The former UB40 frontman talks to ALEX HARMON about why the band split up, why he loves reggae and the health benefits of drinking…
Ali Campbell seems to get better with age. I hate to say it but he matures like a bottle of fine red wine. With a career in music that spans over 30 years and over 70 million records sold with UB40 alone, Campbell has proved to the world that white men really can make reggae music.
“I was born in the 60s and all of my friends were Jamaican or West Indian in the area I lived, so the music of the streets was reggae,” Campbell explains. “It was a time when rock-steady was becoming reggae and when I was 10 years old, I bought African Herbsman by Bob Marley and the Wailers and that was my greatest possession. I was wandering around with that in my arms, I wasn’t a normal kid.”
This abnormal upbringing in the south of Birmingham, the “wrong side of the tracks” as he points out, introduced Campbell to these musical roots. It’s this passion for reggae that lives on in his music today. And not just his own, he feels reggae has helped shape music for the past 50 years.
“All of your contemporary pop music is influenced by dub and all of the music that comes from dub originates from reggae really. Like rap, which comes from coasting, which comes from reggae. You know it’s ridiculous, it is the most influential music at the moment, just listen to J-Lo.”
With UB40, Campbell notched up more than 50 chart hits, including “Red, Red Wine”, “I Got You Babe” and “Kingston Town”. Now with a successful solo career he is bringing his new band, the Dep Band, Down Under where he promises to play a mix of his old covers and promote his new album – “which is again, an album of covers! It’s kind of synonymous to reggae music, covering other people’s stuff. And the new album has covers of the Beatles, The Who, The Stones, The Kinks. Basically I will be performing a show of hits.”
It’s these hits that he would like to be remembered by, but unfortunately, the messy split with UB40 in 2008 still creeps up into the headlines. It was just last week that a judge declared four members of the original band bankrupt. Campbell, who made the bold choice to jump ship, saved himself from this demise. He calls the split “acrimonious” but with hindsight comes a sense of smugness.
“It’s not like I didn’t tell them. I was saying that I wasn’t happy with the way the band was being managed. Well, I was right.”
It’s this integrity and razor-sharp instinct that makes Campbell a respected figure in an industry so focused on money.
“I’ve just been getting on with it and doing what I’m doing and that is promoting reggae and promoting dub.”
Which is exactly what he’ll be doing when he hits Australian shores for the umpteenth time, “I have been coming there for nearly 30 years. I’ve watched the place grow. I love Australia.”
And does he still love red wine? “I do very much. What red wine does is it loosens the platelets in the back of your arteries. So as long as you don’t drink in excess and you have a couple of glasses of good Rioja or something like that, two of them every day, then you won’t have a heart attack.”
Ali Campbell will be touring Oz with Billy Ocean. They play Melbourne (Jan 23), Sydney (Jan 25) and Brisbane (Jan 26) http://www.ticketmaster.com.au[ticketmaster.com.au]