In the 1980s Weetabix ran a series of Top Trax mixtapes. The cassettes had four songs currated by each of the Weetabix gang (Brian, Brains, Bixie, Dunk and Crunch?), collectable by saving up vouchers and posting away for it (A far cry from instant downloads, straight to a mobile phone only to be used as a ringtone or polluting the top carriage of a Dublin Bus). Even though it took weeks for the tape to arrive the chances were your favourite popstar would still be around; there was a much longer shelf-life back then.
Among the top trax artists were the biggest stars of the era – Madonna, Nik Kershaw, Kirsty MacColl, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, etc. Billy Ocean was on the same tape as Musical Youth, but Billy was never that cool; even at the time he appealed to a more mature audience. He was however incredibly successful, one of the biggest selling British R&B artists of the ’80s in fact. Billy sold millions of albums worldwide, won a grammy for -Caribbean Queen’ in 1985, and was partly responsible for the cross-over of R&B and pop music.
It all took off with the release of -Suddenly’, which judging by the audience reaction appears to be an important song, to what was then young love. The crowd at Vicar Street were Billy’s original fans from back in the day, and that day was in the ’80s. Having never before played Ireland, apart from a pre-fame tour in 1976, excitement levels were high.
As soon as Billy Ocean arrived on stage to roars of glee, women were bee-lining for a kiss or even a glance. The man looked sharp in a dapper silk suit, the white of his long dreaded hair and beard being the only indication of his 60 years. The bouncers had their work cut out for them and Billy lapped up the attention, he’s all about the ladies. Well, ladies and romance.
-Here’s to You’, -What Colour is Love’ and -There’ll be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)’ were woesome in a way only ’80s music can be, with soft saxophone, dramatic drumming and the most amazing guitar jabs – think speedboat chases in Miami Vice. His version of -The Long and Winding Road’ brought one hysterical lady to tears, while -Loverboy’ shamed the men as they tried to emulate Billy’s remarkable moves. Not that any of them cared. This was a feel good gig, proper life-affirming stuff.
Along with some snazzy dance moves, Billy Ocean has a tremendous voice that never once quivered or missed a single note. He is also one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever encounter. During -Red Light’ all speakers in the entire venue went off, apart from the stage monitors. In the downtime, Billy bantered with anecdotes of fame, life and love in the most gracious and charming manner. When the sound was sorted out Billy felt obliged to deliver, and that he did, with extended versions of -Get Outta My Dreams’ (complete with a reveling mass scream of ‘get in the back seat baby’), -When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going’ and finally Billy at his smoothest – -Caribbean Queen’.
Though he has since written for and collaborated with likes of R. Kelly, LaToya Jackson, Randy Crawford and, em, Boyzone, Billy may never relive the glory of his hey-day, but he seems fine with that. Billy Ocean is a man that’s content with, and intent on, making other people happy.