Gilbert O’Sullivan

Gilbert O’Sullivan’s songwriting soundtracked the 1970s and Nothing Rhymed and Alone Again (Naturally), in particular, are recognised as classics. All his material is currently undergoing a critical reappraisal and his latest retrospective The Essential Collection recently hit the UK top 20. Transcribed from his extensive podcast interview with Jason Barnard, Gilbert talks about the hits as well as the rarer cuts that deserve wider attention.

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You’ve got a marvellous new compilation out, The Essential Collection, which is out now on BMG. The first song we heard, Houdini Said, is a perfect example why this new set really is essential because you’ve picked, as well as all the most well known hits etc, some of your favourite album tracks as well?

Yeah, I think so. Normally a ‘best of’ is like ten or twelve tracks on a single CD and stuff, and I’ve done that. We’ve got the obvious ones, plus maybe a couple of album tracks or a couple of singles. Originally when they suggested that they wanted to do this double CD, I actually had a collection of 73 tracks to choose from. Because, the thing is I’ve made a lot of albums and it’s true to say that I haven’t sold billions of them. So there’s an awful lot of songs that I’ve liked on albums that have done reasonably well over the years. But they’re songs of mine which I really like, so the opportunity to have them on a compilation, to be able to pick out various tracks from various albums, and singles that didn’t go on albums, yeah it was a nice opportunity to do it. So I’m really pleased. Yeah, I whittled it down to 43 instead of 73 and it just shows, if you like the broad sweep of the kind of songs I write. I don’t just write one type of song. There’s a kind of take on all kinds of songs which I think is good for me as a songwriter.

Absolutely, and we’re playing tracks from across your career as well as a few choice covers that hopefully you’ll like. I just wanted to go back to Houdini Said, actually, cos you know you talked about the broad range of material you’ve written and I was really knocked sideways really. I mean it’s a staggering track. It’s wonderfully written.

Yeah, you know, it’s the first album. Actually the basic track for that was recorded in Las Vegas because my manager was out there with Tom Jones and so we needed studio time for me to do some work and I was on holiday with his family. I was almost like a member of the family, with Gordon Mills, his wife and children and stuff. So we actually did the backing track before, the basic backing track for Houdini Said over there. It was in those days. It was kind of nice to be able to do a song that was more than three minutes in size – orchestral – so you could kind of extend it, instead of just limiting yourself to two and a half/three minutes song. It gave me the opportunity to kind of spread it out a little and it’s a firm favourite now because we’ve been doing it in the last couple years on stage and it’s become popular with audiences.

I mentioned about throwing in a few versions of songs that you’ve written in the show. The first one is from really your early years and that’s The Tremeloes version of You but I understand you were part of the Mike Smith stable and your songs got covered by a range of artists.

Well, in the beginning, the Tremeloes’ link was because, when I first landed a recording contract, very reluctantly on their part, they wanted my songs but they didn’t want to give me a recording contract. So, April Music, the publishers – they were part of the CBS network – so I forced them into, if they were gonna have my songs, they had to give me a recording agreement. So they gave me a contract to do three singles a year (chuckles). The producer was Mike Smith, who had just had number ones with Love Affair, Everlasting Love, which was a great song. He had a number one with The Tremeloes’ Here Comes My Baby, a Cat Stevens song. So he introduced my demos to The Tremeloes and they really liked it and You was actually done. My first recording was a song called What Can I Do with You as the b-side and, again, the arranger was the same arranger who did Love Affair. I wasn’t mad about my first recording. I wasn’t really happy to have this kind of brass stuff on it. I was slightly down but the thing is, anyway, Mike Smith played my demos to The Tremeloes who really liked them and recorded… They recorded a couple of my songs: You, had been one that you mentioned, and another one called Come On Home which I’ve yet to record but it’s still a good song.

You-cover

It is and I wasn’t sure which track to pick actually cos You is an excellent song but also is Come On Home. That’s another strong number. Another song that I was really, really impressed by, really digging in there, was – I wasn’t aware that Paul Jones recorded a really great song of yours….

Neither was I…. (he laughs)

Weren’t you?

Neither was I until some years…. I found out from a Japanese fan who is ingenious in getting hold of all these covers and copies and stuff. He surprised me with demos of mine that even I didn’t have. (chuckles) But yes, so like you, I was quite surprised. My Advice To You was an early song of mine which I really like and I put it on The Little Album or By Larry, as it was known over here, and it was almost like one of my ‘shed’ songs from the sort of late sixties, 65/66 period, when I was writing in the garden shed. I have a soft spot for it. That’s why I put it on the By Larry album and Paul Jones does an interesting version so I was pleased with that. I find… I had a young girl who wrote to me some weeks ago who did a version of What’s In A Kiss and she wanted to know my comments on it and I wrote to her and said I never criticize or comment too much on covers because I feel that they’re all justified. Providing that they stick to the lyrics, providing they not alter the melody, I see it as a compliment to me as a writer that they recorded it. So I don’t get into the area of criticising any version. So I think the Paul Jones version is nice. It’s probably, maybe the only version ever of that song, outside of my own.

Yeah. I think it’s extremely rare and I think it was only released in Sweden.

There you go.

Next we do move to a song from the new Essential Collection and that’s… but we’re still in the late sixties actually and it’s Mr Moody’s Garden. But that’s a song that you’ve really stuck through when you’ve played live.

Yeah, well again, the history of Moody’s Garden is that, after I left CBS, through being disgruntled with them, we kind of move on. So, I got out of my contract and then somebody was looking after me who introduced me to Philip Solomon, who ran Major Minor label, and Major Minor also had one of the big pirate stations. They liked how I looked – the image and stuff – and they said they could do a video and all this kind of stuff. Anyway, so, two of the songs I recorded, one of them I was really happy with the song, a song called I Wish I Could Cry, which I wrote after the death of Bobby Kennedy. So I really love that song. So I was really excited about recording that. But, again, the recording – I didn’t like the recording at all. I was really a bit down about it. The producer was a Scottish producer called Tommy Scott. But the nice thing was that the b-side, Mr Moody’s Garden, I asked them to allow me to go into a studio on my own and just do it the way I wanted to do it, i.e. just on a piano and I brought a college friend of mine, Ken White, who does some artwork for me – we were at art school together. So, I went into a studio in Denmark Street. It’s a small studio – Regent Sound. Actually that’s the studio where the Rolling Stones did their first album. So I just went in there with him… a couple of hours. I took my piano on a hired a Bedford van – my upright piano – and then Ken did the voice, the little overdubbed voice, and so I was always happy with that. So I disregarded the version of I Wish I Could Cry and I re-recorded it in the nineties on Every Song Has It Place so I’m happy with that. But I love my little version of Moody’s Garden because it encapsulates all that I want which is just piano and voice. I’ve kind of always had that thing and we do it on stage. It’s one of those songs that, for example, Kenny Everett played it a few times when it came out even though it was a b-side. There’s something nice. It’s stood the test of time, I think, because of its quirky lyric. When I do it on stage I talk about… I say to the audience now, when people talk about John Lennon when he’s writing ‘…newspaper taxis with mah mah mah mah…’ for A Day In The Life, the lyrics, what was he on when he wrote that? And then I say to them, when I wrote things like ‘Down among the partridge trees, live’s a don who loves his knees, so much so he’s framed them in a jar’ (both Jason and Gilbert chuckle) – what was I on when I wrote that? It brings a smile to my face when I hear that.

Your breakthrough song was Nothing Rhymed. I’ve chosen an Italian version…

Yeah. It was huge…

Era Bella?

Yeah. Absolutely. I was sent copies of that. I really liked that. They did a really good version.

When you just listen to the melody and you don’t listen to the lyrics you can easily be thinking that it’s oh so romantic but it’s nothing of the sort really.

Well, again, Jason, I’m not into kind of analysing what I do. I’m just happy to do it. It’s free to sort of look at it any way you like. Suffice to say that, the great thing about it, moving on from the moodies and I Wish I Could Cry and being unhappy with Major Minor, being unhappy with CBS, the great thing was that my first session with Gordon Mills as a producer, when Gordon took me on as a manager, it was a magic session just in three hours to do Nothing Rhymed. And, in fact, when he took me on as a manager, I hadn’t written Nothing Rhymed. So he had heard some of my demos, so I hadn’t even written that song yet but, by the time we got into the studio, ’69 or early ’70, to be in there with top musicians, not to be, for it to sound as good as it sounded – for me, if it had not been released and never been a hit, I would have been so happy to have made a record that I was really proud of, and it had that lovely bass intro by Herbie Flowers. Herbie Flowers – he’s the one who did the bass on Walk On The Wild Side for Lou Reed.

