Saturday, November 11, 2006


If you have not heard of John Otway - well, where have you been for the past few decades?? The phenomenon will be difficult for me to explain adequately, difficult for my readers to fully comprehend.

Nevertheless, I shall make a stab at it. He is not quite a rock star. He's a singer (though I suppose he doesn't really sing, as such), guitarist (adequate, at best), and occasional songwriter (probably his strongest suit, although he works mostly in surreal comedy and pastiche). He had one very modest 'hit' at the outset of his career - an infectiously silly, punk-ish love song called "Cor, baby, that's really free!" - boosted by a short documentary made about him ('StarDustman') by the local TV station. Since then, he has consistently failed to "make it big", but has amassed a considerable cult following through his gruelling gig schedule - he's been doing at least 2 or 3 shows a week, almost every week, since the late '70s (I went to the grand celebratory 'Gig 2,000' at the Astoria on Charing Cross Road some years ago; he's probably closing in on 3,000 now). Although he does very occasionally put on a show in a larger venue (he even played at the Albert Hall a few years ago; though the place was far from full), most of the time he is playing in the upstairs room at the pub to a few dozen people - most of whom are Otway regulars. But it's that intimacy of venue, and the enthusiasm of his loyal followers, that gives his gigs such a compelling energy. He is a tremendously engaging performer, enormously hard-working.... and very, very funny.

Everybody should see Otway once before they die.

I mention this because his latest grand, lunatic scheme is a World Tour. It's only a handful of gigs spread over the first few weeks of November, but it is taking in an impressive range of locations. Ah, if only I had the time and the money, I'd be there with the elite fan club on the plane with him - what a great holiday! A couple of days ago, he played a show in Asia. In China, actually. I might have been able to go, if it had been in one of the major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, or Guangzhou. For some obscure reason, his sponsors had chosen Ningbo - a burgeoning port city, but somewhat remote from international airports or expat 'civilization'. Even my friends in comparatively nearby Shanghai were saying, "How the f*** are we supposed to get there? It's miles away!"

It is rather galling for me. I am a huge fan. I have seen almost all of his previous 'big gigs'. I saw him dozens of times when I was living in Oxford. I even saw him when I was living in Canada (where I was about the only 'regular' at a badly promoted, thinly attended Toronto gig). I would have loved to have seen him in the Far East. But Ningbo??? In the middle of the week??!! Do me a favour!!!!

[Sound of teeth gnashing and teardrops furrowing my cheeks]

No comments: