Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Willy said no to the Rolling Stones and never looked back

IMAGINE being invited to join the Rolling Stones and turning the job down.

IMAGINE being invited to join the Rolling Stones and turning the job down.

Well, that’s precisely what happened in 1969 after the untimely death of Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

Nineteen-year-old Willy Barrett was building a reputation as a fine blues and bluegrass musician when the invitation from Mick and Keith came through.

Willy declined and continued playing blues and folk festivals with the likes of David Bowie and Genesis.

Originally from Aylesbury, he lived close to an aspiring teenage pop star hellbent on stardom, John Otway. Otway, who lacked any musical ability, persuaded Willy — an excellent musician — to accompany him.

In 1976 The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend witnessed Otway and Barrett’s live show, loved Otway’s anarchistic vocal style and antics paired with Willy’s beautiful guitar, fiddle and banjo.

Townshend recorded and produced the duo’s debut album, releasing John and Willy’s hit single

Cor Baby That’s Really Free

Punk was very much in vogue, and John and Willy were pigeonholed into the punk genre. Willy, a hippy and bluegrass musician, left to pursue a more musical direction.

Subsequently Otway and Barrett endured more splits and reunions than Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. (Look out for Otway and Barrett’s farewell tour

The Final Straw
in 2016.) Wild Willy Barrett is an enigma, an eccentric, his unique blend of punky roots, bluegrass and exquisite guitar-playing enjoy an enormous cult following.

Hailed as the Godfather of Grunge Folk, he tasted further chart success in 1995 as Rednex with the electric banjo hit

Cotton Eye Joe

Willy now lives in France, but on Tuesday (June 30), Wild Willy Barrett’s French Connection perform at the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row.

Willy and fabulous French singer Aurora Colson, accompanied by a bohemian band of fiddle, cello, guitar, banjo and uilleann pipes, will perform an anarchistic mix of gypsy jazz and traditional Celtic with a hint of bluegrass, punky grunge and édith Piaf thrown in. Innovative arrangements beautifully performed and overlaid with a large dose of wry humour.

For tickets and table reservations, call the Crooked Billet on (01491) 681048.

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