Category Archives: Features

Meet the Locals: Birmingham Vintage Fair @ The Custard Factory

On Saturday 23rd November, Alice Cudmore wandered down to the Birmingham Vintage Fair, held in The Custard Factory, Digbeth, to meet and chat to some of the lovely stall-holders.

Name: Charlottevintage fair 1
Stall name: Lottie’s Lots
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“I realised a few years ago that I’d come out of Topshop and see five more people wearing everything that I’d just bought. I got bored of mainstream fashion and decided to go into vintage. It’s much more exciting and it offers loads more interesting, one-off pieces.”

What’s your favourite vintage era?
The ’50s

vintage fair 2Name: Paul
Stall name: Madame Cherry
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“It’s actually my wife who owns the stall, I just help her on weekends. She’s really crafty and arty, and wanted to find an outlet for her creativity. She started making jewellery and then did a few test fairs, before deciding to do this full time.”

Name: Annavintage fair 3
Stall name: Dolly Anna Does
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“I’m actually a fashion designer by trade, and this was another outlet for my work, and also great for getting ideas and networking in the fashion industry!”

Favourite vintage era?
The ’60s

vintage fair 4Name: Kyshia
Stall Name: Newell Accessories (“It’s a family name – I wanted to keep it close to home and it means if I have any children they can always take over one day!”)
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“This is actually my first one! I really liked the jewellery I was seeing around with the new vintage craze, and thought I could have a go myself!”

Favourite vintage era?
The 60’s – “It was so exciting! I was born in the ’80s but I wish I’d been around in the ’60s!”

vintage fair 5Name: Chloe
Stall name: Elsie and Fred
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“Well we actually have a shop in Coventry called Elsie and Fred (after two of our friends). We wanted to spread the word and get more people interested in vintage!”

Favourite vintage era?
The ’60s

by Alice Cudmore

Is this fur real? Fashion and the fur industry.

The fur trade is always a hot topic – with animal activists and fashion addicts constantly at each other’s throats in the media because of it. Most of us will remember Sophie-Ellis Bexter holding up a skinned fox for a PETA anti-fur campaign a few years ago, and we’ve all heard stories about activists throwing red paint over models in white fur coats.


     Similar to most people, I’ve never actually taken much notice of these sorts of things. I always thought it must be an exaggerated cause by do-gooders trying to shock people into signing petitions. Until recently, the fur trade was something that I had placed alongside fox hunting and animal testing – horribly cruel, yes, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’d never actively checked a shampoo bottle to make sure it hadn’t been tested on animals.

     Heading into the depths of Digbeth in the few weeks of my first year, I quickly became a vintage enthusiast – it’s cheap, it’s different, and it’s usually great quality if you know what to look for. Shopping was no longer a depressing trawl around Topshop pining after things I could definitely not afford. But still, as far as I was concerned, real fur was for the rich and the fabulous – a far cry from a student like me with barely enough money for a return-ticket to Selly Oak. The closest I’d ever got to fur was a shaggy pair of moon boots that I had worn to death in year four.

     During a regular shopping trip, I headed to one of my favourite little shops in the city centre – Vintage on Ally Street (down the first side road on the left as you head down Digbeth high street). I picked up a really cool jacket – a denim splash-dye number that I fell in love with instantly. I tried it on and it fitted perfectly. Barely even inspecting the collar, I headed to the till and thrusted a grubby tenner at the lady who owns, and runs, the shop. As I handed over my money, she casually said, ‘I should let you know that it is real fur on the collar.’ I didn’t think much of it, and proceeded with the transaction. My reasoning in that moment was that the animal was already dead – and if this jacket was not worn, it had died in vain. Surely, that was a reasonable argument to buy it?

     For a fair few months I felt tremendous wearing my jacket. Friends would touch the fur and ask if it was real, to which I would proudly inform them that it was. Many recoiled in disgust, but I felt glamorous and fashionable so for some time that was enough to keep it as a firm wardrobe favourite.

