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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

JOHN OTWAY AND THE BIG BAND, Half Moon, Putney, London, January 14th 2006

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 no where 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).
Not that I thought I would have much to say about this highly entertaining and amiable eccentric (with an appearance that gets more like the late Michael Hordern playing a demented public-school chemistry teacher every time I see him) that I didn’t say when I reviewed him back in 2004. To be sure the set was almost identical, although we did get a couple of additional numbers from his 2005 album Ot-air, including ‘Rumplestiltskin’ and ‘International dateline’.
Richard Holgarth The band (Richard Holgarth, lead guitar; Murray Torkilsden, rhythm guitar; Seymour, bass guitar; and Adam Batterbee on drums) was as tightly inept as Otway deserved, with Richard Holgarth ( a sometime Hot Rod with Eddie) in outstanding form with his School of Rock Gibson SG. It also featured Otway collaborator, writer and producer Barry Upton, on keyboards and guitars, whose perma suntan is no doubt more the result of his work with Cheeky Girls and million sellers Steps than with Otway.
So I stood there enjoying my beer and Otway’s infectious buffoonery whilst the Photographer played with the new Whiskyfun camera. And a thought came into my mind, which was that quite possibly there was more depth, and more danger, to Mr Otway than might at first meet the eye. Think of it this way – we’re told that it’s the youth who challenge the status quo in the music business, and I guess the latest example would be the Arctic Monkeys. But in fact for all the fuss and nonsense about ‘democratisation’ of the music industry through the influence of websites such as myspace, the band are being so hyped by ‘the business’ that it’s hard to tell them apart from anyone else (think of that famous moment in the final paragraph of Animal Farm), and like all the other brave new things before them they seem to be careering happily into the open arms of the music establishment. But not Otway. He subverts the very concept of fame. He subverts the conventional business constructs that support the music industry (don’t believe me? Then have a look at his planned World Tour). And he even subverts the structure of the song (‘House of the rising sun’). Most of all he subverts the notion, commonly held amongst young folk, that 54 year olds should know better.
So 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. Oh yes, and if you do only one thing this year, then please go and see Otway. You won’t regret it. - Nick Morgan (concert photos by Kate). John Otway

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