He ruled the charts in the Seventies with sixteen Top 40 hits, selling millions of records throughout the world, and writing songs remains Gilbert O’Sullivan’s burning passion, he tells Ireland’s Own, as he prepares to launch a new album, and embark on a tour of Ireland.
In 1972, a unique young musician named Gilbert O’Sullivan anchored Irish songwriting on the transatlantic music map when his hauntingly beautiful composition Alone Again (Naturally) spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard Charts.
What made such a feat all the more outstanding for the 24-year-old songsmith was that he outsold the likes of Don McLean’s American Pie and Harry Nilsson’s Without You that year.
Alone Again (Naturally) would go on to be voted the fifth most popular song of the decade. Not bad for a young man who only ever wanted to be successful “at home” – like it or not, the rest of the world wanted a piece of him too.
Fast forward over forty years and the Waterford-born singer/songwriter is still doing what he loves best – writing songs. Today, as the late May sunshine beats down on his Jersey home, he is busy rehearsing for his June tour around Ireland, which will see him catch up with many familiar faces. He is also preparing to release his new album Latin Ala G which launches on June 8th.
“I’m not one of those artists that likes to be on the road all the time,” he says as he takes a break from the music studio to chat. “I prefer if I have a new album out to go out and do the promotion, do the tour, and then when that is out of the way get back to songwriting for the next six months, which is what I still love to do.”
Born in Waterford in December, 1946, Raymond O’Sullivan and his family lived on the city’s Cork Road. His dad was a butcher, while his mum ran a sweet shop. When he was aged seven, the family moved to London and resided in the Battersea area for a year, where his mum briefly worked, before they finally settled down in Swindon.
“Though we left Waterford when I was seven, I have been back several times. In my student days, I used to take the train to Fishguard and sailed across to visit our old neighbours Mr and Mrs Roche and their son, Peter. My gran also still lived there, so it was always great catching up with her.
“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.
“My interest in music began with the radio. Mum had a radio in the lounge, and I fondly remember tuning into Radio Luxembourg, and listening to the newest records of the day under my bedsheets at night.”