Has Gilbert Tried Too Much Too Soon?

Source: New Musical Express

Writer: Alan Smith

Date: 1971

Another week ticks by and all the signs are that Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Blanket" single could perhaps be resting just a little bit too long in the laundry.

Or - to put it bluntly - has Hot Pants O'Sullivan gone and done it?  Has his follow up to "Nothing Rhymed" failed ...and will Gilbert end up as a one-hit wonder?

"Underneath The Blanket Go" is a musically adventurous and complex second single after the easy pathos of "Nothing Rhymed" and it may well be, of course, that these are the very reasons why the customers have been slow to take to it in spite of heavy plugging.

Analysed, it's a safe bet that the O'Sullivan appeal lies somewhere between the simple fact of his ability and a clown playing Hamlet.  But instead of opting for the safety of another emotive ballad based on an expected formula, he's decided to show us he's capable of wider horizons.

In commercial terms I suspect this may appear that Gilbert may well have tried too much, too soon and I hope I'm wrong.  But the man will never be so insignificant a talent as to be a one-hit wonder - and I know I'm right.

He is himself philisophical about the possibility of a miss this time after his previous enormous success - "Nothing Rhymed" went to No. 7 and we talked about it when I met him (and he wore a duffle coat, school tie, big boots and all) for lunch in a sophisticated London restaurant the other day.

He told me "Whether this record is a hit or not, I won't regard it as the end of my career.  Maybe I'll be a one-hit O'Sullivan for a while, but this is only one of many songs I've written, and there are plenty of others I could choose from.

"If all I'd ever done was here, wrapped up in one song, then it would be a different matter.  But I'm not all wrapped up in one song."


"I don't get depressed by the idea of a record not happening.  I love the whole chart scene but a record failing, as wellas been critised, would only depress me if I wasn't totally sure about a song myself.  If I am 150 per cent happy myself, then I couldn't care less about criticism.

"Looking back back there are probably one or two thing about the new single that could have been different, but not enough to concern me.  I have a lot of faith in Gordon Mills' judgement and what he says goes.  I certainly like this new single as a single.  I'd describe it as a vocal instrumental and it's definitely typical of me in a lyrical sense.  Do you like the tiddly piano bits?  They're done on the record by Rick Davies, a friend of mine who is in Supertramp."

Some ideas of the varied O'Sullivan composing abilities will be on view on his first album, due out shortly, which he describes simply and modestly as "a collection of songs with the instrumentation pretty basic."

On the new Tom Rush album he's written "Came To See Me Yesterday In The Merry Month Of" and he says his own collection will have "possibly more romantic sounds" than his current single.

"They're all different though," he told me..."Some funny, some fast, some melancholy, some awful..."

Suddenly "Do you know I've got four pianos at home, all broken.  It's the way I play; I find it very easy to break them...I knock the hell out of them.  I could get through one a week.  One collapsed with sheer force."

"I've got a room with all these old pianos in - I love the old uprights.  I can' stand these modern things - and eventually I hope to have a dozen.

"I don't like to chuck my pianos away, because it' nice to look at a particular one ah, that's the one I composed so-and-so on."

Life remains a genuinely un-flash thing for O'Sullivan, and one of the few material things he's bought himself since coming into the public eye has been...a duffle coat.

This duffle coat, did, however, only serve to underline for him just how disappointing he finds it when trying to improve his sartorial appearance.

"I bought this nice new duffle coat for 14," he says (with some pain in his voice).  "And then I got all the way home and found a tear in it.  I had to take it all the way back to the shop.

"But there's one thing...there's one thing.  Right now I'm mad about wearing a knicker-bocker suit like in the film 'The Great Imposter.'  I'd like that it's nice to be different."