     My opinion took a dramatic turn recently when I was doing my daily trawl of my Facebook newsfeed. A friend had shared a video entitled ‘Olivia Munn exposes Chinese Fur Trade.’ I would advise that anyone who stumbles across this video should not watch it unless you have a very strong stomach. By the end, I was in tears and felt physically nauseous after seeing terrified animals being electrocuted, choked and even skinned alive. The sheer disgust and anger that I felt after watching this absolutely revolting and shocking cruelty to such beautiful, innocent creatures stayed with me for several days. I grabbed my jacket and when it started malting, I felt like I had blood on my hands.


     Since then, I have researched the fur trade – trawling through websites detailing some of the appalling realities of the fur trade. But it’s not only the fur trade that is so disgusting – leather is just as cruel, raking in £600 million annually from Great Britain alone. Countless campaigns have been set up by animal-rights activists to abolish huge fur and leather firms, but most of the time these efforts come to no avail, as the demand for these materials are still so high. What I found particularly upsetting was that much-loved, familiar pets such as cats, dogs, rabbits and even guinea-pigs are mercilessly killed to feed the hungry fur trade – with around 2 million being killed every year in China alone and being sold on to European traders. I felt sick at the thought that my fur collar could have come from a puppy.

     Typing ‘fur trade in Birmingham’ into Google, I was surprised to find that there are so many fur traders in Birmingham who are feeding this terrible industry. Formally, these businesses are called ‘Furriers’, and most are not based in the city centre. One in particular that caught my eye was ‘Madeline Ann’ – a small shop in Solihull that sells fur items.  This shop has been targeted by a local mqdefaultactivist group who are campaigning to stop the shop from selling fur by sending angry letters to the owners and discouraging locals from entering the shop. I felt a pang of relief that something was being done, but at the same time a sad realisation that these efforts would probably come to nothing. Most vintage shops in Birmingham sell fur coats, and the vintage scene is most certainly thriving. Fur is fashionable, and unfortunately not enough thrifters are aware of the disgusting processes behind their ‘bargains.’

     However, I have started doing my bit. I can’t deny that I still love the jacket, but it mainly lives in the depths of my wardrobe these days. When my grandmother recently offered me her old fur coat that she wore when she was ‘a girl… and a size 10’ – the first question that I asked was, ‘is the fur real?’ My fingers were firmly crossed as I observed the beautiful garment, until she assured me that it was fake. The coat is my new favourite item of outerwear. When people ask me if it’s real, I can proudly tell them that I no longer wear real fur, and that fake is most certainly the way forward.

By Meg Evans


Jazzlines presents: The Greyish Quartet


The Greyish Quartet have been a prominent fixture in the Birmingham jazz scene for several years now. Formed in 2008 by pianist and composer David Austin Grey, the quartet has already seen success with their release of The Dark Red Room, an album of original compositions inspired by film and photography. Presented by Jazzlines, this gig was part of the series of the free events held in Symphony Hall’s Café Bar every Friday at 5pm. As the busy traffic creeps by outside the foyer’s tall windows, inside is a large dedicated crowd, choosing to end their week by listening to some quality jazz rather than facing the rush hour. The quartet performed a mixture of tunes from The Dark Red Room as well as some new compositions which they are taking to the recording studio in the near future. David Austin Grey spoke about the personal influences of his compositions, but also emphasised the importance of the collaborative creative process of the quartet’s music.

P1050219From the first number, the group established their elegant sound. Grey’s luscious piano style creates a rich layer which seems to float over the busyness of the bass and kit. Even the high energy pieces of the set seemed to retain an assured gracefulness, the rhythm section instruments blending effortlessly to support some stirring solos from Sam Wooster on trumpet. This said, all members of the band demonstrated their skills through improvised solo sections. There was melodic and innovative playing from Nick Jurd who utilised both double and electric bass during the set, whilst Jim Bashford sensitively accompanied the other players, but also built the excitement of the performance with exuberant fills and flourishes.

P1050221A fantastic thing about hearing a small jazz ensemble of this standard is that all of the musicians are seen to deliver equally soloistic playing throughout the set. The interactions of rhythms and melodic ideas flow so freely between them that, as a listener, it can be difficult to decide on whom to focus your attention. The result is a capturing of the senses, drawing the audience into the music through the focussed enthusiasm of each player as they craft their performance.


