Rychard Carrington reports on Gilbert O'Sullivan - Cambridge Corn Exchange, 29 March 2012

Gilbert O'Sullivan
Cambridge Corn Exchange, The

What a magnificent evening. At sixty-five, Gilbert O'Sullivan, whose persona and songwriting match his wonderfully wistful voice supremely well, is at the peak of his powers. Tonight, with his eleven-piece band (guitar, bass, drums, sythesiser, sax/flute, string quartet, backing vocalists) he treated us to two and a half hours of splendid entertainment. For too long he has been much neglected, but with his recent complilation reaching no. 12 in the album charts, deserved long-term recognition seems to be his at last. The audience tonight was large and very appreciative, albeit not very youthful.


With the help of all the musicians and musical director Michael Parker, Gilbert provided us with  a wide a variety of styles, including Geoge Formby, accordion-led waltz, country hoedown, and some lively rhythm and blues.  All of his hits featured, with arrangements perghaps marginally inmproving on the recorded versions, though essentially similar, except in the case of Why, Oh Why, Oh Why and an uptempo Matrimony. The new songs are as good as, and rather similar too, the old ones (particularly impressive is Where Would We Be (Without Tea) - from the last year's album Gilbertville - which featured a cartoon backdrop). His two predominant styles are lightly jaunty and sentimentally romantic. In both cases, Gilbert's voice and his articulate, slightly odd lyrics (in You Are You he compares his lover to Dr. Kissinger and Andy Warhol's soup can) make the numbers so much more interesting than those of a Barry Manilow-style hosewives' favourite, a role Gilbert could have settled into if he had not been so dedicated to his art as a songwriter. In fact he could be described as a slightly gentler, slightly quirkier Paul McCartney. 


The big hits were accompanied by a video backdrop of clips of Gilbert in the early 70s. As his melancholy voice suggests nostalgia anyway, one felt the gap between then and now achingly (well I did, anyway: O'Sullivan was my favourite pop singer when I was nine). Wasn't Nothing Rhymed a remarkable chart debut? Gilbert's initial Hovis Kid persona was really extraordinary. Perhaps it was a shame that he quickly replaced it with a more conventional 1970s one, but happily the offbeat power of that masterpiece has permeated his oeuvre ever since.


Alone Again (Naturally) finished the set, followed by an encore of Matrimony and Get Down - which, contrarily, got the audience standing up, clapping and swaying, etc.  What caps it all is that O'sullivan is sich a pleasant, easily-going, essentially introverted man. He gives niceness a good name.


Writer: Rychard Carrington