UB40

Video: Red Red Wine by none other than UB40

Profile: UB40 are a British reggae band formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England by a bunch of friends who met each other at various schools and higher education colleges in Birmingham. As most were unemployed at the time the band was formed the band were named UB40 after the employment services form code UB40 (Unemployment Benefit, Form 40). The main singer and songwriter Ali Campbell’s special voice has been a hallmark of the group, as well as covers of Jamaican reggae hits from the years 1968 – 1974 that the lads grew up with while hanging out at youth clubs in working class areas of Birmingham.

UB40 is, in terms of records sold and revenues from touring etc, the most successful reggae band of all time. The band has sold more than 70 million albums and has had more than 50 singles in the UK charts. The band is most famous for the tracks “Red Red Wine”, and “I Got You Babe” in which the band’s lead singer Ali Campbell sings a duet with Chrissie Hynde, and a reggae version of Elivs Presley’s “Can not Help Falling in Love” by UB40 which was number one in several countries simultaneously, including the USA and Britain.

Ali Campbell, left UB40 in 2008 to pursue a solo career. He was replaced by Ali and Robin Campbell’s brother Duncan.

The group was originally heavily influenced by dub reggae and the early songs, which they heard as children in youth clubs in the early 1970s. In the summer of 1978 they started working young people who would be UB40’s core rehearse in a basement using borrowed instruments. Robin Campbell’s younger brother Ali, Ear Falconer, Brian Travers and James Brown all knew each other from the Mosely School of Art, while Norman Hassan was a childhood friend of Ali Campbell. Initially, they saw themselves as a “jazz-dub-reggae band”, their first singles and first LP album has a sound that differs from their later music. Soon recruited Michael Virtue and Astro – who had been trained to DJ and toaster by working for Birmingham’s sound system Duke Alloy. The group was a leftist and was different from the many punk and two tone-supporters (the British ska band audience) that existed at the time. UB40 confessed their political colors by naming the band after an employment form, and they took part in marches against the Nazi party National Front and the mass rallies organized by RAR – Rock Against Racism. Even if they participated in the rallies were the two great reggae bands from Birmingham – Steel Pulse and UB40 – not affiliated with each other.

Before any of them could either play or even own any instruments, Ali Campbell and Brian Travers traveled around the Birmingham area 1978-79 to promote the band and putting up UB40 posters. The band purchased their first instruments and equipment for £4000 pounds which Ali Campbell – who would become the band’s lead singer – had received as compensation following injuries sustained in a pub brawl on his seventeenth birthday.

Their reggae was created and refined through many long jam sessions at various locations in Birmingham. They kept mostly to the Rich Bitch Studios in Selly Oak, Birmingham. UB40’s first live gig took place February 9, 1979 at the Hare & Hounds Pub in Kings Heath in Birmingham.

UB40’s first breakthrough came when Chrissie Hynde was impressed when they played at a pub and offered them to be the support for her band, The Pretenders. The money they earned on the tour invested in the recording of their first single – “King” / “Food for Thought”. It took place at the Graduate Records, a local record label owned by David Virr. The single peaked in fourth place on the UK singles chart. UB40’s first LP Signing Off was released August 29, 1980 contained innovative reggae with large elements of wind instruments, echo and dub. LP was recorded in a rented premises in Birmingham and was produced by Bob Lamb. There was no reggae or music at all that sounded like the songs on Signing Off. The texts were of course none of Rastafari to do. I’ma British subject and proud of it, whilst I carry the burden of shame, was the text of one of the songs. Signing Off reaching as high as second place on the UK album chart and spent 71 weeks on the list. Signing Off is now a platinum album, that it has sold over a million copies in Europe.

With the second LP Present Arms (1981) UB40 said goodbye to the exploratory, suggestive reggae that characterized their first album. Present Arms sounded more like a traditional reggae, but the spirit remained. The song “One In Ten” is about the British statistics on unemployment in the country. A statistical reminder of a World That Does not Care. The song became an anthem for the British protest movement and equal rights in terms of the British working class issues such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’s songs was when it came to the Caribbean slave descendants problems.

Four months later Present Arms In Dub, was released which became the first dub music album ever to enter the UK Top 40 chart. This occurred at a time when dub music was something that was exclusively reserved for special interest reggae listeners. They were seen as credible even though they produced hit songs, they practiced an economic democracy by giving all the band members an equal share of the band’s income and investment.

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