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JOHN OTWAY

Friday 8 February 2008
The Platform, Morecambe
reviewed by satori

John Otway an Murray Torkildsen

I'm not going to get into all the historical stuff about John Otway, because, if you're reading this, you probably already know it all. In fact you probably are John Otway (Hi!!!!).

I knew nothing about him. But my fine new squeeze Jim and I have now passed the four month mark and he expressed an interest so here we are, back in the Platform. It starts at the bar, where, in the queue, a chap (3 double vodkas!) asks me if I've been to an Otway gig before. And "have you ever heard of the 'House of the Rising Sun'?" Is that a trick question? It's all about audience participation, he explains, hanging onto the bar for support (he was quite tall), and tries to impart the arcane knowledge that will help me enter the charmed atmosphere of Planet Otway. However Jim has already appointed himself my Otway oracle, and one is (more than) enough.

And here, bang on time, doing his own support in this all expences spared gig, is John Otway and his band, who are Richard Holgarth (also of Eddie and the Hot Rods), rhythm guitarist Murray Torkildsen, Adam Batterbee on drums and Seymour (I think this is the line-up - trying to find the names of the band is no easy matter) also on guitar.

Otway is clearly thrilled to be on tour in front of a full house, which this is. And until he turned up I was thrilled to be, I reckoned, the youngest and thinnest person in the house. Now I'm just the youngest. Nobody is thinner than Otway, who must be getting plenty of vitamins - he's as bright and perky as a button.

He is delighted to have had two hits, he tells us, because that means he has one for each set. And immediately he breaks a guitarstring. Mocking his dismay bandmate Richard scoffs, "He can only sound better.."

The sound is pretty muddy (it's the Platform) and there is occasional chaos on the stage, most of which is scripted, with a roadie galloping in to rescue John from his various predicaments, which is the Otway schtick. He's like Bad Dad on speed.

Guitarist Richard Holgarth follows Joh up the ladder

The guy is full of beans (or at least some kind of bean derivative), doing rolls on the floor, some from the top of a ladder and always really, really pleased to be touring with a band that's been on Top of The Pops.

Otway is a very funny guy, quite adorable, like a cute little kid who's just eaten a ton of yellow smarties. Speaking of which, he tells us about how, when his daughter was small, he was troubled by the absence of 'punk for tots' - a serious genre gap in UK music. Concerned "there must be lots of parents like me" (cue general hooting from the audience), he wrote 'Rumplestiltzkin', an energetic punk-rock number. At the end of this performance he comes to the mike holding a baby doll in white rompers in front of him. He stands for a moment, gathering drama, and then shouts, 'Michael Jackson! Drop the baby! Drop the baby!!" Whilst letting the little dolly plummet to the hard floor. You had to be there. I choked.

The music isn't bad and at least it's variable. The slower, ballady numbers like 'Josephine' and 'Geneva' fare better soundwise - and work, gathering intensity and feeling. "Beware Of The Flowers Cause I'm Sure They're Going To Get You, Yeah' was a lyric that stuck in my mind (and my notes), and doing belated research I discover that a well orchestrated grassroots campaign among the fans (they are many, here, and living among us) voted the seventh greatest lyric of all time in a BBC poll.

He sings 'Delilah' spoon in hand - a knife would be uncool. By the end of the song the spoon, which started off dessertspoon size, is ladle-size. You tell me what that's about.

The rockier numbers lose some of their drive in the muddy sound but the band itelf is full of energy and the audience is carried away on it all. At the end of the first set they're on their feet clapping (and this crowd doesn't look like they spend a lot of time on their feet).

Otway says that if he leaves a long enough break the audience will have forgotten all the numbers and he can play the first set again. But in fact the band settles in tidily for the second set, with a stonking production of 'Burn, Baby, Burn', complete with the cool rock 'n' roll dance moves that they had to learn for Top of the Pops.

And as a tip for would-be hitsters he tells us that for the B side of their hit single he booked a thousand-voice choir, all of whom got a backing vocalist name credit on the single sleeve. "It turns out" he explains, "that if you are a backing vocalist on a hit record you don't just buy a copy for yourself - you buy one for your mother as well. And that's the difference between top ten and top twenty."

And here comes the song they've all been waiting for:
'House of the Rising Sun.'
"There is...."
"What?" scream the audience.
"A house..."
"Where?"
"In New Orleans.."
"What's it called?"
I could go on, as frankly it's a miracle that anybody, anywhere has managed to make that song a genuine pleasure to listen to, but there's a bit on YouTube that demonstrates it all so much better at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK7m4hlLPv4.
Have a look. Go on. You'll see what I mean about the smarties too!

They play Batman Turner Overdrive's 'You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet' and two people actually get up and dance over in the far shadows of this railway hanger we're in. It's all kicking off, with the roadie running back and forth to fix all the nonsense as Otway juggles mikes, getting caught up on everthing possible, mischievously unplugging the lead guitarists amp during his big solo and, as a tribute to Madonna, rigging up a mobile mike headpiece out of a coathanger that promptly threatens to hang him.

The punk encores are cool - Rolf Harris' 'Two Little Boys' and the Headbutt song, which drastically lives up to its name with everything in sight coming into alarming impact with Otway's head. The audience is well happy. What can I say? It's great to see a chancer like Otway looking so cheerful and delighted with the cards fate has dealt him. A Great British Eccentric and a fine example to the youth of today, imho.

And as he says himself in that poignant closing ballad, 'Geneva':

"I keep on playing the same songs 'cos I never found a better way of living.
Did you?"

© satori February 2008

 

 

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