It’s easy to rattle off facts about Simon Webbe (his first two albums, “Sanctuary” and “Grace” have sold over 1 million copies in the UK alone between them, yielding five hit singles) but they don’t convey how much he’s actually achieved. Put it this way: Simon used to be one-quarter of cheeky R&B/pop outfit Blue – otherwise known as the boy-band’s boy-band – and, as everyone knows, former boy-banders don’t have successful solo careers. Unless, that is, if their names are Robbie Williams, George Michael or, well, Simon Webbe.
Naturally, various pundits are claiming that they knew all along he’d be successful. (20/20 hindsight is great, isn’t it?). That was more than Simon knew when the 13-million-selling Blue split in 2004. Back then, if you’d told him that, four years on he’d be recording his third solo album and that he would have massive international solo success (big sales across Europe and Asia, plus picking up the “Best Breakthrough Act” gong at the 2006 MTV Asia Awards) he wouldn’t have believed it.
Around the release of “Sanctuary” Simon readily admits he had “Oh my God” moments when he’d be onstage somewhere and suddenly remember that he was the only one up there. “I’d instinctively put the mic down and wait for the others to come in on the next verse, and then realise that it was just me. It took me a long time to find my solo feet.” And now? “Now, as I do each live show or TV or record, my confidence grows.”
It helps that he’s found a sound that feels right. He calls it “urban folk,” because the music reflects both his upbringing in Moss Side, Manchester and his appreciation of rootsy harmonicas and banjos. “Funnily enough, he had toyed with the idea of being a rapper or a straightforward R&B sexpot. “I saw myself doing R&B,” he chortles, illustrating with a few medically-improbable dance moves. “Then I realised I wasn’t the UK’s answer to Usher.” Usher will probably be relieved to not have to worry about competition from Manchester.
Manchester, or more specifically Moss Side, where Simon’s mum and siblings still live, features heavily in his music” If he hadn’t left, he reckons, “I would’ve fallen into the same situation as my friends. If you try to get a job, employers see the M16 postcode and they don’t want to know. And the attitude is [belligerently]:’Yeah, I’m from Moss Side, respect me’.” And so, despite the fact that it was recorded in the south of France, much of “Grace” was informed by his experiences in M16.
For instance, the gospel-scented, semi-acoustic track ‘Grace’ is about “my mum, and the way she raised me. I was a bit wild at one point, and she sent me to Nevis [the island where she grew up] when I was 14 to experience life as she was raised. It was like a boot camp. I went a boy, and came back a man.” The song’s chorus – “You give me grace to say when I got it wrong” – is his way of thanking her.
2006’s hit single “Coming Around Again,” an utterly infectious folk-tinged number, features a strong lyrical message just like Simon’s 2005 massive hit “No Worries.” Simon says: “‘No Worries’ seemed to mean a lot to people. It was a massive hit in Asia, and I had people come up to me and say, ‘My husband died in the tsunami, and ‘No Worries’ gave me hope.” Similarly, “Coming Around Again” is about good times, and the strength of the human spirit”.
Simon also finds the time to indulge in his other musical passion – DJing around the UK’s top clubs playing across the board from funky and commercial House, through urban flavours, hip hop, RnB and electro.
Simon appeared in I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! 2008. He is also joining forces with Blue and fellow boy-bands in the Big Reunion Boy Band Tour 2014.
Simon is also appearing on 2014’s BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.