Tuesday, 2 October 2012

John Otway at 60

In the summer of 1980 Otway & Barrett released their third album 'Way & Bar' and commenced 'The Tent Tour' to promote it. The gimmick was that admittance to the gigs was by the purchase of the album's second single, 'DK 50/80', only. So with no actual door money coming in, John & Wild Willy pitched a tent in a campsite near each evening's venue and spent the night under canvas, before moving on to the next town the following morning.

A couple of weeks into the tour, they arrived in my town and before that evening's gig at a local nightclub, they spent a good deal of the afternoon meeting and greeting fans, signing albums and generally hanging out, in the local record shop. I'd been working at that record shop for just a few months and it was my first experience of an 'in-store', as these events were invariably called by record company types.

Otway and Barrett had one of their many partings of the way at the end of the tour (perhaps not so surprising considering the hardships they no doubt had to endure with the unconventional accommodation involved), but together behind the counter that day, they entertained all and sundry like the seasoned double act they undoubtedly were. It was an extension of their stage show - Barrett the straight man and the gangly, flailing Otway, mad and funny with the ever-present danger of personal injury!

As the afternoon drifted on, their road manager tapped his watch to indicate that it was time for the duo to head off for a soundcheck. Customers were satisfied and all our stock had been signed, but we asked for something a little more personal to keep at the shop. Otway scratched his head and excused himself to use the toilet, grabbing a magic marker on the way. No sooner had he returned than the pair were whisked away leaving us to clear up the debris left behind.

(Otway & Barrett only had one real chart hit, 'Really Free', in 1977 and appeared endearingly and chaotically, on both TOTP and the OGWT at around the same time. The b-side (sadly nowhere to be found in it's original form on YouTube) was the epic, fan favourite, 'Beware of the Flowers 'cos I'm Sure They're Gonna Get You, Yeah', which contained a much-loved spoken intro from our hero, Mr Otway.)

A short while after the duo had left the shop, I had occasion to visit the loo myself and discovered Otway's parting shot. On the inside of the toilet door, in huge magic marker print he'd transcribed that spoken intro. So if you happened to find yourself seated, concentrating on the business at hand, you'd read, 'OK, LET'S MAKE THIS THE BIG ONE, FOR OTWAY'!

Many happy returns to John Otway, singer, songwriter and death-defying entertainer, who turns 60 today.

Here's the Hairy Cornflake introducing 'Really Free' on TOTP in 1977 and the concert ticket to the 'Tent Tour', 'DK 50/80', from 1980.


Anonymous said...

I grabbed a copy of 'Really Free' as soon as I saw them on TOTP. Utter genius. I also had the album that came out around that time but can't recall the name of it now. I think it has 'Genevieve' on it. It's great but it was on cassette, so I no longer have it. 'Beware of the Flowers' is simply fantastic. I love your ate of the pair in your shop. What a gift!

Anonymous said...

Just realised that the penultimate sentence may not make much sense. For 'ate' please substitute 'tale'. I can't type.

John Medd said...

Along with Slade and The Jam, another fine signing by those Polydor boys.

Anonymous said...

John: How about the New Seekers?!

C said...

Great story - I wonder if that toilet door still stands, along with its graffiti? (Ebay, anyone..?)

I have a rather blurred memory of seeing him at The Square in Harlow some decades ago!

John Medd said...

They also played host to James Last; I feel a Blog coming on!

Old Pa's Corner said...

Cant say I ever got into him but that is one fantastic story...rock 'n roll man...you should have nicked that door just in case he became 'famous'

The Swede said...

Thanks for your comments all.

They were mentored and produced by Pete Townshend (the album you had SB) in the early days lest we forget and their first couple of singles were even released on Track Records.

The door in question was painted over by the owner many years later during a refit. It may actually still be there, the store is a clothes shop now, do you think it's too late to reclaim it and have a go with the paint-stripper?

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