John Otway & The Big Band
(Red Bowler Records)
The lanky guitar and vocal stylist arrives at the far-flung island on a mission and any self-respecting Otway fan would say “Haven’t these islanders suffered enough??”
If that made you laugh, you are truly attuned to the ongoing music and comedy adventure that is the life of the beloved John Otway. Over the years I have seen Otway scare venue owners with his antics, treat musical instruments and mikes with reckless abandon, sing tales of a loser’s existence…and always John has the last laugh. He has a large and loyal band of followers who lap up his crazed exploits..I am one of them. Who can forget his anarchic TV appearances with Wild Willy Barrett? Or Otway climbing on the roof of the Leicester Square Odeon cinema to mutate the iconic Odeon sign?
I once opened for Otway and when I leaned down to plug in my guitar lead in to the floor tuner, my rear end set off a theremin which had been strategically placed. I could hear John laughing offstage…
Back to the mission – the recording studios on the island of Montserrat have been the source of many famous recordings. The acts all got-away-from-it-all right here – The Stones, Dire Straits, The Police, Status Quo, Duran, McCartney…..but two hurricanes and a tornado (sounds like an air raid..) put paid to all that. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 ripped George Martin’s Air Studios apart. Crowd-funding enabled a jaunt to Montserrat, relieving Harlow as 2nd choice of recording site. Sir George Martin allowed the use of a house he retained there – perfect for a small combo to revive the island recording tradition!
Reading the above back before continuing, I realise what a unique story this is!
Dancing With Ghosts provides a spooky introductory song, Otway tells the story of a kindly female rescuing him from trouble. The arrangement is melodramatic and oh hell! There’s that bloody theremin !!! The guitars are very 60’s beat combo and the violin reeks of Peter Cushing films.
Seagulls On Speed has Leslie’d guitars and a breathless vocal with another bizarre story. It is a heavy metal seagull story. With this artist that’s perfectly sensible, this is OtwayWorld, after all. Of course, it could all be ruse to get a rhyme for ’eagle’ – but perish the thought. Real Tears From Both Eyes is a honky-tonk song with rolling piano..an almost perfect parody of corny country music. Brilliant and atypical lyric.
I Shouldn’t Be Doing This is a pacy rocker with emphatic bass, our man sounds at the end of his tether ! Sounds like a dig at the likes of the cod-drama of the likes of Meatloaf, set to neat dual guitar lines. Five Kisses is a punk thrash with a defined vocal that reminds me of Otway’s contemporary Jilted John.
Already Missing You uses an Alice Cooper rock-vaudeville tempo and yet another intriguing Otway lyric. Donovan used this tempo to sing about bananas but John would never be so daft. Jenny sounds like classic Brill Building til the singing starts. Why the steel drums? Well why not eh?
Toronto has FM radio rock guitars on a mutated-Stones story; Somewhere Else To Go is gentle and rich in tones. Otway avoids corn by being himself. There is real genius at work here. A very pretty and haunting tune, indeed. The closest John will get to vintage Dylan in mood and delivery.
There’s A War Going On has real edge, almost like the start of a Tubes track – and that’s a compliment – and maybe the best song here, for me. Counter-melodies and crisp drumming add to the magic. If this was ELO, every radio station would be playing this! Closing track The Conductors Waltz has an orchestra aboard and an almost Tom Waits or Randy Newman mood. And no let up on the high quality tunesmithery evident throughout this striking album.
The producer is Chris Birkett…which makes him an accomplice, really.
Thanks to Judy T (How are the plants?)
John Otway & The Big Band’s ‘Montserrat’ is out now on Red Bowler Records.
For artist info and tour dates (take a crash helmet) just head to www.johnotway.com