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.