|John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett.|
In the summer of 75 I became quite pally with this bloke who I met in Peterborough. I liked him because he still read the Beano although he was about 25 years old. He came from Aylesbury and one night over a few pints in the Bull Hotel in Peterborough he told me about this person who he knew back in Aylesbury who would be famous one day.
"What does he do?" I asked.
"He is a singer, he is so bad,he's good. He is so determined to be famous that one day he will be,You mark my words".
"What's his name?" I enquired, becoming curious.
"John Otway", he replied.
Two years went by and I had moved to Wiltshire and totally forgotten about the Aylesbury kids prophecy. Then one fateful day I was reading the New Musical Express when I saw a review of an album by John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett and suddenly the strange conversation came flooding back. A few days later in a record shop in Bath I bought the album and my life was never to be the same again. When I got home and put the album on the turntable I was pleasantly surprised, I liked it There were a couple of quite poignant ballads, Geneve and Gypsy,some nice folky pastoral songs such as Louisa On A Horse and Misty Mountain,a wild manic version of Bob Lind's Cheryl's Going Home and another wild song called Cor Baby Thats Really Free.This was a great song with some great driving guitar by Willy Barrett.There was also a great feeling of humour and fun about the album that I really liked as well. I played it to my family and friends who also loved it. Before long Bradford On Avon had become an enclave of Otway fans.We had all been Otwayed.
Really Free was released as a single and Otway and Barrett appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test TV show. It was a performance that was never to be forgotten. Otway got carried away and was doing double somersaults on the floor, then tried to jump on the speakers and fell off in a heap on the floor. It ended in total chaos and Barrett walked off in disgust. It must have struck a chord with some people though because on December 3rd 1977 Really Free entered the UK charts, peaking at number 28. Otway's dream was coming true. He was becoming famous.
Otway had made a huge mistake though. Making huge mistakes is a constant theme running through Otway's career.The B side of Really Free was Beware Of The Flowers which was even better than Really Free.With its punk sound of relentless guitar thrash and great hook line of"Beware Of The Flowers Cos i'm sure they're Gonna Get You Yeah" it could have been a million seller but it wasn't to be. It was to be 25 long lonely years before poor old Otway had another top 40 hit.
The second album was called Deep And Meaningless which I rushed out to buy as soon as it hit the shops. Again it was a great album with lots of great songs on a quasi-autobiograpical theme set around Otways home town and area in the Vale Of Aylesbury. Songs like Place Farm Way
I saw Otway for the first time in 78 at Bath Pavilion. He was terrific,tearing around the stage like a mad looney and ripping his shirt off. Our gang saw him about 7 times during those heady days of 78/79.One night at Bristol Locarno he threw his shirt into the audience and I managed to grab it. I used to use it for mopping the kitchen floor at home, so much for collecting memorabilia. I was also there when Otway played a huge outdoor concert in the market square of Aylesbury which was filmed for a TV special called 'Stardust Man, The Otway Story'.Otway seemed destined for fame and fortune, but alas it wasn't to be.
Himself and Willy Barrett fell out, partly because Barrett kept failing to appear at gigs if there was football on the telly, also Otway's ego mania was taking its toll. The difficult 3rd album was a solo affair. Where Did I go Right? was the title and although it contained some great songs Otway's brush with stardom was on the wane. He was entering the wilderness years. Subsequent albums such as All Balls And No Willy failed to interest the public.
Otway refused to disappear though and a long period of playing pubs and birthday parties followed and the odd TV advert kept Otway afloat. He teamed up with anarchist poet Attilla The Stockbroker and even wrote a rock opera called Cheryl. It was during the late 80's that Otway first appeared at Glastonbury. Slowly but surely he began to rebuild his career. He even wrote his autobiography called Cor Baby Thats Really Me!. It was hilarious and for the first time the whole sad story was revealed. When he was at school Otway was known as 'Smelly',one year he got everybody in his class a Xmas card and got none back in return. To make himself popular he used to do things like drink a whole bottle of ink but to no avail. It was this rejection that spurred him on to achieve his dream.
The long lonely years in the wilderness were playing dividends though. Otway was beginning to build up a loyal following of devotees who understood his strange psyche. Perhaps they had also suffered failure and rejection in their lives. His faithful fans asked Otway what he would like for his 50th birthday and he said he would like another hit. Thus began the Otway renaissance.
A huge campaign began to get Otway back in the charts,The song chosen was Bunsen Burner which Otway had written while helping his daughter with her chemistry homework. The word went out across the internet, the papers and on the radio.The London Palladium was booked for Otway's birthday party to coincide with the chart announcement on the Sunday.
I was there on that glorious night.It was a lovely sunny evening and all the fans were gathered around the radio in the pub opposite the Palladium listening as the chart run down began. It got up to No 30 and no Otway, I began to worry, then up to 20, still no Otway, we had failed I thought, then up to 10 no Otway, the disappointment was unbearable, then... ...the magic words.......And straight in this week at number 9 its JOHN OTWAY with BUNSEN BURNER!!!!!!!!!!!!. YES!!!!! we had pulled it off.
Otway came running out of the Palladium, stood on a table and sang the song to his rapt fans and thanked everyone. I shook hands with him and he said "Thanks"with a huge grin on his face.It was the happiest day of his life. The concert that night was great and even Wild Willy Barrett was reunited with his old friend. The following week Otway was on Top Of The Pops and played a manic theramin solo. Otway is a national treasure who deserves an MBE for services to music.