Enduring UB40 row as brothers Ali and Robin Campbell speak out over family rift ever ending: “UB40 are all strangers that I don’t know”

Tran Hanh
June 07, 2024

UB40 Birmingham brothers Ali and Robin Campbell speak of row that’s torn them apart similar to Oasis’ Liam and Noel Gallagher as band approaches 45 year anniversary

two men on beach
Ali and Robin Campbell of UB40 in Thailand in 2005 at the Koh Samui Festival in one of their final photos together (Image: Getty Images)

The bitter row between UB40’s Birmingham founding brothers Ali and Robin Campbell has been likened to the spat between Oasis’ other rock star siblings Liam and Noel Gallagher. But fans hoping for a reconciliation as the pair both return to Birmingham to perform within weeks of each other have been dashed.

Guitarist Robin Campbell, 69, leads UB40 in a 45th anniversary gig to unveil the new St. Andrew’s @ Knighthead Park stadium at Birmingham City Football Ground on Easter Monday April 1 – after the Blues game against Preston North End at 5.45pm. While singer Ali Campbell, 65, headlines with his alternative UB40 group at Utilita Arena Birmingham on Saturday April 13.

Yet when asked about the family rift and chances of it ending, the fallout looks to endure for some time. An exasperated Ali told Birmingham Live “I wouldn’t waste my time” as he gives a fresh interview on how the argument has affected him. While UB40 with Robin hit out that “the Ali Campbell solo project has nothing to do with UB40”.

Since their first album release in 1980, UB40 gained worldwide fame with more than 50 chart singles including hits from Rat In Mi Kitchen to Red Red Wine, Kingston Town, One in Ten and Many Rivers to Cross.

But cracks in the brothers’ relationship started to show when Ali embarked on a solo career 16 years ago and his brother Duncan took over as lead singer. In recent years, the feud has worsened with legal rows over who had the right to use the UB40 name. Ali was touring with Astro and Mickey Virtue while Robin remained with Brian Travers, Jimmy Brown, Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan.

With the launch of a new anniversary album UB45 and world tour, Robin and his band members were asked if Ali would join them at all given the historic milestone. That was quickly rebuffed.

four men sitting on a sofa
Happier times in 1997 at UB40’s studio in Digbeth, left to right, Ali Campbell; Astro; Robin Campbell and Brian Travers (Image: POST AND MAIL)

Robin Campbell’s UB40 band said: “These are UB40 announcements and have nothing to do with Ali Campbell. It is well documented that Ali Campbell left UB40 16 years ago to pursue a solo career and now tours on his own with a backing band.

“The Ali Campbell solo project has nothing to do with UB40 and there isn’t a single musician in his band that has ever performed with UB40 or participated in a UB40 record.

“Four out of five of the surviving, founding members of UB40, remain in UB40 and have been recording and performing together since 1978. “

Opening up about the row between him and former band mates, Ali admits it has taken its toll. There’s also still a bitterness there as he scoffs at them doing 45th anniversary celebrations already, saying he thinks it should be next year as the band put out their first record in 1980.

“There’s been plenty of low points but mainly for personal reasons,” admits Ali, who no longer sees his brother or Robin’s wife, Luci Campbell from the Juci Luci Cake Company based in Solihull.

“I think ‘what did they say that for?’ or ‘how silly and unnecessary’. No I don’t see that[a reconciliation] happening in the future at all.

“I don’t really want to spend time with them. UB40 are all strangers that I don’t know. They’ve been really unpleasant, needlessly. They were far too unpleasant about the whole thing and still are.

“They have sent legal letters to promoters saying I shouldn’t be using the UB40 name but I’m the man who sang all the hits. My band has been with me for 16 years and I think I can call myself UB40 featuring Ali Campbell.

“When promoters get legal letters, most just throw them in the bin, but others get rattled and think do we want to get involved? But they are empty threats. I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near any of them doing their celebrations. I’ll have my own celebrations, it’s 16 years since I’ve had my band.”

UB40 opening trailer_Medium Quality

Special Treats Productions trailer for Promises & Lies: The Story Of UB40 which will premiere at 10pm on BBC4 on Friday, December 2016.

Since Ali went solo, he has toured to 70 countries. The latest gig is what he calls a “hits tour” with UB40 songs he never gets tired of singing. He adds that his vocals are still the same after all these years as he “sings through his nose”.

Proud that his cover of Lean On Me put out when Bill Withers died, got to number six in the itunes chart, Ali adds: “They haven’t released anything that’s done anything much. They are like a rudderless ship whereas I’m with the best reggae band in the world.”

Ali now lives in Dorset by the seaside. He regularly visits Jamaica, where he bought several houses in the past. One property he even had built with band mates Earl and Astro in Ocho Rios on the north coast of the Caribbean island. “I go back to Jamaica all the time as I love the place, the music is just fabulous and the food great and people are lovely,” he adds.

It’s one of the many places that Ali has a link to tragic Astro, born Terence Wilson but died aged just 64 in 2021. Fans devotion to his ex-band mate means Astro T-shirts are still popular at his tour, which features “a nod to Astro”.

“Astro has left a hole that can never be filled. It was a nasty virus that got him,” adds Ali. “Children were getting the same virus but he had underlying health issues that he wasn’t really taking care of and that’s what done for him.

“He’s very sadly missed. The whole band miss him but you have to carry on. You bite your lip and carry on.

There’s no signs of the family reuniting as Ali adds: “People have got a choice haven’t they? If you want to go and see them that’s fair enough, but if you want to come and see the man that sang all the hits, come and see me,” he laughs. “I’ve got probably the best reggae band in the world I’d say.

“It’s a joy and we’re getting the best response we’ve ever had on this tour. I love playing Brum. But I know most of the audience. That’s the problem as I can’t play up on stage as most would go ‘what’s the matter with Ali.”

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