Sunday 21 Jan 2018
[@]UB40 Plays Manchester Academy
Warning this review is likely to annoy you... It seems like a long time ago and yet to some degree the 1980s are still with us.
It was a period when almost anything seemed possible and the pop charts where full of now memorable tunes and songs, almost Radio 2’s entire playlist today.
The 80s saw producers such as Stock, Aitken and Waterman (The Hit Factory) churn hit after hit, Trevor Horn was producing almost everything that was great and super successful groups like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet could do no wrong.
There where clubs that you had to work very hard to get into and should you get past the vagaries of the door staff inside the DJ’s where banging out Hi-NRG alongside Disco, New Wave and later Italian House. Clubs such as Heaven in London or Manchester’s own ‘Haçienda’ were the places to be seen and it was in this cauldron the first superstar DJ’s learnt their trade.
Magazines like The Face and Elle celebrated the avant-garde and the fashion of the moment. The nouveau-riche where strutting their stuff in flashy Porsches, suits bigger than David Byrne’s and snorting as much cocaine as they could get their hands on. While the coal miners, led by Arthur Scargill, where protesting at closures for what seemed like the entire decade.
It was a time of much social upheaval, a time of excess with the rich and the very poor ever present. But don’t misunderstand me this is not a love letter to the 1980s, it is long gone and good riddance to it, the decade fashion forgot and politics to make your hair stand on end.
However, I digress...
Out of this maelstrom a group of friends, from Birmingham, formed a very successful group called UB40 in reference to the dole signing on document Unemployment Benefit form 40; something of socio-political statement.
UB40 had a very diverse line-up with musicians of English, Irish, Jamaican, Scottish and Yemeni parentage a major feature of the band that persists today.
Although formed in 1978, they really didn’t attract much attention until Chrisse Hynde asked them to be a support act for The Pretenders and soon after they had their first top 10 hit ‘Food for Thought’ in 1980.
The band continued this success with a series albums, almost one every year in the 80s, including worldwide hits such as ‘Signing Off’ and the huge USA seller ‘Labour of Love’, an album of cover songs, which included ‘Red Red Wine’ (personally I hate that track).
Tonight they are playing the Manchester Academy as part of their latest tour, with pretty much the same line-up from 1980, with the notable exception of Astro and Ali Campbell, who was replaced in 2008 with Duncan Campbell his brother.
The Academy Hall is a vast space with an equally large stage that looks hard to fill but UB40, not being short of members, made it feel somewhat like an intimate gig. Kicking off with ‘Food for Thought’ they looked like a crowd pleaser from the start.
They continued in the same vein playing much of their back catalogue and, of course, most of the hits but not ‘One in Ten’. The vocal duties are mostly supplied by Duncan Campbell with Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan stepping up to the job on a few songs. To be fair Norman’s performance lit up the stage with the whole band engaging.
Playing for just under 2 hours straight they encored with good renditions of ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ and ‘Kingston Town’.
To be honest UB40 were not as exciting as I expected them to be, beyond that short burst of engagement with Norman on vocals. I felt that this is a band who are frankly just passing time with their performance and Duncan Campbell is unintelligible as a lead singer.
At the start I thought there was something wrong with Duncan’s microphone, but clearly not, as the choruses, which he seem to know, came across clearly... odd eh?
All in all the audience appeared to enjoy this performance, but thinking back to how much of lively band, I seem to remember them being, it maybe time to retire and live off what must be good royalties.
Video: UB40 playing 'One in Ten' original music video
Aside note: There are in fact two versions of UB40 now touring; tonight we are seeing http://ub40.global/ whereas Ali Campbell, Astro and Mikey Virtue (all founding members) tour as http://ub40.org/ I hope that helps?
Reviewed by Unlock Manchester on .
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