Talking to an icon whose music played non-stop on your Walkman in your younger days is surreal. Ali Campbell, the lead singer of the legendary British reggae band UB40, is gracious and warm as he speaks over a Zoom call from Birmingham, UK. “I want to come back to India in 2024 on the world tour; this three-city concert tour is just a taster,” states Ali about his forthcoming The Goldies’ India Tour, Initiated by ASSET in October this year.
The band will kick off its India tour in New Delhi on October 25, 2023, followed by a gig on October 27 in Mumbai and Bengaluru on October 28.
On commenting that Birmingham is a mini India, Ali breaks into a euphoric oh nachale oh nachale and points out he grew up with Indian and West Indies friends. He says Mother India is his favourite movie and that he loves listening to Mohammed Rafi’s songs from Pyaasa.
Asha Bhosle’s no-show
“I grew up listening to all those beautiful old Indian songs, and I got the chance to meet Asha, and she offered to come on stage with us and sing a little refrain for the song ‘The Train is Coming’ for a Bollywood awards function in 1999. We even rehearsed, but she got stuck behind an elephant in the Bombay traffic on the performance day and couldn’t make it in time. Since it was a live telecast, we couldn’t wait for her,” says Ali, laughing out loud and adding, “ That’s our Indian story.”
The legendary band, whose ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘Falling in Love’, ‘Kingston Town’ and other covers that formed the part of a mandatory playlist of music lovers across the world, performed together for 29 years till Ali Campbell, the frontman, left the group in 2008.
Ali elucidates on what has come to be known as a historical feud and puts speculations to rest: “I made my first solo album in 1994 and never promoted it. So, when I made my second album, Running Free, it rose to Number 9 on the charts, and I wanted to take a month off to promote it and then come back, but the rest of the band didn’t want me to; they did not support, which is why I left. That’s the main reason.”
Terence Wilson, aka Astro, the co-founder of UB40 who joined hands with Ali, passed away in 2021, and their album Unprecedented was released in 2022. “The album climbed to number three on the charts, and since it was the last album that Astro was on, we did a tribute tour where we played many of the tracks from Unprecedented. “
However, he promises to perform the band’s popular hits for the India tour. “We are not self-indulgent. We had so many hits; people get disappointed if we don’t play them. So we try to do as many hits as possible in the available time.”
For the unversed, the name of the band UB40 refers to the Unemployment Benefit form number 40 given to British citizens by the UK government. “We were a disenfranchised youth of Thatcher’s Britain — unemployed from as soon as we left school with no chance of getting a job. So that’s why we called ourselves UB40. That was something we all had in common. And I don’t think it’s any better now for kids growing up in England. I think it’s probably worse, you know.”
Growing up in a multi-cultural society consisting of West Indians, Jamaicans, Indians and Pakistanis, Ali says, their community in Birmingham represented a true Rainbow Nation.
Rise of reggae
The early influences of Jamaican music in Birmingham initiated UB40 to make reggae their mainstay. Ali says that in the early 1980s, very few people knew about reggae, and when UB40 performed in the US, fans would tell the band, ‘We love your style of rock and roll, but could you turn the bass down a bit?’
He grimaces as he recalls that when the group released a dub album, people returned the CDs to the store, saying they were faulty and had no vocals. “No one knew what dub music was unless you were, you know, a West Indian or a big fan of reggae or you went to Blues parties. So people thought something was wrong with the record,” laughs Ali, adding, “Of course, many people enjoyed it as well, and we were happy that it was on the top 10 charts.”
He adds that dub is more influential than anything in contemporary dance music: “The mixing is bass-led and stems from reggae. And kids are still hip to it. That’s why we are still here. You are great not because you are UB40 but because reggae is great. People worldwide love reggae, which made it possible for us to travel to 72 countries in the last five years, including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.”
Ali refuses to pick his favourite from his vast hit list. He says, “I’ve made 32 albums, so there are a lot of babies, and you don’t have favourite children, right? I find it very joyous to go into a recording studio and thoroughly enjoy myself. I love doing what I do and feel blessed that people are still buying tickets to see us.”
Venues and tickets
UB40 Feat. Ali Campbell will perform in New Delhi (India International Convention and Expo Centre, Dwarka) on October 25, 2023, Mumbai (DOME SVP Stadium, Worli) on October 27 and Bengaluru (Bhartiya Mall) on October 28. Ticket categories range from Silver to Platinum and lounges, priced from ₹2,300 to ₹19,900. Exclusive tables for eight guests start at ₹1,25,000 for Early Bird acquirers. Tickets will be on sale at www.Insider.in.