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Billy Ocean

September 2008

WHILE his 15-year sabbatical from the music business was longer than he had intended, Billy Ocean still played regularly – every summer at the Notting Hill carnival with a steel band.
And it was during rehearsals for the band, called Ebony, that last brought him to Nottingham.
"I'm going back five years," says the 58-year-old.
"It's kind of a bonding thing because for the carnival the band can swell to around 60 or 70 people. So we're all rehearsing together without any distractions.
"I can't remember where it was exactly but like most musicians we never remember anything, because we're just there for what we are doing and once we finish we leave. We didn't go out, no."
Ebony normally win the Panorama competition at the Notting Hill Carnival, he says. As they did again this year.
What do you win?
"I don't know. Someone gets something but I do it just for the love," he laughs.
"It's a charitable kind of thing for me. It's what the kids get out of it. I'm the old man of the outfit."
Well, you are 96.
"I know, I tell you man."
Why steel bands?
"I've been doing that since I was in Trinidad as a little kid. One of the hurtful things when I came to England was that I had to leave my (steel drum) pan and my dog behind.
"Even now I think about that dog. We were buddies. That was really hurtful."
Ocean – real name Leslie Charles – moved to London aged seven and soaked up the music of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, as well as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
From the mid-70s to the end of the 80s Ocean had a string of hits including Love Really Hurts Without You, Love on Delivery, Stop Me, Suddenly, When the Going Gets Tough (The Tough Gets Going) and the two US No. 1s Caribbean Queen and Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car.
But then he retired from the music business to raise a family.
"I just took some time out," he says.
"And it ended up being 15 years."
In one interview you said "the more success I had, the more I was losing myself". What did you mean?
"Success isn't something that is written on the wall that says 'I'm coming'. It comes when it comes. And when it comes you have to go with the flow. And before you realise it someone has your diary telling you where to go, what to do... and one day you wake up and think 'hang on, what's happening here?'
"I'm not knocking it. I give thanks for it all but I was beginning to kind of suffer. In the sense of my family life and my kids growing up."
He did write a little, built a studio in Grenada and "got involved in property".
Did the missus put a paintbrush in your hand?
"(Laughs) All that. Gardening, everything."
Why build a studio Grenada and not Trinidad?
"Because my father was from Grenada and when he passed away I went over to check out what was there and found a nice bit of land by the sea."
It was there he recorded tracks for a new album, Because I Love You, which will be out in the spring.
"I'm not saying it was like being on holiday there but it has different feelings and different moods. And Guinness," he laughs.
I had a holiday in Grenada to Grand Anse Beach...
"Yeah, Grand Anse Beach. Listen, you probably went past my studio. You must have. There's one road that takes you around the island. You will have driven past a place where they dump all the rubbish. The studio is about a mile from there in a place called Brizan."
What I found bizarre was how kids walking home from school would wave you down to give them a lift.
"(Laughs) They're very giving, they're friendly so when they're asking for a lift they don't feel as if they are putting anybody out. Because they are genuinely friendly they expect everybody to be that way as well."
Do you give people lifts?
"Yeah. I don't do it in this country any more though I used to."
The current tour is a career retrospective, so expect all the hits.
"That's what it's all about. You can't go out there and be self-indulgent. They come because they want a nostalgic singalong."
But it's by no means a one-off.
"There will be many more tours," he promises.
"The fires are still burning. You're still doing what you want. As you get older you find it gets easier, in the sense that you understand it more. Like David Beckham now, he doesn't have to run all over the field, he knows where they kick the ball. You know what I mean?"

Billy Ocean is at the Royal Concert Hall on Friday October 3. Tickets are £23 and £25 from the venue, call 0115 989 5555.

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