Share a Cuppa Tea with John Otway

Nov 2018 Share a Cuppa Tea with John Otway

By Jane Quinn

Share a Cuppa Tea with John Otway as he speaks of the meaning of life, comics, bullies et al.

If Bob Dylan was a gymnastic punk rocker, his name would be John Otway.

Mr Otway is a singer-songwriter, word­smith, author, an awkward wit, Pete Town­shend’s gifted protégé, and a poetic non-driving tea drinker. You saw him perform his big hit Really Free on the Old Grey Whistle Test, and now you are invited to an intimate tea party with the man him­self. Pull up a chair and share a cuppa with us.

  1. Where do you keep your moral compass?

It should be kept safely in my head, but if I’m truly honest, historically (back in the days of punk rock), it was in my genes.

  1. How many holes does it take to fill the Royal Albert Hall, and how did you manage to fill it in 1998?

Quite a few. I had a show at the Astoria for my 2,000th gig, and more than 2,000 turned up to celebrate with me. I remember thinking at the time that, if we had twice as many, we could fill the Albert Hall.

Gig 2000 was a bit like an early crowd funding idea which worked well with the fan base. We used the same ideas to promote the Albert Hall and spent a year working on it. I think my audience, who was used to my 50 people in a pub gigs, appreciated the optimism of lines like “We’re going from the Red Lion to The Albert Hall”.

It worked, and we ended up with 4,500. My mum was very impressed.

  1. Were you ever bullied? Were you ever a bully?

Yes. Primary school was a nightmare at Queens Park Junior School. It was not just the kids who bullied me, but the teachers joined in as well. Through necessity, I learned to fight back and get hits.

  1. Who have you asked for an autograph?

For a while, I had a go at acting, and one of the biggest roles I managed to get was the leading role in Supergran and The Chronic Crooner. Apart from myself, my very young nieces were the only ones who were really impressed. They asked me to get Supergran’s autograph in their Super­gran books. I believe they still have them.

  1. Can you drive a car?

No. When I had my first hit, Really Free in 1977, and Polydor Records gave me a large amount of money; my manager and myself had a meeting with our accountant. Part of his advice was that, to save tax, “you should both buy yourselves a car”.

It hadn’t occurred to him to ask us if we could both drive. I took his advice literally and bought a car that I felt would suit a pop star – a 1949 Bentley, and employed all my old school friends as chauffeurs. My man­ager was more practical and got a Ford Cortina Estate. Interestingly, when the money ran out and we had to sell them, my car was worth the same as I’d paid for it. His was worth half as much.

  1. If you could have invited anyone – liv­ing or dead, famous or not famous – to our wee tea party who would it have been?

Pete Townshend. He produced some tracks for me and Wild Willy Barrett, two of which came out as singles and four of them appeared on my first album. He even played a bit of guitar and bass on them. I haven’t seen him for years and never really got to say ‘thanks’ for giving me a kickstart in a career I’ve had so much fun with. It would be lovely to do that.

  1. Tell us a secret.

I dye my hair – well, I think it’s a secret.

  1. What is the meaning of life?

Luckily, being a singer-songwriter, I am able to sum up these difficult ques­tions in just a few words. Philosophers and Steve Hawkins, who write books on the subject, haven’t sussed it yet. I have the answer to this, and it is in the title of one of the tracks from my new album, (I don’t know what I’m doing but) I Shouldn’t Be Doing This.

  1. What is your favourite comic book ever?

If you want a comic, it would have to be Eagle. My Mum bought us a comic each week. I had the Eagle. I think I identified with Dan Dare.

  1. What’s new?

My new album Montserrat. It is called Montserrat because that’s where we recorded it. I crow- funded the album, and we had a choice. Either we were going to record it in my guitarist’s shed, or if we reached our stretch goal’ we would record it on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat.

I had watched a television documentary on Sir George Martin, and having written the first song Dancing With Ghosts, I thought it would be fitting to record the album on the island famous for the ghosts of so many massive albums from the 1970s and 80s.

The last band to record there was The Rolling Stones in 1988, doing their Steel Wheels album. The island was then deci­mated by Hurricane Hugo, and a few years later, the whole of the southern part of the island was destroyed by a volcano.

I thought I could be the third natural dis­aster to hit the island. Seriously though, the islanders loved the idea of someone com­ing over to record and we were given an incredibly warm welcome.

Sir George Martin really liked the idea and gave us his blessing before he died, and the family allowed us to record in their house. I think the pressure to do something worthwhile paid off. I think the album is one of the best pieces of writing and play­ing that myself and the band have done.

Well, the tea is growing cold, and John Otway has many mountains yet to climb, though he says he sees his mission as a steep mountain with no summit. Guess we’d better let him get on with it.

What a delight it has been…

©Jane Quinn