Matt Doyle, (seen here third from the left), singer songwriter and lead singer with UB40, chats with Kevin Cooper about being asked to join the band, his favourite UB40 song, co-writing Champion with Robin Campbell, the adopted anthem for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and their forthcoming 2022 UK tour.

Matt Doyle, formerly the front man with reggae band Kioko, has replaced Duncan Campbell as UB40’s lead singer following the decision by Campbell to retire due to ill health. This announcement was made whilst the band were preparing for their 2022 tour of the UK.

Kioko, when Matt was a member, was a seven piece band who have played the Introductory Stage at Glastonbury in 2016. They had previously opened for UB40 at their 40th Anniversary concert at The Royal Albert Hall in May 2018, before supporting them on their UK tour later that year and on their European tour in 2019, so Doyle is no stranger to the band.

Doyle’s lead vocals features on the track You Don’t Call Any More, which is included on UB40’s latest collaborations album Bigga Baggariddim.

Whilst busy preparing for their forthcoming tour Matt Doyle took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Matt, how are you?

I’m very well thanks Kevin, how are you?

All is good thank you, and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, thank you for wanting to speak to me.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at this moment, I have to say, is not treating me too bad at all (laughter). It is, as they say, the calm before the storm at the minute.

I know exactly what you mean; the UK tour kicks off tomorrow in Brighton doesn’t it?

Yes, it does, yes.

Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

Man, I really can’t wait. After what we have been through the last couple of years, I simply can’t wait.

I have to ask, from Kioko to UB40, just how the hell did that happen?

(Laughter) I have to be totally honest with you and say that it is all a bit of a blur. It was such an unexpected thing to be asked and it was out of the blue. As you know, Duncan (Campbell) has had some health issues for quite a while, and round about that time I had this thought in the back of my head that if Duncan was to finally step down from it all, who would they ask; who would be the next lead singer. I can’t lie; there was a thought in the back of my mind, and I was thinking that it would be very nice to be asked (laughter). However, things were going really well with Kioko, in fact, things are still going well for them now, but it was one of those where you get asked to be a member of the biggest reggae band in the world, and you can’t say no to that. I have to say that all of my best friends in Kioko have been so supportive. In fact it was them who pushed me in the direction of UB40.

Who called you and just how long did it take you to say yes?

Robin called me and to be honest, it took me overnight (laughter). However, I think that when Robin first asked the question, he could tell immediately that it was going to be a yes, simply by my excitement (laughter). I asked Robin if he would be prepared to give me a day to consider everything involved, and that I would give him my answer in twenty-four hours. I felt that I needed that time to get my head around the whole thing and to really say to myself, “wow, you’ve just been asked to be the lead singer of UB40,” and I really did have to let that sink in almost before I could come up with an answer. The answer was always going to be yes; it is just something that you never can say no to. For me it is the opportunity of a lifetime.

You mention that you wanted twenty-four hours for it all to sink in. Has it sunk in yet, and are you more relaxed about the situation?

Yes, it has, it has most definitely finally sunk in that I am now officially the lead singer with UB40. Having said that, I do catch myself every now and then and there will be small reminders of, ‘this is what I do now’ and I am not stuck in the middle of trying to find some part-time work so that I can carry on with my music. This is it now; this is what I have worked for since I can remember picking up a guitar at the age of twelve. This is the only thing that I have ever pictured myself doing. I feel so lucky and so very privileged that I have been given this opportunity to be honest.

And I hear that you are a lifelong UB40 fan?

Oh yes (laughter). My earliest memories of my childhood all revolve around UB40, and I have said to Robin on many occasions that I used to sit in the back of my parent’s car, we would be driving along the motorway on our way to Butlins, and yes, we would just be playing UB40. I would be singing along to songs like Come Back Darling, Food For thought and Red Red Wine. I had no idea as to just what the songs were about or even the message behind these songs especially the Present Arms album and stuff like that. It was just the soundtrack to my childhood, the sound of UB40, the kind of industrial Brummie sound.

I think that the UB40 sound got into my bones and into my blood. Everywhere that you would go, and I know that it was the same for decades before I was born but, everywhere that you go you still hear UB40. When I was a kid, you would simply hear UB40 everywhere. It feels as though I have been practising for this moment my whole life.

Putting you on the spot, what is your favourite UB40 song to sing?

Wow just where did that come from (laughter). I have to be totally honest with you and say that it changes all of the time. There are so many great tunes, but I would have to say that my favourite UB40 classic track to sing has to be Kingston Town. Out of the newer tracks, I really do love singing I’m Alright Jack. That tune really does high light what a lot of people in my generation are going through now; find an affordable house and having to save up for that; we have all of these things going on now such as price hikes, and all that and that song really does speak to me, and I feel that I can put a lot of passion into that song.

