INTERVIEW: Sammy Jones speaks with former UB40 ace Ali Campbell

Ali Campbell: 'I would love to plough a few fields...'
Ali Campbell: 'I would love to plough a few fields...'

His is the unmistakable voice associated with smash hits including Red, Red Wine, I Got You Babe, Many Rivers to Cross and Can’t Help Falling In Love.

Ali Campbell was a founding member, and the man putting the vocals to a hugely successful run of UB40 hits.

But nothing is unbreakable, and so in 2008 Ali walked away from the band he had helped create, and been at the helm of, for more than three decades.

“I had to walk away from my own band,” he says when I ask him to rake over those still smouldering coals of anger, “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I did it because I wasn’t getting any satisfaction from the management - they weren’t giving me the information I was entitled to.

“It took me four years to actually leave after starting to complain, and there is still a lot of bad feeling out there.”

As Ali speaks frankly about the break-up, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this won’t be a story where bygones become bygones, and the group steps out, a little older, but with self-congratulating smiles for a lucrative reunion, as so many others have.

Rumours circulating on-line say that Ali is soon to return to the fold. And they are nothing more than rumours.

“It’s firmly smashed on the head, that one. In a bid to sell tickets they always put out rumours that I am returning, which of course I wouldn’t,” he says.

“I started UB40 all those years ago and it was to promote reggae music. That’s what I still do with the band I am with now.

“And what the old guys in UB40 have done is made a country album...”

A country album?

“Yeah, they have! It’s disappeared without trace, and I think they are doing great damage to the legacy that UB40 has.”

That legacy is quite something too - UB40 racked up record sales in excess of 70 million. That’s a whole lot of vinyl.

“It’s a massive legacy, and I think they are trying to destroy that, but I still go around the world doing what I do best - which is promoting reggae.”

Ali still feels a huge responsibility for the fans who invested their time into the band for such a long time though.

“Unfortunately, when I left UB40, that fan base got split in half - half of the fans came with me and half stayed with UB40. What I would like to do next year is reunify those fans, and I think I will do that, because I have a great reggae album...”

That fourth solo album is done, dusted and set for a release in 2014.

“...It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Ali tells me, earnestly, “...which is quite ironic: I am making the best CDs I have ever made now that we can’t sell them any more.”

Certainly the music industry of the early 1980s bears little resemblance to the pressured environment of the here and now.

“In this music business, every 10 years something else comes along to wipe everything from beneath it - like video killed the radio star, now downloads have killed CDs.

“There is no point complaining about it - you have to adapt to the situation and carry on, that’s life.

“I’m lucky because I am a live act though - that’s what I have been doing for the past 30 years. All that’s happened is your gig used to be an advert for your CD, and now your CD is an advert for your gig.

When he left UB40, his brother took Ali’s vacated mic stand as his own.

“...he joined the band behind my back...I don’t have any brothers any more,” he admits.

A band split and a family split. That’s twice the break-up and twice the hurt.

“We were all a band of brothers anyway, and all my other brothers in the band betrayed me as well. I’ve got another band now and they are all my brothers.”

The current groupworking with Ali is a collective of seasoned players with plenty of pedigree.

It must be like playing with UB40, but with a better vibe.

“You hit the nail right on the head. They are younger and fresher and there is more energy. With UB40 it was a bit like pulling teeth making records, because we were all self taught, so it would take 18 months to make a record.”

The new record will be out through Cooking Vinyl Records, but is currently untitled: “The working title was Rhythm Method. We might name it after one of the tracks on there - I did a song called Silhouette, which I knew as a Dennis Brown song, but it was actually a Herman’s Hermits track,” and recorded in the same studio as Ali’s new interpretation.

“Silhouette would be a good name for the album...” he realises.

When Ali isn’t performing, he has been known to cast a critical eye over new talents, and signed up as a judge for the first season of New Zealand’s Got Talent, with Rachel Hunter as a fellow panellist: “It was very successful and a right old laugh!”

But Campbell thinks the stack of talent shows now need to be wiped from the musical slate.

Naturally The X Factor is mentioned.

“It’s run its course,” he states, “But you’ve got to remember not to take it seriously, it’s a television entertainment show.

“I never took anything seriously that was happening on that show. It is what it is and it’s a shame that Simon Cowell has monopolised the chart for 10 years, but I think it’s come to an end and we are due for a new era of music, musicians and television.”

Ali’s passion for reggae is unquestionable, but though he threw the towel in on UB40, could he walk away from music altogether?

Maybe: “I would like to be a hemp farmer,” he says, without jest.

“I am into health foods and would love to plough a few fields and grow hemp...it would be a lovely thing to do - living by the seasons and reaping your harvest.

“I think that would be pretty cool...I would sing while I was harvesting though, I’m sure!”

Ali Campbell will be live at the indigo2 at The O2 on Friday, December 6, 2013.

For ticket bookings call 08448 24 48 24 or visit www.theindigo2.com