Portrait of the Writer

Source: Disc

Writer: Brian Southall

Date: 06 October 1973

Just after midday in New York and Gilbert O'Sullivan is fast approaching the sixth concert on his current American tour.  He's not been up long but down a remarkably clear transatlantic line he sounds wide awake and his usual lucid self.

This tour means a lot to Gilbert.  A household name in this country where everything he makes turns to gold, he's a vastly different proposition to the Yanks.

He has had single success with "Alone Again", "Clair" and "Get Down" but few features have been written, few album tracks played and the guest TV spots have been limited.  So the Americans are obviously interested and incredibly curious.

But what about Gilbert?  How doe she feel about America?  Speaking in Germany some months back he said that the Americans didn't really understand what he was on about in most of his very British songs.  A sort of Bob Hope situation in reverse.  Has his opinion changed?

"The reaction has been absolutely incredible.  They are familiar with most of the tracks.  Of the five concerts so far, four have been really good.  Last night's in Boston was not so good.  But still all of them have been better than I ever anticipated.

"The most amazing thing is the number of kids in the audience  And they're a lot wilder than they are back home.  They throw dresses, skirts and all sorts of clothing.  And that saves me having to do much between the numbers because all that acts as light relief."

But Gilbert is unable to explain how it is that they seem so familiar with his songs. "There's been so little promotion previous to this tour.  No magazine features, only two TV shows and the three singles are the only records that have made the charts.  And I expected a much older audience - there seem to be a lot of kids."

Communications with his American audience are strained and Gilberts finds that he has to explain the lyrics of "Matrimony" and "We Will" to them.  That's one step forward on Europe where he left out "Matrimony" all together.

This mass acceptance of his music has come as a complete surprise to the modest Irishman and has served to ease his fears that the whole thing was going to be a bit of a flop.

"I was really very sceptical about the whole thing.  I mean T.Rex and Slade died over here.  Before the first night I wanted to go home but right now I feel all right.  Everything's going really well."

"But it's still frightening playing some of these halls.  They are all about ten thousand-seaters and mostly open air and they really are pretty scary places.  They are the biggest audiences that I have ever played to.

"But the good thing is that as long as I go down well then everything will be OK for next time.  This time I'm touring on the strength of just three singles; next time things will be even better.

Of the 30 cities Gilbert and his entourage are visiting, he was warned before that four of them were notorious for visiting acts.  One of them is behind him, in the shape of Boston.

"I didn't like Boston at all.  The show never really got going but other dates have been so good that the four won't really matter."

Gilbert is also doing more promotional than he's done in a long time.  Interviews and guest appearances are limited in this country but at the moment everything and anything is getting done in the States.

"We're doing all sorts of radio, paper and TV promotional work in every city we go.  All the local radio stations are playing the new single - "Ooh Baby" - and some tracks off the album.  I think they're both out here next week."

Ever the perfectionist, do the outdoor venues provide any exceptional sound problems?  "Not really.  We've got some great sound people - the best I've ever had.  There are a hell of a lot of people involved which makes everything much better.  It's all going like a dream."

On the bill with Gilbert are American singer Maureen McGovern who recently topped the singles charts and a comedian who opens the show and warms up the crowd.  "They seem to like that sort of thing over here.  I've not seen either act though because I only arrive ten minutes or so before I'm due on."

But Gilbert has his fellow countrymen up there on the stage with him in the shape of a three man rhythm section and the whole orchestra under the direction of Johnnie Spence.

"As I said I was very apprehensive about touring here but now I'm more at home.  There's a great family feeling between everyone.  It's good fun and everyone gets paralytic every night - except me of course."

"They've never seen me before so I don't get up to much.  I do my usual dance routine that I always do but spend more time at the piano."

During Gilbert's absence, a new album has been issued over here.  Called "I'm A Writer Not A Fighter" it's out this week and includes his last two singles "Get Down" and "Ooh Baby."  Is he worried that this fact might hurt the sales figures?

"Well the advance order is 105,000 I know for a fact.  It's an American policy to put singles on albums.  It isn't my job to decide these things.  If it had have been I wouldn't have put the singles on."

What about the album as a whole? - is he pleased with it?  "I'm delighted with the whole thing.  The songs called for simpler backings and that gives the whole thing a very lively feel.  And the title track is one of the best I've ever done.  It's so unusual and "Where Peaceful Waters Flow" has that really good feel about it and a very exciting finish."

Gilbert's plans after his American epic are pretty well settled.  "I'm doing a week at the Palladium after this tour and a TV special, then I'll be touring Britain in the New Year but there are no definite dates yet."

"And probably another album too.  I'll be doing the next one quite quickly.  I may even do a live album at some time, who knows?  I'm not made about the idea.  If I did one it would have to be a concert of completely new songs otherwise it would just be an album of songs people have on singles or other albums just done live.  No, I'm not made about that idea.

An interested viewer of world events Gilbert started asking the questions.  "What's happening over there?"

I told him about the sad deaths of Gram Parsons and Jim Croce, the latter bringing a sigh of disbelief.

"No.  Not the guy who " size="1">And that was it.  First the good news and then the bad news.