Ali Campbell, singer-songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about his Red Red Winery Tour, his relationship with his former UB40 band members, the release of an acoustic album, and their forthcoming Labour Of Love Tour

Ali Campbell is a British singer, solo artist and songwriter who is the ex-lead singer and a founding member of UB40. As part of UB40, Campbell sold over 70 million records worldwide and toured the globe for 30 years.

In 2008, Campbell and Mickey Virtue acrimoniously left the band and toured together with the Dep Band to promote Reggae music.  During that time Campbell released three solo albums.  In August 2014, it was announced that Astro would be reuniting with them on their World Tour and that all three as UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey released a new album, Silhouette.

Taking time out from his promotional and touring schedule, this is what he had to say to Kevin Cooper.


Ali good morning, how are you?

Hello Kevin I’m very well, thanks for asking.

Let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not a problem.

And just how is life treating Ali Campbell today?

Life is absolutely fantastic at this moment in time.  I have just done the best tour that I have ever been involved with and after thirty years of touring that is saying something isn’t it.

We last spoke back in October 2014 when you were about to set off on your Silhouette Tour.  Here we are some eighteen months later and you are still on that tour so am I to assume that all is going well?

All is going very well, in fact we have just got back from Hawaii where we played four islands over there.  So yes you could say that all is going very well indeed (laughter).

Before Hawaii were you not over in New Zealand?

(Laughter) yes we were.  We were out in New Zealand where we played the Red Red Winery Tour which was absolutely fabulous (laughter).  The touring that we are doing at the moment is so brilliant.  The Red Red Winery Tour was an idea that I had some time ago, even before I had decided to call myself UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey, but at the same time that I was still going out as The Legendary Voice of UB40.  I was thinking ‘how can I let people know that it is UB40 without actually saying UB40’, if you know what I mean Kevin.  So after a while I came up with The Red Red Winery Tour (laughter).  I had been trying to get the tour off the ground for six years and then finally we did it.  We played seven shows over there and we are going to go back and play another seven.

I have to tell you that it was the greatest tour that I have ever done.  We were playing in the most beautiful locations plus we broke all of the attendance records as we were playing in front of in excess of eight thousand people every night.  It was absolutely brilliant.  After that we then went over to Hawaii and we were pretty much doing the same thing (laughter).  As I have said it was fantastic and absolutely the greatest tour that I have ever done.  We were playing in fantastic venues, and playing to wicked crowds.  We have been going to Hawaii since the mid-80’s and playing out in New Zealand since 1981 so we have plenty of friends and fans in both those places.

As the tour was such a success are there any plans for you to take it further afield?

I was personally very satisfied because it was my idea for us to do the winery tour and yes because of its success we are at present thinking of undertaking a Red Red Winery Tour of the world.  Wherever there is a winery there is usually a beautiful location so why not go over there and play the people some reggae music (laughter).

You recently did a tour of North America how was that?

It was absolutely fantastic.  I hadn’t been there for eight years but the fans were absolute brilliant.  The Dark Side had toured there destroying the legacy of UB40 so it was important that I got our band out there and do a tour.  Basically everywhere that we played has invited us back which means that we have doubled our capacities for the next tour.  In fact we have doubled everything basically.  So off we go back to the States where we will be playing wineries there so whilst it is not a winery tour we will in fact be playing a few wineries whilst we are over there.

What could be better, I have just got back from Hawaii and now I am going to be playing the Pacific Coast from Vancouver all the way down to Mexico basically.  Plus we will be playing a few dates in Canada together with a few on the East Coast.  So we are really looking forward to that and we will be over there for around seven weeks.

Looking at the tour schedule do you ever think about slowing down?

No not really as I am still on my mission to promote reggae music.  Also at the moment I am on a mission to promote the right UB40 basically, and save the legacy of the band that I started and love so much, and to carry on promoting reggae which is why I started the band in the first place.

Before we go on I have to tell you that after our last interview went live I received a torrent of abusive emails and threats from a number of UB40 fans.

(Laughter) did you really Kevin?  Let me tell you what happens; there are about four people who work for The Dark Side who are regularly phoning up promoters threatening them with legal action and nonsense such as that.  That has been going on from The Dark Side since I left eight years ago.  They encourage on-line fruitcakes (laughter).  That’s why I recorded the song Cyber Bully Boys because of the bullying that my fans have received from The Dark Siders.  What can I say Kevin, I’m sorry about that but honestly it is nothing to do with me (laughter).

