Spillers Saturday Sessions No. 1: Goldie Lookin’ Chain

I don’t need many words to introduce this piece. Quite simply, for the first gig in a 12-week long stretch of Saturday sessions hosted by the wonderful Spillers Records, Goldie Lookin’ Chain performed a small set at the Big Little City exhibition at The Cardiff Story.

Safe to say, it was an intimate gig, but the exhibition was packed, and in their own words, it was a bit of a Health and Safety nightmare with cables everywhere and ‘Keith’ on the decks not really knowing what he was doing.

But hey ho, that’s just how they roll.

Enjoy the pictures, and remember, guns don’t kill people – rappers do.

Next week: Huw M

Claire Grove Buttons: Cardiff institution, craft-lover’s paradise and photographer’s dream

Pretty much since the day I started this project, I’d wanted to feature ‘the Button shop’ as I call it. I often describe it as my favourite shop, and I’m not even too much into crafting (don’t seem to have the skill for it…). But in here, it’s a real Aladdin’s cave of tiny wonders. Just to warn you, if you have a button phobia, you might want to close your browser quick sharpish, right now… if not, read on…

Claire Grove Buttons is one of the oldest shops in the arcade, having been in business in the same unit for around 30 years, after a brief foray in the now defunct Dickens Arcade (now the site of Revolution).

Born in Birmingham but growing up in London and Wales, Claire decided to open a button shop after leaving art college and thinking it would be a good move. Her distant family has a button factory in Birmingham which has been going for a very long time, so you might say it was in the blood.

In the beginning, Claire would design and make the buttons herself, but now sources them from a variety of places, many of them from her favourite country, India. You can see the Indian influence throughout the shop, in the intricate designs of the buttons and the belly dancing outfits adorning the wall.

During her time in the arcade, Claire has seen the majority of businesses come and go, with only Constantinou’s and Barker’s lasting a similar length of time as her. She can remember both Cafe Minuet and Troutmark Books opening, now institutions in their own right.

She reckons the boom time for the shop was the 80s, when craft was very big and more people were knitting. On the other hand, people will always need buttons and she also does big business from tourists charmed by the quirky nature of the little shop no doubt. As crafting starts to come back into the mainstream now, you can but hope that once again there might be a boom time for the shop, so that it can keep going for another 30+ years!

At the start of my post I mentioned button phobics. I have a couple of friends who have this strange fear, but naturally Claire has met her fair share of others in her time too. She told me that it’s usually men, who are forced into the shop by their other halfs and stand there stiff as a board looking petrified. Other times, a friend will be loitering outside while those inside gleefully tell Claire that their companion is too frightened to come in. She’s even seen people use the shop as ‘therapy’ to overcome their fears… the lengths people will go to. Interestingly, or perhaps weirdly, she’s never seen anybody with a fear of beads. Go figure.

Working in the shop during my visit was Elaine, who has been at the shop for a number of years and has also worked at other arcade businesses such as the New York Deli. Elaine makes a lot of the jewellery hanging for sale from the walls, and told me that she is still finds things in the shop that she’s never seen before even after many years.

Elaine also told me that the shop is quite selective about who they let take photos in the shop, so I hope that these pictures have done this wonderful place justice, and if you like them, please feel free to let me know in the comments box below.

Like so many of the shops I have photographed this week, this is a shop which I could run up a huge shutter count for, so you will find more in this Flickr set.


Folk Farm: the most incredibly insane (in the best possible way) shop in Cardiff’s Arcades

Knowing where to start on this post is incredibly difficult. If you know anything about the shop, Folk Farm, or its charismatic owner, Chris Brick you’ll know why. If you don’t… well… prepare for something like you’ve probably never seen before.

Folk Farm is like no other arcade shop. In fact, it’s like no other shop. Certainly I’ve never witnessed anything like this before. Based around the theme of an old country farm, with sprinklings of the American mid-West liberally dashed around the place, this is a clothes-cum-record-cum-god-knows-what shop nestled away in the Castle Arcade.

If you’ve walked past it you’ve probably not really had any idea what’s going on in there. And if you’ve been brave enough to venture in, you’ve probably come out none-the-wiser.

It actually boasts Britain’s, if not Europe or the World’s largest collection of folk vinyl. Put simply there is a LOT here. It doesn’t seem to be in any order, so you will really need to root around if you’re looking for something in particular. There’s incredibly rare stuff here too, I’m not exactly in the know about this kind of thing, but you would hope a £100 record is £100 for a good reason.