A highlight was An Orderly and Beautiful Escape, which began in a slow latin feel, stylistically reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s Caravan. From here though, the piece developed into very much its own original entity, the whole quartet moving together to create variations on the tempo and a fascinating array of textures. The band also demonstrated an amazing use of space in the gentle ballad Life Goes to Plan Infrequently, a variation on the well known jazz standard I Fall in Love too Easily. Perhaps one of the most subtle yet stirring tunes of the set was  Kindness of Ravens, a stunning composition built upon a simple bass riff, progressing and building to an amazing layering of sound, perfectly completed with the return of the beautiful, rippling piano motif for the outro.

P1050215The Greyish Quartet’s distinctive sound and innovative style make them a perfect example of the incredible craftsmanship present in British jazz at the moment. They are currently touring other major cities, but will return to Birmingham next Sunday, 19th of May to play at The Cross in Moseley.
More details can be found at

Anna Lumsden

Hidden Fruits of Birmingham: The Dragon Fruit

Have you ever tried to stick to a healthy diet but just lost interest in tasteless pears, boring bananas and very mushy apples? Or are you just looking for something new to try? In this series of long but not too long articles, I will introduce you to the hidden fruits of Birmingham. Located in this very city are countless exotic and extremely tasty fruits that you may have not noticed. From the Prickly Pear to the beautiful Dragon Fruit, the Birmingham fruit revelation of 2013 starts right here!

Dragon Fruit1

The Dragon Fruit comes in three different species and are native to countries such as Mexico, Central & South America, East & Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, Southern China and many other countries. It consists of a leathery textured outer skin with moist melon-like flesh on the inside. The most commonly found Dragon Fruit has pink skin with white flesh (as pictured). Other species include pink skin with fuchsia flesh (generally considered to be the most delicious) and yellow skin with white flesh. Personally, I prefer the second type simply because it looks very pretty! (It looks like something out of Willy Wonka’s factor, except that it’s fruit not chocolate).

In preparation for consumption, the flesh much be extracted out of the skin. The easiest way to do this is to cut the fruit in half lengthways, and the flesh can be taken out very easily with a spoon, much like an avocado, but not as mushy or boring. I literally ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ every time I cut one of these.

The flesh itself is dotted with hundreds of Dragon Fruit seeds. However, these are extremely small are easier to eat than watermelon. The taste is not very rich. In fact, it is very subtle; similarly to a melon it has a hint of sweetness but is made up mostly of a liquid. The skin is not edible at all but is extremely pleasing to the eye. Not that it matters when eating fruits, but it does help in picking them out!

The flesh of a Dragon Fruit is quite watery and it does like to seep into your attire and create funny-looking stains, so be prepared! Make sure the fruit is prepared on a clean desktop/chopping board with plenty of space. And next to a tap preferably in case you find that you have sticky Dragon Fruit juice running down your arms.

Dragon Fruits do vary in size, but they are usually not ridiculously large; bigger than an average apple but small enough to be able to hold firmly with two hands.  They usually weigh approximately 300-500g, but there have been some which have weighted up to 1kg.

Dragon Fruits contain a lot of antioxidants which helps improve the immune system. It is also a rich source of vitamin C, B1, B2, B3 and lots of other number/letter-combinations that are good for you. It has also been proved to increase energy levels and the quality of your skin. It’s also good for people who have asthma, bad coughs and can help improve eye sight. Would it be too optimistic to hope that these will rid me of my glasses once and for all? Ah well.

Overall, if you’re looking for something that’s quite sweet and not too overbearing, rich in taste but will improve your health generally, this is the fruit for you. They can sometimes be found in many supermarkets but the best place to get them is in Asian Supermarkets where you’ll probably pay half the price for a much healthier fruit.

By Najmin Begum

Hidden Gems: Sack Sales on New Street

It’s undeniable that as a student, a shopping bargain is always very welcome; whether it’s new winter boots or a jumper that will keep you from freezing, as you refuse to turn the heating on. Trawling around the Bullring can usually be a hassle but somehow, when you find a real gem it can all be worth it. ‘Sack Sales on New Street’ has taken the bargain-hunter experience to an entirely new level.

sack sales on new street

‘Sack Sales on New Street’ is what is known as a ‘pop-up shop’. Located just past the Tesco Metro, on the left-hand side, it’s there for a limited time, and if one wasn’t looking for it, it would be easy to miss. It works like this – there are two floors; the ground floor is your standard vintage store full of ‘on-trend’ items for prices around £10 – £20 (a bit more for fur and leather). The alternative option is to head up the stairs, brandishing a bin bag to fill with whatever you like – the best way I can think of describing it is ‘Garment pick ‘n’ mix.’ Although, you could argue that some of the things one can find in this establishment are far from appetizing.