I can assure you that it will have come from The Dark Side because they employ a little squad of trolls who carry out this sort of thing on their behalf.  Just do what we do; ignore them and they will go away.

Were you happy with how well your Silhouette album was received?

I was very happy with how well the album was received.  What I wasn’t happy with was the record company Cooking Vinyl; I thought they were fucking useless and I am now out of the deal with them.  I thought that they were probably the worst label that I have ever been signed to; I have to say that.  They just didn’t do anything and I don’t understand how they even make any money.  I was asking if I could have copies of the album sent out to me to sell at the gigs because I was playing to thousands and thousands of people but they said no because the albums had to go through their outlets.

So basically everybody was buying them from England; people in New Zealand were having to get them from England.  They were awful and they weren’t pro-active in any way, shape or form and I am very happy to be away from them.

Any news regarding a new album?

Funnily enough, we have actually just completed an acoustic album; a sort of unplugged type of thing which will be coming out on Warner Brothers in either June or July.  That’s kind of trendy now, everybody is doing bloody acoustic albums now, but I started doing it eighteen months ago, so again, I was on the money (laughter).

Will you be touring the acoustic album?

We certainly will be touring the acoustic album which should be great fun as well.

You have recently released The Hits Of UB40 Live, what was the rationale behind that?

We were playing around the world and we had got to Shanghai and we thought that it would be cool to hear us shouting ‘Hello Shanghai’ on a record so Astro did it and that was all that we wanted really (laughter).  It was so that we could show off that we had played over in China (laughter).  Seriously we hadn’t done a live album for a while and that album is the set as it was two years ago because it has changed a bit now.  However for the new tour it will be a completely different set because we will be playing Labour Of Love I and II, which will be fabulous.  Whenever we had any spare time whilst we were over in Hawaii we have be rehearsing some of the old Labour Of Love tunes.

I am really looking forward to playing those old songs and I think that it is going to be absolutely brilliant.  What is really exciting is that we will be playing in arenas this time, so that is going to be fabulous.

You will be playing in Birmingham, does that still excite you?

Yes it really does excite not only me but Mickey and Astro too.  I am especially looking forward to playing in Birmingham because the last time was like the prodigal sons coming home, it really was.  When me and Astro went out onto the stage we were both overwhelmed.  We just looked at each other and said ‘fucking hell’ (laughter).  It was seven and a half thousand people all screaming at the top of their voices; it was fabulous man.  It felt like we had been truly welcomed home.  So yes we are really looking forward to playing Brum again.

Any advance warning as to who the support is going to be?

Yes Kevin that is going to be Radio Riddler who are Brian Fast Leiser and Frank Benbini, my brothers from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals.  We love them and we love them supporting us.  There just might be a couple of other things happening but I couldn’t possibly say yet (laughter).

What about on the American leg of the tour.  I hear that you have something special happening?

Yes we have.  Over in America we have got The Wailers supporting us with Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett. It is going to be really fucking cool.

Eight years ago you parted company with UB40; was it both the right time and the right decision?

Absolutely, oh absolutely yes.  I had made my solo album Running Free whilst I was still with UB40 and at that time I wasn’t intending to leave at all, although I was having problems with the management.  In fact I had been having problems with the management for four years before I left the band.  But after leaving, things have just got better and better for me ever since.  At that time UB40 were on their twenty-fourth album; TwentyFourSeven was the last album that I recorded with UB40 and even I was getting bored with UB40.  I was thinking ‘this is our twenty-fourth album, how the fuck can I inject some enthusiasm into this and just how can I bring new people to the table’ (laughter).

That’s what made me think about making the solo album and having lots of guests on it simply to inject a bit of interest into things.  When I mentioned having guests on the UB40 album the band simply didn’t think that it was a good idea, despite me thinking that it could only help UB40.  When they all said no, that really was the straw that broke the camel’s back you know.  I was having enough problems already and I was also finding out things about complicitous band members doing things.  My solo album had gone into the charts at number nine and at that time UB40 hadn’t had a top ten album for over fifteen years.

