Back on the road with a mix of new and old

Gilbert O'Sullivan. Photo contributed.
Gilbert O'Sullivan. Photo contributed.

BACK in 1972, Glam Rock was making its presence felt and the first stirrings of Osmondmania were in evidence, but the top selling UK artist in the world of that year was a young man dressed in boots with a cloth-cap and pudding-basin haircut.

Gilbert O’Sullivan cut a strange figure sitting at a piano singing his personal, autobiographical songs.

“I’ve no idea why those particular songs seem to be more successful,” he tells me from his home in Jersey, where he has lived for two decades.

“They’re just songs; I don’t analyse everything I do – that’s up to the audiences.

“But, I do take my writing very seriously. I reflect the way people talk, and even though I’m Irish, I’m a very English songwriter in the way I observe things.”

His latest album, Gilbertville, was released last year and was hailed as one of his finest, leading to a re-appraisal of his work, and as part of a reissue campaign, A Singer and his Songs – The Very Best of Gilbert O’Sullivan was released on March 5.

And he is also touring with an 11-piece band, which includes a string quartet, throughout March and April.

Gilbert first appeared on the charts at the end of 1970 with the Top Ten hit Nothing Rhymed, this after having been a songwriter for CBS Records for a number of years during which he wrote songs for The Tremeloes. His next Top Ten hit came a year later (after a couple of medium hits) with No Matter How I Try.

Alone Again (Naturally) was a US chart-topper and he topped the British charts with Clair and Get Down. 1973 also saw him gain two Ivor Novello Awards for Best Song (Get Down) and Best Songwriter. But it was his unique image that made us sit up and listen to his songs.

“The image was my idea,” he explains. “In all honesty, the inspiration behind it was The Beatles. When they came on the scene, they looked different.

“In those days, to be a singer, you had to look good and that meant long hair, but I rallied against that. I had it all planned, the haircut, the clothes, everything.”

He was signed by Gordon Mills at the MAM Agency.

Gilbert continues: “Nobody liked the image, but Gordon knew that success would come through the songs, but if he had said that he didn’t want the image I would have walked.”

Summing up, he states simply: “The contract between the looks and the music worked. I was never really interested in looks, but I am proud of what I achieved.”

A couple of years went by and Gilbert did indeed eventually change his image and became a reluctant heart-throb.

For the tour, he says that the new album will not over-shadow the concert.

“Even though I’m still promoting Gilbertville, and will be up until July, the show – which will last about two and a half hours – will be an all-round mix of my career.”

He continues: “We’ll play 35 or 36 songs which will contain all the well-known songs, some album tracks and new stuff.

“We also usually play Can’t Think Straight, which I recorded with Peggy Lee. It’s the only duet I have ever done, and we show the video as a back-drop.”

This is in fact, the second part of the UK tour, which began last year, and Gilbert is really looking forward to playing live again.

“I’m playing in a few places that we haven’t done before and what’s really enjoyable about it is seeing and meeting the people who are interested in my music,” he adds.

l Gilbert O’Sullivan will be appearing at Buxton Opera House on Wednesday March 28, at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £25.50 and £27.50, are available on 0845 127 2190 or at www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk.