Gilbert: 'I'm no teeny idol'
Writer: Michael Ledgerwood
Date: 14 April 1973
Gilbert's a nice guy. He kept us waiting an age before appearing for the Press conference to herald his British and European concert tour - but patiently suffered the profusion of photographers that enveloped him the second he stepped through the door of the trendy Arts Theatre Club, round the corner from the Talk of the Town.
He wore a familiar "G" inscribed woollen jacket over a military-type navy shirt with "Gilbert O'Sullivan" flashes on the shoulders and letter "G" pins at the collar. As usual, he was smarter than your average pop star.
A quick gulp of water from the jug on the slightly raised dais from where he would give his audience, and he obliged cameramen with every pose from lighting an expensive cigar to pouring a pot of tea for a girl companion.
As the flood of photographers receded, Gilbert retired towards the bar for further shots, signing autographs on route.
Ultimately, the writers got a look-in, and the friendly Gilbert returned to his table to talk about topics ranging from his forthcoming international tour, through his amazing career high spots, to why he wouldn't submit songs for the "Eurovision Song Contest".
He kicked off with comment about the incredible "cover" versions he'd had on "Alone Again," his monster number one in America, and the song that brought him a "Grammy" nomination. "There have been dozens," he said. "Everybody from Johnny Mathis to Andy Williams to Ray Conniff...it's very complimentary from a writer's point of view. I think there've been over 150 versions altogether."
His smart attire - very police-like and only lacking a revolver on his hip - provoked a lot of comment. "The gun's next!" grinned Gilbert. Then seriously: "Most of the things I do, aside from song-writing, are things I like. I liked the 'schoolboy bit,' and I like this outfit; I had it specially made. It's a sort of sideline; when I'm fed up - I'll find something else. I've always liked badges."
Someone said that he seemed to be a more relaxed person these days; enjoying himself, unhampered by the hassles of super stardom. "To me, that's what success means," he said. "The pressure is off; you can please yourself a lot more. It's the same with recording - Gordon (Mills) has his own studio and we record when and how we like; and take much longer. Gordon's become a really great producer; I'm having less say on my records now, and that suits me. At the start, we used to disagree, but now his ideas match mine OK."
He said he was tired of hearing stories about how he was supposedly manipulated in his career by people like Mills. He was, actually, capable of making a lot of his own decisions.
"This conference today was done of my own volition," he explained. "I thought it was fair - not that you wanted to talk to me! - but I hadn't done interviews and the likes for a long time. The same applies to the photographers; we've always disallowed them". (Usually photographs of Gilbert have to be closely scrutinised and approved by the Mills camp before publication.)
A German lady journalist inquired about his objection to photographers shooting him while he's performing, and Gilbert explained that he finds their presence disconcerting and a hindrance. "...and besides that," he laughed "you can't see MY spots!"
He talked a while about his stage performance. I'd like to get up and move around more onstage; but I can't find anyone who plays like I do. You can't get anyone to knock the notes like I do," he said, hitting the table with his left hand like he does the piano keys. "I always miss the piano too; I get back to it as quickly as I can.
Was he, also, similarly shy of getting out and about, in the public eye? "I had a free ticket to see Lady Sings The Blues the other night; the midnight premiere. And I couldn't make up my mind. Then I thought, there'd be a lot of people there, and photographs...so I didn't go."
He was, he confessed, basically a very shy person. "Not too many people know much about me. I mean, I'm not a teen idol, not a Tom Jones...I don't know what I am. I'm 26, and past the teen bit. I'm sort of in the middle - a bit of everything."
His shyness he said, even extended to shopping. "I wait until all other customers have gone before I ask for what I want. And when I want underpants, or something like that - my mother gets them!"
Inevitably, talk got round to girls, and Gilbert explained how he has always been a prolific letter writer. "I always used to write to girls to ask them out. That way you could write what you feel, send it off - and not necessarily have to see them.
"I hate writing letters, but when I started my career I was always writing to managers and the like. I'd spend a week writing a real masterpiece sometimes. That's how I ended up with Gordon Mills. I wrote...and he replied."
I reminded him of the dinner date offer extended to him on behalf of Paul McCartney at the Disc awards last February. Had he got round to accepting?
"That was very nice; I was flattered. I mean, five years ago he was a big influence on me; I would have been over the moon. It's like I'd love to have met Cole Porter; who's now my idol. But then a dinner together might be a bit embarrassing, because I'd probably say everything I wanted to say in the first ten minutes."
"I'm just not a conversationalist. I'm a great daydreamer. I sit in the back of the car all the time, saying nothing. I look bored...but I'm not. So, if I'm on my own, people keep talking to me, because they think: 'He's looking bored!'
Talking of boredom, would he be watching the Eurovision Song Contest? Gilbert said he'd read somewhere a remark that writers like Elton John and Cat Stevens don't enter the contest. "maybe the reason I don't enter either," he offered, tactfully, "is that we'd be disappointed if our songs didn't get picked. But if the people who criticised the songs where the people who picked them - then I think I might enter. But then you have to accept that it's people like my mother who like the songs and vote for them...and that's why we don't enter. People like my mother are people who vote for Eurovision.