“Our music business is different from being a sportsman. Being a sportsman you peak when you are twentysomething. You are old when you are thirty, I have to laugh at that sometimes. A tennis player can be in his late twenties and they will talk about him as if he is 90, which I find quite sad. Or a footballer who is 29-years-old, well I suppose he only has a year or two left, I think how negative, the poor guy. If the poor guy was to really take that in, he’d probably go and top himself. In our business you can go on until you are, I don’t know.” Billy Ocean may turn 60 in January, but Trinidad’s finest is far from ready to retire. Having taken a break from the music industry to raise his family, Ocean decided to finally return to his passion. “Well, I’m getting accustomed to it again. I’ve been back out there since 2007 and I’m trying to make the most of it. Enjoy myself as much as I can. And the people, you know, they come to see me so I have to be the best that I can. On my best behaviour at all times, so I try to do that.”
“I still feel physically ok. I’ve been feeling that for the past few years, so I thought why not come back and make some music. The kids have grown up and everyone seems to be doing what they are doing, leaving me feeling a little bit redundant, so I thought it was a good time to come back out again. I have my eldest daughter with me, she sings a bit with me.” It seems that family gave him reason to quit, but they have also provided him with a reason to return. Eldest daughter Cherie did have a shot at a solo career in 2004, signed to Jive Records (with Britney Spears as her stablemate), but sadly her record failed to set the music world on fire. “I must say I wasn’t very happy about it, because it’s like any parent really, you see your little baby out there and you worry about them. You know, as beautiful and rewarding as the music business is, it does have its pitfalls, so you do concern yourself. If you have somebody out there, you’d like everything to go right for them. I guess the best way things can go right for her is being with me at this particular stage of her life.”
A supportive father, Ocean is clearly proud of his brood. “The last one is quite academic. The boy, my second one, he is into music as well. I just leave them to do as they wish. But I’m glad the eldest one has come with me to sing with me, she helps me out on the road.” However, having taken such a long career break means that the industry he returns to is a different world to the one he first experienced. “It has changed very much. Technologically it has changed. Everything has changed. You know, there aren’t that many record companies anymore, they’ve all sort of crafted into one. There aren’t really so many record shops anymore. I mean, there’s a lot of things that aren’t the same anymore. Even the songs aren’t the same anymore, they are less melodic. They are not the sort of things you can sing along to, so maybe that’s why people like myself can come back out and do what we are doing. The old-timers like myself and Gladys Knight, we come back out and we get appreciated, because we were doing it right in the first place. Lovely songs, good melodies that people can sing along too.”
I sort of found my way around the music business and I served my apprenticeship. This modern day thing is that you literally become an overnight star.
Clearly not a fan of the current music scene, broaching the growth of the television talent shows prompts an initial groan. Ocean was the son of a musician and learnt his trade from a young age. Far from being just a performer, Ocean is an accomplished songwriter, who can count Boyzone, LaToya Jackson and Randy Crawford amongst the artists who have recorded his compositions, music is his heart and soul. “I have got nothing negative to say about it. My only concern is that I don’t know how you survive it. I had an apprenticeship, I had to decide to do music when I was very small. I was around 3 or 4 and my father was a musician, so my whole life was spent dreaming about this thing I was going to do until one day it actually came to fruition. In 1976 I had my first hit record, which got to number 50. The year after that I got to number 2 with “Love Really Hurts Without You”. I sort of found my way around the music business and I served my apprenticeship. This modern day thing is that you literally become an overnight star. I don’t know how good that is for the head. I don’t know good that is for the person. It is a big thing you are taking on and there should be people there helping you. It’s a big journey. For example, you are on X Factor, you are on TV and everyone has seen you. You are pretty good but a judge decides you aren’t good enough, suddenly you are back to Joe Bloggs again. But the people have seen you and as far as they are concerned you are a star. But then you are waiting for number 10 bus, but nobody wants to see you there. They would rather spot you going past in a fancy car or something. It can be very confusing for the people who don’t win. And even if you do win, I think it can be confusing.”
