Ali Campbell, the original founder of the iconic Grammy-award winning, UK reggae group, UB40, return to Australia for their first national tour in four years presented by The Hour Group and Vandemonian Touring which starts tonight in Hobart. The band’s legendary songwriter and esteemed vocalist will be joined by his amazing nine-piece band for the Australian tour.
Formed in 1979, UB40 helped define reggae music for a generation. The ground-breaking reggae troupe topped the UK singles chart on three occasions, earned multiple Grammy nominations and sold over 70 million records as they took their smooth yet rootsy musical blend to all corners of the globe.
Kicking off on 30 September, Ali Campbell will bring his energetic stage show that he is synonymous for to Hobart, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Bribie Island in Queensland. They will also headline the sold-out music festival, Promiseland on 2nd October in the Gold Coast. Ali talks to Hi Fi Way about the tour.
It is fantastic that UB40 are back on the road and it must be a relief after a long couple of years?
Yeah, it’s fantastic to be able to come across the world again. We were just in Las Vegas. We’re playing the Mandalay Bay Beach Club then flying out to Tasmania. We’re very excited about that. Then on to Adelaide! We haven’t been to Adelaide for a while, so we’re very excited about that too.
After a lengthy lay off are you finding that you’re even more enthusiastic and excited about music, and touring?
You remember what your job is basically and we redundant for two years. Now that we are back out and about, it’s lovely. I think we are excited, but the people that are coming to see us seem to be excited as well because they’ve been starved of live music as well for two years or nearly three years in England. It’s great to be back out and playing reggae music all over the world again.
Have you lost count of the number Australian tours you have done now?
We’ve been coming to Australia since 1981. So many, many times we’ve been to Australia. We love it there and it’s amazing how the weather’s changed over the years. We’ve noticed that the weather in Australia is completely different to how it was in the eighties. I’m English, so I’m obsessed with weather!
What, what is it about Australia keeps coming you coming back?
It’s a fresh country, I love coming to Australia because it’s the other side of the world and most people in England can only dream about going to Australia. I’ve been going there for forty years now. I feel very blessed that I can go out there, usually when we are in that part of the world we also go and play out of the way places like Papua New Guinea in the Solomon Islands and Tonga. It’s the best thing in the world to be able to fly around to all these fantastic, beautiful places that most people only dream of going to. We feel very blessed that we can do this.
Without playing for five or six hours how do you fit everything in to the set list?
The thing is that we had forty top twenty hits in the eighties and nineties. We’ve got enough hits to choose from and we’re not a self-indulgent act playing stuff that we’ve just recorded that people haven’t heard. We know what the fans want to hear and they want to hear the hits that we’ve had many of. So, we’ve sort of honed down this set over the years and we love playing it, and generally we’ve never had a bad gig. The new show that we’ve put in on, we’ve got a new sax player who’s great, and we’ve got a special guest, Frank Bambini, who was the drummer from the Fun Loving Criminals, he’s on stage playing percussion with us. He communicates with the crowd and he’s a lot of fun. It’s very up and fun gig full of hits. If you love reggae and you love UB40 you will love this gig.
How was the whole process of making Unprecedented? Was it a challenging album to make and probably given the passing of Astro shortly after? Did it make it a little bit more of an emotional experience?
I’m very proud of this album, and it did well, it went in at number three. I was especially proud of what Astro did. We didn’t know at the time it was going to be his last recording, but he contributed a lot more on this album than he did on most albums we did. Obviously, he’s got his own track, but he did a lot of backing vocals on this album for the first time, you know, which was lovely. I’ll give thanks that we got back to Jamaica for eleven days at the end of the lockdown to finish the album. I had four tracks to finish, and we did them with Sly Dunbar, the greatest reggae drummer in the world. It was very special time for me that I had with Astro there at GoldenEye in Kingston recording and chilling, we had a beautiful time.
Then we came back, finished the album in Soho at Dean Street Studios. The last thing he said to me was, “See you Friday kid”. I went all right and sadly he passed away before I saw him again. He got a virus, which wasn’t Covid and he caught another virus and his asthma attacked his chest and he died very swiftly. These are his last recordings, so that makes it special for me. It’s a good album and it’s called Unprecedented, and it was unprecedented, so there you go!
Do you do anything to honour his memory in the live show?
Every show we do is in his memory, you know. We did an actual memorial tour when he passed in England, Ireland and in Holland. That was a very beautiful tour that sold out, there was a lot of love out there for Astro, but that was the memorial tour and that’s over with now. I think about the man every day, who’s my best friend. I’m never going to get used to him not being there, but life goes on and we’ve got gigs to play. We don’t want to be mourning and have a memorial at every show.
Creatively, have you kept going with new ideas that might be a new album?
I didn’t actually want to write. When we were lock down, it was all unprecedented and it never happened before. Everybody was going, oh, you must have lots of material? It was the opposite because you don’t want to write an album all about lock down. I just did what I normally do and looked through my notes that I make all through the year and chose songs from the notes that I make all the time. That’s how I write stuff and this album is half covers and half original stuff. The last four tracks we did with Sly Dunbar, Chris Meredith and Robbie Lyn. It was like a dream team Jamaican outfit. It’s an interesting album. It’s got lots of different vibes on it, but it’s strictly reggae.
Beyond touring this year is there anything else planned up your sleeve?
I’ve always got things planned. There are a few recording projects that I’ve done and will be coming out eventually at some point. I know that we are going to be going to Kenya at some point this year, we are out and about now, we’ve been let free, so we’ll be doing what we always do, which is fly around the world and play shows!
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch UB40 featuring Ali Campbell on the following dates, tickets HERE…