Gilbert O’Sullivan celebrates 50 years in music with Australian tour
The stature songwriters can be easily determined by the calibre of the artists who record their songs. There is probably no greater tribute to a musician than for another musician to cover their artistic works. The again, for the audience, there may be nothing better than hearing songs they know so well being performed live by the artists who actually wrote and first recorded them.
Gilbert O’Sullivan has had – and continues to have – the very best of the music industry worldwide record his outstanding and familiar songs. For five decades numbers such as Clair, Get Down, Nothing Rhymed and Alone Again (Naturally) have been given the personal touch by a host of megastars.
Diana Krall, Neil Diamond, Michael Bublé spring to mind immediately. They have all recorded O’Sullivan songs. But they come after legends before them had done the same.
“There are some beautiful ones from earlier – Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Bobby Darin. They all recorded some of my songs,” O’Sullivan says from his UK home ahead of his upcoming Australian tour.
“Any cover of a song of mine is a compliment.”
O’Sullivan’s songs are beautiful and they have stood the test of time. So many of them remain instantly recognisable today.
It was 14 years ago when Gilbert O’Sullivan was last in Australia and even then he only performed three small shows without a band.
He returns in March for his first national tour of Australia, to help mark his 50th anniversary a as recording artist.
And this time, he will be accompanied by a full band.
“We have two guitars, bass, drums, sax, flute, two girls singing, and me on piano and singing,” he says.
“We’ve been together quite a few years, since 1990. So we’re quite a solid unit. Our shows are typically 2 ½ hours.
“It was great to get to Sydney and do a few shows some time ago, but I’ve wanted to do it properly for many years.
“Apart from the mail I get from Australians telling me they like my songs, I haven’t had that much of a rapport with Australia.
“When I was there in Sydney I was walking down a street, a back lane, and a guy opened up a door and looked at me and said ‘hi Gilbert’. That made me feel right at home.”
It’s true that not only are his songs instantly recognisable, but – thanks to his big hair – the Irish superstar is himself easy to pick out of a crowd.
In the 70s and early 80s, he was a huge international star.
But O’Sullivan has typically shied away from crowds – except when on stage performing.
“Performing for me is very special, especially because I get to meet the people afterwards and hear about what they liked or didn’t like,” he says.
“You build rapport with your fans that way. I think if you record a song and you are not prepared to tour it is very, very wrong.
“But I’m generally pretty low key. I’m not a red carpet person. I’m not into celebrity. That doesn’t interest me.
“I have avoided that kind of life. I have avoided it all. I was once invited to a Paul McCartney reception and I went and it was all very nice, but I didn’t even go up and meet him. I’m just not into that kind of thing.
“I was nominated for three Grammys and I didn’t even want to go to the awards night. My manager made me go and it was awful. I didn’t enjoy the experience at all.
“On stage I am very comfortable and very happy, but privately I’m very shy.
“Some people are born that way. But on stage with my music I am very confident. I lead a pretty normal life. Sometimes you just have to lock yourself away.
“Elton John, now he’s a party man. But Bernie Taupin, his lyricist, locks himself away like me. We lyricists are very low key.”
His first hit single Nothing Rhymes, he says, will always be dear to him. But it’s his more obscure songs that mean the most.
“The special songs for me are not necessarily the big ones. There are some very special ones to me that are album tracks but weren’t singles, but which people recognise when I play them,” he says.
“Then there’s the new material. I’m currently making a new album, which should be out in April.
“I know when I’m happy with a song and the process in that regard hasn’t changed much. I get a lot of satisfaction from writing a song and recording it. Then it’s out of my hands. I hope people like it.
“Technology today is incredible, but it makes no difference at all to me when I’m writing songs. All I need is a piano and a cassette recorder. I actually like cassettes. I just stick it up on the piano and record away. That process hasn’t changed at all for me.
“I don’t do much analysis of my career. It’s been a good 50 years. It’s all about the songs. That’s what I’m all about, the songs.”
BY CHRIS JOHNSON
Gilbert O’Sullivan tour dates:
Gold Coast, Saturday 10th March – The Star
Caloundra, Sunday 11th March – Events Centre
Brisbane, Tuesday, 13th March – QPAC
Hobart, Wednesday 14th March – Wrest Point
Newcastle, Friday 16th March – Civic Theatre
Sydney, Saturday 17th March – State Theatre
Adelaide, Tuesday 20th March – Festival Centre
Mandurah, Friday 23rd March – Performing Arts Centre
Perth, Saturday 24th March – Crown Theatre
Canberra, Monday 26th March – Canberra Theatre
Melbourne, Tuesday 27th March – Arts Centre Hamer Hall