James Farr trained as a hairdresser at the age of 30 after being in the motor trade from school. Starting at Rover, he moved around the big manufacturers, heading next to BMW and finally a 5-year stretch at Aston Martin. Thinking factory life wasn’t for him, he looked around at his nearest and dearest, fixing on his brother. “He’s a hairdresser in Redditch with his own salon. He looks happy and loves what he does.”
At about that time, the opportunity came up for voluntary redundancy. James took the money and spent it on a fast-track hairdressing course. “It was a bit of a punt and took every last penny, about £7000. For about a year I washed hair and swept floors for £100 per week.” Fortunately he stuck at it, and passed his basic training.
To cultivate his skills from the college cuts he’d learnt – “you need 10,000 hours to become a master” – he worked in city centre salons for a few years and part-time at friends’ barbershops in Dudley and Coventry. But it was cutting ladies and gents hair on Caroline Street in the Jewellery Quarter that gave him a feel for the neighbourhood. And then he walked past a vacant shop on Spencer Street…
So why not open a unisex salon? “I noticed how many guys were living and working round here, and the niche for a barbershop. And there’s something about the faster turnaround with men; I get to talk to a lot more people in a day.”
With his long metal-dude hair, James doesn’t really look like a barber, not least of which the current retro crop. “How will people trust you with their hair?” said his girlfriend. His response: “I’ll stand out as the only barber in the West Midlands without a skin fade and quiff”. He’s been utterly vindicated. Alongside the demand for short, vintage cuts (about 75% of trade), “lads with long with long hair come in because I’ve got long hair.”
Customers sit in a classic barbers chair in front of a big workbench and vice, above which hang rusty old mirrors on chains. There are safety deposit boxes on the walls and an old metal filing cabinet. Wanting some finishing touches, and inspired by another salon where they hung works for sale by local artists, James modified the concept using furniture instead of pictures. Teaming up with neighbour Vicki Spencer-Brown, who sells and repurposes industrial fittings from factories and workshops, James displays some of her pieces in his shop. His current favourite is a table lamp made from a hand drill.
On the style front, he gets the ultimate seal of approval: “Londoners come to Birmingham for cheap Jewellery, but have remarked that coming in here is like being in a London barbershop.”
Proof that getting your hair cut by James, is a capital idea.