3 October 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Adrian McCarthy Directs ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan' Doc
15 Apr 2010 :
Gilbert O'Sullivan
Adrian McCarthy’s new documentary ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan – Out on His Own’ examines the change of fortunes that the Waterford born pop singer has experienced in his long career. IFTN caught up with the ‘Crash’ director to discuss the making of the documentary that is screening at the IFI Stranger than Fiction festival and will broadcast next week as part of RTÉ's Arts Lives.

In the early 1970s Gilbert O’Sullivan was top of the international pop charts. His career began to wane in the mid-70’s and by the time he came out of a long legal dispute with his manager Gordon Mills, he had drifted into relative obscurity. ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan – Out on his Own’, a new documentary from Adrian McCarthy that screens as part of the IFI’s Stranger than Fiction festival this week examines the complex man underneath the unruly mass of curly hair.

When asked about the subject choice of his new documentary, Adrian paints an intriguing picture: “What’s interesting about Gilbert is that he was Ireland’s first real international pop star,” he tells IFTN. “He was number one in the states, number one in Australia and in the UK. He was absolutely huge for about three or four years, until gradually his career began to slide. There’s perhaps nothing new about that, but what I found fascinating was how driven he still is. He’s an extraordinary character - he strongly believes today that he should still be at the top of the charts and believes he has what it takes to do that. And he’s 62, so all things considered I found that kind of fight, within the music industry especially, quite fascinating.”

Marking the first time O'Sullivan has given access to a documentary crew, the project has taken a long time to make, one senses it feels longer still in Adrian’s memory as his tone lowers in recounting how the time was spent. “It took the bones of nearly two years for him to agree to do it,” he explains. “I think on one hand Gilbert was quite open to the idea but when it came to the crunch he wondered if he could cope with that intrusion. It took quite a few meetings to convince him, I went over to Jersey and London to see him.”

A desire for privacy was not Gilbert’s only reservation in making the doc. He is mistrustful of the media in general – and for good reason – Adrian tells us: “He hasn’t got a record company, first of all. He had a couple of ground breaking legal cases in the late 70s and early 80s when he won back the rights to all his music. He’s very used to being in control of everything so it was a huge thing to hand over control of something to someone else.” Another of Gilbert’s highly publicised court cases occurred in the early 90s when he took rapper Biz Markie to court for sampling ‘Alone Again’ on a track against his wishes. Having won the case Gilbert’s action led to a changing of the sampling laws in New York.

‘Gilbert O’Sullivan – Out on His Own’ saw Adrian travel to Nashville, Israel, London, Jersey and Ireland with Gilbert who, despite committing himself fully to the making of the documentary, will not watch the finished product. “He hasn’t watched it,” admits Adrian, “and he won’t watch it. His wife and daughters have seen it but he says he hasn’t watched himself for years, I think he struggles with that a bit.”

All things considered McCarthy has come away with a lot of respect for the singer-songwriter. “He has his quirks and some people might find him odd in different ways,” he reflects before hastily adding, “but I think that’s what makes him intriguing as a documentary subject. What one has to admire is his total self belief, the fact that he is a full time song writer - he writes the lyrics, he writes the melody, it’s his baby. And he still thinks that Gilbert O’Sullivan still has it, despite what anyone else might say.”

  • Commissioned from Wildfire Films for RTÉ Television’s Arts Lives strand, ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan – Out On his Own’is produced by Martha O’Neill (Ordinary Decent Criminal) and Adrian McCathy, who also directs. The documentary is shot by Adrian McCarthy and Ronan Fox (Studs) and is edited by Brenda Morrissey (Death’s Mailing).
  • The documentary will screen at the IFI Stranger than Fiction festival on Friday, April 16th at 5.00pm followed by an extended Q&A with Gilbert O’Sullivan and Adrian. For more details and to book tickets visit www.ifi.ie/stf/2010h.html The doc will also broadcast on RTÉ1 on Tuesday, April 20th at 10.15pm.

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