Yeah.

He also does that B-O-O-M on Nothing Rhymed. So there you go, a piece of useless information for you. But the Era Bella was just a nice version. It was nice to hear and I’m not sure what it was about lyrically, but it was nice. I kind of liked that.

Next we move on to, you know, a song that doesn’t really need too much explanation. It’s a standard now, really, Alone Again (Naturally). That was a massive hit especially in the USA. It’s been covered many times as well?

Yeah. It’s the kind of… If McCartney gets labelled with Yesterday and Paul Simon gets labelled with Bridge Over Troubled Water. I get, not unhappily, labelled with Alone Again.

Yeah. It works very well.

But, you know, again when I talk to people about that, they always say, you know, “Massive success worldwide, millions of copies” and stuff, even though it keeps my feet firmly on the ground, always has done and I hope always will, when it was recorded, nobody said, “Wow. This is going to change you” and “This is going to be a massive hit.” We recorded two songs. Again, it was a three hour session, recording two songs and the other song was Out Of The Question, which was another track on Back To Front, the second album, and everybody thought that Out Of The Question would be the single. So people liked Alone Again and they said, “Yeah. It’s good but I don’t know the commercial potential.” But, in the end, Gordon said, “Yeah, we should go with it.” I also have little reviews from music papers which I keep and show to people occasionally and you’ll view things like “Another little ditty from Gilbert. Might be a hit. It could be. Who knows?” So, it’s kind of, when you balance that, when you put that with all the success that it achieved, it’s quite interesting how things can change. In other words, it’s good not to know what can be or will be a success. What’s good to know is that you’re happy with what you’re writing. You’re happy with what you’re recording, and the rest is up to whatever happens.

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Very much so and it was on the soundtrack to one of my favourite films, The Virgin Suicides. It was alongside songs by the Hollies, the Bee Gees, 10cc etc.

Well, the interesting thing about this thing of syncing – songs being synced into films – as you say, for a lot of people they wouldn’t have known about Alone Again prior to seeing that film which they liked and then they come away saying “What was that song?” and “Who was that person?” so that’s interesting – that’s a kind of, that’s an area which is useful because it introduces you to a new audience. So I’m up for those kind of things. I mean, we protect Alone Again. We make sure that it’s not used for any comedic use. I specify in every agreement I have, because I own my songs, that I make sure that’s the one song that cannot be used for stupid commercials, cannot be used for silly comical songs. Because we get those kind of requests and I get a washing machine ad request for Alone Again and they want to give me a quarter of a million dollars and stuff. Now, if you were a publisher you might be tempted but if you are the owner of that song and you have that feeling that it needs to be protected, then it’s never gonna happen.

Yes, the subject matter is quite serious, really.

Yeah, of course, and it’s for that reason, because you know. I mean, how offensive it would be to, for people who bought that song for the right reason, for what it meant for them lyrically, to see it on a stupid commercial or to hear it in some comic use and stuff. I think that would be insulting to them, so it’s important that it retains its integrity.

Next we have Matrimony and, reading about this song, it’s staggering to know that it wasn’t actually released as a single*. It was like the hit that never was.

[* One of the tracks on the Himself album (August 1971 UK/May 1972 USA) that garnered much airplay at the time, it was originally only released as a single in Scandinavia (MAM.R.64) in 1972 and was the b-side of Alone Again (Naturally) in Germany. It also appeared on EPs in Brazil, Portugal and Germany, but it didn’t see the light of day on 7-inch in the UK until November 1976 (MAM 155) and failed to trouble the charts. MAM released it after he had left the label and were presumably hoping to cash in on the Christmas market. Later confusion that it was released in the UK in 1971 stems from the sound recording copyright symbol ‘phonogram’, standing for the first publication date of the sound recording, as depicted on the single’s labels.]

No, there’s a lot of that with me. I think the Peggy Lee song Can’t Think Straight is considered an O’Sullivan standard by many people now and that was never a hit. I like that. That’s what’s nice. I mean, if you had one song that if I walked out on stage that the band started with, people would immediately know what it was. It’s almost like a signature tune. So there’s something kind of nice, the fact it was never a hit single. Then it becomes almost your most famous song. And particularly in Europe too – it’s huge in Europe. And I guess that there’s the Latin element too, of course. They say that Latin never dates, which is interesting. But you know, Matrimony is one of the closers in our show. It’s right up there with the biggest success. I think you know also back in… I had quite a few singles that weren’t on albums because, in those days, late 60s/early 70s, you didn’t put singles on albums, unlike say the 80s or 90s when every single track on a Michael Jackson album was a single. So, things have changed. But, in those days, singles were just released and an album came out with ten or twelve other songs on it. But, yeah, nobody took Matrimony and said it should be a single, so it’s the fact that it’s stood the test of time, I’m really pleased with that.

