Family affairs; Having swapped former lead singer Ali Campbell for his older brother Duncan, UB40 are back on the road. Drummer James Brown tells Matt Thomas how the band found the strength to keep it together.
IT'S easy to forget exactly how big UB40 are. While almost everyone can hum hits like Red Red Wine, they only account for a fairly small slice of their 44 albums-worth of recorded output.
With a legacy like that, most bands would think twice about carrying on after losing the singer whose vocals dominated their most immediately recognisable hits.
But that's exactly what the band has done, swapping Ali Campbell for his older brother, Duncan. Their current tour, dubbed the Labour of Love and taking in their covers albums of the same name, arrives in Cardiff tonight.
It might just be one of the best things that has happened to the group for years, claims drummer James Brown. Well, the fact is Duncan has been in the band for the best part of two years now, and I think most people are aware of that.
"It's just theway things are now," he says.
"And it's been good. The two of them, being brothers, there's a bit of continuity there.
"And it helps that they grew up singing in harmony and doing the same sort of songs that we're doing.
"In fact, it's a lot more relaxed than it was before Ali left sometimes.
"Because you knew he wasn't happy, he wanted to be doing more solo stuff so sometimes it could be difficult on tour."
Despite the relatively recent lineup changes, the band's history, and in particular theirBrummieorigins have remained an important part of their identity. To be honest, Birmingham is always where we've done our best work.
"It's like an important member of the band in a way, the background that it gives us, that informs a lot of our songs, theway things sound," says Brown.
"You know, running around on the streets as a young man, that's where we all first heard reggae and that's something that's stayed with us.
"It's that idea of reggae as filtered through other sounds and cultures that really is at the centre of everything we do.
"But it's a different city these days. In a way, when I was growing up, the place was a bit more of amelting pot, than it is these days, with black families, Irish families, English families, Asian families, whatever, all rubbing up against each other.
"It was a bit more like a village in that respect.
"These days it's a lot more segregated I think, people don't mix asmuch any more.
"And while everyone's a lot less prejudiced man-to-man, you know, less of that (70s sitcom) Love Thy Neighbour type of racism, there's a lot of new problems, and in a lot of ways, maybe it's not that much better.
"But itwas a great place to growup, a really important experience to have."
It's this shared sense of community that contributes to the band's continued good humour, says Brown. "We're like a family.We're all family guys, I've been married since before the band started you know, it kind of keeps your feet on the ground and reminds you what we're all in it for, " he says.
"We've never done that fame sort of thing really, it's always been about the music more than anything else.
"And the thing is with playing music, you get better as you get older. "I mean it would be hard not to really, doing it all the time.
"It's not like playing sport, where you can only get worse.
"Which is a good thing in our case, for sure.
"Butwhenyougetdownto it, there's nothing better than getting a room full of people up on their feet, you know, 10,000 people all moving and singing along.
"You can't beat it, really." UB40 are at Cardiff International Arena tonight with Eddy Grant. Call 029 2022 4488 for tickets.
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|Publication:||South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Dec 18, 2009|
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