Hit Squad Campaign History
microphone-destroyer, John Otway, bludgeoned his
way into the national charts in 1977 with Cor Baby, That's
Really Free. Since bemusing the nation with his Top of the Pops performance
of the song, he's issued many more singles, but has consistently failed to chart
again. Rarely off the road, entertaining his tribe of loyal fans, Otway, has
in fact, carved himself a career out of being 'Rock and Roll's greatest failure',
as he is titled on the front cover of his 1990 autobiography, Cor Baby, That's
In a Radio Four programme, Otway competed with Les Payne, ironically another Buckinghamshire muso, as to which of them was the least successful. It's uncertain as to whether this contest was about who was the greatest failure, or who most excelled at being a failure. Otway had a chart entry, which might be considered a disadvantage over Les in the failure stakes, but it has to be said that Les has never been as spectacularly unsuccessful as the skinny mega-failure.
Right: Otway gives Theramin
therapy to his audience.
However, Otway came
dangerously close to stardom in 1999. His lyrics for 'Beware of the Flowers',
the 'B' side of The Hit, were voted in at number seven in a BBC poll to find
the nation's favourite song lyric - above Bob Dylan!
Seen on BBC 2's Never Mind The Buzzcocks on the 'pick the former chart-hitting pop star from this bizarre line-up' section, Otway writes:
when I'd started to think that the chances of me having another chart single
were receding along with my hairline, the e-mail group that bought me a Theremin
for my 47th Birthday decided that for my 50th next year, (October 2nd) they
would get me a special present. Another Hit!
London venue, probably the London Palladium, is being booked for Sunday October
6th 2002 for a gig starting at 8:00pm, an hour after the chart is announced
on Radio 1 - to celebrate the fact that 25 years after my one hit, I now have
It is certainly an achievable goal and one that I intend to score. I know what I'm getting for my birthday, I've felt the parcel and, as I've had one before, I know what it feels like. It doesn't in anyway spoil the excitement or the surprise though, because I've no idea how big it's going to be and won't know until my birthday."
Let's start at the very
end; that's a very good place to start. John's so sure we can give him another
hit for his 50th birthday that he's booked the London Palladium for the night
of Sunday 6 October, 2001, for an extra special 'Celebration of the Second Hit'
gig. We're hoping we can persuade the chart show presenter to come on stage
at the Palladium to announce just how big a hit John got. We're shooting for
a number one, which might sound ambitious, but the number one single in October
2000 sold only just over 60,000 copies, so it should be do-able.
Very early on, John obtained a full and complete copy of the chart rules and scrutinised it minutely. This was a very worthwhile exercise because it clarified the eligibility of things he hadn't even thought of as well as the things he had.
John set himself the task of writing four new songs for fans to choose from for the hit. The plan is that eventually we will be asked to vote for three out of a selection of twelve songs to go on the hit single. The twelve songs will be made up of four brand new ones, four rerecordings and four original recordings. John completed the words to the first song - Bunsen Burner - in May 2001. It's been going down a storm at gigs ever since, but as far as I know the tune hasn't been unleashed yet.
A press pack has been prepared and a proper PR schedule drawn up, volunteer local area co-ordinators have been recruited, and a dedicated HIT website has been created by Xav. Anyone can submit articles to otnews, or even just comment on existing articles, and many excellent promotional ideas and suggestions have come in this way. One of the great things about the Otway fanbase is that we have volunteer 'hit-elves' as far afield as Singapore, Australia and the USA, so this is a truly international effort which makes it all look hyper-cool and underlines John's cult status rather stylishly.
Lots of lovely, offbeat ideas for publicity have come in through both Otnews and the Otway hit discussion group, including:
Otway and fans conducting a 'beer research programme' for Radio 4
Possibly playing Land's End and John O'Groats on the same day
John appearing at HMV London on release day
Huge vertical banners showing John sitting on top of a Number 1
The production and sale
of Otway's Hit Squad T-shirts, shown here enhancing the body of a glamorous
male model, was organised by Patsy. All proceeds (after costs) went to the hit
John's excitement really started to build around the time of his 49th birthday in October 2001, with only one year to go before his next hit. As he'd been saying for quite some time that he'd always fancied playing bagpipes, the Hit Squad bought him some for his birthday. His bagpipe playing probably isn't quite up to the standard of the First Battalion of Scots Guards (yet), but who can tell? John is surely the only man to play bagpipes and a Theremin in live rock performances, not to mention a scooter and a two-headed guitar...
As number one pop stars are not usually to be seen making multiple trips along railway station platforms lugging guitars, amps, Theremin, overnight bag, bagpipes, scooter etc., John has persuaded Jon Padget to give up his day job and join him and Richard on the road as a full-time roadie. Jon did ask for time to think about it before deciding: I gather the time required was half a nanosecond.
