This month for our Backstage section we caught up with Mazzy at The Night Owl, your go to venue for soul and retro music in Birmingham! They have recently had a new stage installed so we thought what better time to pop by and check it out.
When did The night Owl launch?
The Night Owl launched in July 2015, we started off with Northern Soul & Motown themed events but have evolved over the past couple of years to include live music, retro and alternative nights such as 'Le Freak Soul Train Special's’ - themed disco, funk and soul nights with professional and amateur dance offs, 'Come Together' a night of indie, Britpop & 60s. We also do one-off themed events like our Stranger Things themed party and Bowie tribute night.
When did you start putting on events?
I started in October 2002 at The Sunflower Lounge in town and the Jug of Ale in Moseley.
What made you decide to be involved in putting on events?
With the DJ nights I wanted to play music I didn't hear anywhere else at the time. With the gigs I wanted to bring bands to Birmingham that were missing us out on their tours, plus I wanted to give local talent a platform as there seemed to be no middle ground between playing with other local bands and massive tours.
How did you come up with the idea for your venue?
With The Night Owl one of the co-owners Richard Priest was an old Northern Soul fan and used to go to the original all-nighters at Wigan Casino and The Locarno. Richard wanted to start a traditional Northern Soul and Motown Club, so we combined that inspiration with my knowledge of the current scene and the help of Stax Creations, to bring something both authentic and fresh to Digbeth.
What's your favorite event (not your own)?
'Getting Away With It On A Night Like This', it's an 80s and 90s alternative and indie night held once every few months at the Hare & Hounds. They have music, visuals, decor and more importantly of all, a real passion for the music and putting on a great event for all.
I am also totally in love with Lunar Festival which is quite a hippy psychedelic festival held in Tanworth in Arden, it's got a fantastic atmosphere. They are having a break this year but hoping very much they'll be back in 2018!
What was the first event you ever attended?
I threw my own party just before my 14th birthday and hundreds of people turned up, the house was wrecked and needless to say I wasn't allowed to throw another party!
Which events have/do inspire you?
When I started out I was inspired by local live promoters ColdRice, they used to put on garage rock bands at the old Bar Academy and it was something completely different to anything else I'd experienced until then. Current events that I think are brilliant are Magic Door club nights, Digbeth Dining Club, Digbeth Christmas Hamper and Blackpool Soul Weekender.
Also Swingamajig festival which has a fantastic combination of live music, market stalls, circus acts, club DJ's and burlesque performers.
If you could have anyone headline your event who would you choose (past or present)?
We have had some amazing soul DJs at The Night Owl such as Colin Curtis, Pep and Russ Winstanley, but live I would love to get a real Motown legend like Diana Ross or Martha Reeves doing a secret intimate show or something, not very likely but a nice thought!
What is the craziest request you've had from an artist?
When I promoted Snoop Dogg at the Institute he had quite an extensive rider of very specific food and drink products which took a while to track down but he was lovely and a great performer so we didn't mind.
If you weren't putting on events, what would you be doing?
Writing or promoting, spreading the good word about all the great stuff in Brum & beyond, I try to do that as well anyway.
What's your number 1 tip for enjoying your events as a manager and as a customer
As an event manager you just have to accept that things could go wrong and that you can handle anything that is thrown at you, once you've got that you will always be calm and able to enjoy it.
As customer coming to an event at The Night Owl - just be yourself! Relax, have a boogie, dress how you like and be friendly.
What are your 3 must have event promoter essentials?
- iPhone - literally everything can be managed from your phone these days which is very handy!
- Diary - I write everything in a paper diary & I don't make any commitments without it
- Smile - No one likes a miserable event manager or promoter, if you aren't enjoying your event why would anyone else!
What's the best bit of tech you use at your event?
Visuals - projector & big screen can really add to the theme of a night
Tell us about your new stage and why you made the change?
We'd had a few bands play and a couple of the more established acts had commented that although they loved playing at The Night Owl they would prefer a stage and we thought it made sense as we have now launched live pre-club gigs every weekend, every Saturday at the moment and from February, every Friday too. We hope that people will start to see The Night Owl as a key live venue and a place to see good quality acts as well as coming to our already established fab club nights.
What makes your venue stand out from all the rest?
The relaxed friendly atmosphere! Which is part of what you get from the combination of unique decor, great music, sound quality and lighting, friendly and helpful staff -- all in an intimate back street venue, not just any randomer will wander in, you have to want to come to be there and that makes all the difference.
Where would we find you at the peak time of your event?
On the dance floor, checking that everything sounds and looks great, that my DJs are ok, visuals are running fine, most of all that people are smiling and dancing and having a good time. As an event manager it's not like I would walk round with a clip board ticking all these things off, you do a mental check as you glance around the room, you soon spot if anything is out of sorts.
Finally - Most memorable backstage story?
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas were playing at The Institute when I was the Promotions Manager and when Martha arrived she walked in ignoring everyone else, came straight up to me and said "You look like you'd know where to get a good bra!" As a Motown fan this is probably my favorite! I sent her to Debenhams and she came back with 3 sparkly dresses that they wore for the show.
Photos: Ian Davies & Jonathan Morgan