Friday, May 09, 2014

Otway The Movie, Review.

It was a windy and rainy day yesterday and I was trapped indoors and starting to get depressed. "How can I make today interesting?", I asked myself. Then my Facebook friend John Otway posted that there was to be a screening of  'Otway,The Movie' at the Little Theatre Cinema in Bath that very evening followed by a question and answer session with the man himself. I knew I had to go so I phoned up my friend Dave and he wanted to go as well so I  booked two tickets. I spent the afternoon kicking my heels and getting excited because Otway has been part of my life for nearly forty years ( See previous stories below). I met Dave in the pub and we caught the 6.38 train to Bath.                                                                                       We had time on our hands so we went for a drink in the Grapes pub in Westgate Street until it was show time. In all the years I have lived in this area I have never been to the Little Cinema before and I must say it is a wonderful little venue, hidden away up an alley way off Westgate Street and the seats are really comfortable.
While we were waiting for the doors to open Otway himself arrived and I took the opportunity to take a couple of photos with himself, Dave and I. He also signed an album for me and we had a little chat. He really is a nice person who seems genuinely interested in what people have to say and takes the time to speak to them. I think that is why he has built up such a devoted fan base over the years. I told him about previous times I had seen him. The first time was right here at Bath Pavilion in 1978 and he remembered it which surprised me because he must have played thousands of gigs since. I also told him about the time Kim and I went to his 50th birthday party at the London Palladium. Kim used to love Otway and it made her night when he gave her a kiss on the cheek at a gig in Frome a few years ago.

 Then it was time for the film which Otway introduced. He said that we had to listen out for the one word that was the reason that when the film got its certificate it can't be seen by unaccompanied children under twelve. The film begins with Otway returning to his old school in Aylesbury to talk to the kids about how to make a career in the music business. It then chronicles his whole career which is portrayed as one disaster after another. There is a lot of footage of his legendary concert in Aylesbury market square in 1978.I was there on that memorable day. There is also the London Palladium concert where the fans conspired to give him a hit record as a birthday present. I'll never forget that night sitting in the pub listening to the chart being announced and 'Bunsen Burner' going straight in the charts at number 9. Then Otway coming over to the pub and standing on a table to the cheers of the fans.
 I won't tell you all of the film but it was really enjoyable and I know the rest of the audience enjoyed it because there was a lot of spontaneous laughter and applause throughout the screening. There is one thing that slightly niggles me though is because the film has the sub-title of  'Rock And Roll's Greatest Failure'. I disagree with that because John Otway has had a long and successful career and brought a lot of pleasure to many people. The other thing that is overlooked is that he has written some great songs and has a body of work to be proud of. I think his first  album with Wild Willy Barrett and the follow-up 'Deep And Meaningless' are great albums by any standard. I would put them in my favourite 50 albums of all time. Songs like Geneva, Gypsy,Josephine,Place Farm Way and many more are songs to be proud of and show that he is a great singer-songwriter.
After the screening there were questions and answers and I asked John if he was doing Glastonbury this year and he is. I can reveal that he is on in the Cabaret Stage on the Saturday and also the film will be shown in the Cinema Tent. Dave and I left before the end because we wanted a quick drink before catching the train. John did ask though if anyone noticed the one word that barred unaccompanied children from seeing it. I thought it might be Willy but actually it was Twat. Now that Otway has made a film I wonder what the future holds for him. I think he should definitely be given the freedom of the city of Aylesbury because through his songs he has put Aylesbury on the map. Also if his fans can get together and give him a hit single why can't they start a campaign to get him in the Queens New Years Honours list for services to music. He deserves it more than most of them. Anyway, thank you very much John Otway for a great night out in Bath.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Deep And Meaningless, Otway Forever

In the summer of 75 I became quite pally with this geezer who I met in Peterborough.I liked him because he slept in shop doorways and 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 bloke who he knew back in Aylesbury who would be famous one day.
"What does he do?" I asked.
"He is a singer, he is absolute rubbish,but 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 doorway 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,
Place Farm Way,
Where I used to stay-in my youth
With Someone I used to love.
I'm going back again to see the friends
I lost along the 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. Otway also 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 rennaissence.
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 and who knows what he will do next.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Review,Van Morrison: My New World Crystal Ball

One of the great things I have found about the Internet is that I have made hundreds of friends all over the world.Every Van Morrison concert I go to I meet up with several of them.They have been very kind to me as well, sending me concert recordings. Recently one of  my friends sent me a CD called My New World Crystal Ball. It is a recording of two shows Van gave at The Lions Share in San Anselmo, California on August 8th 1971. The Lions Share was a tiny club frequented by musicians I believe and was famously the venue for the wake after Janis Joplin's funeral. I don't know why Van played two shows in one night at the club but I am glad he did because to my ears this is amongst the best ever Van live recordings I have  heard.The sound quality is first rate, you could almost feel you were there in the intimate atmosphere and Van is on great form.
                                                                                          Disc 1 is the early set and begins with three acoustic songs,Sweet Thing,I Wanna Roo You and Tupelo Honey.Some of the words to Tupelo Honey are different to the official version. Then the band join in with Van singing part of  Que Sera Sera which I remember Doris Day singing and this suddenly changes to Hound Dog and I don't think I have heard Van sing Rock n Roll like this.John Platania's guitar playing deserves a mention,It is great. This is followed by These Dreams Of You with some great sax by brother Jack Schroer.  Then another surprise, Van sings the Everly Brothers Let It Be Me and as usual Van effortlessly makes the song his own. It is quite brilliant.This is followed by Tennessee Waltz made famous by Patti Page. Moonshine Whiskey follows and this is really good. I think Van's wife Janet is one of the backing singers. I wonder if it might have been inspired by Janis,anyway it is nine minutes of genius as is the next song which is Bob Dylan's classic Just Like A Woman. Nobody interprets Bob as well as Van.This version is sublime.Two songs from the Street Choir album follow,I've Been Working and Domino.Jack Schroer's sax is quite incredible and the two songs are thirteen minutes of jamming, scatting, improvising and being quite amazing. The final song on Disc 1 is Buena Sera Senorita which I think was originally recorded by Louis Prima in 1956. Then the MC asks everybody to leave by the back door as people are already queuing for the second show.                                                      
                                                                                                              Disc 2 is much the same show apart from three songs.Street Choir replaces I Wanna Roo You and it is from the lyrics of this song that the recording gets it's name.It is acoustic with just Van and the three girl backing singers. When That Evening Sun Goes Down replaces Tennessee Waltz and there is the addition of Gloria. I must say though you can play both discs after each other because it is wonderful.Sweet Thing is particularly great with just Van and guitar. The whole recording is worthy of an official release because it captures a genius at the height of his powers in the early days of one of the most illustrious careers in modern music. Highly recommended.