I’ve been so lucky this year in terms of the musicians I’ve seen perform live. It’s one of the greatest advantages of living in London, and something I never take for granted. Tonight was a particular thrill. I’ve loved Billy Ocean’s music for as long as I can remember and, although he still tours fairly frequently, have never had the opportunity to go to one of his concerts.
The atmosphere inside the Royal Albert Hall was electric when we arrived; packed, unsurprisingly, to the rafters, it was great to see an audience ranging from the very young to the very well preserved. One of the more nerve-racking elements of seeing a veteran musician perform live is the question mark around whether they’ll perform all the old favourites or decide, instead, to inflict their “soon-to-be-released” new material upon a disappointed and increasingly irritable audience. From the moment Billy Ocean bounded on to the stage, an infectious grin on his face, it was apparent that he had no intention of doing the latter.
Watching him launch straight into ‘Are You Ready?’, swiftly followed by ‘Upside Down’, we could only marvel at Ocean’s exuberance and stage presence. In fact, we couldn’t take our eyes off this trim, dapper man, dressed in a cobalt suit and moving around the stage in a way that would put Justin Bieber to shame. Ocean’s voice, too, belies his years: it remains as rich and powerful as ever and he used it to great effect in ‘Pressure’.
The evening was much more about the music than it was about the chat, but Ocean did pause for a brief, but heartfelt, introduction: “Welcome, people of this great city of London! It might be cold inside, but it’s hot in here and you’re going to sing, dance and misbehave with me!”
And that we truly did – no more so than during ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, surely one of the best pop songs ever written and guaranteed to get even those with zero sense of rhythm on their feet – and, in our case, “singing”, as we continued to do through ‘Lover Boy’ and ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car’, Ocean’s beautiful trio of backing singers (including his daughter) gamely urging us on.
There were some more romantic moments, too: phone screens aloft for ‘What is the Colour of Love?’ and ‘Suddenly’. Best of all, though, was a fabulous version of ‘No Woman No Cry’: filled with warmth and nostalgia it was one of the high points of the night.
All good things must come to an end and after a floor-stomping rendition of the theme from ‘The Jewel of the Nile’ (Billy Ocean: “What happens when the going gets tough?” Audience: “THE TOUGH GET GOING!” we were into the finale, ‘Caribbean Queen’. Beams all round: from Billy Ocean, his wonderful band and – especially – the audience. Two hours of divine entertainment that whisked us out of a grey and rainy November evening in London and into a balmy place of musical bliss.