UB40 in Doha 2015

Ali Campbell on music, splitting up, reuniting and playing in Qatar

UB40 in Doha 2015
UB40 in Doha 2015 Image #2

Who was the singer of UB40’s Can’t Help Falling in Love With You? Ali Campbell. Who was the singer of UB40’s Kingston Town? Ali Campbell. And the other one mentioning the colour red? Ali Campbell.

Campbell, Astro and Mikey believe themselves to be the real UB40, and the other lot the imposters. And the very fact that three of the band’s most recognised hits were all sung by Campbell, gives that statement real credence. Add to that a quick search online; many people strongly believe this trio to be the real UB40.

The UB40 story reads something along the lines of a Jacobean tragedy – Campbell’s very own brother, Duncan, told him to leave the band because he didn’t like the politics, then joined in his place. Campbell (Ali), doesn’t even talk to him or the band anymore. It’s all rather sad and acrimonious. But it’s fascinating just how frank and honest the members of UB40 Reunited are about it, with Campbell frequently referring to the others as ‘The Dark Side.’

So we listen to Ali and ask him about his forthcoming trip to Doha, what UB40 (Reunited) are up to at the moment, and about the history of the band’s split.

Looking forward to coming to Doha Ali?
It’s a beautiful part of the world out there. With Dubai, I’ve watched the city grow from pretty much nothing to what it is today. I was in Abu Dhabi recently and it was amazing to see that place grow as well. Doha is doing the same and it’s just phenomenal what’s happened.

How did UB40 come about in the 80s?
We were unemployed, basically. We were a bunch of unemployed kids living in South Birmingham, predominantly from West Indian and Asian areas, so reggae music was what we grew up with.

We’d been unemployed for three-and-a-half years so we’d become a little disenfranchised and a little distanced from society; we weren’t happy with our lot. We actually started the band to raise funds for a claimants’ union, starting in our area.

Then the union became defunct and we just continued as a reggae band. That is why when ‘The Dark Side,’ the band that I left, decided to do a country album recently, that really was a slap in the face to our fans.

Tell us more about your split...
I was moaning for four years about the management to the band members before I’d had enough. I took my brother’s advice, Duncan – he advised me to down tools. He told me that I wasn’t being treated with the respect I deserved and that I hadn’t been getting the information I’d been looking for so he told me the best thing to do would be to not sing with UB40 until it could all be sorted out. So I took his advice and then Duncan joined in my place. I mean, you couldn’t make that up, could you? It all ended up very acrimonious and very unpleasant.

Astro had the same problems with the management but stayed on, and when they decided to do a country album he thought it was time to leave and come back to me. Mikey left with me at the same time I left, six years ago.

So tell us about UB40 Reunited now?
We have the original rhythm section with me and Mikey, and now we have the original vocalists with me and Astro. That’s our band and we’re half way through a world tour. We also have the new album, Silhouette, out.

And tell us more about Silhouette...
We were asked to do seven covers and seven originals. The whole album is strictly 100 percent reggae. We had it finished a year ago and then Astro decided to rejoin us so we put the album release back a bit so he could come in on the album. We wove him in to four of the tracks and we released it. It did very well. It’s had some great reviews, people are loving it and, so, onwards and upwards.

Would you say because of all the adversities you’ve faced that Silhouette is the album you are most proud of in your career?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved UB40, what we stood for and everything we were doing – it just all went very sour. I haven’t spoken to any of the band members or my brothers since I left. The more stuff I found out the worse it got. I’m afraid there’s no way I could ever get back with them now. I didn’t like the musical decisions either, culminating with the country album they released. It was like lunatics took over the asylum. I still don’t know who thought of the country album idea; my jaw is still on the ground.

Was the country album a commercial success?
No, it was a complete and utter disaster. I think that’s partly why Silhouette was so well-received as the public went ‘wow, the real UB40 has come back.’

Which single, either with UB40 or UB40 as you are now, are you most proud of?
The song Silhouette from the album of the same name; I love that song. We knew it from before and I actually performed it with the late John Holt when Dennis Brown died, because I actually knew it as a Dennis Brown classic. Anyone who loves reggae and Dennis Brown would know Silhouette – it was one of his biggest hits. That’s how I knew the song and I actually performed it at a tribute to Dennis Brown about a decade ago. It became the title track of the album.

And what are you working on now?
We’re actually doing a single to try and tackle cyber bullying. This came around because I did a song called Cyber Bully Boys because we felt UB40 members had cyber bullied my fans.

And you’ve not been to Doha for many years. This will be a different city to what you remember...
The way it is growing is phenomenal. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it has changed. I did a lot of work in South America and to go back now and to see how they’ve grown is amazing; that’s the great thing about touring the world.

Will you still be singing some of the old UB40 classics in Doha?
Yes, of course. We’ve now honed down a great set; it’s a greatest hits set really. We had 40 top 20 hits in the 80s and 90s, so we’ve got plenty to choose from, as well as new songs from the new album.

Any more albums in the pipeline?
We’re working on doing a live album because of the world tour, which finishes in 2016, so it will come out after that and I’m sure it’ll be a success.

And for you it’s all about the reggae...
Absolutely. It’s still the same thing now. I started UB40 all those years ago and I started it to promote reggae music and for the union as said earlier, but the main thing for the band was all about promoting reggae. I’m still on the same mission. I still don’t think reggae gets enough airplay. For its influence in contemporary music and the amount of people that listen to it, it doesn’t get enough time on the radio.

And your tour is going well
I’d say we’ve got the hottest reggae band on the road at the moment. I think my balances are getting better, I think the balance between the drum and bass guitar is finally getting down. It’s only taken me 30 albums. It’s all a journey. So when people ask if I’d get back with the others, of course I wouldn’t, because I’m six years down the journey. I’d be going backwards to go back with them.

What can people expect from your gig in Doha?
They can expect to party. We will come to party and we expect our audience to come and party with us and listen to all the old hits and some of the new ones.

Anything else to add?
Just like to say a big love to everybody and come and party with us because we are coming to party with you.

UB40 Reunited will be performing at the Doha Golf Club on January 23. For tickets to this event and information about the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters golf tournament, visit qatar-masters.com.

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