Ali Campbell and Astro from their UB40 (seen here on the left and centre), chat with Kevin Cooper about the stagnant court case, the possibilities of a UB40 supporting UB40 tour, their latest album A Real Labour Of Love and their 2019 40th anniversary tour.

Ali Cambell, Astro and Mickey Virtue were all members of the original UB40, a band formed in 1978 when a group of friends got together and then went on to sell over 70 million records worldwide. They had more than fifty singles in the UK singles chart and were nominated on four occasions for a Brit Award.

The band’s line up was stable for nearly thirty years until January 2008 when front man Ali Campbell left the band, followed shortly thereafter by keyboardist Mickey Virtue who joined Ali’s version of the band.

Astro remained with the original band until November 2013 when he too departed to join Campbell and Virtue.

The original lined up released their debut album, Signing Off in 1980 and after great success they released Labour Of Love, an album of cover songs in 1981, which reached number one in the UK albums chart. That line up went on to also release Labour Of Love II and III.

The newly founded group, UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey are revitalising the concept of the Labour Of Love albums by exploring the songs that defined reggae in the 80s on a new album A Real Labour Of Love.

Whilst busy promoting their new album and preparing for their 2019 tour of the UK, Ali Campbell and Astro took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what they had to say.

Hi guys how are you today?

Astro (A) Hi Kevin I’m not too bad thank you.

Ali Campbell (AC) Hi Kev we are all good thank you.

We have all spoken previously so it is great to catch up with you once again.

AC We are old buddies then (laughter).

(Laughter) we are old something but I don’t know about buddies.

AC In that case we must be old acquaintances (laughter).

Before we move on let me thank you both for taking the time to speak to me today.

AC No problem.

A That’s no problem.

And I have to ask, how is life treating you both at this moment in time?

A Life at the minute is fantastic as it happens. We are currently riding on the crest of a wave.

AC There is currently a bit of a renaissance going on for us. Our new album A Real Labour Of Love went straight into the charts at number two and we are rapidly approaching our thirty ninth year as a recording band. So we are going to be promoting A Real Labour Of Love together with forty years in the business throughout next year obviously with yet another extensive world tour. We will be starting out in January in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Hawaii and then we come back to the UK to play the British Arena Tour, which I have to say covers everywhere; Bournemouth, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Cardiff, London, Brighton, together with a couple of dates over in Ireland.

After that we will then be going over to America where we will be playing a very extensive tour, in fact it will be the most extensive tour of America that we have played in many years. So yes, as you can see, we have got a full diary.

You have mentioned the latest album A Real Labour Of Love which you released on 2nd February. Were you happy with the fans reaction to the album?

A Well going straight into the charts at number two sums it up really doesn’t it. The fans were happy with the album; we are ecstatic about it, and as you know you always try to push your latest endeavour, you latest piece of work and it is just a great bunch of songs that we have released.

AC The good thing about A Real Labour Of Love is that we are not just singing old stuff. We have got new stuff to put forward and the promoters always like that as well as the fans. It means, to coin a phrase that we are ‘still relevant’. So you could say that we are currently a bunch of relevant elephants (laughter).

Were you happy with the final product?

AC I think that it is the best production that I have done so far in thirty-three albums (laughter). So I was well chuffed with it. I think that the choice of songs was one that only we could have made, as reggae fanatics and as true lovers of reggae music. I’m pretty sure that nobody else would have or could have come up with that selection of songs. You have got to be a bona fide reggae fan to actually know those tracks. Some of them are very well known and loved, tracks such as Under Me Sleng Teng whilst others are not so well known, such as Barry Boom’s Making Love, which was massive in the dance halls but never managed to cross over into the mainstream.

That is basically our aim with all four of the Labour Of Love albums; that is to promote songs that were great big hits in the reggae world but didn’t cross over. That was the reason why we recorded the first Labour Of Love album. We kept getting asked “why do you play reggae” and we would always answer that question by saying that they were the songs that we grew up loving. However, A Real Labour Of Love is basically an album of songs from the 80s when we were already a band, but of course continuing to love reggae, and the 80s was a very important period for reggae as it went digital. So we have made a 80s Labour Of Love and I am sure that there is a 90s one waiting in the wings somewhere (laughter).

Joking aside, will we be seeing A Real Labour Of Love II?

AC I think we should, yes.

A When we were putting together the track list for A Real Labour Of Love I think that we started off with around forty-seven songs which we had to whittle down and whittle down until we ended up with the sixteen that are on the album.

AC So A Real Labour Of Love has covered the 80s so we could quite easily move into the 90s and beyond with the next album. As long as we stay a couple of decades behind then we really should be alright (laughter).

I have currently got two go to tracks on the album. The first is She Loves Me Now, and I think that you have done a really good job on there Ali.

AC Well thank you. I have to say that in all honesty that track was the most frightening one for me because Beres Hammond is one of my big heroes. Back in the 80s Beres was the Otis Redding of reggae so basically I shit myself when I realised I had got to sing that track (laughter). Having said that thanks for saying that it is a good version. What you have to remember is that we have never tried to change the melodies of these songs because that is what we loved in the first place. We always try to stay true to the melody whilst making a more contemporary backing track, and making the track a bit more accessible. And so what was the other track you liked?

