We Get Down With Gilbert
Source: The Sun Online
Writer: Simon Rothstein
Date: 05 May 2004
LEGENDARY singer Gilbert O'Sullivan may have disappeared from the public eye a few times in his career but he says he has never taken a day off.
In an exclusive interview, the 57-year-old entertainer – who had huge hits in the 1970s with songs including Get Down, Clair and Alone Again (Naturally) – told us he has been working on his music from nine to five every day for the last 35 years.
And he revealed that his dedication to writing songs doesn't go down too well with his wife Ase.
Gilbert says: "My wife puts her foot down all the time to try and make me go out, and you can understand that.
"But I don't really have any hobbies or interests outside of music. It dominates my life. I don't like entertaining and I've never socialised, even before I was married.
"I'm a very disciplined writer so every working day I wake up at seven, start work at nine, take a 15 minute break at ten thirty, have lunch at one, get back to work at two, finish at five, take the dog for a walk, do a bit more work between six and seven, have another walk for an hour, eat dinner, watch a bit of TV and then go to bed.
"I've been doing this for the last 35 years, I've never taken a break, and it works. Because if I sit there nine until five for five days a week and four weeks a month then I will get something.
"It may not necessarily be the thing I actually end up using, but at least I'm going through the motions and not idling away."
The singer's disciplined schedule has helped him release 12 albums since 1990 as well as his new record, the amusingly titled Berry Vest Of Gilbert O'Sullivan, which contains 21 of his greatest hits.
Gilbert and Ase, a Norwegian former air-hostess, have been married for "23 or 24 years - I'm not quite sure" and have two daughters Helen-Marie, 23, and Tara, 19.
"The reason we've been together so long is that Ase's always understood what it is I need to do," he told us.
"She has her own friends and social life and, while she'd like me to go out more, she accepts what I do. If it had been an issue we'd have probably split up many years ago."
Gilbert - who was born in Waterford, Ireland, moved to Swindon aged seven and now lives in Jersey – says his anti-social ways do lead to problems.
He recently had a top music gong withdrawn when he couldn't bring himself to go to the ceremony, and his reluctance to drink causes him embarrassment when he goes back home.
"I drink wine but I don't like beer or hard liquor, which is almost sacrilegious for an Irishman," he told us.
"And I hate award ceremonies. When I was nominated for Grammys in the 1970s I was forced to go and I didn't enjoy it at all.
"I was recently offered a notable songwriting award and I told them that I am shy and not comfortable in crowds.
"I said I appreciated the offer and maybe I could send my wife and daughters to collect it on my behalf. But they said because I wouldn't go they wouldn't give it to me!"
"So I lost out there, didn't I?"
Gilbert, born Raymond Edward O'Sullivan, started out playing as a drummer in various bands in the 1960s, giving up a budding art career to concentrate on his music full time.
His big break came when he met Gordon Mills in 1970, with the Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck manager guiding the singer to hit singles and tours around the world.
But the pair fell out when Gilbert discovered he was owed millions in royalties, and the singer successfully sued Gordon and his record company.
Gilbert won the case and now owns the copyright to all his work, setting a legal precedent that has been cited by other artists in similar disputes.
He says: "I didn't want the case to happen at all, and I wouldn't recommend going through it!
"But if you believe in something and you are that determined then you are going to do it… win or lose.
"What was good about my case was that it means that if, for example, tomorrow you got a recording contract, then the record company would recommend you get a lawyer.
"The business is now so worried about litigation, it encourages new artists to get independent legal representation. Whereas when I started they didn't say or worry about those kind of things."
Gordon Mills died in 1986 and Gilbert says the court case damaged his relationship with the Mills family, who he considered his own, and the subject of his greatest work – Gordon's daughter Clair.
"With all that went on and all the heaviness, it is difficult," he says.
"Clair and I have contact and exchange Christmas presents. We nearly met up last year, but didn't for a technical reason, so I think we are definitely going to this year.
"It's nice to be back in communication with Clair, and obviously the song is very special to her."
One person for who Gilbert's songs aren't special though is Radio 2 host and TV star Jonathan Ross.
The two had a bust-up after Jonathan made unkind comments about the entertainer on his Film 2004 show.
Gilbert told us: "I was watching Film 2004 in bed one night and Jonathan Ross was reviewing a Sofia Coppola film called The Virgin Suicides.
"A lot of these films have music in the background and in this particular movie we gave them permission to use Alone Again (Naturally). It was one of a dozen songs in the movie and they used about 30 seconds of it in a particular scene.
"He reviewed the film and said: 'Gilbert O'Sullivan notwithstanding this is a good movie.' So what he was implying was that if my song wasn't in the film then it would have actually been better than it was.
"I thought: 'Hang on a minute, if I was acting in the movie or involved in the production then criticise me. But for Christ's sake they only played 30 seconds of my record!'
"Jonathan is a good broadcaster and if on his radio show he criticised me musically or called me an idiot, then I'd have no problem.
"But that wasn't a good enough reason for him to have a go at me on a film programme and I deeply resented it.
"I was a bit depressed about the whole thing and wrote to the producer to express my concerns. The producer wrote back and said Jonathan does put his foot in his mouth sometimes… I think he must have verrucas in there.
"Now I won't go on his radio programme and I can do without him."
Despite Ross's criticism, Gilbert says he is still a big fan of Radio 2 and listens to the station, and Radio 1, all the time to inspire his current songwriting.
Strangely his favourite artist is Eamon, the UK chart-topper whose hit F*** It (I Don't Want You Back) contains 33 expletives.
Gilbert told us: "It's great stuff, I love it. What I like about the song is the way they use the riffs and the change of melody in the background.
"I don't think you can learn much about songwriting from Eamon – and I wouldn't use those lyrics - but you'd certainly learn how to produce a good track.
"I also like Nelly Furtado, The Dandy Warhols, The Thrills, Ron Sexsmith and David Gray. I need to keep my ear to the ground to see if I can learn anything, after 35 years I am still picking up ideas".
"The key for me is to maintain what I believe is my position as a contemporary songwriter and never get off the treadmill.
"As well as The Berry Vest Of, I've also released an album of new songs - Piano Foreplay.
"I'm as enthusiastic now as I was when I first started and that's why I won't take a break until the day I retire."
The Berry Vest Of Gilbert O'Sullivan and Piano Foreplay are out now in all good record shops.