Will Gilbert's Old Magic Ever Work Again?
Source: Daily Express
Writer: Garth Pearce
Date: 28 November 1977
Gilbert O'Sullivan knows that he has to pick himself up off the floor and come out fighting.
Every record he has put out these last 18 months has flopped and suddenly the one-time hit maker is on the defensive.
He led in last week with his first album for three years, aptly named "Southpaw", knowing that failure could doom him to showbusiness's vast outer space.
"It is the biggest fear of my life," says O'Sullivan, who refuses to display any of his gold or silver discs on his walls.
"No one can be creative looking backwards," he says. "And if I don't write as well as I used to, it's not for want of trying."
"When my single releases get turned down by the B.B.C. no one can help but me. I wrote the words, I wrote the music and, in fact, I even produced them. I get depressed for a couple of hours and maybe even a night. But I wake up the next day and carry on. That's how it will always be until a record clicks."
"In showbusiness they give you a chance, but they don't let it last for long. You can be discovered in the morning and gone in the afternoon."
Looking out on the perfectly rolled lawns of his £200,000 Surrey home, sipping China tea, and munching buttered toast, it is easy to observe that perhaps such success has softened his writing edge.
He was living in a pokey bed-sit in London's Notting Hill Gate, going to bed in his overcoat rather than pay for heating, when he wrote his first hit "Nothing Rhymed" in 1970.
"I would like to think that money has not stunted my writing," he says. "But you have to be honest with yourself."
"If you come from nothing and make a lot then, surely, it has got to change you.
"Yet having a £1,000 tape recorder to use for demonstration songs is not going to help me more than one which costs £25.
"You can reach millions of people through your work, but the big houses and flash cars just come and go."
O'Sullivan, 31 on December 1, was hailed as one of the most exciting singer/songwriters of the seventies with a salvo of hits like "Clair" and "Alone Again (Naturally)"
He was part of the Gordon Mills stable, which managed butch superstars like Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. But he could hardly be further removed from their image.
"I can entertain capacity audiences at concerts for hours on end and appear on my own television shows watched by millions," he says.
"Yet if just three of those people got in a lift with me afterwards and started talking to me, I would freeze up with fright.
"I even do my own shopping at night, with my brother Kevin kerb-crawling in the car a few yards behind.
"I select what I want from the window displays and he picks them up the next day. It's better than me getting tongue-tied when I have to deal with shop assistants.
"I know that in this business I am treated as odd," he says. "Some people think I'm homosexual, living alone at my age and never being seen with girlfriends.
"I am in love with one girl [a Norwegian blonde he has known for five years] and don't need to go around with others just to prove a point."
He does not drink alcohol or smoke. He never swears. And he walks to church on a Sunday because he has never learned to drive the three cars he owns.
He visits his mother in Swindon virtually every week. She and his late father moved with Gilbert's five brothers and sisters from Waterford, Ireland, when he was nine.
"Quite the most striking thing about him is he has kept a genuine warmth and humility in a profession which all too often strips them away.
"I suppose the mystery occurs about me because I am basically an extremely shy person, but I would do anything for my career," he says.
"I will grab somebody by the throat if it means that I will get something that I want. I can hustle as hard and as bad as anyone."
He plans his first major tour in two years next February, with 22 concert dates, when he will be presenting "just songs, my piano, and me."
"I want the audiences to get over any pre-conceived ideas of me and enjoy the music.
"You see," he added, "the ultimate would be for me to be the most successful artist in the world but remain the most private."