Ipswich Regent bound ex-UB40 frontman Ali Campbell interviewed
PUBLISHED: 10:32 10 April 2015 | UPDATED: 10:43 10 April 2015
Ali Campbell, Micky Virtue and Astro hit Ipswich tonight. Fans will know Campbell's relationship with his former UB40 band-mates is the subject of a High Court case. He talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage.
As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. Ex-UB40 frontman Ali Campbell hasn’t been shy about sharing his, while the band have remained relatively silent; letting their lawyers do the talking.
Still locked in a High Court legal battle with his former band-mates over the name UB40, Campbell’s story starts in 2008 when he left the group; followed by Mickey Virtue and, more recently, Astro.
“I felt betrayed by all the band when I left... I haven’t spoken to Duncan (who replaced him as singer) or my other brother (Robin) since,” he tells me.
Campbell says he’s letting fans vote with their feet, adding he, Astro and Virtue have had to add dates to the current tour due to demand. The album Silhouette, released under the name Ali Campbell The Legendary Voice Of UB40 - Reunited With Astro and Mickey, has done well too, he notes, before sharing his much publicised views on UB40’s 2013 Getting Over the Storm - which he cites as Astro’s reason for leaving.
“It (what’s happened) is unbelievable man... That’s why I’m making a documentary about what’s gone down. It’s quite a big company that are making it; it’ll make for a good documentary.”
Having chatted with him, UB40’s reps and reading several web pieces charting the affair, I’ll be tuning in. Each provided a fascinating insight into this sad chapter in the band’s story. Insights I, sadly, can’t share until the case is concluded - perhaps not even then.
UB40 were Britain’s greatest reggae artists, surviving more than 30 years in the music business and clocking up more than 70million record sales worldwide with songs like Kingston Town and Red, Red Wine.
Founded in 1978 in Birmingham, British radio legend - and adopted son of Suffolk - John Peel was so impressed by their first demo he invited them to perform on his Radio One show in 1980. At the same time, the band were also asked to support The Pretenders on their national tour. The rest, as they say, is history.
“You’re coming to see Ali Campbell, the legendary voice of UB40, now reunited with Mickey and Astro... It’s quite a mouthful and doesn’t help the DJs putting our record on. I did Terry Wogan and it was hilarious watching him trying to say it,” he laughs.
“I left UB40 thinking I’d never work with any of them again, but Astro’s come back to the fold. He’s in great form and so am I. We’re having a great time of it. The first gig we did, the reaction was so good we both said ‘listen, we’ve got to carry on doing this’. I’m just getting on with it, because it’s all about the record and the shows.”
Campbell’s in a reflective mood when I call, chilling out in front of the telly, watching Simply Red at Montreux in 2003 and remembering how UB40 took a “bunch of ragamuffins from Manchester doing good soul music” on their first tours.
“We took them to America, they released Money’s Too Tight to Mention and they became bigger than us then,” he laughs as we discuss the modern musical landscape.
He must have had a crystal ball tucked away somewhere, predicting One Direction might not have long months left before Zayn Malik’s recent departure.
In Campbell’s day, a band was expected to last about four or five years, with two or three albums under their belt. Now it seems to be 18 months and just the one; with suddenly being dropping by your label your reward.
“You find a lot of old acts are starting again, people like Simply Red (whom he says UB40 discovered, along with Jamiroquai and Musical Youth) who’ve disbanded and then got back together again.
“I feel sorry for a lot of acts who don’t have that live reputation because they’ve all gone by the wayside. There are a lot of older acts who are headlining all the festivals because the new ones haven’t got the experience; they haven’t done their apprenticeship... They’ve just been thrown up there after about eight months, suddenly they’re in the limelight and there aren’t many of them can hack it.”
He’s not a fan of The X Factor and its domination of the charts; lamenting the loss of shows like Top of the Pops.
“That’s gone, there’s no focus for people, only The X Factor. Top of the Pops and the chart, they’re all a thing of that past. Most bands now enter at number one which I’ll never understand... It’s a complete joke.
“You have to remember (programmes like The X Factor) are a TV show, it’s about entertaining people for that hour it’s on TV. It’s nothing to do with finding new talent...It’s all a bit fake,” claims Campbell, who judged on New Zealand’s Got Talent.
“But you have to adapt... At the same time, downloads have destroyed the CD market so everyone has got to make a living playing live. We used to do tours to promote our CD; now we’re making CDs to promote our tours. It’s harder to tour because there’s no support from the record companies any more.”
Luckily the band love touring almost as much as Campbell loves reggae. Promoting it was the band’s mission from day one and he says he’s on the same mission today.
“Reggae music still doesn’t get the airplay it deserves. It’s the biggest influence on contemporary music. We’re not having a Sean Paul or Shaggy or UB40 period, but reggae is actually more influential than it’s ever been. I’m happy for that and I’m happy to be out there promoting it.
“I found Ipswich delightful last time we were there; it was a good little gig. We come to party, so you come and party with us - wicked.”
Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue play the Ipswich Regent tonight. The show has sold out but it’s worth checking for returns.