If the retail history of 20th-century Leeds is bookended by the opening of Marks and Spencer in 1884 and Harvey Nichols in 1996, one other local institution played a key role in defining Leeds as a shopping mecca and a great music city: Jumbo Records. No self-respecting music fan should pass through Leeds without checking it out.
Jumbo has been selling rare records and concert tickets since 1971. It has consistently provided a hub for bands, small record labels and anyone who wants to listen to and discover music. Its owner, Hunter Smith, started selling soul and reggae records out of a box in a doorway in the now hugely popular Victoria Quarter at a time when the arcade wasn't quite so busy or brand-conscious. He later moved to a small unit in the Merrion Centre and is now in a larger space upstairs in the St Johns Centre – but the interior looks pretty much as it ever did.
Inside, the counter is littered with fanzines and the walls are covered with neon gig posters – if John Peel, David Rodigan and Robbie Vincent had had record shops, they would have been like this. Unlike at some rare sales emporiums where too-cool-for-school snobs abound, the staff of Jumbo have always been friendly, enthusiastic and as keen to know about new music as they are to sell it. Known by name to the customers, many have been there since the start.
As a kid I could buy Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division or Love Wars by Womack and Womack and no one would find this odd. This diversity has helped the city regularly turn out interesting or popular bands: the Gang of Four, Scritti Politti, the Mekons, Soft Cell, the Wedding Present, Age of Chance, the Three Johns, Sisters of Mercy, Black Star Liner, Pink Peg Slax, Chumbawamba, Kaiser Chiefs, the Pigeon Detectives, the Bridewell Taxis, Corinne Bailey Rae, the Chevin and last year's Mercury winners, Alt-J. And it had a brilliant nightclub scene driven by lunatics such as Dave Beer from Basics. Most of this is well documented. Less well known beyond the city borders is that every week you could find the members of these bands flicking through the racks at Jumbo.
Amazing store, never go to Leeds without a visit, even a place nearby for the missus to have a cuppa if she's not interested!
Martyn Cain (2022)