Ali Campbell, lead singer and one of the founding members of British Reggae/pop band UB40 was born 15 February 1959. Formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England, UB40 were named after the Unemployment Benefit form, in protest of widespread unemployment (As was the song “One in ten”. UB40 were influenced by the many blues parties they attended as teenagers in the multicultural Balsall Heath area of Birmingham. Their love of ska, reggae and early lovers rock inspired such original tracks as “King”, “Madam Medusa”, “Food for Thought”, “Signing Off” and “One in Ten”. Their early musical style was unique, with a heavy influence of analogue synthesisers, psychedelic rock guitar, saxophone and dub producer techniques.
The Campbell brothers are the sons of the late folk musician, Ian Campbell, who regularly took them to folk festivals and gigs and introduced them to music and to touring. It was at one of his father’s appearances in a pub that Ali Campbell made his singing debut, with Dave Swarbrick’s daughter, Suss, singing “Why Does It have To Be Me?”. The ethnic makeup of the band’s original lineup is diverse, with musicians of English, Scottish, Irish, Yemeni and Jamaican parentage. The band’s initial lineup lasted for 30 years from the band’s formation in 1978 until 2008 when frontman Ali Campbell departed. Since that time, two other founding members (Mickey Virtue and Astro) have also left the band, and the trio of Campbell, Virtue, and Astro have since formed UB40 Reunited and played Birmingham O2 Academy on 19 December, London IndigO2 on 20 December and Manchester Academy on 21 December 2014.
In 2010 UB40 toured American and performed a nationwide UK tour of theatres in October/November 2010 performing their seminal album Signing Off, in full, along with a second set of popular UB40 songs. To coincide, on 1 November 2010 a remastered 2CD+DVD of Signing Off was released as a ’30th Anniversary Special Edition’. The next album Getting over the Storm was released in 2013 and was subsequently awarded BBC Radio 2’s ‘Album Of The Week’ accolade and received 5-star reviews from the UK’s music press on its release in September 2013. Sadly though Astro left the band in November 2013, describing it as a “rudderless ship” and criticising the “serious lack of communication between the band and management” and the country-orientated direction of their latest album. He later joined former UB40 members Ali Campbell and Mickey Virtue on stage at the indigO2 Arena in London on 6 December 2013, and also toured summer 2014, and appeared at the Brentwood Festival. The latest album Silhouette, featuring the trio was released in 2014.
Despite their success UB40 have had a spot of legal and financial trouble- In 2011 five founder members of the group and directors of their DEP International label, had bankruptcy proceedings started against them and they were declared bankrupt. And In September 2014 the band served writs against Ali Campbell, Virtue, and Astro, claiming that were illegally using the UB40 name.
During their three-decade long career UB40 have placed more than 50 singles in the UK Singles Chart, and also achieving considerable international success. The band have also been nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album four times, and in 1984, were nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Group. One of the world’s best-selling music artists, UB40 have sold over 70 million records. Among Their hit singles are their debut “Food for Thought” and two U.S. Billboard Hot 100 number ones with “Red Red Wine”, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “I Got You Babe” featuring guest vocals from Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, and have become one of the most commercially successful reggae acts of all time in terms of record sales (over 70 million), chart positions and touring schedule. They have performed twice at the Night of the Proms, in 2000 and in 2006. In 2006 UB40 were nominated for a Grammy Award (Reggae category) for their album Who You Fighting For. All three of their UK number one hits and four of their five U.S. top ten hits were cover versions. UB40 collaborators include: Pato Banton, Madness, Bitty McLean, Chrissie Hynde, Maxi Priest, Robert Palmer, Hunterz, Japanese artist Mikidozan, French artist Nuttea, Lady Saw, Afrika Bambaataa, 808 State.