John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett
The partnership of John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett was never going to be smooth. Willy was a musical prodigy having learned to play at the age of four and mastering the guitar, piano, banjo and fiddle by the time Otway gave his first performance – drinking a bottle of ink in-one in the school playground, to an audience of 100 fellow school-children who did not believe anyone would go to such ridiculous extremes just to get attention.
It was only because they lived a hundred yards apart and that a fortune-teller (at the local Red-Cross bazaar in Aylesbury ) had told Otway that he would achieve fame and success with a blonde haired musician, that they ever worked together in the first place.
The first place Otway and Barrett did not work together was their first gig – John was heckled off stage during his solo number and both Willy and the audience decided that it would be better if they did not do the rest of the show as a duo.
They did however do some recording together, but after falling out John put out the single himself leaving Willy’s name off the label. That should have been the end of the duo, but Pete Townshend heard the record and offered to produce the act – an offer neither party felt they could refuse.
With the hatchet temporarily buried John and Willy produced their first album. After appearance on the TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test – during which John landed on his testicles whilst leaping astride Willy’s amplifier – an amused punk audience bought enough copies of the single “Really Free” to give them their first Hit.
Things did not go smoothly following this success. Otway unwisely chose to follow up the Otway/Barrett punk hit with a solo Otway orchestral ballad he had written for a girl he fancied – it was a flop so, to the annoyance of their record company (who had paid them a massive advance) John and Willy split up again, the day their second Album “Deep and Meaningless” was released.
When times got tough they did re-unite for short periods of time, but any sustained partnership was usually curtailed by unreasonable behaviour by one of the parties. Barrett writing a song called “Give It Headbutts” which required him to bang John’s head against the microphone in time to the music and Otway recording a solo album called “All Balls and no Willy” are typical examples of this.
In the past few years Otway and Barrett have reunited for a few short tours, if only to prove that nothing much has changed.
In 2013 Otway intensively toured the country screening his rockumentary film ( premiered at The Odeon, Leicester Square and shown at Cannes) in which Willy is prominently featured. However, at the time of writing Willy has refused to watch the film. Some things never change.
‘Both John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett remain enigmas to the vast majority of the British public, but for those who know they are amongst the top ten of favourite artists to see live. The show is a wonderful eclectic mix of bizarre humour, superb visual effects, fine guitar playing and the best use of a Theremin anywhere. ‘