Independent Businesses in the Midlands

There’s never been a better time to buy from independent businesses.

The Midlands is fast becoming one of the most popular places for entrepreneurs to launch their start-ups and businesses.

Each year at the Bishop Castle Arts Festival, we’re astounded by the ever growing number of local folks who have taken their hobby or passion and turned it into a succcessful business. We thought we’d take some time to highlight some of our favourite business based near Bishop’s Castle, in Birmingham and the rest of the Midlands. You can either seek out these business’ stores for yourself, or visit their sites to find out how else you can support them.

These are currently the favourite independent businesses for our writers to frequent:

Hillers Farm Shop

There’s something so wonderfully British about a Farm Shop and when it’s done well it can make for a gloriously wholesome (and expensive!) day out. Winner of a prestigious Countryside Alliance Award in 2016, Hillers compiles everything that’s brilliant about rural Britain and dares you not to leave with a car boot full of delicious produce and lovely home decor. Come for the day so you can have a stroll around the garden, a bite to eat at the restaurant and grab a few bits from the farm shop on your way our.

Matrix Virtual Reality


When you’re networking events in Birmingham success is never guaranteed, even more risky is opening a business that has never been tried before. That’s exactly what Matrix Virtual Reality have done and so far it looks like it’s working! The Virtual Reality industry is a burgeoning one and the friendly chaps at Matrix have cottoned on early, opening the first Virtual Reality arcade in the Midlands. Using the popular HTC Vive headset, players can enter into virtual experiences of all kinds and get a taste of the future of gaming!

Green Cow Kitchens

Fancy a taste of local produce that delivers on flavour as well as fine-dining standards? Green Cow Kitchens does exactly that. This one-of-a-kind restaurant is open for evenings a week, offering diners a tasting menu that changes monthly in response to the seasons. The chefs here have the utmost respect for their ingredients, they source their produce as locally as possible and then task themselves with finding new ways of presenting them each and every month.

Swordfish Records

Opened in 1979 as ‘Rockers’, Swordfish Records has been providing a place for the music lovers of Birmingham to listen, buy and sell records ever since and although they’ve moved location a couple of times, their wide selection of records has piqued the interest of famous faces from the world of music including Robert Plant, Mark Ronson, Neil Diamond and Jamie Callum. As well as selling records, they’ve also released music through their own label helping to bring a new generation of Midlands music makers to prominence.

Purity Brewing Co.

Although rugby fans might associate the Purity Brewing Co. with the London Wasps, this well-established company has always had its home in Great Alne. Started by Paul Halsey and James Minkin in 2005, they set out to create beer that wouldn’t compromise on flavour or consistency, whilst also committing doing business in an ethical fashion free of prejudice. Although they only have three beers to their name, their pioneering approach to their work has made them a favourite amongst the UK’s beer drinkers.

Summer Music Festival Round-Up

No Glasto? No Worries.

Sunshine, Beer and Music: These are the three known quantities required for a successful music festival.

Over the last few decades the British Music Festival scene has become one of the most recognised in the world. Whilst stateside shindigs such as Coachella and Burning Man festival might attract some of the biggest A-list attendees, the UK is home to festivals that far pre-date these and have a whole heritage unto themselves. As the culture of the music festival has grown in popularity over the years, more and more events have cropped up to compete for the attention of summertime revellers.

If you haven’t clocked it yet, Glastonbury Festival is taking a year off this year, so whilst the well-trodden fields in Pilton get a chance to recover, we thought we’d clue you in on the rival UK festivals looking to take your hard-earned cash this summer:

All Points East

A brand new 10-day festival finds its way to London’s Victoria Park this year with some of the buzziest, hippest acts taking to the stage. There’s something for everyone at this groundbreaking festival, including a traditional three day festival with LCD Soundsystem, Bjork and The XX taking headline slots. From the 28th to the 31st families and fun-loving individuals will be able to make the most of free activities and entry to the festival site, whilst one-off events will be taking place between the 1st and the 3rd June with acts such as The National, The War On Drugs and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds taking to the stage.

TRNSMT

After Scottish music fans bemoaned the loss of eight festivals in the space of a year, they could at least be consoled with the announcement of a new series of one-day festivals under the name TNSMT Festival. Similar to All Points East, TRNSMT offers several days of entertainment with some undeniably massive acts gracing the Glasgow Green including: Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, Queen + Adam Lambert, The Darkness and Stereophonics. Tickets start at around £60 for the day and whilst you can never guarantee that the sun will be shining in Scotland, at this time of year it’s a pretty safe bet.