We have already mentioned that the tour starts tomorrow. Are you excited?

Yes, I am I really am. It has been so frustrating with shows getting postponed, but at the end of the day you have to count your blessings. We are all still here and healthy whilst a lot of people have had things really tough over the last couple of years. It is just going to be such a breath of fresh air; it’s going to be like coming up for air when you have been trapped underwater almost. I think that we all just really need it. I think that the fans need it, and yes, I think that it is going to be so nice to finally get out there properly. It’s been like a low hanging fruit for a while; the promise of being able to get myself out there and touring with them

I have played five or six shows with the band already and they have all been pretty incredible, and I have loved all of them. But to be able to get out there and play shows one after the other, to be on a roll, really is exciting and I can’t wait to get out there. I have to be honest and say that I am a bit nervous, but I would be worried if I wasn’t nervous (laughter). This will, after all, be my first full proper tour with the boys. I have previously toured with Kioko, but I don’t have to drive this time (laughter).

How are the boys treating you?

Amazingly. They really are all such a warm and friendly bunch of guys. I’m sure that there will be some testing times once we get out onto the road, they are all a bunch of jokers, and I think that I am going to have to keep my wits about me at times, but I can give just as well as I can take (laughter). I am really looking forward to being able to bond with them all more, being out there on the bus, really getting to know them and I already feel the closest of mates with all of them.

So, they are not treating you like the new kid on the block then?

(Laughter) no, no, not really. They are all putting their faith in me, and no one seems worried that I will go out there and make mistakes. Everyone is just putting their full confidence in me which in turn, fills me full of confidence as well.

I have got to mention both Ali (Campbell) and Duncan (Campbell) and say that you have got big shoes to fill.

I have, yes you are right, I have. There is no doubt about it (laughter). I think that I can fill them very well. It’s like someone recently said to me, “it’s not like you are trying to sound like anyone, but you do just sound like UB40”. Thinking about it, it was Pablo Rider who said that to me, who is on the Bigga Baggariddim album. I’m not trying to imitate Ali or Duncan, and I think that’s what Robin saw in me.

There is a rich tapestry of both artists and bands that come out of Birmingham. Why do you think that is?

I personally think that it has a lot to do with just where we are, here in Birmingham. We are almost smack bang in the middle of the country, and we have a rich history of immigration, so much so that a lot of the guys call Birmingham a cultural melting pot. We get everyone from all walks of life here, so I feel that it is down to that amalgamation of different cultures, coming together. It just makes something beautiful a lot of the time, whether that is music or art. It’s crazy because I will go round other places, and there are a lot of other multicultural places here in the UK, but, whenever you step outside of Birmingham, it’s almost as if a lot of that has taken a back seat almost.

Birmingham just seems like the kind of multicultural capital of the UK, and I think that’s why we get all of the musical talent coming out of there. UB40 had a lot of Caribbean influence, as well as Indian so I think that it probably has something to do with the fact that we live our lives here in Birmingham at such a fast pace. Also, having said that, we are also slow people (laughter). We are all chilled out and so relaxed at the same time as moving at a fast pace. It really is so difficult to explain (laughter). We are chilled out within a fast-paced environment. We tend to look at what’s around us, and try to make beauty out of it, I guess. It really does help when you have got cultures from all over the world coming together and mixing. It’s a lovely party to be at (laughter).

How come you get to do all of the heavy lifting, taking the boys back to the home, and tucking them into bed after a gig (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I give them all their cups of tea in bed and make sure that they have got their slippers by their beds ready for when they wake up in their hotel room (laughter). It’s so funny, we are all already taking the mic out of each other, and that is all down to our age difference. They will say stuff to me like, “you wouldn’t remember that being so young; they were around before you were born” (laughter). It’s hilarious because we are thirty plus years apart. I will be thirty-one next month, and these guys are twice my age, but it is almost like we are all the same age. It is almost as though whenever you put a group of musicians together, you are all the same age regardless of what age you actually are (laughter). We really are just a bunch of kids, and I think that’s why I fit in with these guys so well. I never take myself too seriously, and you can tell that they don’t either. That’s why I just feel so comfortable being around them.

I have just been reminiscing with Robin (Campbell) about the time I saw them performing here in Nottingham at Rock City back in 2016. I was photographing the band from the pit and all-night Brian Travers was throwing wet face flannels at me (laughter).

(Laughter) Brian was a proper joker wasn’t he (laughter). I am so gutted that I really didn’t get the chance to get to know him better. Having said that, I am thankful for the time that I got to spend with the guy because he was just absolutely amazing. Honestly, you have never met anyone like him, and yes, we all really miss him.

