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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
JOHN OTWAY AND THE BIG BAND
Half Moon, Putney, London, January 6th 2007
Déjà vu anyone?
It’s winter quiet in January London at the moment. Curtains are drawn early in the afternoon, electric light-bulbs shimmer, families huddle round glowing radiators snacking on Christmas surely-past-their-use-by-date leftovers, and entertainment seems largely to be provided by North London’s European football team and Celebrity Big Brother. In case you don’t know Serge, that’s a TV programme (remember – the box in the corner?) where run of the mill celebrities like superannuated rock stars, end of the pier comedians, forgotten actors and the odd Member of Parliament sit around in a house making fools of themselves for the sake of a nation’s entertainment (perhaps Gordon Brown will make us all watch it as part of the new British Day celebrations).
Personally I don’t get it, but I’m told it’s a fine way of passing the time if you’ve no money, and nowhere to go. And gigs are certainly thin on the ground at the moment. But by way of avoiding the telly, or worse, we wandered south of the river on Saturday to Putney to see Whiskyfun’s old chum, and Rock and Roll’s self declared ‘Greatest Failure’ John Otway and his Big Band (all five of them).

Déjà vu anyone?

Okay – it’s an easy way to write a review, but with the exception of the odd Member of Parliament who has yet to find his (or her) way onto Celebrity Big Brother the rest of it is as true as it was twelve months ago. And it’s a year, Otway tells us, “that didn't quite take off in the way I wanted it to”.
John Otway
He’s talking about his characteristically absurd plan to take a jet full of fans around the world (flying with OTAIR) in 2006 playing gigs in venues such as Tahiti, Sydney and Dubai. Madly enough over a hundred folk signed up and paid for this crazy adventure, but not enough to pull it off, so it was canned in September. But the characteristically irrepressible Mr Otway has put that behind him and is now looking forward to celebrating his past in what is his thirtieth anniversary year as a chart star. ‘Really free’, recorded with guitarist Wild Willy Barret charted in 1977, the start of Otway’s meteoric rise to his cult position as rock and roll’s greatest failure. To mark the occasion there is The Ultimate & Pen-ultimate John Otway, a double greatest hits album featuring 30 tracks, and also Bunsen Burner – the Album, featuring along with some B-sides and odds and sods, his 2002 top-ten hit of the same name, based on ‘Disco Inferno’ and written to help his daughter with her chemistry homework. Naturally both of these featured in the song-packed set that delighted the friendly crowd of beer-happy Otway diehards. Actually we took a hard-bitten twenty-something music industry cynic who’d never seen Otway before. “Dad”, she said with a huge smile on her face, halfway through ‘Beware of the flowers’ (song number two), “Dad, I’m converted”. Nuff said?
John Otway
Déjà vu anyone?

You may remember that when I last wrote about Otway I described him as a musical subversive. The thought was a serious one and still remains, ‘though his most subversive act of this evening was to try and play through the set with an out of tune guitar, something that ace axeman and sidekick, Eddie and the Hot Rod’s guitarist Richard Holgarth clearly wasn’t going to tolerate. As I watched Holgarth struggle to impose some sanity on events I thought, “what better way to start a musical year than with a performer who turns the musical world (and it should be said, himself) upside down?”. A musical year, I observe, that promises a mixture of something old, something new, something borrowed, and quite possibly something blue – and all of that before the end of April. And if it delivers only half the entertainment that Mr Otway produces, then I can tell you now that we’re all in for some good whiskymusicfun.

John Otway
Richard Holgarth tuning
Oh yes, and if you do only one thing this year, then please go and see Otway. You won’t regret it.
Déjà vu anyone? - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)



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