Green Man

If you’re looking for a fun, friendly festival that is nestled within one of the UK’s most stunning locations then Green Man is the one for you. The Brecon Beacons are the backdrop for this very special festival featuring a music lineup that boasts well-respected alternative acts from a variety of genres. Fleet Foxes, fresh off the success of their 2017 album Crack-Up headline one night in addition to Aussie prog-rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Black Angels and Grizzly Bear. Aside from stellar music, you’ll also be able to make the most of a strong literature, comedy, film and visual arts selection.

Beautiful Days

Now in its 16th year incarnation, this award-winning festival is tucked away in a charming nook of Devon and consistently takes home gongs for its grass roots organisation and family-friendly appeal. Organised by 90s folk rockers The Levellers (who headline the final night each year) this is a small festival that sells out each and every year, so if you want to catch the likes of the Manic Street Preachers, Nadine Shah and Feeder you’ll need to book your tickets soon! In addition to music, there’s also a good range of comedy acts, theatre and a number of real ale bars selling local ale from Otter Brewery.

Ice Art Festivals from Around the World

Explore the Frosty World of Ice Festivals!

Have you got a hankering to see some ice art?

The art of ice sculpting is one that is practised the world over. Although its cultural roots are hard to pin down, this is an art form that remains popular both as an activity and as a basis for Snow and Ice Festivals the world over. We’ve had a rifle through the internet and picked out the biggest and best ice festivals in the world – check them out below:

Sapporo Snow Festival

Credited as being one of the largest winter events, the Sapporo Snow Festival is a major cultural event in Japan, drawing in millions of visitors to the handful of parks around the city every year. Around 400 individual ice statues are carved for the Festival each year, with the majority of them placed in and around Odori Park. The story of the Sapporo Snow Festival is a timeless one. The event was started by a group of six high school students who built a snow statue each in 1950. Five years later, the students were joined by the Japan Self-Defense Forces who built the first of the truly huge snow sculptures, which the Festival has now become famous for. The annual events takes places in February each year.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

At the top of the list for ice art fans from all around the world has to be the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Whilst its name might be in need of some serious shortening, the festival is nonetheless the biggest of its kind. Originating in 1963 as a traditional ice lantern show, the festival has grown exponentially over the years, largely due to the boost in tourism that is given to the area each year. Running from December 24th to February 25th each year, this Festival regularly features some of the world’s biggest ice sculptures. Due to the cold winds that the Northeastern city of Harbin receives from nearby Siberia, temperatures sit at around -16.8 ºC, perfect for keeping these huge sculptures frozen in place.

Ice on Whyte

Now in its 15th year, the Ice on Whyte Festival is a varied event that has something for everyone. Expert ice sculptors from around the world flock to the city of Edmonton each year to compete in the Ice on Whyte competition. Although visitors will no doubt enjoy perusing the international standard entries, there’s so much more to explore at this 2-day event. Adults and kids can create their very own sculptures made of ice, foodies can eat their fill at the Whiskey Stew Off and music lovers can enjoy some stellar performances at Blues on Whyte. The festival takes place every year in February.

World Ice Art Championships

There is no ‘official’ World Championships for the art of ice sculpting, which has led to to many disparate organisations holding their own competitions and inviting international teams to take part. Ice Alaska’s World Ice Art Championships is one of the longest running competitions of this kind. The tradition of ice carving in Alaska began back in the 1930s when a handful of sculptors made ice thrones for the annual Winter Carnivals that took place across the snowy state. Since then the organisation has grown significantly and comprises over 90 committees and relies on the help of over 300 volunteers. Over 100 ice artists travel from around the world to take part in their annual competition in February and March.

North Wales: A Cultural Roadtrip to Llandudno

When you think of North Wales – what do you think of?

Seaside walks, excellent seafood and mountains might come to mind, but you probably don’t think of excellent art galleries.

Although London more often than not hogs most of the limelight when it comes to art exhibitions – there’s a burgeoning Art scene that is steadily growing in popularity. Having heard about a number of high-profile artists bringing their work to the culturally interesting region of North Wales, I took it upon myself to organise a little road trip taking in a handful of the galleries that have been captivating art lovers in recent times.

I’m not someone who you would describe as a ‘gearhead’.

I actually only passed my driving test when I was 32 – I knew I was leaving it to the last minute but like with a lot of life’s other responsibilities (see: buying house, finding partner and cleaning dishes) I always felt like I could put it off just one more year. When it came to actually passing my test I was a hopeless bag of nerves whose manic performance (I will not refer to what I did as ‘driving’) must have elicited a Fatherly response of utter pity in the instructor.

I’d not really driven since then – so you can read this supposedly art-centric article as also ‘Baby’s First Big Drive’.

I woke up at 7am on the Saturday morning with a feeling of dread in my heart. It had been a while since I got behind the wheel to go to the shops, let alone for a road trip half way across the country. By the time I’d shuffled my way into my car and reacquainted myself with the funny smell that had been hanging around the passenger seat foot-well for the last few months it was gone 8am and time for me to set off.

