Reviewed by Kathryn Carr
Over Easter (17 April 2017), I paid a visit to The Lowry Theatre at Salford Quays, Manchester to catch British music legend Billy Ocean on his new UK tour.
Billy has been a well-known figure in the music industry since the 70’s and as I was born in 1979, many of his records hold memories of my childhood. My friend of the same age thought she didn’t know his songs but as soon as classics such as ‘When the Going gets Tough’ and ‘Get Outta my Dreams, Get into my Car’ kicked in, a nod and a toe-tap of recognition where just the start.
Billy’s tunes have come to provide an iconic soundtrack for even the current generation. He may be 67 but a just turned 12-year-old boy in the audience couldn’t have been happier to receive a personal rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from a man who’s old enough to be his Great Grandad.
The concert began with several songs I had never heard before but they eased me into the evening, building on the audience’s excited anticipation that exploded with the opening chords of the 1976 hit ‘Love Really Hurts Without You,’ when every seat in the house clicked into the storage position as people jumped to their feet.
Accompanied by a live band, the pint-sized popstar showcased a voice much larger than you imagine could be powered by his small but dapperly dressed frame. Even the songs I didn’t know made me smile, (though I challenge you to resist the charms of the super smiley Billy whose huge, bright white grin is delightfully infectious.) His smooth, silky tones shone through in renditions of his ballads, including the famous ‘Suddenly,’ and his ability to really knock out a tune with the energy of someone who’s decades younger was revealed through his upbeat numbers such as ‘Red Light Spells Danger’ and ‘Loverboy’.
Although his trademark dreads have greyed and his moves are very much of a suited and booted yet groovy Grandad, there is no doubting this man’s talent, his passion for performing and love of music. Billy clearly loves a singalong and encouraged the audience to sing famous lines, almost as if he still can’t believe people know the lyrics to his songs. He seems pretty humble and grateful for his success.
The tour aims to promote Billy’s new album ‘Here you Are’ which features a personal collection of his interpretations of the songs which influenced him (as well as a bonus disc of his own, catchy hits). I particularly enjoyed hearing his soulful cover of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and I’m definitely going to check out the album to hear his version of Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me.’
There were plenty of ladies in the audience who clearly wanted to be Billy’s ‘Caribbean Queen’ and the Grammy Award winner who has achieved worldwide sales of over 30 million handled boisterous, near stage invasions with grace and humour. He saved his 1984 hit until the encore and although I’d expected a ‘Love Really Hurts’ finale, ‘Caribbean Queen’ turned out to be a fine tribute to a lady called Lisa who had bought tickets to the gig but sadly passed away. Hugging her best friend, Billy’s sensitive side was revealed alongside the charisma and charm displayed throughout.
Whilst he could have thrown in more of his celebrated, well-known songs a little earlier into his set, once the hits did kick in, the audience needed no encouragement to get up and dance and to sit and away to the slowies. Even the songs unknown to the ear were easily enjoyed and I’m sure everyone shared the opinion that Billy is only getting better with age.
Billy’s support act was double MOBO award-winning saxophonist YolanDa Brown, who owned the stage in her silver, high heels and made the hard work she must have put into perfecting the art of her instrument appear completely effortless and sound faultlessly pre-recorded. I do enjoy singing along to music so to sit there and listen to instrumentals was a change but a welcome one. If I closed my eyes I was in a beach side bar, relishing the reggae renditions. Playing a mix of covers and her own material, YolanDa’s half-hour set is well worth a listen.
The Lowry offers a fantastic space for concerts with car parking, organisation and customer service always top notch. My only complaint is that every time I’ve been, I’ve ended up feeling a little too hot, though on this occasion Billy’s big, warm smile and my desire to get up and boogie may have contributed to the temperature of this eight month pregnant lady!
For upcoming tour dates, visit www.billyocean.com, tickets from around £25.
The Lowry presents audiences with a wide and excellent variety of theatre, comedy, musicals, dance, music and visual arts. For more information and to find out what’s on, visit www.thelowry.com.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000