Has the time come for Gilbert O'Sullivan to let his hair down?
Writer: Andrew Tyler
Date: 4 March 1972
There are still a number of the early Ray O'Sullivan acetates floating around the business. The same recordings that used to be returned unopened by record and publishing houses. Yet despite the rejection slips there was a great deal of private raving going on.
I remember hearing a couple of 1967 recordings he’d made in his garden shed on a broken-up piano. Tony Hazzard, then with the Bron Organisation and currently pursuing his own solo career, had secured them from I don’t know where. Handing me back some tapes I had tried to flog him with a polite shake of the head he said there was something I had to hear.
Just Ray O’Sullivan in a shed with a piano and tape recorder. But it was pure magic. The strange phrasing. The way he’d fracture line when you weren’t expecting it. The tension in the chords and the voice that belonged to a faraway time and place.
Those ingredients are still evident in his new album. The songs, like the man, are 100 per cent originals. He writes about "Permissive Twit", the girl who didn’t take adequate precautions and “January Git” with lines like "whose mundane conjectural I’d recommend."
That’s all there but so is a lot more that smothers a precise, complete musical concept that should be presented with clarity and the minimum amount of fuss. Or in simple language: the arrangements get in the way of his music and so does his image. He has to be original. Agreed. Gilb refuses to be yet another hairy freak. But in his search for uniqueness he, or manager Gordon Mills, or both have concocted a ridiculous cardboard cut out figure that is totally at odds with the essential O’Sullivan and his music. And the Johnnie Spence arrangements are all part of the error in judgement.
The strings, horns and generally inhibited guitar work make musical sense. Spence in well versed in theory, harmony and runs a tight a band as anyone but Gilb is not Tom Jones or Andy Williams. He belongs to an entirely different age.
Nor is he a Blob with a banjo or a singing dustman. He's a consistently creative artist who takes his music seriously. He's also a portent of a new musical era his sorties into the comfortable past hint at a new sort of complacency.
After the bovver boys, bombings, skyjacks and accompanying aggressive music (even James Taylor is aggressive in a nihilistic way) we have Gilb, a comical, foot-shuffler; a care free, indifferent character belonging to neither Cole Porter, Pete Seeger nor John Lennon.
To coat the music he offers with a stale, sticky candy covering is a giant boob, so what does he need?. Very little, in fact. Sometimes just a piano. Sometimes just a guitar, Caleb Quaye, Henry McCulloch, Paul Kossoff or his own Jim Sullivan could work wonders. A forward thinking bassist and drummer.
If he wants brass how about something on the lines of Family's section or Ashton, Gardiner and Dyke's (Lyle Jenkins, John Mumford and Dave Caswell). Strings? He could get Jon Lord or Paul Buckmaster to help out.
Gilb belongs in the company of such artists. he says so himself. He simply doesn't want to be a carbon copy. But to isolate himself from the contemporary music scene and set up tent with Tom Jones and Engelbert can only lead to problems. The glossy surreal world they inhabit has little to do with music and Gilb, must know it.