Gilbert : He'll Hang Up School Uniform If The Knockers Don't Stop

Source: New Musical Express

Writer: Gordon Coxhill

Date: 1971

For sale.  One rather tatty image comprising grey school uniform, pair of bovver boots and cap to match.  Must go.  Owner cheesed off with constant snide remarks and refusal to take him seriously by music industry.

To be fair to Gilbert O'Sullivan - and let's own up he has been fair with us - he is not putting his Dennis The Menace outfit up for auction, at least not yet a while.  Not if the knocking stops in time.

"I'm getting annoyed about all the knocking," says Gilbert hereafter to be known in this feature as Ray because it is his real name and he is a very real person.

"Look.  I've been totally honest about my image yet still people write and say that it is a contrived thing and that I'll drop the uniform as soon as I can safely afford to."


"Because Gordon Mills is my manager they think it has all been a gloriously successful publicity stunt.  God, how often have I explained why I dress the way I do."

For the benefit of those who still haven't heard, Ray see his gimmicky clobber as his ice-breaker.  "No matter who you are," he once told me, "there is always tension between the performer and the audience.

"I hope by appearing like this the audience will burst out laughing as soon as I come on.  Then we can dispense with that slow painful getting to know you process that can eat up half a concert."

I believe him anyway.

"These guys with their faded jeans and long hair, the ones who are seemingly acceptable.  Are they being totally honest?  Are they dressing the way they want to or because they feel better - safer looking like everyone else?

"No I'm not discarding the school uniform right now but if the criticism keeps up and I consider my career could suffer, then I'll think of something else.  Do you know there is one music paper that won't use a feature on me or review my album because of the way I dress.

"I suppose they feel it's just not right to include me in with all the heavy mob.  Well, I'm just as good a singer-songwriter as anybody.  I don't know why I shouldn't say that, I believe it.

"Anyway they are music papers, aren't they?  Why don't they write about my music and leave my image, my clothes out of it?"

Figuring it was about time I did the interviewing, I asked Ray how much pleasure the success of "We Will" had given him.

"I'm very pleased," he replied, the gloom lifting.  "I'm pleased that so many people agreed with me that it was a good record.  That's what hit records mean to me.  Charts positions aren't nearly so relevant.

"My job if you like," he went on warming to his theme, "it is write a song and make a good record of it.  The most important thing about a record of mine is that I'm happy with the finished product.  If it doesn't sell after that, I'm disappointed of course but I'm still satisfied with the record."


"I can remember those not so far off days when I would make a bad record and the record company would go about raving, saying what a smash it was going to be.  I felt sick but sure enough none of them were hits.

"Now it is nice to be liked because I badly want respect as a songwriter, but I still consider that finished piece of plastic, the most important part of my work."

Ray, having paid his dues as the popular expression now goes, is happy with the way his career is going.

He has been "screwed and conned till it hurt," and now feels secure with Gordon Mills and MAM.  He respects the hard work those around him are putting in on his behalf and maintains that "We Will" would never have been such a hit without the two song pluggers who notched up over 200 Radio 1 plays.


"I can't say my existence is fun exactly," he says "but I'm doing what I want to do and I'm very happy.  I've got my live debut coming up on the 29th of the month at the Royal Albert Hall and I'm looking forward to that.  I've got a feeling the fun will start from then"

Some of Ray's songs are quite barbed but he blunts the point with humour.  "Sometimes, as in the case of 'Permissive Twit' on the album, the best way to get a serious point across is with a laugh."

I immediately thought of his own problems with his gear but refrained from mentioning it.

"I've served my apprenticeship," he said, "and I'm confident about the future.  It must be terrible to be successful then slip away but I know if it happened to me, if the records suddenly stopped happening, I wouldn't come to a dead end.

"I'm not paranoid about having hit after hit, nor am I all concerned about going from success to success.  I would get a job in an office and probably start all over again."

Inside this particular undersize schoolboy's uniform, there is a fairly ordinary, down to earth young man, not necessarily dying to get out.  Perhaps Ray might save himself a lot of problems by simply hanging the outfit up in his wardrobe, but he figures it more important for us to change our attitude before he changes his clothes.  Perhaps we will.