As original members of UB40, Ali, Mickey and Astro helped to define reggae music for a generation. The multi-racial band, formed in 1979 in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley, pooled a diverse set of influences to put a fresh, indigenous slant on Jamaican reggae. After encouragement from Chrissie Hynde, who offered them support slots with her chart-topping band The Pretenders, they recorded their independently released debut album, Signing Off, on an eight-track tape machine in the home of producer Bob Lamb. An unexpected number two album, it gave them the conviction to chart their own course.
UB40 went on to dominate charts around the world, not least with the hugely successful Labour Of Love series. The first Labour Of Love album, in 1983, yielded a cover of Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine that topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The band secured two further chart-topping singles at home in (I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You (also another US number one) and I Got You Babe, a duet between Ali and the band’s old friend Chrissie Hynde, and Ali and Robin Campbell also scored a No.1 with Baby Come Back.
When Ali Campbell departed in 2008 after 29 years and a dozen major world tours with the band, he was followed out of UB40 by Mickey Virtue. Campbell, with Mickey lending a helping hand, has since released four reggae-themed solo collections. Astro remained with the band until November 2013, when he left to team up again with Ali and Mickey. Now, following some spectacular gigs at home and abroad, the trio are facing the future with renewed confidence and vigour.
“When we play live now, it feels like a real group,” says Ali. “The musicians in our band have all played with other reggae acts, so they love what we’re doing. And the fact that Astro is back with us after six years speaks volumes about the music we are making.”
“For me, it’s all about promoting reggae. At the end of the day, the fans don’t care about what goes on behind the scenes. They only care about the music, and I’m sure they are going to love this record.”