UB40 aren’t slowing down, we’re accelerating say’s Ipswich Regent bound Robin Campbell
- Credit: Archant
UB40 could easily have fallen apart when frontman Ali Campbell left. Instead they felt rejuvenated.
“We’re loving touring more than we have for a long time. We were probably getting a bit jaded in the late 1990s-early Noughties. We’d been doing it a long time and it was getting difficult... I’d stopped enjoying it,” says Robin.
“Since Ali’s departure and (their brother) Duncan came on board... Because it was all so new to him (and he was) so enthusiastic and wide-eyed... He was like a rabbit in the headlights but he was enjoying it and that rubbed off on us. His enthusiasm re-enthused all of us, to a great degree it rejuvenated the band.”
Fans of the band will be well aware of their current High Court legal battle with Ali over the name UB40. Robin isn’t interested in getting into a slanging match with his kid brother.
“It’s more damaging on a family level than him leaving the band, he doesn’t talk to us at all. It’s all a bit sad really (and) incredibly silly. This court case is a real drag. It’s a drain on everyone’s resources and funds and enthusiasm - it kills your spirit.”
The workhorse of the band, as he describes it, has remained unchanged. Although it took Duncan a while to grow into the job.
“How lucky can you be to have another brother that you can pull out the cupboard and say ‘here you are son’,” he laughs. “When I said ‘Ali’s left do you want the gig’ he was kinda gobsmacked but he jumped at it. He was terrified, saying (he had) big shoes to fill and of course the success we’d had was very daunting for him.”
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Duncan could have joined when they began the band more than 30 years ago but decided he wanted to do other things and travelled the world. He was always a big fan, always part of the same guys who went to school with Ali, always part of the gang and sang backing vocals from time to time.
“He knew all the tunes, well he thought he knew all the tunes. I sat in the studio with him for a couple of months and we just went over and over songs, the phrasing and the lyrics. Of course he had half the lyrics wrong, as most people do you know,” laughs Robin.
“Among our circle the famous one is One in Ten, a friend of ours sang ‘I have a one inch head’ - and he was a mate.”
Robin recalls a few moments of shocked silence that first gig with Duncan. When he burst into the opening notes of Food for Thought the past was the past. It was a relief for the rest of the band.
“And for our audience. (The tension) in the audience was palpable. A lot of fans, some of the band, thought this isn’t going to work but it did, immediately and it’s just gotten better. Now we’ve recorded a couple of albums with Duncan, he’s got his own style, put his own stamp on ours.”
Robin says they are probably the best live band they’ve ever been, adding they’ve done more live dates off the back of 2013’s Getting Over The Storm album than they’ve ever done in their careers.
“(UB40) is a machine, it’s a juggernaut. We just keep rolling. I’m absolutely convinced we’re giving the best live gigs and our fans say that, they were very aware we weren’t having a great time before Ali left.”
By the end of the October leg of the tour they’ll have played to hundreds of thousands of people at 90 smaller, more intimate, venues - making it the biggest UK tour of UB40’s career.
“We’re committed to touring, we don’t sell records like we used to, nobody sells records like they used to; the whole industry’s changed. Luckily we happen to be a great live band. For our 30th anniversary we played The Hare and Hounds in Birmingham, which was the pub where we played our very first gig in 1979.
“We played to an invited audience of hardcore fans and we just had a such a ball, we loved the intimacy where you could see absolutely everybody’s face.
“It’s so different to playing an enormo-dome where you’re only playing to the first few hundred people and the rest of the people are so far away... They’re watching you on a great big screen and might as well be watching you on the telly - it just isn’t the same and we kind of reminded ourselves why we love being in a band, why we used to love it so much.”
It resulted in a string of academy gigs that sold out in days, in some cases hours; with fans the band hadn’t seen for years coming out of the woodwork.
“All of a sudden we were doing gigs that were local to them, that were in their town centre and it was just such brilliant fun.”
UB40 - touring Europe, Australia, New Zealand and some South Pacific islands once the UK leg’s finished - are getting their best reviews for years too.
“It’s a massive surprise, then Radio 2 made Getting Over The Storm its album of the week... People have kind of rediscovered us, it’s great to be an old band that’s being discovered by young people; that’s never happened to us before.
“At the moment we’re in a really good place, loving life, loving touring. We’re not slowing down, in fact, if anything, we’re accelerating, which is a strange thing to be doing when you’re 60. It sounds really corny but it’s absolutely true. When I’m not on stage I’ve got a stiff back and I creak a bit. The second I go on stage the adrenalin oils all your joints,” he laughs.
UB40 play the Ipswich Regent on October 13.