The band playing tonight may boast its original voice, but it might not be called UB40 for long.
A bitter lawsuit sits before the British courts seeking to prevent the three musicians touring as UB40 from using the name. Why? Because there’s another UB40 in existence.
The battle dates back more than two years, to shortly before February 2014, when – on the same day – the two UB40s announced Dubai concerts. How did it come to this?
A potted history: Formed in Birmingham in 1978, UB40 went on to become one of the biggest British bands in the 1980s, shifting between 70 and 120 million records, thanks in part to saccharine reggae covers of hits Red Red Wine and I Got You Babe.
In 2008 lead singer Ali Campbell quit to pursue a solo career (as did keyboardist Mickey Virtue) and Ali’s brother Duncan Campbell – who had no previous history with the band – was parachuted in as replacement.
In late 2013 saxophonist Astro followed, and in January 2014 it was announced Ali, Astro and Mickey were “reclaiming” the band name. One of their first shows was a stormy affair at Dubai’s Irish Village in April 2014 – the only problem being that the “other” band were booked to play at Emirates Golf Club six weeks earlier.
The other, longer-running outfit was not happy, and in September of that year the remaining six members served papers claiming the trio’s use of the existing band name was illegal.
Earlier this month, the case reached England’s high court. On Monday, Judge Mark Pelling refused the trio’s pleas to strike out the case, ruling the original band have a “realistically arguable basis”, and granted a full trial to decide whether the breakaway band (tonight’s performers) should pay the original band damages.
Astro, 58, said the new few days would be important. “This month we should know one way or the other what the situation is on the use of the name,” he says. “It’s all speculation until the judge decides.”
Initially branded as UB40 Reunited, Friday’s concert was billed as UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue. But the lawsuit seeks to prevent the trio using the UB40 brand at all.
Whatever the outcome, Astro is convinced the fans prefer their version of keeping the legacy alive. The Dubai gig will kick-start a world tour that will keep the group – under whatever name – on the road until September, visiting Asia, Australia, North America and the UK, including a gig at London’s O2 Arena.
“I think the fans are voting with their feet,” says Astro. “They seem to be turning out to our shows in their droves, [the other band] are basically doing pubs, and they seem to be quite content with that, judging by the interviews.
“They say they prefer ‘small intimate venues’, which I think just defeats the object of being a musician – you want to play to as many people as you can, not as a few as you can. But a lot of that is down to demand – and I don’t think the demand for them is quite as much as we’re used to.
“They’re doing pubs and clubs I shudder at the thought of doing.”
Regardless of what his group will be called in the future, Astro is adamant their version of the band will continue, and laughs off the prospect of ever rejoining the “other lot”. The trio is planning new material after a recent Greatest Hits Live package.
“The band is my life,” he adds. “I’ll go on until I’m wheelchair bound, go blind or lose my mind – or until we’re surplus to requirements, and that’s for the public to decide.”
Despite the maelstrom, Astro makes for a chirpy, upbeat interview. So ahead of the judge’s verdict, expected any day now, is he feeling optimistic?
“I’ve got to be optimistic, or I’d be slashing my wrists.”
Billy Ocean plays old hits with new passion
Co-headlining Friday’s tennis stadium gig is Billy Ocean, who threatens to upstage Brummie reggae band UB40 with his enviable back catalogue of smooth soul hits.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago as Leslie Sebastian Charles, Ocean and his parents immigrated to the Untied Kingdom at the age of 7, in 1950.
Singing the London club circuit as a teen, Ocean took his stage name from an East London housing estate. In 1976, he broke out with a self-titled debut album, propelled by Love Really Hurts Without You, which reached No 2 on the UK charts. Greater success came in the mid-1980s, with multi-platinum LPs Suddenly and Love Zone, sporting respective hits Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run) and When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going. After all-but disappearing from view for much of the 1990s, Ocean resumed active touring in 2007, after a 15-year break, to largely receptive reviews. Ocean is no stranger to the UAE, with previous headline gigs at Dubai's MusicHall and The Irish Village.
• UB40 and Billy Ocean are live at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium tonight. Doors open at 7pm, show 9pm. Tickets Dh225 from www.theirishvillage.com