Dave Woodhall offers up a solution to the UB40 controversy.
News that former UB40 members Ali Campbell, Mickey Virtue and Astro are to play together again isn’t the biggest shock to hit the music scene this year, or even this week. Their solo careers haven’t done much, they need the money and in the digital age publishing royalties are a fraction of what they used to be during the golden era of CD re-issues twenty years ago.
However, the name they’ve chosen for their new venture is a bit strange. They say they intend to be “performing and recording as UB40 once more.” With the remaining members still doing just that, the scene is set for a legal battle to settle what the original UBs described in a statement released last week as a “desperate attempt to hijack the band’s brand name and legacy.”
Whatever reasons for the breakaway faction choosing to call themselves UB40, legal precedents are firmly against them. The most significant court ruling came when a judge ruled that former members of Bucks Fizz had given up their rights to the name upon leaving the group so it’s odd to see why Campbell (A) and co have taken on a battle they seem to have little chance of winning. The original band have certainly shown no signs of backing down, their strongly-worded statement also saying that the matter is in the hands of their lawyers.
There have, of course, been situations in the past when two or more versions of the same band have toured under variations of their original name, most notably the three Beach Boys line-ups who confused audiences worldwide before a short-lived reunion in 2012.
It may be that, as often happens, the two factions will come to some sort of compromise, which will see the originals and Ali Campbell’s UB40 both playing. To have two UB40s would be fitting in a way, because there’s been two UB40s for a long time.
The original UB40 were one of the greatest bands to ever come out of Birmingham. Their music perfectly encapsulated both the city and the times in which they lived. Their first two albums, Signing Off and Present Arms, are rightly regarded as classics. The other UB40 were a cod reggae covers band, best forgotten. But whatever musical atrocities they may have performed the band are still worthy of respect. While others left the city at the first opportunity, their only remaining links a dodgy accent and a bumbling image that help perpetuate the Thick Brummie stereotype (mentioning no names but looking at you, Osbourne), UB40 remained true to their roots, living and paying taxes in Birmingham and working with community projects such as the benefit gig in 2009 to help the Rainbow in Digbeth, which was under threat of closure. There’s a spark of decency in there, beneath the Neil Diamond covers.
So let the band, or bands, get back to what they were once best at. Give each faction equal studio time and whoever can come up with the best, most 2014-relevant equivalent of Signing Off can call themselves UB40. Sorted.