Legendary British reggae band UB40 set for New Zealand return

UB40's "Astro" Wilson, left, Mickey Virture and Ali Campbell.
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UB40's "Astro" Wilson, left, Mickey Virture and Ali Campbell.

Red wine and reggae? For Ali Campbell, lead singer of British reggae band UB40, it's a potent mix. 

Campbell's UB40 will shortly be on its way to New Zealand for the latest leg of their ongoing Red Red Wine vineyard tour. Campbell admits it's not a bad way to make a living.

"The Red Red Wine tour was a brilliant idea," he says. "It means we get to spend several weeks in some of the most beautiful places in the world."

The relaxed life he often lives these days is quite a turnaround from the group's rough and ready roots in grimy late '70s Birmingham.

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* The feud that tore the original UB40 apart

"Did we imagine this would happen? Of course not," Campbell says. "We were arrogant little bastards and we did think that we'd have a hit record ... but of course you can never imagine you'd still be touring the world 30 years later."

After hitting it big with their debut album, 1980's Signing Off, UB40 have gone on to sell more than 70 million albums worldwide.

Campbell is quite familiar with New Zealand, having visited often and even appearing as a judge on New Zealand's Got Talent in 2012 ("which was very strange").

It hasn't all been smooth sailing. Arguably, the most public fallout came relatively recently, when Campbell, Mickey Virtue and then Terence "Astro" Wilson left the original lineup of UB40 between 2008 and 2013. They went on to form their own UB40, with the bizarre result of different UB40s touring concurrently. At one time, both were in New Zealand only a month apart.

Campbell doesn't have much time for his former band mates. To him, they're "the dark side". 

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"Yes, that's what we call them, absolutely," he says. "I sort of try and ignore them in the hope that they'll go away, but they do keep popping up here and there.

"You know, I've seen them on YouTube, and it's knuckle-bitingly embarrassing, it really is. And I feel quite angry that they're destroying the legacy of the biggest reggae band in the world. But there you go."

It's a rare moment of anger. For the most part, Campbell is - unsurprisingly - a pretty relaxed guy.

"The real reason for doing [the Red Red Wine tour] was so I could spend all my time in a band chilling out, drinking pinot noir in beautiful locations," he says.

"Why wouldn't you? It's the best way to chill out: listen to some nice reggae music, smoke ... drink some wine, be in a lovely place.  What more can you want?" 

  • UB40 play Martinborough's Luna Estate, January 2; Villa Maria Estate in Blenheim, January 7; Waitiri Creek at Gibbston, near Queenstown, January 5.

 - Stuff

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