My first port of call was the kind of place that my Dad would have loved to have visit.

There are plenty of things to do in North Wales: mountain climbing, biking, zip-lining – none of which would have appealed to him. No – my Dad had always been a fan of standing and watching things slowly move by, which is why he would have loved Pontcysylte Aqueduct. This impressive World Heritage is one of the iconic sights of Wales and I was surprised by how moved by it I was. As holiday makers made their slow way across the nineteen-arch aqueduct, I was impressed by how well this over 200-year old building had stayed up and touched by how many people still used it.

But there was no time to dawdle. I had a date with a modernised art gallery in a quintessential Victorian seaside town and I wasn’t going to miss it.

Mostyn had been on my list of must-sees for a long time. Originally opened between 1901-1913, this grand old place is believed by many to be the first gallery in the world created exclusively for women to exhibit their work in. After losing and reopening during the 70s, Mostyn was finally reopened in May 2010 with help of a $5m pay cheque – reborn by a modern architectural company as a chic throwback to its Victorian heyday.

It’s certainly an impressive building, more for its surreptitious place on a quiet back street in Llandudno, a town that was once crowned as ‘Queen of the Welsh Resorts’. I parked up with ease and guided myself into the immaculately kept galleries. Estella Scholes’ current work: Circles, Stones and Fragments of the Shore is certainly aptly titled.

Despite the on-the-nose title, this is a great body of work that reflects much of what I saw of North Wales in my day of driving – a vast, varied landscape that is filled with more culture than you might think…

Major Music Moments of 2017

The Defining Acts That Shaped Music in 2017

Yes, I’m well aware that we are now a sixth of the way into 2018…

…but, unlike other writers in the industry, I prefer to give it a couple of months to offer up my retrospective looks at the year gone by, rather than jumping the gun halfway through December in a half-hearted attempt to dominate the search results.

Although it might seem rather arrogant to claim one particular year as more eventful or iconic than any other – it’s important to remember that every now and agailightning strikes several times, causing a cacophony of thunder storms that amounts to a serious force for change in the music industry.

This kind of change can be brought about by any number of social or cultural factors, whether it be a certain President coming into power or social-justice issue coming to the forefront after decades of denial. All of these factors combine to create a shift in consumption patterns that, when looked at in restrospect, reveal the rising genres and power players that are set to be the soundtrack to future generations.

British Invasion Mk 2

There was a time somewhere in the 90s when the ‘breaking America’ was a legitimate challenge. Not only did A&R guys struggle forcing records in the hands of their US counterparts, but they then had to force a disparate America to actually buy the damn things. You could say that the distribution of new music has got somewhat easier in the 21st Century and this has directly benefited our British stars – catapulting them into the American mainstream and onto worldwide fame. Considering the successes that have greeted Ed Sheerhan (the No. 1 artist on the US Billboard chart in 2017), Adele (No. 1 for 2016) and One Direction (No. 1 in 2015) it looks like America are more eager than ever for British imports.

The Domination of Black Music

Despite our plucky Brits shaking things up last year, the genre that received the biggest boost in popularity can more easily be defined by the race of the musicians behind the songs. For lack of a better word, thanks to landmark releases from artists such as Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar and Solange, ‘Black music’ became a major force for political and cultural change last year. It’s been over two decades since music created solely by African American artists has been so in vogue and rarely has this work been so well acclaimed. Social awareness has raised interest in R&B, Hip-Hop and Soul music making these artists more in demand than ever.

Rising Stars of American Hipster Indie

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the white-pasty flip-side to the rise in contemporary R&B music, namely the slow-burn ascendance of a number of Alternative bands that are finally starting to reap the benefits of years of touring and recording. Baltimore born synth-pop stalwarts Future Islands made waves with their fifth studio album The Far Field climbing higher on both the US Billboard and UK Charts than ever before, whilst Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs broke in at No. 10 with their new record A Deeper Understanding in addition to winning the Grammy for Best Rock Album. Despite critics claiming that Rock was dead some time ago, it would appear that these committed groups are proving them otherwise…

Artwork of Spaces: Dishwashers & Ovens

We rarely choose to see the winning pieces of artworks that are right in front of our eyes.

Have you ever stopped to consider the meaning that is inherent in the spaces that you live in?

It can be easy to take your environment for granted. Consider how many cumulative hours you might spend in your living room or your kitchen, for example. These spaces are filled with the kind of idiosyncratic details that a regular user of the space would simply not notice. Think of the physical space of the floor, how the carpets are met by the skirting board, perhaps your ceiling has been textured or your furniture doesn’t quite match. These small details and the stories behind them colour your experience of these used spaces – without them, they become uniform and clinical.