It’s sung by the gentleman sitting next to you, and it is his take on Culture’s International Herb. Astro and I have spoken about this in the past and I think that it is a great track, a great version and a perfect inclusion on the album.

A Well thank you very much. I have to say that it was fun doing that. That particular song has always been a favourite of mine so to get it onto the album was something very special. I have to say however that if you play the original version alongside mine you will see that I have changed the lyrics and have tried to bring the song right up to date if you like. The original melody holds firm so we haven’t tried to be too clever because we love the songs in their original state.

AC We love Culture, we love the song and we love the late Joseph Hill so we want to do them proud by covering one of their songs as well.

Are there any thoughts on writing a new studio album which contains entirely new material?

AC Yes there is, in fact we have got about a dozen ideas for new songs right now. But of course we are not going to be running into the studio anytime soon because we have got a year’s worth of touring to look forward to promoting A Real Labour Of Love (laughter).

A Our biggest problem is actually getting ourselves into the studio. We have no shortage of music but finding the time to actually get into the studio is the biggest problem. As Ali has already mentioned we are booked solid until September next year plus extra dates are always being added. So by the time September comes, who knows, we will most probably still be on the road in November. We will just have to keep trying to find the time to book into the studio.

AC Having said all of that being out on the road for that long actually gives us more time to concentrate on writing lyrics which I have to say is not our strongest point. We have got music coming out of our ears; music is easy for us and writing melodies is easy for me, but I do have to say that we kind of struggle with lyrics because we have set a benchmark for our lyrics. We have set a standard all the way through our career with our self-penned stuff and we always try to use the platform that we have got to say responsible things that we are passionate about and feel seriously about. So we have to continue in that vein; we simply won’t do throw away lyrics. So basically that is where we are at. We have got music coming out of our ears; we have got melodies like dirt, and we have just got to write some lyrics to go with that (laughter).

I last saw you playing live on Astro’s birthday at Sherwood Pines here in Nottingham…

A That’s right, we always seem to be gigging on my birthday. The whole crowd sang Happy Birthday to me which was fantastic.

Well don’t take this the wrong way but whenever I see you performing outdoors you always seem to come alive and step it up a gear. Would you agree with that?

A That’s easy, the bigger the crowd the better I feel. You can keep the small intimate gigs where you can see the whites of their eyes; the bigger the gig the better I feel. I am happiest when I am on stage. I know that I have to do some work in the studio but to be honest, I have the attention span of an ant. But when I am on stage that is when I feel alive, that is where I belong, that is what I was meant to do.

You have briefly mentioned the fact that in January and February you are heading off down under to Australia and New Zealand, are the fans good to you down there?

A Our fans are brilliant everywhere we go. We don’t have any bad gigs anywhere.

You will be touring the UK in March and April on your fortieth anniversary tour, what can we expect?

A Well it is going to be a greatest hits tour together with some new material from our current album. We won’t put too many of the new songs onto the set list as we don’t want to be too indulgent, we are not like that. Whenever people come along to our shows they want to hear the hits, the hits that they have bought, the hits that they listen to on the school run, the hits that they listen to when they are relaxing.

AC So we have got to try and marry the new hits with the old hits on the set list for the tour (laughter). We have got a lot of fans who come along to see us every year, so we will try to change the set around slightly. Having said that we can’t change it around that much because there are songs that we have to sing. We would be killed if we didn’t sing Red Red Wine, Can’t Help Falling In Love, Kingston Town and Cherry Oh Baby; they are always in the set but we have to find a new way of presenting them. Plus we have to put in some good new old ones if you like.

A Plus we have to play some of the songs that haven’t seen the light of day now for well over twenty years.

AC So it’s a new set but it is still a greatest hits collection.

Will there be a tinge of sadness when there are two versions of UB40 both out on the road at the same time here in the UK both celebrating their fortieth anniversary?

AC I didn’t know that the other ones were. What I do know is that we have very nearly sold out the O2 in London already. You have to remember that we are playing arenas; it’s just not the same for the other guys. However, we still do insist whenever we play anywhere that the promoters tell everyone exactly who they are coming to see. We insist that they know from the outset that they are coming to see Ali, Astro and Mikey’s UB40. We do that in order to differentiate ourselves from ‘The Dark Side’ as I call them. Then what happens is that people know who they are getting when they come along to see us whereas they certainly don’t know who they are going to get when they go to see the other UB40.

They don’t put ‘not original line-up’ or ‘UB40 featuring Duncan Campbell’. So we are still getting reams and reams of complaints every time that they play. So one of the reasons why we decided to call ourselves UB40 again was because they were destroying the legacy of my work and my band. The band that I started back in 1979 have now started recording country albums and basically they are simply not up to par. So when Astro came back to the fold we decided to call ourselves UB40 in order to try to salvage just what was left of our legacy (laughter). But there you go.

