11:00 - 17 April 2002

Gilbert O'Sullivan is a little bit like losing 20 quid.


Having rediscovered it after a while, it puts a smile back on your face.

Although the Jersey-based Irishman has been out of mainstream public consciousness for a long time, there's no denying he's a fine tunesmith. 

He's written some classic songs and is still knocking out some strong material.

Gilbert's stage show may lack a bit of panache, but he still looked good at 55, dressed in black and blue livery, and had that lyric-laden, breathless, nasal-voiced charm about him.

He had two pianos at the front of the stage, one for his trademark choppy style, the other for the echo-type effect numbers, and behind him was his 'orchestra'. That's Mick Parker, backstage right, with a keyboard from which emanated everything from a brass section, guitar lead and flute solos to mouth-organ breaks et al. And he had an accordion.

Two backing singers, whose hips must ache after non-stop swaying through two halves and an encore, made up the troupe.

Although the star of the show had some good new ideas - his "Water Music" for voice and 'washboard' backing from the new album "Irlish" was received well - it was the hits from his golden era in the early 70s which inevitably warmed up the assembled 200.

Three numbers in, he delivered "Nothing Rhymed", his breakthrough song, and followed up with "No Matter How I Try" and "We Will".  After a few album tracks it was "Clair", his biggest British hit.  Gilbert's a bit of a contradiction - a 'shy' man who talks a lot, an 'English writer' who uses Irish, African, Cajun and Latin styles, and, with "Alone Again (Naturally)", can write affecting lyrics and add to them almost nursery rhyme-style music.

But it works, and there's no denying he's dedicated to his art.  If he didn't keep banging on about ageism in music - mentioning Winifred Atwell and forgetting he'd been to Grimsby before was a sign of age perhaps - people might forget it's well over 20 years since his last big hit.

It obviously rankled. A lyric on his new album, picked out for the big print treatment, went: 'You can't make music at your age/unless of course it's dung/well **** to those who take that view/especially if they're young'.

He may have a point. We should have respect for a man who will go down as a great singer-songwriter, but you can't beat the system, or the tide of youth, or the music business.

Gilbert went walkabout for "Who Was It?", a hit for Hurricane Smith, and kept it upbeat to the end of the show.

He was back for a burst of "Matrimony" and a double-length version of "Get Down".

And with some of his fans up and grooving, and a standing ovation to follow, he proved he had still got some dedicated fans after all these years.

- Simon Blow