For several decades, UB40 have been popularizing reggae around the globe. UB40’s fortune changed at the beginning of 1980. They had spent many years performing live and developing a name for themselves when they were asked to joining ‘The Pretenders’ as their support act on a national tour. The group’s first album was released in September 1980. The album cover was a reproduction of the unemployment benefit card with the title Signing Off rubber stamped in red. It referred to ‘signing off’ the dole i.e. getting a job. It was an acknowledgement of the launch of the band as well as a celebration of their new status.
The first single with Graduate, their initial label was a double-A coupling of Food for Thought about third world poverty and ‘King’ an expression of grief for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘King’ had seemed to be the favorite with live audiences but it was ‘Food for Thought’ that got the airplay and became the first hit. The single was released during the tour without the benefit of major label marketing or promotion and headed straight for the top five.
The group released their fourth album Labour of Love in 1983. It was their first direct tribute to the musicians who had inspired them. ‘Red Red Wine’ was the first single to be released from Labour of Love and it went straight to number one in the UK charts upon its release. The phenomenally popular single was in the British charts for two years. It gave UB40 their first worldwide hit and first American number one.
Success continues throughout the Nineties with the release of Promises and Lies which becomes the group’s biggest selling album worldwide selling in excess of 9 million copies worldwide and contained the hit single ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love ‘ giving the band their third UK number one.
Fathers of Reggae, a project which took three years to complete featured a series of legendary reggae artists such as Toots Hibbert, Gregory Isaacs and John Holt was released in 2002.
In 2003, UB40 received an Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement and secure a Top Ten album with the ‘Platinum Collection Labour of Love I II & III a triple box set comprising the whole ‘Labour of Love’ series. Their 22nd album, Homegrown includes ‘Swing Low,’ the official anthem for the England rugby team’s triumphant 2003 World Cup campaign in Australia. The song became the group’s 49th UK chart single.
In April 2005, UB40 united with Roger Daltrey Eric Clapton and John Mayer to play their first ever show at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. The band was then invited to perform at the Live8 event in London’s Hyde Park, alongside U2, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Madonna, Robbie Williams and The Who. A successful sell-out tour in the UK, Ireland and Europe completeds the year.
UB40 continued to tour throughout 2006 visiting Mozambique Australia New Zealand the Pacific Islands (i.e. New Caledonia Tahiti Tonga Fiji) Hawaii and continuing on to the US and Canada.
Signing Off (1980)
Present Arms (1981)
Labour of Love (1983)
Geffery Morgan (1984)
Rat in the Kitchen (1986)
Labour of Love II (1989)
Promises and Lies (1993)
Guns in the Ghetto (1997)
Labour of Love III (1998)
Cover Up (2001)
Who You Fighting For? (2005)
Labour of Love IV (2010)
Getting Over the Storm (2013)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.