Rychard Carrington reports on The Hamsters, Wilko Johnson, John Otway – Cambridge Corn Exchange, 2 Dec 2006

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire

The Mad, The Bad And The Dangerous Tour 2006

The wonderful world of Otway is an extraordinary phenomenon. To some of us, it's a beloved regular fixture of our lives (I must have seen him about forty times), to be cheered and cherished like Guy Fawkes Night or Strawberry Fair. To others it's an unlikely new avenue of uncool fascination. The man has a veritable armoury of idiosyncrasies - doubler-necked guitar, theremin, somersaults, coat-hanger microphone holder - but it's the ingenuous vulnerability behind the clowning that is really compelling. Tonight the accent was on the comedy, but Josephine, at least, indicated the tender romanticism that informs much of his own songwriting. An extraordinary hero, ably supported tonight by patient sidekick and shaggy guitarist Richard Holgarth.

Otway's a hard act to follow, as they say, but Wilko Johnson succeeded by putting his emphasis wholly on musicality. His rhythm and blues trio excites almost solely through dexterous, passionate playing: Wilko seldom talks, the songs aren't that memorable, but the sight and sound of the rather stern-looking bald guitarist's deadpan mastery, the intense activity of hobgoblin-like bassist Norman Watt-Roy and the prolific energy of drummer Monti made for an excellent set. Surely none could beat these three at their particular game.

To be honest, The Hamsters weren't as musically consummate as Wilko's gang, nor as crazily entertaining as Otway, but their good-natured performance of bluesy heavy-rock in a ZZ Top vein made for good Saturday-night music, and earned them a warm reception from their plentiful enthusiasts. Ensemble performances of Born To Be Wild, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and The Osmonds' magnificent Crazy Horses were lively finales to round off the party. A pleasing occasion for anyone who likes unpretentious guitar-rock and daft humour to get drunk to, but it was in the Wilko band's musicianship and in Otway's improbable personality that there was a sense of something special.

Writer: Rychard Carrington

Photo: John Haxby