A reggae grudge match will be played out in the UAE as two versions of the seminal group UB40 are due to play in Dubai on Friday and later in April. At the centre of the dispute are the groups’ two lead singers, who also happen to be brothers. Fronting UB40 at the Big Grill festival in Emirates Golf Club is Duncan Campbell. Meanwhile, his younger sibling Ali leads the group UB40 Reunited, who will take to the Irish Village stage on April 3. Both are adamant their bands are the real deal.
Duncan Campbell from UB40
He has been the lead singer of UB40 since 2008, but the 55-year-old acknowledges he is still viewed as “the new guy” by the fans. That said, he is not entirely a new entity.
Duncan is the older brother of the former lead singer Ali (by 10 months), who quit the band acrimoniously in 2008 citing a management dispute.
Duncan has previous musical experience, having performed in a folk group as a child with his brothers and father.
His addition did not cause a major overhaul to UB40’s sound.
While UB40’s latest album, last year’s Getting Over the Storm, may have them reggae-fying standard country and western songs (such as Vince Gill’s If You Ever Have Forever in Mind and The Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider), Duncan’s voice continues the sweet and easy croon employed by Ali in the band’s hits Kingston Town and Red Red Wine.
The approach has not been welcomed by his predecessor, however.
Duncan admits that Ali has yet to see him perform with the group.
He slams Ali’s decision to start a renegade UB40, claiming it wouldn’t have happened if Ali’s post-band solo career hadn’t flopped.
“He is just a very unhappy man. Had his solo career gone well I am sure we would have been supporting him at major venues and we would have all been great friends, but that didn’t happen, I’m afraid,” he says.
“He now seems to think he needs the name back and he wants to launch his own UB40. It’s like somebody who got divorced years ago and he realises he wants his wife back.”
Ali Campbell from UB40 Reunited
The poster for his Irish Village Show on April 3 may read UB40, but Ali Campbell is quick to correct that it is actually UB40 Reunited.
While the deft name change might have been made to avoid legal action, Ali says it also serves a deeper purpose: they are the real deal.
He created a band in response to the other band’s latest album, the country and western-inspired Getting Over the Storm.
“That was absolutely terrible. It was a country album and it was not reggae at all.
“I decided to form this band to rescue the legacy of UB40 that I helped start, which is to perform and promote reggae. I got a deluge of people telling me how disappointed they were and I felt that I had to do something about it.”
To underscore the point, he says the UB40 vocalist Astro (Terence Wilson) and the keyboardist Mickey Virtue ditched the group to join Ali after the disappointment with the overall band direction.
“Astro described UB40 now as a rudderless ship,” Ali says.
“Especially after the new album. I can’t see Astro in a Stetson hat and boots on stage, a Rasta man like him yelling ‘yeehaa’ on stage.”
As well as a string of live shows “where we play all the UB40 songs you love”, Ali says the band will hit the studio to record a new album.
As for any members of UB40 considering joining his band, Ali says the door has firmly closed.
“We are perfectly happy as we are,” he says.
“We have got a brand-new album coming out and that’s the direction that we are going in.”
UB40 will perform on Friday at the Big Grill festival at Emirates Golf Club. Doors open at 2pm. Tickets cost Dh350 from www.platinumlist.net
UB40 Reunited perform at the Irish Village on April 3. Tickets cost Dh175 from www.timeouttickets.com