Legendary reggae band UB40 is headed to the US this month after three years away from our shores. Touring in support of their 2021 album “Bigga Baggariddim,” UB40 has new songs, a new singer, and all the classics we can’t miss out on: “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” “Red Red Wine,” “(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You,” “Kingston Town,” and who knows, maybe they’ll throw in my favorite, “Bring Me Your Cup.”
The tour kicks off next month and includes multiple SoCal dates, including a stop at Hollywood Bowl.
Wait. New singer? Yes, Matt Doyle has taken on the challenge after previous singer Duncan Campbell retired. Doyle is no stranger to UB40 though; his former group, KIOKO, opened for UB40 at The Royal Albert Hall in 2018, and then supported UB40 on their following UK and European tours. You can hear Doyle’s voice now as he handles lead vocals on “You Don’t Call Anymore” off “Bigga Baggariddim.”
Doyle has the best possible guides for his journey though; founding members Robin Campbell, Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan, and Jimmy Brown remain in UB40.
The tour will show off new tracks from “Bigga Baggariddim,” the follow up to 2019’s “For the Many.” UB40’s original “Baggariddim” was released in 1985 and they reunited with artists who appeared on the album. There are incredible collaborations with House of Shem, Tippa Irie, BLVK H3RO, Inner Circle, Pablo Rider, KIOKO, Gilly G, Slinger, Winston Francis, Leno Banton and General Zooz (Reggae Rajahs).
Just last month, UB40 released the video for “Gravy Train Is Coming,” featuring rising Jamaican star Blvk H3ro. Plus they dropped an entirely new song, “Champion,” featuring Dapz on the Map and Gilly G. The song has been named the official anthem for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, and it is the first official track with Doyle as the lead vocalist.
Even with all of that going on, founding member Robin Campbell, and new singer Matt Doyle took time out to chat on Zoom with OC Music News, all the way from England.
Traci: Hey guys! Thank you both for being here to chat because I know you have a lot going on. Your new song, “Champion,” is the anthem of the Commonwealth Games which are going on right now. How did you time that so perfectly?
Robin: We’re just geniuses. (laughing) The thing was, we were asked to contribute a tune to an album of Birmingham artists that coincided with the games. It was for the Birmingham 2022 Festival, which is tied in with the Commonwealth Games. So we wrote the song with an eye to the games. We wrote the lyrics, I did a verse and a chorus, and then Matt came back with some more verse lyrics. We recorded it, gave it to the album for the festival, and then heard that the Commonwealth Games loved it and wanted to use it as their official anthem. So good timing!
Traci: Yes! “Champion” is also going to be on the new album “UB45.” How is that coming along?
Robin: Well, we’ve done quite a lot of it, but it’s half original material and half re-recordings of some of our classics because we’ve been working with Matt now for the last year and for the purpose of live performance, he’s been learning a lot of the old songs and he sounds pretty good! (laughing) So we just thought, what a great idea to record some of the old classics, re-record them, not to make them that different, but just to use our new vocalist. And as a celebration of the last 45 years, record some of the songs that we’ve made in the last 45 years as well as mixing that with some new material.
Traci: The video for “Champion” just came out as well. Matt, is that your first video with the band?
Matt: Technically, no. It’s my first video being in the band, but we recorded a music video together for a collaboration track called “You Don’t Call Anymore,” which was on the “Bigga Baggariddim” album, when I was in KIOKO, my previous band. So, yeah, we worked together, recorded together, and did a music video together before I was in the band, which helped the whole process, really.
Traci: How has it been jumping into an established band?
Matt: It’s been a roller coaster. Just being asked to be in the biggest reggae band in the world. It was terrifying at first and now I think the more I’ve relaxed into it and found my feet, I’m just enjoying every moment, including doing interviews with people such as yourself. It’s brilliant. Amazing experience.
Robin: You’ve got to remember, he’s been doing this for 12 months now with us. So while he was a bit like a rabbit in the headlights at first, he’s had 12 months now of working with us, and he’s very much grown in confidence and… I think comfortable is the word I would use. He’s a lot more comfortable with the band and the part he’s playing, which is why we want to record all these old tunes, because it’s a lot of fun!
Traci: Well, Matt you were flawless in “Champion.” I think you did fabulous and I’m looking forward to seeing you live. Is this the first tour you’ve done in the United States?
Matt: Yeah, it’ll be my first time. I went to the States when I was a kid, briefly to Utah. But that was a long time ago and I don’t really remember a lot of it! I’ve been dreaming about going to the States and touring out there… well… since I’ve been playing music. Since I was 12, 13 years old, it’s been what I wanted to do.
Traci: Robin, when was the last time you were over here?
