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Culture: A night with UB40

By Peter Mann


Ahead of their gig as part of Bury St Edmunds Festival’s Nowton Nights weekend, UB40’s Robin Campbell tells Peter Mann how a group of friends from Birmingham transcended their working class origins to become the world’s most successful reggae band

The finest reggae act the country has produced, Birmingham-born UB40, head to Bury St Edmunds this summer as part of the Nowton Nights music extravaganza this May.

Celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, the band, who have been nominated for the Best Reggae Album Grammy four times as well as being a BRIT nominee for the Best British Band in 1984, hasten to say they’re music’s forever the bridesmaid but never the bride – but that’s not stopped them having more than 50 singles in the UK charts and selling omore than 70 million records worldwide.

They are best known for their top 10 hits including Kingston Town, Food For Thought, One In Ten, I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, Don’t Break My Heart and Sing Our Own Song and, of course, Red, Red Wine.

One of the best-known, best-loved and most successful British groups of all time, co-vocalist and guitarist Robin Campbell said: “We all dreamt of success and, yes, we had it in mind when we started, but we didn’t actually believe we could actually be this successful.

“We had the belief in ourselves though and quickly realised that we had a unique sound that people related to.

“I mean it was only 12 months that we were gigging for before we had our first hit single (Food for Thought reaching number four in the UK singles chart in early 1980). Now, to still be doing this 40 years later is fantastic.”

As a band which consists of a multi-ethnic make-up, the original line-up having English, Irish, Jamaican, Scottish and Yemeni musicians, their most successful hits have been that of Red, Red Wine and I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, covers they may be but they could just as easily have been much bigger by the Midlands outfit.

“Yes, the most successful releases have been covers, and they’re the tracks we’ve all grown up with,” continued Robin.

“(I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You) The movie soundtrack, it was actually meant for another film but someone else got that last minute.

“It then sat on the shelf for around 12 months before it was used (in the film Sliver starring Sharon Stone and William Baldwin and is UB40’s biggest hit).”

With four Grammy award nominations – in 1987 for Best Reggae Recording (Live In Moscow Album), 1988 for Best Reggae Recording (Breakfast In Bed) and Best Reggae Recording (UB40 Album), and in 2006 for Best Reggae Album (Who You Fighting For) – the Brummies never actually brought one home.

“No, we’ve never won a Grammy and we still don’t know why,” added Robin.

“We were told something once that someone didn’t like us though, maybe that’s why.

“But we’ve had a lot of positives come out of the past 40 years – touring Russia, South Africa, playing a sell-out gig in Madison Square Garden, even being inducted into the Maori Nation in New Zealand, now that was something special.”

As for what’s next, album and 40th celebrations withstanding, Robin added: “We just have to keep going and that’s what we’ll be doing.

“It’s nice to be able to have current music, to perform for the fans, even getting some newer, younger fans – mind what I’m still not getting is how can these kids know the tunes, the lyrics, to tracks released before they were born; I guess it’s all garnered through social media and YouTube.”

In celebrating their 40th anniversary, the band have a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall on June 25, four weeks after Bury St Edmunds where it is expected they will have released their first studio album in four years via Pledge Music pledgemusic.com/projects/ub40.

Robin said: “Our 40th anniversary concert at The Royal Albert Hall will be a bit special for us because it’s not only a celebration of 40 years as a band, it’s also testament to the loyalty of our incredible fan base, every generation, young and old, and our salute to them.

“We’ve been talking about it for over 18 months so it’ll be a good start to the celebrations as I also believe we’ll be filming it for the BBC as well.

“As for the new album, it’s still untitled and should be out at the end of May.”

UB40 consists of James Brown, Duncan Campbell, Robin Campbell, Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan, Martin Meredith, Tony Mullings, Lawrence Parry and Brian Tavers. Robin, Brian, Jimmy, Earl and Norman are five of the iconic band’s founding members.

New to Bury St Edmunds Festival 2018 is a weekend of musical events at Nowton Park, called Nowton Nights.

Held over the weekend of May 25-27 and brought in conjunction with OEP LIve!, it will feature Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, featuring Gilson Lavis with special guest Marc Almond and guest vocalists Ruby Turner, Louise Marshall and Rosie Mae at 7.30pm on Friday, May 25.

There ewill be two shows on Saturday, May 26, starting at 1.30pm when Gilbert O’Sullican puts on a special matinee picnic concert t celebate his five decades in music. Enjoy classics like Alone Again Naturally, and Get Down along with songs from his latest album.

Then at 7.30pm, the park will rock to the sounds of ABBA, when the world’s number one touring ABBA production – ABBA Mania will take to the stage. Go dressed to party and dig out your platform heels, 70s flares and retro clothes and get down to all the hits.

Bringing the weekend and the festival to a close, UB40 will take to the stage at 7.30pm on Sunday, May 27.

Details of all Bury St Edmunds Festival 2018 events can be found at buryfestival.co.uk

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