Tuesday 17 September 2019

By Order Of The Peaky Blinders

I've never been a fan of period dramas, posh people poncing about on horseback and being beastly to the servants whilst passive females languish indoors, waiting for a man to come along and rescue them. That was until Peaky Blinders swaggered onto our TV screens six years ago bringing with it visceral violence, working class anti-heroes & strong independent women, not to mention breathtaking cinematography, an achingly cool rock soundtrack, clothes to kill for and, of course, Cillian Murphy's cheekbones. From the first episode I was hooked.

Peaky Blinders is huge, especially in our part of the world, where the real-life gang of the same name controlled the streets from the 1880s until the outbreak of WWII. After years of being the butt of many a British joke, the series gave Birmingham and the Black Country kudos and nowadays, instead of being bemused by our funny accents, when we travel the country everyone loves the way we speak.

Last weekend the first ever Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival took place in Digbeth, the streets of which the gang originally controlled. In sharp contrast to the uber modern Birmingham city centre, all contemporary architecture, high street fashion and chain restaurants, the district of Digbeth is an atmospherically dilapidated tangle of interconnecting back streets lined with old industrial buildings and shabby pubs, bisected by the Digbeth Branch canal and overlooked by a Victorian blue-brick railway viaduct. In other words, the perfect location for immersing oneself into the world of the Shelbys.

Photo courtesy of Claire

Understandably the festival, being in its first year, had a few teething problems. Despite both myself and Claire being festival regulars and fully acquainting ourselves with the prohibited items on the website beforehand, when we reached the box office we were refused admission as Claire was carrying an SLR camera. After asking the security guard about the on-site lockers advertised on the festival website it turned out that there weren't any, so we had to return to New Street Station (where we'd met half an hour previously) and pay to use the railway's left luggage facility instead. 

After walking the best part of three miles we decided we deserved a drink so we called into one of my favourite Digbeth pubs, The Big Bulls Head, for a restorative pint.

 Refreshed and ready we were able to join the throngs of Peaky Blinders fans at the festival.

You look like one of those gypsy women to me, said the dapper chap eyeing me up and down, whisking Claire away to try her luck with the coconut shy.

And talking of gypsies, I could quite happily lived in this encampment we found tucked away in a corner off the main street.

We'd heard talk of a bare knuckle boxing match and found our way to the old warehouse where it was scheduled to take place, only to discover we'd just missed it, but we did find what appeared to be an illicit drinking establishment with a gambling den tucked away up the corner.

Never in all my days have I encountered so many well-dressed people in one place.

Although many of the female festival goers were dressed in flapper dresses and 1920s-inspired fashion, a lot embraced the sharp tailored look more associated with the male characters of the series and they looked great.

We proceeded along the winding streets of Digbeth, encountering all manner of miscreants from itinerant hawkers, street fighters and pickpockets to women dancing outside the pub, intoxicated on Mother's Ruin. Peeping through the public bar we overheard a would-be politician delivering an impassioned speech to the clientele within. Policemen roamed the streets, many with bruised faces and black eyes, no doubt from unfortunate incidents with the likes of the Peaky Blinders.

The only other negative issue we had with the festival was the absence of signage. Although timings and locations of the gigs and events were helpfully displayed on boards around the site, nobody knew exactly where to find them and as a consequence we missed the Ballet Rambert and the vintage fashion show as even the security team weren't entirely sure of the layout. But, this being the Midlands, we're a friendly lot and we struck up many an interesting conversation with other dazed and confused festival goers.

On our adventures around the site we'd often find an interesting looking building only to be refused entry as the main entrance was on the other side of Digbeth or we'd stumble into somewhere like this old warehouse containing a pop-up local history museum containing, amongst other interesting artifacts, the original pub sign from The Garrison.

Of course, a massive part of the appeal of Peaky Blinders is the soundtrack, the music is stupendously good and the line-up over the weekend certainly didn't disappoint. Saturday's headliners included Primal Scream, Liam Gallagher, a Paul Simenon DJ set and Nadine Shah whilst Sunday offered Mike Skinner, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Slaves....

Anna Calvi....

Featuring the incredible Jehnney Beth from Savages...

And the fantastic Richard Hawley.

We made our way to The Night Owl, a cosy nightclub tucked away up a side street, for another beer. On leaving we caught the attention of a lady called Jane who turned out to be a BBC producer and an acquaintance of Steven Knight (the creator of Peaky Blinders) who insisted on filming us wittering on about why were Peaky Blinders fans and why there needed to be more feisty women like Polly Grey on TV. She told us that our interview was going to be sent straight to Boston (USA not Lincolnshire) where, apparently, there's plans afoot for a Peaky Blinders festival next year. After posing for a few photos and giddy with the prospect of international stardom, we stopped at a street food cart for a tray of chips to calm us down.

