Otway The Movie: Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure
JOHN Otway once had a hit.
This makes him far from unique. The history of the UK pop charts is littered with one-hit wonders. What makes Otway special is his cheery determination that Cor Baby That's Really Free, which rose to the giddy heights of number 27 in 1977, was not to be his only footnote in British rock’s story.
That early success was enough to buy, but not keep, a Bentley, but Otway, Aylesbury’s biggest contribution to pop after Marillion, still dreams of past glories.
Steve Barker’s good-natured documentary follows Otway’s efforts to do just that, and funny as it is - and it is – there is no cruelty to it. Otway with his ever present grin and puppyish enthusiasm is in on the joke too.
A reminder that the idea anyone could become a pop star belongs to the punk generation just as much as Simon Cowell’s cynical “star-making” production line talent shows, Otway pursues his goal with a gleeful subversiveness that embraces the absurdity and surrealism of his quest.
The subtitle might proclaim Otway as rock and roll’s greatest failure, but a real failure would never have built up and retained the loyal following that is prepared to go along with Otway and enjoy the ride, whether joining in his unique audience-participation version of House of the Rising Sun to helping him fill the Albert Hall.
For his part, Otway is canny enough an operator that he can use that devotion to his advantage, engineering a place in the top 10 of a poll to find the greatest lyricist of all time or thwarting record retailers who want to put a block on his success.
Yet this 60-year old man-child manages this with a ramshackle charm that means he never comes across as manipulative, but someone who is fun to be around.
The schemes get more and more grandiose - a world tour by chartered jet and hire of Sydney Opera House, anyone? - but this is ultimately an uplifting underdog story that is more Full Monty than Spinal Tap.
He may not quite be a pop star, but at least here he gets to be a film star, however briefly.
* John Otway appears at Hootananny's CeilidhBar, Church Street, Inverness, on Sunday 23rd August, supported by Sarah Williamson.