BY BRIAN MANSFIELD | GANNETT
The last time Ali Campbell, Mickey Virtue and Astro toured the U.S., UB40 was one band, not two. In 2008, though, Campbell, the singer of chart-topping reggae-tinged versions of “Red Red Wine” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” left the group he helped found in 1978. Keyboardist Mickey Virtue soon followed, and trumpeter-vocalist Astro joined them last year. On the 26-date tour that starts Sept. 19 at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall, they bill themselves as UB40 feat. Ali Campbell, Mickey & Astro. “We’ve made it clear on all our posters and advertising what people are getting to see,” says Campbell. “We don’t want any confusion with the other lads,” who also are slated to play a handful of U.S. dates during the time frame.
UB40 Featuring Ali Castro, Mickey Virtue and Astro When: 8 p.m. Sept. 19 Where:Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee Tickets: $38.50-$140 (18+over) Visit: clubtix.com
The band, which had an instrumental role in the popularity of reggae in Great Britain, made its public debut in 1979 at The Hare & Hound Pub in Birmingham, England, playing a friend’s birthday party. “Her name was Sue Varty, so it was known as the Varty Party,” Campbell says.
During the Los Angeles stop on the group’s first U.S. tour, Campbell and brother Robin Campbell, who still plays guitar in the other UB40, wondered why so many guys stopped their cars to say hello to them as they walked along Sunset Boulevard. They got their answer when they stopped to eat at a nearby Mexican restaurant. “As our eyes got accustomed to the light, we realized it was all couples, all men,” he says. “We had walked into a gay Mexican restaurant. We started talking very loudly about sports to let them know we were not a gay couple.”
Once, before a scheduled concert in Santa Fe, N.M., Campbell bought a rain stick and began performing mock rain dance in the drought-stricken area. The night’s show was flooded out. “I remember seeing my Peavey amplifier floating down one of these channels coming away from the stage,” he says. “We had to cancel the show and play it the next day.”
At a show during the ’90s, Campbell noticed a woman in the audience with a gun and sent security to restrain her. “She had one bullet in the chamber ready to go,” he says. “We don’t know who she wanted to kill, but she was aiming at the stage.”
In the U.S., UB40 found its greatest success with covers of R&B and pop hits — “Red Red Wine,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).” Internationally, though, “we had more than 40 top 10 hits in the ’80s and ’90s,” Astro says. “We’ve got all those to draw on. We’ll be playing as many of our hits as we can possibly squeeze into our set,” as well as tunes from a 2014 album, “Silhouettes.” “It’ll be a mixture of old and new, and all the old ones are classics everybody knows.”
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