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Gilbert O’Sullivan

You may think that you know all there is to know about Gilbert O’Sullivan. That he was a huge star in the 70′s and that he fought two massively important music industry legal cases. All this, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Born in Waterford, Ireland raised in England, O’Sullivan signed to CBS Records in 1967 but was to find initial success elusive, although he with the help of people like the late Kenny Everett and John Peel almost made the breakthrough with a song called “Mr. Moody’s Garden”, now considered a G.O’S classic.

However, having teamed up with Tom Jones’ manager Gordon Mills he reached the top ten in 1970 with ’Nothing Rhymed’. There followed over ten years a run of success, including fifteen hit singles and five top ten albums. Of all these it was ’Alone Again (Naturally)’ that struck the greatest chord, spending six weeks at no. 1 in the US. The follow up “Clair” (UK’s most popular O’Sullivan song) only failing to reach no.1 by Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”.

The 80′s and to some extent the early 90′s brought more time in the courts than it did the recording studio, as O’Sullivan, albeit reluctantly, brought action first against his manager and former record label and then in the States, rapper Biz Markie, who had sampled him without his permission. Both cases were found in the singer’s favour and have since had wide reaching consequences for the record business.

Since then, O’Sullivan has kept his own counsel. He has continued to make music of his own volition, releasing a series of albums including one featuring a duet with a favourite singer of his, the great Peggy Lee plus touring regularly including Japan where in the mid 90′s he achieved a no. 1 single with the song “Tomorrow Today”.

Flying in the face of the fashion for other artists of his era, he has refused to be drawn into the world of nostalgia package tours, reality TV shows and God forbid the world of celebrity.

As always, Gilbert O’Sullivan has been his own man.

Now it seems as though the rest of the world is catching up. His music has sound tracked films and television shows from “Stuart Little 2″ ’The Simpsons’ to Sofia Coppola’s ’The Virgin Suicides’ Meera Syal’s  ”Anita & Me” and the Japanese manga cartoon ’ Maison Ikkokou’. Most recently ’Alone Again (Naturally)’ featured in the hit BBC series ’Life On Mars’. Also the next Noah Baumbach film staring Nicole Kidman will feature a track. His songs have been covered by amongst others Andy Williams, Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, Bobby Darin, Sarah Vaughan and more recently Har Mar Superstar and Donny Osmond. In 2004 his latest best of compilation (Berry Vest of) saw him return to the top twenty. The music scene has rediscovered the long lost decade of the 70s, with bands such as The Feeling tracing a lineage back to ELO and Queen, while Ben Folds in particular has been producing the kind of lyrically clever, eloquent pop music that O’Sullivan made his own.

What better time then for the man himself to return with a new album? Recorded largely in his home studio in Jersey, “A Scruff At Heart” (what he considers himself) is a radical departure from his most recent band albums. This is simply the sound of O’Sullivan, his piano loud with live vocals and his extraordinary songs – bolstered only by the striking inclusion of strings and woodwind (recorded in a church in Surrey). The elegant ease of it all gives the record a timeless quality that belies his roots, although the layered vocals instil the album with a feel that has both classic overtones and is strangely current at the same time. The lyrics too are classic O’Sullivan, as comfortable tackling issues such as war and school bullying as the condition of the human heart coupled with a wry sense of humour.

Gilbert O’Sullivan has had an incredible career, both in and away from the limelight. He has never taken the easy option, never been content to play the media game and sell his artistic integrity for short term game. It’s not been an easy ride but it’s proving to be an approach that is winning out in the long run. Think you know all there is to know about Gilbert O’Sullivan?

Think again.