Talking about some of your most well-known songs, which obviously fit on the new collection, the song I had to play was Clair and the father of a three year old and, one minute everything’s wonderful, the next minute it’s turbulence and then you make it all up at the end of the day. It kind of really sort of symbolises that relationship you have.

Yeah, I mean, kids are… I come from a large family so I’m used to having kids around and I have a soft spot for… you know I used to babysit for Gordon, as I said, I think I said to you earlier, in Vegas. In the early days I went on holiday with his family and when I needed money to buy anything I said to Jo, his wife, can I have some money and I’d buy some souvenirs for my mother. So I was kind of very immature, quite young, capable of writing songs and in the throes of having success with Gordon. I was just like a member of their family. So, they would call on me when I lived in the estate where Gordon lived. I don’t drive, I’d just walk up to the house and sometimes she would cook lunch and dinner for me and they’d go off to some do and they’d say, “Right. Can you babysit?” So, I’d babysit and Clair was the one that’s kind of getting up, so she’d be the one in the middle of the night and stuff. So, you know, I mean she’s sweet and things like, “I’m gonna marry you, Uncle Ray” and all this kind of stuff. This was just innocent, nice. You couldn’t do it today. I’m afraid the world we live in today would probably not even allow a song like that to be made which is amazing when you think back to the innocence of those days. But it was written for the parents, if anything, because of Gordon, as a manager, and Jo, his wife, who kind of fed me. He plays the harmonica, in the solo, and she does the laugh at the end. I did it as a kind of tribute to them as much as it was about, you know, seeing Clair on the times when I’d go up to their house.

Also from that year and from your marvellous album Back To Front is The Golden Rule and, you know, we opened up with Houdini Said and this is another case where you kind of really spread your wings, modically.

Well, this was chosen… On my, on my list of songs, my 43 songs, I didn’t actually have this in but Steve Bunyon at Union Square/BMG (he giggles) his favourite song of his was Golden Rule, and then I listened to it and, it’s not bad, quite a funny lyric and stuff, so I thought, “Yeah. I’ll go with that.” So, again, I get to hear these, I mean I get to be introduced – reintroduced – to songs of mine that I hadn’t played, or listened to, in 30 years or whatever and, I thought, yeah, I’ll go with that. It’s quirky.

It does. It kind of mixes bits of music hall, bit of humour, sort of Beatles thing there as well.

Yeah. I think all those influences. I mean I like to think I have a sense of humour in my words and, melodically, there is a… of course there always was a Beatles’ influence – Lennon and McCartney – strong influence on me, as was Dylan in terms of vocal and stuff. No, I was happy for it to be put in and it certainly pleased him. (chuckles)

It pleases me as well.

(chucking continues) That’s good, Jason.

I think all your albums now have been reissued with extra tracks as well?

Yeah. Absolutely. Again, Union Square have done a really good job in refocussing on those albums and repackaging them in a really good way. So I’m happy with the relationship I have with them and for what they’re doing and they’ll continue to, over the next four years, to bring it up to date. I think they’ve gone up to, maybe, By Larry but they’ll move on now to the next four or five albums over the next few years. So, yeah, so they do a really good job.

I assume, all those will have some extra demos and rarities on it…

Yeah. Inevitably. They push me for little bits and things that are lying around and stuff.

Next we have another really big hit, Get Down. I wanted to pick this because I just wanted to ask about, you know, you mentioned Herbie Flowers playing bass on quite a few of your tracks and that. You had some great musicians working with you like Chris Spedding as well?

