While not many people would think of UB40’s reggae-based rhythms as characteristic of a UK folk band, there are enough of their own songs of social commentary in their back catalogue to put them in a similar category to singer/songwriters like, say, Billy Bragg. (In fact, social commentary is a dominant thread among reggae songwriters but this isn’t the time for that lecture, and I’m not really qualified to give it anyway.)
That said, both the CDs recently released by the band calling itself UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey contain a high percentage of cover versions of songs that you probably won’t encounter much in a folk setting. But that doesn’t bother me: my finger was surgically removed from my ear many decades ago.
Once upon a time – when I first started to listen to folk music – there was the Clarion Skiffle Group, the Ian Campbell Trio and the Ian Campbell Folk Group. As well as nurturing such luminaries as Dave Swarbrick, Spencer Davis, Christine Perfect, and Dave Pegg, Ian was himself the composer of a number of fine songs, many of them with a political message. He was also the father of four sons, two of whom, Ali and Robin, went on to become founder members of UB40, a heavily reggae-influenced band also noted for its political sensibilities.
In 2008, however, Ali Campbell and Mickey Virtue left the band, and in 2013 percussionist and vocalist Astro followed. Subsequently, the three of them were reunited in the line-up represented on CD called Unplugged, now released along with a Greatest Hits CD compiled from recordings by the lineup that remained stable until 2008. It doesn’t include recordings where Duncan, a third Campbell brother, replaced Ali as the original band’s vocalist. (There is yet another brother, David, at one time the band’s manager but as a performer more inclined to the traditional, and not to be confused with the Guyana-born singer/songwriter David Campbell, now living in Canada.)
My review of the two CDs can now be found on the folking.com site: UB40 FEATURING ALI, ASTRO AND MICKEY – Unplugged + Greatest Hits (UMC)