After spending much of the first half of the year celebrating its 40th anniversary in Europe, UB40 is bringing the party to North America for the first time since 2008 — and high time for it, according to singer-guitarist Robin Campbell.
“It’s been too long since we’ve been in the States,” Campbell tells Billboard ahead of the trek with Steel Pulse, which begins Aug. 2 in Detroit and runs through Sept. 29, also promoting the group’s new album For the Many. UB40 has been touring the rest of the world during the interim, and Campbell lays blame for the group’s North American absence on former singer, and his younger brother, Ali Campbell.
Ali Campbell left UB40 during 2008, replaced by another younger brother, Duncan Campbell. But in 2014 he and other former members Terence “Astro” Wilson and Mickey Virtue joined forces and began performing as UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue. That led to litigation with their former bandmates that’s currently still in motion. “We didn’t’ really want to come back to the States until we had the legal things sorted out that would stop him from using our name,” Robin Campbell explains. “We’ve been touring the world but the promoter he was working with was making it difficult for us to get someone to bring us over to the States. But we finally said, ‘To hell with it. We’ll come over anyway.’ We may be playing smaller venues than we have before, but that’s OK. I like smaller venues.”
The elder Campbell says the legal battle has been “frustrating” for his group, which also includes original members Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan, Jimmy Brown and Brian Travers, the latter of whom is not touring while still recuperating from brain surgery. “It’s incredibly difficult because the British justice system — most justice systems, actually — aren’t about what’s right and wrong. It’s about who can keep it out of court for the longest,” Campbell explains. “(Ali Campbell) has spent an awful lot of money keeping it out of court. The judge decided there was a case to answer, but he’s paying a lot of money to good lawyers and they’re basically coming up with arguments all the time as to why they can keep it out of courts, and moving it to different courts. It would seem as if your pockets are deep enough you can buy justice, which is extremely frustrating.
“But, of course, it’s worth him to do that because he continues to make a decent living pretending to be us. It’s extremely frustrating and damaging because people keep coming to our website and Facebook page… complaining about the show. Obviously he’s our ex-lead singer but the band he’s got with him is not the band. It’s very disappointing and misleading to the fans,” he says.
Campbell and company are hoping the upcoming tour will retrench their standing in North America and also spread the word about For the Many, which came out in March and features guest appearances from a variety of international singers. “It’s probably the best thing we’ve done in a long time,” Campbell says. “I think musically we’re back to sounding like we were in the early ’80s, and that was a deliberate thing. We worked in exactly the same way as we used to — there’s plenty of dub passages throughout most of the tracks, plenty of political content, ’cause there’s plenty to get angry about. But it feels a lot like what you’d call ‘classic’ UB40.” In addition to the regular album there’s a deluxe edition featuring a dub mix of the tracks, while another version of the album featuring more guest vocalists is due out later this year.
As for UB40 turning 40, Campbell says the run “feels like a lifetime — but a good one. I couldn’t have imagined we’d be doing it for 40 years. Four decades is just a bit more than you expect, but we’re still enjoying it, still having a lot of fun. It’s been great.”