John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett, Buckinghamshire 2006.

Sunday, 31 July 2011


I imagine the only reason many people know of John Otway is his slightly demented 1977 hit, with Wild Willy Barrett,

'Cor Baby That's Really Free.'

John Otway would most probably fit somewhere into the pantheon of eccentric, quintessentially English songsmiths alongside the likes of Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers.  Wikipedia describes his 1990 autobiography (Cor Baby That's Really Free - Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure) as a study in self deprecation.  The couple of times I met and photographed him he certainly was self deprecating but he was also very polite, chatty and extremely funny.  He did appear slightly scatterbrained and physically uncoordinated but it seemed part of his charm.  

I'm not completely sure if it's not all a bit of an act?

But one of the most interesting things about John Otway's story is his mother Pat Otway, who I believe died in 2009.  

There's no mention of her on his Wikipedia entry or in his biography on his website.  Which is a real shame.  When me and the writer, Robert Chalmers, met her she was 86 but articulate and absolutely as bright as a button.  Whilst we were waiting for her son to arrive, she made us a cup of tea and spoke at some length about John's childhood.  She also told us about her time as a special needs teacher and her extensive experiences as a foster parent.

She was clearly one formidable woman.  And you didn't have to look far to see where John Otway got his sense of humour.  With a mum like her, one felt anybody would have been set up for life.  And at the time of our meeting, even though John Otway was living many miles away from his mother, she still seemed to be doing his laundry for him.

This is a link to Robert Chalmers excellent article -