Whilst John and Richard were thundering up and down the country on the Naughty Rhythms tour picking up lots of new fans, lots of old fans were busy recording cover versions of Otway songs for a tribute CD. Patsy is collecting all the recordings together, and the CD should be on sale before too long. As with the T-shirts, all proceeds will go towards the hit fund.
There was an idea floated some time ago to set up an Internet radio station playing pre-recorded programmes of Otway music, but nothing has actually been done about this yet. If anyone knows how to do it and fancies having a go, please contact the Hit Squad.
MP3s will be produced of all the 12 songs in the HIT selection. They will be accessible through Otnews, and a poll will be set up on the site to vote for the lead track and the two subsidiary tracks.A superb idea for the Palladium is to invite people whose songs John has covered to make a guest appearance at this gig, possibly even duet with Otway. This could therefore turn into a thoroughly stellar gig with cameos from Tom Jones, David Bowie, Rolling Stones etc. Of course, they might all say "sod off" in which case John will just have to do their songs by himself.
NEWSLETTER, JUNE 2002
Otway writes: Please note new address for the next few hectic months. I've got Richard Cotton's office to help me out: John Otway Interzone Management, Interzone House, 74 -77 Magdalen Road, OXFORD OX4 1RE
Firstly, can I
thank all of you who turned up to Abbey Road? What an incredible day!
You were all magnificent and the track sounds fabulous. We were concerned
as to how the studio would react to our 900-piece choir, but they enjoyed
it almost as much as we did. We now have a great Hit B-side.
I have gone out on a limb on this, I have insisted that the Hit is chosen by a ballot. My reason being that I don't trust anyone else to pick my Hit and I certainly don't trust myself to. I've been astonished by the amount of mistrust people have in the fairness of this ballot. I originally thought that I would collate the votes myself, until I realised that the number of knowing winks I received was approximately equivalent to the number of people I told. I suggested various other alternative honourable souls who I imagined could be given the job, only to discover that they had received various calls suggesting a spot of rigging. Honestly, hardly anyone believes me that I'm going to go ahead with a fair democratic vote! So, in order that the choice is made correctly, I've insisted that we use the Electoral Reform Society, who specialise in professional and fair vote counting - they did Big Brother and The Brits, for instance.
YOUR VOTE FOR THE HIT
How it will work: A selection of tracks, probably around 12, will be compiled onto a specially-produced voting CD. Anyone who wants to will be able to apply for one of these CDs, which will include an Official Voting card. These will be sent out to those people who have applied for a vote around the last week in June. There will then be around two weeks to decide which track is the biggest hit and return it to the ERS. The track with the most votes is the one that will grace the charts on October 6th. We've costed out the ballot and CDs and reckon that we can break even on the CD, the voting and the postage for a fiver per CD. I hope this is OK, as we looked at various other options, but this seems the most sensible way.
It has been pointed out that the arguments over which song is the Hit will inevitably lead to several divorces. I would be grateful if those couples involved make themselves known so we can use this information for the publicity campaign.
The Hit Announcement - The FREE Astoria Show:
We have planned for the Vote to close in mid-July and then, on the 27th July we have booked the London Astoria for a Free show - a "Eurovision-style" Hit announcement spectacular which we're calling "Judgement Day". Richard Holgarth, the band and I thought it would be great fun to have a huge free party to finally announce the results of the vote and the choice of what song is to be the Hit.
We'll do the free tickets for this in the same way we did for the Really Free gig a few years ago. If you want to come, just send us a stamped addressed envelope with details of however many tickets you want. to : John Otway Interzone Management, Interzone House, 74 -77 Magdalen Road, OXFORD OX4 1RE
There's no limit on the number you ask for, but please don't ask for more than you know you are going to use? And do please come if you can - I'm working on some very special guests to make the evening great entertainment. I want to use the event to show the media and all those involved with the manufacture and distribution of the record how serious we are about the Hit.
As part of our campaign I've managed to get Crouch Vale brewery to brew a beer called "OTWAY'S NEXT HIT" The plan is to get as many pubs as possible to have it as a guest beer. If you can persuade your local to stock this fine ale, the publican should contact Crouch Vale on 01245 322744.
And finally, congratulations to all of you involved in the web-site www.otnews.net in getting half-a-million hits. If you haven't visited it yet it's a great informative and fun site with an on-line game "Otopoly" the point of which is to get the hit to number one without going bankrupt. It's good practice for something we're all going to have to do for real very shortly!
This whole project is now thundering away brilliantly More news very soon.