‘New albums keep it fresh - or it’s cabaret’ says UB40 guitarist Robin Campbell

Victor Ariat

Smooth sailing for Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Portsmouth Guildhall

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From Ray and Dave Davies in The Kinks to Liam and Noel Gallagher in Oasis, the lot of brothers in bands together has not often been a happy one.

For 30 years though, it looked like UB40 had beaten the familial fall-outs with Ali and Robin Campbell helping steer the band to enormous heights.

There were dozens of hits, including Red, Red Wine, I Can’t Help Falling in Love, and Kingston Town, as well as multi-platinum albums, such as Labour of Love and Promises and Lies.

But then Ali quit the reggae veterans in 2008, citing ‘issues’ with management.

And in a further unusual quirk, it was Robin and Ali’s elder brother, Duncan, who was drafted in to fill the breach.

Ali went off to launch a solo career, and the rest of the band carried on, releasing 2010’s Labour of Love IV and last year’s country-influenced Getting Over the Storm.

Events have since taken an unpleasant turn, as Ali is now also confusingly touring as UB40 with Astro and Mickey, two other former members of the original band.

Earlier this year a statement appeared on the band’s website saying: ‘Ali has repeatedly attempted to discredit his brothers and former bandmates, through the media and otherwise, but this latest attempt to confuse and manipulate UB40’s fans is, frankly, pathetic... The matter is now in the hands of our lawyers.’

Robin, who plays guitars and sings for the band told The Guide about the split with Ali: ‘It was quite a shock, although I pretty well knew it was coming.

‘It was very painful, not just for me but for every member of the band – everybody felt like their brother had walked out.’

And regarding the latest development, Robin adds: ‘I just think it’s really sad, and it’s indicative of how his career is going. I think if he had the success he thought he was going to have, we wouldn’t be having this problem, he wouldn’t be trying to pass himself off as UB40.

‘I find it even more sad that we’re going to have resort to legal proceedings.’

But getting Duncan, the eldest of the three Campbell brothers, into the band, proved a godsend.

Robin recalls asking Duncan to join: ‘He was keen as mustard. He could have been and should have been in the band when we started. We were three brothers and we sang together, we always harmonised and talked about forming a band. When we did, Duncan’s words were: “Nothing will ever come of it”, and he had other things going on. He was a croupier – he went off to Barbados to open a casino. I think he deeply regretted the fact he said no.

‘When I said that Ali’s left, do you want the job? He went into shock because he was quite daunted by the idea but was also really, really up for it.

‘We worked on about 40 or so songs, so we could comfortably put a set together.

‘We’re in our sixth year now, he doesn’t feel like the new boy now – definitely on the new album, he’s come into his own.

‘It wasn’t difficult for Duncan to fit in either musically or socially. I think we were incredibly lucky to have someone of his calibre to replace Ali.’

And that new album has had mixed reviews – splitting critics and fans.

‘It’s not really a new direction,’ explains Robin. ‘It’s a slight detour – it’s still a reggae album, but it’s a reggae album of country songs.

‘People are calling it the country album, but it’s not a country album at all. If you took the steel guitar off, it would still be a UB40 album.’

However, the album has had a particularly lengthy gestation period, harking back to a recording session with the late singer Robert Palmer.

‘It all started about 20 years ago when we recorded a track with Robert Palmer which was the Bob Dylan track, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,’ says Robin.

‘We released it and it was a hit, and while we were doing that session, Robert said he would love to record a Randy Travis song, On the Other Hand. We didn’t know it, so he just sang it to us, he didn’t even play us the original – he just sang it.

‘We said we loved it, so we did it, unfortunately it never got released and Robert died.

‘Then our manager – he was Robert’s manager too – asked a few years ago, if we still had that song we did with Robert.

‘He wanted to put it on a Best Of... for Robert, so we went back in the studio with it, recorded some overdubs and all that, but that never came out.

‘We were left with this track, and we thought we were just going to archive it again, and our manager said: “Why don’t you do a few more, research a few more and see what happens?” And we ended up with an album of them.’

‘I don’t know if you’d call me a country fan, but I am a fan of some country singers.

‘I went and found the songs I liked, a couple of the others brought a couple of songs in.

‘It was a bit like Labour of Love, but with country songs.

‘We love doing what we do, it was really just a suggestion of our manager and it seemed like a good idea that happened over a conversation in a bar.

‘It planted a seed – it’s taken us a couple of years, because we were researching the songs and we wanted them to be songs that we all agreed on.

‘You make new albums to keep fresh, or otherwise you become a cabaret act.’

UB40 play at Portsmouth Guildhall on Tuesday. Doors at 7pm. Tickets cost £28.50. The venue has changed from The Pyramids Centre, original tickets are still valid. Call 0844 847 2362 or go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.