Celebrating fifty years, yes, five zero, fifty years in music, Gilbert O’Sullivan embarks on a series of UK shows, and as usual calls into Birmingham for a sold out show for his, what I can only describe as devoted fans.
I have to admit it’s a pleasure to come to a venue where your feet don’t stick to the floor, where you can get a decent cup of coffee, and where people say “excuse me”, “please” and “thank-you”, rather than shoving past and giving you a look of disgust for daring to be in their way. But this is, on the whole, can I say, a mature audience, who have come for an evening’s entertainment and a celebration of all things Gilbert O’Sullivan.
The show starts at seven thirty prompt, there is no support, and the excellent backing musicians take to the stage followed by Gilbert, in his customary head-to-toe black and that unmistakeable mane. Third song in is ‘Nothing Rhymed’ and it’s the first of many little anecdotes, telling us about the time his daughter told him Morrissey had covered the song live, and he didn’t believe it until he saw it on YouTube. I have to be honest being a Moz fan myself I didn’t believe it, but I’ve checked and it’s true, there on YouTube.
“This was my first single, in 1967, called Despair, but I think rather it should’ve been disappear”. It’s a classic Gilbert melody. He then tells us about his love of tea, his favourite being “Assam, loose leaf, milk first, one sugar, china cup” before asking if Birmingham has a favourite tea. Sadly the lady’s shout behind me of “PG” doesn’t reach his ears, but we then get ‘Where would we be without tea’, and behind the band on the projection screen we see the first of tonight’s accompanying cartoon animations, think Gilbert O’Sullivan in a Monty Python style and you’re getting there.
‘So what’ shows the video featuring the late Eric Sykes, and afterwards we are told “we had to do that in one take because of the set dropping at the end” (watch the video and you’ll understand) and it’s clear to see Gilbert is a great storyteller as well as composer, so great in fact he’s told by his musical director to wrap up the story and get on with the music. ‘No way’ we are told is “popular in Norway, I think they’ve misheard the lyric” before ‘Ooh Wakka, doo wakka day’ and another python-esque cartoon, ending the first set with ‘Clair’.
A short twenty minutes, and set two starts. ‘Hold on to what you got’ we are told was played recently at a celebration at the Cavern Club, in Liverpool, “but I changed the lyric to ‘hold on to Jurgen Klopp’, and they then lost the next three games”.
A particularly tender moment follows the story of the duet with Peggy Lee, whom Gilbert holds in high regard as a songstress, and the accompanying video to ‘Can’t think straight’ is played on the screen, whilst he sings live. It is beautiful.
The band are introduced, musical director and keyboards are by Mick Parker, and there are drums, two guitarists, bass, two backing singers and a superb sax and flute player (Julian Webster Greaves). ‘You are you’ is stunning, almost accapella and truly shows his vocals remain incredible. The expected encore of ‘Matrimony’ and ‘Get down’ get everyone on their feet before a wave and a bow and he’s off.
The show has lasted just over two hours, and if that wasn’t enough for the sprightly seventy year old, he then does a meet and greet session afterwards. However, by the time I reach the area there’s at least fifty people in the queue, and rather than a signature, handshake/hug and photo, most are giving Gilbert their life-story, and we could be here some time. I would have liked to have met him, got the selfie and thanked him for what really was a tremendous show, but I have a six am alarm and so I leave in to the pouring rain and wet streets. All the way down the Hagley Road I keep thinking how far I’d be down the queue now? But I think I made the right decision as it’s likely I’d have been there waiting until after midnight.
Quite how he manages a two hour show, and then up to two hours afterwards meeting folks I’m unsure, but he must be applauded for sheer stamina alone. Gilbert appears to be a genuinely nice person, with a wicked sense of humour and is full of stories. It really was an excellent show, and rather than me previously referring to him as a guilty secret I’d proudly say I’ve seen him live and it was fantastic.
The rest of the tour is sold out, but you never know he may tour again, as he said “I tend not to look back but look forward to what I’m doing today and tomorrow”. Gilbert O’Sullivan, I salute you.
Reviewer: Glenn Raybone