A Leeds business is celebrating the sweet sound of success as it marks its 40th anniversary.
Sound Leisure Limited was formed in a garage in Hunslet in 1978 by Alan Black, who started out fixing radios for pals in his spare time from college.
It is now one of only two traditional jukebox manufacturers in the world and the only one to make a vinyl-playing jukebox.
After re-locating to a unit at Crossgates 15 years ago, Sound Leisure now exports the music machines to 27 different countries, making up 75 per cent of the business, with a line-up of celebrity clients as long as the playlist. One of its machines also features in the new Jurassic Park movie.
Alan’s son, and managing director of Sound Leisure, Chris Black said: “Somebody brought him a machine from America. Dad had never seen anything like it, his tutor had never seen anything like it but he knew if it was that far advanced he wanted to be a part of it.
“They started making jukeboxes and putting them in bars and pubs as the industry then was thriving. My dad really invented sound to light and connected lighting systems which flashed to the beat of the music and everything has been a continuation from there.”
Sound Leisure’s first jukebox was launched in 1982 and by 1984 the firm decided to branch into the American market. By the 1990s there was a trend for jukeboxes in the home and the smoking ban also had an impact on the direction of the business - which has had to diversify with the advances in the music industry.
Mr Black said: “The business has evolved over the years, grown and grown, had ups and downs. The smoking ban in 2007 changed pubs and we had to be innovative with what we do so created more divisions.”
For example, if you wander through Lotherton Hall the sound of the grand piano and the 1945 newsreel being read out is brought to you by Sound Leisure, as are many of the interactive children’s games you now see in family pubs. The firm also makes speakers so you can have music playing through a canvas picture or a free-standing lamp. And the jukeboxes are also bluetooth friendly so you can stream your own tunes through it.
Despite all the advancements, though, there is still a demand for a jukebox, which cost between £6-9,000. It creates a heady feeling of nostalgia in an increasing throwaway society.
Mr Black explained: “Music has lost some of its value, people download it and there is no connection it is just a service. For the people that buy these machines it is more than just listening - they want to see it, feel it, touch it.
“We have had people from 18 to 80 and council houses to castles buying these jukeboxes. It is a fun product, makes people happy - it is like an escape. Like buying a classic car, there is an element of nostalgia. The vinyl machine is our best selling machine. For 100 years it was all about vinyl. We had 30 years of CDs and now vinyl is coming back.”
As is manufacturing in Leeds. Sound Leisure employs 100 people and they are being taught the manufacturing skills Alan, now 72, used in the early days - in fact he is still to be found tinkering in the factory.
Mr Black added: “The younger team members are being taught these skills and we have got the next generation coming through that are doing what the older guys used to do.”
A birthday party is being held in the Sound Leisure pop-up at Victoria Gate tomorrow from 6pm.