Friday, July 31, 2015

The Best Vintage Shops in Birmingham

Situated in Digbeth, not too far away from the Custard Factory or the bullring is a big yellow shop called COW. Frequented by Birmingham's hipsters and anyone cool who is under the age of 25. COW imports it's clothes  over from the  USA and what may have seemed a bit naff over there  is very cool over here. you'll find loads of shoes, accessories, and clothes from  the 80's and 90's. My own favourite buys from Cow are my 80's Lou Reed T shirt with a rare picture of the man smiling on the front and ROCK N ROLL ANIMAL in big letters on the back. If you like strange oddities such as garish Hawaiian shirts or silk shirts then Cow's the place to go.If you want something a little bit less extravagant then they have loads of designer gear, racks of second hand but great condition Ralph Lauren and lacoste polo's.  It's stocked up with all the best local free magazines and if you ask nicely you can get a reed bull. While an older couple once walked in an once remarked 'It's just an expensive charity shop' I maintain that compared  with the prices most of the clothes there would cost new, pretty much everything there is a bargain. Cow also produce new clothes of very high quality.
Nearby in the Custard Factory things are not going as well, the loss of The Urban Village has been followed by Left For Dead, Provide, and Trunk Junkies. The only vintage shop left there now is Flamingo a little shop opposite Yumm, they have a spiral staircase and a nice retro feel throughout. It's mostly moddish, retro clothes. There's some nice stuff there.
If you don't mind hunting  to find the best threads then Credit Crunchers is a good place to visit. not that far off from a charity shop. As they don't pick out the best stuff for you but because of that a  lot of the clothes are amazingly cheap. I've not found much there worth getting, but I always keep looking.
Harper & Lewis seem to be everywhere at the moment. They've had pop up's all over Birmingham. But now seem to have settled on 2 stores. One being the store  in the bullring, which has been a success since it opened. However  your better going off the beaten track and going to the one in Oasis. It's the same clothes, and mostly cheaper. It's worth keeping an eye out for more pop up's. The last one where you could fill a bag for a £5 were full of bargains.
Oasis is also home to REVIVAL. While Oasis is full of great stalls Revival is the only other genuine vintage stall. Full of mod/skinhead/rocker fashions. With plenty of cool brands and unique finds.
I think that about covers it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Best Independent Record Stores In Birmingham

Best for Bargains
The Music and Video Exchange, is part of a small chain of national stores that sells, CD's Vinyl's, DVD's, and books. They even have a few actual videos left, as well as old magazines and comics. If you have ever heard the phrase 'landfill indie' you may have pictured an actual landfill. Yet all those old promo CD's actually ended up in trade in stores. Flicking through all the 'next big things' is one of the best reminders of the fickleness and transcendence of fame you will ever get. If you still buy CD's (I do) then this place is a great place to find mint  or slightly less than mint CD's at dirt cheap prices. If you like Vinyl then they have loads of that too, including many valuable rarity's. They have many DVD box sets, and many graphic novels as well. And the best thing is that if you don't like money, you can trade in your old stuff for store credit. It's sort of near the Mailbox and New street station. You can see Swim Deep flicking through records there in the (original) video for 'King City'.
Update: The Music and Video exchange is now closed, Few will miss it more than I will.

Best for Vinyl
Now that Left For Dead's moved to Shrewsbury, Milque & Muhle Records is the only Record shop** left in the Custard Factory. They sell cassettes (one format that didn't need a comeback) Vinyl, clothes and fanzines. It's tiny and as far as I can tell only sells very obscure stuff. They seem to have found a pretty good niche. I do believe that The Diskery is officially listed as a national treasure, and I think it's also run by the same guys who first opened it. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I've never visited it. Swordfish Records has been operating as a record shop and re-issues label since the 1970's. The New premises is behind Scruffy Murphy's, and it's a much nicer building than the old one. Packed full of Vinyl, but also with new releases, local bands, CD's and you can trade stuff in too. It's small but it has loads of great stuff to find. It's got big sections for jazz and box sets on sale, and the staff are happy to talk. In my view it's now the best Indie Birmingham has.

