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Otway the Movie. Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Published by: Pete Benson on 15th Jul 2013 | View all blogs by Pete Benson
I was very eager to see ‘Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure: Otway the Movie’. ‘Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure’, remember those words. As we arrive at the screening Otway is there in person to mingle with the fans which is typical of this unique and generous performer. The movie opens in 1978 with an Otway gig in Aylesbury Market Square, it was the biggest event to hit Aylesbury since the trials of Mick Jagger and the great train robbers. I know because I was there. The film makers had managed to track down supposedly lost footage of the event, an ATV documentary called ‘Stardustman’ about a dustman who becomes a rock star.
‘Otway the Movie’ is a collection of archive footage and interviews both old and new telling the Otway story. It starts from his school days where he dreams of becoming a rock star. He teams up with another pupil at the school Wild Willy Barrett. Barrett is a near musical genius while Otway appears to have close to no musical talent at all. What Otway is clearly shown to have is utter determination and belief in himself.
John and Willy achieve their first hit record with ‘Really Free’ changing Otway’s life forever. We learn that while Otway and Barrett get a £250,000 advance from Polydor Records the Jam only get a £6,000 advance. Polydor, possibly on the strength of Otway crushing his testicles on the Old Grey Whistler Test, mistakenly think he is a punk rocker where as in fact Otway is actually … well he’s Otway, a name many people seem to miss pronounce throughout the film.

There is a brilliant interview in the film with Otway’s mum where she patiently explains that not only should John not be a singer because he is regularly losing his voice but also because his singing is terrible as is demonstrated by a recording of an early gig he performs while still at school.
The film takes us through various Otway schemes, cheques with self portraits on so that people might never cash them. Records with missing vocal tracks to which Otway will sing live in the purchaser’s own front room.  Gig admission with an Otway single, bought rather than a ticket, to boost his chart sales. With bitter irony his schemes are twice thwarted by the restrictive working practices of the Musician’s Union and an untimely strike.
There is the second hit, a truly heart warming story of the little man’s triumph over the corporate machine. Despite not having the backing of the big chain stores and supermarkets, in a very early demonstration of internet pressure group power, against all the odds Otway achieves a hit at number nine in the charts with ‘Bunsen Burner’.

Now here’s the thing, ‘Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure’ actually reveals quite the opposite. Otway has spent a life time successfully doing what he loves on his own terms. He has created a masterfully slick inclusive act which may look like random chaos but I can assure you it is not. He has developed superb comic timing, and although not a brilliant musician he is now more than passable and has written some truly excellent songs in his career. And to cap it all his school boy dream is now replayed before our very eyes on the big screen, in itself surely a dream beyond schoolboy imagination.
I briefly roadied for Otway and I hope I am not revealing a magician’s secret here but the real life Otway is an astute, smart man who is brim full of high quality ideas. I have often said if John had chosen to be obsessed with finance rather than music he would be one of our leading multi millionaire bankers but luckily for us he loves music and we have a unique and much loved entertainer to brighten our lives.
This is a fun documentary with much humour and a great sense of past eras. Fans will love it for this is as much about the loyal fans as it is the star. But fan or not go and see it. Go and see Otway the movie: How to Succeed at Life.

14th July 2013 Pete Benson

Waterside Theatre “Box Office: 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline: 0844 871 7614 Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking: (bkg fee)

All screenings marked * will include a Q&A session with Otway.
Wednesday 17th     BRIGHTON* Duke's at Komedia 9pm
Tuesday 13th     SHREWSBURY* Old Market Hall    
Thursday 15th     HEBDEN BRIDGE* Picturehouse    
Wednesday 21st     HULL Fruit    
Thursday 29th     NOTTINGHAM* Broadway Cinema    
Friday 30th     MANCHESTER* Cornerhouse    

Monday 2nd     EDINBURGH* Cameo Picturehouse    
Tuesday 3rd     LEICESTER* Phoenix Square    
Thursday 5th     CARDIFF* Chapter Arts Centre    
Sunday 8th     YORK* City Screens Picturehouse    
Thursday 12th     GOOLE* Junction Cinema    
Sunday 15th     KENDAL* Kendal Brewery Arts    
Monday 16th     GLASGOW* Glasgow Film Theatre    
Tuesday 17th     KENDAL Kendal Brewery Arts    
Thursday 19th     BIRMINGHAM Electric Cinema 8pm    
Friday 20th     DERBY* Quad    
Saturday 21st     BRENTFORD* Watermans    
Monday 23rd     CAMBRIDGE FILM FESTIVAL* Arts Picturehouse    
 Friday 27th     NEWCASTLE* Tyneside Cinema    
Saturday 28th     LONDON* Rio Dalston    
Monday 30th     FARNHAM* Maltings    

Friday 4th     LOWESTOFT* Seagull Theatre    
Saturday 5th     READING* South Street Arts Centre    
Wednesday 9th     COURT SHORT FESTIVAL Courtyard Theatre Tring    
Saturday 12th     PURBECK FILM FESTIVAL* Rex Cinema Wareham
Saturday 9th     GREAT TORRINGTON* Plough Arts Centre    
Friday 22nd     ALDERSHOT* West End Centre    
Thursday 28th     DEAL Astor Theatre



  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Pete. An interesting review. Not strictly 'theatre' ... but, given your colourful description of Otway's character and history and the fact that he appears in person for Q&A, I dare say that we can relax the rules slightly. :D Sounds like a great night.
  • Pete Benson
    by Pete Benson 5 years ago
    Cameron that never occured to me. However Otway's live act is pure theatre in every sense of the word Indeed Otway may be the last of the old style cabaret performers still doing the rounds despite having started just as that genre was all but gone. I shall review his live show when I get a chance, there is nothing quite like it.
  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    He sounds like a great character. :-)
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