Saturday, February 04, 2023

The John Otway Trickle-Down: Otway's SECOND EVER APPEARANCE in Vancouver, Feb. 3 2023

Photos by Allan MacInnis unless otherwise noted! 


"It doesn't work unless you pump it," David M. of "the Beatles of Surrey," NO FUN - whose back catalogue would probably appeal to fans of John Otway - has been wont to observe. And so a few of us in-the-know types pumped it last night, and a brief bit of magic happened, which probably caused confusion (and perhaps some unplanned delight) to the majority of people who had gathered at Toby's Social Pub for an open mic, which included some able musicians (Kelly Armstrong was my favourite), and some people who should practice for two more years in their bedroom mirror before attempting a public performance again (they don't know who they are and far be it from me to name them), but which meant a GREAT DEAL to the ten or so in-the-know types who descended on the venue to cheer on the SECOND! EVER! Vancouver appearance of said John Otway - a man who has performed over 5000 gigs, been produced by Pete Townshend, performed at the Reading Festival, and so many more cool things that I do not myself yet even know. 

It started with a conversation between Mr. Otway and a Vancouver Otwayphile named Ian McClelland, seen below receiving a headbutt -

(photos not be my, but provided by Ian McClelland. Selfies? Taken by someone they know?). 

It seems that Otway had told Ian in an online interaction that he would be coming through Vancouver. Ian, an uber-fan, suggested in a spurt of last minute inspiration that an open mike would serve as a possible way of putting Otway back in front of an audience here, for the first time since 1979, when Mr. Otway opened for Pere Ubu on July 27th at the Robson Square Theatre. Grant McDonagh of Zulu Records was at that Robson gig, and possibly Ian as well, though I did not take notes during Ian's telling (I seem to recall him being more Toronto-ish at that time, from what he said?). Otway contacted the venue and was added to the open mic. Step one!  

Steps two through five: Enter Toronto promoter Gary Topp, who designed a poster for the event, which was then seen on a laptop by one Al Mader, who does LOOK at the internet but is not ON the internet, if you see what I mean. Al is best known to some as the Minimalist Jug Band, in which capacity he has in fact OPENED for John Otway (in Toronto, some decades ago). He's also seen him numerous times and is a true fan (I have not asked him to weigh out his relative fandom for Otway and John Cooper Clark, but if you like the Minimalist Jug Band, you should check out both of those performers forthwith, because their influence on Al cannot be overrated). Al then called me (from the store where he works and uses the laptop) and - knowing I am at least a bit more internetsy than he is - urged my participation in plugging this event. I proceeded to blather on Facebook and even make a few phone calls (many of them to record stores in pursuit of Otway vinyl) wherein I ended up talking to the aforesaid Grant McDonagh, who did not have any Otway in his store, but was very happy to hear of this gig. The only Otway record I could find, in fact, was at Beat Street. There is probably one, I bet, at Noize to Go, but Dale was not answering his phone yesterday, and has been known to not arrive at his shop until well after slated opening times, as anyone (raises hand) who has stood outside it for an hour or so, wondering when he would get there, can attest (that was at the Seymour Street location, mind you). So I only had one record (and an Urgh! DVD) to ask John to sign (I have previously owned I Did It Otway, note, but it had skips in it, so I'm in the process of replacing it).  

At Beat Street, someone overheard the purchase (Deep Thought for $10!) and came over to ask if I had said I was buying a John Otway record, like it was something he never would expect to hear at a record store. I excitedly told him - saliva flinging from my mouth, as it does these days when I am excited - of the Otway open mic appearance, scheduled for the very next day. I did not see him in the audience, sadly. He may have taken me for a nutter, but, whatever, his loss! 

I did see, however, Edward Hurrell (interview here), Judith Beeman (interview here), Grant McDonagh (no standalone interview but see here for the Clash soccer story), and Dave Bowes, formerly of Iron Road, and my co-conspirator in occasional gigs and articles and the man behind THIS must-attend event, in early March, which will involve the appearance of said David M. Some of these people brought people of their own, most of whom approached John to give him a welcome and assure him that he was performing to a room with at LEAST six people in it who knew who he was. So Gary pumped it, Al (1) pumped it, Al (2) (me) pumped it, and Ed and Dave (and Doug Smith) pumped it a bit too, based on my pumping, and the result was, John was not just singing to Ian on his birthday! 

Note the look on my face, when Erika said, mid-photograph, that John should give me a headbutt (he didn't).  

Anyhow, I did shoot video, which I broke into two clips, for those who could not make it - see here for the first of them, here for the encore, and also see this clip from a different angle of the main set, as shot by Erika Lax! The songs were "Beware the Flowers ('Cause I'm Sure They're Gonna Get You, Yeh)," which Otway prefaced with a story that referenced this improbable accomplishment, "Josephine" (which he dedicated to Ian on his birthday), the "prophetic" "I'm Cured (And I Can't Catch Love)," and an un-heard-of open mic encore of "the hit" that Otway had had in 1979, "(Cor Baby That's) Really Free," which was somewhat to the disappointment of the people who were chanting for "Cheryl's Going Home" (a cover, but his best known tune, since here in Vancouver we mostly know Otway from Urgh! A Music War - which we might be forgiven given that Otway's albums are not ubiquitous and that Otway's live performances in Vancouver, in 1979 and 2023, have been, umm, sporadic? Highly infrequent? How should one describe this?). I think that Otway's question to us ("Do you want to hear my hit?") was in fact a bit of misdirection, since I suspect many people assume that "Cheryl's Going Home" IS that hit, but... well, anyhow, *I* know "Really Free." And it was GREAT! It was ALL GREAT!

Of course, I chatted with John a little - he's on the way to New Zealand and Australia. He is said to have performed over 5000 gigs in his career; I asked him at one point whether he would be counting last night as one of those 5000+ gigs, and he joked that he would tell me after it was over. I think it counted!
Thanks to Gary Topp and Al Mader, above me in the pyramid of pumping, for making last night happen and allowing me to play a small role, and to everyone who was below me (the "Otway trickle-down"), who made my role so gratifying. You are welcome.   

Above three photos provided by Ian! I think that's John's ladyfriend. Not sure who that other fan is but it's nice to know he was there!

Oh, and rest assured that Dave and I did go see some of the second set of Stick Men but I gotta say, virtuosic prog rock does NOT make the best follow up to a mad little night like the one we'd had in North Vancouver, though Pat and Tony were both funnier than I expected, in their own way, Tony joking that he'd brought the wrong book and had been playing the wrong songs all night, and Pat instructing the audience in a deliriously complicated clapalong that none of us could follow (though a few tried), which was a fun way of illustrating just HOW virtuosic these guys are. (I shot footage of them doing "Danger in the Workplace" here). 

Godspeed on your subsequent tour, John Otway! Photo below of Beeman and Otway, Ed and Ian and I, and any of ME (above or below) with Otway are by Erika Lax. Maybe we can make the NEXT John Otway appearance in these waters happen sooner rather than later? (He is not, as previously wished in the place of this sentence, returning from his NZ/Aus tour by way of Vancouver, so it won't THAT soon, note..). 


Unknown said...

A real surprise treat of a night. Thanks for the heads up and the great review, Allan. I'm definitely on board to try to secure a proper gig for John if he does decide to come back through Van and gives us a wee bit of notice.

Allan MacInnis said...

Being told he's going back to London a different route - so he won't be back on THIS tour...!