Patrick Widdess reports on John Otway- The Man On The Moon, Cambridge, 14 May 2010

Man On The Moon

With two hits and the seventh most popular lyric of all time (according to a BBC poll) John Otway must be the second most famous act to play The Man on the Moon this month. (Right Said Fred played the venue a few nights earlier.)
Performing solo he is at once a hilarious comedian and a skilled musician (when he wants to be.) His act follows a familiar routine mixing irony, self-deprecation and whacky stunts. Nevertheless it remains remarkably fresh. As soon as he steps up to the mic with his manic grin, fidgeting with uncontrollable excitement as he announces his first hit, he has the crowd on his side. With no band he had full reign to play the hopeless wannabe popstar and opener Really Free was interspersed with dreadful guitar solos played with distortion in imitation of his regular guitarist Richard Holgarth, poached by Eddie and the Hot Rods.
Richard, at least, had the benefit of being absent unlike Otway's hapless roadie, Deadly. The job is quite challenging when you’re required to fix battered mics, catch flying guitars and be the butt of relentless jokes. Cast as an inept sidekick, he predictably stole the show when he was ‘allowed to join in’ with a toy keyboard and delivered an authentic harmonica solo in a Dylanesque cover of ‘I Will Survive,’ making him one of Otway’s more dynamic props.
Otway consistently mixes music with physical and prop-based comedy. As usual he demonstrated his coat hanger microphone holder and trademark twin-neck guitar, both of which have inexplicably failed to revolutionise live music. Body Talk featured an accompaniment on theremin and drum pads strapped to various parts of the body. Deadly was assigned the task of filling in the sound of Otway’s left buttock. Even on the small stage he managed a succession of somersaults and climbed to not so lofty heights on a stepladder. I’d love to see Otway do a stadium gig. Imagine a 20-foot glittering stepladder rising from beneath the stage in a cloud of smoke, laser beams shooting into the night sky.
Otway was supported, as ever, by his loyal fans who were out in force at The Man on the Moon. During his popular rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ with heckling, the crowd’s heckles seemed almost too well rehearsed, a typical irony.
The show was part of a tour to promote the second volume of his autobiography, ‘I did it Otway,’ a fitting title for British music’s most endearing maverick. The story of his life as an underdog musician struggling to survive with only one hit for most of his career is sure to be an entertaining read. Almost as entertaining as watching him perform.

Writer: Patrick Widdess
Photo: John Haxby

Rychard Carrington's review of the same gig