REGGAE stars UB40 maybe 35 years into a chart-topping career but they are still breaking new ground.
Constantly touring and producing new material, the band are always ready for a new challenge and so were delighted to cap a race day at Uttoxeter with a concert performance.
Drummer Jimmy Brown says: “It’s a different world for us and we have experienced it already at Newmarket. It’s awesome when you are there, the thunder of the hooves, the atmosphere.
“The racing itself gets people hyped up and I can understand why you would want extra entertainment after that when the lights go down.
“It’s an exciting place to be – it was an eye opener when we did our first racecourse.”
UB40 won’t be having a flutter on the horses however.
“To be honest we aren’t really gamblers,” says Jimmy. “The Grand National once a year, that’s about it.”
Jimmy was a founder member of the band back in the late 1970s and has played a major part in the creation of the UB40 legacy.
He says: “We could never have guessed it would last as long as it has. We have had a couple of careers’ worth already really.
“We had early hits from the Signing Off album and then a few years later a massive success with Red Red Wine and The Labour of Love series.
“Then in the 1990s our biggest selling album came out, Promises and Lies. So we have sustained the success over a number of years.
“We have suffered at times like any other band because the music industry has changed such a lot since the advent of the internet and downloads but it’s still an unbelievable story and I can’t believe how lucky we are to still be doing it. This tour has been sold out and has created a great buzz.”
So is there a secret to the longevity of the band?
Jimmy says: “Success in the music industry is unquantifiable, otherwise you could guarantee it every time. If you could get a winning formula then record companies would apply it to every act they sign, knowing they would be successful. But that doesn’t exist.
“If there is a secret for us, it’s that I think our music is approachable. We have sold in every corner of the world and have transcended cultures. We are just as big in Polynesia as England. It translates to so many different countries and maybe that’s why it has kept us going all this time.”
Jimmy was introduced to reggae music growing up in inner city Birmingham in the 1970s.
He says: “The music chose us really. There were a lot of immigrants from Jamaica and you could hear it coming out of people’s cars and houses. Tamla Motown dominated the charts but reggae music dominated the streets where we lived.”
He says: “It’s so long ago now and you are used to seeing multicultural bands these days. The advent of dance and house music, which is really multiculatural, changed all that. A DJ can be black or white and that revolutionised music as far as race was concerned but when we started there weren’t any mixed bands. There were a few Two Tone bands but the idea of being white and playing reggae still isn’t accepted by some journalists.
“There was a lot of racism around back in the late 1970s as well. The National Front was getting what UKIP do today - about 15 per cent of the vote. So, yes, we were pioneers.
“What mattered is that we were accepted very early on by our audience and other reggae artists.”
American success followed for UB40 doing what many UK bands have tried and failed to do, topping the charts in America.
Jimmy says: “That was pure luck. What happened was that five years after Red Red Wine was a big hit everywhere else in the world a radio station began playing it. They were bombarded with requests for it, other stations began playing it and it all snowballed and we went to No 1. We had a No 1 album then with Labour of Love 2, and another couple of Top 5 hits in the States.”
There are contrasting reports on the number of albums that the band have sold – from 70 million to in excess of 100 million. They are phenomenal figures, even at the lower end of that scale.
Jimmy says: “It’s somewhere in-between those figures but probably more towards 100 million. They are impressive figures.”
They are also the kind of statistics that modern bands can only dream of.
“It’s very hard to make money out of records now,” says Jimmy. It’s a good job for us these days that we are a good live band. I think we are better live than on record. So it’s OK for us as we have done it for so long we are comfortable on stage.
“But we accept that we will never get back to those number of sales and maybe neither will anyone else. It costs you more in advertising than you make from a No 1 record these days. You have to have X Factor phone call votes to make money out of records. It’s not really a very good business model any more.”
Live, UB40 have a great back catalogue to draw on but Jimmy thinks it’s important that they carry on producing new music.
