Hard Rock Hotel Marbella presents UB40 featuring Ali Campbell at Marbella Arena this Saturday
One of the most influential and successful bands to come out of the British reggae scene of the late 70s and early 80s, UB40 frontman Campbell can still remember the first time he met Astro, a musician who would have a profound impact on him as a lifelong friend and bandmate. It was in Birmingham in the late 1970s, when the pair were in their teens and Astro was part of a crew of black skinheads who roamed the local neighbourhood in sheepskin coats, leaving Ali slightly in awe.
Astro, born Terence Wilson, got his nickname on account of his fondness for Dr. Martens boots emblazoned with the brand name Astronaut. When he joined up with singer and guitarist Campbell a few years later in the fledgling UB40, supplying additional vocals and playing trumpet and percussion, he added the final piece to a musical jigsaw that went on to conquer the charts and put British reggae on the world map.
After reaching number four in the UK with debut single ‘King / Food For Thought’, they released Signing Off, and went on to sell 70 million records, topping the UK singles chart on three occasions – with ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘I Got You Babe’ (a duet between Ali and Chrissie Hynde) and ‘(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You’. Two of those singles, ‘Red Red Wine’ and ‘(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You’, also reached number one in the States, while Ali and his brother Robin joined toaster Pato Banton to top the UK charts again in 1994 with ‘Baby Come Back’.
Aa Ali gears up for a new UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell & Astro album, the superb Unprecedented, he is having to come to terms with the sudden loss of a musician who had been by his side, with just a six-year hiatus, for his entire career. Astro passed away in November 2021 after a short illness, and Unprecedented, fueled by the roots rocking spirit that powered UB40’s original incarnation, is an album to inject a little reggae sunshine into even the darkest days. It’s also a fitting memorial to Astro.
“Astro’s death came as such a shock, and I’m still reeling from it,” says Ali. “This album is now more poignant and special than either of us could have imagined when we were recording it. Astro heartbreakingly passed just two weeks after we’d finished the final mixes, so this is a way of keeping his memory alive.”
Unprecedented is the latest chapter in a story that dates back to 1978, when UB40 began putting their own slant on Jamaican reggae. Taking their name from the form given to individuals claiming unemployment benefit, the multi-racial band played their first show at the Hare & Hounds pub in Kings Heath in 1979. Astro, an MC for the local Duke Alloy sound system, joined a month later.
With Ali part of a ten-piece touring band, UB40 are now ready to add tracks from Unprecedented to a formidable live set that contains material spanning over four decades. As well as favourites such as ‘Red Red Wine’, they have reintroduced some older tracks that have taken on a renewed significance. Among these are 1979’s ‘King’, inspired by the legacy of American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, and 1997’s ‘Guns In the Ghetto’.
“Some of the older songs are still so appropriate,” says Ali. “We wrote King 42 years ago, but it still says something about America today. It’s the same with One In Ten for the UK. With the impact of coronavirus, we could soon be looking at unemployment figures on a par with the early 1980s.”
“We’ll be back on tour, even though we’re still reeling from the loss of Astro,” he continues. “It’s going to be daunting, because there’s no way we can replace Astro onstage, but he would have wanted these shows to go on. The current band are all fantastic musicians, and we’ve climbed back up to the biggest venues.”
In remaining true to the authentic reggae spirit that kick-started his music career in the late 1970s, Ali is now celebrating the legacy of his departed bandmate by keeping faith with their original shared ideals. “For me, it’s all about advancing reggae,” he says. “I love all kinds of music, but we’ve always promoted reggae. I’ve never deviated from that. I’m strictly reggae.”
UB40 featuring Ali Campbell play Marbella Arena this Saturday August 6. Tickets available at http://www.rocklounge.com