in one of our T-shirts, so that sort of thing makes you feel really proud.”
For James Brown, the founder of Loaded magazine, former editor of GQ and fully paid up member of the Jumbo community the shop offered him a window to a world nowhere else could during his formative year in Leeds.
“When I left school in the early 80s, I didn’t go to university, I went to Jumbo Records,” he says. “Not to work – no matter how many times I asked – just to hang out. I’d go listen and to what they were playing, read the handwritten lists of import singles, flick through the record sleeves, read the ‘musicians wanted’ notice board and look at the fanzines.
“There was nothing to do on the dole and walking skint to Jumbo was the highlight of my day. I love it in there, it’s the best thing about Leeds; a trap door to the life I wanted, and not one that was on offer elsewhere.”
Today, Jumbo Records is more than just a shop that sells music, it’s a community centre for the like-minded.