Singing legend Billy Ocean on why the East End still has a special place in his heart
Billy Ocean may have made his ascent from the deprived streets of Brick Lane to international stardom but he reckons he’s still an East End boy at heart.
Back on the scene after a 15-year hiatus, the pop and R&B veteran is headlining at the Rewind 1980s festival this summer, and he’s more than happy to reminisce about where it all began.
“The East End is an amazing place, really. I think it’s still a place of opportunity.
“I still come here quite a lot and I’m quite amazed at the transformation. It’s become very up-market and one of the hippest places in London.”
Coming to the area as an eight-year-old boy from Trinidad, Billy spent his childhood and early adulthood around Whitechapel, Brick Lane and Commercial Road.
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While it’s well-known that the 61-year-old crooner made his name performing in every club and bar he could get a gig at in the Sixties and Seventies, he was just as familiar with the rag trade east London had become synonymous with, hopping from factory to factory to earn a crust so he could carry on singing.
It was a chance opportunity at one factory, in fact, that led to his break-through hit.
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“Due to music, there almost isn’t a factory I never touched. I was never one of these people who thought I’m going to be a musician and I’m going to do nothing else.
“A guy I worked for was kind enough to lend me �32 to buy a piano that one of the machinists was getting rid of. I took it home and a little while after I wrote Love Really Hurts on it.”
And despite the assumption that he takes his name from the Ocean estate in Stepney, the singer says it was in fact a Trinidadian football team from the village he was from which provided the inspiration.
These days he is happy to put the conveyor-belt of writing, recording and promoting on the backburner to concentrate on his real passion – performing live.
He tours with his daughters who provide backing vocals and it is this familiar set-up which suits him best.
“I’ve survived the industry enough to come back again and I’m out here singing with my daughters and I feel a sense of achievement in that – because one of the reasons I did all this was for them.
“All the ego of youth has gone. I’m not going out there selling anything to anyone.
“I’m going out there to relax and give people pleasure and while I’m at it I give myself a tremendous amount of enjoyment.”
Billy Ocean is performing at the Rewind festival in Henley-on-Thames on Saturday August 20.