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Concert Review by Nick Morgan



JOHN OTWAY AND THE BIG BAND - The Half Moon, Putney, London - December 4th, 2004 - by zetta-deluxe guest writer Nick Morgan

The church bells were ringing when I arrived in Putney – a Triple Bob Major I think – a charming, eccentric, and very British remnant of a bygone golden age. Appropriate then that I was heading – with my mate Bob – to see John Otway; charming, eccentric, British, remnant, bygone, golden and most definitely aged.

If the 51 year old Otway didn’t exist it would be hard to imagine him, let alone invent him. And certainly far beyond the powers of the witless corporate-faced marketing and A&R guys who dominate decision making in most record companies – even the so called independents. [Editor’s note – steady on Nick - just remember what pays your pension !] Otway is one of those very British gems who gently slid through the door that Punk had kicked in so violently in the mid-seventies – think Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Siouxsie Sioux, Elvis Costello – but whose musical directions and ambitions lay elsewhere. Otway’s songs (and there are some good ones – try ‘Josephine’ off the first album) are mostly rooted in the English folk-tradition, and his performance is pure Music Hall – somewhere between the insouciant naiveté and manic surrealism of comedians such as Charlie Drake, Tommy Cooper and Eric Morecambe.
He starts the evening by somersaulting (literally) through what was – until a couple of year’s ago – his sole claim to fame – the 1977 top thirty (no. 27) hit ‘Really free’, followed by the B-side ‘Beware of the flowers’ – which for those of you who don’t know, was voted number seven in a BBC poll in 1999 for the Nations’ favourite song lyrics.

We then get Josephine, Delilah (recorded for a Weetabix advert it charted in 1995 at 187) and Otway’s new pomp-rock anthem ‘We rock’ – at which point the shirt comes off for the first time in the evening (the reason for the failure of Queen’s ‘We will rock you’, he explains, was because it had too many words in the title) and finally a fitting tribute to comedian Benny Hill, with Otway on electric fiddle.  
  The second set starts with the unlikely 2002 top-ten disco hit ‘Bunsen burner’ (with Otway on Theremin), and its B-side ‘House of the rising sun’, an Otway speciality. We get turbo-charged Rolf Harris – ‘Two little boys’, and Bachman Turner Overdrive – ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’ during which Otway lives up to the title by going through an absurd (and visibly painful) range of stunts – ending with a diving somersault from a step-ladder.
There must be easier ways of making a living, but Otway and his very tight band are clearly enjoying every minute of it – as are the audience. He’s often described as a National Treasure – but put him in a museum and I can’t imagine anyone would pay even a dollar and a half just to see him. Rock and Roll’s self-declared ‘Greatest Failure’ is a live act to be savoured. And like Rome everyone should see him at least once before they die. So if you’re ever in the UK and get the chance – go. Otherwise wait for the World Tour of 2006 – which will be funded – Otway confidently tells us, by his forthcoming No 1 hit album ……. - Nick Morgan (photos by Nick)

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