“We are taking a bit of a risk,” he says. “We play a handful of hits but we are playing a lot of new material and really old material. We don’t want to be a karaoke type band playing hit records everyone knows. We are still a working band making new music and we want to perform that. We don’t want to only rely on the hits, even though we are grateful to have them.”
Jimmy has never left UB40 but former band members Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue have and there’s now an alternative line-up out there.
“I don’t want to say too much about the legal side as it’s in a process,” says Jimmy. “But to be honest I don’t go out of my way to find out what they are saying. We have our own job to do and career to pursue, what our ex-singer does is of very little interest to me really.”
UB40 can be seen at Uttoxeter Racecourse on May 17. Go to www.uttoxeter-racecourse.co.uk
An audience including Sir Michael Caine, Colin Firth, Damian Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter and Mike Skinner from The Streets was delighted by the feelgood tunes from Jimmy Cliff, UB40 refugees Ali Campbell and Astro and reggae’s finest rhythm section Sly and Robbie
Save The Children's yearly A Night Of gala raises money for the charity (an extraordinary £1.4 million last night) and brings together collaboration-friendly artists from a specific genre. 2014 is reggae’s year, and after a meal and speeches (newscaster Jon Snow wore a rasta hat and sang the Ugandan national anthem; surprisingly well, as it happened), the concert began at a school-night unfriendly 11.30pm.
No matter, to the delight of an audience including Sir Michael Caine (who lasted until the 1am finish), Colin Firth, Damian Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter and Mike Skinner from The Streets, the evening involved a rum cross-section of intermingling artists. There were the titans Jimmy Cliff, UB40 refugees Ali Campbell and Astro, plus reggae’s finest rhythm section Sly and Robbie. There was the revered Ernest Ranglin and Dawn Penn; British stalwarts Brinsley Forde (Aswad and Double Deckers) and Maxi Priest as well as the relatively unknown Elli Ingram and Max Stone. They all sang for the world’s children’s suppers and there were three songs from Suggs, who has yet to make a reggae record though It Must Be Love felt right.
Wisely, the acts tapped into the feelgood factor and mostly stuck to up-tempo hits. Best came last with the diminutive Cliff, who wore a tinfoil top, pink cap and red trainers without entirely sacrificing his dignity and rattled through You Can Get it if You Really Want, Many Rivers to Cross and the ensemble finale The Harder they Come.
Before that, teenager Ingram trundled through My Boy Lollipop with 81-year-old guitarist Ranglin, who played on Millie’s 1963 version, while Priest was so energetic his near-disappearance this century becomes more baffling still and, on an evening full of joy and an artistic and commercial success, drummer Sly Dunbar outcooled everyone by wearing his now-customary hard hat. The bar has been raised for 2015.
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
One of the founding members of reggae act UB40 has quit the band after more than 30 years, complaining that it was making him "miserable".
Astro, a vocalist and trumpet player, broke the news to his bandmates - who scored hits with songs such as One In Ten and Red Red Wine - on Friday, taking them by surprise.
The group's best-known singer Ali Campbell left in 2008 along with keyboard player Mickey Virtue. Four of the remaining members including Astro (whose real name is Terence Wilson) were declared bankrupt two years ago.
The band responded to the latest departure by saying he had let down fans by walking out on his upcoming touring commitments.
Astro said the group had been "like a rudderless ship" and he said his heart was not in their most recent album Getting Over The Storm, complaining his contribution had been as a backing vocalist.
He said: "I cannot bear to see what we are offering to our loyal fans who have stood by us through thick and thin. I think it's clear that I've had enough of being depressed, as I'm sure other members are, but the difference is I'm not prepared to continue to be miserable at home and work."
In a statement the group said: "UB40 are shocked and saddened by not only Astro's decision to quit the band, but also his refusal to honour his touring commitments. We have several tours booked in the coming months, including our biggest UK tour for three years, and he has not only let us down but also our fans.
"While we are naturally disappointed that Astro will not be with us at these shows, UB40 will continue and are looking forward to a positive 2014."