If anyone knows about Record Stores it’s Nick Hornby, for me he captures the essence of ‘my’ record store unequivocally;
‘Record stores can’t save your life, but they can give you a better one!’
I moved to my town just over three years ago, one of the things that moved in with us was a vinyl collection of around 150 pieces of beautiful (mostly) black pieces of vinyl. This collection had grown out of the record stores of Leeds and the online emporiums that we all ‘love’ and tolerate.
During the pandemic when restrictions allowed I had a dalliance with both of the most famous record stores in Leeds city centre, but it was just that, a dalliance with something new, an attempt to build a relationship that, if we had not moved a few miles south, could well have grown into the relationship that I now have with my local thing of wonder, the mecca of vinyl, the place where support can always be found… Wah Wah Records.
I have to tell a secret before I get into why WahWah is so important. I worked in a video shop from being 17 years old to maybe 21. I never made it to the record store upgrade, but my top films would include Clerks, Empire Records, High Fidelity (Film and TV) and Once. Almost anything that has a passing resemblance to the camaraderie that can be created in a store that is a retailer of culture floats my boat! Therefore, my secret is I think I was always destined to be a WahWah-ite.
Some of the most memorable moments in films for me involve music, ‘that’ moment when Peter Gabriel starts singing in Say Anything, The Breakfast Club (every time a song starts), Almost Famous, You’ve Got Mail (sorry), even the Cantina Band playing in Star Wars and some of the over played soundtrack moments in Lost Boys would make up my greatest hits of cinema moments. I mean I love Empire Records, does anyone else the world over love that film?
So WahWah. A perfectly formed little shop once in a slightly run down street in the city we call home, Wakefield. Visiting for those first few times was, I have to admit, a bit scary. There was a clique of people in there, they all knew each other (maybe), they all had impeccable taste, every time I went in in those early days, I would find myself Shazaming something coming out of the sound system so I could see what it was, and I think I know music! WahWah doesn’t pick wilfully unknown stuff to be cool, WahWah picks what WahWah likes…
Roll forward to Record Store Day 2022 (RSD22), I’m regular enough by then to know but still just a background collector who would make a couple of pilgrimages a month. RSD22 changed me though, I fell for WahWah. The fun of queuing outside with other suitors, being able to get some of what you need when you got to the front of the queue but left wanting more, all perfectly timed to build your newfound love for bricks, mortar, vinyl and two expert advisors. From RSD22 that was it, my visits would need to be more often, and then something happened, WahWah moved! To bigger, and better things, arguably a better part of town, definitely a bigger shop and yet somehow none of the mystique was lost. Now in its new home my relationship really did become solid.
‘There is nothing in the world as glamorous to me as a record store.’ Paul McCartney
The most brilliant thing about WahWah is the connection the chaps make with the customers. You never go in and see an empty shop, there is always someone in a heated debate, the merits of Eminem’s later works, should you give advice to a band if asked, whether coloured vinyl is worth the investment and a whole plethora of highly educational conversations happening. I have recommended to my kids that they should spend 30 minutes a month ‘just’ listening in WahWah as part of the curriculum of life, so far to no avail but…
Alan and Scott, on to the people that make it work. So firstly, they are taste makers in modern parlance before it became a job fuelled by social media intensity. The role of retailer in a cultural hub is all about creating taste, and they do it with the utmost care, not overreaching with their own taste but still extending your knowledge with what they are playing. Every so often the recommendations that they make may make it home and when you get home and drop the needle it never ceases to amaze.
There is a book shop in NYC, ‘Three Lives and Company’, they offer a recommendation based on three answers to questions, Alan and Scott do it because they remember what you buy, they know the ones that were presents and therefore this is not some mass-personalisation algorithm but real human talent for culture, art, and taste. Another reason with this relationship grows and grows!
The fruits of the labour though, it is three years since ‘we’ agreed that the vinyl collection could grow beyond ‘just’ the classic albums, largely the catalyst for this was an upgrade to the listening systems which was a fruit of ‘blood-sweat-tears’ to get it in place and is now a thing of wonder and joy.
So now we have a collection that has grown, not all of it is from WahWah but most of it I claim to be inspired by this great shop. It’s fascinating (to me a stats geek) to think about how the collection has evolved. Before WahWah there was a plan, now it’s an evolution, so on day one of installing the ability to play music from black wax we agreed we would try to have a wide choice, no one genre should win out and no ‘age’ should play a part.
I think of the record collection as 28 boxes of about 40 albums in each box. In there we have four boxes of HipHop, four boxes of good old fashioned NME era indie pop, four boxes of classic dance, everything by Lenny Kravitz, Prince, Beatles, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Coldplay, REM, U2, Radiohead, Blur, Arcade Fire and three boxes of Jazz, a box of pop and a load of stuff in between! This is a collection not to look at but to play and we have tried to have something for every mood.
Record listening takes on three modes in our house; mode one, solo listening, book in hand and designed to make the world slow down. Mode two later evening ‘education’, one of us asking the other to listen to a record and chatting about what is coming out of the speakers. The final mode is the party mode, the one where records end up all over the place and a tidy up is needed the next day, and often a headache to go with the session!
The best thing about these three modes is that they translate when on a mission in WahWah too. What mode are you on the hunt for, the educational mode is perhaps the most fun as that is about finding something new, party mode is about finding the thing to reminisce to mostly and solo mode, well that can be anything in many many ways and sometimes involves taking a risk on the barely known.
I wonder what the future holds for WahWah and me? I love taking people there who have been before, I almost feel ‘proud’ of my little find that gives and gives. As Cameron Crowe put it during the making of Almost Famous;
‘I always tell the girls never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously you never get hurt, if you never get hurt you always have fun, and if you get lonely just go to the record store and visit your friends.”
I guess that’s where WahWah and me have got to, it feels like a place that you can lean on and enjoy the anonymity of being in there and yet at the same time know the place itself, as an inanimate object as it will look out for you. You know when you are there that something that goes under your arm and then in that distinctive red and white bag will ease a bad mood, elate still further a good mood, or offer contemplation when it is needed. There is something quite amazing about a local cultural hub, to have one in your own town is a thing of wonder and joy.
Thank you, Alan, thank you Scott, don’t you go anywhere!
Top ten purchases from WahWah:
- Jazz For The Carriage Trade by The George Walligton Quartet
- Check Your Head (Re-Issue Box) – Beastie Boys
- People Move On – Bernard Butler
- Age of the Ego – Crazy P
- Three Feet High and Rising – De La Soul
- Whitey Ford Sings the Blues – Everlast
- Hot Buttered Soul – Isaac Hayes
- A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
- Harvest – Neil Young
- Things Fall Apart – The Roots
And that doesn’t include the box sets… I mean Diamonds and Pearls by Prince is just something quite remarkable as is Sign O the Times too.
All in all, if you are in Yorkshire with some time to pass go to Wakefield, visit Wah Wah Records, pop up to Kraft for a coffee or a glass of wine and then on to one of so many options for nice food. Keep it local, keep it real.