No Longer Forgotten
Source: De Telegraaf [The Netherlands]
Writer: Jean-Paul Heck
Date: 24 March 2008
Gilbert O’Sullivan – icon of the seventies – never stopped writing songs.
JERSEY – It was a sign of life: the message that Gilbert O’Sullivan will give one concert in The Netherlands in May. What has happened with the man who had a number of hits in the early seventies with beautiful, charming songs like Nothing Rhymed, Clair and Alone Again (Naturally)? After that it became quiet and O'Sullivan only was in the news when he once again had won a court case against a manager, another artist or a record company. The Irish born singer has lived on the Channel Island of Jersey for many years. There the 61 year old hermit tells his fascinating story.
Once you are on Jersey you would forget that super stars like Justin Timberlake, Elton John and former Smiths-singer Morrisey are big fans of O'Sullivan. It is a rainy day when his brother Kevin – 2 years younger – drives the Dutch visitors over the island. Kevin is a cheerful looking Irishman who has assisted his successful brother for over 35 years.
We drive via a little village called St. Brelade towards the west coast of the island, where we see a beautiful farmhouse. Jersey is the home of many wealthy people. In the garden a shabby shed catches our eyes more than the enormous swimming pool and the two tennis courts.
When entering his house the distintive head of Gilbert O' Sullivan is everwhere in the design in the house. Paintings, cushions, handmade vases and tapestries, all with the head of the man of the house on them. The real version has locked himself up in the working room upstairs. He Immediately he jumps up when the Dutch visitors enter his 'holy place'. "Here I spend the most part of my life. Writing songs, playing piano, and listening to music…"
That is obvious. All over the place there are piles of CDs on the ground, with small paper notes on them. "I'm a very organised person. Everything I do in music is on tape. O'Sullivan looks for the reaction of his visiters. He has just passed sixty, but at first sight he seems to have not changed a bit. He seems to have more hair then ever before and his long skinny body is wearing a sweater of angora wool.
The shy man, who always avoided media, occurs to be a prudent speaker. "Once I received a nomination for a Grammy and very reluctantly I attended the Ceremony. I am completely anti-social and my wife still has huge problems with that. She tries to take me to several social events on this island. In vain…"
Then he rises and walks to the small room. "Here are the tapes of all the songs I have written in the last few years. Last year I released my last CD 'Scruff At Heart' , it was a great success in Japan. It is a pity that the cd wasn’t released in your country." He sighs deep. Holland has always been precious to him. "In the seventies I even lived in the village of Blaricum for a couple of months with a very good female friend from Eindhoven. A special period." That was in the middle of the glorious days of this Irish born but English risen minstrel.
A glorious time that – also according to the man himself – passed away too fast. The ballad Nothing Rhymed meant his breakthrough in 1970 and after that more hits followed like the earlier mentioned songs but also Get Down and Matrimony. "It was a nice time, but sometimes also difficult, because the media often did not take me seriously. I had carefully chosen that image of the 'Bisto Kid', a boy of the thirties, with short hair, flat cap and short trousers but they didn’t understand it at all. It was the glorious times of the hippies with long hair and colourful clothing, while I seem to have run out of a book of Charles Dickens."
That O'Sullivan hardly had hits anymore, according to him, mainly had to do with the upcoming of rock and more expressive patriots like David Bowie and Elton John. "They were trendy while I wasn't. My image didn’t help me in this."
We don't have to feel pity for the musician. In 1982 he got five million pounds when he won a court case against his former manager Gordon Mills. "Gordon has been very important for my career and I have even written a song for his daughter Clair. Nowadays I even have contact with her and Gordon’s widow again. The eighties was a difficult period for me."
Because of these troubles O'Sullivan is known in the trade as a difficult person. Ofcourse I first sued my manager and then the record company and later on with Rapper Biz Markie (he sampled Alone Again against the permission of O'Sullivan). I won all these lawsuits, but you do not win a popularity contest with that. Nevertheless I'm one of the few artists from the seventies that own his own songs."
The pop-millionaire is a real hermit who – together with his Norwegian wife Aase – chooses for the intimacy of Jersey and his family. "My two daughters live in London and besides my brother Kevin also a sister of mine goes with me on tour, to sell t-shirts and CDs."
O’Sullivan refuses to accept that his fans in Europe buy tickets for nostalgic reasons only. "Nonsense. Almost every year I make a new album and I dare say that I – in contrast to many other major singer-songwriters – make music nowadays that is better than my old ones. Unfortunately is doesn't sell and that's a pity."
"It is great when people cover my songs, but they are not meant to be misused by others. I have rejected offers for half a million dollars, when they wanted to use a song for a commercial."
For just a second he is angry but then he walks to the window and points out to the earlier observed shed. "Do you see that old shed over there? It stood in our back garden in Swindon once. My first piano just fitted in. In that shed I wrote my biggest hits."
According to him these hits will be played in Carré. "I come to Amsterdam with a band of eleven people and even take with me a string quartet to have my songs sound as good as possible."
"Definitely we are going to play all the known songs and during the show there will be all kinds of old pictures of me on a large screen."
For a second he's quiet and then puts his long piano fingers on his wrist. "To tell the truth, I can only really express myself on stage. Only then all my inhibitions disappear. Crazy, isn't it?
THANKS: HANS NEUHAUS & ROB van der VAART