Cult Music

In 1978, 40 years ago in Birmingham, England, the band UB40 was formed because they loved the sound of reggae and wanted to play music that was not mainstream.
The group caught a break when they performed on the John Peel show in 1980 and a little later Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders saw them perform in London and asked them to tour with the Pretenders, as an opening act on their English tour.

Now with 19 releases to UB40’s credit, the band has toured heavily and gained an almost cult-like following among mostly young adults on both sides of the ocean. In this past interview drummer James Brown spoke from the recording studio as the band worked on their upcoming record and the completed work on their most recent record, “Fathers of Reggae.” In the coming year the band will perform in the United Kingdom, Australia and Antwerp.

Jupiter Index: Tell us how the” Fathers of Reggae” record came about?
Jimmy Brown: It was an idea that was hatched years and years ago and in response to us doing cover songs of reggae songs from the original reggae artists. And eventually we said, “Why don’t we get some of those original artists to sing some of our songs” and we thought it was a good idea. It took us five years to get it together.
Eventually, we managed to get all the artists signed on and it eventually came out and that is the story behind it.

J.I.: With all the songs on this record was there one that was really enjoyable for you to work on?
J.B.: No, just the idea that we were getting all these people, really to us they were heroes, the people who inspired us in the first place to make music. And it was nice to hear our songs sung by the best people.

J.I.: What it was like to work with The Mighty Diamonds and Freddie McGregor?
J.B.: Great, whenever we work with people like that, Freddie is just lovely and we have a respectful relationship with a lot of the artists in Jamaica and we enjoy working together.

J.I.: Where does your love of music come from?
J.B.: From being a teen-ager I suppose and we kind of never left it. And because we are involved in a business where we are involved in music, then I suppose I have kept that love until now.

J.I.: As a musician, what is the most difficult thing you are confronted with at this time?
J.B.: Nothing really, I find music quite easy.

J.I.: Was there an album you did that you felt never received its due?
J.B.: Yes, quite a few. Certainly, “Labor of Love III” [1999], was a varied record and had a lot of stuff on it and had a good vibe to it. I think we obviously had problems with record companies and record companies having problems themselves – it really didn’t get the promotion that I think it should have gotten.
That’s one record. But then I think that is true of any record that is being released at the moment; a lot of records aren’t getting the promotion they deserve. And that is the state of the business right now.

J.I.: Why do you think that is?
J.B.: I think, probably, the record companies are a bit greedy. They are changing too much for the product and the technology is there to bypass, go to the shop and get the product and I fully understand people wanting to download music and copy music. Because they are being changed too much.
I also think the way technology is the way it is now that it has been democratized in a way that the record companies don’t have a grip on the real cult music, culturally life, certainly not in England.

J.I.: What do you think the record companies will have to do?
J.B.: I think it probably won’t ever be the same again, which I think is a good thing. It’s probably a lot of different influences of course, and it’s lessened the grip of the record companies and I think that is a good thing. It’s made things a bit more competitive and I also think that specialist music finds its own way out, in an alternative way from the mainstream. And I think there is a lot of great music around without the major record labels having set the tune.

J.I.: What new projects with UB40 are now being undertaken?
J.B.: At the moment, me, the bass player and the keyboard player are working on a new UB studio album. And in another week we will work on backing tracks and then the other guys will be coming in and working on songs and stuff. So, we are well underway to recording a new UB studio album.

J.I.: Would you like to add anything else to what you have already said?
J.B.: I am celebrating my birthday and I am going to have to get back to the recording studio.

Thank you for your time.
It’s been a pleasure!

by G.M. Burns

Editor’s note: this interview ran in a past issue but has been updated with new information on the band.