It’s the 1980’s and for every rocker or metal-head there were essential tools needed in your (metal) toolbox for expanding your knowledge and fulfilling your love of all things loud: The legendary Tommy Vance Friday Night Rock show on Radio 1, Kerrang! magazine, the weekly music paper Sounds, the metal thrashing mad Metal Forces magazine, and for Londoners, the extremely diverse (Prog to Thrash and everything in-between) pirate rock radio station Alice’s Restaurant. And to purchase all the necessary releases there was the best (Heavy Metal) record shop ever! Shades at St Anne’s Court – a narrow walk way – off Wardour Street in central London.
Set-up by Mike Shannon in the late 1970’s, the first shop was tiny like a bricked shed. As you walked in you were met by the counter and adjacent was one very uneven floored aisle to unsteadily walk up and down, while the shelves were stacked full of record sleeves. A frequent customer with a deep love of Shades is Phil Alexander, Kerrang!’s Director of Global communications, contributing Mojo editor, as well as DJ for the excellent Mojo Rocks Show on Planet Rock Radio, recalls the end of the shop ‘was covered in moss.’ To help cover up the building’s flaws were posters, record sleeves, aided by a very able stereo system. This, in turn was the reason you already knew you were approaching St Anne’s Court and avoided walking past it as you strolled along Wardour Street.
Later in the early to mid-eighties, Shades popularity outgrew its humble beginnings and moved, quite literally, next door, into a considerably larger basement shop, which you immediately had to descend stairs into a spacious floor (especially compared to the original shop). But many things stayed the same: plentiful of records to browse and the earth-shattering loud sound-system. While the now larger counter was this time to the right of the stairs.
It was in this store that many band signing sessions took place and close-up opportunities with emerging talent and heroes were possible in all their glory, and indeed even warts ‘n’ all character flaws. Fellow Echoes and Dust writer Chris Ball remembers, ‘going to a Celtic Frost record signing there – I think it was during Vanity/Nemesis era. Bizarrely, I was the only one in the shop when I got there. Tom was lovely and we had a little chat. Mr Ain was bored and borderline hostile.’
But even before these signing sessions took place it was a place musicians would often be seen hanging out. Phil Alexander remembers the time he went to the original shop to buy the first Armoured Saint 12 inch and as he ‘took it to the counter to buy, Mike Shannon (the shop’s owner) said (puts on gruff London accent) ‘’you like Armoured Saint do ya? The guitarist is over there’’ I went over for a chat and he gave me a free t-shirt.’ Phil also reflects on how he used to enjoy just hanging around the shop all day listening to records. He goes on to say, ‘I would go to Shades in the afternoon, then have a pint at The Ship pub before moving on to the Marquee’. Phil notes these were all in close radius in London’s West End which would be nigh on impossible now due to the enormous rates and costs imposed on the area.
The Shades staff also lived up to expectations: metal fans themselves, in my experience they were always pleasant, helpful, welcoming, and accommodating as they would play requested records you wanted to hear (this was a revelation back then, to hear a whole album in full prior to purchasing – pre-Spotify days). As Chris Ball recalls ‘It was the only place apart from Alice’s Restaurant and the Tommy Vance Friday night rock show where you heard Thrash played publicly. I often heard stuff for the first time whilst browsing in there.’
It was indeed Shades where I first heard and bought the influential proto-thrash Loose ‘n’ Lethal album by Mansfield’s little-known Savage (a major influence on Lars Ulrich with his soon to form little ole band Metallica) and Anthrax’s head-turning sophomore album Spreading the Disease, to name but just two. And you got to know the staff tastes: Kelv Hellraiser was the go to guy for all things Hair metal so this scribe’s heart would sink seeing him anywhere near the turntable, while in complete contrast there was always a rush of excitement and anticipation of departing some hard-earned cash seeing Dave Constable – the resident expert thrasher and on all things mind blowing heavy and extreme – selecting the vinyl.
Even the shop’s methods of self-promotion are memorable and crafted with large slabs of the shop staff’s personality. The adverts in every issue of Kerrang! Situated towards the rear of the mag informed the reader of the latest releases, forthcoming release dates, and the all-important prices. But what gave them distinction and a must read were the snappy verdicts on anticipated releases of the time, for example; memorable standout soundbites like ‘Metallica Kills’, ‘Delete Slayer.’ As well as being a specialist shop with sections like Brazilian thrash, releases from small independent labels and American imports (I remember purchasing Slayer’s Reign in Blood a couple of weeks earlier than the official U.K. release date), it would also stock mainstream rock and metal releases as well. In other words: the shop was well-stocked to cater for every discerning fan of the riff.
The owner and staff not only understood what a fan would want but understood the idea of a rock/metal community and Shades was at its very heartbeat. And this is what made Shades so special and loved. Former Shades attendee Dave Nuttyman remembers purchasing tickets for one of the most prized secret shows of the time, ‘my biggest memory was getting down there early one Thursday morning to get tickets to the Charlotte & Harlots show at St Mary’s College, Mile End, London (Iron Maiden’s warm up show for their Monster of Rock 1988 headline).’ Then there was the time when I attempted to purchase Metallica’s much anticipated, and now legendary Master of Puppets album, which inspired a very long queue outside the shop. Shades was always the place you thought of first to go and it rarely disappointed.
Shades also, albeit briefly, set up its own record label whereby a handful of records were released by London band Chariot and Sinful. Unfortunately, the label didn’t quite establish itself for the long-haul, and in the early 1990’s the shop itself pulled the plug on its stereo and permanently closed its doors. Phil Alexander considers the eventual demise of Shades may have been due to ‘the shop overstretched’ themselves as ‘Mike Shannon invested a lot in Chariot and Atlantic records wanted to sign them – he may have become reliant on this happening.’
It may be lone gone but for those who frequented Shades it remains cherished. As Dave Nuttyman reflects ‘a great shop from a great time in rock music sadly missed, but time moves on.’ A shop that was dearly loved by those who spent many hours hanging out there. Shades was more than just a record shop. It played a significant part in the rock and metal community – for many a social scene and a way of life – like the very music it plugged, supported and celebrated. So, thanks for the memories Shades, and indeed, the records. You rocked!
An enormous appreciation and gratitude goes to the very insightful Phil Alexander, Dave Nuttyman and Chris Ball for their memories, support, photo, and patience.
If, by any chance Mike Shannon, Dave Constable, Kelv Hellraiser hears about this feature or even reads it, and would like to get in touch for a follow–up feature/interview then please get in contact via the Echoes website. It would make this former Shades shopper extremely happy.