Forbesfield Flowers: Beauty, colour and quirk in the Castle Arcade

Just a few days ago I had the pleasure of photographing the absolutely gorgeous Forbesfield Flowers, a beautiful florist in the Castle Arcade.

Anybody who reads this blog with any kind of regularity will know how infrequently I’m able to get my act together and post photos within a few photos of the shutter being released. However, Forbesfield, in its current incarnation, will cease to be in a short while, so I thought I better hurry it along so you can see it while it’s still around.

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Cardiff Arcades featured in Mollie Makes

There’s some exciting publishing news to share with you this month as the Cardiff Arcades have been featured rather wonderfully in the beautiful Mollie Makes magazine.

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Catapult Records: “music’s better under the Tories.”

It was actually a few weeks ago that I photographed Catapult Vinyl in the High Street Arcade and got chatting with the owner, Simon.  Sadly, life got in the way and I’m only just getting around to blog about it – hopefully you will think it is worth the wait.

It’s fair to say that Catapult is one of the cooler shops in the arcades, fitting in very well with many of the other great shops in the High Street Arcade (including New York Deli, Looby Loo’s, Hobo’s…). In case you hadn’t guessed from its name, it’s a record shop specialising in hip-hop, dance, dubstep etc vinyl. They also sell accessories like T-shirts upstairs.

I spent the majority of my time however in the basement, which was converted especially for the shop. Previously it was all mud that has been dug out. I’m not exactly an expert on these things, but the acoustics in there are great, and amazingly you can still get phone signal.

To tell you a little bit about the history of the shop, Catapult is one of the oldest arcade businesses, having been set up in 1992 by Lucy (Simon’s wife) and their business partner, Simon joined around 8 years later. It was previously in another one of the shops but switched around at the same time as the New York Deli moved premises.

While I was there, a customer from Manchester was also in and Simon and he spent a lot of time chatting about “the glory days” and times gone by. It would seem, for the shop at least, the best times were the late 90s, just after New Labour had got into power. Indeed, if you look at pictures on the wall from that time you’ll see well-known DJs playing to so many kids that they can’t all fit in the shops.

Nowadays, Simon says that there’s not so much of a “youth identity” and he is concerned about the homogenisation of clubs and bars, especially in the Cardiff area. Before the 24-hour licensing laws  came into play a few years ago, Catapult was a destination once the pubs had kicked out, now not so.

Fortunately, the business is doing quite well at the moment, thanks in part to what Simon calls a resurgence in hip-hop and a love of vinyl, along with all things retro and nostalgic. He also says that people are starting to come in asking for magazines that went out of print years ago and there’s a keen-ness for fanzines at the moment, even though it might look like the publishing world is in decline and the internet is taking over.

Eavesdropping on the conversation between Simon and the customer was fascinating as it gave me a better insight into the ‘scene’ – so to speak. I’m the first to admit that this kind of music isn’t really my cup of tea but it’s always fantastic to hear people talking about their passions, and it was clear from listening to these two that that’s exactly what I was hearing. One interesting point that came up though was the effect politics has on music.

The pair suggested that the best punk music came about during the last Tory government, as a rebellious ‘fuck you’ to those in power. He thinks that perhaps this could happen again under the current administration. In the commercial world however, like Hobo’s, Catapult relies quite a lot on students for a lot of their trade and of course with increasing tuition fees and less money available for loans, it is of course a worry that business will be affected in the long run, even if the music is better.

Anyway, enough of the rambling, you probably didn’t come here for that – you came to look at pictures – quite rightly too. Enjoy the photos, Simon is keen to include the “Singles” sign as much as possible as apparently it cost quite a packet and he wants to get his money’s worth … look out for it.

It’s also worth noting the exterior of Catapult. It’s one of my favourites in all the arcades. I love the colour, the leading on the windows and the art deco styling – plus it looks great in wide angle pictures. I’ve put one in the post below, but you can see more in the High Street Wide Angle post.

