Gilbert O'Sullivan's showcase at 100 Wardour Street last night whisked us back to the time when time stood still. The half-mast trews and offside cloth cap are a memory. He still cuts his own hair, still sings with Waterford clarity, his quirky, gentle songwriting and plaintive themes at times hard to hear.
He was on top of the world in 1972. He was my first crush. Superstardom was as good as all over by 1975. But they don't go away. They keep doing it. A dozen albums later, a Glasto, an Albert Hall. He's still big in Japan.
There were tears in the eerily mauve-lit room, not least in the eyes of men. Ray performed tracks from his new album 'Gilbert O'Sullivan', to be launched next month, interspersed with the songs of way back when. 'Clair', 'We Will', 'No Matter How I Try', 'Alone Again (Naturally)', 'Get Down', 'Nothing Rhymed'. Could we take much more? Why is this hard to write?
It's true, isn't it, that the music we loved as kids means more with each passing year. Such songs hold disproportionate power over our memories. The brain binds us tightly to the soundtrack of our youth, more than anything we encounter down the line as adults. The connection never loosens. All it takes is for a song to be heard again. Musical nostalgia, explain the scientists, is much more than just a cultural phenomenon. ‘Doc Rock’ Julia Jones has authored a brilliant thesis on this theme. It's no less than a major neurological command. We stay wired to the songs that awoke us to love and life. It's that simple. I think.
But memories mean little without emotion. And nothing stimulates emotion better than music. It lights the sparks of neural activity. On rare occasions, it ignites it into a full pyrotechnic display. The music we love between the ages of twelve and twenty-two, when our brains are undergoing rapid neurological development, gets wired into our lobes for all time. Even as the importance of childhood memories fades, the emotional glow provoked by music lingers.
The years may have evaporated and can be experienced no more. But hear the songs we loved when those memories were being made and we are zipped right back there. The love and joy that they made us feel surge anew. Thank you, Ray, for reminding us.