Gilbertville Review

Source: The York Press

Date: 18 Feb 2011

GILBERTVILLE is not a made-up word or world for Gilbert O'Sullivan's new album.

"The simple reason for that title is that my brother, who lives in Detroit, was driving through Iowa and saw this sign for the towns of Raymondville and Gilbertville, which are just a mile apart, and so he took a photo, as the irony is my real name is Raymond" recalls Gilbert.

"I said, 'next time you're driving through, you should pinch the sign and put it in the garden'!"

Instead the sign now appears on the new album sleeve, behind a nonchalant-looking Gilbert as he stands beside a half-raised piano on the roadside.

The album was released on Hypertension Music on January 31, and highlights will be played alongside such familiar Gilbert greats as Get Down, Alone Again (Naturally) and Nothing Rhymed at the Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow night.

If you were expecting the whimsical wordsmith to have created a Gilbertville world to go with the title, you would be wrong. "To be honest, I don't give that too much thought as I tend to focus on the songwriting first, and I look at that as a very serious craft," he says. "It has to be a discipline.

"I now take eight or nine months a year to write the lyrics – it takes longer then the melodies because the old cliché of melody needing inspiration and lyrics needing perspiration is true."

Gilbert suggests The Beatles broke the mould when they began writing songs in the early Sixties. "Most popular composers since Lennon and McCartney don't read music. Prior to that you felt you needed a degree in music, but they showed you didn't," he says.

He has always had lyrics, words, wit, within him. "It's not something that you can pick up," he says. "Before my music, I was always writing short, silly poems, Spike Millgan style!"

Gilbert still listens to today's burgeoning musicians. "I've listed to Ellie Goulding, and though I'm not going to be inspired by the lyrics, because I loved Joni Mitchell, I'm inspired by the production, and if you're always searching for melodies, then you do listen to music for inspiration."

At 64, Gilbert is writing prodigiously. "Songwriting is always something I've done at home, that will never change, and since living in Jersey it's been the most prolific time of my life," he says.

To bring variety to the new album, nevertheless, he travelled to Nashville in March 2009 to work with American musicians. "I was very confident, as I always am, giving them eight or nine songs to do, two or three a day, and I knew that the musicians would be good as it's a music city and a great studio," says Gilbert.

"I just liked the idea of going somewhere else and doing something new. I would never write country songs or wish to record in the Nashville style; I'm an English writer of pop songs, but you do get the inflection of Nashville on the album that's there in their playing of the guitar, even the keyboards."

Gilbert also recorded tracks in London with an orchestra. "I looked at the melodies and the lyrics and worked out which songs would be good for Nashville and which would suit an orchestra, and it was really exciting working with a 32-piece orchestra in Mark Knopfler's studio on songs like Talking Of Murder," he says. "I love that combination of piano and orchestra."

With that in mind, Gilbert's 12-piece touring band will include a string quartet, but don't expect to see comedian Harry Hill too. Happy Harry confines his presence to the album, on which he recites a short poem in an interlude.

"He's a friend and he appeared in one of my videos a few years ago [for Two's Company (Three Is Allowed)]," reveals Gilbert. "I have these poems that I wrote at college – I don't write them any more as I don't have the time, though I have been tempted to collate them – and Harry has recited one for me."

Gilbert does not wish for his lyrics to be called poems. "I draw a distinction. I don't class them as poems," he says. "When people talk about lyrics as poems, I cringe, because Shelley and Keats write poems. Lyrics are just a few words put together to go with music."

Lyrics, in his case, that have led to the latest album reviews to refer to Gilbert as "quirky", exactly the kind of branding that ensures he never reads reviews.

"Quirky?" he questions, when York Twenty4Seven reads a snippet of one music magazine's appraisal. "Do you know, Mojo and Uncut have never asked me for an interview, and if you're never interviewed in those magazines, then people who take music seriously are never going to take you seriously, but a song like Down Down Here (CORRECT) is about young people who come from a good home and have a good job and yet take their own life. Is that quirky?"