Friday, 13 January 2012

Interview with Gilbert O'Sullivan in The Daily Yomiuri on 23 September 2011

Still packing a punch at 64
Singer Gilbert O'Sullivan to visit old and new Japanese friends
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Gilbert O'Sullivan pictured at his daughters'
apartment in central London last month.
LONDON--With albums titled I'm a Writer, Not a Fighter and Southpaw, it shouldn't have been a surprise. But when singer-songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan proudly pointed to a photograph on the wall from the mid-1970s of him sparring with Muhammad Ali, it occurred to this writer that he shares the boxer's single-minded approach.

At the age of 64, the highly focused O'Sullivan released Gilbertville earlier this year, the latest in a steady stream of albums since his debut long player, Himself, in 1971. He was in high spirits during an interview for The Daily Yomiuri over a mug of tea at his daughters' central London apartment, and spoke of the dedication an album demands.

"It requires a lot of discipline to sit in a room nine to five. Do you want to do that, for weeks, months on end? If you're really as enthusiastic and keen as I am, you'll do it, but if you look outside and it's a sunny day, you'll think, 'Do I want to do this?'"

For all his work as a contemporary songwriter, O'Sullivan will forever be associated with a string of Top 10 singles in the 1970s, and in Japan for a pair of hits in the early '90s. Of all these tunes, one in particular, "Alone Again (Naturally)" stands out as a perennial favorite.

"In Japan, that's the song, although we had a No. 1 in the early '90s with 'Tomorrow Today,' which was used on a TV show," O'Sullivan said, adding that "Alone Again" helped broaden his appeal in Japan.

"When I go to Japan I meet people--and I get letters from people in Japan--who like me because they went to see Sophia Coppola's movie The Virgin Suicides. 'Alone Again' was in that, so a lot of young people are into that movie, and I get people who like me because they heard the song in that movie. I'm for that, because you get introduced to a new audience. And if they know nothing of your past before then, it's still a nice thing."

While "Alone Again" has found a place in the hearts of his Japanese fans, other nationalities have their own favorite O'Sullivan tunes.

"[If] you go to Spain, the most popular O'Sullivan song is 'What's in a Kiss'; go to Germany and the most popular O'Sullivan song is 'Get Down'; go to England, it's 'Clair'; and in Holland it's 'Nothing Rhymed.' So there's a nice mishmash of different songs, it isn't just the one," he said.

For many, the Dutch got it right with "Nothing Rhymed," a career milestone for O'Sullivan.

"['Nothing Rhymed'] was an important song for many reasons. Apart from being the first hit, it was the first record with [former manager] Gordon [Mills]. Everything seemed to gel then, that first recording session when we did that, in 1970.

"In Japan, they liked it because they wanted me to go there. The world was interested in me at that point because of how I looked, so for a lot of people it's their favorite track of mine, which I don't mind at all," he said, adding that a certain legendary guitarist might have been in the studio for the recording.

"There's still a feeling--it's still debatable--I think Jimmy Page was the guitar player, because he used to do sessions--even when Led Zeppelin started--because the guitar player didn't read [music]. I remember that. He was sitting there with his acoustic, so we think that was him," he said.

"Nothing Rhymed" has been covered by artists such as Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield, but it was a live version by Morrissey that most fascinated O'Sullivan, who sees some parallels between himself and the former Smiths frontman."

"I've heard that he did it on stage [but] he's not recorded it. [My agent in Ireland] said Morrissey's a big fan and the earlier stuff of mine was a big influence on him. Because, I guess, in a way I was like that, I was a very kind of indie person, you know. I didn't mix with people, I'm not social, I'm very much into my own little world, very much love music. I don't really have close friends and that, I looked a bit weird, so I think people kind of related to that. I think Morrissey, arguably, in the very beginning, picked up on that...I'd loved to have heard it," he said.

Despite Morrissey's cover, don't expect to hear a version of "This Charming Man" on O'Sullivan's next album.

"I've no interest in doing covers because I've no need to. If you have a good voice, like James Taylor or something, maybe covers make sense because you can sing, 'How sweet it is to be loved by you,' and it's great. I'm very confident with my own songs and I wouldn't be confident singing other people's songs," he explained.

The same can be said for O'Sullivan collaborations, but an exception is a single he recorded with a Japanese musician in 1991.

"There's a very famous singer in Japan, Takao Kisugi. He's very influenced by Gilbert O'Sullivan. We did a song together with his melody and my melody--that's the only time that I've done that--but only in Japan. I did it just because of him. I don't do it with other people, but in this instance I agreed to it because Takao is such a nice person and he' s such a big fan of mine. So in honor of his respect for me, I agreed to do it. 'What A Way (To Show I Love You)' is the song. It's my lyric and his melody, so we did that. That's the only one."

Gilbert O'Sullivan will play at Billboard Live in Osaka at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 (06) 6342-7722, at Kanazawa City Bunka Hall in Kanazawa at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4, (076) 224-4141, and at Billboard Live in Tokyo at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 6-7, (03) 3405-1133. For more information, visit
(Sep. 23, 2011)

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