Gilbert and His Hair Are Still Going Strong; One of the Finest Songwriters of His Generation Is Performing in Newcastle Tonight. DAVID WHETSTONE Talks to Gilbert O'Sullivan

Article excerpt

AS someone who hails from the Emerald Isle, it's fitting that there's something evergreen about Gilbert O'Sullivan. The singing voice has worn well - and so has the hair.

It was a Keeganesque frizz in the 1970s, when Alone Again (Naturally) and Clair peaked at three and one in the singles chart respectively, and - as you can see - it's also pretty abundant now.

Laughing ruefully, the man born Raymond Edward O'Sullivan says his look is not that fashionable these days. "It's always the opposite of what's going on - always against the grain."

He refers me back to the late 1960s when he created a look for himself which involved a pudding basin haircut, cap and short trousers - and everyone else was letting their hair down, hippy-style. You can say that going against the grain doesn't appear to have done him any harm. As he approaches his 65th birthday this coming Thursday, the man who also styled himself Gilbert O'Sullivan is on the road again with a new album, Gilbertsville.

Far from being alone again, he'll be accompanied at The Journal Tyne Theatre tonight by an 11-piece band and there will be plenty of excellent back catalogue, as well as the new songs, to sustain a rousing two-hour set.

Looking for signs of a musical upbringing in his biography, I was intrigued to see that Gilbert's mother ran a sweet shop while his father worked in a meat factory. The occupations seem oddly connected but at the same time poles apart.

Gilbert can't enlighten me. "I don't remember much about that period of my life because I was just a baby. We left Ireland when I was seven and came to England.

"My father went to work in an abattoir - dreadful place. But I do remember having a proper bladder football in Swindon, where I lived as a kid."

With that note of weary resignation common to football fans, he admits that he remains a loyal supporter of Swindon Town. But actually they're not doing too badly in League Two.

Football and boxing were what occupied a lot of young Raymond's spare time when growing up. It was via the radio, and the BBC's Light Programme, that his interest in music developed.

"The radio has always been very important to me. It was what set me off enjoying music and what set me off writing music.

"I was very influenced by the music of the 1960s when I was developing as a songwriter. When The Beatles came along, they were catalysts for people like myself thinking we could write songs like that. …