Billy Ocean, a Trinidadian born English recording artist, chats with Kevin Cooper about his father’s dubiously acquired radio, his cameo appearance in the British movie Keith Lemon: The Film, his latest album Here You Are and his forthcoming tour of the UK
Billy Ocean is a Trinidadian born English recording artist who had a string of R & B international pop hits in the 70’s and 80’s. After scoring his first four UK top twenty successes, seven years passed before he accumulated a series of transatlantic hits, including three US number ones.
In 1985, he won the Grammy Award for Best Male R & B Vocal Performance for his worldwide hit, Caribbean Queen, and in 1987 was nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Male Artist.
Ocean appeared at Live Aid in 1985 at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and sang Caribbean Queen and Loverboy.
He has been recognised for his contribution to music when in 2002, the University of Westminster awarded Ocean an Honorary Doctorate of Music. In 2010 Ocean was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the MOBO Awards. He also became a Companion of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, presented to him by Sir Paul McCartney.
Whilst preparing for his forthcoming tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hello Billy, good morning.
Hi Kevin, how are you doing man?
I’m very well thank you how are you?
I’m doing okay thank you.
Before we move on may I just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
No, not at all. Thank you very much for your time and being interested in what I am doing.
And just how is life treating you today?
Life for me is always very good. I could be one of those people that is always dissatisfied or unhappy about something but the older you get the more you appreciate life and you realise that life is a struggle anyway. But it really is down to you to get the most out of life and find your contentment and happiness within it. You only come to that conclusion with age, wisdom and knowledge. You can never get to reach that stage when you are in the early stages of your life.
I have to ask you the obvious question so do please forgive me. Just how did Dr Leslie Sebastian Charles become Billy Ocean?
(Laughter) where did Billy Ocean come from (laughter). Well, let me say that it is just like when you are writing a song, and you get an idea. Billy Ocean really came about because back in the very early days of four track and eight track recording machines and no technology, the music industry was controlled by the independent producers who would give us all names. They would give you a name, write you a few songs and then take you as a package to the record companies. The only problem with that was that if you ever fell out with your record producer you would just have to go back to being Joe Bloggs once again (laughter).
So I thought to myself I am having all of these dreams and ambitions about being an artist but I didn’t really know just how long it would all last. I thought that other than just learning how to write a few lyrics and sing, I really needed to get my own name that no one could ever take away from me. So at that stage in my career Billy Ocean was born. I went on to establish myself as Billy Ocean which now is basically who I am.
I have to tell you that I have seen you performing many times now but the funny thing is that I have never seen you perform indoors. I have always seen you performing within a festival environment. How do the two differ?
(Hysterical laughter) so let me get this straight, you have seen me performing many times but you still have never seen me performing indoors in concert (laughter). Well you know if you do finally get to see me performing indoors you will get a slightly different thing at the concerts from what you get at the festivals. Indoors tend to be a sit down concert and my audiences are mostly very respectful of that fact and tend to be well behaved people. So I go out there and really give them what they want. They want to hear the old songs so I give them the old songs; I chat with them, we sing together, we enjoy the moment together, and then we go our separate ways with good memories I hope.
I love the festivals just as much as I love performing indoors and to be honest, I love all aspects of performing live. I love playing in small clubs where the audience is right up close and in your face, and I enjoy playing the festivals which is great because the people come prepared to have a good time. Then I play the concerts where the people come looking pent up and then I give them a nice show, I free them up, they feel good and everybody leaves feeling really good (laughter).
You are about to tour the UK to promote your latest studio album Here You Are. Are you looking forward to that?
Yes I am, I really am very much. I really do enjoy touring here in the UK. People like myself like to go out there and make people happy. If we are not there doing what we do who is going to make the people happy. The world as it is is not the happiest of places, although the world is supposed to be a beautiful place. It is a beautiful place but because of all of the nonsense around us it can become a very frustrating place. So people like myself will go out occasionally and get into the same room as the other people, we enjoy ourselves for a couple of hours and then go home feeling really good.
Were you pleased with just how well the album was received?
Yes I am. The album did really well for me. It went straight into the UK charts at number three and it will be released in America later on this year. I am still doing promotion on it so yes, I am totally pleased with how well it has been received.
Well I have to tell you that I have been playing the album for the past few months and I absolutely love it.
