UB40 – the enormously successful British reggae band, graced the city of Doha last week, where the nine-piece legendary band were in town to perform their much-anticipated beachfront gig at the Intercontinental Doha Hotel. QMIN Magazine got the opportunity to sit down and have a good chinwag with two of the group’s band members: bassist Earl Falconer and drummer Jimmy Brown.
As one, or in fact the only band during the late 80’s to be made up of a multi-racial lineup allowed UB40 to stand out amongst other reggae groups during that era.
In the band you have brothers Duncan Campbell (lead vocals) and Robin Campbell (guitar, vocals) who is playing with fellow original members Brian Travers (saxophone, horn arrangements), Norman Hassan (percussion, trombone and vocals), Earl Falconer (bass, vocals), and James Brown (drums).
Completing this line-up are Martin Meredith (saxophone, keyboards), Tony Mullings (keyboards) and Laurence Parry (trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone).
Most of nine members of the group – the Campbell brothers, Travers, Hassan, Brown and Falconer- were born and raised in the inner industrial city of Birmingham, an area that had at that time very high unemployment and not a lot of opportunities on the horizon for a successful life. The influx of West Indians (Jamaicans) to the area influenced and changed the music scene, and with this mix of unemployment and the sound of reggae music, so became the birth of UB40.
QMin: What do you attribute UB40’s very long and successful career to?
We would say it is a mix of many things. Firstly, the band itself grew out from childhood friendships, where we went to the same school and known each other since we were 11-years old. Also, at the time we started in 1978, you didn’t get a band formation made up of a mix of ethnicities, so we were very unique and stood out.
Most importantly, we would say that choosing to do reggae music was indeed the most important factor to it all. Growing up, no clubs or radio stations played reggae, so we would attend a lot of dances held at our local youth clubs and church halls where we were immersed into the world of reggae. So, for us reggae music came very naturally and has proven to surpass the test of time due to great artists such as Bob Marley, where the genre will forever live on.
QMin: What would you say really propelled the band into the limelight?
From really humble beginnings, where we even had to scavenge for instruments and sound equipment (Jim goes on to tell of how he acquired his drum kit, for a very low price from a desperate drug addict) – we literally applied the notion of ‘make-do-and-mend’, where we once taped back together two halves of a broken guitar that was brought on the cheap!
By the time we left school at the age of 19/20 we had started teaching ourselves how to play these instruments and as we had a lot of time on our hands due to unemployment, we rehearsed and rehearsed every day to build the band.
Our real break then came when by chance one day in a London pub we meet Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of The Pretenders. Being asked to accompany The Pretenders on their tour, we would say made UB40 from that moment, as by the time the tour had ended, our debut single – ‘Food for Thought‘ – had reached number 4 in the charts.
Since then we have not actually stopped to think of all the success as we are continuously working and rolling with it year and after year, but what we will never forget is where it all started from.
QMin: Would you say the sound of the band has changed with the times?
Everything we do is totally reggae influenced, of course we all have our own individual types of music we also like (Jim’s is dance and drum and bass, Earl, being of Jamaican descendant continues to be a lover of reggae), but at the end everyone’s first love will always be reggae.
We have seen reggae evolved so much over the decades. From ‘ska’, to dancehall, to dubsteps, these have all come off the back of reggae. Back in the late 80’s early 90’s, we did switch it up slightly to include a few dancehall tracks, even artists such Justin Bieber have been influenced by dancehall nowadays, so we are happy to remain doing what we do best which is staying true to the 70’s reggae roots.
QMin: This is not UB40’s first time in Qatar, so 13 years later what type of crowds are you expecting?
A lot, and we mean, a lot has changed in 13 years. When we came here then, there were hardly any buildings like there is now, and so the same way that we have been really pleasantly surprised with the city, will be the same we are sure to be pleasantly surprised with the audience tomorrow night. We are certainly looking forward to playing to a whole new generation and groups of fans this time round. As long as everyone is dancing during the gig then we are more than happy, that’s our mark of a job well done.
QMin: Can you tell us how the band decides what makes it on the playlist for a gig?
Within a 2 hour set it is not easy at all to decide what songs to put into the playlist. UB40 have had 40 top 40 hits in just England alone, and so because we have that many hits only roughly 35 songs can be played in 2 hours. The end result is that we are never able to please EVERYONE, and so we have stopped trying to do so. We do try and look at the sales figures to help us give some kind of indication as to the demographics of the audience, which at times allows us to know which countries people are from and so in relation to that we are clued in as to which of our songs were popular hits in those particular countries.
Overall, generally our audiences tend to be made of two types: those who enjoy our more commercial cover hits such as our ‘Labor Of Love’ album which has tracks such as ‘Red Red Wine’ and ‘Kingston Town’. Then on the hand we have those who enjoyed our more politically albums we did in in the 70’s; songs we wrote ourselves and had a deep profound message behind them. Whichever crowd we have, we always play with energy and that energy transfers to our audience!
QMin: Any final message for your fans here in Qatar?
We are totally excited to be here again in Qatar – yes the heat is killing us, but it beats the weather in UK and when it gets cooler in the evening I (Earl) will be going out to sightsee a bit, like the Souqs and markets, those really interest me. We have two gigs at the American base and then the beach gig at the Intercontinental, so it is a great variety of crowds we playing for, and so really looking forward to each of them on their own merits. So make sure you are there to enjoy some great music and fantastic atmosphere!
At their Intercontinental Doha Hotel gig that followed the next night (Friday 13th May), – which was seamlessly organised by two of Qatar’s premium event companies: Iconic Events and Premium Entertainment & Events – UB40 played to a multitude of people in a crowd that consisted of the young, the old and all nationalities.
Truly a sign of how globally well received the band has been, and still is. Everyone was in full unison as they sang along with the famous reggae group to hits such as ’(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You’, ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ and ‘Here I Am (Come and Take Me)’ amongst others.
During their nearly four-decade long career, UB40 have been performing sell-out shows worldwide along with headlining the most important reggae festivals, such as “Reggae Sunsplash” in Jamaica and “Summer Jam” in Germany, as well as spreading reggae music to regions like Russia and South America. And now, once again they conquered Qatar!