On the other end of the spectrum, the clothes are amazing value. You’ll find mountains of t-shirts for £5. Or even £1 in some of the baskets. You’ll find random bits of clothing in the window that you could probably even haggle on the price of. You’ll also find random bits of whatever from all over the place floating around.

This isn’t the first time the owner, Chris Brick, has owned a shop of course. Oh no, far from it. Go in and ask if you want more details, honestly it’s really worth the chat. According to Chris, every 7-10 years he thinks up a new random idea, always based around a certain theme, and goes with it. He’s taken his shops to the US, notably in New York and San Francisco, but now, in what he thinks will be his last venture, he’s back in his homeland of Wales for Folk Farm.

Anyone familiar with his past might know of his previous ventures, Demob in London, Smylon Nylon in New York, Center for the Dull, also in New York and Teenage Millionnaire in LA. If you’re not familiar, now is a good time to get acquainted with the latest project. But even they weren’t his first ventures, he tells me, in his Welsh-American lilt that his initial business projects all collapsed, losing hundreds of thousands in the process. But he always picked himself up, dusted himself off, and got on with the next one. Until people started to cotton on and the shops became successful, a bit weird, a bit different, somewhere people just want to hang out.

He lives up by Abergavenny, the surrounding counties being the places he sources his crazy collection of goods from.  He tells me a lot of things in the shop are designed to evoke memories in customers. The tin bath for example, which you’ll find hanging off the ceiling as you come in the door (of course), reminds him of fireside baths as child.

Unbelievably, Chris says that not that many people have come to photograph the shop before for the press and so on. What?! I ask, probably 10 times during the course of our 2 hour chat. This can’t be possible. Why wouldn’t people want to photograph this? This is the most incredible place I’ve been in for a long time. Stand on one spot in the store and you can take 50, no 100 pictures and they will all be completely different. Honestly, try it out for yourself. Chris won’t mind, he just goes with the flow.

After leaving the States behind to come back, New York was the hardest market to crack apparently, Chris is less bothered about making money these days, so long as there’s enough to pay the rent and the bills and get by. This is clearly just about him doing what he wants to do and not worrying about what anyone else thinks – the best way to be.

His children, having grown up in America had to swap Malibu for the Welsh Valleys, love it all. They probably get their attitude from their father – it’s only his wife who would rather be back Stateside (on a rainy day would you blame her?).

You’ll see that I’ve taken a lot of portraits of Chris – all his idea. What can I say other than this guy’s a natural in front of the camera. He says he picked it up from watching the film extras that used to visit his American shops, but it’s obvious this isn’t the first time he’s been photographed. He asked to see one of the photographs I’d taken. “Look how old and fat I look!” he remarked. “Uh-oh…” went through my mind. “Isn’t it great!” was his next sentence.

Chris Brick and Folk Farm. Incredible guy, incredible shop. Go and check it out, now.

As you can imagine, I took hundreds of photos in this shop, of which I narrowed it down significantly. You can see a selection in this post, but there’s even more over on this Flickr set.

On this post, comments are, more than welcome, please share your thoughts, notes and insanity at the bottom.

Free music courtesy of Spillers Records!

Fresh from the magnificent excitement of Record Store Day, Spillers Records, the oldest record shop in the world, which can be found in the Morgan Arcade, will be hosting live music Saturday sessions in the Big Little City exhibition just round the corner in the Cardiff Story every week for the next 12 weeks!

The events, which will be free (the best kind!) feature some of the best music in Wales, and will kick off at 3pm every Saturday.

I’ll try  my best to go to as many as possible and take photos, hope to see some of you there!

The line-up is as follows:

30th April: Goldie Lookin’ Chain – pictures now online
7th May: Huw M – pictures now online
14th May: Llywybr Llaethog (didn’t attend)
21st May: Soft Hearted Scientists – pictures now online
28th May: The Sunsets – pictures now online
4th June: Martyn Joseph – pictures now online
11th June: H.Hawkline – pictures now online
18th June: Meilir (no pictures)
25th June: Houdini Dax (didn’t attend)
2nd July: Sweet Baboo – pictures now online
9th July: Richard James
16th July: Christopher Rees

For more information, the best place is probably the Spillers Saturday Sessions Facebook event. Looking forward to it already!

In-store event at Catapult this Saturday!

After the excitement of Record Store Day just a couple of weeks ago, this weekend there’s another instore event taking place at Catapult Vinyl in the High Street Arcade.

This time, Bonobo are playing the day after their CYNT gig at the Millennium Music Hall on Friday night in a free in-store session.

Come along to the basement where you’ll no doubt find me jostling with the crowd to get the best position for photographs – apologies if I whack you in the face with my flash, but hey ho it’s all part of the experience isn’t it?

To find out more information, find the Bonobo Event on the Catapult Facebook page – see you there!

Dragon’s Kitchen: Traditional Welsh food opposite a traditional Welsh Castle

It’s probably not a good idea to eat a Brownie for breakfast. But when it’s delicious and comes courtesy of the wonderful Dragon’s Kitchen (Cegin Y Ddraig) I think you can just about be forgiven, right?

Anyway… seeing past my sugar induced haze, I had the delight of spending a couple of hours in this Castle Arcade cafe yesterday morning and having a chat with owner JP.

Dragon’s Kitchen is directly opposite the Castle and sells traditional Welsh food as well as the usual takeaway items such as baguettes, teas, coffees and pastries.

JP has only owned Dragon’s Kitchen since 2009. Prior to that it was Celtic Cauldron before being taken over by a charity not long before JP bought the place and transformed it. The charity took away the kitchen from the downstairs, so this is now an extra dining area and everything that is made on the premises is done so behind the counter.

Although you’ll find an array of traditional Welsh food, such as Cawl, Lobscaws and Rarebit, it’s fairly priced and very much not intended to just be a tourist trap for those coming across from the Castle, but offering something for everyone. JP tries to make everything himself, or anything that he buys in source from Wales.

In the short time I was there, a few other local business owners popped in for a quick chat or to ask a question,  reinforcing the community spirit you tend to see in these arcades, even when the businesses would traditionally be competing with each other. Interestingly, JP tells me that the businesses try not to step on each other’s toes, making sure that they each offer something different. You won’t find pizzas in Dragon’s Kitchen as Cafe Minuet is opposite, and you won’t find Cupcakes as Madame Fromage is just down the way.

To backtrack a little to the history of JP and the cafe, the name Dragon’s Kitchen was to tie in with the tradition of Celtic Cauldron, but signify a departure. After studying catering at University, JP spent years working at Cardiff Airport before joining the Western Mail to work in advertising. After deciding to quit his job, him and his wife went around the world traveling, came back and set up Dragon’s Kitchen. The logo was designed by JP’s Dad, and in a nod to more iconic Welsh culture was inspired by the dragon from Ivor the Engine.

Popping in the day after a long bank holiday weekend threw up some interesting points. The whole arcade was closed on Sunday, but JP says that it wasn’t as busy on Saturday as usual, and Monday, even when most of the other Arcade cafes and eateries were closed was also very quiet. But apparently it’s hard to spot patterns, even during a normal week, which must make it hard, if not frustrating for business owners.

Like many of the businesses in the Castle and High Street Arcade, JP says that the roadworks on High Street and Castle Street were the biggest cause of revenue loss over the past year, and along with the white-out at Christmas, it’s tough this year as there’s nothing to fall back on.

Thankfully, despite the tough situation, JP remains ever positive, embracing social media to promote the business and speaking fo the great reviews the cafe has had on places like Qype and Yelp. It’s fantastic to see someone so enthusiastic about their business, and hopefully this will translate into good returns.

I’ll definitely be popping in to try some more traditional Welsh food – something despite living in Wales for such a long time I’m ashamedly behind on – make sure you pop along too. Have a look below for some more pictures from the shop, and don’t forget you can find Dragon’s Kitchen on Facebook and Twitter, as well as their main website.

Happy Easter from Cardiff Arcades

Just a quick post with a few of the Easter displays in the arcades… most of the arcade shops will be closed today, so enjoy looking at these displays instead!

In the window of Jonathan David, Morgan Arcade

Display at Fred and Grace's, Royal Arcade

Pen and Paper, Royal Arcade

Pen and Paper, Royal Arcade

Pen and Paper, Royal Arcade

Saswa, Royal Arcade

Health with Herbs, Royal Arcade

Health with Herbs, Royal Arcade

Cardiff Arcades in macro: antique watches from Jonathan David Jewellers

I’m very fortunate this week to be in the posession of a macro lens. My first thought as soon as I received it was that I knew exactly where to find the perfect subjects to test it out on.

When I photographed Jonathan David in the Morgan Arcade a few weeks ago, I was shown a box of antique watches. My interest was piqued right away, but I didn’t really have the equipment on me to show their full beauty.

Well no more, here, in what I hope will be the first of many macro posts I present these beautiful, gorgeous, antique watches from Jonathan David Jewellers. Which is your favourite?

If you like nothing more than looking at antique watches, there’s a few more pictures over in this Flickr set

See the name Edith etched into the metal?

