Monday 26 September 2016

Flashback 1972: Gilbert O'Sullivan mobbed on Irish return

This weekend 43 years ago, Irish pop sensation Gilbert O'Sullivan was swamped by fans before making his live debut in Dublin

Published 01/11/2015 | 02:30

Gilbert O'Sullivan is swamped by fans at Dublin airport in 1972
Gilbert O'Sullivan is swamped by fans at Dublin airport in 1972

One of the biggest Irish pop stars of the 1970s made his live debut in Dublin on Halloween 1972. Gilbert O'Sullivan was already huge - his single Alone Again (Naturally) had been No 1 in the United States and sold two million copies worldwide - but had never played in front of an audience. Touching down at Dublin Airport, O'Sullivan was overwhelmed by excited fans.

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Born Raymond O'Sullivan in Waterford in 1946, he was 11 when the family moved to the English town of Swindon. After some early failed flirtations with showbiz, his career took off when he signed with Gordon Mills, who had managed Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. With a new image of flat cap, flannel suit and boots, he took the charts by storm with his first single, Nothing Rhymed.

It kicked off four years as one of the biggest stars in the UK, with 10 top 10 hits (including No 1s for Clair and Get Down) and four albums that made the top five. By October, he had ditched the flat cap and now wore American college-style jumpers with the letter G emblazoned on them, black cords and white sneakers. The gigs sold out weeks in advance without a penny being spent on advertising. The Evening Herald reported that his debut was "triumphal" and "jam-packed".

"Unbelievable is how Gilbert O'Sullivan described the fan reaction at his first-ever concerts in Dublin this week", it went on. "Hundreds of disappointed fans were turned away from the National Stadium when Gilbert made his world concert debut. Inside, every seat was sold and his young fans gave a voluble welcome to Gilbert.

"They screamed, they waved, they cried out 'Gilbert' - and they cried.

"Gilbert grinned all the way through it and at the end of the show had to be whisked off stage to safety as hundreds of eager young fans mobbed the scene of his triumph."

Years later, O'Sullivan remembered that first night: "It was absolute magic, a night I will never forget. I remember the theatre - it was like being in a boxing ring. The crowd were just unbelievable. The interesting thing about me being an artist in Ireland, having all that success - this is all pre-U2, pre-Thin Lizzy and all these people - was that there was very few of anybody like me who had come from Ireland, or who had had that global success. The people really cottoned on to that."

Although he had a teenybopper fan-base, he was hip too - John Peel was an early champion and Rolling Stone hailed him in 1971 as "the most likely contender for the next wave. The next Rod Stewart".

Voted No 1 male singer of 1972 by Record Mirror magazine ahead of Elton John, the future looked bright for the boy from Cork Road, but it soon went dark. A row with Mills over publishing royalties saw him sidelined for five years, and by the time he was able to record again, the music industry had moved on light years. Punk and disco were now to the fore and O'Sullivan couldn't get a look in. He eventually won the court case and was awarded £7m in damages.

Since 1980 he has had a couple of minor hits - and some huge hits in Japan - and won a court battle with rapper Biz Markie over the unauthorised use of clips from Alone Again (Naturally) which made 'sampling' a minefield for record companies and artists.

Now 68 and living in Jersey, Gilbert played four gigs in Ireland this summer. He has been married to Aase for 35 years and they have two children, Helen-Marie and Tara.

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