DVD review: – OTWAY THE MOVIE: Rock & Roll’s Greatest Failure

Otway The Movie: Rock & Roll's Greatest Failure

Self Release [Release date 29.09.14]

I previously reviewed the original movie premier of ‘Otway the Movie’ and this DVD is a welcome reprise of Otway’s unique vision, wild performances, eclectic musical output and his insatiable search for a hit on his own terms.

‘Rock And Roll’s Greatest Failure’ is a niche film that will please fans and bemuse others. It’s an essential strand of British anarchic humour that is routed in the late 70’s punk, DIY approach and is fired by the kind of energy levels that predated a whole generation of alt. comics.

Of course behind all the mayhem, parodies and ultimately glorious failures, there’s a very smart brain at work. According to talking head Richard Cotton, Otway ‘keeps assiduous records of everything he’s ever done’ – and he clearly realized the potency of being tagged ‘Rock Greatest Failure’ early on in his career.

The DVD traces a series of career highlights leading up to his 2000th gig at the Astoria when a huge crowd of 2,483 witnessed Otway and a stellar band enjoying a welcome triumph.

Being Otway of course, this major landmark led to bigger and even crazier ideas, none more so than booking The Albert Hall and appearing with his home town Aylesbury Youth Orchestra.

At this point Otway comes across as a serious talking head while meticulously planning a 50 piece orchestra and overseeing his orchestrated songs, before reverting to surreal mode by pursuing the crazy idea of bringing a stallion on stage, an idea quickly rejected by The Albert Hall management. This is the most insightful part of the film, with the tight editing capturing Otway’s manic approach and his nervous energy that infuses the film as a whole.

The DVD juxtaposes a 1978 Aylesbury performance with Wild Willy Barrett in front of thousands of punks, with latter day footage as he goes back to his old school to show a new generation: “how to make a living as a career in the music biz”.

You don’t need to be an Otway or a music fan to appreciate a series of surreal career moves which saw him appear to an estimated 5 million viewers on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and ‘Top of the Pops’.

He followed up his ‘Really Free’ hit with the overblown ‘Geneva’, which as John helpfully explains: “was the first of a long series of flops”. It was a characteristic left turn that would punctuate the next 35 years of his career which the movie charts chronologically.

Other stunts included live vocals in people’s living room, the physical theatre of ‘Headbutts’, his prowess as a lyricist – or as Bob Harris calls him, the ‘lyric laureate’ – who pioneered the use of the internet to realize his fans voting power on a national phone in poll. He made it to number 7 in the most popular lyric award with ‘Beware of the Flowers, Because I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You Yeah!’

In between times, there’s an autobiography, some bootlegged WEA labels – replicated years later by his 6th formers – and a burgeoning merchandise stand that included a T shirt, bearing the slogan, ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better’.

He takes up the theremin to pursue the perennial search for a hit, records at Abbey Road studios with his fans help him out on the ‘call and response’ bv’s. His 50th anniversary hit ‘Bunsen Burner’ leads him back to ‘Top of The Pops’ some 25 years after ‘Really Free’ and is an object lesson in fans power in a controlled market place.

He travels on his own train the Otway Express and ultimately fails in his quest for world domination with an aborted 2006 word tour on his own airline ‘Ot Air’.

Judged by contemporary mores, he ultimately lives up to the DVD’s name, but he does so gloriously, to give ‘Otway the Movie’ a crossover appeal with enough laughs to warrant repeated plays.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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