Formed in Birmingham in 1978, ‘UB40’ have to be the most globally loved reggae band that Britain has ever produced. Hits like ‘Red Red Wine’ and the ‘Labour of Love’ albums have been the music soundtrack to many people’s lives since the 1980s. Indeed, UB40 have sold over 70 million records! ‘UB40 featuring Ali Campbell’ return to ‘Rototom Festival’ 2023 in Benicàssim as headliners for what promises to be a special show. They have a new album out called ‘Unprecedented.’ Indeed, ’24/7 Valencia’ caught up with legendary founding member and singer/songwriter Ali Campbell of UB40 for an exclusive interview.
24/7 VALENCIA: What can we expect of your show at ‘Rototom Festival’ on August 22nd?
ALI CAMPBELL OF UB40: We do a show of hits. We’re a fantastic band and we’re firing on all cylinders. I think I’m doing the best shows that I have done for a very long time and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. We recently played all around England supporting ‘The Who’, which was amazing. So, we’re nice and tight as a live band. It’s a UB40 ‘Greatest Hits’ show as we had about 20 hits in the 80s and 90s…so we have plenty of popular songs to choose from. This a set that I’ve honed down over the years and it works well everywhere, everyone knows all the tunes and we have a great time. I like playing the Rototom Festival because of the people on the bill, like ‘Burning Spear’ and ‘Barrington Levy’ and ‘Gentleman.’ They’re all artists I have toured or recorded with before. Winston Rodney of Burning Spear is a delightful old fellow and ‘Gentleman’ is great too…
It’s just nice for us to get out of the rain in England. While Europe’s boiling…England’s drowning! We’ve just had the wettest month on record ever in England. Out next tour is called ‘The Endless Summer Tour’ and we do follow the sun a bit. Next year, we plan to play all over the world including places like Hawaii, hopefully. We have a fan base all over the world, which allows us to travel far and wide. It’s great to know that there is a reggae community in Benicàssim!
24/7 VALENCIA: Could you tell us something about your new album, ‘Unprecedented’?
ALI CAMPBELL OF UB40: ‘Unprecedented’ went in at number 3 on the British Album Charts and we were happy with that. The title track ‘Unprecedented’ is about the COVID debacle or swindle…or whatever you want to call it. We’ve actually dropped it from the set list as people might get pissed off being reminded about COVID now!
During the COVID fraud, the word “unprecedented” was being bandied about a lot. The government mishandled it and committed blatant crimes and England’s falling apart, economically. It’s awful, I live there and it’s the worst it’s ever been.
We are a product of the Thatcher regime and it’s worse now than it was even then…without a doubt. As soon as the Conservatives get in, you know what is going to happen. But, this time, the Tories have had like a 14 year stretch and they are really going to town. Every company that is privatized is recording record profits while people are literally the poorest I’ve ever seen them in England. It’s a complete and utter disgrace. We’re no longer in Europe, we’re an isolated little Island and it’s all fallen apart.
50 per cent is the weather and 50 per cent is the attitude. England is a nation of sheep ruled by wolves. The government and companies are blatantly stealing all the money, reaping all the profits and ordinary people’s household bills have tripled. All the electricity and gas and companies are recording record profits in the first quarter of the year. People just can’t afford to pay their bills anymore…including mortgages.
24/7 VALENCIA: ‘UB40’ is said to be the most widely-travelled British group in music history. Any anecdotes?
ALI CAMPBELL OF UB40: The Solomon Islands! We were greeted on the plane by a group of half-naked tribesmen with blowpipes, spears, bows & arrows , ‘birds of paradise’ feathers in their hair and bones in their noses…they were the real deal.
We followed them back to the airport lounge. They then whipped out some pan pipes from their belts and started playing UB40 tunes like ‘Red, Red Wine’ and ‘Food for Thought’ and ‘Kingston Town’! That was proof to me of what MTV and the radio can do… even if you live way up in the hills and mountains!
24/7 VALENCIA: It is said that Neil Diamond prefers UB40’s version of the tune ‘Red, Red Wine’ that he had originally composed…
ALI CAMPBELL OF UB40: I agree. His version of it was a dirge. When Neil Diamond does it live now, he does a reggae version!! On our 12 inch version of ‘Red, Red Wine’ Astro does some singing and Neil Diamond does something very similar live but he sort of gets the words wrong…because he didn’t really understand what Astro was singing about, which I thought was quite funny!(Laughs)
24/7 VALENCIA: What are your best memories of fellow band member ‘Astro’ who sadly passed away soon after recording your latest album?
ALI CAMPBELL OF UB40: We’d been in lockdown in England for 2 years and me and Astro finally escaped and got to Jamaica to do the last four songs on the ‘Unprecedented’ album. We did it with drummer Sly Dunbar but bassist Robbie Shakespeare obviously didn’t make the session this time because he was ill in Miami at the time. We only recorded for a couple of days in Kingston and then me and Astro stayed for 9 days on the coast at the ‘Golden Eye’ (estate).
I’m just so glad and I thank God that I had that time with Astro there (in Jamaica) because when we got home to England, Astro said to me:“I’ll see you on Friday, kid!” and that was the last time I saw him. He caught a virus and was dead just 4 days later. Thankfully, Astro was really happy with what we had done on the ‘Unprecedented’ album and he was really happy to have the chance to be out in Jamaica again too.
24/7 Valencia: Could you tell us more about Jamaica and working with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare over the years?
ALI CAMPBELL OF UB40: We have been to Jamaica many times…it’s a large part of our lives… and we have a lot of friends there. It’s always an honour to work with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare…and I have worked with both of them as a duo and also on their own too.
It’s always an absolute pleasure and a joy to work with those guys. They are the greatest rhythm section in the world without a doubt. They are the most prolific artists and musicians ever too but they don’t really get credited for that. They have recorded or produced over 200,000 tracks since 1972! They completely changed the sound of reggae too…from what had been an offbeat drum and an onbeat bass. Sly & Robbie turned it around and literally turned reggae upside down… with an onbeat drum to an offbeat bass! They literally changed contemporary popular music as they branched out to playing with Grace Jones and doing dance tracks and so on. You listen to everything that is being produced now and it is dubbed…it’s a dub production. It all comes from reggae and from Sly & Robbie!
Reggae is still influencing contemporary dance music more than anything. Reggae and dub have basically taken over the production world. Reggae is still a cool music and that’s the reason we’re still doing what we’re doing and we’re still selling out concerts… it’s because people love reggae all over the world. When we chose reggae as our genre, it was only eleven years old!
24/7 Valencia: Regarding singing, how do you keep your distinctive voice in such good shape?
ALI CAMPBELL OF UB40: I’ve never had any problems with polyps or nodules. I sing through my nose… “Red Red Wine” (Laughs!). My advice is to sing through your nose as it saves your throat. There’s a certain tone to my voice that comes from smoking marijuana, twenty four seven!
Interview by Will McCarthy
Article copyright ’24/7 Valencia’
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