‘Half a Sentry tour’ celebrates 5 decades of music making animosity, splits and reunions
On Friday 20 April 1973 the first John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett single, Murder Man, was released on Track Records, home of Jimi Hendrix and The Who and produced by The Who’s Pete Townshend at his own Eel Pie studios. Despite the involvement of one of the biggest rock stars of the time, the record failed to trouble the chart compilers so the pair split.
Now, 50 years after that first release the mismatched but dynamic duo are undertaking the ‘Half a Sentry’ tour to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The 2023 tour stretches from mid April to September and takes in venues the length and breadth of the country.
Otway & Barrett initially met in Aylesbury as schoolboys when Willy and his brother would regularly beat up the nine-year old Otway. Nine years later Barrett had become Aylesbury’s most promising multi-instrumentalist and was running the town’s folk club. Otway succeeded in getting an unpaid floor spot and was allowed to return on a semi regular basis.
A fortune teller predicted that John would enjoy ‘huge success with a blonde-haired musician’. Contacting the only blonde musician he knew, Otway persuaded Barrett to do some recording and a show together. Almost inevitably they split up before they’d even appeared together. Otway’s wild, chaotic solo set emptied the hall, Willy’s tuneful and inventive one re-filled it - so he refused to allow Otway back for the scheduled duo set vowing to never work with him again.
Enter the aforementioned Townsend, who heard their recordings, offered his production services and became the catalyst for the duo to reunite. Sadly John’s style really didn’t appeal to the folk club audiences Willy was playing in and, as the Murder Man single failed to chart, the seemingly mismatched duo again went their own ways.
Forward to 1977. With punk in the ascendance, Willy thought Otway’s wild performances, elementary guitar skills and terrible voice may now work. He was right, the duo developed a following on the pub rock circuit and they were invited to appear on the Old Grey Whistle Test. John’s performance on the show is now legendary. Five million watched what has since been voted one of the worst ever moments on television. Yet within two weeks of the leaping Otway landing on his testicles astride Barrett’s amplifier the duo were in the charts and on Top Of The Pops (introduced by Elton John) with the single Cor Baby That’s Really Free.
Of course it couldn’t last. Otway insisted the all important follow-up be credited to him alone and replaced Wild Willy with a cheesy hundred piece orchestra. The single flopped and they split up acrimoniously. Since then Otway and Barrett have regrouped, fallen out and split more times than a curdled sauce. One tour was even titled ‘The Incompatible Otway and Barrett ‘.
‘I think he’s genuinely fascinated by what I do’ said Otway of Wild Willy ‘but totally horrified at the damage it does to his reputation as a musician’.
Willy countered ‘I do rather find that performing alongside his imbecilic antics distracts from the music I’m playing. I’m a little bit more tolerant of him now but it used to really cut to the quick in the early days’.
Yet here they are, celebrating 50 years of attempted escapes and still loved for their in-yer-face originality. Older but no wiser, the contrast between the dead pan humour of Barrett and mad onstage antics of Otway are hilarious to watch. John's lyrical genius and Willy's outstanding musicianship continue to entertain. Let’s hope they don’t fall out. On second thoughts let’s hope they do, it’s far more fun.
Audiences should be prepared for everything from bare-chested theremin playing to wah wah wheelie bin as the duo jump from one hit and 40 near misses to another. An amazing and irreverent performance by two master entertainers.
Dr John Otway (he received an honorary degree from Oxford) has performed over 5,000 gigs since first launching himself in Aylesbury, building a sizeable cult following of amazingly loyal and adoring fans. He has released 15 albums (six with Wild Willy Barrett), sold out The Royal Albert Hall and headlined the London Palladium. His self-made biopic Otway the Movie: The Story of Rock n Roll’s Greatest Failure premiered in Leicester Square, was shown at Cannes, voted 2nd best film of 2013 by Guardian readers and is still popular on Netflix. He has also written two volumes of his autobiography. His song Beware of the Flowers was voted the nation’s seventh favourite lyric in a BBC poll. www.johnotway.com
Wild Willy Barrett is an English experimental musician and multi-instrumentalist known for virtuoso fiddle and guitar skills, ability with a great number of stringed instruments, playing slide guitar with a whole raw egg (known as egg-necking) and his 'wah wah wheelie bin'. He has performed alongside musicians as varied as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Gordon Giltrap & Ralph McTell, George Hamilton IV, Madness, Steeleye Span and reggae legends Sly and Robbie. As a skilled instrument maker, wood worker and carver Willy has produced some highly unusual furniture over many years. www.wildwillybarrett.com
John Otway & Wild Willy Barret - Half a Sentry tour
Celebrating 50 years of music and mayhem from mismatched duo
16 Trowbridge The Pump www.thepumptrowbridge.co.uk
21 Isle of Wight Strings Newport www.stringsbarandvenue.com
23 Hull Social www.socialhumberstreet.co.uk
27 Todmorden Golden Lion www.goldenliontodmorden.co.uk
28 Birkenhead Future Yard www.futureyard.org
03 Barnoldswick Music and Arts Centre www.barnoldswickmusicandartscentre.com
04 Sunderland The Peacock www.facebook.com/ThePeacockSun/
05/06 Durham Old Cinema Launderette www.oldcinemalaunderette.uk
07 Bradford Black Dyke Mills Heritage Venue www.blackdykemills.org
11 Bristol The Thunderbolt www.thethunderbolt.net
12 Newton Abbot Abbottsbury Church www.ents24.com/newton-abbot-events/abbotsbury-church
13 Penzance The Acorn Theatre www.theacornpenzance.com
17 Leeds True Troubadors at The Irish Centre www.theleedsirishcentre.co.uk
18 Leicester The Musician www.themusicianpub.co.uk
19 Leek Foxlowe Arts Centre www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk
20 Lydney (Gloucestershire) Town Hall www.lydneytownhall.org
21 Brecon The Muse www.themusebrecon.com
26 Nunhead The Goose is Out Folk Club at The Ivy House www.thegooseisout.com
28 Hertford Corn Exchange www.cornexchangehertford.co.uk
01 Carshalton Charles Cryer Theatre www.cryerarts.co.uk
02 Sevenoaks St Edith Folk Club www.stedithfolk.co.uk
03 Aldershot West End Centre www.westendcentre.co.uk
08 Fareham Ashcroft Theatre www.ashcroft.org.uk
09 Aylesbury Limelight Theatre www.queensparkarts.com
10 Louth The Pump House www.ents24.com/louth-events/the-pumphouse
11 Nottingham The Running Horse www.facebook.com/runninghorsenottingham
15 Chester Alexander’s www.alexanderslive.com
16 Otley Courthouse www.otleycourthouse.org.uk
17 Louth The Pump House www.ents24.com/louth-events/the-pumphouse
18 Cromer Community Centre www.facebook.com/CromerCommunityCentre
23 Cardiff Earl Haig www.earlhaigclub.weebly.com
08 Shoreham-By-Sea Ropetackle Arts Centre www.ropetacklecentre.co.uk
14 Bath Rondo Theatre www.rondotheatre.co.uk
16 Colchester Arts Centre www.colchesterartscentre.com
07 Sutton Sound Lounge www.thesoundlounge.org.uk
08 Hockley Soundry www.thesoundry.co.uk