I doubt they will remember due to their breathtaking ability to relentlessly tour but I had the privilege of mixing John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett twice at Komedia in Brighton roughly 10-15 years ago. I often listened and sang along to their songs in Mum’s car as a child, particularly “Louisa on a Horse” so seeing them play this so early in the set at The Pump on Sunday was a joyful moment. Being a violinist, I am simultaneously fascinated and envious of the strange, effortless and effective technique of Willy’s violin playing. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it (apart from at the two previous gigs!)
The best thing about an Otway and Barrett gig is their rapport on stage. Barrett presents himself as the long-suffering, disciplined musical temperance to Otway’s unpredictable, child-like expressionism. It is an irresistible bond that has the audience eager to see the next things they say to each other. My face hurt from the smiling and laughing after the gig. Their stage demeanours are often explosively dynamic too: at one point, mid song, Willy poked his fingers through a hole in the back of the body of a broken guitar without missing a beat. The surprise had the crowd in stitches for minutes afterwards. At another, John’s antics led to his Theremin crashing frighteningly to the floor which was met with gasps of dread and then immediate chuckles at the pair’s reaction.
I particularly enjoyed the wailing, tongue-in-cheek lament of “Separated” and “Real Tears from Both Eyes” from their latest album was possibly my highlight of the set, which is a warming fact to profess, given how many vintage artists often put out subpar material after their heyday.
It is worth going to see John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett on the strength of their one hit song, “Really Free” and classics like “Body Talk” but their infectious, delightful energy and stage show are the real reward.
Words: Michael Dennis