Record Store Day 2011 – as it happened at Catapult Vinyl and Spillers Records

Yesterday I had, quite simply, one of the most enjoyable days since I started the project. In fact, no scratch that, one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had. Quite a bold claim, I know, but that’s Record Store Day for you.

An early start saw me rock into town for about 9am. A concept incredibly alien to me on a Saturday morning. Just so you know, Cardiff city centre is great at that time of morning, nobody about, bloody peaceful. Anyway, back to business.

I swung by Spillers to check out the queue. I think I was a bit naive as I thought there might only be a few ultra die-hard fans lining up to get their hands on the many exclusive releases that were out yesterday, but to my surprise, and utter delight, the queue sneaked all the way around the store and towards Metros, get in!

A Catapult staff member modelling an exclusive record and exclusive t-shirt for Record Store Day

At Catapult, the day started off a little bit quieter, but momentum built there as the day went on as DJs took to the decks in the basement area. I don’t think I’ve ever done so many circuits of Cardiff city centre before as I flitted between the two venues keen to capture as much as I could from each.

Returning to Catapult to see Nu:Tone and Logistics do their set, I was confronted by a wall of testerone as the already tight space was packed with teenage boys – I’ve never felt more female (and old) in my life. Ha! Still, the biggest surprise of the day came as I found myself really, really enjoying the music coming out of the massive speakers. I don’t know whether it was the atmosphere or something else (before you ask no, I wasn’t under the influence) but I found myself getting really into a genre I’ve previously not really found much love for. Maybe I have uncovered a hidden love for dance music? Who knows… I am keen to find out though!

Heading to the less humid temperatures of Spillers for the end of the day, Ashli very kindly let me in the office to get an awesome aerial point of view of the shop over the way that had been converted especially for the day. The original plan for the second shop was for it to open after the “queue had died down.” Well, by 2pm it was still going strong so I don’t think the children’s creativity area ever happened, but Neil from Dizzyjam was busy making t-shirts, the fanzine (in which you could find my original blogpost on Spillers – eek), t-shirts and posters were on sale and people were generally milling about waiting for the bands to start.

First Meilir appeared at around 4, and Y Niwl came on about 5ish. A small, but perfectly formed, crowd boogied away inside and outside the shop and once again, I went into the office to watch (spy) on the revellers below.

By the end of the day my legs felt like they were about to buckle under me, but they can have been nothing compared to the tiredness that must have been felt by all the wonderful people involved in making Record Store Day a truly spectacular event, so this post, and these pictures are dedicated to the brilliant staff at both Spillers and Catapult, and especially Ashli, Grace, Simon and Lucy – I really do hope you like them. And for both them and the rest of you reading this, there is more pictures below, and even more on Flickr…. a lot of pictures for this day! You can also see some pretty awesome photos from my friend Simon Ayre who was also at the day… he even made it to the special RSD Future of the Left gig at Clwb Ifor Bach in the evening…. check out his Flickr page.

Here’s to Record Store Day 2012!

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Spillers Mark II

The office at Spillers, where the magic happens...

The wall of testosterone at Catapult...

Y Niwl playing at Spillers Mark II

Spillers owner Ashli Todd

Cardiff Arcades Bargains: April 2011

The last time I posted a round-up of great little Arcade bargains I had a positive response, so, with that in mind I’ve decided to make it a (semi) regular feature.

I rounded these up in about an hour, so imagine how much more you could find if you devoted your Saturday afternoon spending trip to it?

I’ll be posting any bargains I find as often as I can muster the energy, and promise to do a full-round up at least once a month.

In the meantime, if you see any bargains that you want to share, please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment!

Prices in this post range from £1 to £1100. If you’re thinking £1100 and bargain don’t really go very well together, when you consider that the item in question should be worth around £5000, you might begin to think differently.

In this issue you’ll find accessories, jewellery, shoes and clothing and crockery – enjoy!

Vintage Bag, Looby Loos, High Street Arcade, £6

Hand-made earrings, Looby Loos, High Street Arcade, £5

Purses, Bejewelled, High Street Arcade, £10

Converse trainers, Buzz Shoes, High Street Arcade, £25

Army shirt, Hobos, High Street Arcade, £12

Green belt with star detail, Hobos, High Street Arcade, £5

Butterfly trinket box, Rossiters, Royal Arcade, £5

Owl ring (also available in other colours), Rossiters, Royal Arcade, £7.50

Various singles, Folk Farm, Castle Arcade, £1

Engagement ring, Jonathan David, Morgan Arcade, £1100 .... its supposed to be £5000!

Mix n match teacups and saucers, A Vintage Affair, Morgan Arcade, £2

Teapot, A Vintage Affair, Morgan Arcade, £8