Meet John Otway

Singer/Songwriter John Otway has built a sizeable cult audience through extensive touring, a surreal sense of humour and a self-deprecating underdog persona. Followers of what he himself terms as “Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure” will get a chance to catch the man himself live when he plays Newport’s Le Pub as part of the John Otway Goes West tour on September 18. Andy Howells recently put questions to the man himself.

How did start your career?
Depending on how you would interpret the word “start” , it could be…
A nine year old Otway singing Lonnie Donegan songs in the school playground and, because of the sheer quantity of ridicule it attracted, I became stage-struck and never ever wanted to do anything else, or…
a fourteen year old Otway who discovered that a large audience of 100 would gather by the school gates to watch me down a complete bottle of ink in one, or…
Pete Townshend liking a single I had made with Wild Willy Barrett and producing some tracks that went on our first album, but probably…
It was an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977 when a daring leap on to Wild Willy’s guitar amplifier had me landing painfully on the most delicate parts of my anatomy live in front of 5.5 million TV viewers. As a result the single we had out, Cor Baby That’s Really Free shot straight in to the charts and I was a pop star overnight.

What’s been your best live experience?
There have been so many I’ve now done over 4,000 gigs and with very few exceptions really enjoyed them all – It’s been a wonderful way to make a living. If I had to pick one I think it would be Aylesbury Market Square in 1978. The Police sealed off the town Centre for traffic and 10,000 locals turned up for my homecoming gig after the hit and it was filmed for TV – It was everything I’d dreamt of for years. Of course it all went completely pear shaped after that, but that day was wonderful. If I had to pick another live experience headlining The Royal Albert Hall in 1998 wasn’t bad either.

What are you working on at the moment?
A Christmas TV advert to plug the crowd funding of the first new Otway album in a decade. – I’m busy designing an “Otway Advent Calendar” so the fans can have a chocolate with my head on it for the 24 days leading up to its transmission.

Tell us about your forthcoming appearance at Le Pub – what can people expect?
Two Hits – a few years ago they would have only one Hit to expect, but for my 50th birthday my fans ran a campaign and got me a Top Ten Hit Bunsen Burner and I was back on Top of The Pops – So the show is now twice as good.

Where can people hear your music?
Q Magazine once said “He’ll never make a record as good as his live show” which is possibly true, and if so then coming to one of the gigs to hear it is best. – All the albums are on Amazon and iTunes and there’s a lot of stuff on YouTube from over the years. Also, Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure – Otway the Movie has done very well for something Otway. It was voted 2nd best movie of 2013 by The Guardian readers and had a 50 cinema theatre run – that’s now out on DVD and iTunes

  • Visit for further details on the tour and John’s music.
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during September 2015.

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