As you enter, you are greeted by an extremely loud sound system – a personal hate of mine, in regard to shopping.  The ground floor is dedicated to all the second hand clothing that these entrepreneurs have deemed worthy of labelling as vintage, and the rest is sent upstairs. Most of the stuff on the bottom floor looks really great.

But there are a number of things wrong with this place. Looking at some of the very fashionable Levi’s shorts laid out, it was obvious that the owners of ‘Sack Sales’ had seen an opportunity. Upon closer inspection, only about a quarter of the shorts were genuine Levi’s – the rest poorer quality denim shorts that had had Levi’s labels stitched on the back. Personally, I thought it was a cheap trick to take advantage of the less label-savvy. In addition, a lot of the items were quite dirty – making me question the quality, and indeed, hygiene of the rest of the shop. 

Nevertheless, having been to a Sack Sale in the US, I had high hopes. You are given a bin liner, which you can either fill for £10, or fill halfway for £5.  The first floor was pandemonium. There were piles and piles of clothes supposedly designated categories, such as ‘denim’ and ‘dresses.’ Most of it was, to my disappointment, complete and utter tat. IMG_1333


Being a retail-magpie through and through, however, I was not about to give up. If you are willing to throw yourself (literally) into the musty piles, it is probable that you can claw a few gems out. On a serious note, only go here if you have a lot of spare time and an industrial-sized vat of hand-sanitizer. For those shoppers who like a calm amble through a vintage market, this is not for you. If you grew up going to church hall jumble sales and car boots, on the other hand, you could be in for a few treasures.


By Megan Evans @mkevans92

Hidden Gems: Old Joint Stock Theatre Pub

old joint stock pub

Situated on Temple Row, at the edge of St. Philip’s Cathedral, the Old Joint Stock Theatre Pub is like a trip to Wonderland, and indeed to its Victorian roots. Built in 1864 and designed by Julius Alfred Chatwin, the building is Grade II listed. Originally a library and then a bank, it has been renovated into one of the most impressive bars you’ll find in Birmingham, with an 80-seater theatre upstairs.
stock pub

Passing the stone pillars of the building’s façade and entering through its gigantic doors, you will step into a vast space filled with plush patterned carpets and gleaming floorboards. There are great draping curtains over enormous windows, a marble-topped island bar, with wonderfully atmospheric lamps and its own clock tower, gorgeous paintings and rustic furniture. And that’s before you look up.

On the ceiling are countless historical busts, viewing the whole scene with eyes from another era. Chandeliers and a balcony, where you can touch the stonework, are completely outstripped by a titanic domed ceiling. Old Joint

Since it’s the festive season, their titan Christmas tree will be out now; delicious mulled wine and cider in glass tankards will warm your frostbitten hands.
As a past employee of the pub, I can vouch for their excellent food (pies are their speciality), as well as the quality of their ales and beers, and the welcoming and friendly staff. The only downside is the expense – if you want to dine in a beautiful Victorian building with quality food and drink, you have to be prepared to pay £3.60 for a Carling.

For a list of events at the Old Joint Stock theatre, visit:

By Danielle Bentley

‘Hidden Gem’ of the Balti Triangle, Al Frash

The Balti Triangle of South East Birmingham epitomises freshness, flavour and the spice explosion your taste buds desire when you sit down for a true Pakistani/Kashmiri Balti experience. Al Frash, which translates from Persian to ‘The Butterfly’, was my first experience of a traditional Balti. It is without doubt a hidden gem of a restaurant. Established in 1991, its numerous accolades include being a finalist for Birmingham’s Best India Restaurant 2011, which acknowledges its cultural charm.

