UB40 singer Ali Campbell says ‘let them sue’ over long running feud with brother

Tran Hanh
June 09, 2024

UB40 singer Ali Campbell talks about his long running family feud over the band name UB40

Ali Campbell

He’ll always be a lad from Birmingham, but Ali Campbell is now a seasoned globe-trotter.

The UB40 singer is heading for Birmingham as part of a world tour.

He flew to Shanghai to make his debut in mainland China, while talking about playing exotic places like Papua New Guinea.

Ali has even been a judge on New Zealand’s Got Talent.

It seems reggae is a hit in places you’d never expect.

“This year we will be on every continent, all over the world like a good rash,” declares Ali, 55.

“We are riding the crest of a wave.

“We’ve been playing Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Papua New Guinea.

“That last venue was weird. We did a corporate gig at the airport hotel, where there was a swimming pool between us and the audience.

“We got hailed off in Dubai, it poured with rain then there were huge hail stones and we had to call the gig off. That doesn’t happen often in the desert.

“We do seem to bring the rain. In Zimbabwe there had been six months of drought until we started singing.

“In Santa Fe, in the desert in New Mexico, there was an actual flood which washed away our equipment and I remember seeing my amp float past me.

Original members of UB40, Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue at Catton Park, in May 2014.

Not that Ali is neglecting his British fans. He is back in Birmingham on December 19 playing the O2 Academy, a show that quickly sold out leading to them adding a date at Barclaycard Arena (formerly the NIA) on April 17.

It’s a far cry from their very first gig on February 9, 1979.

There’s a plaque outside the Hare and Hounds pub in Kings Heath commemorating the event, when they played at a friend’s birthday party.

“We were all so nervous, we were walking round with our instruments on for half an hour before we started playing,” remembers Ali, who has a new album out called Silhouette.

“It was awful. We’d been used to playing in a cellar, without microphones or a PA system.

“We were lucky, we’d only done a dozen shows when Chrissie Hynde discovered us at the Rock Garden in London and asked us to support The Pretenders on tour.”

Named after a document issued to people claiming unemployment benefit, their first album, Signing Off, was recorded in a Birmingham bedsit.

UB40 have sold more than 70 million records and had more than 50 singles in the UK Singles Chart, including huge hits like Red Red Wine, One in Ten, Can’t Help Falling In Love, Breakfast in Bed and Many Rivers to Cross.

IWS: Adam Thomas tells Joel Dommett to stop ‘touching his bum’


Ali, along with his founding bandmates Astro and Mickey Virtue, are billed as “UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey” or “Ali Campbell, the legendary voice of UB40” in a bid to differentiate them from the other UB40.

When Ali left the band in 2008 after 30 years, it caused a musical split and a family rift which still continues.

There is also an on-going legal wrangle, with the other UB40, consisting of Ali’s brothers Duncan and Robin, suing Ali over the right to use the band’s name.

Ali, who has eight children including two with his current wife Julie, says: “No-one patented the name UB40 because we were told it was a government registration form and it couldn’t be trademarked.

“Now The Dark Side, as I call them, want to sue us. Let ‘em!

“It’s my band, I formed it, I have just as much right to use the name as they do.

“I have had to sit back and watch Duncan destroy my songs for five years. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me, and which made Astro leave and join me again, was when they produced a country and western album.

“That was a disaster and a betrayal, a slap in the face for me and the fans. My mission has always been to promote reggae.

“The fan base was split when I left. The Dark Side were very unpleasant about it all.

“I have always let people know who they are going to see, but they don’t say they don’t have the original members of the band.

“They have a lot of people who weren’t on the records and people expect to see me, and are bitterly disappointed when they don’t.

UB40 stars Astro and Ali Campbell toast the reunion

“I am officially called “Ali Campbell, the legendary voice of UB40” but it’s becoming ridiculous, especially as we are playing bigger and better gigs than them.

“They want to settle out of court but I want it to go to the High Court to have my say.

“I never left to pursue a solo career as they claim. I left because of arguments with the management. I wanted them to give me information I was entitled to as a director of the company.

“I went to see Duncan and he told me to down tools. I took his advice and he jumped in my place! That was a proper betrayal. It was a very acrimonious split.

“I have always tried to help Duncan. I was hit in the face with a glass when I was a kid in 1979 and I used the £4,000 to start UB40. I gave £1,000 to Duncan because he wanted to be a car dealer, but he wasted the money.

“I took him to Jamaica and spent £150,000 on making an album for him but it never saw the light of day.

“I’ve tried to help Duncan all along and for him to do what he did was awful. I was very hurt at the time.

“But we are still going strong with the music. Fans have been starved of proper reggae music, they want something that sounds like UB40, and now they’ve got it.

“We are playing arenas because of the demand, since Astro rejoined the fold. It’s what the fans have been waiting for. They’ve gone ‘Thank god for that’.

“We definitely missed Astro. Having him back is like putting on an old pair of boots. We fit.”

Ali Campbell and UB40 play Birmingham’s O2 Academy on December 19 – check the box office for returns on 0844 477 2000 – and the Barclaycard Arena on April 17, 2015.

Review : 4.7/19
Thank you for your review 😘