Monday, 15 September 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #31

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

#31: John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett
The Globe, Cardiff - 11 September 2014
Also in attendance: Colin

**SPOILER ALERT** If you didn't see Otway/Barrett on their 40 Odd Years Tour and are planning to catch them on their current Film Stars Tour, you may want to avoid this review and its YouTube links 'cause I don't want to spoil any surprises.

My only previous Otway experience was at Glastonbury 1995 when he was backed by a full band and completely blew me away with his exuberant and energetic performance. Last Thursday night, I caught him for a second time, this time back with his old mucka Wild Willy Barrett. This show was very different but no less entertaining, so much so I had tears of laughter rolling down my face at times.

Otway and Barrett are part folk music duo, part stand-up comedy act - Barrett the nonchalant straight man, Otway the overexcited fool, but both utterly hilariously brilliant. You see, to both Otway and Barrett, the songs form merely part of the show (some would argue they are just a minor part); the art is in the delivery. The anecdotes of their times working together, the stories behind the songs, the interplay between the pair, the props, Otway's clowning, Barrett's near-virtuoso musicianship (he plays guitars, violin, banjo, balalaika, some kind of electronic pedal-steel thing that sounded like racing cars, a bagpipe/guitar hybrid thing) - all combine to make this as much a theatrical performance as a pop music one.

Several features made this the most unique show I've ever seen: Barrett controlling his guitar volume by placing his amp in a wheelie bin and opening and closing the lid accordingly; Otway playing theramin and electronic drum pads placed at strategic points around his body; and a wanton act of guitar destruction that Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Paul Simenon would no doubt have emulated if they'd only have had the necessary DIY tools at hand. They also made a point of playing the worst song Otway reckons he ever wrote - his Cold War romance tale Natasha You're A Smasha (But You're Working For Russia) - in order to make everything else sound good by comparison!

And for possibly the first time in some 20 years, it seemed I was among the youngest third of the audience! Don't think that will be happening again anytime soon.

I strongly recommend both John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett as solo performers, but together the chemistry is like nothing else. If you do get the chance to see them between now and the end of October, take it. Plus the DVD of 'Otway: The Movie' is released next month too - an essential purchase that one!

Later this week, I go to see another duo - the delightful First Aid Kit. Something tells me that's going to have a slightly different feel about it...

I'm not going to put MP3s on this post as you can't really get the feel for the Otway/Barrett live experience through such ineffective media. Instead here's a few YouTube clips from shows on their last tour which, while still somewhat unsatisfying, are still good enough to at least put a smile on your face and give you an idea of what you can expect from this genius pairing.

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