M1-5 John Otway
To even think that John Otway could get it together to have “dot-com” added after his name is astounding. He has always been considered by many as delightfully non-compos-mentis. As Professor Wiki explains, “although typically used in law, this term can also be used metaphorically or figuratively; i.e. when one is in a confused state, intoxicated, or not of sound mind.”
Those last three expressions would I dare say be a fair description of how most people – fans especially – lovingly think of dear John. For those who know him not (those who do will already have glissed over this intro with a knowing sigh), take a look at this video (which I know may disappear in time, in which case search Youtube for his version of “House of the Rising Sun” with hilarious pre-scripted audience participation). Not convinced he’s a looner? OK, try this video (renowned UK TV live rock show; singer jumps on amp, falls off, injures self, but keeps singing). There are today 493 Otway videos on Youtube . Go on – have a ball – it’s nearly Christmas.
John Otway from the start was aware (or proud? or told?) that he had no talent as a singer-songwriter, but in any event was put on this earth to be A True Star. So, starting in the late 70′s he literally threw himself into an amazingly manic stage act which includes: * somersaulting while playing guitar * singing into a mike while eating it * bashing self on head with same mike * tearing cheap white shirt open to express the fabulous passion he puts into every number * etc. * a lot more etc. I used to go and see him and his sidekick Wild Willy Barrett (who was a proper musician but did have a steel guitar mounted on a trolley so he could slide the guitar rather than the bottleneck, and also was prone to sawing his guitar in half while playing it) regularly at pubs and clubs in those punky days. Absolutely guaranteed huge fun and laughter with/at, and astonishingly, some great music too. Pete Townshend of The Who became a fan and produced some of John’s early singles (even playing bass when needed).
As I won’t be going into a detailed biog here (this is a blog, not a biog) I’ll just skip forward a couple of decades to the part where John came up with a unique idea for a world tour – to book various world-famous halls such as Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House, then ensure a sellout by renting a Jumbo jet and actually taking his audience with him. He succeeded in getting a large part of the organising done, but the project crumbled when he only got half the number of customers needed to make it feasible. Now, while John loves to make success out of failure and is brilliant at it, I for one would love to see his World Tour materialise one day. Meanwhile, he succeeded splendidly with his annual winter coach trips to France where he performs on the coach and lets the well-wrapped audience chuckle as he tempts death by swimming fully clothed in the freezing French sea.
(digression) During the process of inviting artists to join the Miniatures project, I somehow was able to get through and leave a message for Wild Man Fischer (no relation). He called me back several times from the USA, collect of course, and shouted quite a lot, fairly incomprehensibly. One phrase he used a lot was “my head hurts” (incidentally, King Crimson’s brilliant, intelligent, articulate sax man Ian McDonald said the same thing while being driven to audition for my Morgan prog-rock band in 1972). Anyway, once it looked like the Wild Man was not going to manage even a minute of recording (if I’d had my wits about my I’d have recorded his phonecall – as I did 20 years later with Jane Siberry) I was delighted when our very own Wild Man Mr. Otway agreed to come on board.
But then, he came up with this tear-jerkingly beautiful love ballad… there’s no accounting for wild men, is there? Anyway, in 1978 I’d had my full share of wildidity (an Overend Watts word) when I was asked to play on John’s album “Where Did I Go Right?” (produced by Miniatures artiste/Bonzo/Rutle, the very wondrous Neil Innes, and Steve James, son of Sid James, blessed with a similar dirty laugh). A tour soon followed. This was no fabled World Tour, however. Like the reformed fictional Strange Fruit in the funniest (and most true-to-life) rock movie “Still Crazy,” we were bundled off to Holland (i.e. the sticks) to see what we could make of it – and what the locals would make of us. The band, consisting of John, myself on keys, the cool and funky Paul Martinez, bs, and the deadly duo of Ollie Halsall, gtr, and John Halsey, dr (featured in the first post in this blog) had a whale of a time onstage, and when off, avoided marijuana cafes and went to art galleries instead (well, Ollie and I did). Hard to believe? 15 photos follow (please click to enlarge):
We did make it home OK – not like an earlier jaunt with my first band The Love Affair, where we slept all night in a freezing van on the docks, waiting for the ferry, and woke at 6am to try and consume – and keep down – rancid toast and coffee while watching tough, wizened French dockers chomping on omelettes washed down with cognac. Ugh.
The heady days of stardom continued in 1979, with Otway and myself donning my Mott the Hoople piano jackets for these cover photos (click to enlarge):
…of my 7″ single release featuring my sentimental piano version of one of Otway’s greatest love songs, “Genève” (related pic here). It sold in the dozens. But kudos to Cherry Red Records for releasing, well any bloody old thing by blokes they liked. A far cry from the relentless pressure to make hits exerted by Sony (then CBS) on Mott the Hoople, to the point where Ian Hunter had a nervous breakdown and quit the band, i.e., killed the band. Cherry Red are still going. Sony, doubtless, are still killing.
Rant over. John is one of the freshest, funniest, most likeable lunatics it has been my great good fortune to meet and play with and he still stumbles on (was going to say soldiers on – wrong word) bringing joy and laughter to millions (OK, dozens). To quote from that brilliant “Still Crazy” film (also spoken by a keyboard player) – “love you, man.” Also love Willy for giving you solid if splintering musical support all these years. If you have managed to read thus far, it is now time to plunge into those 493 Otway youtube vids - Cheers!
PS – Mott the Hoople have a tribute band in the UK called Not the Hoople. So where’s John Notway???
PPS – John has written two books about his runcible (google it) life: one is called “I Did It Otway” – which leads us nicely into:
Next up – the first of two lethal attacks on Sinatra…