I’ve been meaning to try out the Night Owl in Digbeth for a while. For those not in the know, this is a small independent venue, dedicated largely to Northern Soul, but also with regular disco, motown and britpop nights, and a growing number of live music events. They’ve also managed to bag a Best New Venue award – they’ve been open less than 2 years.
When I heard they were collaborating with the bods at the beautiful Birmingham Town Hall to put on a “Big Birmingham Soul Night” I was first in line (well, technically speaking “on-line” rather than “in line”) to pick up a couple of early bird tickets.
Hang on a sec…what’s Northern soul?
Imagine growing up in Northern England in the late 60s. You may have been influenced by the Mod scene – you’ve got the scooter, the clothes, the haircut – but you also want to dance. You find an obscure American R&B 7″ single (that’s a “record” folks…remember them?) – probably with no label or any idea what it is. It’s Black American soul music, but not the familiar smooth Tamla Motown sound peppering UK Radio; it’s deeper and funkier, upbeat and makes you want to dance. This is the essence of Northern Soul. American soul music, wooden “sprung” dancefloors, all-night dance parties. And Northern Soul fans love to dance…
The Night Owl brings Northern Soul to Birmingham
Wanting to emulate those days of Wigan Casino, the Golden Torch and the Twisted Wheel, The Night Owl turned the Birmingham Town Hall into an all-night (well, wee small hours anyway) dance club. The stall seats are removed to make way for a huge wooden dancefloor, big enough for professionals to spin and jump and kick, and novices like me to wobble around and try not to get my feet tangled. The balcony up above becomes a chill-out zone, an opportunity to rest weary legs whilst not missing out on any of the music.
This is the not the usual crowd you would expect to spot on a night out in Brum. Firstly the mix of ages is huge. Those who appreciated the scene back in the 60s are back to strut their stuff like they are once again teenagers. Newcomers line the edge of the dancefloor, focusing on picking up a trick that will make them look like they know what they’re doing. And it’s one of the only times – apart from when Madness comes on at a wedding reception – that there are more men than women on the dance floor. We consider ourselves to be on the younger side of the age range (which is increasingly rare these days…).
By the time Sonny and Spare leave the decks in the main room at midnight, making way for Northern Soul legend Colin Curtis, the room is buzzing. This is a night that’s about dancing rather than drinking. Which is a good job as the small bar downstairs is struggling to cope a little. Plus, you can’t hold a drink and break out your best Northern Soul moves at the same time.
By 1:30am, a few people start to leave, and we are amongst them (despite the promise of bacon butties being on sale any time now). But not before Mr Fletche picks up a retro bag that he’s been eyeing up all evening*. We leave those that have 20 or 25 years or more on us twirling around the dancefloor. It’s been an awesome night; big thanks to The Night Owl and Birmingham Town Hall for hosting, and to all the DJs – as that famous Northern Soul band Abba once said – “Thank You For The Music”.
*This reads as if Mr Fletche stole the bag. I can 100% confirm that money exchanged hands.
You can find The Night Owl at 17-18 Lower Trinity Street, Digbeth. Entrance price varies depending on what event is on, but normal club price is £5 in advance or £6 on the door. You can find a list of upcoming events on their Facebook page and website. They even do dance classes on Wednesday evenings…