Gilbert O’Sullivan speaking about how the partnership was formed
“I wrote to Gordon first – early in 1970. I realised how much he had done for Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. If I hadn’t been completely different from Tom and Engelbert I wouldn’t have written to him.”
Born. Raymond O’Sullivan, he started to write songs from an early age, he later moved to London to try and make it in the music business and in 1966, signed a recording contract with April Music, the publishing arm of CBS Records. He recorded his first single ‘Disappear,’ which was released in 1967 but failed to chart. His second release was ‘What can I do,’ which also failed. This led him to move on to find his next deal. He signed to the Major Minor Label where he released ‘I wish I could cry’ this also failed to chart.
“I sent him pictures. Gordon didn’t like the way I looked, but he liked my songs enough to put up with the way I looked. You gotta admire him for that.”
Gilbert (Ray) had sent tapes and photographs of himself to Gordon’s home office in Weybridge, Surrey. Through the dozens of tapes sent to Gordon each week, he made sure he listened to or looked at them all. When Gilbert photo’s appeared in front of him, Gordon had a giggle and was instantly put off before having a listen to the tape but was intrigued as Gilbert’s appearance reminded Gordon of his own father.
After listening to the songs he put the tape into the return basket for his secretary Connie Kent to return. Gordon’s wife Jo was in the kitchen when she heard Gilbert’s songs being played and loved them. The next morning there was a phone call for Ray from Gordon’s secretary asking him to go to Weybridge to meet him.
Sullivan remarked at the time that Mills wasn’t at all what he had expected.
“He wasn’t the cigar-chewing impresario I had expected, but youthful, friendly and obviously with-it.”
“Did you really write these songs? Just you on your own?” he asked. Ray assured him this was so. “Then I think we should keep closely in touch.” “I don’t want to rush into signing an agreement, let’s wait until we’re both sure it’s the right move.” Gilbert carried on with his office job and began making frequent visits to Weybridge. Six months had passed when Gordon phoned one evening and said, “I think it’s time we took some important decisions about your future.” Gilbert then moved into a house close to Weybridge Station and there, he carried on with his songwriting.
Gilbert O’Sullivan is born
Mills launched O’Sullivan under the new name of ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan’ on his new MAM label, keeping the ‘Bisto Kid’ image, complete with short trousers and pudding basin hair cut. The image, was all Gilbert’s own idea and lasted for the first few releases.
Mills produced and recorded ‘Nothing Rhymed’ as his first single, released in November 1970 it went straight to number 8 in the UK Chart. A fortune was spent on promoting Gilbert and gave him the time he needed to finish his 1st album. He became part of the family enjoying their home, holidays with the family, and used their recording studio to demo and record his songs. Then came the second release “Underneath the blanket go” which again topped the UK Chart.
Gilbert’s first album “Himself”, was produced by Gordon and released in 1971. ‘We Will’ made number 16 in the summer of 1971, followed by ‘No Matter How I Try’ – the first of five consecutive top ten hits in Britain. The thoughtful ‘Alone Again’ stormed to number three in Britain and confirmed his worldwide appeal when it topped the American charts.
The debut album was well received and included the catchy ‘Matrimony,’ which O’Sullivan regarded as one of his all time favourites. He didn’t have long to wait for a chart-topper. After ‘Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day,’ which made number 8, came Gilbert O’Sullivan’s greatest hit, ‘Clair,’ written in honour of manager Mills’s young daughter, which headed the British charts in November 1972 and also made the top ten in the United States. “Get Down” repeated the success of Clair as Gilbert clocked up well over ten million sales. Gilbert’s second album, ‘Back To Front,’ went to number one in the UK.
His appeal stretched across the board, embracing both teen and adult audiences and for a time, he seemed likely to rival and even surpass Elton John as Britain’s most successful singer-songwriter, enjoying a string of hits many of which Gordon produced himself during the 70’s. In the UK and America under his manager’s direction, he became a Worldwide Star. His ability to combine catchy tunes with clever lyrics is a dying art in today’s hollow music industry and it is therefore small wonder that Gilbert O’Sullivan is still regarded with great affection as one of the best singer-songwriters Britain has ever produced.