The band members began as mates who knew each other from various
colleges and schools across Birmingham. Before any of them could play
their instruments, Ali Campbell and Brian Travers travelled around
Birmingham promoting the band, putting up UB40 posters. The band
purchased its first instruments with £4,000 in compensation money that
Campbell, who would become the lead singer, received after a bar fight
during his 17th birthday celebration.
Their first gig took place on February 9, 1979 at The Hare & Hounds
Pub in Kings Heath, Birmingham for a friend's birthday party.
UB40 caught their first break when Chrissie Hynde noticed them at a pub
and gave them an opportunity as a support act to her band, The
Pretenders. UB40's first single, "King"/"Food for
Thought" was released on Graduate Records, a local independent
label run by David Virr. It reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart and
was the first record to reach the UK top ten without the backing of a
major record label.
Their first album was titled Signing Off, as the band were signing off
from or closing their claim on the unemployment benefit. It was recorded
in a bedsit in Birmingham and was produced by Bob Lamb. Norman Hassan
said of the recording: "if you stripped my track down, you could
hear the birds in the background." This is because his tracks were
recorded outside in the garden. Signing Off was released on September 6,
1980, and entered the UK Albums Chart on October 2, 1980. It reached as
high as No. 2 in the UK and spent 72 weeks in total on the chart.
Signing Off is now a Platinum album.
Despite great success in the UK, UB40's popularity in the United States
was only established after they released Labour of Love, an album of
cover songs, in 1983. The album reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and
No. 8 on the Billboard Top 200 in the US. The album featured the song,
"Red Red Wine", a cover version of a Neil Diamond song (in an
arrangement similar to that of Tony Tribe's version).
Their most successful single release is the cover of the Elvis Presley
ballad "(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You" which was
intended to be the main title to the 1993 Sharon Stone movie Sliver and
was a number one hit across Europe and in the U.S.
UB40 live in Wellington, New Zealand in 2004
In June 2007, Sparta Florida Music Group started legal action against
heiress Paris Hilton and Warner Chappell Music for plagiarism due to
similarities between the song "Stars Are Blind" and the song
"Kingston Town", originally by Lord Creator. It was frequently
misreported that UB40 was the instigator of the action,, and that
it centered on their 1990 cover of the song. However, according to a
statement UB40's site, they are not involved, and "Any speculated
legal action taking place against Ms. Hilton would be entirely at the
instigation of the original songwriter’s music publisher...who
ultimately own the copyright to the song."
UB40 toured South Africa in July 2007 and headlined the Live Earth
concert at the Cradle of Humankind, near Johannesburg. They performed
one of the longest sets for the event at approximately 54 minutes.
August 21, 2007. They performed with Cas Haley on the America's Got
Talent Season Finale. In 2007 UB40 was signed by Ingenious Media PLC, a
boutique London investment bank that finances comeback albums.
UB40 were influenced by the many Blues Parties they attended as
teenagers in the multiracial Balsall Heath area of Birmingham. Their
love of ska and reggae 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
synthesizers, psychedelic rock guitar, saxophone and dub producer
techniques which were later perfected by the late Pablo Falconer.
Ali and Robin Campbell have a musical heritage, being sons of Ian
Campbell, a folk musician.
Many of UB40's recordings were inspired by 1960s ska and early lovers
rock songs that would have otherwise been forgotten in the public eye.
Their new injection of life into many old Jamaican hits has resulted in
many musicians' and producers' renewed popularity and income.
UB40 are arguably the number one reggae act of all time in terms of
record sales (over 55 million), chart positions and touring schedule.
During their three-decade long career, they have been performing
sell-out shows worldwide and headlining the Reggae Sunsplash music
festival in Jamaica, as well as spreading reggae to Russia and South
America, among others. They even have performed at the BBC Proms, an
event more associated with classical music.
Much of UB40's commercial appeal came from their releases of classic
cover songs. In fact, all three of their UK number one hits and four of
their five U.S. top ten hits were cover versions.
UB40's early music has often tackled social issues such as racism and
Other artists that UB40 have collaborated with include: Pato Banton,
Madness, Bitty McLean, Chrissie Hynde, Robert Palmer, Hunterz, Japanese
artist Mikidozan, French artist Nuttea, Lady Saw, Afrika Bambaataa, 808
State and Scary Éire.
The band is one of the world's most culturally diverse dub reggae bands
with musicians of English, Scottish, Irish, Yemeni and Jamaican
parentage. The band's line-up has been remarkably stable throughout
their nearly thirty-year career. Only three-member American blues act ZZ
Top has maintained such a status for a longer period.
James (Jimmy) Brown - born 20 November 1957, in Birmingham - drums
Ali Campbell - born Alistair Campbell, 15 February 1959, in Birmingham -
guitar, lead vocals
Robin Campbell - born 25 December 1954, in Birmingham - lead guitar,
Earl Falconer - born 23 January 1957, in Birmingham - bass guitar,
Norman Hassan - born 26 January 1958, in Birmingham - percussion,
Brian Travers - born 7 February 1959, in Birmingham - saxophone
Mickey Virtue - born Michael Virtue, 19 January 1957, in Birmingham -
Astro - born Terence Wilson, 24 June 1957, in Birmingham - toasting
vocals, percussion, trumpet
And guest members include(d):
Patrick Tenyue (trumpet) (1983–94)
Henry Tenyue (trombone) (1983–94)
Martin Meredith (saxophone) (1997— )
Laurence Parry (trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone) (1995— )
Year Album UK US
1980 Signing Off 2 -
1981 Present Arms 2 -
1981 Present Arms In Dub 38 -
1982 UB44 4 -
1982 The Singles Album 17 -
1983 UB40 Live 44 -
1983 More UB40 Music - -
1983 Labour of Love 1 1 14
1984 Geffery Morgan 3 60
1985 Baggariddim 14 -
1985 Little Baggariddim - 40
1985 The UB40 File - -
1986 Rat in the Kitchen 4 53
1987 UB40 CCCP: Live in Moscow - 121
1987 The Best of UB40 - Volume One 3 -
1988 UB40 12 44
1989 Labour of Love II 3 30
1993 Promises and Lies 1 6
1994 Labour Of Love, Volumes I and II (re-issue) 5 -
1995 The Best of UB40 - Volume Two 12 -
1997 Guns in the Ghetto 7 176
1998 UB40 Present the Dancehall Album - -
1998 Labour of Love III 8 -
2000 The Very Best of UB40 7 -
2001 Cover Up 29 -
2002 UB40 Present The Fathers Of Reggae - -
2003 Homegrown 49 -
2003 Labour Of Love, Volumes I, II and III (re-issue) 7 -
2005 Who You Fighting For? 20 -
1 Labour Of Love reached number fifteen in the U.S. in 1988 with the
re-popularization of "Red Red Wine".
Campbell - UB40