Legendary Birmingham reggae band UB40 reveal big plans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their ground-breaking first album – a year late due to lockdown – and the launch of a new app bringing them closer than ever to their millions of fans around the world
It’s hard to believe, says UB40’s Robin Campbell with an audible sharp intake of breath. “Forty years… gone just like that, in a flash!” The founder-singer-guitarist with one of the UK’s most famous bands paused for a moment and added: “But we’ve never experienced a year quite like this one…”
The Birmingham boys had everything lined up for an amazing, show-stopping celebration of their milestone anniversary since releasing their iconic first album, Signing Off, back in 1980. A huge worldwide tour, spanning the UK, Europe, the US, Africa and more. New music on the way too to add to the occasion for their millions of fans. Then came Covid-19, and like everything else around the globe, time stopped still and lockdown arrived.
“We had so much booked up to do,” said Robin, “and then it was all cancelled. Luckily for us, we have managed to push it all into 2021 – assuming the dreaded virus doesn’t mess that up too.” Robin revealed that he had actually been tested for Covid. “I was feeling really rough for days and I didn’t know what it was, so I thought I’d better get it checked out. I’m glad to say I was given the all-clear!”
LIVE ZOOM SESSIONS
While the anniversary schedule may have been put back, the band has tried to keep busy, especially in regards to their huge fanbase. “We’ve finished off another album which we’ve done as a collaboration with reggae artists from around the world, which should be out at the end of the year,” explained Robin. And then there’s the new UB40 app, launched to give fans unrivalled, up-close personal contact with the boys.
“We needed a way to keep in touch with the fans during these times,” said Robin. “The app gives them direct access to us. We do live Zoom sessions with the fans, interaction sessions, all our back catalogue is available and there’s loads of other content. I even do wine reviews and Jimmy our drummer reviews movies. Our new album is yet to be released but we have played most of the tracks individually on the app. I think more bands will follow what we are doing, it’s the way to go to have control of your interaction with your fans.”
If you look at the pantheon of legendary bands, UB40 are right up there with the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, U2, etc. Their fusion of reggae beats with lyrical presentation has seen them have more than 50 UK hit singles and equally huge international success with the likes of Red Red Wine and (I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You to name but two. There have been four Best Album Grammy nominations along the way and two Billboard number ones.
SPLITS AND RIFTS
There have also been some much-publicised splits and rifts – in keeping with what you’d expect from a closely-knit group of family and friends who have known each other since their school days. “Most of the band went to school with my kid brothers, I was the older kid,” said Robin. “We hung out together as we grew up and went to the same pubs, clubs, youth clubs. When we formed the band it felt more like a social circle than a group if you know what I mean.”
Robin acknowledges that the band have had some good breaks along the way, the biggest being when they were playing a gig in London in the early days and Chrissie Hynde was in the audience. “She came to us afterwards and said: I love you guys! Would you come and support me?”
Robin puts down the band’s longevity down to having a unique sound and luck! “If you have an instantly recognisable sound, you have a career,” he said. “You can hear other reggae bands in the UK and you know immediately that they aren’t us. I go to clubs and bars which I have been going to for years and see some bands that have been playing there for 20 or 30 years and they just didn’t get the right break.”
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Forty years on from its release, Signing Off remains a pivotal album by a British band, tackling issues such as racial tensions, social inequality and politics head-on – subjects which, sadly, are as relevant today as they were in 1980. Considered to be the greatest reggae album ever released by a British band, those early themes are mirrored in UB40’s latest album, For the Many.
With all the racial tensions and political unrest still prevalent in 2020, Robin declares he is “disappointed” that so many issues addressed in that first album remain and, indeed, have actually worsened, as can be seen from the Black Lives Matter movement. “Twenty-seven albums and 40 years later and we are still going on about the same things,” he adds.
With 1.3million followers on Facebook as well as their new app, the band has a great profile for not just entertaining their fans but for getting their messages across more directly than ever before. Already thrilling fans with their Sunday Evening Sessions, the band continues to share exclusive, never-heard tracks, rare pictures and exclusive merchandise, stream live shows and, as Robin alluded to earlier in this interview, give a guided tour of their cellar filled with Red, Red Wine!