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John Otway

John Otway: Glastonbury Festival, 2002
John Otway, (born October 8, 1952) is a self-confessed unsuccessful singer songwriter, who built a large cult audience through unrelenting touring, a surreal sense of humour and a winning underdog personality. 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" soared to #27 in the UK chart. It would be his greatest success for some time. It did earn him a five album deal with Polydor records, who thought he was a punk rather than merely eccentric. His first album, recorded with Wild Willy Barrett, was produced by Pete Townshend but sold only fitfully. The followup singles fared no better despite some imaginative promotion, which included an offer for John to come to a lucky buyer's house and perform the single if their copy was one of the few from which the vocal had been omitted.

Despite that his live audience remained loyal, due to Otway's manic energy and the probability of physical injury during renditions of songs such as "Headbutts". His autobiography (subtitled "Rock and Roll's greatest failure") was a study in self-deprecation, and his touring continued to sustain him. By 1993 he could 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 10 years.

By then, Otway had realised he could use his fanbase, who were in on the joke, to engage in minor publicity stunts. A well orchestrated grassroots campaign saw his "Beware Of The Flowers Cause I'm Sure They're Going To Get You Yeah" voted the 7th greatest lyric of all time in a BBC poll, but his finest moment came in 2002. Asked what he wanted for his 50th birthday, he requested "A second hit", and a concerted drive, including a poll, scrutinised by the Electoral Reform Society, to select the track, saw "Bunsen Burner" -- with music sampled from the classic "Disco Inferno" and lyrics devised to help his daughter with her chemistry homework -- reach the UK #9 on October 6, and earned Otway an appearance on Top Of The Pops, the BBC's flagship popular music program.

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