Best of the rest
Main ImageThe Oasis Market changes so much that by the time I've pressed publish on this post, these stores could have moved, or still be there but in another part of the store. Right now there is two of them Ignite, and I can't remember the name of the other one. Ignite sells mostly Vinyl, it's on the bottom floor, and it mostly sells rock and metal LP's. The other one is on the top floor and mostly sells, erm I'm just going to say 'Bass Music' as that covers all the genres in there. It might be a tad expensive but if you're a fan of drum n' bass and other specific genres of dance, it's a good place to go. Another good one is Polar Bear records in Kings Heath. Another small but well stocked record store that has many genres and formats to browse through. a quick google search reveals a new one I've not heard of called 'Hq Muzik LTD' I'll try and find it.

* I'm not going to put a link. Scroll down and find them yourself. 
** They are also promoters. 

Picture Credits:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Best Clubs in Birmingham.

How better to follow a blog on the best pubs in Birmingham. How better to follow a trip to one of Birmingham's fine drinking establishments than going to where the floors are stickier, the music louder and the birds plentiful. I'm not an expert, but I have frequented enough of these places to tell my share of stories. Follow up blogs on this subject are a possibility.

Best for: Rockers
I guess I'm just a bit to much of a pussy to hang out at Scruffy Murphy's. With Teenculture a distant memory and Subculture long gone, Uprawr has become my habitat. The Asylum, where the night is held, is a goth's wet dream. A sticky, sweaty, beer soaked extension of every teenage emo's bedroom. With more booze and much dirtier toilets. The walls are plastered with posters from old Kerrang! issues, signed memorabilia and various shrines to rock and metals greatest bands (and some of it's shit ones). Ultimately it doesn't matter how KVLT the place looks, the vibe is ruined, because at some point after 12 you will always hear 'Fancy by Iggy Azalea' or if your lucky an old Arctic Monkeys track. The music is mostly the old pop punk, emo, and nu metal tracks you forgot how much you loved. On the plus side, the cocktails are surprisingly decent, the beer cheap (even if it's a bit shit), and I've not seen any drugs when I've been there. On the down side the moshpitting can be downright violent (if infrequent) and it's a very difficult place to pull. Not to mention hard to find and hard to find your way back from. But if you want to get fucked up and (if you're lucky) free merch, it's a good place to go.

Best For: Indie Kids
The old Snobs was a sticky hellhole. Unwelcoming, weird smelling, cramped and barely kept together by it's scaffolding. Yet it held a special place in every brummie's hearts. The new one is pretty much exactly the same. Yet it's got a bar and grill during the day, an extra floor to boogie on. It's got more drinks, more space, yet for all the new developments I feel the soul has not been lost. It's the same old Snobs, just a bit better. The tunes are mostly the stuff you'll hear on the radio, expect to hear Vance Joy, Bastille, (old) Mumford's but with a few Peace, and Swim Deep songs too. First time I went to Snobs I High fived Austin of Swim Deep while piggybacking my mate, sound-tracked by King City. Last time I made out with a stranger for about half an hour, got her number, and spent the rest of the night, wondering about in a bewildered drunken daze. I can't wait to go back.

Best for: Ravers
The only time I've been to The Rainbow Warehouse was back in 2010 when I saw Mr Hudson, supported by Tenny Ten (A.k.a Ten Shott) and Tinie Tempah, who was just on the cusp of becoming a superstar. Never actually been to one of their club nights, so I'm probably an unreliable narrator. but i remember it being a cool place, and judging by the really long queues of people I've seen outside, it must be a pretty great place.

Best For: Homosexuals 
I had a girlfriend once. She was obsessed with Birmingham's gay culture, and jackin' house scene. Of the clubs she dragged me into I vaguely remember Missing, which is small but with cool house tunes. The Loft Lounge which is more of a posh pub than a club, and a genuinely nice place to be. I also vaguely remember The Nightingale from my first ever night clubbing, The night she broke my heart. Despite that though I loved the place, it had loads of space, an old school arcade, good choice of booze, loads of friendly people, and err drag queens.

Best for: Rastafarians 
If you love Marijuana, and I mean really love marijuana then there is a club. A club which is sort of in Digbeth, yet nowhere near the Custard Factory. You are looking for a tiny graffiti covered office block. Entry is only about £5 and inside you will find a sea of weed smoke. I was the only non smoking and only dancing guy there. Even the DJ's were smoking it. It was Hip Hop night yet I didn't recognise a single song. There was live graffiti (I believe it was Hoakser, I might be wrong) and most importantly live music. A group of local MC's and a guitarist took turns to play tunes and rap over the beats. At first I felt a bit scared of the place, but I left feeling that it was actually pretty special. A club less focused on making huge sums of money from cheap beer, than supporting Birmingham's scene. I have decided to not mention the place's name, lets just say that it's Birmingham's best reggae club.

