By Maya-Roisin Slater
VANCOUVER — Donna Mabbett discovered her love for music hitchhiking around British Columbia like so many other hippy kids in the 1970s. She was 17, darting in and out of festivals, befriending artists and finding a new community beyond her small hometown of Kamloops. Though her big step into the music business didn’t happen until the late ‘80s, these seminal experiences discovering new bands on the road would forever inform her career trajectory. She eventually ended up in Vancouver, which is where this journey set its course.
“I had to get a job, so I went down to the Town Pump in Gastown. And I worked there for about six months as a waitress, and then they made me team leader, you know, of the waitresses,” Mabbett says. “It was a really big venue and basically at that time they were hiring blues bands, cover acts, that type of thing.”
Eventually new management pushed the space into the more alternative scene and Mabbett climbed the ranks booking local acts, where she solidified her connections in Vancouver’s music community. With her promotion, Mabbett brought her own bit of innovation, deciding to book bills where three or so different genres of bands would play together in one night. In doing so punk, rockabilly, and reggae scenes had a chance to be in the same space, and form bonds over their unlikely similarities. It was here Mabbett met Cecil English, the partner she’s now working with today on her new production company, Alternight. English was running a recording studio in those days, as well as doing sound for local punk rockers DOA. “He used to come up to my office occasionally and ask me if I would hire certain bands, plead his case,” she laughs.
Eventually The Town Pump closed and, as the music industry in Vancouver started to take a new shape in the late nineties to early 00’s, Mabbett moved to Powell River to raise her family. But this is not where her story ends, because if you aren’t a square you might know punk is not dead. Mabbett and English reconnected on Facebook and in 2015 began plotting a way they could work together to put their stamp back on the local music scene. This is where Alternight Productions comes in.
“What we want to do is start mixing music scenes and giving people a chance to see a band they probably otherwise would never go out and see. People go out and see one band because they’re friends or whatever. The scene is very splintered and very fragmented and we want to glue it back together,” she explains. This glue will be formed with three different elements, multi-genre bills, a heightened production quality with emphasis on lights and sound, and an experimental hybrid recording project which will invite a live audience to watch a group record their album in a sound studio. “All in all it’s going to be so beneficial to the bands, and it’s going to be so beneficial to the fans. I mean that is our goal. Because this is what used to happen. We need to get rid of the apathy and we need to bring in some enthusiasm. We need to have music venues, and I’m talking music venues not just places where people go to socialize and the music is on in the background,” says Mabbett. As record sales are no longer the most viable means for funding the music industry, the duo behind Alternight believe the only way to re-create the booming music economy they were once part of is through live performances. And in order to get people out to shows they must raise the quality they’ve seen lost. “Everybody needs to have more focus on what is possible,” says Mabbett. “It’s not going to happen immediately, it’s going to take time. But I really feel people are ready for that they just need someone to heard them in the right direction.”
Alternight’s first show was on February 10 at the Rio, featuring Roots Roundup, Brickhouse, and The Grames Brothers. Stay tuned for more diverse lineups in the coming months from Mabbett and English.Alternight Productions, BC, British Columbia