His manager hurriedly walks me through the hotel’s foyer. Simon Webbe, singer with a hot bod of note, is not to be kept waiting. We walk into the chill area in the mouth of the foyer and there, sitting on a leather couch, is the very cool and calm man himself.
Performing later that night he becomes someone very different – a crowd-pleasing coy guy who gyrates his nether regions and even dances with a lucky lady from the audience. He has them eating out of the palm of his hand.
Back at the hotel, Simon turns off the big-screen TV on which he was watching some rock band or other. And when his hand finally rests on the couch, I notice the suspect black nail polish. “It’s just like accessories, innit?,” he states matter-of-factly, “like earrings or anything else.” And so questions about his orientation are firmly put to rest and the interview continues.
“Music just dawned on me, really. I did not even start singing until Blue,” he begins. That would be the multi-million album-selling boyband from the UK which comprised Lee Ryan, Antony Costa, Duncan James and Webbe. They gave us the hits One Love, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (with Elton John) and Signed, Sealed, Delivered (with Stevie Wonder and Angie Stone).
So, why did they disband? “When we were together we lived everyday like it was our last. We only had a few weeks – out of the whole year – for holiday. But, towards the end, the pressure just got too much. It can mess with your body.”
Interestingly, when the group first formed their record label wanted a “boybandish” name for them and decided on LADS (the initials of the band mates). But, having been influenced by the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Eyed Peas, Simon and his buddies decided on Blue. Were it not for Blue, Simon wouldn’t have the wealth or popularity he’s garnered.
Neither would he have his two solo albums, Sanctuary and Grace, nor the budding rap/rock career he plans to take on. He explains: “Growing up I was the type of kid who could do anything I put my mind to. So, initially I wanted to rap.”
He interjects by mentioning that the first concert he ever attended was a Wu-Tang Clan gig. However, someone advised him to take the singing route instead and he linked up with the lads and formed Blue.
“I was also a serious soul fan, I really liked Al Green. But people don’t make music like that anymore.”
It seems he also once fell into that trap. “When I went solo I thought I wanted to do R’nB but I found myself singing clichéd lyrics that weren’t saying anything new.” So he changed his subject matter and his sound and delivered to the masses a sound he calls Urban Folk.
He sheds light on the subject: “I write autobiographical songs. For instance, Lay your Hands was written after two friends committed suicide. It’s about how we don’t take care of each other.”
But not all of his songs are doom and gloom. Take Coming Around Again, for instance, off Grace. It is an uplifting track, brim-full of joyful tambourine sounds. Simon announces: “I went to my first World Cup last year and it was so exhilarating.
From that exciting experience came the lyrics for Coming Around Again.”
However, he is aware that it might be a while before Urban Folk takes off, especially as there is no category for it at any awards. “I don’t care about awards. There’s so many politics in the music industry anyway, with people wanting you to sound a certain way.”
Like fellow black Brit R’nB singer Lemar, I offer. “Yeah,” he says. “Do you know that we can’t even be at the same award show on the same night? They have to have either one or the other.” His frankness is followed by resignation: “It’s all politics, you see?”
Politics aside, Simon’s next album is being made his way. “I got a guitar six months ago,” he gushes, whipping out his cellphone to show me a picture of it. “It’s been a massive risk for me to even pick up a guitar, but I think my next album will take a rock departure. I really like The Killers.”
And he may just be on to something as his latest rock-like song, Ride the Storm, has been picked as the title song to the film, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, over a track by the Foo Fighters. Perhaps an indication that Simon Webbe’s star is far from its decline.
This article appeared in Tonight on 18 July 2007.