A new club opens on the 17th, Check it out

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The best pubs in birmingham

First of all I doubt this will be the last blog I do on this subject, There are so many pubs in Birmingham and so many which I have not yet been too, that this list will by no means be definitive. I am rating each pub /5  in 5 different areas. Much like the 'B-Town Rating' system

Best for Beer:
Situated right between New Street Station and The Town Hall, The Post Office Vaults (8/10) is so small that it is easy to walk past unnoticed, even though it is painted bright red and has hilarious chalk board signs outside. Being a very small pub, it tends to be packed with regular visitors, and with no beer garden, finding a place to sit can be tricky at peak time. The atmosphere however is wonderful. It does seem to attract a 30+ audience of punters, and the beers are not cheap, so I wouldn't recommend it for the young hipster crowd (It does have wi-fi though). The cosy feel of the place is down to the old furniture not being replaced and bottles of beer left on the walls after many great nights spent there. The POV has a menu of 100 beers. Mostly European, and almost all of them having a story of some sort. Some are brewed by Trappist monks, others in long established breweries. You can get a little booklet with every beer in it. Once you've drunk every one I believe there is a prize (of more beer!). If you love beer then you simply have to give The Post Office Vaults a visit.

Best For Character:
Centered right next to the Custard Factory, The Old Crown Inn (7.6/10) has become a cool hangout with Birmingham's hipsters. Despite being one of the oldest pubs in Britain. Founded in the middle ages and surviving Two world wars, The Industrial revolution and the developers of the 1960's. The Old Crown has only gained more character over time. Over the last 100 years the foundations have sunk, the wooden beams looking a lot more wonky than they used too. During the day The Old Crown also has it's own little coffee club, which is a nice place to sit if the pub gets crowded over night. Despite looking very small from the outside, The old crown only gets bigger inside. Complete with it's own beer garden (more of a patio really) and water well, as well as at least two resident ghosts. The old Crown can also boast to have once hosted Queen Victoria, weary after her travels.

Best for Music
As you will know from reading  The B Town blog, I have always done my best to support Birmingham's music scene, and have been to many of these pubs to check out new music. However This raises the question of when does a pub become a music venue that serves beer, rather than a pub that has live music. The Sunflower Lounge (6) is a bit of both. To be judged by a pub's standards it lacks character, despite the cool look of the place. It's not the most welcoming of places either. I've always felt that The Sunflower Lounge is the cool place to be though. Yet it is the tiny cellar and the impressive roster of bands that play there that make The Lounge worth going too. The Flapper (6.8) is much more old school in style. It's big it has a pier to smoke on, a decent beer selection and the tunes are always great. The cellar down below hosts many great gigs, yet the pub itself is welcoming, it's big enough to not feel claustrophobic. The only drawback is how hard it is to find. The Actress and Bishop (6.8) is by far the least posh pub in the Jewelry Quarter, and as a direct result it's also the most popular. I've seen some great shows in the little upstairs section. The pub has a cool rock n roll vibe but a nice atmosphere all the same. But best of all Is the Hare and Hounds, which amazingly I've only ever been to once, a great pub and live venue, it's the best of both worlds. 

Best for Atmosphere
In all the times I have been to or walked past The Shakespeare (7.2), It seems to be full of friendly, local regulars. Inside it is rather small, finished with old chairs and wooden tables, as well as a big fireplace and portraits on the walls. After a date at the sunflower lounge had been a bad idea we went to the Shakespeare and found it to be a much nicer place to talk. It has a nice cosy feel, partly down to the massive fireplace and old furnishings. For something very different, Baccus (7.2) is worth a visit. underground never to a hotel, Baccus immediately makes an impression with it's grand and very over the top d├ęcor. Huge greco-roman (reproduced) paintings on the walls. No two spots in Baccus are the same. Clearly a lot of work has gone into making it a unique place to be. A bit weird if you and your mates just want a pint, but perfect for dates and work parties.