Whilst we stuffed ourselves with chips, Jane introduced us to a sharply dressed chap called Glynn who we chatted to about life in general and to whom I offered a few of my chips, telling him that they some of the finest I'd ever consumed (the only thing I'd eaten was a slice of toast nine hours earlier). As you know I'm pretty useless with celebrities but after he'd left and I asked Jane how she knew him it turned out that he was a famous TV chef with a Michelin starred restaurant in the city ...and there's me blathering on about chips! Duh!

By now dusk was falling. We caught some of Slaves' set before heading back to the Night Owl for another beer.

 Damn, there goes Arthur Shelby! A missed photo opportunity!

Walking around Digbeth several women stopped us to tell us that there would be a suffragette march shortly and that some sisterly support would be appreciated.

Although British women over the age of thirty had gained the vote in 1918, younger women had to wait until 1928 to have the right to vote on the same terms as men (21 years of age).

Photo courtesy of Claire

Of course I signed the petition amid jeers from many of the males present who, even in the twentieth century, didn't feel women had the mental capacity to vote, having been put on the earth to breed and to serve their menfolk.

Although there was no mention of it on the information boards, Jane had told us that there was another Q & A session with Seven Knight at 7.30 pm (we'd missed the first one rushing around Birmingham looking for safety deposit lockers) so we made our way to the Spoken Word stage (we knew where that was having stumbled on a poetry performance earlier in the day).

After listening to Cillian Murphy (aka Tommy Shelby) recite a poem over the tannoy system, local poet Hussein Manawar was joined on stage by series 5 director Anthony Byre and writer/producer Steven Knight who read extracts from his late mother's diary recalling growing up in a poor, working class household in Birmingham's Small Heath during the era of the Peaky Blinders. After a Q&A session we rushed back to New Street Station to collect Claire's camera and make our respective journeys back home to the Black Country.

Throughout the day we had loads of lovely comments about our outfits and how clever we were to dress in vintage gypsy fashion in-keeping with the Shelby's heritage, although this was more by accident than design as we were wearing our normal clothes.

Claire's in an All About Audrey dress, handmade from recycled sari fabric, topped with a vintage reversible Chinese brocade jacket and secondhand Mjus fake snake metallic cowboy boots.

I'm wearing my Janet Wood for Monsoon Afghan dress topped with a 1920s silk kimono, my great-grandma's carpet bag, an Egyptian Revival necklace by Thomas Fattorini of Birmingham ( a 50th birthday present from Jon) and some secondhand Doc Marten Darcie boots in oxblood leather.

The Legitimate Peaky Blinders festival will be held in Birmingham & Boston (and possibly London) next year and we'll be there.

You can find Claire's photos HERE

See you soon!


  1. Great photos and it sounds like lots of fun, if a little frustrating at times regarding organisation.
    You both look amazing and I'm not at all surprised you were commented on all day. xxx

  2. I started watching the first episode of the first series on the August bank holiday and am now totally addicted. My son and his housemates dressed up as Peaky Blinders last year...they had their photo taken in the dark on one of the cobbled Chester streets in the rain. They really looked the part. I am very taken with the very complex character of Thomas Shelby and Polly is fab Arilx

  3. Paul Simemon from The Clash? Be still my heart.

  4. How awesome! What a unique idea for a festival.

    I had to stop watching the series last year. I found it too violent but I love the overall style of the era.

    You both looked fab.


  5. Can I just say how much I am in love with your friends mustard colored dress! I love the period style-sing me up for it all now.

  6. Omggggg!! Never heard of the show, but it sounds amazing!! The festival looks so so so awesome!!! You both look incredible--- pretty awesome day!!

  7. Sounds like a fun festival. Be sure to give them your feedback, with all of your festival experience hopefully they will listen :)

  8. Vix, this was great and all the more so because I was not expecting another post before your trip!
    Surely this must be the first time in history that our Midland accent has been in style!
    We love the show, thanks for the super tour of your day.

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  10. I think I heard of Peaky Blinders but I haven't seen it yet. The series sounds absolutely fascinating. You look fabulous dressed in all red and your friend looked wonderful in her dress too...love the vintage vibes. I love period dramas and one thing I adore is seeing all those historical clothes. So great to see so many stylish people gathered there for Peaky Blinders festival.

  11. I've heard of the show, but we don't have it over here. I love that they basically built a festival around it for the fans. Too bad it wasn't signed and organized a bit better (doing up a map for attendees with a schedule on the back? That's not hard!). You look delightful in your red, Vix! I love that you just wore your everyday clothes, ha!

