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How a chance discovery started UB40 on a decades-long hit parade

By in Press Enterprise on July 21, 2017

By Stephanie Schulte

When Ali Campbell was a kid, he walked around clutching an African Herbsman album that proved to be a sign of things to come.

“That album was my prized possession,” said Campbell, lead singer of the reggae band UB40, during a recent phone interview from his home in England. “That is the quintessential reggae album.”

Growing up in an area of Brighton, Campbell was surrounded by many ethnicities and fell in love with the reggae music he heard ringing through the streets.

“I thought everyone loved reggae until I went to secondary school,” he said. “All of my peers were listening to Gary Glitter and David Bowie. But I was into Motown and was a Jackson 5 fantatic and loved Stevie Wonder.”

A group of Campbell’s friends got together, formed UB40 and started to play the music they were hearing around the neighborhood.

Unlike some bands that toil and grind on the road for years with little recognition, Campbell said they were only 12 gigs in when Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders first spotted them. “We were playing at this little club called the Rock Garden. She invited us on her nationwide tour and that was like 35 shows, which was more shows than we’d actually done in our whole experience.”

The band released their first single, “Food For Thought,” about Martin Luther King Jr., while on that sold-out tour and never looked back.

After that came several albums, including 1983’s “Labour of Love,” which spawned the massive hit “Red Red Wine”; “Rat in the Kitchen” in 1986, with the popular title song; and “Promises and Lies” in 1993 which held the No. 1 song, “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You.”

Campbell is both humbled and blown away by UB40’s staying power.

“They call us a heritage […]    

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