When Gilbert O'Sullivan came to town

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

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Irish singer Gilbert O’Sullivan’s concert at the Preston Guild Hall on Sunday marks a return to the venue he first visited almost 43 years ago. Ed Higgs reports

When Gilbert O’Sullivan played Preston Guild Hall on May 28 1973, it sparked scenes of adulation that wouldn’t be out of place at a One Direction gig.

As the singer-songwriter prepares to play the same venue on February 21, his songs, such as ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ and ‘Get Down’, retain a pleasant, easy-listening appeal four decades on.

Yet the Lancashire Evening Post review of the 1973 gig conjures up scenes of mayhem, something captured by these fantastic photos, and at odds with O’Sullivan’s image as ‘the shy man of music’.

The reviewer wrote: “Gilbert O’Sullivan put on his new face and proved to a packed Preston Guild Hall that he was as good at charming his fans as he was at singing to them, and the surprised audience loved every minute of it.

“Gilbert, dressed in the new characteristic red sweater and emblazoned with an extra large ‘G’, bounced on to the stage amid a storm of screams from teenage fans – and from a few middle-aged mums as well.

Gilbert O'Sullivan thanks fans after his gig at Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

Gilbert O'Sullivan thanks fans after his gig at Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

“He played on a battered grand piano that looked as if it wouldn’t last the concert out – but it did, and everything that he played on that piano seemed like magic to the audience.

“Instead of the shy, speechless singer that he led everybody to believe he was, came a chatty entertainer. He made wisecracks about being handsome and pretending to fight the girls off.

“The fans loved every word he spoke and sang and when he came to the end of a magnificent performance they were begging for more.

“Youngsters stormed the stage to try and get a closer look at the star, who lapped up the adulation like a cat.”

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

With Mud having warmed up the audience with an hilarious send-up of Elvis Presley, the tickets, costing just one pound, certainly appear value for money.

For one young fan who was there – albeit dragged along by his mother – the memories of the hysteria are perhaps more prominent than the music.

Gary West, from Fulwood, who attended the gig as an eight-year-old, recalled: “It was my first ever concert, and we were on the front of the second row - my lasting memory of it is girls screaming – I was almost afraid!

“It was like what you get for One Direction, girls were trying to get up on the stage and all sorts. I was just astounded that this sort of thing actually happened!”

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

O’Sullivan’s 1970s heyday witnessed him being named the UK’s top male singer in 1972, before a hiatus saw him slip from public view, as contemporaries such as Sir Elton John assumed national treasure status.

However, with the singer experiencing something of a renaissance in the form of a 10-date tour, who would bet against similar scenes occurring next Sunday?

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the Preston Guild Hall in May 1973