Far from criticising the contestants on talent shows, Ocean sympathises. He feels that the world of the instant celebrity is far more damaging than working your way up gradually. He knows that in many ways they arent to blame. “You can look at the music industry expanding, more avenues for big companies to make money. We now have things like websites, so there is always a loss and a gain somewhere along the line. I think the music was a lot better because we felt freer. There were less restrictions. Music was something more based on talent and creativity than making money.” Ocean hasnt lost all faith in the industry though. He knows that artistry often loses out to money, but that is the western way. “You know what, there will always be a few. There are parts of the third world which is unaffected by all this, so hopefully some of that will come through. Like reggae music. Reggae music was ignored by everybody but it found its own way through without the help of the media. You know the Jamaican artists, the reggae artists kept on pushing and you know anything that is good will come through. Of course the industry will always try and push what they think is best because they are making money out of it. But it isn’t always best what they want. Things will grow, things will change. You have to accept changes. There are other ways to catch on.”
Perhaps it was the fame element which contributed to Ocean taking a break in the first place. His calm, relaxing presence seems a million miles away from many of the wannabes of the current music scene. “If you start off with one dream, one ambition and you come to a point where you really don’t know what you should do or where you are going anymore, what is the point in carrying on? You might as well stop, redress yourself and carry on. Which is what I did.” He is aware that his fortunate position would have seen him the envy of many. Few other artists can claim record sales in excess of 30 million, nor the ability to return and carry on where they left off. However, at the time music was no longer a driving force. “I suppose it was difficult. At the end of the day you are dealing with finance and economics. I was fairly successful and I’d come to a stage where I was carrying on but I felt that my kids needed me. My family needed me. By then I had been travelling everywhere, I mustn’t say that I was fed up of it but I did need a change. A change for myself and the people around me. I just feel if things are not right around you, why not take a step back and look at it and resolve it.” Though he may not say it directly, he gives the impression that though a performer at heart, his need for privacy over-rode his need for the spotlight.
One of the best things I’d say to any budding musician, is learn to write your own songs.
His advice for those aspiring for a career in music is to take the old fashioned route. He firmly believes that he would not be around had he taken the ‘fame’ route. “I’d say learn as much as you can. One of the best things I’d say to any budding musician, is learn to write your own songs. That’s 50 percent, even 80 percent of the battle over if you can create your own music. Then you don’t have to wait or depend on anyone else to do that for you. That is what the whole thing is built upon, songs.”
Ocean isnt trying to make a point with his return, he intends purely to have fun. “I just felt I still had it in me. I saw my daughter there, wanting to sing. It would be a nice way to help her. Friends of mine, good musicians weren’t doing anything. So it was a good way to provide a living for lots of people and for myself. I still enjoy it. I don’t have to go out and sell myself to anyone anymore. I can enjoy what I’m doing. I’m not in competition with anybody anymore.” Inevitably, as well as touring, Ocean has also used the opportunity to return to the studio. His latest album Because I Love You isn’t a sign of “self-indulgence, but self-fulfilment. Self-indulgence, you can get up on a trip which nobody else understands. I’m not the type to be self-indulgent anyway. But I just felt I have a few more albums left in me, things that I’d like to sing about, write about.”
For those who instantly deride his return as little more than a has-been wanting their time over, he responds succinctly, “What about people like Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington, or people like Ella Fitzgerald? They are the people I see and I admire, in the sense of how they treated their craft. Not thinking ‘I am 60’ and stopping, but carrying on until they couldn’t do it anymore. That is what I look at rather than someone in the media telling me that I am too old to do things.” However, there is one man who inspires Ocean to always follow his heart. “One of my favourite people ever is Tommy Cooper, he died laughing. I don’t want to sound sick, but as a comedian you want to make people laugh and you’ve fallen over, you’ve collapsed and died yet people are still laughing. He was the epitome of talent I guess.” Because I Love You revealing Ocean’s tender side and his motivations for returning being driven by love of those close to him, it is clear that it is more than talent that has got Ocean this far. Talent is something you cant buy, nor is charm. Ocean oozes both and so it is more than satisfying to know that he will carry on “as long as people in the public want.”
Because I Love You is out now on Aqua Music. Billy Ocean will be doing a nationwide tour of the UK in June 2010, dates can be found at Billy Ocean’s Official Site.
To win a pair of tickets to see Billy Ocean at London’s indigo2 on June 9th 2010, then answer this easy question:
Who covered Billy Ocean’s hit “When The Going Gets Tough” for Comic Relief in 1999?
To enter, send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 1st, 2010.