Music: Review: Billy Ocean, Colston Hall

Camelia Yalipende, April 30, 2017

“It felt significant to go to see Caribbean-born British Superstar, Billy Ocean, at the Colston Hall on the day that it was decided for the venue’s name to be changed. No longer will it honour the merchant venturer who made his profit off the backs of slaves being shipped to the Caribbean Islands. It felt right listening to the announcements on the radio while on our way to watch two successful British-Caribbean stars command the stage of the booked-out concert hall.

We got there for 7 o’clock expecting that the doors would be open already, however we had to wait around the lobby for a little while. I went with both of my parents which was great as I might have felt really out-of-place otherwise, considering that I was at least 20-30 years younger than everyone else – fairly expected as I was barely born when most of his songs were big – meaning that these were long-time dedicated fans. None of us had been to a show at the Colston Hall since they had done the work on it. The new lobby, modern and glossy, sports several bridges and banisters that overlook a sort of little courtyard performance area in the middle where we proceeded to watch some (pretty poor) break-dancing…I’m not sure if this is actually a space for budding performers or if people just…do it anyway? But if it’s the former, that’s pretty cool and inclusive! One thing that I really took away from the experience of the new Colston Hall was the quality of customer service. Every member of staff I encountered was exceptionally helpful and friendly.

I’d heard of Yolanda Brown several times but never really gave her music a good listen. She came on with her own separate band, which is pretty impressive for an opening act. She is a saxophonist and conductor who writes and covers jazz music. With a British and Jamaican Flag tied to her mic stand, she actually decided to stick to a Caribbean theme with what she referred to as ‘posh reggae’. She performed her most well-known hit Tokyo Sunset as well as saxophone instrumental covers of s few Bob Marley songs. She was really bubbly, with the chatty confident demeanour of a Master of Ceremonies. She did good job getting people warmed up. I would describe her music as a combination of Jazz, Soul and Reggae – very enjoyable.

Around 8.30, Mr Ocean graced the stage with quite an entrance, band playing slow intros before gliding out with his famously huge grin and his huge head of bright silver dreadlocks. I was pretty surprised by how petite he is; I realise now that he was stood next to Danny DeVito and Michael Douglas in his When the Going Gets Tough video! I had my qualms about going to a concert where it’s a big seated area as it kind of felt like a theatre or cinema show where if I stand up I might block the view of the person behind me but in-reality I had no such issue. He performed for an hour and a half and was so charismatic it made the whole show feel super laid back. People were getting up and moving to the aisles to dance, shouting out to him with him shouting back and cracking jokes, engaging the whole audience and inviting us to sing along. For maybe half the set, he adapted the song to get the audience to sing parts of it, facilitated by him and his backing singers. He would play a chorus 15 times if need be, all the while talking and chuckling through it.

He performed all his main hits; Red Light Spells Danger, Suddenly, Colour of Love, Love Really Hurts Without You, Get Out Of My Dreams (Get Into My Car), Going Gets Tough, Loverboy, and of course Caribbean Queen which was saved for the big encore! He even called out for a woman called Wendy to stand up so that he could sing happy birthday to her and got us all to join in. His band was excellent, his engagement with the audience was excellent, his voice was excellent, the lights and timing was excellent – really well coordinated. His dancing was endearing and he later introduced one of the singers as his daughter which was a lovely moment. His showmanship was so refined it had me thinking that I need to watch some more golden oldies, because maybe his decades of practice means he has the performance down to a tee, or maybe he is just a star. The fact he could get the audience breaking a sweat from dancing while in a pretty spacious, well ventilated seated hall says a lot. Almost 70 years old, 46 years of music and still plenty more to give.

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