The Balti is a cultural highlight in itself. Loosely based on home-style traditional cooking, the Balti came to Birmingham in the mid-1970s. Its defining features include the wide cast-iron pan shaped bowl it is served in, and also named after, which is perfect for navigating your naan to wipe up all the delicious juices and spices. The bowls have become a crucial cultural addition as they are now manufactured in Birmingham. It is also, as many weight-watchers may be pleased to know, made with fresh spices rather than pastes and has a tomato and onion base with the use of vegetable oil instead of ghee – making the Balti a healthy and authentic alternative. Although, I cannot doubt that once you have tried the dish and the restaurants’ other beautiful offerings, you will leave feeling stuffed.

Al Frash certainlyprovides something extra for their customers. When I entered the small pocket of wonder amidst the vibrancy of Ladypool road, I could appreciate why Al Frash was praised highly online. We were made to feel immediately at home. The sole waiter, upon being asked if we needed to pay for the car park opposite, joked that we just needed to pay him whatever we felt was adequate. He gave a beaming smile and led us to a cosy table in the corner of the restaurant. It is the perfect size for an intimate dinner and has a friendly atmosphere – being full of locals who were obviously regulars.

We started with the sizzling lamb chops tikka, where my fellow curry taster remarked ‘the meat just melts in your mouth’, and the chicken tikka, which was also succulent and juicy. You cannot deny the freshness of the spices used in the dishes. The side of yogurt and pickles we enjoyed with our poppadum had that deep, rich flavour you look for in a good dip. It probably would have been sacrilege not to order a Balti in the Balti Triangle, so we duly ordered chicken and king prawn traditional Baltis with the obligatory naan and rice. It was unbelievably good value for money. The meat and fish were cooked to perfection, and the presentation of the Balti itself was fabulous: sitting in the traditional bowl, next to a naan far too big for the plate. It was clear, from the stilting of the conversation, that it was exactly what we had hoped for.

My experience of the Balti triangle has opened my eyes to another part of Birmingham’s rich culture and heritage. The Balti Triangle also provides great insight into the communities and culture of the area. Each individually prepared dish has been exceptional every time I have visited. It would be a travesty to miss out on the beauty of Chef Azam’s offerings, and the prices are perfect with the usual BYOB policy. Al Frash is a far reach from the curry houses of Selly Oak.

Holly Abel


The Student Lock-in – worth the hassle?

Student lock-ins are shopping events held frequently around Birmingham – enticing all students in the city to squander their student loans by taking advantage of big discounts and offers. Shopping on a Saturday, in the Birmingham Bullring, is for most, as enjoyable as attending a 9am seminar with a hangover. I discovered that student lock-in events can be a similar experience.

Lock-ins tend to run outside of day-to-day shopping hours (usually between 6pm and 10pm) and involve the big-name chains such as River Island, H&M and Topshop; offering out-of-the-ordinary discounts for students.

But here’s the catch (well, one of them) – it is key to sign up online for these events, which involves a tedious online form. Then, upon arrival at the Bullring, there is a queue to pick up your confirmation of registration before you can actually start shopping. This whole routine is what one might call – for want of a better word – a ‘faff’.

Granted, if you are willing to go through the motions, lock-ins can be brilliant when it comes to finding bargains. For example, Forever 21 – a huge high street store exclusive to Birmingham and London in the UK – has, on several occasions, offered a huge 21% discount for students. So, if one had seen something in there prior to the event but couldn’t justify paying full price, these sort of events can make buying a treat less of a blow to the student purse or wallet.

However, with some of the shops (Mango for example), there is a further requirement – having a standard University ID Card is not enough. For a few of them, you’ll need an NUS card – so it is a good idea to check the small print before setting your heart on something.

The main thing that personally turns me off is the sheer amount of people. Topshop during a lock-in can get pretty claustrophobic, and if you’re more of a ‘browser’ the packed shops are not ideal. In addition to this, it’s near impossible to try anything on as the queues become ridiculous. 

On the other hand, lock-ins can be a great way to socialise – making a refreshing change to a night out. And for some, a lock-in may prove to be a cheaper alternative! As well as the shopping perks, a lot of food chains also offer deals during these events – big names such as The Homemade Burger Co. usually make an appearance on the list. So it does provide a cheap meal out for a group of housemates who don’t fancy 9p noodles for the 4th night running.

Lock-ins can be fun. But if you are looking for an easy amble around the shops then you’re better off going on a weekday. If, on the contrary, you are a ruthless bargain-hunter with your eye on the prize, you could find a real gem. Or a pair of gems.

 Megan Evans