Otway, it must be said, is not to everyone’s taste – some call him a true English eccentric whilst others a talentless self-publicist. I saw him live when he first hit the scene in the late Seventies and found him a breath of fresh air and really quite unclassifiable. Despite the supposed anarchy, many of his songs are deceptively good, especially the more romantic ones. The clowning may pall after a while and he is certainly not an artist to relax to.
Arriving on the back of punk rock and a gymnastic performance on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’, his first single, the half-spoken love song "Really Free" reached number 27 in the UK Singles Chart. It would be his greatest success for some time. The song earned him a five album deal with Polydor Records, who viewed him as a punk rather than merely an eccentric.
His first album, recorded with Wild Willy Barrett, was produced by Pete Townshend but sold only fitfully. The follow-up singles fared no better despite some imaginative promotion, which included an offer for Otway to come to a buyer's house and perform the single if their copy was one of the few from which the vocal had been omitted. Otway's and Barrett's only other UK chart success came in July 1980 with "DK 50-80", a modest #45 hit.
Despite variously imaginative attempts to achieve record sales, or at least get into the charts (not necessarily the same thing), he has only had fitful success. However, he has continued to maintain a loyal following through regular touring with a number of musicians including Wild Willy Barrett, The Hamsters and Wilko Johnson.
His 1990 autobiography, ‘Cor Baby, That's Really Me’ (subtitled ‘Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure’) was a study in self-deprecation, and his touring continued to sustain him. Within weeks the book outsold almost all of his albums. In the 1990s, he toured as "Headbutts and Halibuts", with Attila the Stockbroker with whom he wrote a surreal rock opera called ‘Cheryl’. In 1992 Otway appeared at GuilFest. In 1993 he was able to draw 2,500 fans to a gig in London and, in 1998, 4,000 celebrated his birthday with him at the Royal Albert Hall, coinciding with the release of ‘Premature Adulation’, his first album of new material for over ten years.
Recently he brought out the next instalment to his autobiography, ‘I Did It Otway’ (both books published by KLG Press.)
Biography by Mark Allan, www.allmusic.com. Retrieved 20 October 2009.