Over two years ago I was asked to help out with a new venture, a Northern Soul and Motown club called The Night Owl, at this point all that was there was an old disused building and two guys with a great idea and a rough business plan. The club launched with a bang in July 2015.
Opening a club or music venue of any kind nowadays is a huge risk, with thousands of music led pubs and clubs having shut their doors over the past 20 years, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s only the brave or the stupid that tries.
Two years later and The Night Owl is still going strong, to do this it’s had to evolve along the way. Having a club that plays Northern Soul every Friday and Motown every Saturday seems like a winner to fans of the music, but in reality people don’t want to go to the same place and hear the same type of music every week, they either want to move around to different venues or they want to hear different tunes.
The heart and (ahem) soul of the club is and will ALWAYS be soul, no matter what, but to make this work as an ongoing business we needed to think bigger.
I decided to do three things:
- Branch out of our little Digbeth-based club sometimes and take our parties to other places, this keeps the regulars happy as it offers up a change of scenery and also introduces us to knew audiences.
- To offer more variety music-wise, never forgetting the underground roots and never heading into cheesy territory
- Introduce regular live music before club nights to bring in an earlier crowd
These have proven successful approaches, with The Night Owl Takeover events happening at everywhere from The Old Crown to One Trick Pony in Moseley. The latest are at The Irish Centre on 29th July and at The Hare & Hounds on September 15th with none other than Geno Washington playing live. We also used this format to create The Big Birmingham Soul Night at Birmingham Town Hall earlier this year. With the takeover events we took what The Night Owl is famous for – good people dancing to good soul music, to other pubs, clubs and venues.
With adding more variety to the music we play in The Night Owl itself, I decided to make Saturday club night Dig? a mix of soul, mod, r&b, funk, classic indie and more – just cool danceable music, of course heavy on the soul! This night proved an instant success – it seemed that Digbeth had been waiting for something a bit different.
Fridays we kept as specialist nights, with the flagship Northern Soul night being Floorshakers! on the 2nd Friday of every month, headed by The Night Owl co-owner Richard Priest. At first our Northern Soul crowd complained that the night wasn’t on every week, but soon it became apparent that this made more people make an effort to come to the monthly event.
Other brands I created included Come Together (indie, mod & britpop – an old brand of mine I rejuvenated), Age of Consent (alternative 80s), Le Freak (disco, funk, soul & boogie with Soul Train specials on alternate months) and Paid in Full (classic hip hop). Building brands can be a hard slog but it’s really rewarding when they click and quite flattering when you notice copy-cat brands pop up across the city!
Another thing the flexibility of not having set Fridays has offered is the chance to bring in external promoters and events. One of my favourites of these has been Electric Temple’s launch event for The Mother’s Earth Experiment’s latest album.
I’m passionate about live music and having bands on every Saturday has been fantastic, it’s not something that clicks overnight though, it takes time for people to get used to a new place as a live music venue but special events such as my Stranger Things parties and Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson and Beatles tribute nights help to bring in a more varied audience and having some fantastic bands play of course helps!
So after that ramble I think what I’m trying to say is have your idea and be true to it but don’t be afraid to adapt it and open things up, try different things. Also just because these things worked for The Night Owl doesn’t mean they’re going to work for every other venue in town, establish what you’re good at and be the best, then it doesn’t matter who copies you and if you branch out sometimes.
Wow, The Night Owl has reached two years, we’ve done things our way and we’re pretty damn proud about it.
Bring on year 3 & Keep The Faith!
Header photo credit Jonathan Morgan