Gilbert O’Sullivan was born Raymond Edward O’Sullivan on 1st December 1946 in Waterford in Ireland but moved with his family to Swindon in England in 1953 in search of a better life. Musically he had begun with the guitar but progressed to the piano. He played drums in his first group The Doodles though and left them to join The Prefects while attending Swindon Art College. While at college he began writing songs and sending out demo tapes, alas they were always returned unopened.
After finishing college, Gilbert moved to London in 1967 to try and further his musical career. After playing some tapes to some CBS executives, Gilbert signed a five year publishing contract which called for one single a year, and released two singles”Disappear”/”You” in 1967 and “What Can I Do”/”You” in 1968. Gilbert was disappointed that he was not allowed any input into the arranging or production of the singles. Neither single did well. Disillusioned with CBS, Gilbert signed with the Major Minor label and released “I Wish I Could Cry”/”Mr. Moody’s Garden” in 1969.
Gilbert came to the attention of BBC Radio 1 disc jockey, John Peel, who gave him a slot on his radio show Top Gear but little of note resulted, and O’Sullivan spent part of 1969 applying to other record labels and management companies. It was at this time that Gilbert formulated his ’Bisto Kid’ image; grey flannel suit, flat cap, school boy tie, football socks and hobnail boots. In search of a manager he sent some demo tapes to Gordon Mills who had successfully guided the careers of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. Gordon Mills recognised something unique in the young Irishman and signed him for management as well as to a songwriting contract.
Gilbert made an irresistible impression with “Nothing Rhymed”, his first Top 10 hit and an introduction to his witty lyrics and original approach as a singer/songwriter. Signed to MAM Records, the label launched by Gordon Mills, who was also his record producer, great friend and surrogate older brother, O’Sullivan enjoyed four years of major success, incorporating a dozen more hit singles, ten of which reached the UK Top 10, and four Top 5 albums: “Himself” (1971), “Back To Front” (1972), “I’m A Writer Not A Fighter” (1973) and “A Stranger In My Own Back Yard” (1974).
Both “Clair” and “Get Down” were number one hit singles in Britain, and additionally, “Back To Front” topped the UK LP chart in 1972, emulating the success of the two million seller “Alone Again(Naturally)”, a six week US chart-topper in 1972. Around this time, the singer jettisoned his so-called”Bisto Kid” image in favour of an endless series of collegiate-styled sweaters embossed with the letter “G”.
As quickly as O’Sullivan ascended to fame, however, his star began to fall, although singles like “Ooh Baby” and “Happiness Is Me and You” continued to chart, they sold increasingly fewer copies and in 1975 he notched his final Top 20 hit with 1975’s “I Don’t Love You But I Think I Like You”.
Gilbert’s fifth album “Southpaw” was released in 1977, by which time the hit singles had dried up, disagreements over future direction led to a bitter split between O’Sullivan and Mills, which effectively sidelined the former as a recording artist for five years. The gruelling court case between O’Sullivan and Gordon Mills finally gave him control of his own recordings and the copyright in his songs, although it exacted an inevitable toll on his energy and his creativity during its precedent-setting course.
Gilbert returned to CBS in 1980 and released “Off Centre” (1980) and “Life & Rhymes” (1982) but maintained a low profile during much of the 1980s. “Off Centre” provided his 13th UK Top 20 single, “What’s In A Kiss?”, after which legal proceedings monopolised his time. Gilbert released no new material between 1982 and 1987 when he released “Frobisher Drive” in Germany (later released in the UK as “In The Key Of G”). The album included “So What”, Gilbert’s first chart single in almost a decade.
Gilbert has continued to record and tour since then, particularly in Japan where he is particularly popular. Albums have included “Sounds Of The Loop” (1993), “By Larry” (1994),”Every Song Has Its Play” (1995), “Singer Sowing Machine” (1997), “Irilish” (2001), “Piano Foreplay” (2003), “A Scruff At Heart” (2007) and “Gilbertville” (2010).
His 2012 compilation “Gilbert O’Sullivan: The Very Best Of – A Singer & His Songs” entered the UK album charts at #12, and on the heels of this success “Ooh Wakka Doo Wakka Day” became the theme song for UK National Lottery adverts. Cover versions of his songs continue to be released, including a version of “Alone Again (Naturally)”, by Neil Diamond and, more recently, Diana Krall featuring Michael Bublé.
In 2015 Gilbert released “Latin ala G!”, a homage (including the cover) to the great Peggy Lee’s classic 1960 LP Latin ala Lee! The album was recorded over three weeks in Madrid, Spain using some of the finest Spanish musicians, which gives the songs overseen by producer Peter Walsh that all-important Latin feel.
The album has spawned three singles, the second of which, a remix of ‘No Way’ by Greg Fitzgerald, (Kylie Minogue, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Madonna), made the BBC Radio 2 A list, which led to a rapturously received performance with the BBC Concert Orchestra on R2’s long-running Friday Night Is Music Night in February 2016. The latest single, the wistful ‘I Guess I’ll Always Love You’, is currently on R2’s playlist.
2016’s 43 song 2 CD anthology “Gilbert O’Sullivan: The Essential Collection” is truly a definitive career overview, stretching from before his first hit ‘Nothing Rhymed’ to his current single “I Guess I’ll Always Love You”. The track-listing has been selected by Gilbert, who said, “The nice thing about putting together this compilation is that it allowed me to re-visit and choose many of the songs I’m most proud of, whether they be taken from various albums or released as singles.”
After successful touring in the UK and Ireland in 2015 and 2016, Gilbert started 2017 with a solo performance at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool followed by a short Irish Tour which included a sold-out performance with the 30-piece RTE. Radio Orchestra at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin. A 14-date UK tour follows in March and then in April Gilbert visits Japan for some shows.