Ali Campbell and Astro, founding members of hitmakers UB40, explain why they?ve reunited to compete with their old (and highly unimpressed) bandmates
Controversy remains king in the land of UB40 ? or, to put it more accurately ? the UB40s.
In January, three founding members from the veteran British reggae band (lead singer Ali Campbell, trumpeter and singer Astro and keyboardist Mickey Virtue) announced that they would be touring and recording as UB40 Reunited ? the name change tacked on where necessary to dampen prospective legal challenges.
Since Ali left the original band in 2008, they have continued as UB40 with his older brother Duncan as its frontman (Astro had also remained, before quitting in November last year to defect to the new outfit).
Astro, Ali Campbell and Mickey Virtue from the original UB40 line-up have recently linked up to form UB40 reunited
The Ali-less incarnation came to Dubai to play Emirates Golf Club in late February, and now Ali?s new version of the band is set to play Irish Village this Thursday night.
Expect to hear the hits which have propelled the Birmingham band to more than 70 million record sales since their original formation in 1978 ? including Red Red Wine, Higher Ground, (I Can?t Help) Falling in Love With You, Kingston Town and One in Ten.
We phoned Ali and Astro to hear more about their decision to reform as UB40 Reunited ? a move which predictably drew the wrath of their old bandmates.
What are your thoughts on the fact that there are now two versions of UB40?
Astro: It?s a competition.
Ali: We want the fans to decide. If there are two UB40s, go for the one that?s got the original singer and the one that?s a reggae record. That?s what I?d do!
Why did you decide to get back together now?
Ali: Because the oldsters have come out with a country album (Getting Over the Storm, which was released in September). And after five years of watching my brother Duncan destroy my songs and the legacy of UB40, I just couldn?t sit back any longer. I said, ?Sod it, we?re going to take the name back and we?re going to go off as UB40 to promote reggae again?, which is why we started the band in the first place.
Astro: For me, the country album was the straw that broke the camel?s back. As Ali said, we were on a mission to make reggae music popular, not country. And so I had no choice ? I had to leave. I couldn?t bear to stand onstage giving our fans something I think was very substandard, and trying to pretend everything was okay. It?s horrible to have to lie to your fans. They?re the ones who buy your music and I felt like they were being short-changed.
How many times have each of you listened to the country album?
Astro: I had to endure it on a daily basis. I ended up trying to convince my friends that it could be alright. I?ve never had to do that with any other UB40 album. Put it this way ? if I wouldn?t go out and buy that album, I couldn?t expect anybody else to.
Ali: I heard it once, and my jaw hit the floor! I was just in a state of utter shock, I don?t think I?ve ever been so shocked in all my professional life. For them to have lost their direction so much that they ended up doing a country album with steel guitars, and my old brother singing Jim Reeves songs, I just couldn?t believe what had happened.
And how?s it been getting back together so far?
Ali: We?ve only done one show, at The O2 Arena in London in December. It was absolutely brilliant and the reaction was fabulous, as we knew it would be. Spurred on by the success of that, we?re going around the world.
How many dates do you have planned at the moment?
Ali: We?ve got about 50 pencilled in. A lot of them are ?to be confirmed? as always ? they firm up as you go along ? but we?re going to be out all over the world. We?re going to Nigeria before Dubai.
Have you ever been to Nigeria before?
Ali: Yeah I?ve been to Lagos before but we couldn?t play. They?d built a stadium and there was a Shakira show before ours, and all the audience sank into the concrete because it had only just been laid! So the show was cancelled and we went home, which was disappointing. We?re looking forward to the show this time though.
Did you know that the other UB40 are coming to play Dubai six weeks before you?
Astro: We?re trying to warn everybody about it!
Ali: (laughs) They?ve obviously heard that we?re going out there, so they?re just trying to muddy the water. Let the fans decide who they want to see ? come and see the original singer and rhythm section of UB40, or go and see a singer who isn?t original.
What can you tell us about your upcoming UB40 album?
Ali: I recorded an album at RAK Studios in London about six months ago. But now Astro?s returned, we?ve decided to put some Astro tracks on. It?s going to be brilliant, and I know for a fact that the fans will love it.
Who has the legal rights to the UB40 name?
Ali: There are several trademarks knocking about. I own a few, they own a few. But the fact that it?s me and Astro up front with Mickey on keyboards makes it UB40, as far as I?m concerned.
Astro: I was reading online a few days ago, where a couple of fans were debating about there being two different UB40s. One fan said: ?Of all your memories of UB40, how many of them involve Ali and Astro?? The other guy said, ?There?s no competition is there, really.?
Ali, what made you decide to become a judge on the second series of New Zealand?s Got Talent in 2012?
Ali: That was a laugh ? it?s nothing I would do as a career, and it wasn?t something I took seriously either. It?s an entertainment programme, and I did it because I love New Zealand and I got to spend three months there. We also played across South America at the same time. Only 21 hours each way!
Is there anywhere you?ve never performed that?s on your wish list?
Both: Mainland China.
Ali: We?ve played in Hong Kong, but never China. We were in the Solomon Islands and Hawaii last year, and Angola and Mozambique a couple of months ago. We like to get about, but in China it?s still very much guinea pig stuff.
Astro: It?s not really down to us, you have to be invited by a promoter.
Ali: It happened in Russia ? we were taken there and swapped with the Bolshoi Ballet. We ended up being paid in tractors! We got four I think, but we couldn?t freight them back so we ended up giving them to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund. But yeah, we?ll wait to be invited to China.