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Ooh wakka do, what a show Gilbert O'Sullivan rocks at Central Theatre, Chatham

Going to see a singer who is celebrating his golden anniversary in the business is bound to send a shiver down the spine when you remember his first appearances on Top of the Pops.

Gilbert O’Sullivan stood out from the mostly hairy rock stars in the early 1970s with his carefully crafted image of a pudding basin haircut, cloth cap, striped tie and short trousers while seated at a piano.

Despite the milestone, the ever youthful unaffected septuagenarian gave his 50th year no more than a cursory mention for his appearance in Chatham, informing us he much prefers to look forward rather than back.

Gilbert O'Sullivan performed at the Central Theatre.
Gilbert O'Sullivan performed at the Central Theatre.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved, but it’s important to concentrate on tomorrow and look ahead to what I want to do next,” he declared.

His perspicacity and continuing creativeness is ably demonstrated on his excellent latest album Latin ala G, and we were treated to tracks from it at The Central Theatre. Once he grew out of short trousers, O’Sullivan adopted more of a college student look and with his impressive shock of frizzy hair showing only a few flecks of grey, he still wouldn’t look out of place on University Challenge.

Time has been kind to the Irishman both in stature and looks. Skinny as a poor man’s wallet, he seems to have more energy than most men half his age.

But what about the voice? Would those unique vocals be as true as they were all those years ago? Right from the first lines of his rock ‘n roll opener Thunder and Lightning it was obvious they were as good as ever.

Gilbert O'Sullivan.
Gilbert O'Sullivan.

O’Sullivan packed 31 songs into his two-hour set which was sprinkled like gold dust with his hits and brief anecdotes, such as crooner Andy Williams wanting to change a lyric in his lilting We Will because he didn’t understand “But I bagsy being in goal..”

A staple of his shows has become his 1991 collaboration with legendary jazz singer Peggy Lee, then elderly and frail, on Can’t Think Straight. O’Sullivan sings it live as the music video is shown on screen.

He refuses to play around with arrangements on his best known songs but there was new infectious reggae treatment on Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why from 1973.

As expected, all the hits were there – his most successful Nothing Rhymed, which topped the American chart for six weeks in 1970, Alone Again (Naturally), Clair, No Matter How I Try, Ooh Wakka Do Wakka Day, I Guess I’ll Always Love You.

He saved Matrimony and Get Down for a rousing finish with him impressively aloft his keyboards.

O’Sullivan said at the start of the show: “First time in Chatham – it won’t be the last you assure me!” Judging by the reception from the mostly baby boomer audience, he will be enthusiastically welcome...naturally.

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