Yeah. Chris. One of the greatest guitar players. I mean, him, and, but there’s three guitar players that I rate the highest. Geoff Whitehorn is a brilliant guitar player, blues guitar player. Chris – electric guitar player – and Tim Renwick for acoustic. I’ve used him since we did the album Off Centre with Gus Dudgeon. If I’ve needed an acoustic guitarist for anything I will always try to get hold of him first. On electric, Chris was brilliant because the great thing about Chris was, when I used him for the first time on Southpaw, he came to the studio and then he sets up a little amp in the room and you just let him loose and he’s a wonderful guitar player, because they’re inventive. The great thing is you don’t have to write it down for them, once they have the chords of course, they just go out there and they do it and if they don’t get it in the first take they’ll do another take and between one/two/three takes of something you’ll get the perfect take. They’re gifted in that way. They just add so much. You don’t want to tell them. You don’t want them to play something that’s already written out, you just let them loose, and I think that Chris and Geoff Whitehorn are brilliant at that.

On Get Down, though, interesting enough, there’s no guitar playing on Get Down. When that was recorded at Gordon Mills’ studio in Weybridge, Laurie Holloway was on electric piano, I was on piano. I’d written… There was a solo section in it for a guitar but we had the bass player, the drummer, as I say, Laurie on electric, piano and me on acoustic. So no guitar player, for whatever reason and, so, instead of having a solo, I just stuck in another verse. So that’s it. It worked really well. It sounded really good. You know, plenty of piano, with Laurie’s electric piano, works really well. I had a gold disc made up for him because it sold a quarter of a million copies – a silver disc, sorry – he keeps it in his bathroom – as a tribute to him for the work he put on to it.

Gilbert O’Sullivan and Get Down. Moving forward a few years, another song – unless my research was incorrect – and I’m staggered that it wasn’t a hit and that’s Miss My Love Today. That’s a marvellous song.

Yeah and that’s proving a lot in people who are online at the moment, when they’re getting to hear my stuff for the first time. A lot of people have made a comment about that and, again, it’s a standard with us on stage. It’s always in the act. Again, it might have been released as a single. I mean, I don’t even know if it was now, but if it was – yes, of course it was a single, as you say, as you rightly say, in 1978. It came from the album Southpaw, which was my first self-produced album. Again, just in the studio, I wrote it on the Fender Rhodes, you’ve got the lovely vibrato going “whurr, whurr, whurr” and foot tap. I love songs with a foot tap. McCartney did it with Blackbird. Just that foot going. So, it was just myself, piano and, you know going back to Moody’s Garden, I love to do those things where it’s just a keyboard and a voice. So that was another opportunity. Just do the foot tap and the guy who played – Tony Hymas – was the one who added all the extra bits and all the ambience and all the sounds that you hear on it other than my piano. He did the solo and stuff. He was a very good, a really good keyboard player. It’s very simple. It’s just a very simple little love song, isn’t it? A nice middle section. Again, you know, certain songs you do, Jason, will survive the test of time but there’s many out there that don’t. So, you’re lucky if you can get a few that, to this day, you know, sound really good. Perhaps part of the reason for some of these sounding like that is because, if you’ve just got a foot tap and a piano, you’re not worried about getting into 80’s synths. I mean I’ve done those tracks with synthesisers and stuff so, you know, they can be a bit dated. I think that another example would be a version of What’s In A Kiss. For example, the actual record that was a hit has got Tim Renwick on it, he plays acoustic on it but he also plays electric. It has that very 80’s sound. But I actually, the version I like most, is the version where I have more piano. It’s the same vocals, same backing track, but there’s less of that sound, so it removes that thing that makes it slightly dated. So a song like Miss My Love Today will always just stick out because it doesn’t fall into any kind of category, I think.

As well as the strength of the song writing, of course.

Yeah, hopefully. Yeah, hopefully. You know, it’s all very well having a foot tap and a keyboard but if you haven’t got much of a song, you know, it doesn’t add up to much.

Listening to The Essential Collection, this is another song that really stands out and that’s Lost A Friend. I understand that this was your reaction to John Lennon’s death.

Yeah. Well the first thing to say is it’s another one of those just keyboard, recorded in Dublin, while I was doing lots of recording there before I moved back to England, which ended up on the album In The Key Of G. It’s just very simple, isn’t it, just piano. Just a little synth solo in the middle of it but again it’s just, I think, a foot tap, very simple. And, yeah I wrote it, not at the time of Lennon’s death. It came up later when I wrote it. I wrote it in the… not too long ago before it was actually recorded, lyrically anyway. Melodically it had been around for a while and, interesting enough too, in recent concerts we’ve done, because of the passing of David Bowie – even actually before Prince and then you had Terry Wogan, broadcaster – on stage, as a tribute to them, I sing it and I change the odd word on the last verse to incorporate the names of David Bowie, Wogan, Glenn Frey. I even talk about the guy, Black, who had the hit with…

Marvellous song writer, Colin Vearncombe.