  12. Hello Vix. Hope you're well. Thankyou for the festival tour - looks wonderful. I'm not familiar with this series - might have to look into it. My favourite part, of course, was that gorgeous gypsy chalet. Did you get a chance to look inside? Also love how the women embraced tailored men's suits. You look lovely in red and I especially like your carpet bag. Loved Claire's brocade jacket too.

  13. I would use two words when I shop for clothes is comfort and fun.
    Lot of these clothes you post would fall into both category.
    Coffee is on

  14. What a fabulous day out even if it wasn’t properly organised. I can’t get into Peaky it’s to violent for me and crikey don’t they smoke and swear a lot. What I do like about it is the costumes of the time,,especially the men. I think it’s a great look and I love the music.
    I’m going to share your blog post with a couple who love near me and will love it. You will have seen them at Stockport. They are a gorgeous looking pair called Elaine and Jay.
    Lots of love xxx

  15. Fab festival! You and Claire look totally gorgeous- and authentic. Not to mention the dapper chaps.... Very inspirational post! Xxxxx

  16. This looks like a great festival and I've loved seeing your photographs. I've never watched Peaky Blinders but I want to now. X

  17. For the record, I've always liked your accent.

    Hope they figure out ways to make it run smoother next year as it looks like a great festival with loads of potential.

  18. To my utter shame, I've never watched Peaky Blinders, but what an amazing event. So many sharply dressed people! Must have been quite an experience. And I think that organizing an event on that scale will always have teething problems. Like Goody, and especially having met you in person, I love your Black Country accent! xxx

  19. My brother, Tony, was like you, hooked from Episode one and has been trying to persuade me to watch Peaky Blinders ever since. I must try!!

    The festival looks like so much fun. Isn't it marvellous when people enter into the spirit of something with so much enthusiasm, verve and panache? Everyone looked fabulous and I'm so glad you joined the suffragette march!

    You and Clare looked lovely and what sensible footwear for trekking around Digbeth. I have fond memories of Digbeth and Brum as I uprooted my children and lived there with my sister in law for 6 months while I studied to be a nurse teacher at the then Birmingham Poly in the mid 1980s. We used to travel back and forth at the weekend on the coach from Digbeth to Bedford. I loved how friendly the Birmingham people were and of course my two nephews have the broadest Brummie accents ever!

  20. The show hasn,t made it down here yet but it does sounds interesting. The festival does look like a lot of fun even it it did have a few organising problems. It was great to see everyone dressed the part. You and your friend looked a treat.

  21. Ooo, your first paragraph certainly makes me want to watch Peaky Blinders. I’m going to borrow some DVDs from my local library.

    What a fun day. It’s great to see that everyone got into the spirit of dressing up and acting the part. X

  22. That looks like great fun. And I can see how it might have teething troubles in its first year, but here's hoping they learn from it and improve. (Hey, nothing can beat Truck to the low point...)

  23. I found series 1 & 2 in a charity shop earlier this year. Andy and I binged watched them and then bought the remaining series and binged watched those too.I can't wait for the next series to come out on DVD (we'll wait for it so we don't have to wait a week between episodes!).
    I would've loved this festival! It looks awesome.

  24. I could not refrain from commenting. Well written!

  25. I'd not really heard of it until recently. In fact, it may even have been you who mentioned it first! You look really gorgeous and I am pleased that there were so many people making an effort with it. It's a shame the signage and info wasn't more clear but it's brilliant that you were able to get into and see lots of things as well as missing some. Hopefully it will be even better next time!

  26. Oh wow! I love that show!
    Love all the fab photos, looks like you had a grand time.

  27. Hi, I check your blog on a regular basis. Your humoristic style
    is awesome, keep it up!

  28. Wow, what a day, I got tired just reading about it! I, too, am going to look for this in my local library and hope they have DVDs to rent.

  29. As a fan of Peaky Blinders, I would enjoy this, although the lack of organization would have annoyed the heck out of me. Love seeing everyone dressed up in the style of the show.

  30. Very good blog post. I absolutely appreciate this website.
    Keep it up!

  31. Vix, Vix, Vix. How could you (I anguishly cry)? Do such a fascinating post, that is. I'm going to have to watch Peaky Blinders, now. Binge watch, actually. Looks like it was a fabulous outing by the way.

  32. I didn't realize it was so big , it looks really good , i bet it will be perfect next year xx

  33. I only watched the first season and thought it was fascinating!, brilliant plots, amazing acting! (and Cillian Murphy's cheekbones!). Now I regret not having watched the complete series, but this problem will be fixed soon!
    Lovely post and thanks for sharing with us this experience and all the fabulousness!. Love your dress!, love that so many people were all dressed up and looking handsome!


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Lots of love, Vix