60 Second Interview

Source: Ireland On Sunday

Writer: Patrice Harrington

Date: 05 Dec 2004

Waterford born singer songwriter and pianist Gilbert O'Sullivan, 58, rivalled Elton John in the 1970s, notching up No.1s on both sides of the Atlantic with hits such as "Clair", "Get Down" and "Alone Again (Naturally)."  During the late '80s and '90s, he carried on releasing albums and acquired a cult following in Japan.  Now O'Sullivan's new album, "The Berry Vest Of Gilbert O'Sullivan", is set to go platinum in Ireland.

Your Berry Vest Of album is selling very well here.

I know.  It's quite remarkable and likely to be my first success in Ireland.  Normally I sell more records in Mozambique!  Irish people say: 'Oh, we love you, sure you're one of us,' and I say: 'Oh yes?  And when did you last buy one of my records then?'  I've got scores of golden discs and platinum discs hanging on the walls of my mother's house - but not one from sales in Ireland.

Why is this album different?

Well, I went on the Gerry Ryan show complaining about my poor sales so perhaps people thought: 'We better buy the bloody thing, so'.

Are you looking forward to the tour?

Yes, because I haven't been in Belfast since 1978 and I haven't been to Killarney since I was a student with a tent, chasing girls.

What was it like, growing up in Waterford in the 1950s?

Well, I think it is a very special city but my family moved when I was just seven so I don't have many memories of living there.  I have plenty of memories of visiting family there, though.  My father worked in the slaughterhouse of the local meat factory and he was transferred to an abattoir in Swindon.  It was miserable work but there was more money to be made in England.

Is it true that your mother got so tired of you playing the piano that she moved it out into the garden shed?

There's a lovely truth in that.  We lived in a housing estate, there were six children in the family, we were working class - yet everyone had a piano.  My mother thought that if I learned it, I could play in a pub for money.  The house was small and cramped so the garden shed was a godsend.  There was only enough room for the piano and me and I spent hours there writing songs.

Did the neighbours ever complain?

Nobody ever complained, which is quite astonishing because there was no soundproofing.  There would be the occasional stones thrown on the roof at around 10pm.  I still have the shed with a piano in it - I keep it beside my recording studio.

Your album of last year, Pianoforeplay, has a naked redhead inside a piano on the front.  Did you design it?

Of course.  I work on every cover.  'Piano Foreplay' is a play on the word 'pianoforte'.  The piano is a Roller & Blanchet transposing upright piano from the 1860s.  It was actually made by a refrigeration company and opened out like a fridge door - so we just got a model to sit in the middle of it.

You had a No.1 in the US with Alone Again (Naturally).  Is it true that you can retire if you've had just one No.1 in the States?

It depends.  If all you care about is financial gain, then perhaps - but I didn't come into the music industry to gain money.  I'm not saying I don't like having it.  If I didn't receive a penny from my US No.1, I would still have been delighted with the achievement.  I mean, Robbie Williams and Ronan Keating - eat your heart out!

But Clair didn't quite make it?

No, No.2 - unfortunately, we released it at the same time Carly Simon released You're So Vain.

You wrote Clair about the daughter of your former manager, Gordon Mills.  Why?

I used to babysit for them.  I'm very family orientated and I spent a lot of time at their house.  I suppose I had had a father - son relationship with Gordon and I wrote the song as a thank you.

It must have been difficult when you had such a public falling-out with Mills.

It was devastating for his wife and children, for his mother, all of whom I was very close to.  Obviously they side with everything Gordon said so it was impossible for them to understand.  Gordon was the first person in management who ever looked straight and genuine to me, so to realise I was being conned was very hard.

 ended up in court to fight for your master tapes and copyrights.

Yes, the miserable experience of the courtroom.  I was so prepared to lose that my wife and I moved to Bunclody, Co. Wexford, to escape the furore in England.  But we won.

You also won a musical theft case in the early 1990s.  What was that experience like?

An American rap artist called Biz Markie - I suppose he would have been the Eminem of his day - used a sample of Alone Again on the opening bars of one of his songs.  He had not asked my permission and I did not like it so we asked him to remove it.  He refused - these rappers seem to be a law unto themselves.  Again, we had to endure the miserable experience of going to court.  Even though we won, the cost of taking a case like that in the US is incredible, even before you get to court.

You're big in Japan, right?

Everybody's big in Japan because they're fairly small!  Yes, as a matter of fact, since 1990, I've had a No.1 record there and a lot of very high profile commercials.