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The Assembly, Leamington 29 May 2011

John Otway, photo by Andrew Lock

John Otway is a real one off character and a true entertainer in every meaning of the word, he has at times a manic approach to his performance but is such a good natured explosion of contagious fun it is impossible not to get completely engrossed in the show.

The current tour is titled 40 Odd Years of Otway and Barrett and as the title suggests John is accompanied by the mulit instrumentalist, folk artist Wild Willy Barrett who was of course Johns partner in crime in the early years, the 40 odd years Mr Otway told the audience related to the first Otway and Barrett gig back in 1971.

This was the first time I had seen The Assembly set up Cabaret style with sets of small groups of chairs placed around a table at various spots on the venue floor, really quite cosy and perfectly suited the evenings entertainment.

Definitely catching the eye before the start of the gig was the collection of weird and wonderful instruments and objects set up on the stage including a set of bag pipes and mysteriously a full sized wheelie bin!

John Otway, photo by Andrew Lock

The guys themselves casually walked from the back of the hall onto the stage for the proceedings to begin, first up with excellent fiddle work by Willy the fast paced folk rock of 'Louisa on a Horse' taken from their self titled debut album released in 1977.

From the off you could see what a perfect double act John and Willy make, John's manic enthusiasm playing so well against Willy's dry humour, the breaks between numbers often becoming comic sketches in their own right.

The infamous and great fun Hit Single 'Really Free' was introduced nice and early in the proceedings, humorously as the high point of the evening and this was also when the wheelie bin mystery was solved as it proved to be part of Willy's electric guitar set up and whenever the lid was lifted the guitar volume was turned up to 11 along with added effects, of course the audience were in absolute pieces the first time it was used.

Willy Barrett, photo by Andrew Lock

Highlights from the evening included a new song put together for this tour, introduced as their take on Elton John's Nikita, titled 'Natasha You're a Smasher (but you're working for Russia)' and it is a gem of a tune, lyrically very clever with a fun chorus, and the hilarious 'Body Talk' a number that is always a standout when performed live and where showman John pulls out all the stops with the aid of a Theremin and a set of body drum pad things (sorry about the vague description) on various parts of the body which made different style drum sounds through touch and body movement.

Of the other numbers performed I particularly enjoyed their folk style version of 'Two Little Boys' with Willy on the banjo which began with a few bars of 'Duelling Banjos', a spirited and punky 'Beware of the Flowers' which according to John was once voted the song with the 7th best ever lyrics, just one place behind 'Yesterday', and I loved John going all Elvis during the rock and roll blues of '21 Days'.

Wild Willy is a really accomplished guitarist playing many different styles, folk, blues, rock even a little bit of Spanish and also performed on a variety of instruments as of course did Mr Otway and as previously mentioned the partnership works extremely well and great to see that John still has that mischievous twinkle in his eye, a really fun evening which brought a smile to the whole audience, myself included.

Review and photos by Andrew Lock

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