Home Again Naturally

Source: The Evening Herald

Writer: Paul Byrne

Date: 10 Oct 2008

It was more than 40 years ago that Gilbert O'Sullivan released his very first single, Disappear.  Having moved, along with his family, from his native Waterfords to Swindon, Wiltshire, at the age of 13, the young graphic design student Raymond Edward O'Sullivan got his first taste of success when The Tremeloes covered two of his early compositions, You and Come On Home, prompting CBS to take a gamble on his own What Can I Do in 1969.

Three flop singles later, and O'Sullivan was without a record contract, and decided that a gimmick might be in order.  A gimmick like eh, dressing up as a Bisto Kid, with attitude and a grand piano.

Gordon Mills [Factual correction made to original article], manager to Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, was impreddes.  And, pretty soon, so was the great record-buying public.

"And that's when everything changed," the 61-year old says today.  "The next single was Nothing Rhymed, which went top 10 in the UK.  It wasn't too long aftyer that that Alone Again (Naturally) became this massive hit all over the world, staying at No.1 in the US for six weeks.  "Thankfully, the schoolboy outfit had gone by that stage..."

Yep, otherwise, today Gilbert O'Sullivan and AC/DC's Angus Young might just be fighting it out down behind the bicycle sheds over who's got the biggest ruler.

Not that it was all plain sailing back in those golden years.  After five years of international success with 13 hit singles, O'Sullivan ended up taking Mills to court over unpaid royalties and an unfair recording contract.  Eventually, the court found in O'Sullivan's favour, and he walked away with 7m.  And a career that stalled for much of the 1980s and 1990s.  The success of a compilation album in 2004 finally pushed the reclusive singer/songwriter back into the public eye.

His latest single [Factual correction made to original article], Never say Di, was released in July, and talking to the man in his Jersey home, it's clear he's happy to be back.

"Well you know, I've been happily married for many, many years, with two grown-up daughters, so that's the writer in me, the lyricist, looking into that situation, and hopefully coming up with a good lyric.  You don't have to necessarily experience these things to write about them in a positive way," says O'Sullivan.

Given his battles in this industry he has every reason [Typing correction made to original article], not to be in love with this business.

Many artists from the 60s and 70s are still going strong, some even manage not to be nostalgia acts, and it seems important to O'Sullivan to keep on making new music.

"Because I write exactly the same way as I have always done; by the piano, with a cassette recorder, as opposed to a reel-to-reel, nothing has changed.  Technology doesn't make it any easier, or more difficult, or any different.

"As a writer you feel as if you're 20 years old.  You have that enthusiasm.

"As a person, you're 60-odd years of age, and there's no denying that you've got all the baggage that goes with that.  And a lot of thatbaggage is the perception people have of you.

"There's the difficulty you have trying to get radio play because you're history.  Well that's a nice challenge.  I like the fact that I write songs and still enjoy doing it.

"I like the fact that  I get to create something new again and again, but I have no ide haow it's going to sell.

"And I don't lose any sleep over how or why it might be successful. I just like doing what I'm doing, and the great thing about our business is, it's so unpredictable, you never know what's around the corner.


O'Sullivan turned 60 in 2006, a fact perhaps reflected by the line "Mirrors never lie/Let's not go there".

"Well, as a person, you're conscious of it, but I wouldn't lose any sleep about it. There was a song planned for the last album, I Love Being Old, but I never got around to recording it. "

Was he too tired?

"Probably. I can do that one anytime though [laughs]. From a songwriting point of view, I can no longer write about being young and in love and about myself. I put myself into a situation where I'm writing about someone else being young and in love. I have to go third person now.

"I can write about young romance from a lyricist's point of view, from a distance, but I actually like writing songs about being old. About growing old disgracefully.

"I think it's important that, when we bought songs by Dylan, Ray Davies and The Beatles back in the 60s, we related to them because they sang about life from the perspective of someone our age back then.

"And there's no reason that you can't have that with someone who's 60 too. It's not all about youth culture. And Dylan does it; he wrote about a near-death situation that he had.

"That makes the next period of writing actually interesting. Despite the fact that you can't run as fast as you could, and you have to watch your health, you know, so what. . ?"

O'Sullivan made his live debut in Dublin's National Stadium back in 1972 - would he still get stagefright, 36 years later?

"I'm basically shy by nature. It's the cliche that you can play to 2,000 people, and have the time of your life, and then you could meet four of them in a lift afterwards, and just clog up.

"The nervousness comes in the preparation really. Once you're happy with the set, with the sound, the line-up, it usually falls away once you're up there onstage.

"I guess the nervousness is there too because of the number of words I've got to remember. I'm not going to go the teleprompter route just yet. As you put in the new material, that adds another few layers of lyrics.

"One thing I like to do is cover my own songs -- I like to take a well-known song of my own, and come up with a new interpretation. That way, it keeps it interesting for the audience.

"And for me too. . ."