Archive for the ‘John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett’ Category

John Otway and Wild Willie Barrett Durham Launderette 5 May 2023

Otway is a pop star. Well he must be because he says it’s true. After all he resigned himself to his future as a pop star icon when he otway tixwas young watching Top of the Pops. He didn’t dare reveal his true ambition to his mother who would not have believed him so he kept it quiet until he met his friend Wild Willy Barrett and the two of them embarked upon a lifelong career, all with the ultimate aim of making John Otway a true pop star. Sometimes along that journey the two would fall out but destiny would bring them back together again as they are today. The strange marriage has now reached its 50th birthday (wow! Can it be true) and the odd couple are travelling the roads of England singing their songs to cult followers old and new.

otway3Now it is long long time since I witnessed Otway and Barrett. I have seen Otway advertised solo many times over the years but have passed on the opportunity of joining our true pop star in concert until now. The last time I saw the duo was probably in Newcastle Cooperage on a tour where to gain entry, free, you had to take along their latest 45 rpm single. Or maybe it was at Maxwell’s nightclub in Tynemouth (long since gone). Whatever, it was in the late 1970s or early 1980s. So, time to renew my acquaintance with the one and only true pop star, John Otway.

OtWAY 1Jackie, my carer, and I arrived early and on time to snatch a couple of seats close to the front (well actually everyone is close to the front in the Launderette). In fact, the kind man on the door made sure that I had plenty of room in my wheelchair and that we had a great view of the stage. Soon our heroes took to said stage and it was not long before Otway delivered his hit, which made him a pop star “Really Free” and brought the duo into our living rooms on the Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops. Otway was on top form, really getting into the angst of his ballads, ripping his shirt open, and being, well, a pop star.

otway 2After a short interval, during which I was pleased to meet my old friend Mitch, who would often comment on my blog, we were away again with “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, “Two Little Boys” (yes the song which became a hit for he who shall not be named, but Otway sang it before that) and the wonderful “Beware of The Flowers… Coz You Know They are Going To Get You… Yeah!”. Soon we are close to the end and Otway tears out his heart in front of us to the beautiful Bob Lind ballad “Cheryl’s Going Home “; I can feel the emotion in his voice and his typically over-the-top melodramatic performance is well; just wonderful.” Choo-Choo “goes the train down the track taking Otway’s love Cheryl away for ever. My heart goes out to my favourite pop star. Melodramatic magic.

otway4Now I must make mention of the many guitars and other instruments including a violin and a set of Bagpuss bagpipes played largely by Wild Willy and sometimes by Otway. And I just have to mention Wild Willy’s brown dustbin which he opens frequently to reveal a loud amplifier hiding within. Willy closes the set by sawing his guitar in rhythm to the music, hitting the same guitar with a claw hammer (I kid you not) and then stamping on it. He sells the guitar to a guy in the audience for £31.99 and promises that if you bring two of his smashed guitars along to a gig, you will be admitted free. And he means it. A couple of encores and then our two heroes are gone. Jackie is now convinced that Otway is indeed a pop star.
Thanks to Jackie and Mitch for the photos and Mitch for the set list (thanks, much appreciated)

Set List: Louisa on a horse; Gypsy; Really free; Best dream; If I did; Separated; Misty mountain; Bluey green; Body talk. INTERVAL. Somewhere over the rainbow; Two little boys; Real tears from both eyes; Beware of the flowers; 21 days; The snowflake effect; Come back darling; Cheryl’s going home.

Encores (sort of) – Racing cars; Geneve.

John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett in concert in the late ’70s and early ’80s

John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett in concert in the late ’70s and early ’80s
otwaymaxwellsOne of the many good things about the emergence of punk and new wave in the late 70s was that it allowed a series of fresh and, in some cases maverick, artists to break through and kick start their career. Many of the bands and singers who were bracketed in with the scene were not truly punk, but they shared a sense of enthusiasm, passion, energy and craziness with the movement. John Otway, accompanied by his partner in madness, Wild Willy Barrett, was one such act. Otway is one of the most authentic performers I have ever seen. He can’t sing well in any traditional sense of the word, and his stage act was at times, bizarre to say the least. But there was always an honesty about his performance; with Otway what you saw was what you got, and he would always put 110% into a gig. It was a manic performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977 which propelled John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett to success. ottersThe single “Really Free” was popular at the time, and I saw him on several occasions including a gig at Maxwells club in Tynemouth (15th March 1978), Reading Festival (August 1978), The Cooperage Newcastle (16th July 1980) and Sunderland Poly Wearmouth Hall (17th January 1981). I think I may also have seen them asa  support act at the City Hall (perhaps for Madness in late 1980?), but can’t be sure. The gig that sticks in my mind most of all is the performance at Maxwells (note miss-spelling of “Barrett” on the ticket). Maxwells was (it doesn’t exist anymore) a club along the coast in Tynemouth and hosted a few gigs at the time, the most notable being this one, and an appearance by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Otway was on top form that night; simply buzzing, manic and crazy. The place was packed; punk was really starting to take off in the North East, and there was lots of beer being thrown about, and some spitting at the stage. John took it all in his stride; winding us all up between songs and at one point he ran around the venue, chasing a guy who had been spitting at him. otwaypolyMy favourite songs at the time were “Really Free” (of course) and his truly unique and amazing version of Bob Lind’s “Cheryl’s Coming Home”. I must also mention John’s companion, Willy Barrett. He would stand quietly alongside Otway, playing a beat up guitar that looked home-made, a silent foil to John’s madness. The other gig that I’ll mention is the Cooperage concert, which I remember for another reason. By 1980 Otway was looking for another hit record, and devised a cunning plan. At the time only certain selected shops counted towards the charts and although their identity was meant to be kept secret, the record companies worked out where the shops were. Otway decided to do a tour of towns where the shops were, and announced that you were only allowed to come and see the gig (for free) if you bought a copy of the single. It certainly worked; I remember loads of us queuing outside the Cooperage, each of us holding our copy of “DK 50/80”; I still have mine somewhere. otwayprogFrom the programme: “You may have asked yourself on the way to the gig, if you are in your right mind traipsing down the road clutching a single. That I cannot answer, but what you are doing is taking part in something that is unique and will probably be part of rock history.” Indeed; and well said Otters. Also from the programme: “To cut the costs of touring the Otway/Barrett party will be staying in tents on local camp sits, hiring biy scouts for road crew etc.”
otwayThe record managed to reach the lower region of the single charts.
John Otway continues to perform up and down the country and retains a sizable cult following. He has tried a series of stunts over the years; which has seen him hit the charts again with “Bunsen Burner” (he wanted a new hit for his 50th birthday in 2002), play and fill the Albert Hall, and most recently premier “Otway the Movie” at a full red carpet event at the Odeon Leicester Square. The guy’s ingenuity knows no end.