He was not only a great saxophone player, but a great artist as well.

Indeed, the man had talent spewing out of him. He was just a walking talent. As far as the band goes, Brian was just so inspirational.

He will be sorely missed but you have to remember him fondly and move on.

Absolutely, and that is exactly what he would want. Brian would never want this train to stop moving; he certainly wouldn’t want it to come to a halt. I hope that I can make him proud, keep it going, and keep UB40 alive forever because that’s what people want. They want this music to be loved forever, so why not play it forever.

You and Robin have co-written Champion which has now been adopted as the anthem for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. How did that come about?

For me to be writing with Robin really was incredible. To be totally honest, Robin had the lyrics ready to go, but I don’t know if he had come up with them before the mention of the Commonwealth Games and the song, but he sent me over the lyrics and we sat around together listening to different tracks, trying to pick something that had been worked on or something that we could work further on. We found this track that UB40 had recorded a little while back, like a backing track, and it just sounded absolutely perfect. It came in, and I have to say that it just hit you straight away. I took Robin’s lyrics away with me, put a melody to them, wrote some more lyrics around that melody which I thought would fit into the song a little later on, and then we just got together in order to flesh the song out.

Some songs come together so easy, and I have to say that this one just felt so natural. You will often hear musicians saying that “it was just like the song was already written” and this one was like that. Robin and I just had to put our heads together and then it was there. It was very, very simple and we decided that we would try not to over complicate anything. At one stage we were thinking of adding more lyrics, but it was a simple song which came together really naturally. There was a bit of going back and forth changing a few things here and there, trying out different melodies because the original melody that I came to the table with, me and Robin found ourselves sitting down and simplifying it.

We did that because we both felt that it was slightly overcomplicated before, when considering just what the track needed. For this kind of thing, it just needs to be a punchy kind of anthem that will get people out of their seats and up on their feet. We wanted the song to get people excited and looking forward to the Commonwealth Games.

I’ve been watching the video for You Don’t Call Anymore on YouTube and I have to say that it just feels as though you have been in the band forever.

Thank you, that is so good to hear. Again, that was just one of those songs that came together so naturally.

What was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) wow, where the hell did that one come from (laughter). I am going to say the first that I was into because when I was younger there were little bits of music here and there that I liked and I may have picked up a single or something, but the first actual album that I bought with my own money was back in 2002 and it was Busted’s debut self-titled album Busted (laughter). I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff, reggae being one of them, rock, pop just everything really. But Busted, they were kind of like this new pop, rock and roll band.

It was just at that time when I was getting interested in music and bands like Busted and McFly, together with American punk bands like Green Day. What got me into music was following bands like Busted who then helped me get into Guns N’ Roses and heavier bands like Metallica then heavier stuff still; it was never ending (laughter). It’s a strange one because a lot of people would probably be like, it was this, or it was that or it was something really kind of cool, something like Pink Floyd or something like that. But yes, mine was Busted and I’m not ashamed to say that (laughter). In fact, I still think that they are a wicked band.

Who did you first see performing live?

To be totally honest with you, that would most probably have been Busted as well (laughter).

You do know that your street cred is going down rapidly don’t you (laughter).

(Laughter) now then, who did I first see performing live, that really is a tough one. Thinking about it, it was most probably Busted. I never really went to a lot of gigs as a kid; it came more after my twenties when I started going to more shows. Being totally honest with you I think that I was most probably socially awkward. I can remember when I was fifteen; I went to see a band called Rise Against who are an American punk rock band from Chicago. I saw them and Anti-Flag, an American punk rock band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were supporting them. I remember the gig well and I have to say that it was just incredible. The level of energy was absolutely amazing. It was one of those gigs that just sticks with you.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

My that’s a tough one; that really is a tough one simply because I will cry at anything (laughter). It could be tears of joy, tears of anger, but the last song that made me cry, God, it would have to be something really sad and emotional. Being totally honest with you, there are not that many songs that can make me quite sad but this one can. There is an old Irish folk ballad called The Fields Of Athenry which is set during the Great Famine of the 1840s. The lyrics feature a fictional man from near Athenry in County Galway, who stole food for his starving family and had been sentenced to transportation to the Australian penal colony at Botany Bay.

That song to me is the ultimate love song but it is so sad as well. It is just such a beautiful story. It still gets me, and it is a song that I used to sing with my grandparents when I was really young. It is such a beautiful song, and it is always guaranteed to bring a tear to my eye.

On that note Matt, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been enlightening. Stay safe, good luck with the tour and I will see you at Rock City.

Thank you for having me, I really do appreciate it. Thank you very much Kevin.