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UB40 are a British dub/reggae band formed in 1978 in Birmingham.


The band was named after the paper form issued by the UK government's Department of Health and Social Security at the time of the band's formation for claiming unemployment benefit (UB40 = Unemployment Benefit, Form 40).

The band members began as mates who knew each other from various colleges and schools across Birmingham. Before any of them could play their instruments, Ali Campbell and Brian Travers traveled around Birmingham promoting the band, putting up UB40 posters. The band purchased its first instruments with £4,000 in compensation money that Campbell, who would become the lead singer, received after a bar fight during his 17th birthdaycelebration.

Their first gig took place on February 9, 1979 at The Hare & Hounds Pub in Kings Heath, Birmingham for a friend's birthday party.

UB40 caught their first break when Chrissie Hynde noticed them at a pub and gave them an opportunity as a support act to her band, The Pretenders. UB40's first single, "King"/"Food for Thought" was released on Graduate Records, a local independent label run by David Virr. It reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart and was the first record to reach the UK top ten without the backing of a major record label.

Their first album was titled "Signing Off," as the band were signing off from or closing their claim on the unemployment benefit. It was recorded in a bedsit in Birmingham and was produced by Bob Lamb. Norman Hassan said of the recording: "if you stripped my track down, you could hear the birds in the background." This is because his tracks were recorded outside in the garden. Signing Off was released on September 6, 1980, and entered the UK Albums Chart on October 2, 1980. It reached as high as No. 2 in the UK and spent 72 weeks in total on the chart. Signing Off is now a Platinum album.

Despite great success in the UK, UB40's popularity in the United States was only established after they released Labour of Love, an album of cover songs, in 1983. The album reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 8 on the Billboard Top 200 in the US. The album featured the song, "Red Red Wine", a cover version of a Neil Diamond song (in an arrangement similar to that of Tony Tribe's version).

Their most successful single release is the cover of the Elvis Presley ballad "(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You" which was intended to be the main title to the 1992 Sharon Stone movie Sliver and was a number one hit across Europe and in the U.S.


UB40 were influenced by the many Blues Parties they attended as teenagers in the multiracial Balsall Heath area of Birmingham. Their love of ska and reggae inspired such original tracks as "King", "Madam Medusa", "Food for Thought", "Signing Off" and "One in Ten".

Their early musical style was unique, with a heavy influence of analogue synthesizers, psychedelic rock guitar, saxophone and dub producer techniques which were later perfected by the late Pablo Falconer.

Ali and Robin Campbell have a musical heritage, being sons of Ian Campbell, a folk musician.

Many of UB40's recordings were inspired by 1960s ska and early lovers rock songs that would have otherwise been forgotten in the public eye. Their new injection of life into many old Jamaican hits has resulted in many musicians' and producers' renewed popularity and income.


UB40 are arguably the number one reggae act of all time in terms of record sales (over 55 million), chart positions and touring schedule. During their three-decade long career, they have been performing sell-out shows worldwide and headlining the Reggae Sunsplash Tour in Jamaica, as well as spreading reggae to Russia and South America, among others. They even have performed at the BBC Proms, an event more associated with classical music.

Much of UB40's commercial appeal came from their releases of classic cover songs. In fact, all three of their UK Number One hits and four of their five U.S. top ten hits were cover versions.

UB40's early music often tackled social issues such as racism and unemployment.

Other artists that UB40 have collaborated with include: Pato Banton, Madness, Bitty McLean, Chrissie Hynde, Robert Palmer, Hunterz, Japanese artist Mikidozan, French artist Nuttea, Lady Saw, Afrika Bambaataa and 808 State.

Band Members

The band is one of the world's most culturally diverse dub reggae bands with musicians of English, Scottish, Irish, Yemeni and Jamaican parentage. The band's line-up has been remarkably stable throughout their nearly thirty year career.

  • James (Jimmy) Brown - born 20 November 1957, in Birmingham - drums.
  • Ali Campbell - born Alistair Campbell, 15 February 1959, in Birmingham - guitar, lead vocals.
  • Robin Campbell - born 25 December 1954, in Birmingham - lead guitar, vocals.
  • Earl Falconer - born 23 January 1957, in Birmingham - bass guitar, vocals.
  • Norman Hassan - born 26 January 1958, in Birmingham - percussion, trombone, vocals.
  • Brian Travers - born 7 February 1959, in Birmingham - saxophone.
  • Mickey Virtue - born Michael Virtue, 19 January 1957, in Birmingham - keyboards.
  • Astro - born Terence Wilson, 24 June 1957, in Birmingham - toasting vocals, percussion, trumpet.

And guest members include(d):

  • Patrick Tenyue (trumpet) (1983-1994)
  • Henry Tenyue (trombone) (1983-1994)
  • Martin Meredith (saxophone) (1997 onwards)
  • Laurence Parry (trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone) (1995 onwards)
  • Connor Power (guitar/keyboards) (1990-1992)