Published: Nov 09, 2011
Billy Ocean’s smash hit Love Really Hurts without You is familiar to millions of people across the world.
But this breakthrough track, written when he was 18 in his family’s east London council flat, was stored away in his memory for five years until he found a producer he felt comfortable playing it to.
This was one of many anecdotes that Billy told during a masterclass he gave in November to LIPA students and staff.
The Grammy Award-winning singer and LIPA Companion began by returning to his early years in Trinidad, when he developed a love of song from his calypso-musician father and made instruments out of old milk tins.
The family moved to London in the early 1960s, when Billy’s passion for music grew. He said: “I always wanted to do music. Academically I was not very good. After school the first thing I tried to do was get in a band.”
And he did. He also trained as a tailor and worked in London’s clothing industry, getting fired from one job after his employer discovered he had a minor hit on the radio.
“The fact that they gave me the sack was a very good thing for me. I had wanted to get out of it,” he quipped.
Later, while working for car-maker Ford and moonlighting as a studio musician, Billy built up a strong working relationship with one record producer, who hired him as an apprentice and who became the first industry figure to hear Love Really Hurts without You.
Billy said: “One day I took out the song and said: ‘Check this out, see what you think.’”
The song launched his career, during which he has sold over 30 million records, been crowned the UK’s biggest-selling black artist and scooped a Grammy Award, for Caribbean Queen.
During the class Billy sang, a capella, several bars of a few of his biggest hits, explained how he approaches the songwriting process, and reflected on why he writes exclusively about love.
He commented: “Love is wide, deep, high, it’s infinite. It’s the most beautiful topic you can write about.”
Billy also talked about record labels, working in the US, his dislike of genres and pigeonholing, his 18-year sabbatical from the industry, his faith, and his pre-live show preparations, among other subjects.
Before the masterclass closed with several words of wisdom for students starting their careers, the Trinidad-born artist watched three LIPA acts perform and gave them feedback.