A It is so infuriating when PR Companies and Promoters advertise our gigs and then we are told that they have used a picture of the other UB40 and not of Ali, Astro and Mickey’s UB40. How hard is it for someone to use the correct photograph? That is the main reason why we do, as Ali has just said, whenever we are going to play a concert we make sure that all posters and all promotion material clearly states ‘UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey’.

AC How can it happen all of the time when they can advertise one of our gigs which clearly states ‘UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey’ and then put up a picture of Robin, Duncan and Brian? That is a big thorn in our side. All that it does is confuse people which is why we always say that it is ‘UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey’. To be totally honest with you I personally feel that that there is some skulduggery afoot. It is Ali and Astro’s UB40 and we always make that perfectly clear. We do that so that people won’t get upset or disgruntled.

How are ticket sales for the forthcoming UK tour going?

AC To be honest with you the whole tour is already two thirds sold out basically because we have had a number two album. We have got months to go but we are already selling really well. This tour will be a sell-out tour just like the last one. We are well happy about that.

Are there any thoughts on a support for the UK leg?

AC We are talking about that right now actually. We have had talks with some people who want to open the shows for us but to be honest we are still arguing amongst ourselves about that. What I can tell you is that we are really excited to have Ziggy Marley supporting us on the American leg. So Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers will be supporting us over there. It will just have to be a surprise as to who is going to be supporting us in England (laughter).

You will be playing here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall on Monday 1st April. Will you have time to take in the sights of what we have got to offer?

AC Well we have been to a lot of the cities many times now. In fact we have seen more of England that most English people (laughter). It’s the same whenever we visit America; we have been to almost every state in America. We have most definitely seen more of America than most Americans have. But it all depends upon the tour schedule. Of course if we have got a day off then yes, we will go out and about, we will find a good Indian restaurant, a good pub or even a boat trip if I am involved (laughter). The guys all call me Ali ‘Boat Trip’ Campbell. So if it’s nice, keep an eye open because you will find us out on the briny (laughter).

We do generally try to enjoy ourselves and make time to get off the bus and out of hotels. We do actually stay in lots of beautiful hotels but even that can get boring. You will usually find us across the road from the venue in a bar or a pool hall (laughter). We had a great time the last time that we were there playing in the forest.

I suppose that an ideal day for Astro would be if Birmingham were playing Nottingham Forest at The City Ground.

A That would be great and wouldn’t it be fantastic if we were playing at half time (laughter). We always have great gigs whenever we play in Nottingham.

Will we ever see a tour where UB40 are supporting UB40?

AC No, simply because we want a better support than them.

A No, because we believe in giving our fans value for money (laughter).

AC Exactly, we don’t want to piss our fans off.

Whenever we speak I always ask you, what’s happening with the UB40 court case?

AC Absolutely nothing. Basically it was a big waste of time. It all started when they tried to stop me using the name of my band which I started and they didn’t have a leg to stand on. They didn’t have the money to continue with the court case, so basically a load of lawyers got a million quid out of it and it has all ended up in thin air. So we are just continuing to support and promote reggae music around the world. We are called UB40, or Ali and Astro’s UB40, or UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey. There you go.

I have to ask you how is the wine going?

AC It’s actually going very well, thank you very much for asking. In fact it has done so well that we are going to be bringing out a different bottle of wine this year which will actually be a lot cheaper. The new wine will not be a Bordeaux Supérieur’ because we feel that we went a little too high brow with that one (laughter). It was costing us thirty quid to get them online and to be honest most people don’t want to be spending that much on a bottle of wine. Having said that it is a cuvee and really is a beautiful wine. We will be making a cheaper wine that you will be able to get at or at Eminent Life.

Are there any thoughts on putting your name to any spirits?

AC No because we don’t drink spirits anymore, we are well past that age. We grew up and stopped drinking whiskey (laughter).

A I might be brewing a beer sometime in the future. That is currently in the pipeline. I would love to brew a real ale as a long standing Camra member.

Because the festive season is rapidly approaching I have to ask, how will the two of you be spending Christmas?

AC Well we have all got families, we have all got kids, and grandkids so it really is a family time for us. We have been offered a little gig in the Maldives which we might do, and then again we might not.

It is such a hard life (laughter).

AC We were in Antigua last New Year’s Eve which really was groovy (laughter). We are very lucky people and we get to go to the most beautiful places; places that some people will save all their lives to be able to go to and we are there three or four times a year having a beautiful time (laughter). We do recognise how lucky we are and that’s why we are still touring. We love what we are doing and we have done it all of our adult lives. It’s just that now we are not sitting in the back of a Luton van with all of our gear on top of us. We are flying business class to a beautiful hotel in Hawaii or wherever.

A We love our luxury travel (laughter).

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you are doing?

A I would most probably have been a chef.

AC I would probably be in prison. I would be in Winson Green.

On that note Ali and Astro let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been interesting.

AC Massive respect Kevin, thanks for having us.

A You take care Kevin and we will see you in Nottingham.