UB40: Collectors Edition





It’s been thirty years since the release of UB40’s debut album and the band are celebrating by touring some of the smaller venues they first headlined back then, and also playing a two-part set that includes Signing Off in its entirety. That’s going to stir up a few memories. UB40 didn’t fit in easily with either Jamaican reggae or 2Tone and yet that first album, wrapped in an unemployment benefit form as if dressed for class war, was ubiquitous at the time.

A mix of reggae, dub and even a little jazz, it sounded unlike anything else from that period and left us in no doubt they were serious about both their music and political stance. Opening with a protest song about a black man imprisoned unfairly for murder in a Louisana state jail saw to that, and also the tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King that asked, “King. Where are your people now?” Other tracks like Food For Thought, which lambasted politicians for their cynical attempts to take advantage of Third World suffering and the class conscious Little By Little again reinforced this multi-racial band’s raison de entre.

Recorded during the initial stages of Thatcherism and then released just in time for the riots that erupted throughout Britain’s mainly black inner city communities, Signing Off was a rallying cry for everyone who knew or sensed that the country was in danger of becoming a police state. Civil liberties and workers’ rights were under siege, and the liberal advances of the sixties and seventies being attacked by an increasingly repressive right-wing rearguard action. Whilst it was King, Food For Thought and the Randy Newman cover I Think It’s Going To Rain Today that appeared on 45, it was Burden Of Shame that provided the album with its moody, atmospheric centerpiece. “I’m a British subject and not proud of it while I carry the burden of shame,” lead singer Ali Campbell laments, after announcing how “bloody deeds have been done in my name.” It was the National Front, not the BNP or EDL who were spouting race hate back in 1980 and the band’s opposition to such shameful ignorance remains undiminished to this day, as underlined by their support for Love Music, Hate Racism.

The remainder of the original album was taken up by instrumentals like 12 Bar, 25%, Adella and the title track. Whilst clearly inspired by Jamaican dub, these added something different to the genre. At no stage were UB40 trying to compete with or pass for their yardie peers. Right from the start they made it clear they had their own sound and like them or not, that’s still true all these years later. Just to make the package even more enticing, the bonus CD contains 12” versions of several tracks – including another 1980 single, The Earth Dies Screaming b/w Dream A Lie – additional material such as Reefer Madness, Madam Medusa and Strange Fruit, as well as live radio sessions recorded for John Peel and Kid Jensen.




About johnmasouri
John Masouri is a long-time author and music journalist specialising in reggae and its many off-shoots including dub, ska, roots and dancehall. The author of Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley's Wailers, published by Omnibus Press in 2008, he is currently working on a biography of reggae singer Peter Tosh, due to appear next year. In addition to book projects, he continues to write articles and reviews for Reggae Vibes (France), Riddim (Germany) and Echoes - formerly Black Echoes - which is renowned as Britain's No. 1 black music monthly. His work has also appeared in Mojo, Music Week, the Guardian, the Observer and the NME, as well as magazines in the US, Caribbean and Japan.

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