The soul legend delivers a career-spanning set to an ecstatic crowd at the Royal Concert Hall.
My introduction to Billy Ocean was in the summer of 1988 when the eleventh volume of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” cassette was bought for my parents Ford Avenger. I didn’t know it at the time but “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” was a late introduction into his back catalog. In fact, for a long time after I associated Billy Ocean with the late 80’s synth-pop movement that has made a huge resurgence in recent years. A resurgence that perhaps paved the way for shows like tonight.
I have a number of good friends who are still enmeshed in this 80’s renaissance and if I am being honest, I don’t get, not all of it. The polished hit factories and saturated sparkly pop just aren’t for me and that’s probably how I saw the 80s. That said, the show tonight proved to me why the revival happened and why it was worth happening. Not only that it underpins the fact there are true luminaries from that time who are still as credible and relevant now as they ever were.
It may come as no surprise but I consider the 1970’s to play host to his most pivotal and consummate material. Tracks like “Love on Delivery”, “Stop Me” and “Love Really Hurts Without You” are ambitious, soul packed anthems that draw massive inspiration from forerunners such as “The Drifters” and “The Foundations”. It’s also pretty difficult to deny the obvious influence of some great Motown artists. From this period of his catalog, It was “Love Really Hurts Without you” that made an appearance tonight and it brought everyone to their feet. Large parts of the crowd were dancing in the isles as Billy stretched out the final chorus he encouraged us all to embrace every last second of what is probably the best soul record to come out of the UK.
It well and truly deserved the standing ovation.
In 1977 “Red Light Spells Danger” was way ahead of its time and you might say he was experimenting with an untested style at that stage in his career. The bass guitar had barely played the intro and the seats were empty and isles were full again with the main man himself dancing with the crowd and assisting with selfies, all without missing a beat. I don’t think he stopped smiling through the whole show, in fact, there were occasions between the grins and iconic dance moves that his vocals gave way for laughter and it was clear he was enjoying himself as much as the Concert Hall audience.
It’s easy to label music like this, I did it for 30 years but a few things surprised me tonight. I loved his version of “No Woman No Cry”, not everyone can tackle songs like this as effortlessly as it looked tonight and there were times I don’t think he even needed a microphone, his voice was that powerful. “They’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” was incredible with weighty, vulnerable, and flawless vocals. This was unexpectedly one of the highlights of the show for me, it was then I understood why there were so many people in this room and why he deserves the title of legend.