Ocean’s Away

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UK pop-soul pioneer Billy Ocean is back, with a sell-out UK tour and a brand new album, Here You Are – his second since his 2009 comeback. Aside from the title track, it’s an album of covers of some of Billy’s long-time favourite songs. We grabbed him for a few quick questions:

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The comeback has obviously gone well, since you’ve issued a ‘Greatest Hits’ comp and have now made a second album. How soon did you know you’d made the right decision to get back into it?

“I’ll admit, I was nervous at first. That lasted about three shows on the first tour. Then I knew people wanted me to come back and it was OK.

“In fact, what I have now is, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. In the old days, when I was making my way, I had to prove it to my new audience all the time, on every release. But now these people who come to my shows, I have proved it them already, they know me. I know they like what I used to do, so it takes the pressure off. And I enjoy it so much. Besides, what else would I do?”

Remind us of the decision making process on your previous ‘retirement’. It was a break that lasted a lot longer than anyone expected at the time:

“I had to decide what to do. I was big in America and Clive Calder, the head of Jive Records, was relocating to New York. I could have gone over there with him, but it would have meant upheaval for the family… or I could have gone on my own and – who knows? – perhaps succumbed to the temptations over there!

“I decided to stay here and bring up my children and take a good long break. When they were old enough and I had done enough taking a break, I felt like it was time to come back.”

Why a covers album this time?

“Well, the idea was originally suggested to me by… who is that big producer who died? Phil Ramone. He said it would be a good idea to put some of my favourite songs together and make a covers album. But for some reason or another that didn’t actually happen for a while.

“The idea stuck with me, though, and I got to thinking about those old songs I used to listen to as a kid in Trinidad. ‘Cause our family was the first around our way to have a radio, y’know? And the first song I remember hearing on it was Time And The River. I loved those old Sam Cooke songs too, and of course I had to put something by Bob Marley on there.”

But only one of your own?

“Well, I didn’t really want the album to be called after someone else’s title, y’know. I wanted it to be known after one of my own songs. And I am the kind of guy who goes in to write and does only what is required: I don’t stack up material, like some people. So I wrote Here You Are and it seemed to fit.

“I loved working with my old producer Barry Eastmond again after all these years. We understand each other. I think we made a good album.

“The next one will be an album of originals, for sure.”

Finding the business much different these days?

“Things are different now. But society is different. I see people going out to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death? I know many people did not agree with some of the things she did – members of my own family didn’t – but to see people actually celebrating the death of someone? That’s not right.

“But y’see, I’m the kind of easy-going guy who prefers to look forward. My wife tells me I’m too easy-going!

“But it’s the way I am. Like, there was a time when I had a problem with CBS and a song I had written which I was made to sign away the rights on, and I could have let that get to me. But instead I signed with Clive Calder and Jive and I began another period of my career – the most successful period I ever had. So I always look forward to something new. Just like I am now.”