Otway The Movie: Rock And Roll's Greatest Failure

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97 mins

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Nigel Castle

John Otway is fantastically engaging, the very definition of feelgood film-making. Otway, of course, is the colourful singer-songwriter who has been lurking chaotically on the fringes of the music business since his 1977 hit Really Free; the anarchic, shambolic spirit that endeared him to the original punk audience effectively prevented him from having any kind of follow-up. But as becomes abundantly clear, Otway was also lucky enough to secure a fanatically devoted audience – to whom he affectionately refers to as "the fans", like parents talk about "the kids" – who kept him in business as a live act even as one career decision after another proved abortive. This hardcore following came into its own in the early days of the internet; their dedication to Otway-oriented stunts started to get him in the public eye (like the infamous number 7 place in a BBC poll in 199 to find the nation's favourite lyrics). Otway's pioneering activity in crowdsourcing and viral campaigns reached its apotheosis with his 2002 top 10 hit Bunsen Burner. What's most remarkable, however, is that, over 30 years down the line, Otway seems never to have lost his enthusiasm; he couldn't be further from the shark-like self-promoter that this stunt-making might suggest. With his catchphrase "wouldn't it be nice?", his constant use of the word "prat", and his general air of self-deprecating uselessness, Otway comes across – in this film at least – as the most endearing kind of English eccentric. When he does a forward roll on the red carpet at the premiere screening of the documentary we are actually watching, about 15 felt-tip pens fall out of his pocket. You can't help but feel this is entirely characteristic. If you're looking for much insight into Otway's special brand of mayhem, this is not the place to find it; this film is very much the Otway the fans want to see – after all, they paid for it. (Incidentally, Otway seems to have anticipated crowdfunding too.) But even non-initiates will find him utterly charming.