Stephen Pennell gets down at Birmingham’s latest venue.
The Team featuring Angelo Starr
The Night Owl,
Saturday 1st August.
I’d seen Edwin Starr performing at a Northern Soul allnighter so long ago I probably wouldn’t remember were it not so damned memorable. He was stunning – a force of nature – the Mod-est of all Motown Mod icons. So, having dragged along about a dozen people to see the latest incarnation of his band, it was with a mixture of excitement and nerves that I approached this brand new soul club down one of Digbeth’s half-secret side streets.
My trepidation was born of the feeling that NOBODY – not even his brother – could do justice to the marvellous and crystal-clear vision of Edwin that I have tucked away in my memory bank. I needn’t have worried.
As the band struck-up an infectious Northern groove, I was intently watching stage-right for a stereotypical soul singer-style dramatic entrance. It was only when he leapt up out of the crowd that I realised that the well-dressed black man grooving along with the rest of us was in fact the Starr of the show.
He grabbed the mic and roared “We came here to party”. And boy did he deliver. That was the cue for the band to launch into a string of Edwin’s classic hits including 25 Miles, Agent Double-O-Soul and Stop Her On Sight, all greeted with near-delirium by the crowd. This was an authentic soul band in an authentic soul venue, firing on all cylinders. In a remarkable turnaround, people who attended the Stax-Volt revue could now be a little bit jealous of me!
The groove was relentless as The Team set fire to a host of standards like Get Ready and Dancing in the Street (with Nottingham-born Ingrid taking over on lead vocals). Brummie Kev Kendall then delivered a bassline only previously heard coming out of a Brixton warehouse party to accompany a medley of Rapper’s Delight, Good Times, Word Up and Superstition so funky that resistance to dancing was futile.
Edwin’s Wigan Casino monster Time got a few Northern Soul snobs charging in from the beer garden, and they stayed on the dancefloor for an incendiary rendition of world-wide number one hit War. The Team left the stage to the kind of ovation I’ve rarely heard in a lifetime of gig-going after a great cover of Pharell Williams’ Happy sent the crowd home erm…. happy.
Finally, a word on the venue. The Night Owl is very more-ish – it’s been open less than a month and I’ve already been three times, and I don’t get out much. They’ve had/have teething problems (my companions Carmen and Angie were remarkably well-groomed considering the mirror in the ladies was hard to find), but it’s a welcome addition to Brum’s nightlife and there’s a real friendly vibe about the place.
Northern Soul has a lot in common with Birmingham, and Digbeth in particular. They’re all cool, fun and undiscovered by the masses. Get down to The Night Owl and help change that.