UB40 – In Concert – Brighton Pavilion – 1985 – BBC Radio 1 –
UB40 this weekend. Recorded at Brighton Pavilion in 1985 for BBC Radio 1’s In Concert series.
The band members began as friends who knew each other from various schools across Birmingham, England. The name “UB40” was selected in reference to a form issued to people claiming unemployment benefits from the UK government’s Department of Employment. The designation UB40 stood for Unemployment Benefit, Form 40.
The origins of what would become UB40 began when in mid-1978 guitarist Ali Campbell, together with the rhythm section of drummer Jimmy Brown and bassist Earl Falconer, began rehearsing charting reggae songs in addition to some of their own original compositions. They were soon joined by several of their friends, firstly percussionists Yomi Babayemi and Norman Hassan, and then saxophonist Brian Travers and keyboardist Jimmy Lynn. Robin Campbell, although initially reluctant to commit to forming a band with the others, was invited to join once again by his brother and bought a guitar with which to do so in December of that year. Once Robin had joined the others in their jamming sessions, the eight musicians formed a band, deciding on the name ‘UB40’ after a friend suggested it was an appropriate name given the unemployed status of all of the band members. Prior to this, Travers had work as an electrical apprentice for NG Bailey; whilst Robin Campbell had been an apprentice toolmaker.
This lineup of the band lasted long enough to play their first show at the Hare & Hounds pub in Kings Heath in February 1979 and one other, before the band underwent its first lineup change in the form of Babyemi and Lynn leaving the band and Mickey Virtue joining in place of Lynn. A month later UB40’s classic lineup was rounded out with the inclusion of percussionist and vocalist Astro. Astro had previously been working for Duke Alloy’s sound system attending reggae dances in Birmingham. Before some of them could play their instruments, Ali Campbell and Brian Travers travelled around Birmingham promoting the band, putting up UB40 posters. Their sound was created and honed through many long jam sessions at various locations in Birmingham.
Their first gig took place on 9 February 1979 at The Hare & Hounds Pub in Kings Heath, Birmingham for a friend’s birthday party. This was commemorated in October 2011 by the unveiling of a plaque at the venue, indicating the band receiving the Performing Rights Society’s Music Heritage Award. UB40 caught their first break when Chrissie Hynde saw them at a pub and gave them an opportunity as a support act to her band, The Pretenders. UB40’s first single, “King”/”Food for Thought” was released on Graduate Records, a local independent label run by David Virr. It reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
The title of their first album, Signing Off, indicates the band was signing off from, or ending, their claim for unemployment benefits. It was recorded in a bedsit in Birmingham and was produced by Bob Lamb. Norman Hassan said of the recording: “if you stripped my track down, you could hear the birds in the background.” This is because his tracks were recorded outside in the garden. Signing Off was released on 29 August 1980. It entered the UK Albums Chart on 2 October 1980, and spent 71 weeks in total on the chart. Signing Off is now a Platinum album. As UB40 grew in popularity, they encouraged and supported local musicians and bands from Birmingham, such as Beshara, often bringing them on tour.
After great success in the UK, UB40’s popularity in the US was established when they released Labour of Love, an album of cover songs, in 1983. The album reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 8 on the Billboard 200 in the US. The album featured the song “Red Red Wine”, a cover version of a Neil Diamond song (in an arrangement similar to that of Tony Tribe’s version); it stayed on the charts for over 100 weeks.
Hit the Play button, crank it up and enjoy!