UB40 legal row has cost me £250,000 says Brian Travers: “Ali was the singer, but he wasn’t the ideas man”

Tran Hanh
June 09, 2024

Brian Travers
continue says of UB40 legal row and numbers £250,000

But he says if Ali Campbell needed him for any reason, he would be there for him

UB40 founder member Brian Travers has revealed the battle for the right to use the group’s name has cost his version of the band more than a quarter of a million pounds in legal fees.

And despite the £250,000 legal bill, there is still no sign of a resolution.

Former frontman Ali Campbell has been playing gigs under the UB40 name with bandmates Astro and keyboardist Mickey Virtue, neither of whom were original members.

But most of the originals, including all of the songwriters, are still together with Brian and also touring the world as UB40.

They include Ali’s brothers Robin Campbell (guitar) and new lead singer Duncan Campbell who is also the son of the late folk star, Ian Campbell.

Jimmy Brown (drums), Earl Falconer (bass), Norman Hassan (percussion / trombone) complete the original line-up, now complemented by keyboard players Tony Mullings and Martin Meredith, and Laurence Parry (trumpet).

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Although the name UB40 was originally conceived by a third party, Brian is determined that HIS band will win the right to the name.

“The day Ali left to have a solo career, he was not a happy man,” he says.

“It was like telling your old man you were leaving.

“But then he began to use our name.

“Ali was the singer, but he wasn’t the ideas man.

“The case is dragging on. Every time I think something is about to happen, the other side presents more information which a judge then has to read.

“We’ve spent more than £250,000 on barristers and silks, and the days when nothing happens fill me dread because you still have to pay them.

“Everyone in our band agreed not to talk about this – I am only doing so now because you’ve asked the question and I am being polite.”

UB40’s turmoil has hit Brian more than most because he has not only lost his lead singer but his house and best friend, too.

“Me and Ali were best friends at Moseley School of Art where we all went,” reveals Brian.

“Ali was the best man at my wedding.

“He didn’t just walk out of UB40, he moved out of Birmingham, has remarried and we haven’t seen each other for eight years.”

Brian Travers in action.
Brian Travers in action.

Brian is sitting in one of two big leather chairs at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath, below the first floor room where UB40 played their first-ever gig on February 9, 1979.

Why can’t they just pull the chairs together and settle their differences over a pint?

“It’s all gone too far,” says Brian. “I haven’t got Ali’s number and his mum Pat, who used to run the Brook Advisory Clinic, is older now and doesn’t need the hassle.

“But if Ali called me up, I would phone him. He was my best man.

“And if he needed me for any reason, I’d be there for him.”

Ali Campbell.
Ali Campbell.

And if they bumped into each other at the motorway services, what then?

“Now you’re asking,” says Brian. “I think it would be awkward.

“I don’t know what would happen. It would be very uncomfortable.

“We’ve had eight years of him giving us a hard time in the newspapers. Not all of it has been true.”

Brian Travers

When members of the band were declared bankrupt in 2011 because the cashflow generated by the ebb and flow of touring and recording new albums had not kept pace with outgoings, Brian was the one who had to sell his large Worcestershire property to settle debts under a system called “joint and several”.

The debts involved were believed to have been £2.5 million.

“Until then, I’d been the one who had had good luck,” says Brian, who met his wife Lesley when he was in his late teens and married her some 20 years ago.

“I hadn’t been divorced, I had no debts and I’d been working in other fields with other bands, directing pop videos.

“But, under joint and several, if several of you have debts and you’re the most solvent then you have to cover their debts.

“By carrying on working we’ve come through all of that bankruptcy thing that happens to a lot of musicians in their 50s if they get ripped to shreds by accountants who want a better life for themselves.

“We’re not bankrupt now, but we struggled to pay those debts because there’s a lot of us, we have managers, crew, trucks and so on.

“Now, we just need to resolve this case over the name. I’m a believer in justice for all, but you have to pay for it.”

A fan watches Ali Campbell of UB40 performing on stage during the bands concert at Warwick Castle in 2002.
A fan watches Ali Campbell of UB40 performing on stage during the bands concert at Warwick Castle in 2002.

Father-of-two Brian is philosophical about having had to downsize his own lifestyle.

“My mum had me when she was just 19 years old,” he says. “I’m lucky I’ve still got both of my parents so I still feel like a little boy who hasn’t grown up.

“Our son and daughter are now in their 30s and you can only watch one TV and sleep in one bedroom at once.

“And if you’re going to treat yourself to a car, why not get one for £10,000? You can only drive one at once!”

As well as playing festivals across Europe this summer, UB40 are set to write a new album later this month before embarking on a 35-date British tour this autumn.

They will then play Australia and New Zealand and even New Caledonia – 750 miles off the Australian coast.

“Playing 150 to 200 gigs a year is a great life and, if we were doing it all again, I wouldn’t do it any differently,” muses Brian.

“I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in Birmingham – I’ve spent my whole life expressing myself and paying the rent.

“I was good in business, now I’m not.

“We’ve had more top 40 hits than The Bee Gees and Status Quo, and played more gigs than the Rolling Stones, but the Stones have made more money.

“They’re very business-minded and this is a business, so good luck to them.

“But this UB40 name issue isn’t as important as all those Syrian families with kids who have nowhere to live.

“By the way, they are not coming here to start a war.

“People who come with nothing are the best neighbours you could ever have when they want to be your friend – and I wouldn’t mind eating some Syrian food.

“I write the most songs and all of the songwriters are with me – we are UB40 and Duncan is a great singer in his own right.

“He’s a different singer to Ali, but he’s better.

“His vocal cords are still really clear, his diction’s great and he’s a pro… good to hang out with.

“Robin is also a great songwriter, but in the time I write five or six songs, he might write one which could be the sum of the parts of mine.”

Robin Campbell, Brian Travers and Duncan Campbell.
Robin Campbell, Brian Travers and Duncan Campbell.

Some 45 years after meeting his future UB40 bandmates as an 11-year-old pupil at Moseley School of Art, Brian Travers is launching his first art exhibition.

Called #POP! in honour of artists from Andy Warhol to Jackson Pollock, it will showcase nine months of work at the easel when it opens next week in Harborne.

“I am calling this an abstract art show for the comic book generation,” he says.

“I’ve been travelling so much for 36 years that I haven’t had the time to develop my art career.

“But after I was asked by the directors of Harbone gallery Havill & Travis to do an exhibition, I’ve sat down to paint my own nod to the 1960s.

“I’ve been using everything from canvases to Perspex sheets and stainless steel, as well as creating painted glass and ceramic objet d’art.

“I wasn’t that interested in the characters and the stories – I’m not a “fanboy” – I just used to look at the pictures and try to copy them.”

POP! will open to the public from Saturday, September 19 until October 31 at Havill & Travis Gallery, 14 Lonsdale Road, Harborne, Birmingham B17 9RA. See www.havillandtravis.com for opening hours and more details.

Review : 3.4/13
Thank you for your review 😘