Rychard Carrington reports on John Otway + The Morning People – Barfly, Cambridge 25 January 2008

John Otway + The Morning People
Support act The Morning People’s country rock seemed a tad too mild to engage at first, but as I gradually got to realise that their leader Sam Ingles is one of the best songwriters of our times I became increasingly absorbed and excited. His elegant sideways-perspective wit is quite something:

If wishes were horses they wouldn’t fit in your head
They’d have to be led To water
If wishers were horses they’d belong to the Queen
They’d look like Celine Dion Or her beautiful daughter
If wishes were horses then beggars would ride
The French would eat tender red meat every night
If wishes were horses then I would be stable

That’s typical. The lightly catchy melodies enhance the offbeat sentiments nicely, and the musicianship of the quintet enhances the melodies equally nicely. In short I rate the band very highly indeed.

One richness of being a music connoisseur is that one gets to encounter many fascinating individuals who have so much more character than all those tiresome ‘celebrities’. Very few are as compelling as John Otway, either for idiosyncratic clowning to accompany your beer (it’s not surprising that he often plays at real ale festivals), or in a much deeper way as an existential hero (bear with me, please) who takes on life (or at least musical performance and career) and transforms it on his own terms, creating a unique realm in which success and failure, talent and incompetence, showing off and self-depreciation fuse together in a somersault that is at once party turn and clumsy accident. Underscoring all the accoutrements (double-bodied guitar, electric body-percussion, theremin, coathanger microphone-holder) is a personality that is a lot more sensitive than one might expect. As a songwriter Otway is so often the tenderest of romantics: the gently quirky and refreshingly down-to-earth imagery enhances the poignancy of his heartfelt sentiments: not for him the usual dull meteorology metaphors, the looks in people’s eyes etc. I really think that Otway – along with Sam Ingles – is one the greatest songwriters around: it’d be very interesting to hear an Otway tribute album, removing the songs from his distinctive delivery and the expectation of comic eccentricity: I am confident that they would stand up really well. Tonight it is Otway at his most rudimentary: no sidekick, no band. This could be seen as being symbolised by his sudden tearing apart of his shirt to reveal naked chest during Body Talk (but in fact he does this at every gig: does he buy a new shirt each time, or does someone have the job of sewing new buttons on before each performance?). We have to imagine the rock energy that a band would provide: tonight there’s just (just?) the man and a series of great songs. Several of these are cover versions which both burlesque the original and crystallise the essence of its sentiments: Crazy Horses’ raunchy protest, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’s gauche exuberance, Blockbuster’s exhilarating stupidity. Best of all, I Will Survive in the style of Bob Dylan. In April Otway returns with erstwhile partner Wild Willy Barrett, who in recent years has developed a fearsome eccentricity of his own. You really should attend. Writer: Rychard Carrington