College was my release (Naturally)

MANY OF today's leading musical acts were trained in their craft by further education. The Arctic Monkeys are among those who have recently paid tribute to their tutor on the music course.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, general art courses, rather than music courses, were a breeding ground for pop stars and one of those to enter showbusiness through this route was Gilbert O'Sullivan. He went to Swindon College, where he felt "released" after his experience of school.

Born on December 1, 1946 in Waterford, Ireland, Gilbert came to England with his family while still a child.

He shot to fame in the 1970s when he appeared on Top of the Pops in a pudding-basin haircut, cloth cap and short trousers, seated at a piano. His first UK Top 10 hit was "Nothing Rhymed", followed by several other successes including "Alone Again (Naturally)", which reached number three here and topped the US charts, selling more than two million copies. He also landed two consecutive British number ones with "Clair" (1972); and "Get Down" (1973).

He lives in Jersey, is set to tour again later this year and releases his latest album, A Scruff At Heart, next month.

"Swindon College was brilliant," he says. "We art students had the top floor of the building while the academic students had the rest. We would turn up in railway jackets, blue jeans and boots, while the others would be in shirts and ties and more formal clothes.

"College was a great release for me. I went straight from a secondary modern into this wonderful place which gave you freedom. We played football when we should be studying and the system was open to abuse. But when it came to doing the education stuff, we would cram it in at the last minute.

"It was the time of pop art, Dylan and Lennon, and I was into my own music just as much. My course tutor, Mr Linley, was very helpful on both fronts and showed a great interest in my music.

"I became friends with Rick Davis of Supertramp and we formed a band called the Rick Blues Band. I made a lifelong friend in Ken White who was also at the college. He later designed some of my album artwork.

"I really enjoyed the course work and Mondays and Tuesdays were always interesting as this was when we would paint nudes and people would pose for the students. I would take my drawings and paintings home to my mother but would take out the nude pictures before she could see them.

"I was a loner and always have been, but the college gave me freedom to develop as a person. A lot of good came out of my time there, but a number of the students ended up doing jobs which had nothing to do with art."

Other music stars who went to art college included John Lennon, Pete Townsend of The Who and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones.

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