Interview with John Otway

Otway2After the screening of ROCK AND ROLL’S GREATEST FAILURE: JOHN OTWAY THE MOVIE, a remarkable musical documentary biopic on the mercurial musical performer, its star spoke to Take One about his experience of the Cambridge Film Festival.

Reviewing his own Q&A (followed by a rendition of 2 songs) he said, ‘It’s been funny, I’ve realised how good I am at talking about myself!’ Otway revealed that Cambridge is the ‘first proper film festival’ (after Cannes, of course) that the picture has graced on a promotional tour that he and director Steve Barker are making around the country. In response to a warm reaction from a packed Screen 1, the singer said that the evening had gone ‘really well, great… we’ve cracked it’.

The story begins with Otway’s rise to fame in 1977 with the single ‘Cor Baby That’s Really Free’, after which he made high-profile television appearances and was signed to Polydor Records. It charts his relentless and ingenious schemes to follow up the hit with further glory over the next 35 years and counting – to varying degrees of success. In the process, Otway has become a formidable live act and amassed a wonderfully loyal fan base.

‘If it’s going to be the world’s greatest something… I certainly can’t call myself the world’s greatest Rock and Roll star…’

Asked about what he felt was his ‘greatest failure’, Otway replied ‘There’s so many of them… I suppose the most recent one is the idea of flying the jet around the world’, referring to an abortive attempt at a week-long world tour in 2006: the unlikely plan was that his fans would help him with money to rent a plane and traverse the globe. Rival stories include printing his own records (on more than one occasion), making his own videos, and embarking on many loss-making tours. Successes, too, are liberally scattered into the tale. On his moniker ‘Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure’, Otway is clear about where the emphasis lies: more on the ‘Greatest’ than ‘Failure’. ‘If it’s going to be the world’s greatest something… I certainly can’t call myself the world’s greatest Rock and Roll star…’ so it had to be the world’s greatest failure’. In fact, of course, the documentary finally tells a story of triumph through adversity (and lack of talent).

John Otway retains his infectious optimism: the film was made in part as a 60th birthday present, and for his 61st in October he’d like BAFTA recognition next year. As he told the cinema audience gleefully, the film is up for 2: ‘Best Documentary’ and ‘Best British Debut’. The incorrigible star solicited fans’ help in influencing British Film and Television Awards members, and one wouldn’t be surprised to see him succeed in the venture. (If not, there’s always glorious failure).

Photos courtesy Chris Boland

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