Thank you, that is so nice of you to say. You will notice that the album is slightly different from the albums that I normally do. I used the opportunity to pay homage to a lot of musicians, people like Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Brenton Wood together with a whole host of different people. The only modern track that I did was No Woman No Cry by the late Bob Marley. He is obviously someone who was very special to me. I have always wanted to record some of these old songs and I thought that there was no better time than now to do it, so I did.
How many songs did you start out with before you chose the final twelve that made it onto the album?
I started with about thirty songs but the amazing thing about the songs that did make it onto the album is that they are the ones that I grew up with especially after my father bought a radio. My father was the first person to have a radio in the village and god knows where he got the radio from (laughter). We never had any money so I have no idea whose radio I was actually listening to (laughter). God bless his soul anyway (laughter). Anyway, these are songs that I grew up with and this album was just a great opportunity for me to record them. I wouldn’t even say that they are covers, they are simply my renditions of some of the great songs that I grew up listening to.
Are there any songs that didn’t make the cut that you now wish had made it onto the album?
No not really. I had enough time to select the final twelve and the ones that I chose are the ones that I remembered naturally. I could remember all of the melodies together with ninety-nine percent of the lyrics. So it was easy for me as I didn’t have to learn anything, they were recorded naturally.
Could this turn into an ongoing project?
Why not. There are such great songs just sitting there getting cobwebs on them that a new young audience will not get a chance to ever hear these songs unless people like me record them. They should be able to hear what good music really is (laughter). I’m not putting down any of the modern music but….sorry people (laughter).
I have been a lifelong collector of both soul music and Motown. Two of my all-time favourite singers are Sam Cooke and Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops and you have paid tribute to both of them on the album. I love what you have done with their songs.
Thank you. Oh my god, you talk about Motown, what a great setup that was. There is one man that I didn’t cover who I would love to cover and that is Marvin Gaye. However, it is my opinion that you just don’t go there (laughter). Once Marvin has done it then it is done, you don’t mess with it. You just enjoy it for the rest of your life.
Putting you on the spot, do you have a favourite track on the album?
The fact that I recorded all of them obviously means that they are all very special to me. So that is a very difficult question for me to answer. However, if I had to choose one track I suppose that it would have to be Time And The River the Brenton Wood track on the album. The reason behind that is that it was the first song that I heard when my father bought the radio. So because of that I suppose that Time And The River is my special moment on the album.
I loved Brenton Wood singing Gimme Little Sign.
Yes of course. The man just had such a beautiful voice.
I have to say that you have recorded some great tracks and paid tribute to some fantastic artists on the album.
Thank you very much. I’m so glad that you like my selection.
I love it. I’m just waiting for volume two (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) maybe one day, who knows (laughter). The nice thing about recording the album for me was having written and recorded so many songs over the years, self-promoting myself basically, it’s so nice occasionally for me to appreciate other people’s music. It’s so nice, enjoyable and stress-free for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t enjoy my own projects, it’s just that you are doing something that has already been done. You have got master demos to listen to.
You are keeping these great songs alive for future fans.
Yes, of course. It is great music, it really is great music and I would love to think that one day people will do the same to my music.
I know that there have been many but if I pushed you to pick just one what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have to say that I have had quite a few good moments, for example performing at Live Aid in 1985 is certainly one of them. Doing Jewel Of The Nile with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, that was a special one. Believe it or not and I know that it might sound crazy but in 2012 I made a cameo appearance in the British comedy movie Keith Lemon, where I played his father (laughter). It was madness and I have no idea as to whatever got me into that but I really did enjoy it. I wouldn’t do it again, for me once was enough. These are a little moments in my life, some dramatic, some funny, some that I want to forget (laughter) but thank God I haven’t got too many of those.
Meeting people like Sir Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder have been special moments. I never met Bob Marley but I wish that I had. Beautiful and wonderful things can happen to you when they are not expected and you repeat them as pleasant memories for the rest of your life.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
The one person who always stirs that sort of emotion in me whenever I listen to him from a musical standpoint, his emotion when he delivers a song is Marvin Gaye. He really does get to me every time. What a great vocalist he was.
Billy, on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a delight and I will see you here in Nottingham on Friday 28th April. You take care and bye for now.
Me too Kevin, I look forward to seeing you. You take care my friend. Bye.