otway the movie premier
otway the movie premier

Those not familiar with John Otway – which let’s face it, is most of the population – could be forgiven for thinking this is a spoof documentary in the vein of Spinal Tap. Such is the nature of the crazy, wacky, bonkers, over the top, rock and roll extravagance that bounces around inside the head of one of rock’s greatest treasures.

But it is not a spoof, this is the story of a uniquely British eccentric rock and roll legend that has spent the last forty years reaching for the stars, not being put off by what anyone else thinks and, most importantly, not being put off by failure.

Otway is a household name, but most households have forgotten they know him. Mention his 1977 hit Cor Baby That’s Really Free and people will suddenly start recalling his wild appearance on Top of the Pops alongside Wild Willy Barrett or his even wilder appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test where one Who style jump on top of an amplifier turned into a painful gonad crushing fall. But he managed to turn that agonising disaster into a top thirty hit and a £250,000 advance from Polydor Records.

This then becomes the story of his life, snatching victory for the jaws of defeat and – more often – snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. That early advance was blown on a luxury flat and a Bentley (even though he could not drive) and funded an extravagant production for the follow up single, Geneve, complete with orchestral backing. This was a complete failure, not sitting well with his fans or with is partner Wild Willy Barrett, who he had neglected to tell about the single.

We then hear of bizarre scams to get signed to Warner Brothers, personalised Otway bank cheques, gigs at the Albert Hall, gigs in people’s living rooms, run ins with the Musicians Union, Beware of the Flowers getting voted 7th best lyrics of all time and the second hit. Yes, the second hit. Utilising his entire fan club as backing band and getting them running round like an army to buy up the single and get it in the charts. At some point along the journey he makes a decision to play on the fact that he has been such a failure and we get to see T-shirts with slogans such as ‘Otway: I can’t believe it’s not better”.

We get to see friends and family talk of his lack of talent and even his mum talks of how he cant sing. But the Otway story is far more than a story of a hit factory, it is an endearing tale of an affable eccentric that has dreamed of being a pop star since the age of nine and was not going to let a little thing like a lack of singing talent get in his way. He has written some classic lyrics and managed to find himself on stage with genuinely gifted musicians, most of whom are still talking to him.

The madness reaches fantastical proportions with plans for a world tour taking in the Sydney Opera House and his own personal jet (OT – AIR), but the scheme to end all schemes comes crashing down due to the financial madness of it. At this point we get a brief peek behind the curtain and Otway lets the confident prankster front down for a second and we get a hint at the man behind rock star.

But in true Otway style, he soon bounces back and plans are put in place for Otway the Movie. In typical style he hires the Leicester Square Odeon, the largest cinema screen in the country and sells tickets to a film he has not yet made. The ticket sales then fund the movie, making all those that bought tickets producers, who get credits at the end. And this is that film.

Unfortunately, as we type this review, it is pretty difficult to get to see the film as he his holding the DVD release back until after his assault on the BAFTAs, but it is currently touring the country – in John’s bag, as he is turning up for Q&A sessions everywhere it is shown.

Otway fans will love it. Non fans will be converted once they have seen it.

official movie website

Director: Steve Barker

Producer: The Fans

Cinematography: Steve Barker

Editor: Richard Holgarth and Amy Otway

Classification 12A (contains one use of moderate swearing)

John Otway website