Welcome back from my homies Otway and Barrett
I first saw John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett in 1977 on Top pops.
I bought their tube (Cor Baby It’s really free to discover that side B, Beware of the flowers (‘Cause I’m sure they gon’ get you, Yeh)was as good as side A.
In a legendary Old Gray Whistle Test performance, John’s failed amplifier jump saw him straddle the speaker, crashing into his most delicate body parts. The painful landing helped really free to become a Top 20 hit.
I first promoted John’s shows when I was a musician and concert promoter in Newcastle and he played the city’s Cooperage venue in March 1983. Since then I have worked with Otway and Barrett.
Just over a decade later, I promoted John’s 2,000th show at the London Astoria. The 2,000 concert broke the house attendance record, beating Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Motörhead.
The publicity shots and reports were filmed at Henley Town Hall last July at a gig where I was playing guitar on stage with John.
I had come to know See comic book founder Chris Donald during my time in Newcastle and See sponsored John’s sold-out show at the Royal Albert Hall in 1998. I was there and we rehearsed and played with the Aylesbury Youth Orchestra, young people from John’s hometown.
In 1999, the words of beware of flowers were voted number 7 in the BBC’s National Poetry Day poll, along with Paul McCartney Yesterday get to number 6.
Millennial John’s last concert was at the Crooked Billet on Wednesday, December 29, 1999.
Moving from accompaniment to collaboration, I wrote the first demo music for John’s song Bunsen burnerwhich reached the top 10 in 2002. We hatched the plan for this hit to coincide with John’s 50th birthday at the Pillars of Hercules pub in Soho, but we actually wrote the riff and the first demo of the music at the Crooked Ticket.
Willy had given me his Les Dawson guitar, which I used while recording the demo of Bunsen burner at Oxford in October 2001. I thought it would bring good luck to the track and it seems to have worked.
I booked Abbey Road Studios in 2002 to record the B-side, inviting 1,000 John Otway fans to sing the backing vocals. It took a full day to record in Orchestra Studio #1, with 333 fans at once, overdubbing and we included all of their names on the record sleeve.
In October I booked the London Palladium for John and the gig sold out. It was booked for Sunday October 6th, to coincide with the countdown to the charts and his birthday and we entered the charts at No. 9. The following Thursday we played Bunsen burner on Top pops.
A decade later, Otway the Movie: Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure premiered at the Leicester Square Odeon and it went on to become a Netflix favourite. All of my talking head shots in the movie were filmed at the Crooked Billet.
In another local connection, a special edition of Otway and Barrett’s 1977 self-titled debut album was released on April 13, 2019 for Record Store Day.
John and Willy recreated the cover, which featured a picture of them hanging from a train at Lady McAlpine’s Fawley Hill Railway. They released it as a two-disc set on vinyl: one disc contained the original tracks, re-pressed from the original 1977 master tape, while the other was a live recording direct to disk. They played on each side without stopping in the cutting room, directly on the cutting tower.
John and Willy are prolific performers and on April 2 this year John played his 5,000th gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London.
With roots in acoustics, roots and folk, Otway and Barrett’s grungy, fast and furious fiddle, banjo and guitar, with bittersweet harmonies, led John to play festivals in Reading and from Glastonbury, Willy to play regularly at the Cambridge Folk Festival and both on the main stage of Cropredy.
I continue to enjoy the friendship with them and look forward to welcoming them back to Crooked Billet on Wednesday September 7th.
Come and enjoy a wonderful evening of unique musical entertainment, with a good dose of humor, very different from anything that currently exists.
Tickets cost £25 as a music cover charge and are available by calling (01491) 681048, (01491) 682304 or visit www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk