Jump to content

Gilbert O'Sullivan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gilbert O'Sullivan
O'Sullivan on TopPop in 1974
O'Sullivan on TopPop in 1974
Background information
Birth nameRaymond Edward O'Sullivan
Born (1946-12-01) 1 December 1946 (age 77)
Waterford, Ireland
  • Vocals
  • piano
DiscographyGilbert O'Sullivan discography
Years active1967–present
Union Square (2007–2010; 2013–present)
MAM (1967–1978)
CBS (1978–1986)
Ultraphone (1986–1988)
Dover (1989–1990)
Park Records (1991–2000)
EMI (2000–2007)
Victor (2007)
Hypertension (2011–2013)

Raymond Edward "Gilbert" O'Sullivan (born 1 December 1946) is an Irish singer-songwriter who achieved his most significant success during the early 1970s with hits such as "Alone Again (Naturally)", "Clair" and "Get Down".[1] His songs are often marked by his distinctive, percussive piano playing style[2] and observational lyrics using word play.[3]

Born in Waterford, Ireland, O'Sullivan settled in Swindon, England, as a child. In 1967, he began pursuing a career in music. Worldwide, he has charted 16 top 40 records including six No. 1 songs, the first of which was 1970's "Nothing Rhymed". Across his career, he has recorded 19 studio albums. The music magazine Record Mirror voted O'Sullivan the top UK male singer of 1972.[4] He has received three Ivor Novello Awards, including "Songwriter of the Year" in 1973.[5]

Early life


Raymond Edward O'Sullivan was born on 1 December 1946 in Cork Road, Waterford, Ireland.[6] He was one of six children. His mother May ran a sweet shop and his father was a butcher with Clover Meats.[7][8][9] The O'Sullivans emigrated due to a job offer in England.[10] The family first moved to Battersea, London when Raymond was seven, before settling in Swindon, Wiltshire a year later. Raymond began playing piano here, later explaining: "I come from a working-class background, but we always had a piano, the thinking of my parents was that if one of your kids could play it, you could make some money at it."[3] A period of going to piano lessons was short-lived, as O'Sullivan was not enamoured of music theory and played the pieces by ear instead.[2] Raymond's father died two years after the move to Swindon.[9] O'Sullivan didn't mourn his passing, later stating, "the fact of the matter is, I didn't know my father very well, and he wasn't a good father anyway."[11]

Raymond attended St Joseph's Catholic College before studying at Swindon College, specialising in graphic design. Here, he played with several semi-professional bands including the Doodles and the Prefects, and was most notably a drummer in a band called Rick's Blues, along with Malcolm Mabbett (guitar), Keith Ray (bass) and founder Rick Davies.[12][13] Davies, who later founded Supertramp, taught O'Sullivan how to play both drums and piano.[14] O'Sullivan's drumming informed his style of piano-playing, which often utilises a distinct, percussive piano pattern. O'Sullivan has explained, "My left hand is hitting the high hat and the right hand is the snare."[2] He started writing songs, heavily influenced by the Beatles as writers and Bob Dylan as a performer.[5]


O'Sullivan sporting his 'Depression-era street urchin'[15] look in 1971

In 1967, O'Sullivan moved from Swindon to London in pursuit of a career in music. Determined to get a record deal and looking to stand out, he created an eye-catching visual image consisting of a bowl cut, cloth cap and short trousers. O'Sullivan has said his love of silent film inspired the look.[16] He scored a five-year contract with April Music, CBS Records' house publishing company, after coming to the attention of the professional manager Stephen Shane,[17] who also suggested changing his name from Ray to Gilbert as a play on the name of the light opera partnership Gilbert and Sullivan. He was paid an advance of £12 (equivalent to £300 as of 2024), with which he bought a piano. He was signed to CBS Records by the A&R manager Mike Smith, who produced the Tremeloes, the Marmalade and the Love Affair.

His first single was "Disappear", produced by Mike Smith and released in November 1967 credited to the mononym 'Gilbert'. It failed to chart, as did his second single "What Can I Do", released in April 1968. A switch to the Irish record label Major Minor in 1969 yielded a third single "Mr. Moody's Garden", which was again unsuccessful. O'Sullivan then sent some demo tapes to Gordon Mills, the manager of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, whereupon O'Sullivan was signed to Mills' newly founded label, MAM Records. Mills reportedly hated O'Sullivan's self-created image, but O'Sullivan insisted on using it initially.[18] O'Sullivan's unique signature look garnered much attention and often saw him compared to the Bisto Kids.[19][20] O'Sullivan explained his thinking behind his appearance in a 1971 interview: "My mother probably doesn't like Neil Young because she hates the way he looks, his hair and everything. If you can get them interested in the way you look then they tend to like the music. The thing which I'm trying to create is of the thirties; Keaton and Chaplin."[21]

Early success


At the end of 1970, O'Sullivan achieved his first UK top 10 hit with "Nothing Rhymed",[4] which also reached number one in the Netherlands,[22] where it earned O'Sullivan his first gold disc.[12] Over 1971, O'Sullivan scored hits with "Underneath The Blanket Go" (which also reached number one in the Netherlands), "We Will" and "No Matter How I Try", the latter being named "Best Ballad or Romantic Song" at the 17th Ivor Novello Awards in 1972.[23] O'Sullivan released his debut album, Himself, in August 1971.[6] It received a warm critical reception, with O'Sullivan's observational and conversational style of songwriting garnering comparisons to Paul McCartney and Randy Newman.[21][24] O'Sullivan opted not to tour in promotion of the album, but did however make a number of appearances on British television during 1971, most notably recording an edition of BBC In Concert broadcast 18 December 1971.[25]

O'Sullivan in 1972

In 1972 O'Sullivan achieved major international fame with "Alone Again (Naturally)", a ballad which touches on suicide and loss. The single peaked at no. 3 in the UK but in America spent six non-consecutive weeks at number one on Billboard's Hot 100, selling nearly two million copies. It peaked at no. 2 in New Zealand (during an 11-week chart run) and spent two weeks at number one in Canada (13 weeks in the Top 40);[26] and reached number one in Japan (during a 21-week chart run). In America the single ranked no. 2 (behind Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face") in Billboard's year-end chart, based on both sales and airplay. In 1973 both titles were Grammy-nominated for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year, with Flack winning in both categories. This international success coincided with a new image, with O'Sullivan discarding the appearance he had used since 1967. He unveiled a more modern 'college-like' look in which he often wore a sweater bearing a large letter 'G'.[6] This was a deliberate attempt to prevent "[making] an impact like Tiny Tim" in the US that "would have taken years to shake off," and the subsequent American edition of Himself, which included "Alone Again (Naturally)", featured an updated image of O'Sullivan on the album artwork.[27] O'Sullivan followed up on the success of "Alone Again (Naturally)" with "Clair", which reached no. 2 in the United States on the Hot 100 and no. 1 in the UK, Norway, France, Belgium, Ireland and Canada (14 weeks in the Canadian Top 40).[26][28] Its parent album (and O'Sullivan's second), Back to Front, spawned a further hit with "Out of the Question", which reached no. 17 in the US and no. 14 in Canada.[26]

O'Sullivan's disc sales exceeded ten million in 1972 and made him the top star of the year.[12] O'Sullivan's success led to his taking part in the BBC's anniversary programme Fifty Years of Music in November 1972. O'Sullivan was ranked by Record Mirror as the number 1 male singer of 1972,[29] and in May 1973, he won an Ivor Novello award for "British Songwriter of the Year."[30]

1973 saw the release of O'Sullivan's third album, I'm a Writer, Not a Fighter, which reflected a new emphasis on rock music and funk influences. Its lead single, the electric keyboard-based "Get Down", reached number one in the UK, Belgium and Germany,[28][31] no. 7 in both the US and Canada, and no. 3 in the Netherlands.[4][26] Following "Alone Again (Naturally)" and "Clair", "Get Down" was O'Sullivan's third million-seller, with the RIAA gold disc award presented on 18 September 1973.[12]

O'Sullivan enjoyed nearly five years of success with MAM, a run that included seven UK top 10 singles and four UK top 10 albums; three US top 10 singles and one top 10 album; five Dutch top 10 singles and three top 10 albums; five New Zealand top 10 singles; three Canadian top 10 singles; and seven Japan top 10 singles.[32] By 1974, his sales were decreasing.[6] His fourth album A Stranger In My Own Back Yard, was his first to miss the top five on the UK Albums Chart, charting at no. 9. Its lead single, "A Woman's Place", generated controversy due to its lyric ("I believe / A woman's place is in the home"), seen by some as sexist.[33] It was O'Sullivan's first single since his 1970 breakthrough to miss the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart, reaching a peak of no. 42.[34] His November 1974 single "Christmas Song" reached no. 12 in the UK and no. 5 in Ireland. In June 1975, O'Sullivan had his last top 20 hit, "I Don't Love You But I Think I Like You".[4][6]

Gilbert released a fifth album with MAM in 1977, Southpaw, but it failed to chart. O'Sullivan discovered his recording contract with MAM Records greatly favoured the label's owner, Gordon Mills. A lawsuit followed, with a prolonged argument over how much money his songs had earned and how much of that money he had actually received.[35] Eventually, in May 1982, the court found in O'Sullivan's favour, describing him as a "patently honest and decent man", who had not received a just proportion of the vast income his songs had generated.[35] They awarded him £7 million in damages (£31,203,400 as of 2024). Although he had won, the court battle put his recording career on hold,[36] and he said he was unable to obtain management or a major record label deal.[37]

Later career


In 1980, after a five-year hiatus, he returned to his old record label, CBS.

The first single, "What's in a Kiss?", reached No. 19 in the UK in 1980 and No. 21 in Japan.[32] It was his first UK top 20 hit in five years. Following the release of his subsequent 1980 and 1982 albums, Off Centre and Life & Rhymes, and due in part to the then-ongoing MAM court case, O'Sullivan released no new material between 1983 and 1986.[6] Apart from the single "So What?" in 1990 and a compilation album in 1991, Nothing But the Best, O'Sullivan was absent from the charts until another compilation album, The Berry Vest of Gilbert O'Sullivan, returned him to the UK top 20 in 2004.[4]

O'Sullivan is also noted for his role in bringing about the practice of clearing samples in hip hop music as a result of the 1991 court case Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc.,[38] in which he sued rapper Biz Markie over the rights to use a sample of his song "Alone Again (Naturally)".[6] He won 100% of the royalties and made sampling an expensive undertaking.[39]

O'Sullivan has continued to record and perform into the 21st century. He enjoys particular acclaim in Japan.[6] His album A Scruff at Heart was released in 2007, featuring "Just So You Know". On 14 July 2008, O'Sullivan released "Never Say Di". He appeared at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival and played London's Royal Albert Hall on 26 October 2009. On 26 August 2010, O'Sullivan announced that he had joined Hypertension, a record company whose artists have included Leo Sayer, Chris DeBurgh, Fleetwood Mac and Gerry Rafferty.[40]

His album Gilbertville was released on 31 January 2011; it featured "All They Wanted to Say", which dealt with the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, and his single "Where Would We Be (Without Tea)?". On 19 July 2011, O'Sullivan played live on the BBC Radio 2 Ken Bruce Show.[41] On 26 August that year, the documentary Out on His Own was broadcast by BBC 4 (before by Irish RTÉ). In March 2012, the compilation album Gilbert O'Sullivan: The Very Best Of – A Singer & His Songs entered the UK Albums Chart at No. 12.[42] 2015 saw Gilbert re-emerge on Irish and BBC radio and television. He toured Ireland beginning of June and on 8 June 2015 his album Latin à la G! was released.[43]

On 24 August 2018, O'Sullivan released his 19th studio album, Gilbert O'Sullivan. The album entered the UK Albums Chart at No. 20, his first UK charting studio album in over 40 years.[42]

On 22 July 2022, O'Sullivan released his 20th studio album, Driven, produced by Andy Wright. The album peaked in the UK Albums Chart at No. 26.[42]

In December 2023, councillors of Waterford City and County Council agreed to award O'Sullivan the Freedom of the City & County.[44] He received the honour in person on 27 March 2024.[45]

Personal life


O'Sullivan purposely avoided dating at the peak of his career; he feared that doing so would inhibit his songwriting abilities.[46] In January 1980, O'Sullivan married his Norwegian girlfriend Aase Brekke. Later that year, the first of their two daughters, Helen-Marie, was born. Tara was born two years later.[47]

He currently lives in Jersey.[48]

