As record store day approaches, I would like to pay tribute to just one record store that is sadly no longer with us. The Greatest Record Store There Ever Was…
In the years before Napster, Songkick, Spotify and other Internet stuff spoon-fed the heavy metal-loving youth of Britain, there were just two ways to find out about your favourite band:
Kerrang! and the Shades Records advert in Kerrang!
Shades Record Store was the Heavy Metal music store in the UK throughout the eighties. Situated in a rickety basement in St Anne’s Court just off Wardour Street in London’s Soho, Shades stocked more rock records than Wayne Rooney has words in his vocabulary, if that isn’t damning it with faint praise.
No Norwegian doom-metal band was too obscure and doomy, no glam-metal band too ridiculous and cheap-looking for them not have a space at Shades. Posters, badges, T-shirts, commemorative mugs and teaspoons: no item was too obscure.
At a time when it was impossible to buy Aerosmith records in the UK (it seems ridiculous now but it is true – until Permanent Vacation came out in 1987, you couldn’t buy any of Aerosmith’s ’70s classic albums this side of the Atlantic) only Shades had their entire back catalogue (on import from the USA at £8.99 each instead of £5.99).
As far as I know, their advertising budget was spent entirely on smallish ads in Kerrang! Magazine – hitting it’s entire target market in one fell swoop.
Their ads were worth reading for three reasons. Firstly, they would publish the expected dates of release of each record well in advance. I might learn that Judas Priest or whoever had an album coming out months in advance of reading a review of it in a magazine. Second, they might make a comment, good or bad, about whether they thought the album was any good. They were pretty scathing about Motley Crue’s “Theatre of Pain” album (rightly – it was a poor relation to Ratt’s “Invasion of your Privacy” released the same year) and were taken aback when “Girls Girls Girls” turned out to be pretty decent. Most thrash was described as “Beyond Slayer” if it was very heavy, or “Total Death – Not for Wimps”.
Thirdly, and most importantly, they would have stock of the most obscure or brand new imported releases: I first heard about Guns n Roses’ debut EP “Live… &@! Like a Suicide” in a Shades ad in the back of Kerrang! well before any reviews appeared, or the release of Appetite for Destruction.
I went to a record signing by Poison and it was bedlam – difficult to get two or three hundred or more rock fans up and down the basement steps in a shop the size of a small branch of Starbucks on a Tuesday lunchtime. Especially with all that hair teased out – there were rumours that people fainted from all the hairspray fumes. Rumours, it must be said, that I have just started.
On a more normal day, I would pop down on the tube to Tottenham Court Road – often midweek and thus dressed in my work clothes of (oh, the humiliation) a suit and tie – which made me stick out like a sore thumb amongst the leather and denim brigade. I felt squarer than Cliff Richard at a Hipster Convention, but they were always nice to me. It may have helped that a large proportion of my disposable income was left at the counter…
Down the stairs and turning right towards the sales counter, a friendly and shaggy haired chap called Fred would cheerfully greet me and cast an eye over my latest purchases whilst Candlemass, Stormtroopers of Death or something more extreme would violently blast out from the stereo. Not a shop to live above if you craved the quiet life. Or your hearing. A couple of others lurked behind the counter – a hair metal dude and a proper thrash metal aficionado. I never felt able to strike up a conversation with those slightly more exotic characters. They looked like they were in bands. One of them was called Kelv Hellrazer (part of me hopes his real name was Colin, or Nigel).
Most of my most seminal metal purchases were made there: Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Anthrax’s Among The Living, Megadeth’s So Far, So Good…So What? and D’Molls’ debut…(well you can’t get them all right can you?).
The owners also set up a fanzine called Metal Forces, which focused on the new thrash metal sounds that were still in their relative infancy, and which probably inspired Kerrang! to launch rival publication Mega Metal Kerrang!
Sadly Shades closed down in 1992 – a victim of (I would guess) the twin tides of grunge and CD sales overtaking vinyl, with rising Soho rents doubtless playing their part. It has never been replaced and never been bettered. Record Store Day (21st April) reminds us to support places like these before they’re gone. Because without them, we’d only spend our money on something worthwhile. And who wants that?
Record #30: Aerosmith – No Surprise