Tuesday, 30 September 2014

John Otway & Wild Willy Barratt

Backstage at The Green Hotel

25th of September 2014
John Otway as Professor Wallofski

There were so many unforgettable performances on The Old Grey Whistle Test during the seventies: Focus playing Hocus Pocus, Patti Smith’s first UK visit where she performed Land, Edgar Winter Group’s Frankenstein and The Special’s rendition of A Message to You, Rudy all spring to mind as seminal broadcasts. 

But some of these recordings have been played and replayed so often over the years, I occasionally doubt whether I truly did witness them first time around such is my familiarity with the footage.

One performance which I do know for sure I saw first-hand was John Otway and Wild Willy Barratt’s session back in 1977: this being the performance where not only did Otway succeed in inadvertently stepping on Barratt’s fuzz-pedal cutting the guitarist off in his prime, but also tumbled off a speaker, his fall being broken only by his testicles.

This display tempted me and a few others out there to go and purchase their single Really Free, helping it to a rather respectable top thirty placing.  I persevered with the pair, buying a clutch of other (equally good, I thought) singles: Geneve, Racing Cars and Baby’s in the Club.  But I was very much in the minority I think, and the duo split up soon thereafter.

Otway’s name would still pop up occasionally in the music press during the eighties – most notably in conjunction with his decidedly un-PC song Head-butts, but his profile for much of the decade (and the following two) could best be described as “Low”.  Although I noted a campaign by a number of his loyal fans to get the lyric to one of his songs Beware Of The Flowers voted as the best ever of the 20th Century succeeded in achieving seventh position.

Wild Willy Barratt's collection of instruments,
including the Wah-Wah wheelie Bin
John Otway - Kinross 2014

Wild Willy Barratt - Kinross 2014

Wild Willy Barratt - Kinross 2014

Wild Willy Barratt - Kinross 2014

Otway and Barratt reunited as performers around 2009 or so, and this gig was one of their fairly regular jaunts north of the border.  It took place at the Backstage at The Green Hotel in Kinross – effectively a large wooden box which has been bolted on to a rather plush hotel.  For seating it looks as if the hotel staff had simply scoured all the bedrooms and dining rooms to round up any which were spare, such was the range of styles and shapes.

Entering the place, and seeking out the bar I immediately noted the stars of the show having a pre-gig shandy together.  Otway had clearly decided recently to combat his receding hairline by growing what remained at the sides, to the extent he bore a jarring resemblance to Max Wall’s Professor Wallofski character. 

Barratt had filled out a touch (I am one to talk) since his appearance as a pencil-thin Hawkwind refugee back on the OGWT.  But he had retained his long hair and beard, and in tall hat and waistcoat he cut a rather dapper image and would have made a darned sight better Radagast the Brown than Sylvester McCoy, I felt.

On stage Barratt had a clothes-rack behind him upon which were hung all manner of guitars, banjos and assorted strung instruments, many made by himself.  He was wonderfully adept at all, and we were introduced to the wonderful Wah-Wah Wheelie Bin.

The “Big Hit” was played fairly early on in the set, but that did not matter for there were all manner of delights to follow – the most surreal of which was a medley which began as a version of Duelling Banjos for banjo and theramin (think Star Trek theme), which segued into a frantic bluegrass hoedown rendition of Two Little Boys.  And no, Rolf did not get a mention.

For all the image of organised chaos the pair pitch, the show is actually very slick, with the witty interplay between the two showing perfect comedic timing.  With Barratt’s dry deadpan humour and Otway’s over the top excited schoolboy persona there was almost a father/son or even carer/caree vibe going on which the pair milked to the full.  I had heard tales of tension between the two, but I saw nothing but mutual respect and even affection.

Some of the songs didn’t quite hit the mark, Gypsy and Separated perhaps, but generally I just sat grinning like an oaf throughout the whole show, to the extent I am sure had O or B noticed me sitting in the third row they would have been convinced I was some sort of care-in-the community case.

The set closed with the poignant Geneve, but the guys wisely chose to eschew this chance to take themselves seriously and Barrett took the opportunity to perform some home carpentry on his guitar.

As I was leaving, I noted Otway was punting DVD copies of his film debut entitled “Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Greatest Failure”.  I am sorry John, but anyone who could pen a tune as beautiful as Geneve has already disqualified themselves as a contender for that title, I am afraid.

John Otway & Wild Willy Barratt performing Two Little Boys

Louisa on a Horse
Really Free
Best Dream
If I Did
Bluey Green
Body Talk
Only a Hobo
Duelling Banjos/Two Little Boys
The Snowflake Effect
Last of the Mohicans
Come Back Darling
21 Days
Cheryl’s Going Home

Racing Cars



  1. Sounds like a good gig. Did you share a shandy with the boys before the show?
    Good write-up!

  2. Had a brief chat with Mr Otway afterwards - delightful chap.