The power of mu­sic can do so much good

Award-win­ning singer song­writer Gil­bert O’Sul­li­van tells MARION McMULLEN why mu­sic is so spe­cial to him... even though he can never lis­ten to his own big­gest hits

Llanelli Star - - Sound Out -

NEIL DI­A­MOND once recorded a ver­sion of Gil­bert O’Sul­li­van’s mov­ing an­them Alone Again (Nat­u­rally) and sent him a copy with a writ­ten note ask­ing him what he thought of the cover.

“I wrote back and said it was ter­ri­ble,” jokes Gil­bert with a merry laugh.

“No, it was re­ally sweet. It’s al­ways a com­pli­ment to you as a song­writer when peo­ple want to record your mu­sic, but when you get per­form­ers of the cal­i­bre of Neil Di­a­mond or Michael Bublé and Diana Krall it’s very flat­ter­ing.”

He adds with a soft chuckle: “I can lis­ten and en­joy their ver­sions more than I can lis­ten to my­self. I never lis­ten to my own record­ings. My two daugh­ters used to say when they were grow­ing up that they only got to hear daddy’s songs when they went to the homes of their friends.”

The singer-song­writer, born Ray­mond O’Sul­li­van in Water­ford in Ire­land, helped pro­vide the sound track of the 1970s with hits like Alone Again (Nat­u­rally), Clair, Noth­ing Rhymed, Get Down and Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day.

It led to three Ivor Novello awards, in­clud­ing the Song­writer Of The Year tro­phy, while Alone Again (Nat­u­rally) topped the Amer­i­can charts for six weeks and was nom­i­nated for three Grammy awards.

The love of mu­sic be­gan at an early age. “I played on an old up­right pi­ano,” he laughs. “It was that work­ing class thing of, even if fam­i­lies didn’t have much they had a pi­ano. And, if you could play, you could earn a few bob in the pub.

“I was one of six chil­dren and the only one I sup­pose with a mu­si­cal bent. I did take pi­ano lessons, but I was found out,” he adds with a laugh. “I was play­ing one time and the teacher re­alised I wasn’t read­ing the mu­sic, but play­ing from mem­ory.

“I’ve al­ways had a good ear, but I still can’t read mu­sic. Paul McCart­ney, Ray Davies, Pau I Si­mon – none of us reads mu­sic. We just loved play­ing and writ­ing songs.

“Back in the 50s I was lis­ten­ing to Cliff Richard and the Shad­ows and I bought their record Apache, but you never felt you could be Cliff Richard or one of The Shad­ows and then the Bea­tles came along and ev­ery­thing changed. They looked dif­fer­ent, they could write mu­sic and you could iden­tify with them and sud­denly all of us wanted to be in a band.”

The love of mu­sic has re­mained a con­stant in Gil­bert’s life and his new self-ti­tled al­bum has just come out, with BBC Ra­dio 2 play­ing the catchy sin­gle The Same The Whole World Over.

Most of the al­bum was recorded in his stu­dio, at his home in Jersey, with pro­ducer Ethan Johns and fea­tures some spe­cial guests like Chas Hodges, of Chas and Dave fame, and Welsh rock ‘n’ roll pi­anist Geraint Watkins.

“We put them both in the Ge­orge Martin Stu­dio in Lon­don with two pi­anos and let them bat­tle it out,” he smiles. “Chas put a har­mony on the demo we sent him and, be­ing a solo singer, I’m not used to har­monies, but it was so good we kept it. So it’s a Chas and Ray track in­stead of a Chas and Dave.”

At the age of 71, Gil­bert still goes into his mu­sic room to work ev­ery day from Mon­day to Fri­day, but takes Satur­day and Sun­day off.

“I don’t touch the pi­ano then,” he says. “I might do a spot of weed­ing or go to church. I was brought up a Catholic, but was a lapsed Catholic. I find it very sooth­ing to go now, although when Sun­day morn­ing comes along you think ‘I don’t want to go’, but it’s one hour of your life and when I go I’m happy.

“There’s the Span­ish Church at Maryle­bone in Lon­don which is just beau­ti­ful. I might not lis­ten to the priest, but just be­ing in a church some­times makes me feel bet­ter. There’s no first class or busi­ness class like on trains... and you can sit any­where.”

Gil­bert could be found danc­ing on top of his pi­ano last year while lead­ing a crowd of more than 40,000 in a cho­rus of Get Down at the BBC Proms in the Park in Hyde Park.

“Ev­ery­one says ‘don’t do it,” but, hey, as long as I’ve still got my health, why not? It might in­spire peo­ple of my age to do a bit of ex­er­cise as well.”

He says he needs his en­ergy to keep up with his two-and-a-hal­fyear-old grand­daugh­ter Jeanie Marie. “I’m not mad about be­ing called grandad,” he gri­maces, “so she calls me Dad-Dad. You need a lot of en­ergy to keep up with her. She’s like a marathon run­ner. She’s there and then she’s gone.”

Gil­bert will be back in front of an au­di­ence next month as part of the na­tion­wide se­ries of Get Loud con­cert dates in aid off mu­sic ther­apy char­ity Nord­off Rob­bins. It of­fers a range of pro­grammes for ev­ery­thing from hos­pices and de­men­tia pa­tients to peo­ple deal­ing with men­tal health is­sues and chil­dren suf­fer­ing from ill­ness and trauma.

All Saints, Katie Melua, Lisa Stans­field, En­ter Shikari, Nina Nes­bitt, The Dark­ness, The Beat, The Sk­ints, Hot Dub Time Ma­chine and Ev­ery­thing Ev­ery­thing are among those tak­ing part.

Gil­bert says: “Nord­off Rob­bins asked me to take part and it was some­thing I was happy to do. Mu­sic is very spe­cial to me and the power of mu­sic can do so much good. It’s a won­der­ful cause.” ■ Go to get loud. org.uk for con­cert de­tails and tick­ets.

Gil­bert O’Sul­li­van at work in his gar­den shed

Gil­bert, pic­tured in around 1975. His mu­sic pro­vided a sound­track for the 70s

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