Gilbert In Grey Flannel

Source: Melody Maker

Writer: Roy Hollingworth

Date:  1970

There comes a time in every man's life when he needs a good length of grey flannel, gob-stoppers, inky fingers and rotters chasing young ladies.

When this man Gilbert O'Sullivan pushed his lemonade aside, eyed up my ginger beer, and adjusted a painful pair of braces, I cursed the bullies in the office for giving me this task...but wait.

O'Sullivan is in fact extremely silly - to look at, but that's the whole point of it you see, because you do look.  But otherwise he ain't silly.  He turned out to be intelligent, obsessed by his love for music, old pianos, vintage stool, bus tickets and elastic bands.

He speaks quickly, almost as though he wants it all off his chest.  The smallish mouth curls the words into a pretty Irish accent, smoothed a little by London.  He was a longhair a couple of years back, did  a couple of Peel shows in fact.  If I can get round it in a few words, he's not what he actually seems.  He is a self-confessed gimmick, but a gimmick with a foundation of solid music.

"Everything is going to plan" says O'Sullivan.  "People can be as stupid as they like in this business, as long as they have something to back them up.  People say I'm pathetic, well that's great as long as they'll give my music a listen, and appreciate that for being serious and honest.  Try and compare me to Tiny Tim, and it won't work because he's stupid and silly throughout.  I mean I do come out with good songs, straight ballads, and you can waltz even to the single.  Waltzing is great really.  The reason I did all this, short-trousers, short-hair bit was to get to as many eyes and ears as possible  This is where people like James Taylor and Elton John have failed - they still quite truthfully have a minority audience - that I don't want.  But the image isn't totally false.  I love a length of grey flannel, I like tartan socks, so I feel I'd dress like this anyway.  I did this on my own accord, the minute someone turns round and tells me what to do wear - then the time will be to go."

Gilbert scratched the back of his neck and his pipe dropped off the table.  "I'm getting through you see.  Take the Beatles, I dug them 40 per cent for their music and 60 per cent for the image.  There has only really been the Beatles in that line, the Stones were quite normal really.  I now have the best management anyone could ever wish for, and I'm givin 10 a week to spend on piano strings and bottles of milk.  I have no other interests in life except music.  Woman don't interest me, I just sit in my room and write all day."

"All it has meant to me to earn more money is that I now have four pianos.  I wouldn't want a Rolls because I like walking.  Truthfully the single out at the moment is maybe the only song I've ever written.  What I mean by that is I can judge when something's good or bad, that was maybe my first good song - so it was released - and the people like it don't they?"