Gilbert O’Sullivan, a huge international star in the 1970s, is back on the road and heading to Darlington in early May. Ahead of the visit he chats to Martin Hutchinson about his career

THE man behind such classic hits as Clair, Nothing Rhymed and Get Down – Gilbert O’Sullivan – is about to release a brand new recording, is back on tour in the UK and he's heading to Darlington.

“Yeah, we did a big tour last year which was great,” Gilbert says from his home in Jersey. ”And now we have a new album just finished, so we’re going out again.”

And he is certainly looking forward to playing live again.

“That’s right. In fact, we’ve only just got back from Australia and we want to keep going.”

“It’s all very well making records, but the joy of performing is that you get to meet people who give you instant feedback.”

He continues. “I take what the people say on board, I really like that.”

Gilbert, born Raymond O’Sullivan in Ireland in 1946, moved with his family to Battersea and then Swindon in 1953. For a while, he played in a band called Rick’s Blues with a fellow art student called Rick Davies, whilst another band had another future star in its line-up.

“Yes, Justin Hayward was in a band called Whispers which was just ahead of us. But our band was really good.”

The band even made a record. “That’s right, we went to London and made a record at Tony Pike’s studio with two of my songs. We put it on a juke box in Swindon.”

But the band didn’t last. “No, we went our separate ways. I went solo, and Rick formed Supertramp.

For the first half of the seventies, Gilbert was almost ever-present in the UK charts, notching up 14 hits, seven of which went Top Ten and two (Clair and Get Down getting all the way to Number One.

His hit Alone Again (Naturally) was an American chart-topper, reaching number three in the UK.

There were also a quartet of Top Ten albums, of which ‘Back To Front’ topped the charts in 1972.

Surprisingly, his favourite songs from his repertoire were not hits. “I do have lots of favourites, but I’d have to pick a couple out. Young At Heart with its orchestration and Peggy Lee influence, and All I Wanted To Say which is about ‘9/11’.”

And it has to be said that Gilbert has a soft spot for Peggy Lee. “She’s iconic.” He says smiling. “You learn from listening to great records and she did some really great ones. I met Peggy when I did a duet with her, and we play it in the live shows with me singing along with Peggy on film.”

And what else can fans expect to hear in the show? “There’ll be two or three tracks off the new album and of course all the favourites.

“There’ll be nine of us on stage. It’s a really good band and we went down well in Australia.”

The new album has echoes of the past. “Yes,” Gilbert agrees. “My first album was produced by Glyn Johns, who produced The Who and many others, whilst my new album is produced by his son Ethan.”

The writing process comes naturally to Gilbert. “I’ve never had writer’s block.” He admits. “I love writing and I just sit at my keyboard and write. I started when I was 15 and I still have the excitement and enthusiasm.”

The new album will be out in August and has an inventive title. “Yeah,” laughs Gilbert. “They must have been up all night thinking it up. It’s called ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan’. Two singles will be released from it before August and the first one is called Where Did You Go To.

After the UK dates, Gilbert and his band will be off on their travels again. “Yes, we’ve got some European dates and Scandinavia, then later in the year over to Japan. And next year…..”

He smiles. “Back to the keyboard.”

  • Gilbert O’Sullivan will be performing at The Hippodrome, Darlington on Thursday, May 3. Tickets are available from the Box Office and all the usual agencies.