REGGAE TO MAKE A DAY
UB40 has been a fractured force in recent times but its reggae power is charging up a new album. In the lead-up to its release next year, Gold Coast audiences will hear a few of the old hits on Sunday
It would hardly be surprising to learn that touring has changed greatly since the early days of UB40. But for Brian Travers, keyboardist/saxophonist for the reggae group, it seems to be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“It seems to me like music’s come full circle,” he says.
“When we started out, you could play anywhere, any night of the week, in any joint.”
Then, as he points out, the record era came about.
“But it’s all come back to being a musician again, getting up and standing on stage and playing your songs to people.”
Playing their songs is what UB40 – these days Travers, Robin Campbell, Earl Falconer, Duncan Campbell, Norman Hassan and Jimmy Brown – will do when they start their Australian tour today.
The band, which formed in Britain, will launch the 10-date tour in Cairns tonight before playing a sold-out show in Brisbane on Saturday and visiting the Gold Coast on Sunday.
There is a wealth of material to choose from: Red Red Wine perhaps? King?
Travers says he doesn’t yet know just what fans will hear from the nine-piece outfit (Martin Meredith, Lawrence Parry and Tony Mullings are also on the tour as part of UB40).
“We’ve had 40 top 30 hits (in Europe), but we can’t just go out and play hits all the time,” he says.
“We try and keep the set a little bit eclectic and challenge the audience a little.
‘‘But we’ll play big hits and we’ll play some new stuff and hopefully we’ll surprise people with a few things.”
There is, of course, a matter that needs to be clarified in relation to UB40.
Several years after his departure from the original band in 2008, singer Ali Campbell and two other former members, Micky Virtue and Astro, began performing together again. They also call themselves UB40.
Travers and his bandmates haven’t ignored that.
Asked about this, Travers says: “We’re in court and somewhere we’d rather not be.
‘‘We’d rather not be spending our money on lawyers, but then this is our business and we employ a lot of people. “It’s a bizarre situation. ‘‘I’ve never heard anything like it before in my life.”
Still, according to Travers, UB40 are aware of how lucky they are.
“We feel really privileged, just having this job, you know, being in this position,’’ he says.
‘‘We get to travel to lovely, wonderful countries, travel round, stay in great hotels and meet people, new people, every day and play music.’’
Those at their gig at Miami Marketta on Sunday will likely hear music from their latest album Getting Over the Storm (2013).
Though Travers sees the project as “a reggae album”, he also recognises its country influences.
“We took some classic country songs and reworked them, and then I wrote five, six new country songs and then I brought them to the band and they turned them into UB40 songs,” he says.
UB40 has been on the music scene for decades but its approach to music is anything but old school.
The band is using PledgeMusic, a website that is allowing fans to pre-purchase the band’s forthcoming album in the lead-up to its expected 2016 release – and take advantage of special offers.
“People kind of commit to buying the record before they’ve heard it, which is the way it usually goes anyway,” Travers says.
“When you go to a shop to buy a record, you generally haven’t heard the whole record when you buy it, you know, if it’s just on release. It’s working really great so far. People are coming on board, they’re joining us for this journey.”
Reggae group UB40 will start an Australian tour in Cairns tonight before reaching the Gold Coast on Sunday. The new album is expected to be out next year.