…and he died when we on tour in Ireland, in a road accident. So, when we were in Ireland doing a few concerts, we mentioned that. So again it works out and it kind of ties in with events that affect people because, when you had the thing about meeting somebody, sorry, hearing somebody that you’ve never met but you feel that you know them, that’s what it’s all about. It’s that losing a friend you’ve never met, talk to and realized but, because of their music, or because of their book or whatever, or because of their film, you feel like you know them. So it works really well on that level.

Lost A Friend from Gilbert O’Sullivan. Next, we’re moving back, I think, about thirteen years or so and this is another really strong track, obviously from The Essential Collection – Answers On A Postcard Please. That’s got a real, slight jazz tone to it.

Well you’ve hit it on the nail. That comes from Piano Foreplay and was recorded with Laurie Holloway. Going back to Laurie Holloway, who played the keyboard on Get Down, Laurie, in the early days, was Englebert Humperdink’s arranger. Johnny Spence was Tom Jones’s arranger and Johnny Spence did most of my arrangements – Nothing Rhymed, Alone Again, Clair etc. So Laurie worked with me, not for doing orchestration but playing, like he played on Get Down. So as the years went by, when he left Humperdink, then he had a jazz trio. Laurie’s a great jazz keyboard player and so he has a trio of a double bass player, a drummer and, occasionally, an electric guitar player and they go out and he’s performed all over the place – Ronnie Scott’s, all these kind of places. And, so, when I came to make this album I used his trio. They came to my studio here in Jersey and so the album has that feel because they are the people playing on every song and so it had that kind of jazz leanings. Not intentionally. It’s simply because of the style of playing. You’ve got double bass. You’ve got Laurie on keyboards. The songs have all been structured by me beforehand so they’re playing in the structure that I want but the feel comes across, if you like, in that kind of slightly jazz inflexion because of the players. And I love the song. It’s one of the ones that I desperately wanted to put on this compilation because it hasn’t been on any. I always feel it’s a really good song to sing. Strong lyric but a nice feel and I’m really happy with it. I’m pleased that you chose that. I think it’ll interest people who just view me in one sense. Again you get the variety of the writer, I think, which is very important for me – fast, slow, medium, funny, humourous, serious. So I like to feel, to be a prolific songwriter, you don’t want to be known for just writing the same kind of thing. So you kind of expand your ability to cover all. And I don’t do it on purpose. I mean, the thing with me is that, because song writing is everything to me, if you’re going to sit here for eight hours, five days a week, four weeks a month, you want to be playing around with all different feels – you might take out a drum machine and play around with that and then you just might hit upon something. I mean you surprise yourself by coming up with ideas that just fall into some kind of category. It’s a fascinating process. Love it.

Long may it continue. 

Interesting, on this, just to digress slightly. The last track on this, there’s a thing called End-vironmental Piece. On this 43, I think there were 42 tracks and that’s what it was down to. Then I suddenly looked at this box set that was put out by Rhino in America. They did an exclusive 2,000 box set, a limited edition. And there it was at the end. I’d obviously written it to go on this box set, because I didn’t find it on any other album of mine, even on the hidden tracks that I’ve done on a couple of occasions. I thought that’s really good that. So I said, “Why don’t we stick that in? It’s contemporary. It’s up to date. It deals with something we’re all concerned with and it would be a nice way to round off the album.” So, that’s pretty much why we put that in.

Next, we’ve got the last of the cover versions and, actually it’s one of my favourites, it’s Rumer’s version of We Will. She’s really…

OK.

…very much a traditional standard approach to this marvellous song of yours.

Mmm. Yeah. Well, it’s considered by many, even my critics in the music press, to be one of my best songs. It is a really good song – a very good middle eight. I’m a sucker for good middle eights where you can go off and then come back. Strong melody and very much a Catholic working class family song, you know, that thing about “get up them stairs – get to bed” that’s my mother talking. In fact I think one of the early titles I had for it had something like ‘my mum’ in the title, because it’s pretty much her that’s going on. And then you’ve got that lovely line “Bagsy being in goal”, which is so English. I mean, I’m Irish by birth. I’m proud of my Irish roots but, if you want to talk in terms of song writing, I’m very much an English song writer because all my tradition of writing stems from growing up in Swindon and now living here in Jersey, so, lyrically I’m as English as any of the Davieses/McCartneys – you name it – of this world. So I love the song and covers of it, apart from Rumer’s which is a nice cover, of course, but when Andy Williams…. The story when Andy Williams called me up and wanted to record it and, I thought, yeah, lovely, but he didn’t understand what “bagsy being in goal” meant, so he asked if he could change that. (chuckles) I thought that was quite funny.