Recently I’ve been trying to decode the spaces that I live in: deciphering how they relate to my state of mind and being, whilst attempting to maintain an air of objectivity – it’s proving to be harder than expected.

Unfortunately, as a young writer living on a low income, I’ve become accustomed to living without a few luxuries and by ‘luxuries’ I actually mean 21st Century basics such as: a fridge, microwave, toaster, shower, WiFi. When I was stuck with my Lamona oven not heating up last year, I had to return to the sobering reality of cooking using my other oven – I was not best pleased, however it did give me a good opportunity to ponder on the significance of kitchen spaces, as well as the cultural importance of how we live in these spaces.

In the following photos, pilfered from various sources from around the internet, I’m going to attempt understanding how they came to be and what they mean in their wider context:

Much can be said about a clean cut Scandinavian style – it evokes a sense of calm and peace, but also sterility. As comforting as it might be to live in a white world such as this, what would this space really say about the owner? Look a little closer and besides the stark brutality of the space, you will notice flourishes of pretension and bravado. A mismatched seating arrangement suggests a fractured sense of style, whilst a fur draped over an awkward looking wicker chair feels painfully misjudged.

This kitchen desperately wants to appear normal, but it’s nascent absurdness is undercut by its bizarre design choices. Firstly, it’s rare that kitchens ever feel this empty or hollow. A kitchen is a functional space, yet the gleaming surfaces and empty worktops suggest that nothing has functioned here or ever will. The step-like arrangement of steel pots draw the eye to the left hand side, but one expects they are empty, this then leads us to examine the sink. Set at an awkward angle, it’s presence feels unjustified and jarring.

There’s a sense of history and culture in this hallway that communicates more than any of the other rooms. Tessellation is the key here. Triangles interlock in the model pine cones, as well as the rug on the floor and the wooden carved bowl. This uniformity serves as a counterpoint to the organic curvature of the wooden doors and dresser – as well as the touches of humanity on the wall. An old photograph: chemicals refracting light from a forgotten time sit alongside meticulous drawings and looser sketches. As a hallway this should be simply be a passage to other rooms, but with this adornment it is something more.

My Three Top Picks: UK Film Festivals 2018

The red carpets are calling…

If you’re anything close to a film buff then you’ll be more than aware that the Academy Awards are just around the corner.

Taking place at 12am this Monday 5th March; thousands will be tuning in to see the brightest of the Hollywood stars strut their stuff on the iconic red carpet and pick up their golden gongs. For those who are besotted with the lives of the A-Listers this is the kind of event that lights up social media feeds all over the world, but for more discerning film lovers it’s simply another PR hype machine created to boost the egos and line the pockets of a stratospheric elite.

Take a wild guess which kind of movie-fan I align myself with…

Hipster-cynicism aside, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wake up every morning after the Oscars to eagerly check the results, the iconic nature of the event brings still brings with it a breathless anticipation that (although short-lived) is infectious – as we discover which lucky few can henceforth refer to themselves as an ‘Academy Award winner’. With that being said there are a whole raft of equally distinguished awards that are given out every year by a number of judging panels and boards within our own borders.

I make a point of visiting a handful of different film festivals each year, which I’m happy to endorse as a much richer alternative to sitting at home in the middle of the night vacantly staring at hundreds of rich people slapping each other on the back. Oops. There goes that cynicism again. Before I slip into another rant, here are the five film festivals that are currently penned in my diary for 2018:

Manchester Film Festival – 1st-4th March 2018

Despite only being four years old this year the Manchester Film Festival has picked up real steam with a truly eclectic line-up of independent releases for voracious film lovers to get stuck into. Over 100 films will receive their UK and World premieres at the Festival this year including works featuring Nicholas Cage, Sean Penn, Jodie Foster, Faye Dunaway and Shia Labeouf. Access is incredibly affordable for punters like us with a 4 film pass costing only £17.50.

Puppet Animation Festival 24th March-14th April 2018

One of the older festivals on my list, this venerable event is marking it’s 35th year in 2018 and is a must for any parents who are looking to instil a love for puppets in their kids. Over 140 events take place all throughout Scotland across 30 venues and are aimed at kids aged 0-12. Theatre companies, animation groups and artists alike flock to Scotland during the festival to host workshops and help children create their own puppets, visual theatre and animated films: a must for any young budding film-makers.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 7th-12th June 2018

Featuring the very best documentaries from around the world, the Sheffield Doc/Fest is a great excuse to venture up North during the balmy summer months. For a few days in June the city will be taken over by film makers, producers and a whole host of all-round interesting folk making this a great time to get some networking done. Amongst the stellar lineup of docs you’ll also have the opportunity to try your hand at a number of Augmented and Virtual Reality Experiences.

There are tonnes more great festivals scheduled for the rest of the year in and around the UK, don’t forget to support your local events!