Because of that I wanted four weeks off to promote it and despite me giving them six months’ notice they all said no.  So I simply told them all to ‘fuck off’ and I walked out.  The thing is that I haven’t looked back since.  The solo albums that I have made are in my opinion great pieces of work; the ones that I made with my new band together with the ones that I made with Sly and Robbie; I have made two with each, I love them.  I think that my production is better; the production on Silhouette is the best that I have managed to get to so far.

I am on a journey with production.  I have always produced our stuff, and we have never used producers.  If I did start to use producers than I would feel that I was going backwards.  It’s the same feeling that I get when people ask me would I ever go back to UB40 and the old guys.  No way am I ever going to do that, no way simply because I have come on in leaps and bounds.  I am enjoying myself more; I have got more freedom artistically because with UB40 there was eight of us.  There was no single person in charge so it was always a compromise because we were always arguing (laughter).

Working with UB40 we made a lot of albums and we did some great stuff but it was always like pulling teeth.  Also with us having studios in Birmingham people always think that was a good thing but it wasn’t of course because we all lived in Birmingham.  So nobody was ever going to the studio, it was hell.  Trying to get people into the studio was a joke.  Now I can record an album in a couple of weeks whereas with UB40 it used to take a couple of years.  So yes, I am thoroughly enjoying myself and I absolutely love the band that I have got.  I think that we are the hottest reggae band on the road in the world at the moment and we are kicking ass basically.

I am very happy and what has happened is that I have reinvented myself.  That’s what you have to do in this business, we have had to adapt obviously to no CD sales.  Because of that you have to reinvent yourself and I think that’s what I have done.  The audiences are now back to like they were in the old days; they have been fucking great.  The last couple of tours that I have done have just been brilliant and I wouldn’t have it any other way now.

Everyone has read what is happening between UB40 and Ali Campbell.  Is the court case any closer to coming to fruition?

Yes it is Kevin but that has nothing at all to do with me.  We are simply defending ourselves against The Dark Side who are trying to sue us.  Let’s just say that it is happening soon and then we will see what they have got to say.  I personally don’t think that they have got a leg to stand on really.  They are saying that we can’t say that we are from UB40, but the thing is that it is a statement of fact that the three of us are from UB40.  We are not passing off because we don’t want to be confused with The Dark Side because they are making country records and they are not doing very well (laughter).

We have made it very clear from the outset that it is UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey.  They haven’t done that so it is them who are passing off really.  They don’t go out saying UB40 featuring Duncan Campbell.  They don’t go out saying UB40 not the original line-up, even.  They just go out as UB40 and receive millions and millions of complaints.  They have recently played at the Raggamuffin Festival in New Zealand and the list of complaints is just hilarious.  There are reams and reams of people all saying ‘what the fuck was that’ (laughter).  I don’t know if you have seen them performing Kevin but I have and let me tell you it is knuckle bitingly embarrassing.

The worrying thing is that it is not just the trolls that the band employ who will give you grief.  The sad thing is that it is the band members too.  The Cyber Bully Boys song that I wrote was because Brian (Travers) the sax player with UB40 was actually online threatening my fans.  I thought ‘what the hell is all that about’.  What you have to remember is that they are all guys who are in their fucking fifties who are going online threatening my fans.  I found it all to be a joke and that’s why if you read the lyrics to Cyber Bully Boys it says it all you know.  The next time that I speak to any of those fuckers will be when I see them in court when I will be saying that they are all frauds M’laud (laughter).

On a lighter note do you still find the time to get down to watch Birmingham at St. Andrews?

I don’t personally but Astro does.  I’m a Blue Nose because I was born in Balsall Heath but I don’t actually follow football but both Astro and Mickey are obsessed with it.  We are all Blue Nosed in our crew.  The last time that I went to St. Andrews was when I had a lump on my knee and I got one of their physios to take care of my knee (laughter).

You have got the tour together with the new album to look forward to.  Just how far ahead do you plan?

I want to work over in the States with the West Coast guys because there is a fantastic reggae movement on the West Coast of California.  Hopefully I am trying to make contacts now so that I can do some work with those guys.  There is an up and coming white reggae scene which until recently I knew nothing at all about and I am trying to do some work with them.

Ali on that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Ok nice one Kevin.  Look forward to seeing you in Birmingham where we will be kicking it.  Peace, respect, yeh man.