Exclusive interview with Ali Campbell by Jamie Sinclair! UB40 featuring Ali Campbell are playing in Bristol on 2nd August

I’ve had the pleasure of publicising UB40 featuring Ali Campbell in What’s On Southwest many times over the years and now finally I got to talk to the man, about all thing’s music, Reggae, the past, the present and the future. There is no question Ali has been and still is one of the biggest voices in Reggae, playing feel good music all over the world, to enthusiastic audiences.

The music has more than stood the test of time and the songs sound just as vibrant and fresh as if they were recorded yesterday. UB40 featuring Ali Campbell are playing at Bristol Amphitheatre & Waterfront Square on 2nd August.  A masterclass in feel good music, a brilliant live band that nails it live show after show, and all the banter and fun you would expect from a world class artist. UB40, Britain’s greatest reggae artists, have graced the stage and airwaves for more than 35 years in the music business and have sold more than 40 million record sales worldwide. They started in the summer of 1978 when eight members of another Birmingham band, soon to become UB40, were drawn together by their love of Jamaican reggae music. Taking their name from a British benefit unemployment form, the band played their first local gig in Birmingham in 1979 and spent the rest of the year performing at pubs and clubs around the UK and here we are in 2024, stronger than ever!

Jamie: Ali, good afternoon, it’s great to have the opportunity to talk to you, how’s everything going?

Ali: Hi Jamie, I’m very well thanks, we’re currently in the middle of a world tour and we are absolutely loving it, the band are on fire and every gig is just the most wonderful party.

Jamie: Who would have thought after all these years Ali, you’re still pulling in huge crowds and your voice is still fresh as a daisy, it must be a great feeling?

Ali: Yea, we’re loving it, we have a very close tight bunch of musicians and we are all on the same page. We’re having just as much fun as the audience.  To see people of all ages jumping up and down to songs I sung 20-30 years ago, just goes to show the power in Reggae music. There are so many positives to it. Life has never been easy and people need an escape, something to forget the trials and tribulations of life and trust me there is nothing better than the band and audience connection, it’s just magical and the positivity on stage just flows through the speakers and into the crowd; to see so many people of all ages have a great time and singing the words, it truly is a great feeling.

Jamie: Let’s talk about the band Ali, what’s it like singing with these incredible players on stage with you night after night?

Ali: I have to say, I’ve never been happier on stage, the musicians are absolutely top notch. Reggae has the air of simplistic but it’s far from that, there is a lot of dedication and commitment to pull off the upbeat style of music, timing is essential and everyone is on the same hymn sheet.  We don’t take our eye off the ball, ever! Some songs can sound like they just trundle along but I’ve never been as happy with the band. I think all great live bands make it look easy but that’s 1000s of hours rehearsing and getting it right. Our fans pay their hard-earned money to see us and we have to deliver. We have the greatest responsibility in holding the audience and keeping that electrifying captivating buzz that keeps the band and audience connected.

Jamie: It must be wonderful taking the band all over the world to all continents and far out places.

Ali: I’ve always felt passionately compelled Jamie, to take our music all over the world and we are doing it and smashing it. Music is a great entity to bring people together, all faiths, all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds and that’s what makes this all worthwhile.  I just can’t understate the feeling of seeing thousands of people smiling, dancing and loving our music, Reggae music.

Jamie: One of my most defining musical recollections as a kid is hearing “If It Happens Again” for the first time – the lead single of the legendary album “Geoffry Morgan”. I was walking home from school with a ghetto blaster on my shoulder, playing at full blast. I was then stopped by a police officer, naturally thinking I’m in the shit here for playing loud music, the cop just kindly asked what I was listening to? Stunned and shocked and also a little relieved I told him and he said “I’m going to buy that, what a sound”!!!  I wasn’t expecting that!

Ali: Haha that’s great, it just goes to show, even the boys in blue love our music, glad you didn’t get in trouble. Reggae music, truly is something special, don’t be fooled by its simplicity, music is a very mysterious thing, it’s just as important the notes you don’t play as well as the ones you do. There are songs of such hope like “Many Rivers To Cross” “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Sing Our Own Song”, just to name a few.

With timeless classics like “Red, Red Wine” and “If It Happens Again” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” you can see the audience reaction, tears of joy with relentless dancing and to see younger generations singing the words and knowing the songs is one of the best feelings any band could ever feel. Even when the last note has been played, the vibe all around us and the departing crowd is so positive and knowing that everyone who has come to one of our shows has a great time. That’s job done! On to the next.

Jamie: Let’s talk about the absolute legend that is Astro, I can’t Imagine losing such a wonderful friend and band mate. It must have been really tough Ali?

Ali: It has been, I can still remember the first time when I met Astro, a brilliant enthusiastic musician who would become my brother in music and a dear close friend. I miss him dearly, but his legacy and music lives on, we always do a fitting tribute to Astro, which always moves the band and audience.  I still and will always feel his amazing presence and vibe on stage. We all miss Astro, a true gent and a lovely guy, who is dearly missed by all.

Jamie: When did you first meet Astro?

Ali: It was in Birmingham in the 70s, we were in our teens and Astro was part of a crew of black skinheads who roamed the local neighbourhood in sheepskin coats, leaving me slightly in awe. He got his nickname from his fondness for Doc Martens boots coined with the brand name Astronaut. Who would have thought we would embark on what was to be a musical journey so brilliant I could have never dreamed of such joy.

Jamie: Astro left a big hole in the band so how did you deal with that?

Ali: We brought in Frank Benbini from The Fun Lovin’ Criminals and he is a fantastic addition as percussionist and hype-man. Frank has really gelled with the band and he is an exceptionally talented musician.

Jamie: So, what kind of songs do you put together for a live show?  With such a huge rich back catalogue of hits, it must be challenging to put a set together?

Ali: Well, it’s a task within itself, but as we have so many songs, we choose our set with a mix of the absolute classics and fan favourite’s, plus, a new song here and there. We always love the crowd singing along to “Rat In Mi Kitchen”.  We are fortunate to have such a diverse collection of songs, in short, we try to give something special to everyone who comes to one of our shows. “Kingston Town” and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” are always favourites for us to perform.

Jamie: Ali, is there any message you can say to our readers? What to expect at one of your shows?

Ali: Haha, sure with pleasure. Make sure you are ready to dance and have a great time, forget all the negativity that is in this world.  We are going to party Bristol style and we are going to make this a special night! Look forward to seeing all your smiling faces.

Jamie: Thanks ever so much for your time Ali, I really appreciate it.  Long may your talent continue enriching peoples lives. I will see you soon!

It was great to speak to Ali at such length.  I found him to be very charismatic, humble and it is always awesome to hear someone so passionate about their work with a legacy that any band would die for.  Even though the music is upbeat and fun, the responsibility of the band to deliver is paramount.  My advise to you is to get a ticket for Bristol Amphitheatre & Waterfront Square on 2nd August and be prepared for great music, great fun and make sure you bring your dancing shoes – you are going to need them!

Jamie Sinclair

To buy tickets to see UB40 featuring Ali Campbell at Bristol click here