Cor Baby It's John Otway
photo © 1998 Neil Sedgwick
by Lee McFadden and Tracy Holloway (May 1999)
(This origianlly appear in S&P Fanzine: contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
I first knew about John Otway when I read about his Aylesbury antics and saw his manic grin laughing from the pages of Kris Needs magazine Zigzag. From there I bought his fantastic fully orchestrated heart-rending single "Geneve" - with an even more classic song on the B-side entitled "It's Been a Long, Long Time Since I Played Homestead on the Farm." (I missed out on his hit "Cor Baby It's Really Free," but think I can remember him performing it on OGWT in 1977?). Otway's name has remained deep in my subconscious throughout the intervening years. Ive seen plenty of his gigs recently. Ive seen him play Bristol, Cardiff and most recently The Royal Albert Hall. Whats the appeal? It has to be the joy of hearing those bloody daft, but well crafted songs again, the plaintive crooning, or, I dunno... anyway, the interview took place at The Weavers Arms, Stoke Newington, London, pre Royal Albert Hall.
Q: Talk about your punishing tour schedule (over 150 shows a year).Part of Otways punishing tour schedule includes the November Dunkerque Weekend which has been taking place for about five years now. It involves a coachload of drunken Brits crossing the English Channel to see the great man perform two gigs, one with his band and the other an acoustic set at a smaller venue. It also has a tradition which involves Otway and several brave fans taking a dip in the icy cold English Channel.
Its murder - towards the end of the punishing but you feel - punished. Its not like a tour, its like a never ending series of shows, and its starting to play havoc with my home life.
Q: What is it that motivates him to carry on playing, and in particular push through the barrier of playing "Really Free" again?
Its a joy to play and its a good fun show to do. It's just the traveling, the playing is alright. It wasn't what I intended when I was planning it all at the age of 10, 11 or 12. It was supposed to be stadiums all the way from the age of 20 until I retired, but its worked out a bit smaller than that.
Q: But as a true independent how do you feel about not getting the recognition you deserve?
I suppose I'm one of those optimists who feel its just round the corner anyway. The other thing is I cant really think what else I could really do for a living. This is what Ive done since I was 24, and somebody described me as unemployable as anything else apart from a pop star.Q: How did this event come about?Otway performs solo shows and band shows.
We did Gig 1999 (yes, hes played that many!) in Glasgow and we decided we needed to build up for Gig 2000 (at The Astoria), but we had to do something for gig 2001 a Space Otway. We didn't want to take away from the London show, so we thought about a gig abroad, and we costed it out and the farthest we could get was a coachload of people over to Dunkerque. We didn't want to let it go, and be back two days later at a smaller venue. It had to be some sort of event, and thats how it came about.
Q: Is your band involved in other projects or are they loyal to you?Otways live set consists of oldies and newies, including the song which attracted punk audiences to him called "Beware of the Flowers (Causes Im Sure Theyre Gonna Get You Yeh)" and "Headbutt" - where he gets to headbutt the microphone - ouch, as well as covers of The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun," Rolf Harris' "Two Little Boys" and Tom Jones' "Delilah" - which Otway sung for a Weetabix commercial, using the more innocent line "I felt the spoon in my hand, and she laughed no more!" He also performs newer songs from his Premature Adulation album.
No. The rhythm guitarist - Murray Torkildsen and drummer - Adam Battersbee - are in The Sweeny (a fantastic pop band whose 1996 album is called Pop Gun) and Richard does other bits of promoting and the bass player is a scientist.
Otway has quite rightly earned a reputation for his on stage antics, hes been known to throw his guitar to an unsuspecting roadie, forget to take his foot off the lead and prang himself on the head with it as it swung back towards him! He also jumps and somersaults off of ladders and PA columns - all in the name of entertainment.Q: Have you ever had a cropper while somersaulting on-stage? Do you feel that members of the audience came to see it happen?Quite!
The worst one I ever did was from a 12 ft PA column. I decided to dive onto my hands from it. I can remember landing on my back and not feeling anything from the neck down. I was laying there and the band were playing and the audience were going bananas. I remember thinking "shit, I didn't see a flash, nobody got a photo." The feeling came back about 20 seconds later, then I just leapt up and grinned at the audience like that was clever wasnt it. So Ive stopped diving off of anything over 10 ft high now!!
Q: Does it niggle you that one of your big successes was a book documenting your failures (the brilliant autobiography, COR BABY THAT'S REALLY ME)?
Oh no not at all. I wrote it as a self-effacing humorous piece. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that. It did the job it was supposed to do in rejuvenating the career a bit and adding something current. It sold extraordinarily well.
Q: But does it bother you that you're always being viewed as a failure?
It doesn't bother me. I think well sell The Royal Albert Hall gig out. People will put failure on the posters but no one will really believe it. It is like one of those things that will grow out of itself and be a more historical reference as opposed to a current one - which was the idea! I'm toying with the idea of writing THE ROAD TO THE ALBERT HALL, it might be nice to do a few extra chapters about how I went from this low to headlining the Albert Hall.
Q: What do you think you would be doing if you hadn't written "Really Free"?
Posing in some way - an actor. Something that made people pay attention to what I did. I just like to show off. Even the voice-overs for ads - that wouldnt be enough. It's important that people know the name isn't it. The name Otway has to be seen!
For more info, write to: The Sweeny, Rotator, PO Box 2000, Aylesbury, Bucks HP22 5WA.
For more info on John Otway, see johnotway.com
Also see our 2014 article about Otway's return to New York and his bio-pic
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