Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Integrated UK band formed '78 in Birmingham, where they were all born/raised; took name from British unemployment benefit form: guitarist/lead vocalist Alistair (Ali) Campbell (b 15 Feb. '59), guitarist Robin Campbell (b 25 Dec. '54), Jim Brown on drums (b 20 Nov. '57), saxophonist Brian Travers (b 7 Feb. '59), Earl Falconer on bass (b 23 Jan. '59), Norman Hassan on percussion (b 26 Jan. '58), Mickey Virtue on keyboards (b 19 Jan. '57), Astro (b 24 June '57), the 'toaster' (see Reggae). First pro gig early '79; invited to support Pretenders tour late '79; first three singles all two- sided hits '80 on Graduate, first to make national top ten without promotion from a major label: 'King'/'Food For Thought', 'My Way Of Thinking'/'I Think It's Going To Rain', 'Dream A Lie'/'The Earth Dies Screaming'; first LP Signing Off '80 reached no. 2. Formed own label Dep International, distributed by Virgin; eight top ten LPs and 17 top 20 singles followed. 'Food For Thought' was about hungry children in Africa; 'If It Happens Again' (top ten '84) disguised criticism of Margaret Thatcher in a love song, but they were far more than a political band: music informed by the sprung rhythms of Jamaican music is excellent rock, listenable, danceable, with singing and lyrics of integrity. LPs incl. Present Arms and Present Arms In Dub '81, UB44 '82, UB40 Live and Labour Of Love '83 (no. 1 LP incl. cover of Neil Diamond's 'Red Red Wine', no. 1 single; in the USA it reached the top 40 albums '83, no. 14 when reissued there '88), Geffery Morgan '84 (strongly political), Little Baggariddim '85 featuring dub and toasting, reached only no. 14 UK but incl. no. 1 hit duet by Ali and Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde on 'I Got You Babe' (international hit '65 by Sonny and Cher), and their own haunting no. 2 hit 'Don't Break My Heart'. Rat In The Kitchen '86 has 'sweet' tunes, but also political: '...personal confusion and personal ideas for every member of the band, so when you read the lyrics you'll read eight different people talking to you', said Brown. Rat incl. single 'Sing Our Own Song', incorporating African chant 'Amandla Awethu' ('Power Is Ours'), with female backing vocal trio of Mo Birch, Jaki Graham, Ruby Turner; guest Herb Alpert on trumpet. The Singles Album was on Graduate '82; Best Of UB40 Vol. 1 '87 was good value with 16 hits; two-disc The UB40 File '86 compiled choicest Graduate output. Travers made videos for them, also prod. short film Labour Of Love (dir. by Bernard Rose) partly based on their real-life adventures; Ali invented 'Orchestral Dub', his tune of that name orchestrated by Lewis Clarkin of Electric Light Orchestra for benefit record for Birmingham's children's hospice, with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Robin described it as 'like something out of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers'). They sponsored rally driver James Prochowski (a Pole from Glasgow) and his Nissan, with UB40-DEP markings. Two of their hits made USA top 40 '84-- 5 on A&M; they sold out a US tour and Rat In The Kitchen was in top 60 USA albums '86. CCCP: Live In Moscow '87 was followed by UB40 '88; albums were on A&M in USA, switching to Virgin for Labour Of Love II '89, another set of their inimitable, irresistible covers (Al Green's 'Here I Am'; Chi'Lites' 'Homely Girl'); and Promises And Lies '93 (no. 6 USA). Guns In The Ghetto '97 on Dep International/Virgin had a title track about violence in Jamaica, Followed by UB40 Presents The Dancehall Album '98, featuring singers from Jamaica's tough 'ragga' scene.