37. Geneve – John Otway

For several decades, John Otway has ploughed something of a lone, idiosyncratic furrow. Casual observers will tend to know him as the crazed lunatic, the wild man of post-punk pop with the batshit stage antics. Yet there is a great deal more to him than falling off amplifier cabinets and landing on his nads, or belting vocals out from atop a stack of beer crates, white shirt torn wide open.

Tucked away at the end of 1976’s eponymous debut LP John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, Geneve makes for quite a contrast with the more familiar rockers such as Cheryl’s Going Home, or Otway’s actual bona fide hit, Really Free.

This one is about a lost love. Which would be standard songwriter fare, except in this case, Lisa isn’t lost to a rival suitor: she is lost to a city. A city with which John pleads, asking Geneva to kindly take care of her:

Geneve, take her to yourself
And watch her while she rests
‘Cause she talks of you as home

Not to break the habit of a lifetime, our man takes solace in music, and his dreams—although in John’s case it was always really more of a vocation—of pop stardom:

For she is so young, and my dreams
Will see me playing for the screaming ladies of Los Angeles

For I am still young, and it’s true
That I don’t forget her, and I don’t regret and I’m not going to
And as I wipe away all the traces of Lisa blues
It is my shoes that walk across the stage for the applause

This is all especially poignant since it’s a true story. There really was a Lisa, and she really did move to Geneva. And of course John really did make it on to Top of the Pops and—perhaps more famously—Old Grey Whistle Test.

The original version of Geneve, found on the debut album, really is a surprise, with its lush, orchestral arrangement. It’s purely a personal opinion, or course, but for me, the stripped down, John + guitar interpretation is more powerful, so that’s the clip I’ve posted up top there.

That clip is from rather nice ATV documentary from some considerable time ago, which someone has helpfully converted from VHS and posted to the web. The whole thing is worth a watch, as it gives a very perceptive insight into the man himself, and what makes him tick.

What’s particularly wonderful is that, at the age of 71 years young, John Otway is still going strong, gigging regularly and delighting audiences in venues in every town, from tiny bars to, well, medium-sized bars. Indeed, Threehundredsongs was lucky enough to see him live twice in 2023, first with legendary sideman—and producer of this song—Wild Willy Barrett, and later as a surprise guest of The Blockheads.

He has very much still got it. Can’t complain.

Artist: John Otway
Album: John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett
Writer: John Otway
Producer: Wild Willy Barrett
Released: Extracked Records, 1976

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