Gilbert O’Sullivan @ Birmingham Town Hall, 18th February 2011

Gilbert O'Sullivan

For the second time in my life I have struggled to find a willing person to attend a Gilbert O’Sullivan concert with me.  The Birmingham Town Hall is host to the opening night of Gilbertville Tour 2011, and a willing reviewer or photographer is harder to find than the aurora borealis.  However, I am happy to step up to the mantle, alone again, naturally.

For most of my life I have been aware of Gilbert O’Sullivan; growing up in the 70’s his songs were never far from Top of the Pops.  However, during the latter part of that decade he had all but disappeared from popular culture and the abiding memory of him was as a purveyor of corny songs.

It was only recently that I rediscovered the genius of Gilbert by finding that snippets of his songs from all those years ago would not leave my brain.  As a baptism of fire I attended his Symphony Hall gig a couple of years ago and was blown away by his performance, as well as reliving his finest moments of the 70’s and being thrilled to learn he still writes songs of equal quality.

Gilbert O'Sullivan

To say I am excited to see Gilbert O’Sullivan live in concert again is a massive understatement.  To have the honour to be BrumLive’s photographer in residence tonight is a dream come true.

The Town Hall is a sell-out, understandably for a man who has not been in the spotlight for a while the crowd is made up those even older than me. Consequently for almost the entire concert, the audience remain seated. Early on Gilbert promises first timers that he will not leave out the hits he is most well-known for in case there is a worry he will only play new stuff. Not that anyone should be concerned as his new album ‘Gilbertville’ does not stand in the shadow of earlier albums in the slightest; one could argue that certain songs are far superior.

Gilbert O'SullivanGilbert O'Sullivan

Mr O is backed by an eleven piece band made up a standard pop outfit supplemented by a string quartet. He as always remains behind his battered, taped up keyboard for the majority of the night, except when he moves to his black grand piano, or occasionally stands and sings. He wears his customary baggy shirt and pants combo that make him look incredibly short and skinny, this is accentuated by his fine head of hair that seems to make his head smaller than it really is. He has remarked before that his ‘stage’ dress is something less desirable to others than his normal attire, and one thinks it is time he had a makeover.

Thankfully the music and songwriting is really on show here and he does not fail to shine. Vocally he is note perfect throughout and his unmistakable nasal tones are almost totally unremoved from the versions he recorded forty odd years ago. Moreover the emotions portrayed in his words and delivered by his voice are equally as powerful.

As promised in his two sets of an hour each, Gilbert and his band deliver the most popular moments of his staggering career, all the oldies: ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’, ‘Clair’, ‘Nothing Rhymed’, ‘What’s In A Kiss’, ‘No Matter How I Try’, ‘Ooh Wakka Doo Wakka Day’, ‘Out of the Question’, mixed in with the newies like ‘The Allergy Song’, ‘I’m In Love With Love Again’, ‘Where Would We Be (Without Tea)’ and ‘All They Wanted to Say’, a song that deals delicately with the utter sadness of the 9/11 terrorist attacks without being overly dramatic or slushy. As usual Gilbert’s lyrics manage to balance simplicity and tenderness with a great insight into the human condition: not many writers can do that anymore, as they either end up writing slush or something incomprehensible. Mr O’Sullivan is talented and inventive enough to write ‘I love you’ dozens of different ways, but when he needs to just say those three words, he does just that. That is the mark of a lyricist absolutely at the top of his game.

My personal favourite of the night is ‘We Will’. Backing vocalists Charlotte James and Niamh McNally shine here in the stunning chorus and it sends tingles down my spine. The juxtaposition of Gilbert’s down to earth lyrics (“both of you’s”; “I bagsy being in goal” etc) with the beautiful melody and arrangement is pure and unadulterated genius.

Gilbert O'Sullivan

As usual the encores of ‘Matrimony’ and ‘Get Down’ get the audience to their feet and Gilbert onto his grand piano; and I mean standing on top of it, not playing it. It is his one contribution to being rock n roll and although the scene is slightly corny (especially as he always does it), I do feel if he didn’t do it, I would probably be disappointed!

Gilbert has said recently that it is his love for writing songs and not his popularity that inspires him to continue writing and performing, and I for one am happy to support the most under-rated songwriter of his generation.

Review & Photos – Al Neilson

About Author

3 thoughts on “Gilbert O’Sullivan @ Birmingham Town Hall, 18th February 2011

  1. It was good to read your review of Gilberts concert. Having grown up with his music in the 1970′, it was nice to discover a few years ago that he was still touring. We went to see him in Manchester a few years ago and was amazed by both his performances and his new material. His new album Gilbertville is truly superb and as you quite rightly say is as good as anything he has done in the 70’s. His live concerts are superb. So we are off to Sheffield on Monday to see him again.
    Geoff Griffiths, Doncaster.

  2. Totally agree with this reviewer Katja. Gilbert put on a great performance and has an excellent band, string quartet and singers. We saw him a couple of years ago at a packed Royal Albert Hall in London and again it was a brilliant night. I would say to anyone who has never seen Gilbert in concert and does get the chance to go and see him, GO! You won’t regret it. As Katja says in the review Gilbert is one of the finest songwriters around and has built up an extensive back catalogue of songs that he can dip into and easily fills the two hours in concert with some wonderful songs. And such a variety of songs as well. The only minor thing I will disagree with Katja is, she says Gilbert rocks at the end of the concert but I thought he rocked right at the start with “Thunder and Lightning” followed by songs in the concert like “I Wanna Know” and “Could Have Made It With You” among others. A great review also with some great photos of a brilliant concert. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for your comment, DJ. I just wanted to say that it’s our reviewer Al Neilson who should get the credit for review and photos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *