Interview by Stephen Pennell ©
She is one of Birmingham’s best promoters and the driving force behind my favourite Second City venue, The Night Owl. I usually start with a longer bio but it’s well a well-known fact that Mazzy Snape could talk for England so if I join in I could end up writing another book - and nobody wants that! So I’ll leave it to her to tell the tale of her involvement in two of the most iconic venues in Birmingham’s music history…
Any reminisces about your first forays into Birmingham nightlife?
On a personal level I started out as a goth and with an older family friend was frequenting places like The Barrel Organ and The Pot of Beer from the tender age of 12, dressed and made up to look more like Robert Smith than Siouxsie Sioux! I didn't drink but loved being around other like-minded people and hearing the music - I've always been fascinated by subcultures. I went through hard rock, glam, indie and Britpop before landing somewhere between 60s music and punk when I was 15 and those seem to be the two main themes I always come back to. In later years The Sunflower Lounge and my friends’ nights and events really influenced me, especially Heart & Soul run by Andy Marshall and Testify run by Adam Heath, Vic Mullan, Dave Molloy and more.
In terms of my DJ and promoter forays I'd say there was a lot of trial and error, partying hard and losing money! Starting in little pubs and bars, I've DJ'd abroad, DJ'd festivals, promoted big club nights in Birmingham and London and survived 20 years of live music and club promotion in various guises. As you can imagine in that time anything and everything has happened - from having my crazy landlady drag band members out of sleeping bags because she thought they were squatting, to losing thousands of pounds because no one came to a big show due to a bomb scare. I’ve been threatened by gang members with guns and met stars like Martha Reeves, Snoop Dogg, Adele and tons more. It's been a ride.
Our mutual friend Paul Cook gave you your first gig. Tell me about that.
I knew Paul through his Sunflower 60s room at Snobs in the early 00s - what a legendary room that was. We'd become friends chatting over our mutual love of music and in particular The Small Faces.
Believe it or not, I'd been working as a trainee Accountant & Auditor, and as you can imagine, it wasn't for me. I could do the job but I kept skiving off to hang out in record shops, I wasn't happy. One day I was stood outside Swordish records armed with a couple of bags of new purchases and bumped into a friend called Jim who said "You love music so much, why don't you start a band?" I replied "I can't play anything, I can't sing well, I've got no talent whatsoever". My friend said "well you've got tons of records, why don't you try DJing?'
So I buddied up with him and another pal (Dave), we called ourselves "Chicks Dig Jerks" and I printed some business cards at Oasis Market. We then marched around every pub and bar in Birmingham asking if we could DJ. The same questions kept coming up: "Have you DJ'ed before?" "Have you got a CD?" etc. Finally we stumbled across this new bar that had opened that we'd not seen before called The Sunflower Lounge. I was delighted to see my Snobs friend Paul in there who I soon found out was the owner. He offered us a Sunday afternoon slot in the bar in return for drinks. When we came to DJ he had to show me how to use the decks as I'd only used a single turntable at home! I played a mix - The Small Faces, Kinks, Beatles, Stones, The Sonics, The Seeds, The Clash, The Cure, Gang of Four, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Al Green, Fleetwood Mac, plus some brand new bands like The Libertines, The Strokes, The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and so on. Paul's friends all clapped when we finished which was a lovely end to our first set! I then did regular DJ sets and promoted live music there for several years.
Paul was a big influence on me and I'll always be very grateful for his openness to give me a try when no-one else would!
The opening of the Night Owl led to a lot more late nights for me, so thanks for that! How did you get involved?
Arith and Rich were looking at a site in Digbeth and speaking to interior designers Stax Creations, who had worked with me on a previous venue and recommended me as a soul and live music promoter, programmer and marketer. I got involved with planning every aspect - from social media to recruitment, branding, events, press, programming and more. It was very exciting to be involved from the ground up and one of my proudest achievements is being a co-founder of The Night Owl.
How have you and the venue been coping with lockdown?
The Night Owl did struggle initially but was fortunate enough to receive some funding support which has enabled it to keep going. It hasn't been easy by any stretch but it looks like The Night Owl will be okay and we are hugely grateful to be in this position having seen some other venues closing which is extremely sad. Throughout the first big lockdown I did weekly live stream DJ sets which kept me occupied and our customers and followers seemed to appreciate something to lift their spirits. The managers Clare and Jessie and their team have worked really hard to adapt to the rules and keep our customers safe throughout the periods we’ve been open. I'm very proud of how we've operated throughout the past couple of years.
I also co-run an events and marketing agency, Bread Birmingham. We found the first lockdown very difficult but adapted by taking on virtual event production and management and different projects and now we are delighted to be getting back to normal with lots of events and festivals back in business.
Fingers crossed, it seems the worst of the crisis might be behind us now. Will it be business as usual in the future or have you been plotting and drawing up exciting new plans?
Well there is a bit of both! Business as usual in terms of getting back to promoting and organising regular live music, festival and club events. And also some exciting things - we're bringing back The Big Birmingham Soul Night at Birmingham Town Hall November 27th, we've got a Night Owl venue at Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival and at The Festival of Beer.
And now the Night Owl has become one of Brum’s great exports as you expand into London. How did that happen?
We'd talked about doing Night Owls in other cities for years, but weirdly London was one of the places we didn't think would work - it seemed like they had it covered, but sadly over the years places have closed and there aren't many grass roots live music venues left. One of the owners, Arith, was working on a project in London early last year and started having a look around. He’s originally from around Finsbury Park and came across the venue which had at one point been a legendary music venue called The Silver Bullet. Although lockdown and Covid delayed the process considerably, we were delighted to finally open our doors in July.
You’re DJing at the Night Owl’s end of the world party. Wigan Casino had the ‘three before eight’. What are your three before Armageddon?
Oh cripes! Erm people at The Night Owl go wild for The Night by Frankie Valli so I might get shot before it all ends if I didn't play that haha. I think Jackie Wilson's Lonely Teardrops is a good one for end of the night and a firm favourite. The final one tbc - let me think on it.