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Review: John Otway, Norwich Arts Centre, all hail the king of bonkers rock'n'roll

PUBLISHED: 12:01 08 January 2018

John Otway at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Patrick Widdess

John Otway at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Patrick Widdess

Archant

After more than 40 years, the veteran wannabe pop star has lost none of his energy and never fails to bring the house down as he keeps getting better at doing worse.

John Otway who appeared at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: SubmittedJohn Otway who appeared at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Submitted

Like most touring artists John Otway has a new album out. Monserrat is a professionally produced fusion of rock, folk and psychedelia. But if anyone at Norwich Arts Centre was expecting polished songs or, heaven forbid, a new setlist they were in for a disappointment.

There were none of the new songs until the second half as rock and roll’s greatest failure performed his one man circus of slapstick, stand up and excruciating acrobatics.

The veteran wannabe pop star opened, as usual, with 1977 hit Really Free, delivering a typically inept performance with random bursts of distortion and milking it for all it was worth. “I’ve only got two hits,” he reminded everyone. “I don’t want to leave any bits out!”

Otway’s fans never tire of his well worn routine of musical gags. There’s the highly physical Body Talk performed with drum pads and theremin, and a couple of Otway’s own inventions that have never quite caught on – the double neck guitar for playing right and left-handed and the coat hanger hands-free microphone holder. As he struts the stage with the microphone bouncing around in the flimsy frame dangling round his neck, even long-suffering roadie Deadly struggles to keep a straight face.

In addition to normal roadie duties the deadpan sidekick has to be ready to catch flying guitars, fix battered mics and be the butt of jokes throughout the night.

In Middle of Winter he ends up untangling the singer when he’s left holding the mic while still singing and playing guitar in a finely choreographed cock-up. When Otway condescendingly allows him to “join in” he delivers a fine harmonica solo at the end of a rendition of I Will Survive done in the style of Bob Dylan.

The audience, consisting mostly of longstanding fans, are always in on the joke delivering all the right reactions and heckles on cue, especially during the hecklers’ version of House of the Rising Sun: “There is… (WHAT?) a house (WHERE?)…”.

Otway even slips some proper music in among the silliness. Josephine is a tender folk song and Real Tears From Both Eyes has a chorus straight out of the golden age of rock n roll. It is one of only two songs he performs from the new album.

John Otway at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Patrick WiddessJohn Otway at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Patrick Widdess

But it’s the madness and tomfoolery that the fans keep coming to see and Otway pulls out all the stops with a routine of guitar throwing and turning somersaults from the top of a step ladder that seems ill-advised for a man of his age. He closes the show by repeatedly smashing his forehead into the microphone during infamous punk poem Headbutts.

After more than 40 years Otway has lost none of his energy and never fails to bring the house down as he keeps getting better at doing worse. He may call himself a failure but to his fans he will always be the king of bonkers rock n roll.

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