Train Song No. 3: Cheryl’s Going Home by John Otway

In contrast to the sweet soul of Train Songs one and two, it’s time for one of the most demented howls of anguish ever recorded as Middle England’s answer to Iggy Pop, John Otway, comes apart on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977. Accompanied only by his long-suffering sidekick Wild Willy Barrett, Otway explains his predicament. Cheryl’s leaving; he’s having a meltdown at the station. People are staring but he doesn’t care.

Can you hear me shouting through the rain?

Is there a way to stop the train?

Same old question, feller, same old question… The thing you have to learn about trains  is that in songs (unlike in real life) they always depart on time, especially when separating lovers who’ve had a misunderstanding (see Train Song No 1, Back Up Train by Al Green).

Sure enough,

The whistle moans and I’m alone

And Cheryl’s going home

Don’t be misled by the first two minutes that you are about to watch a conventional, if rough-around-the-edges, rock and roll performance. The cue for strangeness comes when Barrett turns his guitar down ominously low.  Otway first takes off his acoustic and then his belt. The thought pops into your mind, why did he just do that? He’s not about to go through airport security — such a thing didn’t even exist in the innocent world in which this footage was recorded. Let’s just say that any airport personnel who watched this clip through to the end and saw him coming would have invented it double-quick.

That train, that bloody train, he sings, is going chuff chuff chuff down the track… Now he is the train, running backwards and forwards across the stage, somersaulting over Barrett’s foot pedals and temporarily disabling his one-man back-up band. If you haven’t seen this before I won’t give away what happens next, but before the credits roll, the personal disintegration chronicled in the song is given a very physical manifestation, full of pathos and desperate ambition, a combination that has earned Otway the title The Patron Saint of Failures. Rest assured any injuries incurred weren’t fatal, as the man just turned 60 and hired The Empire Leicester Square for the premier of a film based on his career.

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