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UB40 - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 8 / 11 / 2022

UB40 - Interview


UB40 frontman Ali Campbell talks to Nick Dent-Robinson about their new album 'Unprecedented', love of touring and the death of founder member Astro.

When UB40 took to the stage at the recent Nocturne Festival at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, the set list included most of the band's biggest hits. Their frontman Ali Campbell told me, “We never get weary of playing the numbers that made us one of the UK's most successful reggae-style bands back in the day. ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘One In Ten’, ‘Food For Thought’ and the rest are all required listening! We had 40 Top Twenty hits! And that always makes us popular with festival organisers...people know us and they know our songs. We love playing festivals. The biggest thrill is we aren't just playing to our own regular audience. We get to play for people who wouldn't come to see us normally and it's a chance to convert them. I love watching the newcomers enjoying our sound!” Playing live has always been important to Ali Campbell and UB40. “We are just thrilled to be back doing live performances again,” he says. “All musicians are. It is what we live for. We played Hampton Court near London recently and it was just so wonderful to see so many happy people in that beautiful place. Blenheim Palace is the same. It is a magical setting. I have played Blenheim Palace before and have also performed in Oxford many times. There's always a brilliant atmosphere and the audiences tend to be young, cool and so enthusiastic. It is a dream,really.” Ali, 63 now, is as enthusiastic about his music as ever. “We have a new album “Unprecedented” out - and it is brilliant. It and our current tour are dedicated to the memory of founder member of UB40 Astro who died last November after a short illness. His death was a huge shock - and he had made a big contribution to the new album. His Jamaican background and his particular style of singing and playing was very important to the band and helped form our identity. We were actually one of the earlier UK multiracial bands. We were friends from our school days in the Birmingham area and initially the band had Jamaican, Irish, Scots and Yemeni members. We were influenced by all the different ethnic music we used to hear in the Balsall Heath area and that helped us develop our sound. Some people said we were a “white reggae” band - and that really irritated the non-white band members! My dad was the Scottish folk musician Ian Campbell and my brothers Robin and Duncan (who have both played in UB40 in their time) always loved the reggae sound. Our favourite band was always the Wailers. Though I also loved Stevie Wonder and Al Green.” These days, when he is not on the road, Ali likes to divide his time between the home he shares with his wife Julie in Dorset and a small recording studio in the heart of London's Soho - The Dean Street Studio. “It is a great little studio,” he says. “It is right in the heart of London and has real atmosphere. There's a sense of history about the place. Sometimes when I am there it reminds me of the days when the band began. The late 1970s. We named the band after the card issued to people claiming unemployment benefit – the UB40 card. Unemployment was such a scourge then - and we had the winter of discontent! Naming the band UB40 was a clever idea as we had an instant fan-base amongst the hordes of young unemployed people. We used to give free concert tickets to people who had a UB40 card. I would hate to see those days return but I fear that could happen. We have inflation again, food and fuel poverty, strikes, Boris Johnson in No 10 plus the crazy war in Ukraine. It's as if people have learned nothing from the past...very sad, really! Yes, the 1970s are coming back again - we even have Kate Bush topping the charts after forty years .....though that is one good thing! I suppose there's always a silver lining somewhere - and Kate Bush is it!” UB40 will be touring in Europe and the USA through Summer/Autumn 2022, returning to play various UK dates from December.

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UB40 - Interview

UB40 - Interview

UB40 - Interview

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