I love the play on words that you have, you know, with snow flakes and corn flakes and that kind of thing. As you said, it’s very English.

And, well, you can take that back to Nothing Rhymed. What’s the line “I’m drinking my Bonaparte shandy”. You know what that is, don’t you?

What’s that?

You don’t? It’s Napoleon brandy. (chortles) So I’m drinking my Napoleon brandy. Not quite. Doesn’t have the ring for me. I kind of like playing with words so, yeah, that brings up to date with the similar kind of thing on We Will and stuff. And, again, as a lyricist, you sit down for eight hours writing, you want to be coming up with things that amuse you, things which you get off on which are lyrically kind of fun to do.

Rumer – We Will. And next, Ray, we have, you know, our final track. We’re finishing on a high with your new single…

Brings us up to date.

Yeah. Brings us up to date and your new single I Guess I’ll Always Love You. That’s getting lots of airplay, actually.

Yeah. We’re doing really well. In a way it’s a turnaround. For years that our records that have not had… been play-listed on the radio. I live with it. I get disappointed for a couple of days and then I just move on. So it’s kind of nice. It’s seems this year we’ve kind of re-entered the play-list scenario which is really good. Because these days, getting on a play-list, getting A-listed or B-listed on Radio 2 is equivalent to almost having a hit, so it’s a very positive thing. And the album ‘Latin ala G!’ has had really good reviews from people, selling reasonably well. I’m very proud of that, recorded in Spain with producer Peter Walsh. Peter produced people like Simple Minds in the past so, it is really nice to be in that situation.

ala_img

We did the cover, copied the cover from Peggy Lee’s album. She did an album called ‘Latin ala Lee!’ where she was pictured on the cover with two male matadors. So we did the cover as a homage to her with me being photographed with two female matadors, so it’s a… and ‘Latin ala G!’ of course.

latin_a_la_lee

And I Guess I’ll Always Love You, it’s just, I mean, it’s that whole thing isn’t it? It’s – we all, well not all, but man you kind of have your first love, you go through a period of your life when you fall in love with somebody but it doesn’t work out for whatever reason and you move on. You move on to completely different lives. You get married, you have children, you’re really happy but you always have a soft spot for that relationship that took place and, if you meet that person, there’s something there that’s just, nothing sinister, just there’s a kind of something that was nice back then and you can relive it and enjoy the moment and then you get back. So I found that interesting as a lyricist to cover that area.

You’re still touring. You’ve got some shows coming up as well as some autumn dates as well?

Well, you know, if you put out an album, obviously Latin ala G! and, now with The Essential Collection and stuff, of course, you go on the road. It’s important to get out there, not just… it’s important from a promotion point of view. It’s all very well me talking to you and having a good interview with you and getting press and stuff, but concerts are vitally important because you get the chance to see the people who like you. You meet them afterwards and they’ll tell you things about yourself like tell you what they think of your material. I think it’s very important; and promotion is important. I don’t think it’s right that you can make a record and then say I’m never gonna go on the road or something. I think it’s important the two go together. So, yeah, we’ll be doing… we’ve done some UK dates but we’re off to Norway for some concerts. Probably go to Japan at the end of the year. Then I think, next February, I’ll be in my 50th year, so I think we’ll be doing 10 or 12 dates around the UK plus I think we’re going to do a thing in Dublin with an orchestra. So, it’s going to be good. That will take me up to March. March is a cut-off period because next March means that I can get back to thinking of the next project. That’s going to be interesting.

Gilbert O'Sullivan Essential

Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time, Ray.

It’s a pleasure, Jason. Good to talk to you, absolutely.

The material that you produce and are still producing, is so high and it’s great to continue spreading the word on your fantastic song writing.

Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate that. Great Jason, it was good to talk to you.

More information on Gilbert O’Sullivan including The Essential Collection can be found on his official website.

Copyright © Jason Barnard and Gilbert O’Sullivan, 2016. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission from the author.

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