Ali Campbell interview

'We are the hottest reggae band in the world right now'

Interview, Hot seat, The Knowledge

Hello, Ali. What do you think of Dubai?

I love Dubai. I have watched the whole place grow. I remember coming here 20 years ago and I have been coming back ever since. I come here as a tourist, just to chill out. I love bringing my kids and staying at the Mina A’Salam. They have been very good to us there over the years.

You have performed all over the world as a solo artist. You must still enjoy touring.

I am permanently on tour. I try to get out with the band as much as I can. It is all about the performing though. I still love the performing. Travelling is tiring. Ever since 9/11, travelling has become a lot more intense. But you won’t hear me complaining about it. I am enjoying it a lot more with the Dep Band. It had become like pulling teeth with UB40. It took forever to get anything done.

I always try to put on a pop show, rather than a reggae show. Reggae shows are very dark and different. I pride myself on my shows being more of a pop show.

Which of your songs is your favourite?

I love all the songs on Labour of Love. That’s why we made the album. It showed how we got into reggae. It’s the same with Great British Songs, the album we are promoting now. I was amused that we were doing a reggae version of ‘All Right Now’.

Who is your biggest musical influence?

My first concert was the Jackson 5 in 1974. That changed me forever. I loved the Jacksons. And then a year later, I saw Bob Marley and the Wailers in Birmingham and that had a huge influence on me. I am from south Birmingham. I grew up in areas with a lot of Caribbeans and Asians and I was influenced by their music. I got hold of a copy of African Herbsman by the Wailers and fell in love with reggae.

I always thought UB40 would be a success because I couldn’t see how reggae could fail, but I never knew how big we would be. We actually wanted to start with Labour of Love because we wanted to show people why we loved reggae, but we were told that would be commercial suicide. We made three albums and then we made the first Labour of Love. And we made sure every artist whose songs we used got recognition and every one of them got paid.

After the worldwide success of UB40, did you expect your solo career to start so well?

I really didn’t know what to expect. It has been a joy to go out to Australia and New Zealand and Hawaii because they were good territories for UB40. But we smashed it and it gave me the confidence to go on with it. Some of the reviews were so good, I could have written them myself.

Describe to me the reasons for your departure from the band.

Many reasons. The main one was I didn’t trust them anymore. I spent four years trying to get information out of them that I should have been allowed as a director. When we did TwentyFourSeven together, it was our 24th studio album and I thought that was a lot. I thought my solo album Running Free would inject a bit of new interest into the band. I asked for a month off to promote the album and they all said no, so I just thought: you know what, I’m going.

Do you regret anything about it?

Not at all. It has been a pleasure working with the Dep Band because there are no egos. When I left, all the jealousy came to the surface. I call UB40 ‘the dark side’ now. I felt very betrayed.

How to you feel about the band’s work since you left?

It’s appalling. They are destroying the legacy of the band. Labour of Love IV was dreadful. I actually felt quite sorry for them. They have done nothing original since I left because I wrote the songs.
They are talking about doing a folk album and all sorts of different stuff. I was a reggae anorak from the age of 14 and I am doing the same things now to carry that on.

You once said you won’t play with UB40 while you’re breathing. Do you still feel the same?

Yes. I have learned a lot about them since I left. They wanted to invest the band’s money in repossessed houses and sell them on. I am a socialist and I don’t want to profit from other people’s misery. That’s what the band stood for. Well, that’s what I thought it stood for anyway.

What do you see yourself doing in the future? Is there anything you feel you have left to achieve?

I want to do a reggae review in Las Vegas. I would love to take a fantastic tour there, with Sly and Robbie, some up-and-comers and me and the Dep Band headlining. But I have got to prove myself round the world first. And also get in with the Mafia.

Last year, you fell ill with the Epstein-Barr Virus and had to cancel a few gigs. Are you back to full health?

I’m better because I have been training. You have to become fitter. Epstein-Barr is just glandular fever. It is called the kissing disease because teenagers get it. I was getting tireder and tireder. I was actually quite happy to find out I had the disease because I just thought I was getting too old for this!

I am lucky that we are a live act. We have a strong fan base anywhere, but the industry has changed so much. You can’t live on album sales anymore. I have to play live to make a living. I think we are the hottest reggae band in the world right now. The promoters want to call us UB40, but we are Ali Campbell and the Dep Band. We are proud of who we are. We are throbbing like a sock full of grasshoppers!

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