To Stratford upon Avon last night to open for the indestructible John Otway
at Cox's Yard
. Brilliant venue; sitting right next to the River Avon which had swollen due to the heavy rain in the Midlands over the weekend, so much so that the water was lapping up to the feet of the tables on the patio outside. And what a brilliant gig. A lovely space to play in, well organised, great sound. People come from miles around for the gigs in this place, and no wonder.
Let's talk about Otway for a minute. This guy put out his first album (with his still occasional sidekick, Wild Willy Barrett) thirty years ago. Around the same time he had a modest hit with Really Free
, a faintly ludicrous, punk-rock pastiche that has weathered the intervening years considerably better than a lot of songs that were offered in deadly earnest by the thrusting young groups of that era. Since then, Otway has made a living by portraying himself as a heroic loser - the Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards of rock'n'roll, if you will. His autobiography, Cor Baby That's Really Me!
, was subtitled Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure
. And Otway peppers his show with anecdotes about his chequered past, usually at his own expense. At one point he solemnly recalls the fate of one of his records which reached No.186 in the chart. And there's lots of clowning around, including a sequence of madcap stunts involving a small stepladder that is pure slapstick.
But here's the thing. Otway is no more of a loser than anyone trying to make his way on this or any other entertainment circuit. Quite the reverse. The substantial crowd of people who had paid to come and see him, loved his show. His band are all top notch musicians, and Otway is a skilled performer with some memorable songs at his disposal. What's more, he makes money and runs a totally cool operation.
His band let us use all their backline equipment (saving all that tiresome changing over of gear after our set). His merchandising people offered to put Hey
on display alongside all the Otway albums on their stall, and handled the money on our behalf. We had the full run of the dressing room area and equal access to the beer and sandwiches thoughtfully provided by the venue. Best of all we got to play to an Otway audience.
And here's another thing. Otway's fans are not self-regarding scenesters or hip indie kids or members of any other particular rock tribe. They are friendly people who've come out to have a good time on a Saturday night. And they were packed in right up to the front for our set. They made us feel great, and we had a ball. Best moment for me was when I heard the "ah-ah-ah" outro of Sharks
coming right back at me from the front row. An audience singalong, no less. And then the same thing happened again with George's "yo-ho-ho" vocal line in Eight Rounds Later
. Absolute magic.
So much of this business involves talking up your achievements, glossing over the disappointments, never giving an inch. Otway stares all that stuff down every time he walks on a stage. Talk about setting your demons to work on your behalf. Yes he makes you laugh. But there is something noble about him too.
And I tell you this. Right now I'd be happy to get a record to No.186 in the chart. In fact, I think I'm going to make that my new aiming point for the year ahead! That and to get the band back into Cox's Yard. That would be really free.
We had a lot of fun opening for our MySpace friends Pezband
from Chicago and The Sky Pirates
from London at the Borderline last Sunday. It could have been a festival site outside, what with the hot dog stands and the bank holiday crowds sloshing along the flooded pavements in Charing Cross Road. Inside we at least managed to keep things dry, and a bit more intimate.
Indeed this was one of the most intimate gig experiences I can remember. Our third time at the Borderline, and it was like a rock'n'roll version of Noah's Ark, with the bands - all trios - going in three by three while the rest of the world melted away in the rain. We debuted a new song, London Dust
, written during the "summer" which we had here in April. "The sun's in the sky and the city's run dry". Good to keep it real. And we also gave another new song, Just Struck Gold
, its first public airing, to immediate and monumental acclaim.
Those are two of the numbers which we started recording during an epic two-day session at Fortress Studio in N1, just before the Borderline gig, and it was great to play them again in the ultimate one-take situation of a gig. As always, it all went by so fast, but George and I hung around for the Sky Pirates and Pezband, both of whom kicked out the jams with righteously rocking conviction. I've seen the Pirates twice before, so it was great to hang out with these guys and to meet the Pezes - a bit like our time last year, when we toured with the Favours and the Wrens from New Jersey.
Next gig is the Pressure Point in Brighton, where we are playing on Sunday June 10. Ahead of that, we are booked in for a return visit to the Pete Jones show on Brighton's Radio Reverb on Wednesday (June 6). Tune in at 7pm on on 97.2FM in the Brighton area or you can hear it online on their website
. It's gonna be a South Coast happening.