UB40's Ali Campbell rolling back the reggae-pop classics in Kuala Lumpur.
The Ali Campbell-led version of UB40 came good with a night of nostalgia.
The reggae legacy of 35 years and counting of British band UB40 certainly stretches far and wide, and well across the generations.
That was the picture at KL Live in Kuala Lumpur last Wednesday when a Malaysian crowd (plus a significant expatriate showing) were treated to the return, of sorts, of this iconic Birmingham-raised band.
There were those who very likely remembered or were at the full group’s first Malaysian concert at Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur nearly 20 years ago (May 7, 1994). Arguably there were those in the KL Live audience who were barely out of their diapers back then.
In recent years, the line-up changes in UB40 have been drastic. It must be noted that there are two versions of UB40 on tour these days.
Band feuds can be messy affairs. There is an ongoing version of UB40 led by Robin Campbell and band regulars on the touring circuit, while a new version of UB40 emerged recently with Robin’s brother Ali Campbell leading the line-up with some old boys.
So I hope I can be forgiven if there was a tinge sadness in me, when I stepped into the KL Live concert hall realising that this Ali Campbell-led splinter group was far from the original posse. However, when the voice of original vocalist Ali, 55, came into play on the first tune, most of my fears were wiped away.
So it didn’t matter too much in the end that this was Ali’s group, informally known as UB40 Reunited, and formed in January along with co-original vocalist/trumpeteer Astro Wilson, 56, who left the original group just last November, and original keyboardist Mickey Virtue, 57 (who left along with Ali in 2008).
This version of UB40 brought along a new group of musicians, expanding the line-up to an 11-piece, complete with brass section!
Both Ali and Astro’s presence made it a special night in Kuala Lumpur concert. For over 90 minutes, there was a singalong collection lifted from the group’s back catalogue.
UB40 can boast over 40 British Top 40 hits spanning 16 studio albums.
At KL Live, you had the group’s hardcore fans (the ones with the Signing Off and Present Arms albums) right to those who swear by the more commercial Labour Of Love and Rat In The Kitchen records. Everybody came to experience the best of UB40.
The show kicked off with an instrumental from the band (with Virtue on keyboards) before the vocalists came on stage. The audience clearly lapped it up when the hits arrived.
Right from So Here I Am and Homely Girl to Stick By Me and One In Ten, this was a skanking night of Midlands reggae-inspired nostalgia. Real working class dreamers here. Then it was time to stomp the work boots as the group unleashed Cherry Oh Baby, Rat In Mi Kitchen, before simmering it down with a little pop number called Can’t Help Falling In Love.
If ever there were encores to leave the fans with broad smiles, then you had to rate UB40’s hits Kingston Town and Red Red Wine as top-drawer send-offs.
Despite some glaring ommissions (King, Food For Thought and The Earth Dies Screaming), there was still a lot of entertainment value to take home. A handy reggae cover of Prince’s Purple Rain, and a new track called Sillhouette certainly got the crowd interested in the group’s future material.
From front to back of this KL outing, it was still Ali Campbell’s vocals that stole the hearts. Let’s hope, as this “splinter” group heads back to Britain for more live appearances this summer, that there will be some family patching up (with the other UB40). All said, we walked away from KL Live sated for the time being.