Wall of Sound’s history go back to 1986 when impoverished ex-student Elliot Smaje (me!) decided I ought to get my shit together and inspired by my love of second hand record shops (in particular Gerol’s in the Merrion Centre in Leeds), I set up a market stall selling some of the records and books I’d accumulated in my student years.
I travelled around the West Yorkshire second hand markets of Leeds, Huddersfield and Dewsbury and slowly built up a stock. After the first year it was obvious that my interest in books – and their saleability – was way outweighed by vinyl – this was at the beginning of the CD age and only in time were second hand CDs starting to circulate. After a couple of years experience, I added doing record fairs to my repertoire.
One gift I’ve always seemed to have is the ability to sell a record and buy 3. After 4 years of markets I’d accumulated enough stock to consider the possibility of a shop. One came up in The Piece Hall in Halifax and I began a 17 year love/ hate relationship with the building. The name ‘Wall of Sound’ was used from there on in as it just instinctively felt like a good name for the sort of place I was running. I continued doing markets until 1994 whilst simultaneously running the shop and doing fairs. Huddersfield was abandoned for Barnsley – where I’m glad to say I still encounter old faces from even now. A much maligned area after the miners’ strike of 1984, it was a pleasure to work there once a week. Lots of people into their music and some great untapped collections came from there.
By 1994 the shop was becoming the core of what I did, so it was time to say goodbye to markets and record fairs and standing out in the cold loading and unloading a van every day. The shop doubled in size and started attracting people from all over the region and the world!
One day I might write a book about my exploits in The Piece Hall. My landlords were Calderdale Council. My motto for them was ‘Too incompetent to be corrupt’. Whilst a beautiful place to work, it was constantly undermined by outside forces and so after 17 years in there I’d had enough and it was time to say goodbye to both The Piece Hall and Halifax as I followed my dream and moved to Huddersfield to create a really special significant shop in 2007.
The Huddersfield shop was well staffed, 2 floors and I went from just selling second hand and rare records and CDs to new also. I was immensely proud of the shop. It had a true wow factor about it, but it was hideously expensive to run – which would in time be its downfall. The beginnings of the recession, supermarkets undercutting everyone, tax loopholes for certain on line retailers and the arrival of downloading all made life hard. At the end of 2012 it was time to walk away and Wall of Sound folded forever.
Except it didn’t.
Many life changes later, it was apparent that after my entire life working with records, I essentially knew nothing about anything else (and some would say nothing about records either!). I worked temporarily at Suma in Elland in a warehouse and have to admit I loved it and the place. Why aren’t workers co-operatives more prevalent? A fantastic working structure that should be embraced a lot more! But the work there ended and it was time to consider something else.
A chance conversation with Steve Elvidge on Facebook revealed that he wanted to move his successful vintage shop ‘Space’ to a much larger premises next door. He had a vision – Vintage Shop, Bar and Record Shop all in one building. How could I not be interested? And so after much planning, the new Wall of Sound was reborn in December 2013 in Harrogate. It built slowly and inevitably the small space I occupied was soon full with an ever improving stock. Harrogate felt like a place of finite possibilities and was a long way from where I lived and so after 18 months there, I’d rebuilt Wall of Sound into something credible again and I took what looked like the best possible move and returned to my roots in Leeds into the basement of Crash Records.
The current Wall of Sound opened on 4th July 2015 and thus far has been enthusiastically received by the people of Leeds and beyond. I’m tremendously proud of what it has become again. A small one man operation with a strong diverse stock of music and all the related ephemera. My intention is that it is always fresh and fascinating – the sort of place I’d want to go to if it wasn’t mine. I look forward to your visit!