Otway & Barrett

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John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett are on their 50th anniversary tour! Labelled as ‘Celebrating 50 years of music and mayhem from a mismatched duo’ I was intrigued to see what they were all about as I must admit I have not heard of either of them, although my excuse is that I’m almost too young (almost).

On arrival at Colchester Arts Centre, there was a palatable excitement from the crowd, and they weren’t that much older than me. It was near full so these guys definitely have a core following.

John and Willy were at the merch stand while people were coming in, having photos, chatting, selling and signing merchandise. This added to the warm feeling that was already bubbling.

The audience gave out a huge cheer as the duo appeared on stage and their personalities were displayed from the outset – John Otway has a cheeky twinkle in his eye, a big smile and is seemingly always laughing and high on life. In contrast Wild Willy Barrett is dead pan and I don’t think there was a smile hidden under that beard – the ‘mismatched duo’ is accurate.

The night was brilliant! It was hugely entertaining with these two on stage. Otway, a true storyteller, was recounting tales between the songs and bearing in mind this is a 50 year anniversary tour, we were privy to some good stories but I bet he could write a book on it! If fact he has written two autobiographies!! 

John says he always wanted to be a pop start ever since he was 9 years old but also knew he wouldn’t be able to as he showed no obvious talent. At 18 years old a fortune teller told him to partner up with a blonde musician, Willy was the only blonde musician he knew as they went to school together, John begged Willy to perform together the rest is some kind of intermittent history.

John has his own style of vocal and performance techniques and it’s charming, endearing, bonkers and fabulous at the same time, he truly is one of life’s fantastic characters with a constant enthusiasm for life oozing from him.

The duo played plenty of tracks, which were all marvellous, including:

Really Free
Louisa on a Horse
I’m Separated 
Bluey Green
Two little boys
Real Tears from both eyes
Beware of the Flowers
The Snowflake effect

Wild Willy Barrett is certainly a talented musician – a number of string instruments hung up on the stage behind him and he swapped them out for each track. Whether it was an acoustic guitar, a banjo, a fiddle, or an electric guitar, Wild Willy played magnificently. He also managed to bring some laughter, whether it was with the wired up wheelie bin that each time the lid was opened his guitar played a heavy rock style, or his Bagpuss on the bagpipes coming out for a go.

John almost matched the musicianship Wild Willy, with a bit of guitar playing, electronic drums pads in his pockets which meant he had to keep slapping himself to make the beat, and he truly did have the skills on the theremin.

This folk, punk, rock, pop, blues due is a whole genre of their own and a show to catch if you get the chance.


Main photo: Lorna Wilson
Gig Photos: Colin Taylor


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