Robin: The last time we toured was prior to COVID. The last tour that we did before lockdown was the United States. We were there for about nine weeks, I think, in 2019 for quite an extensive tour. That was the first time for quite a few years. That was the last proper tour that we did before the world changed and the world closed because of COVID. So, yeah, it’ll be nice to get back out there. Can’t wait. I can’t wait for everyone to see Matt, too.
Traci: Is there something specific you have to do when you’re here, Robin?
Robin: No. (laughing) I like being in America. I like going there. I like the atmosphere there. I like the crowds there. But I don’t have a specific place. There are always places that you like going to. I love truck stops, believe it or not. I enjoy eating at four in the morning and all night truck stops. I liked going to Manny’s Music in New York. I bought a guitar there in the ‘80s. It’s nice going places that you haven’t been for a while, but I think more than anything, it’s nice seeing people that you haven’t seen for a while, all over the world. We have some very faithful fans who have become friends over the years, and it’s nice catching up with people. That’s probably the best part about traveling, other than actually playing gigs.
Traci: Which bands are going to be on the road with you?
Robin: In the States, Big Mountain, who I don’t believe we’ve met before, but we know who they are, of course. And Maxi Priest, who we know very well, have worked with, have recorded with. He supported us on many gigs, plus The Original Wailers, obviously. We’ve played with them many times all around the world, so we know them, too. Al Anderson, we know well. It will be nice catching up with all those guys. But more than anything, I just think it’s a great lineup for anybody who’s a fan of reggae. I think it’s a must-see lineup.
September 18, 2022
Traci: I’ve been to many of your shows and it’s always such a positive mood. You cannot be in a bad mood at a UB40 show.
Robin: That’s the plan! We have such a good time. We hope that that translates to the audience every time. And that’s why we hate playing seated venues. If we do play seated venues, we try to get people up! We fall out with security all the time in that situation. (laughing) But, we have a party when we play. We enjoy ourselves and we have a ball, and that’s what we want the audience to do. We want them up and dancing and singing along with us. And 999 times out of 1000, that’s what happens.
Traci: In California, it will be fantastic to see you at Hollywood Bowl, but I am also going to be seeing you in Nashville. You’re going to be playing in a cave! Did you know about that?
Robin: I’ve heard about it! I can’t wait. I’ve heard it is interesting. I’ve played the Hollywood Bowl before, obviously. The Hollywood Bowl is a great venue, an iconic venue, and I can’t wait for Matt to see that. That’ll knock the cockiness out of him. (laughing) [Disclaimer from Traci: At no point was Matt cocky! It is obvious the two enjoy their camaraderie.] The Hollywood Bowl is a great gig, but, yeah, playing a cave! I don’t think we’ve ever done that. Can’t wait.
Traci: Matt, in addition to singing, what else are you doing with the band? Do you write songs?
Matt: Yeah, I’m writing with the band as well. We did that collaboration track for “Bigga Baggariddim” and it flows very naturally, writing with these guys. I’m looking forward to doing more of that.
Robin: And we did “Champion” together. That was very easy.
Matt: It just flowed so naturally. It was written probably within the space of a couple of hours, really. I’ve been playing my guitar as well. I’ve got my guitar back, my dancing partner, which gives me a bit more confidence as well, which is nice. (laughing) I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and come out to the States, and hopefully everyone enjoys the show.
Traci: Is there a main songwriter in the band for the new material, or is it just whoever has got something?
Robin: Well, there’s always been this kind of nucleus of lyricists. The late Brian Travers, our sax player, Jimmy Brown, our drummer, and myself were the three main lyricists over the last 40 odd years. But other guys in the band have also contributed. Other people have brought songs to the table, and whenever they do, we’re always eager to use them because it’s just nice to get a different take from people, get a different flavor. So, yeah, our bass player [Earl Falconer] has written half a dozen songs over the years. Norman Hassan, our percussionist, he’s also a vocalist. He’s written a few songs over the years as well. But the weight is on me and Jimmy to do the lyrics now. Of course, now that we’ve recruited Matt and he’s eager to contribute as well, it should be pretty easy.
Traci: Ok, you’ve been touring this year, the US tour is approaching, the new album is being worked on, you had the album last year. Am I missing anything? (laughing)
Robin: Not that I can think of. A sterling job, Traci!
Traci: Like I said earlier, Robin, I’ve seen you many times and it is always a blast. Matt, I’m so looking forward to seeing you because you sound amazing.
Matt: Thank you. It’ll all be good.
Robin: Yes, it’s going to be very good!
Now that Robin, Matt and I agree that the shows will be good – which is an understatement when it comes to UB40 – you need to make your plans to catch them, wherever you may be in North America. SoCal residents can catch UB40 September 17th in Bakersfield, September 18th in Los Angeles (Hollywood Bowl), and September 23rd in San Diego.