ONE of the biggest-selling artists of the 1970s, Gilbert O’Sullivan is celebrating half a century in music and marking it with his first national Australian tour. Although he has toured here previously before, it has just been single shows and a stripped back performance.
“I’m very much looking forward to it because it gives me the opportunity to bring the full band.” Well-known for hits like Alone Again (Naturally), Clair and Get Down, the Waterford-born performer was even the biggest selling solo performer on the planet for a time.
When asked what it is like to reflect on half a century in the business, he said he tries not to live in the past. “I’m not that nostalgic in many ways. The first record came out in 1967 so I’m still at it. I still love the art of songwriting. It’s the songwriting that just keeps me onboard and I just love it so I haven’t lost any interest in that.
“Technology is fantastic, I have a purpose-built recording studio with all the digital pro tools and everything in it but to write songs, nothing has changed from when I was 15 years of age. Sitting down at a piano, tinkling out little tunes. So the process for me hasn’t changed,” he said. “The wonderful thing is after all those years, it’s still the same so I’m still that 21-year-old sitting in a room for five days a week, eight hours a day trying to come up with a tune and eventually sitting down with an empty notebook and trying to write lyrics.
“It puts the last 50 years into perspective for me. I don’t feel like it’s a long, long time. I feel like it’s kind of same thing for me as it was back then.” Of course, a lot has changed in the music industry since O’Sullivan, now 71, first charted. Twenty years ago, he was embroiled in a landmark legal case against rapper Biz Markie. The hip-hop star sampled Alone Again (Naturally), a song about suicide and bereavement, for a comic scenario.
The rapper refused to withdraw the track despite having no permission from O’Sullivan, who won 100 per cent of the royalties in a case that set a copyright precedent.
Alone Again (Naturally) topped both UK and US charts in 1972, earning its writer three Grammy nominations. Rather than dining out on popular tracks like this, Gilbert has always continued to write and record, aiming to be fresh and current.
“I don’t know how many records I’ve made, but what I enjoy most is writing the songs, enough songs to make an album and then working with a producer or an engineer and finishing the record. That’s something I can control and deal with, outside of that it’s up to the public, it’s record companies.
“It’s a) are they going to release it? and b) are they going to like it? That’s fine, that’s the business. I’m very happy in the position that I’m in now, able to record the songs that I write and get them released of course.”
After spending the early part of his life in Waterford, Gilbert’s family moved to England so his father could find work, settling in Swindon. He has never lost his Irishness although he was only seven when the family moved. “My roots are Irish of course, my musical background is pretty much growing up in England, in Swindon and Wiltshire, that’s the background to all my songwriting.
“You never lose your roots. I have lots of relatives and family in Ireland. I always went back. I used to take a boat from Fishguard to Rosslare. So I had good memories of growing up and of course the first concert we ever did was in Dublin in The Stadium, a very famous venue, so the concerts are always very special. I’m very proud of my roots, very proud of my Irish background.”
Gilbert O’Sullivan tours Australia from March 10 to 27