Album discography


See also



  1. ^ "Gilbert O'Sullivan Articles". Gilbertosullivan.net. 31 October 2007. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b c "Episode 72 - Gilbert O'Sullivan". Sodajerker. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b Hutchinson, Martin (26 March 2012). "Interview: Gilbert O Sullivan". Southern Daily Echo. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 411. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  5. ^ a b "Biography". Gilbert O'Sullivan. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Biography by Jason Ankeny". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 5 March 2009.
  7. ^ "Home again, naturally!". Ireland's Own. Archived from the original on 15 January 2022. Retrieved 27 August 2020. There were six children in my family, and at that time it was common for many homes in the UK to have a piano. The thinking behind it was that if one of the children became good at it they could go on to earn a few bob playing in the pubs, though I never went down that route.
  8. ^ Ingle, Róisín. "The strange case of Gilbert O'Sullivan". The Irish Times. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Guide to Swindon - Gilbert O'Sullivan". SwindonWeb. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  10. ^ Richard, Fitzpatrick (29 May 2015). "Gilbert O'Sullivan is proud of his Irish roots". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  11. ^ ""Alone Again (Naturally)" - Gilbert O'Sullivan".
  12. ^ a b c d Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 318. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  13. ^ Harrison, Flicky (28 December 2016). "Gilbert O'Sullivan's far from Alone Again as musicians reunite". This Is Wiltshire. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  14. ^ Melhuish, Martin (1986). The Supertramp Book. Toronto, Canada: Omnibus Press. p. 18. ISBN 0-9691272-2-7.
  15. ^ "Biography by Jason Ankeny". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  16. ^ "Still singing, naturally". 20 March 2001. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  17. ^ 'In 1967 ... [h]e took a part-time Christmas job at the C&A Department store on Oxford Street. While there, a colleague brought his tapes to the attention of the CBS record company executives. They liked what they heard and he was signed up.' Ireland's Own, 12 June 2015, No. 5501, pg 9
  18. ^ Jones, Peter (20 March 1974). "Gilbert O'Sullivan" (PDF). Record Mirror: 14. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  19. ^ Ingle, Roisin (23 June 2007). "Himself Again Naturally". Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  20. ^ "Gilbert O'Sullivan". Salvo. Archived from the original on 31 January 2020. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  21. ^ a b Watts, Michael. "The Working Class Hero". Gilbert O'Sullivan. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  22. ^ "Top40 Chart". Top40.nl. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  23. ^ "1972". The Ivors. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  24. ^ Norman, Tony. "NME - Gilbert O'Sullivan". Gilbert O'Sullivan. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  25. ^ "Gilbert O'Sullivan In Concert". BBC Genome. 18 December 1971. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  26. ^ a b c d [1][dead link]
  27. ^ Gambaccini, Paul (2 August 1973). "Gilbert O: He Knows He's a Mechanical Man". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  28. ^ a b "Song artist 235 - Gilbert O'Sullivan". Archived from the original on 30 October 2007.
  29. ^ "Flashback 1972: Gilbert O'Sullivan mobbed on Irish return". Independent.ie. 1 November 2005. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  30. ^ "The Ivors 1973". The Ivors. Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  31. ^ Chartsurfer.de. "Get Down von Gilbert O'Sullivan". Chartsurfer.de. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  32. ^ a b "The Official Gilbert O'Sullivan Website – A Friend of Mine". Gilbertosullivan.com. Archived from the original on 11 August 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  33. ^ "'I never lost the joy!': singer Gilbert O'Sullivan on love, loss and lawsuits". the Guardian. 8 June 2022.
  34. ^ "Gilbert O'Sullivan". Official Charts. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  35. ^ a b Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 149. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  36. ^ Murphy, Adrienne. "Happy Birthday Gilbert O'Sullivan: Revisiting a Classic Interview". Hot Press. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
  37. ^ Lewis, John (28 September 2007). "'The equal of any songwriter'". Financial Times. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
  38. ^ Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)
  39. ^ Stanley, Bob (25 August 2011). "Gilbert O'Sullivan: time for a reappraisal?". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  40. ^ "Hypertension " Artists". Hypertension-music.de. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  41. ^ "BBC Radio 2 – Ken Bruce, 19/07/2011". Bbc.co.uk. 19 July 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  42. ^ a b c "GILBERT O'SULLIVAN". Official Charts. 28 November 1970. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  43. ^ "Gilbert O'Sullivan - Latin à la G Album Reviews, Songs & More". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  44. ^ Norris, Jordan (14 December 2023). "Gilbert O'Sullivan to be awarded the Freedom of Waterford City & County". WLR, Waterford. Retrieved 18 December 2023.
  45. ^ 'Gilbert O'Sullivan awarded Freedom of Waterford honour - "It's special because I'm a local boy"'. RTÉ News, 27 March 2024. Retrieved 28 March 2024
  46. ^ "Gilbert O'Sullivan | In Print". Gilbertosullivan.net. 2 August 1973. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  47. ^ Rowley, Eddie (21 June 2021). "GILLER LOOK - Gilbert O'Sullivan admits his pudding bowl haircut didn't impress the ladies". sundayworld.com. Sunday World. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  48. ^ Rees, Caroline (14 August 2016). "Gilbert O'Sullivan: 'Success was the postman walking up the garden whistling my song'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 December 2018 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.