The Clodhopper Boots Bhoyo!
Writer: Dick Tatham
Who is Gilbert? was the question which started a statement from CBS Records issued in November, 1967. It went on: "Is he a joke? Or just a gimmick? Or is he the
pioneer of a new sound?"
"Gilbert is 20. He wears an old-fashioned bobtail jacket. He has grey flannel, creaseless trousers at half mast. His grey shirt has the collar points turned up and is worn with a knitted school tie. He wears clodhopper boots. His hair looks as if it were styled with an up-turned pudding basin."
The statement had been put out to herald the release of Gilbert's first disc - the name, "Gilbert," having been thought of by disc producer Mike Smith for the shy, pale faced performer whose real name was Ray O'Sullivan.
The name of the disc was "Disappear" and was not a hit.
Gilbert wasn't too comfortable in his bedsit in Pembridge Villas. After a few months he moved to an upstairs one in Needham Road - just around the corner in the Notting Hill Gate area.
Not long after - having saved £10 - he went to a piano shop he had heard about in Barnes, near Hammersmith. They had an old upright for the right money. He remembers the delivery men struggling up the stairs with it and that he felt great when it was installed in a corner of the bedsit.
Gilbert had created the image with which he was to be launched into the pop scene. The clothes were inspired by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The pudding basin hairdo was from a newspaper picture Gilbert had once seen of two hungry-looking kids taken during the depression of the thirties.
Quick to realise Gilbert's possibilities was Bernie Andrews, producer of the BBC radio show "Top Gear". He booked the newcomer for two appearances. But little else happened and "Disappear" just disappeared.
In April, 1968 CBS released Gilbert's second disc: "What Can I Do?" It had a big backing with lots of brass. Gilbert felt it was the wrong treatment, but he was an unknown struggling performer. What could he do?
His second disc went the way of the first. The more he thought about it, the more he felt he had no future at CBS. But he had signed a five-year contract with them. Could he get out of it? And if so, what then?
Late in 1968 he decided to ask Mike Smith for his release. Seeing Mike wasn't easy. He was a busy, successful man and Gilbert was tied to his office job during the day.
He began going straight from work to the CBS offices in Theobald's Road, near King's Cross. There was usually someone in Mike's office till 9 p.m. For night after night Gilbert hung about till the office closed but no Mike appeared.
Then he showed up on evening and Gilbert poured out his tale of woe. He said he was fed up and couldn't see how he was going to get anywhere.
Mike was sympathetic and soon after CBS released Gilbert from his recording contract.
As the months of 1969 dragged past with nothing happening, Gilbert came to the conclusion that to get anywhere he needed a good manager.
He made a short list of people he thought would manage him well. It included Robert Stigwood, Paul McCartney and Gordon Mills.
"I wrote to Gordon first - early in 1970. I realised how much he had done for Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. If I hadn't been completely different from Tom and Engelbert I wouldn't have written to him."
Gilbert sent tapes and photographs of himself in the crazy gear.
Apparently Gordon Mills saw the photographs on the Saturday, and he burst out laughing, then he wondered what on earth someone who looked like that would sound like, so he played the tapes and liked what he heard.
On the Sunday morning there was a phone call for Gilbert from Gordon Mills personal assistant asking him to go to Weybridge to meet Mr. Mills the following day.
Gordon Mills wasn't at all what Gilbert had expected.
He was no fat, cigar-chewing impresario, but youthful, friendly and obviously with-it.
"Did you really write these songs? Just you on your own?" he asked.
Gilbert assured him this was so.
"Then I think we should keep closely in touch. But I don't want to rush into signing an agreement. let's wait till we're both sure it's the right move."
So Gilbert carried on with his office job and began making frequent visits to Weybridge.
He soon realised that, for Gordon Mills, it was not enough to know the songs on the tapes and demo discs were Gilbert's own. Gordon also wanted to be sure he could carry on dreaming up songs of this class.
Six months had passed when Gordon phoned one evening and said, "I think it's time we took some important decisions about your future."
TO BE CONTINUED.....