Catapult will also be taking part in Record Store Day where I’m hoping to capture some great scenes from “behind the counter”. If you’re there, look out for me and come and say hi!

As always, comments, suggestions, ramblings, thoughts and more always very much welcome. There’s more photos from Catapult if you really can’t wait over in this Flickr set.

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Guest post on We Are Cardiff

I was asked to write a piece for the excellent storytelling website We Are Cardiff before I even had the idea to do an arcades project. The project is part of local arts group hack/flash and showcases stories from the people of Cardiff along with a super photograph.

I had my photograph taken by the excellent Adam Chard before the notion even entered my head.

What you are looking at in that photograph is probably a different person. I’ve met so many fantastic people, done so many things and had an unbelievable time in just a few short weeks. The words for the post were written just after I’d embarked on the project, I was yet to meet many of those people, yet to be overwhelmed by the positive response I have received so far.

Long may that continue.

Click the picture to read more of my story, you can find out why I love Cardiff, why I came here in the first place, and why I’m sure I’ll be sticking around for a long while yet.

Money off in Arcade Shops with the all-new Plastik Pass

Today sees the launch of a new venture in Cardiff, the Plastik Pass. Set up by the founder of Plastik Magazine, an alternative Cardiff arts and culture webzine, the pass offers you a great range of discounts in a number of independent shops and venues around our fair city.

The Plastik Pass (picture courtesy of Marc Thomas)

The card costs £5 and lasts for 6 months. Arcade shops included in the scheme are Hobo’s Vintage (15% off), Looby Loo’s Boutique (10% off) and Garland’s Eatery (25% off breakfasts before 11.30). There’s lots of other fantastic places around Cardiff too where you can claim money off.

Marc Thomas, the obscenely talented and all-round lovely person behind the scheme, told me how he hopes the card will help out arcade stores:

Let’s face it, the Arcades aren’t going anywhere – they’re great for the city and the city is great for them. However, when it’s cheap to shop in a chain store, there’s not as much incentive to pop in.

We want to change that.

For the Arcades, the Plastik Pass is an opportunity to attract the right crowd and a good new demographic to their stores. Plastik Magazine does the promotion of their store for them – all they need to do is offer Passholders an excellent discount and service.

Hopefully more Arcade shops will soon sign up to the scheme, it’s free for them and they can offer any kind of discount or reward that they like – so if you are one (or know one) get in touch with Marc to sort something out.

For all the rest of us regular punters, visit the Plastik Pass website to get your grubby mitts on your very own card – they only cost £5.

Spillers Records: The Oldest Record Shop in the World (probably)

Update: click here to see some portraits of Ashli, one of the owners of Spillers Records.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of shooting probably one of the most well-known and well-respected shops in Cardiff, Spillers – the oldest record shop in the world.

I’ll give you a brief history (mainly for non-Cardiffians – hopefully I’m getting all this right, please, feel free to correct me if you know!). Established in 1894 by the Spiller family, the shop was originally in the Queens Arcade up until the 1940s when it moved to the Hayes. At some point after that the ownership of the shop passed into the hands of a collective and some time after that Nick Todd bought the shop. In 2010, after rents went too astronomical in the Hayes store, it moved to its current home in the Morgan Arcade and was bought by Nick’s daughters (including Ashli who was working today) who own it now.

Spillers is pretty much a must-see, not only for most Cardiff residents, but for lots of people around the world. Ashli told me that Japanese tourists in particular love to come in and be photographed in the shop and ask for the red plastic bags to take away as souveniers (there’s a reference to the same bags in a Manics song).

If you’re a music fan then there’s really nowhere better you can go to find your next hit. Upstairs you’ll find vinyl and listening posts (there’s also one downstairs) where you can check out some recent releases, and you’re allowed to listen to any of the albums you like before you buy. What’s more, if there’s something you can’t find, the staff at Spillers will do their best to track it down for you. Ashli said that she knows many of her customers so well that when something new comes in she often knows exactly who will want a copy – can you imagine any of this in any of the high-street music chains? I can’t.

