SAN JOSE, CA –  Musicians Astro (L) and Ali Campbell of UB40 perform on stage during the iHeart80s Party 2017 at SAP Center on January 28, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

After 30 years and more than 70 million records sold worldwide, UB40 vocalist Ali Campbell left the band in 2008. In 2014, though, he reunited with band mates Astro and Mickey Virtue for the album Silhouette.

That paved the way for the three original members to reunite as UB40 Legends Featuring Ali, Astro & Mickey. The trio is currently touring the U.S. including a show this week at the Greek Theater in L.A.

For the three of them it is a chance to reclaim the songs, like “Red, Red Wine” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” that made them one of the most commercially successful reggae bands of all time. I spoke with Campbell about revisiting this material, his renewed love for touring and his friendship with Paul McCartney.

Steve Baltin: How much does it inspire you to play in these settings that are either new to you or to play for fans you have never played to before?

Ali Campbell: That’s the beauty of these gigs, they are out of the way. Last year we played all the major cities and we sold out all of the big arenas in England. We finished at the [O2] Dome and we filmed it in virtual reality. So we finished going back to all the major cities. What this “Grandslam” is doing is taking us out into the regional parts. So it’s a lot of fun because it is very fresh, it’s not venues that we’ve played before. I think it keeps you on your toes because you never know, it can start off slowly and be raining halfway through the show. Or it can start off raining and then the rainbow comes out. It’s great doing shows you haven’t done before. It’s also great to be returning to somewhere like the Greek Theater. I remember playing there back in the day and it’s such a lovely venue and we went past the Greek. I think Gladys Knight was playing and I thought, “Wow, I’ll be back at the Greek soon, that’s pretty cool.”

Baltin: What were you doing in L.A.?

Campbell: We were playing, this will be our fourth tour of the States in the last two years. We’re doing west coast, then we’re going back to England and then we fly back to do an east coast tour. So we split it up this time around. And we just love touring in America. I had this eight-year hiatus when I stopped touring when I left my band nine years ago now. We stopped touring. I was playing shows, but I wasn’t doing tours and it’s lovely to be back on the bus and traveling around America. I’ve seen a lot more of America than most Americans. I’ve been touring around America all my adult life. And when I took eight years off I really missed it.


Baltin: Most artists don’t listen to their own music, so are there songs you really missed over the eight years away from UB40?

Campbell: That’s true. I was still gigging even though I wasn’t touring. I was doing a lot of one offs and I did some silly stuff, like I was the judge on New Zealand’s Got Talent for three months. And then I was flying back to South America to do shows in South America and that was hard work. But it’s worth it in the end for the feedback I get. And I never get tired of singing songs that have been hits purely because of the reaction I get. We always get a fabulous reaction to the songs because people know them. We really are the ideal festival band because we can turn up more or less anywhere in the world, and we do turn up more or less anywhere in the world and people know the songs that we’re doing.

Baltin: Who is on your ultimate festival with UB40?

Campbell: We’ve got Matisyahu, we’ve got Raging Fyha, who is a band that we’ve been showcasing now for the last 18 months because we absolutely love Ragin Fyah. They’re a young band from Jamaica, they’re doing roots/rock reggae with conscious lyrics. There’s a return to that, moving from the gangster, the vibes cartel and the new acts that are coming out of Jamaica, or the fresher acts, there’s a return to roots/rock reggae with conscious lyrics and we’re really promoting that.

Baltin: Do you find as you are on the road now people are looking for artists to speak up more in these crazy times?

Campbell: Reggae’s good at that, it’s protest music. I think protest songs have been a bit sparse in the last decade because there aren’t that many bands saying much. The whole sort of major thing with America’s Got Talent and X-Factor has sort of [laid waste] to artists saying much in my opinion. And, I think, as we get into more tumultuous political climate and times get more interesting, as the Chinese curse goes, I think people will start to protest more. And reggae music is protest music, so I think it all follows that there will be more protest music being made by youngsters, hopefully anyway.



Baltin: Do you find the feel-good vibe of UB40 to be more important during these times?

Campbell: We were touring around America as the American elections were building up and I found that fascinating. It seems to me that the American people that I spoke to didn’t want to vote for neither of the people they had to vote for. Nobody wanted either as far as I could see, but then American politics is very different to English politics. We had a Prime Minister that nobody had voted for and just about scraped in again in a really strange sort of hung Parliament. I think it’s always been a mess, myself. UB40, we sing about the same subjects we have done for 30 years. So nothing changes. We’re actually more cynical now than before.

Baltin: I know you are a Beatles fan. I was just reading today this amusing story where Paul McCartney once punched Eddie Vedder in the face by accident and drew blood. Could you take a punch from McCartney?

Campbell: I really love Paul McCartney. He was very kind to me when I started with my solo albums. He phoned me, actually. He’d just got back from Jamaica and he’d been listening to my album. He phoned just to say he liked the album and that touched me a lot. I met him quite a few times, I knew Linda McCartney as well.

Baltin: What do you hope people take from the shows when they leave at the end of the night on this tour?

Campbell: I hope that they’ll feel big love, which is what we’re all about. We do come to party so we like people to come and party with us. We get a bit heavy politically. That’s the main thing I speak of when I’m on stage cause that’s how I feel. I think people need a bit of love at this moment in time and that’s why they need reggae music.