Dan Clews’s Night Owl Shows are fast becoming one of the load-bearing walls of the Adelaide Fringe. Presenting tributes to great artists, genres or styles, Night Owl has a reputation for slick, passionate and musically impeccable productions. This year they have brought out no less than nine shows. Featuring in two of them-The Aretha Franklin Songbook & The Music of Tina Turner-is Cleopatra Higgins. Dan and Cleopatra somehow found an hour in between rehearsals and performances to sit down with Glam for a chat.
Cleo=Cleopatra Higgins; Dan=Dan Clews.
Cleo: By the time I was nine I was on stage. I went into a competition with my mother singing backing vocals and my sisters dancing and they called us Cleopatra. A few years down the line a record label signed us after we kicked down some doors first! We got out of the elevator and started singing the Jackson Five’s Who’s Lovin’ You…everyone came out of their offices saying, “who’s singing?” and then saw it was just little kids. And they signed us that day!
Cleopatra the group hasn’t disbanded, although they haven’t performed together for about ten years, as Higgins pursues her solo career. Dan was a fan even before she came on board with Night Owl.
Dan: She was a child-star. I actually knew Cleopatra as a group, and we got quite far into talking about these shows before I realized who she was!
In 2013 Higgins’s career got a massive boost with her appearance on The Voice UK.
Dan: Fastest chair-turn in the history of UK Voice! And she was a semi-finalist.
Cleo: And apparently my performance is the most watched performance in the history of The Voice. I think because I came out as though it was my show. I was giving them a concert darling!
Although UK based, Higgins is surprisingly well-known around the world.
Cleo: When I came out to Australia, I didn’t know how it would turn out. But I’ve met a few fans here!
Dan: Some flew in from Malaysia!
Although Dan knew of Cleopatra before their working partnership began, when she first approached him, she kept herself anonymous.
Cleo: There was an advertisement for an audition for Aretha Franklin. So I found out who the producer was, messaged him on Facebook and said “Are you still looking for Aretha?”
Dan: She was the only person who contacted me personally.
Cleo: He asked me if I have any video and I just said “LOL”!
Cleo:I liked the idea that Dan wouldn’t know who I am so I sent a video of me singing a jazz song at home with my son. And [when we chatted] he said since I like doing iconic women, would I consider doing Tina Turner, and I was like “yes…a thousand times yes”!
Dan: We did tina and Aretha for the Edinburgh season last year and we won an award for each show, and then two further awards for fully sold-out runs for each show.
This year Night Owl has brought nine shows to the Adelaide Fringe, a testament to the dedication of this small but energetic team.
Dan: I‘ve just finished a run of Paul Simon. And now I’m doing Carole King and James Taylor with Phoebe. Then we are doing The Dolly Parton Story. At one point Hannah [Richards] delivers a version of I will Always Love you that has at least half the house crying. Her included! She brings the house down every week. We also have Back to Black: The Music of Amy Winehouse. Then the last one we have is California Legends which is music from California around 1970: James Taylor, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King. The main thing about these shows is that we like to feel that we can talk about subjects and we give a lot of information. It’s not just a tribute, It’s a musical biography. We send people home with a lot of nuggets that they can talk about at the dinner table.
Dan’s choice of shows is partly driven by his own loves, but also by the strengths within the team.
Dan: The next wave of shows going into Edinburgh are about looking at our team and thinking “you’d be great doing this”. We’ve got a guy coming in to do Prince, and he’s going to double doing the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
This will probably be Cleopatra’s last stint with Night Owl, at least for the foreseeable future., as she is going to return to working on her own material.
Dan: I think Cleopatra’s next step is actually to recognize herself as the true artist she is. So here’s your last chance to catch someone before they blow up as the star they’re meant to be. I think genuinely, you are watching greatness.
Cleo: As person I’ve got eclectic taste in music. I write more for myself between R & B and classical music with a little bit of reggae on the top! I just call it music. As a writer I love everything, as a singer I love everything, but as an artist, for the sake of the industry, I’m trying to box myself in as an R & B performer. I think my work is sort of R & B crossed with a black Florence and the Machine!
After smashing the Adelaide Fringe with a massive stable of award-winning shows, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dan will just get home and collapse. But apparently not!
Dan: We’ve got Brighton Fringe and then Edinburgh. We’ve got fourteen shows for Edinburgh this year!
Cleo: And I’m having a break, but then I’m going straight into the studio, once I’ve finished resting. It just means I’m not going to be earning any money for a while. But I’m going to be writing. I’ve always got my laptop out. I’ve always got a pen and paper ready. I love writing. Music just does something to you. You may not be a singer; you may not be an artist on the stage, but it’s in you. When you hear something that moves you, it touches the soul.
Have your soul touch at one of Night Owl’s remaining shows.
Click here for details of the Night Owl line-up.
Click here to book for Cleopatra Higgins as Tina Turner.