A lot of people were upset when it was announced that Spillers was moving into the Morgan Arcade, after all, it had been there since the 1940s so many of the regulars wouldn’t know it being anywhere else. Ashli however thinks the new shop is much better than the old one. While St David’s 2 was being developed, the Hayes was disrupted by the works that was going on and now it’s a plush shopping destination, Ashli equates the site to being the equivalent of Queen Street (generic high street). “We certainly wouldn’t have been on Queen Street in the 1990s, so it makes sense that we’re no longer in the Hayes now,” she said.

Spillers has its fair share of celebrity (for want of a better word there) fans, only last week Phil Jupitus, a regular customer popped in while he’s in South Wales on tour with Spamalot. Phil recently said in an interview for local magazine, Buzz, that Spillers was one of his favourite destinations. Watch this video by the Cardiffian for a run-down on exactly why.

This is the first Spillers post, but it certainly won’t be the last. The shop regularly hosts events and in April will be taking over the empty unit just opposite from it for record store day, something which I’ll be keen to photograph as well.

For now, I hope you enjoy these pictures – as always, feedback very, very much appreciated!

What’s that I hear you cry? You want MORE pictures of Spillers? Well! You’re in luck because there’s a whole Spillers set over on Flickr… you lucky people!




Hipstamatic coolness from Royal and Morgan Arcades

The phrase goes that the best camera is the one you’ve got with you. The iPhone 3GS is not known for its photographic prowess, but there’s no denying it’s pretty much always with me.

Like millions of other people I’m addicted to the Hipstamatic app. While I know some people are fed of it, I think for this project the photos work well because the subject matter matches the treatment, as in it’s old-looking, just like the arcades.

I quite often find myself wandering around the Royal and Morgan arcades on my way back from the train station in the evening looking for ideas and enjoying the solitude of it – since I’ve stopped taking my DSLR in with me every day (it was killing my back and I wasn’t always using it) – most of the time I only have my iPhone with me.

I feel like it frees me up and allows me to look for unusual shapes, quirky window displays and other things that I might not spot while I’m obsessing over the DSLR’s settings. Not only do I love the snaps that come out of it, I can use these as a visual notebook so I can return at a later date with my “proper” camera.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of the ones I took the other night, they’re taken with various settings on the app, so if you’re a Hipsta-lover and want to know which particular settings, please do let me know and I will furnish you with the appropriate information.

What do you think about using a phone for this kind of photography? Good or bad? Let me know in the comments below – as always I’m very keen for feedback!

Castle Arcade gets the Wide-Angle treatment

The Castle Arcade is probably my favourite arcade. I know I shouldn’t have favourites, but this one is pretty special. It has beautiful architecture which you can explore because it has a BALCONY! Yes you can walk around the top level in here because there are businesses with offices up here, along with some more specialist shops that you wouldn’t just randomly walk into (Cardiff Violins for instance).

I love coming up here for a wander around, taking a gander at the passers by walking below me and generally checking out the gorgeous surroundings. Naturally the 10-20mm lens I’ve borrowed is perfect for shooting it in all its glory, so I just had to do it today. I visited twice, once this morning and once this evening so I’ve got both light and dark images – I’m really hoping the sun comes out soon and we have a blue sky – can you imagine what the skylights must look like then? Incredible I’d wager… until that day finally arrives (please, weather man, soon), enjoy these shots, please do let me know what you think in the comments box.

P.S. Check out the small figures in the final picture – gives you a real sense of scale 🙂

Cardiff Arcades Facebook page

I’ve set up a Cardiff Arcades Project Facebook page. Hopefully this will allow shop-owners, and interested parties, quick and easy access to the latest information from the project – letting them know when something new has been posted.

It would be really helpful if you could “like” the page – as the more people join the more likely it is that somebody will know a shopkeeper and the word will spread! Don’t worry I’ll try to keep the Facebook ‘spam’ to a minimum and post a maximum of 3-4 posts a day (only if something exciting is happening that day!)