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In Memoriam of… Shades

July 30th, 2008

It’s never easy getting old and seeing all the things you love getting old or, even worse, disappearing. Tony Hampton bemoans another music shop lost forever on the day the Sister Ray goes into administration.

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When my granddad says it, it’s usually to make a point about walking to school in the snow with no shoes but, “Kids these days don’t know they’re born”.

In the ‘80s and even creeping in the early ‘90s you had to work really hard to enjoy your metal. There were no rolling 24 hour music TV channels, no internet (imagine that!), no ironic acceptance by the mainstream media’s fashion pages and no way a parent would buy you ticket to a gig – let alone a band t-shirt.

Ok, I’m sounding really old now, but it really was a completely different landscape.

Rock videos occasionally got aired at 2am or on The Chart Show on a Saturday lunchtime – where once a month you’d get the Rock Chart – a five-minute run down where you’d press record on your video and get 30 seconds of a Black Crowes video or Metallica‘s ‘One’.

You always hoped the “Play” icon would come up on something decent, and you’d get the full video. Invariably it wouldn’t.

Watch the Rock Chart from the ITV Chart Show from May 1989

We did have the Hard and Heavy videos though: a monthly video-zine with interviews and footage – like a clunky £12.99 VHS version of YouTube. These introduced me to Testament who are, 20 years later, still incredible and the early (and completely dismissed these days) work of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Or, of course, the moment we all remember like it was yesterday, BBC’s In Bed With Chris Needham. Nowadays, skin tight jeans, high-top trainers, Ray Bans, long hair and a leather jacket means you’re probably a Ting Tings fan. Back then, you were given a wide berth by people. You were scum.

When we went out to buy music there were two options – the limited selection of tapes on offer at HMV or Virgin, or the one rock-specific place, the now fabled Shades.

Located in a basement in Soho it was a glorious one-stop-shop for albums, posters, patches, magazines and all metal paraphernalia. It was like entering a secret world.

Discovering stuff like Vio-Lence, Demmel and Flynn’s very brutal, pre-Machine Head, Bay Area band and The Decline of Western Civilisation Part II: The Metal Years on video here were real turning points in my life. Plus all the bands who came to play London would do in-store signings or just hang out.

Watch ‘Mega’ Dave Mustaine on The Decline of Western Civilisation

Interview with Shades owner, Mike Shannon

  • Shades was incredible and is still talked about in hushed, respectful tones. It’s not an understatement to call it “legendary” is it?
  • To be honest, I’m not sure how people feel about Shades nowadays. At the time, from the early ‘80s onwards, it was certainly influential in the development of the music scene. Along with Kerrang! Magazine, it was the major source of product and information. With the coming together of characters such as Dave Constable, Bernard Doe, Kelv Hellraizer and Dave Reynolds, it gave rise to the fanxine, Metal Forces. For an all too brief moment in time, I feel we made our mark.

  • All the bands used to hang out and do signings – they obviously loved the place too. Any good tales on who passed through?
  • It’s actually quite mind-boggling when you start listing the bands that turned out for ‘signings’ at Shades. To name but a few: Anthrax, Badlands, Bang Tango, Bon Jovi, Danger Danger, Doro Pesch, Exciter, Metallica, Lee Aaron, Poison, Pretty Maids, Shadow King, Skid Row, Warrior Soul, Wasp. Most of what happened at that time is better left unsaid, although the vision of Sebastian Bach shimmying up Kelv Hellraizer’s drainpipe at 2am still brings on a smile.

  • What was the spark that made you decide to open? Are you a rock obsessive like the customers?
  • I started Shades in 1978 on a wing and a prayer. The idea was simply to create a rock specialist shop in London. The original premises were the size of a shoe-box with a leaky roof but £50 per month in the West End of London was irresistible. As its popularity exploded we moved into the larger premises in ’83 until 1990. I grew up with bands like The Stones, The Who, Cream, Hendrix, Free and Zep. I have always been a rock fan and remain so to this day.

  • What was the reason behind it closing?
  • We closed in 1990. A combination of Maggie Thatcher, the IRA, British Rail, HM Customs & Excise and a greedy landlord made it simply unworkable. In addition to the economic climate, the music scene had moved on and the market had become so fragmented, I felt our time had passed.

    Watch Gaz Top and Kelv Hellraizer in conversation at Shades.

    There were a couple of other outlets to get your fix of course. Carnaby Street also, far from being the slick Muji-obsessed tourist trap it is now did have a couple of hippie shops where you could hope to buy a Misfits t-shirt, a bullet belt and a Slayer badge.

    Shades was the place. Now it is a mythical place of metal folklore – and a very, very fond memory.

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