|The following article appeared in the September 2002 edition of Uncut magazine. There is also a photo at the bottom of the page|
At the age of 14 he assembled half the pupils of his school together to watch him drink a bottle of ink.
When signed to a near million-pound record deal in the late Seventies, he broke up with his girlfriend - one Paula Yates, according to his not entirely reliable autobiography with the words: ''That's the last time you'll be going out with a rock'n'roll star! '' Later dropped by his label, he went on to stage a benefit gig for the same company who'd given him the elbow. By his own admission, John Otway is rock'n'roll's greatest loser, a man who a quarter of a century later still can't but help make a grand success of being such a diabolical failure.
The Frank Spencer of punk first leapt his way into pop infamy (and straight into an amplifier) performing with guitarist Wild Willy Barrett on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977. Such daredevil and needlessly masochistic feats became integral to Otway's live act- whether somersaulting from PA stacks and nearly breaking his spine or his customary smashing of his microphone against his brow during the notorious '' Headbutts'' . Considering Otway's lunacy and less-than-agreeable singing voice, it was indeed remarkable when that Christmas the frantic half- spoken half-screamed) ''Cor Baby That's Really Free! '' took him to No 27 in the charts and, with it, Top Of The Pops.
Having tasted brief success the last 25 years have witnessed some extraordinary attempts by Otway to beat the music industry and reverse his own diminishing commercial appeal. He once signed himself to Warners, purely by pressing up his own records featuring the conglomerate's logo on the label. When releasing his 1979 single ''Frightened And scared", Otway issued three special copies featuring only the backing track with no vocals. The 'lucky' purchasers of said instrumental versions were instructed to contact Otway, who promised to visit their homes to add the words live In their living room.
Another gimmick involved a nationwide tour where, instead of tickets, punters could gain entry by presenting a copy of his latest single. Since singles were cheaper than your average gig ticket this seemed like a great idea - apart from the fact that Otway and his band were losing money from the venues hand over fist and thus had to spend every night tenting up in the nearest campsite.
Which brings us to Otway's latest scam. On September 30 this year, he'll release a new single - yet to be decided, though its B-side of ''House Of The Rising Sun'' with a record-breaking 900 backing voices is already in the can - which his fanbase have sworn to bulk buy to return him to the charts as a 50th birthday present.
Otway's faith in the scheme is evident in his booking of the London Palladium for the night of Sunday October 6, when that week's Top 40 will be announced.
Whether Otway will emerge that evening as king of the castle or fool on the hill remains to be seen. He's also vowed with admirable self-deprecation that once he's shuffled off this mortal coil he wishes to surrender his skeleton to a medical school.
''Just so students can still take the piss out of me '' says Otway. "We've left my body to medical science for this reason. ''
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