No wonder The Guardian called Jumbo Records “the musical heartbeat of Leeds”.
Billing itself as the UK city’s ‘major independent music store’, Jumbo started selling rare records in 1971 – making 2016 its 45th anniversary.
Since 1988, the shop has been based at 5/6 St. Johns Centre. It’s not only a retail outlet these days but also a venue, having hosted sets from the likes of MG Boulter, C Duncan and Recreations (Sam Duckworth) on Record Store Day earlier this month.
The Independent Echo caught up with store manager Adam Gillison (pictured inset) to ask about how a historic record store has made itself more relevant than ever in the modern age…
How did Record Store Day go at Jumbo?
It was brilliant, really busy with a nice atmosphere. We had quite a lot of bands playing in the shop and a great time – Record Store Day just seems to go from strength to strength for us.
A certain amount of criticism [for RSD] has developed from some quarters in recent years, and it was good to see there was a bit less of that this time.
Records shops are starting to diversify a little bit, which is something we’ve been quite conscious off – creating a broader offering, rather just a list of albums.
How have you diversified on Record Store Day in particular?
Live bands are the most visible part of that, but we’re also trying to involve other local businesses in what we do. We hooked up with a local brewer, Zapato, to create a Record Store Day beer that was sold by various local pubs and bars.
Having bands in the shop creates quite a lot of noise, but the other local shops don’t seem to mind.
There’s a guy from Leeds who has a company called Sound Leisure which produces new vinyl jukeboxes – as far as he knows he’s the only one doing it. He brought in his prototype jukebox on Record Store Day, to show it off and talk to people about it in the store.
We always make sure there’s some good freebies, as well as fanzines on the day and obviously special offers. We have been conscious that the CD buyer isn’t often very well catered for, so we’ve got in touch with one or two record companies to see what we can do.
A lot of Record Store Day is about shops themselves asking labels to produce interesting things. There’s certainly some labels I’ve spoken to who feel it’s not really for them anymore, and I feel strongly that shops should encourage them to get involved.
The more you put in, the more you get out.
How’s business generally at Jumbo?
Positive – and more positive than it’s been for a few years, really.
It’s helped that it’s been a strong year for releases so far – we’re a bit at the mercy of what comes out on a week-to-week basis. I think record shops have become quite resilient and good at strengthening themselves – keeping in touch with other record shops is all part of that.
Also, there’s been a slight sea change; people have stopped feeling they can consume everything in existence and realised you can’t listen to every piece of music that’s ever been made.
Streaming things is fine – a bit here and there – but to get the best out of the experience, you need to sit down with a record.
How do you feel about streaming generally?
For a long time it did feel quite negative, and it definitely was. But we’ve grown to appreciate its positives – and the customers have come to see it the same way. Streaming services are useful tools but they’re not the be-all-and-end-all.
How would you like to see record labels change in the future?
I hope they allow independent shops to compete at some level with the big chains and online retailers. Pricing wise there’s got to be some consideration.
I understand that if someone goes to a label and asks for 2,000 of something, they’ll look at sorting out a better price. But independent shops need to be in same ball park – not seeing supermarkets or online [giants] get things for £4 or £5 cheaper.
The other thing is about returns. What independent shops are very good at is trying things out, helping break new acts. But unless they have good support from record companies allowing them to return a decent amount of stock, you’re putting a constriction on the very thing they’re best at.
Producing special editions for independent shops works really well – it’s fantastic the labels have done that.
What new records are you playing in store right now?
Probably the thing that’s really caught the whole shop’s imagination is Kevin Morby’s new album [Singing Saw]. It’s taken him a long time to get to where he is as a solo artist after playing in Woods and The Babies. His new album is just fantastic.
PJ Harvey’s new one is obviously quite popular, as is Kaitlyn Aurelia-Smith’s [EARS] – it reminds me a little of Emeralds, with lots of cool synthesizer loops.
Also, Julia Holter’s album is a favourite – if you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth trying.