The John Otway Big Band
live in York

The gibbon-limbed protagonist of the self-mocking rock'n'roller canon continues to defecate on the carcass of stadium rock from the lofty heights of his stepladder.

By Martin Longley

 photo credit John Haxby
 
There's an unmentionably horrendous ball game happening tonite, betwixt two previously at-war countries, but this doesn't appear to have staved off any intense loyalty from John Otway's old fan-guard. They are not here in droves, but this gig's attendance is nowhere near the embarrassingly sparse. Due to his ascendance back in 1977, much of the crowd stand above forty years in their evolution towards death. Otway himself is well beyond such youth, but still possesses the frame of a particularly healthy chimpanzee.

Mostly accustomed to low-budget solo troubadour touring, Mister Otway occasionally treats his followers to an enlarged show, courtesy of his Big Band. This is not a big band in the sense of a jazz big band, complete with ranked horns and swing bombast. No, Otway is backed up by what is, in other hands, a routine band of drums, bass and two other guitars. However, all of these axes en masse end up delivering an orchestral-sized wall-of-riffage, equally divided between the realms of punk and metal.

Cutting all extraneous bullshit, Otway opens by regaling the audience with the story of his hit, and his first appearance on Top Of The Pops. Given an ultra-extended build-up, Really Free is milked for all its might, then immediately followed by its old B-side Beware Of The Flowers 'Cause I'm Sure They're Going To Get You Yeah. This obverse strategy of dispatching his most gloried songs right at the outset is not as idiotic as we might presume. There are still many opportunities on the way for anthemic excess.

Otway might be the ultimate in the self-mocking rock'n'roller canon, but his band can quite possibly do battle with AC/DC in terms of mammoth riff-operatics, dealing hysterical solos and harmonic kraangs in turn. They tank-blast all of the necessary knee-jerk, brain-jerk centres in majestic style. Otway gibbers in their midst, as an untethered random participant, salivating, twitching, nervously relaxed to the point of bantering with old comrades. The headbanging ecstasy of We Rock at once celebrates and defecates on the carcass of stadium rock. A reading of The House Of The Rising Sun turns into the usual semi-irritating shout-outs from the crowd, but this is what Otway fandom is all about, just like with the Trekkies, or the Pythonites. And then there's Crazy Horses, with Otway waving his gibbon-limbs around a theremin, which he proudly announces took him a mere two minutes to master. Guitarist Murray Torkildsen gets to parry this with a stylophone solo, setting up a jokey rivalry with ostensible lead axeman Richard Holgarth. Then, out comes the stepladder, and Otway is investigating the microscopic properties of the stage-ceiling, two microphones in hand, shirt ripped open. He's gambolling like a teenager, wiry frame hyperactively jumping around the boards. It's fucking loud, and the band rocks. Meanwhile, Otway is kinda folksy, ballsy, loony, puppydog-like, paranoid, ego-obsessed, sensitive, durable, witty and rubberised. The Big Band provide a perfect cannon device to shoot his unique personality into the depths of this voracious horde.
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