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UB40 at Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Forty years is an occasion befitting a great deal of "Red, Red Wine."

But whether drinking or not, UB40 has come back to the U.S. for the first time in many years.

The troupe formed at the end of 1978 in Birmingham, England, playing reggae as a multi-cultural, multi-racial outfit that wasn't afraid to stand as a resistance to the Thatcher administration -- but also set out to give its audiences a good time, too. Since then the troupe has released 20 albums, including this year's "For the Many," and had a major hit in 1983 with a cover of Tony Tribe's reggaefied version of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine."

UB40. named after the British government's form for unemployment benefits, still features five founding members in its lineup, while "new boy" Duncan Campbell joined his two brothers in the band 11 years ago. And singer-guitarist Robin Campbell says the group is in fine form and looking forward to even another 40 years -- or so...

• Campbell, 64, says by phone that the tenure of UB40 "feels like a lifetime -- but a good one. I couldn't have imagined we'd be doing it for 40 years. Four decades is just a bit more than you expect, but we're still enjoying it, still having a lot of fun. It's been great."

• A bit of cloud inside the silver lining, however, has been another, unofficial UB40 led by former band member Ali Campbell, who left the group in 2008. Despite litigation UB40 has been unable to keep him from using the band name, which the elder Campbell says is "frustrating. We've been touring the world but the promotion he was getting and the promoter he was working with was making it difficult for us to get someone to bring us over to the States. We didn't really want to come back to the States until we had the legal thing sorted out that would stop him from using our name, but it's ongoing so we finally said, 'To hell with it. We'll come over anyway.' We may be playing smaller venues than we have before, but that's OK. I like smaller venues."

• Campbell does add, however, that his brother's departure actually helped give UB40 a bit of a fresh charge. "It was getting a little bit difficult, a bit of a strain to do. It was getting less comfortable and wasn’t' as much fun as it used to be. But when he left funnily enough we started enjoying ourselves again. We got hold of my other younger brother, the new boy, and it just started to be fun again. We're enjoying it as much as we have done for a long time. I can imagine us dong it 'til we drop, really. We've got no plans for retirement."

• Campbell feels the guest-filled "For the Many" is "probably the best thing we've done in a long time. I think musically we're back to sounding like we were in the early 80s, and that was a deliberate thing. We worked in exactly the same way as we used to -- there's plenty of dub passages throughout most of the tracks, plenty of political content, 'cause there's plenty to get angry about. But it feels a lot like what you'd call 'classic' UB40." In addition to the standard album the group has also recorded a dub version of "For the Many," while another edition with more guests is due out later this year.

• Part of UB40 lore is that the band did not realize it was recording a Neil Diamond song when it did "Red Red Wine," a No. 1 hit in 1983. "We knew it as a record by Tony Tribe, a Jamaican artist, when we were kids. We always wanted to do a cover of it -- it's one of the 200 songs I'd compiled for one day when we were gonna do an album of covers ('Labour of Love'). We really had no idea until for publishing reasons we found out the composer was N. Diamond -- and even then I thought it was another reggae artist or something. I think it was a Billboard journalist who told me it was Neil Diamond."

UB40 and Steel Pulse perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre, 2600 Atwater St. at Chene, Detroit. $26-$47. 313-393-0292 or thearetha.com.

Web Site: www.thearetha.com

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