UB40, definitely one of music’s most iconic band of the 80’s and might be the most prolific bands I can think of. Since their inception in 1978, the band named after the unemployment benefit form, has sold over 100 million records, released over 30 albums, gave usinstantly-recognisable tracks such as ‘Red Red Wine’ and if all this was not enough they plan to release a new record in 2016 !
Ahead of their concert in Doha, Brian Travers, the master mind behind the band, chats with Edward Smith about the band’s golden years and how they keep it fresh after so many years.
What sort of set can people expect in Qatar? The classics or new material?
First let me introduce myself, I’m the saxophonist of UB40, I write songs, I’m a composer, an arranger and I’ve had the luckiest of lives! (Let me pitch myself!) We are primarily a live band – making records is OK but can be a bit boring. We’ve made 30 albums so far and I’ve personally written about 200 songs, so we have a wide range of songs. However, because we haven’t been in this region for a while (nearly 12 years) we have to play lots of hit records.
Are you planning some other gigs in the region?
Not this time. We are actually in the middle of making an album.
Could you tell us more about this new album?
Well, we’re not just focusing on one style exclusively! I’m a politically oriented man and when you have this privilege to be on a platform to talk to people, we feel it’s good to create something worth listening to. This album is a political one and we are talking about our humble roots firmly planted in the working class in the heart of Birmingham, where we all come from; especially at a time when everything is about money and the world is so materialistic!
Are you going to integrate some country music like you did in one of your previous albums?
No I think the new album will be UB40. Yes the album you’re talking about is ‘Getting Over The Storm’ and it was a country-influenced album. Yes some people are a bit against country music in Europe, but you know if you are in countries like Jamaica country music plays on the radio and a lot of reggae songs you may know come from original country songs written by artists like Willy Nelson.
You say you haven’t got a particular style, but how would you define your music to people?
I’d say we are a reggae band. When we were kids we all grew up together right in the middle of Birmingham which is an industrial city and obviously, a poor city. At that time the city saw a lot of people coming from the West Indies Islands, like Jamaica or Barbados and they didn’t have televisions, so records and music were the only thing they had to express and live their culture. Reggae music was playing in all the night clubs in our area, so all our inspiration came from reggae artists even before Bob Marley, like: Dennis Brown or Gregory Anthony Isaacs to name a few. And even before that we were listening to Rocksteady and Bluebeat. Reggae was part of the youth culture back then. If you were into reggae you were not into rock and vice versa.
Which of your songs do you love the most?
Always the most recent ones, but I would say songs from the ‘Getting Over The Storm’ album, as I wrote all the original songs for it. But it is always the ‘Lightly’ songs that tend to be my favourite—I wrote a song called ‘Blue Billet Doux’, (see I’m a francophone in many ways!) I love this song even though we didn’t play it often but I got a lot of compliments for it.
Is there any place in the world you haven’t been to yet? Have you played in China for instance?
I’d like to play in Beijing or Shanghai one day. We’ve toured places most bands have never toured. We toured all over the world, even in Russia in 1986 before Glasnost and Perestroika and we played in India to 2 billion people on national television and it was crazy!