Gilbert O Sullivan tours UK in March and April 2012

24 January 2012
imports_PIA_0-jsbdoyig-100000_81945.jpg Gilbert O Sullivan tours UK in March and April 2012
Gilbert O&rsquo;Sullivan, the composer of such hits as <em>Clair</em> and <em>Alone Again (Naturally)</em>, will be touring the UK in March and April to promote a new album. Erica Worth speaks to him about his piano background ...
Were you classically trained?
No. I had lessons as a youngster, as most young people do. It was something that my mother felt we should do (and both my daughters are learning). But I didn’t survive for very long – just for about 6 months! I don’t play so well, I just love the piano. I’m fascinated by discovering everything about the instrument. My whole song-writing ethos is about discovering – whether it’s chords, notes, sequences. I think most contemporary composers, from the 60s onwards, can’t really read music. It’s all by the ear. Sure, I’d have liked to have been able to read, so that I’d be able to communicate better with arrangers and so on. With my weekly lessons, I was able to work out the tune, but I know I wasn’t reading correctly. When my teacher discovered that, she said I was wasting my time!

Do you sit at the piano when you write your songs?
It would be impossible not to! I’m always at the piano when writing (I don’t play guitar, and I used to play drums). As a composer I’m really disciplined. It’s basically nine to five, five days a week. I start on melodies first. They determine the direction a lyric may go. Melodies determine lyrics. As a lyricist, you have no idea where it will end up. Sometimes you have a title, but that’s rare. Or an idea. By and large, it’s an empty page of no ideas. I’ve never had writer’s block though.
The great thing about song writing, is that all this modern technology has very little to do with it. You’re on your acoustic grand or upright, and I have to say that I approach my work almost the same as 40 years ago. The whole recording process is different from then on – technology takes over when you’re with the sound engineer and so on.

Tell me about you upcoming tour?  
When I release a new album, I do a tour. It fits in with making a record and getting on the road to promote it. I release a new album about every two years.

How many pianos do you have?
I have several of them. My love of composing is based on a piano. There’s a Bechstein grand in my main office. And I have a unique Blüthner, which is the only one in the world. In the days of Irving Berlin, there were what they called ‘transposing’ pianos. You could transpose into any key, just by pulling a lever. A piece in a key of C would become a piece in the key of D – and so on. That’s what I’ve got. I approached Bechstein, Steinway, Yamaha – asked them all for a transposable grand. Blüthner, which was in East Germany at the time, before the wall came down, made me one.
Then I have about three or four uprights. I used to buy them cheaply on the Wandsworth Bridge Road in London, and they’d cost £10 a piano in those days. They were always under concert pitch and they weren’t worth selling afterwards, so I’d keep them.

Gilbert O’Sullivan is on tour 17 March-15 April. The Very Best of Gilbert O’Sullivan – A Singer and His Songs is released 5 March

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