City Winery NYC – March 12, 2023
Review & Photos- Rebecca Wolf
Gilbert O’Sullivan, singer-songwriter and pianist, has been in the music industry for more than 50 years. In1972, O’Sullivan achieved international success with his ballad “Alone Again (Naturally)”, which reached number one on America’s Billboard Hot 100 and led to record sales over ten million. “Get Down“, the lead single off O’Sullivan’s 1973 album, I’m a Writer, Not a Fighter, reached number one in the UK and number seven in the US. Over the course of O’Sullivan’s five years with MAM records in the early 70s he amassed three US top 10 singles and one top 10 album, as well as seven UK top 10 singles and four UK top 10 albums. Although O’Sullivan gained early success, by the end of the 70s his popularity faltered and issues with management and lawsuits derailed his career. As a consummate songwriter, this did not stop O’Sullivan from pursuing his passion. Over the next four decades he continued to create music, record albums and toured across Europe and Asia. However, from 1976 til 2019, he never performed in the US.
Everything began to change for O’Sullivan in 2018, with the release of his self-titled, 19th album. For the first time in decades O’Sullivan garnered recognition for his music, with his album placing him in the UK Top 20 for the first time since 1974. With the popularity of the Gilbert O’Sullivan album, the time was right to make a trip across the pond in 2019 for two shows, one at City Winery NYC and the other at at World Café Live Philadelphia. The fact that the new album worked well as an acoustic show, allowing O’Sullivan to perform with himself and guitarist Bill Shanley, made this venture an easier decision. The experience was so positive for O’Sullivan and his fans that he returned in 2022 for his first extended tour, delighting audiences across the US. In July 2022, O’Sullivan released his 20th album, Driven, again caused quite a buzz, and gave O’Sullivan some of his greatest reviews. The music has been described as harkening back to the era of O’Sullivan’s early work, and includes a standout number feat. KT Tunstall, with another that includes Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall. Now on a roll, and to the delight of his American fans, O’Sullivan has again returned to the US in support of Driven.
On March 12th I returned to City Winery NYC to again experience a live Gilbert O’Sullivan performance. What I already knew from attending O’Sullivan’s City Winery show a year ago is that O’Sullivan has a devoted fanbase. Although this was a Sunday night and the upcoming work week loomed large (for those not retired), fans filled the tables with joyful anticipation and eagerly awaited O’Sullivan’s onstage arrival. A woman at my table excitedly told me she hadn’t seen O’Sullivan perform for 50 years. What my prior experience also taught me was that the performance was going to be a beautiful mix of O’Sullivan’s old and new melodic, lyrical numbers, delightfully performed by this engaging, charming, soft-spoken gentleman.
Entering the stage with a sweet smile on his face, O’Sullivan appeared humbled and ever grateful for the adoring cheers from the crowd. “I’m glad not everybody is fans of the Oscars!” he said to the laughter of the crowd. “We’re glad to be performing here again. We like the idea of being up close and personal. How many people were here the last time?” O’Sullivan queued. With only a smattering of hands raised, O’Sullivan replied with a chuckle, “Well, I’m glad not too many people were here last time because now I can say the same things over again!” receiving endearing laughs from the audience.
O’Sullivan opened the set with “The Same, the Whole World Over,” a sweet, spirited song from his 2018 self-titled album, followed by the equally smile-inducing “A Friend of Mine,” from 1973’s I’m a Writer, Not a Fighter, and “Came to See Me Yesterday,” from 1994’s By Larry. O’Sullivan changed tempo with the heart-touching “Nothing Rhymed,” his first number one song from 1971’s Himself, whichsent a nostalgic, melancholy spirit wafting through the room. Leaping from the very beginning of his career to his latest release, O’Sullivan performed “Let Bygones be Bygones” from 2022’s Driven, a lyrically meaningful number about the importance of moving on. The lyrics to “Miss My Love Today,” from 1977’s Southpaw, are exactly as one might expect them to be, sentimental words spoken from someone missing their beloved. Many of O’Sullivan’s songs have tangible lyrics, written about real life situations, leading fans to presume they’re about O’Sullivan’s own life. However, as O’Sullivan shared with the crowd, “Most people think they are but if you’re a good songwriter you can take life and create songs, even if they didn’t happen to you.”
Whether singing upbeat, carefree numbers or deeper, more meaningful pieces, whether the songs were old or new, the audience remained completely drawn in and engaged by O’Sullivan. It’s easy to understand why O’Sullivan’s fans, myself included, became almost mesmerized by the smooth, relaxed flow of O’Sullivan’s music, his soft, melodic voice, and O’Sullivan’s genuine warmth, gentle passion and humble demeanor. The 28-song performance included sentimental numbers, “All They Wanted to Say,” a tearjerking song written by O’Sullivan about the tragedy on 9/11, and “Lost a Friend,” from 1989’s In the Key of G, which O’Sullivan wrote after John Lennon’s death, explaining to the audience, “You know, when someone like a celebrity dies and it feels like you’ve lost a friend.” “Dansette Dreams and 45’s,” from O’Sullivan’s 2018 album, another heartfelt piece, speaks of looking back on one’s past with longing, while “Happiness Is Me and You,” a 1974 single, is a beautifully touching love song.
Upbeat numbers including, the 1972 single, “Ooh Wakka Doo Wakka Day,” “What’s in a Kiss,” from 1980’s Off Centre, “Matrimony,” from Himself, and “Get Down,” from I’m a Writer, Not a Fighter, had audience members in high spirits, joyfully singing along and dancing in their seats. Of course no Gilbert O’Sullivan performance would be complete without the beloved, heartbreaking hit, “Alone Again (Naturally),” known the world over. O’Sullivan paused during each refrain for audience members to sing “alone again” before returning to sing “naturally,” while O’Sullivan’s accompanying guitar player, Bill Shanley, phenomenally showcased the song’s chilling instrumental solo. How incredibly amazing that fifty years after the release of this hit, it continues to inspire such emotion. No less incredible are O’Sullivan’s still beautifully melodic, smooth vocals that belie the passage of time.
It’s been more than half a century since Gilbert O’Sullivan first arrived on the music scene, and began writing hits that resonated around the world. Fifty years later and O’Sullivan continues to follow his songwriting passion, creating incredible music that still receives rave reviews and brings eager fans together to experience a mix of new and old melodic, lyrical numbers, wonderfully performed by an amazingly talented, engaging, charming gentleman.