Exclusive interview with solo artist Ali Campbell

Named after a British unemployment benefit form, pop-reggae band UB40 were formed in a welfare line in 1978 and sold over 70 million records world-wide.

Famous for hits including ‘Red Red, Wine,’ ‘Kingston Town,’ and ‘I can’t help falling in love with You,’ it is not surpising that today, they still remain one of the world’s top selling bands.

Our roving music reporter Hannah Fuller at MarkMeets caught up with lead singer and guitarist, Ali Campbell, who is also responsible for forming the group in 1978 before departing the band in 2008.

Ali Campbell
Ali Campbell

Have you got a name for your fans?

Ali Babas! ( laughs. ) I’m extremely lucky as I have such faithful fans. When I left UB40 in 2008, this broke up the fan base. Our UB40 fans were known as ‘UB loonies!’ And they were! ( laughs. )

But now, I’d call my fans, ‘sensible.’ ( laughs. )

What bands and artists were you listening to as you were growing up?

Growing up, I listened to mostly reggae. As I was born in the 60’s, I listened to lots of Beatles music, The Monkeys, Motown – I absolutely loved Motown.

I was besotted with the Jackson 5. I saw them at the Odeon in Birmingham in 1974 and really loved it. It was my first real gig and it was amazing. Not long after; I saw Bob Marley and the Wailers there, at the Odeon again, and that was also incredible.

Both amazing gigs, these 2 shows were life changing for me and made me choose the direction I wanted to head, music wise.

Reggae was continuing to evolve as I was growing up. I was listening to so many different artists like Desmond Dekker and Ken Boothe – there was so many great artists at that time. And I loved watching Top of the Pops, which was starting to introduce more and more reggae which was evolving from ska.

Living in South Birmingham, Balsall Heath, it was predominantly a West Indian and Asian culture – which Is how I first became interested by the culture and by the age of 10, in the late 60’s, I was smitten with reggae music.

Having sold 70 million records worldwide, that puts you in the same league as Bob Marley, a fellow Reggae artist, how does it feel knowing this?

I am very proud of what I achieved with UB40. At 17, I had an accident involving being cut with glass and received compensation for it. I used this money towards starting UB40 up.

Bob Marley and the Wailers from 1964 – 1975 was in my opinion, the best period.

UB40 doubled that and we were the biggest selling act in the world.

But going back to your question, Bob Marley is a hero of mine; he’s been my inspiration for many years. So it’s obviously very nice to hear that!

Which track would you say was a surprise hit?

I was surprised by the success of all our hits actually ( laughs. ) ‘Red red wine’ even, that was a surprise too.

The ‘Labour of love’ series were all hits for us.

Very few people knew and liked reggae; we wanted to make them aware.

We actually wanted ‘Labour of Love’ as our first album, we wanted to show everyone why we love reggae so much but our record label said ‘no,’ so instead, we went back to our original idea which was to sing songs that we grew up on.

Where in the world would you most like to live and why?

Well, my favourite place in the world is Maui– one of the Hawaiian Islands.

They absolutely love reggae there and it’s also a very, very beautiful place to be.

They have the strongest weed too! Am I allowed to say that? ( laughs. )

I go there all the time and we just had 2 great shows there before going to Africa.

I just love it.

What would you say is the worse things bout London?

The traffic! Sometimes, when I come in from Christ Church, where I live now, I can be stuck in traffic, trying to get into central, for a couple of hours. It’s so busy! But apart from that, I love London – it’s bubbling; an exciting place!

What are your thoughts on The X Factor so far?

Shows like X Factor have run their course – fine 10 years ago, when it was obvious to do it.

But not now, no. They’ve had their day, time to move on.

I think they should so a ‘Jamaica’s’ got Talent’ ( I begin laughing and agreeing with Ali )

See! That’s the reaction I always get when I mention it and is why I should do it! People would love it! It would be really fun!

I’m waiting for some feedback. I think Simon Cowell’s companies, Freemantle or Syco would be able to do it. I really think it will work. I definitely think they should do it! ( laughs. )

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

There’s so many artists I would like to work with – Black Rhino, Buckhorn, oh so many. I’ve got my own studios in Jamaica and I worked with some fantastic artists there like Elephant Man which was really great.

I’d like to work with most reggae stars or anybody really! ( laughs.) Id like to work with anybody!

( Hannah ) Well that’s very nice of you Ali!

And it was very nice talking to you.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, I really appreciate it.

And best of luck with ‘Jamaica’s Got Talent!’

( Ali ) Pleasure Hannah. Nice talking to you too.

The Legendary Voice of UB40 returns to London’s indigO2 Friday 6th December 2013; IndigO2 at The O2, Peninsula Square, London SE10 0AX

Tickets go on general sale Friday 24 May at 11am from Tube: North Greenwich www.theindigo2.com

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Hannah Fuller

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