John and Wild Willy are perhaps best known for their 1977 hit single ‘Really Free’, popular at a time when Punk principles were as important as Punk musical styles. It’s a unique piece of hippy folk rock (influenced by: Dylan from ‘The Magic Roundabout’ / Influence on: Neil from ‘The Young Ones’). Three years later the boys came very close top having a second hit single with a ‘tune’ only similar to ‘Really Free’ in its absolute uniqueness. ‘DK 50/80’ combines bits of another record played backwards with repeated lyrics sung at breakneck speed and rendered almost completely unintelligible by two artists whose only regard for mainstream music seems to have been as a boundary to steer firmly clear of. In short, it’s a lost masterpiece that never fails to cheer the heart of anyone lucky enough to hear it.
Just at the point at which it was about to storm into the popular music charts (on the back of a series of gigs targeting towns and cities with chart return shops where admission could only be gained with a copy of the single) the much sought out invitation arrived to be on next week’s Top Of The Pops. So far so good. Until The Musician’s Union called a strike and the filming of Britain’s best loved weekly chart music show was cancelled leaving ‘DK 50/80’ stranded at the heady heights of Number 45.
Both men continue to work in music, Otway’s own website describes him, rather harshly I think as there are many more qualified candidates, as ‘Rock and Roll’s greatest failure’ and pictures him recumbent in a Sinclair C5. In 2002 John graced the charts again with ‘Bunsen Burner’ which reached all the way to Number 9 and therefore becoming his ‘Greatest Hit. It’s almost certainly the only song ever written with lyrics designed to help the singer’s daughter with her chemistry homework.
Barrett is also a talented woodworker. You can see some of his pieces, many with a musical theme, at wildwillybarrett.com, a website which comes with the veiled warning that ‘The novelty and sheer ebullience of his work cannot fail to provoke a reaction’. I'm the first in a long line of talented joiners and woodworkers to have absolutely no talent whatsoever in that department, but they look pretty good to me. Although it’s probably fair to say that if you bought one and popped it in your living room or kitchenette it would be unlikely to go unnoticed by visitors.
Otway and Barrett’s ‘Best of’ glories in the appropriate title of ’40 Odd Years: 1971-2011’ and if you’ve got nothing to do this afternoon can I respectfully suggest that you rummage within this wonderful collection to check out the equally magnificently titled (and downright magnificent) cold war themed ‘Natasha You’re a Smasha (But You’re Working For Russia)’. I’d steer away from their version of the American Civil War tune ‘Two Little Boys’, made equally famous by those unlikely bedfellows of Scottish Music Hall star Harry Lauder and shamed antipodean dauber Rolf Harris for a few good reasons though.
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The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes