More than any other artists of their time, Britain’s UB40 have proven the power of pop-influenced reggae music. With worldwide sales topping 30 million albums during their career, the UB40 story demonstrates just how far people can go by staying true to their roots. UB40 grew up in the heart of Birmingham, one of England’s most ethnically diverse cities. The summer of 1978 saw the eight band members drawn together by their love of the skanking Jamaican reggae vibes.
Taking their name from a notorious British unemployment form, the multi-racial group of young men proceeded to spend the next six months in a basement, collaborating on ideas and learning their instruments. By early 1979 they had played their first local gig. Through the rest of the year UB40 performed at pubs, clubs, and benefits all around the UK.
British radio legend John Peel was so impressed with the group’s first demo tape that he invited them to perform on his prestigious, nationally broadcast show in January 1980. The single “King” b/w “Food For Thought” became at Top 5 smash in England in February 1980, and officially launched UB40’s career as hitmaking recording artists. The group released a pair of 1981 albums, “Present Arms” and “Present Arms In Dub,” and thus embarked on a career journey characterized by uncompromising artistic autonomy.
UB40’s breakthrough in America arrived in the form of 1983’s Labour Of Love, and its single “Red, Red Wine.” The song topped the British singles charts in 1983 and — five years later — landed UB40 their first #1 smash hit in the U.S. Autumn 1984 saw the release of Geoffrey Morgan…, . Touring America and Canada in the first half of 1985, the group celebrated another hit single in July 1985 with “I Got You Babe,” recorded with Chrissie Hynde.
Back in the studio, UB40 put the finishing touches on “Rat In The Kitchen,” released in the summer of 1986. More recording in 1987 and 1988 was complimented by touring worldwide. The 1988 album UB40 included the highlight “Breakfast In Bed,” another song featuring guest vocals from Chrissie Hynde.
Labour Of Love II, released in November of 1989. The album notched platinum-plus U.S. sales, spawned a pair of Top 10 pop hits — “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “Here I Am (Come And Take Me).” 1993’s platinum-plus smash “Promises And Lies” spawned the mammoth hit “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” which reigned at #1 on the U.S. pop chart for seven consecutive weeks. The subsequent tour culminated in a series of shows in South Africa (their first), with the group dedicating their anti-apartheid anthem “Sing Our Own Song” to President Nelson Mandela, marking a poignant end to UB40’s 15 month tour.