UB40- Live at Perth Concert Hall

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One of the strangest American news stories last year, was part of the ongoing scandal regarding beleaguered supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  The Trump endorsed Kavanaugh, was already the subject of an investigation into sexual abuse when The New York Times uncovered a police report detailing his involvement in a 1985 bar brawl.  It turns out the fight was inspired by the brummy reggae pop-pioneers UB40.  The altercation not only took place after a UB40 concert but broke out because Kavanaugh and his friends were trying to figure out whether another man at the bar was Campbell. When the man – who was not Campell, and in fact not even from Birmingham – told them to stop staring at him, Kavanaugh reportedly hit him over the head with a block of ice.  Ali Campbell told RollingStone: "It is a big surprise to find out that Kavanaugh used to come to see us in his Yale days. You don’t expect a rightwing Republican to follow a leftwing reggae socialist band from Birmingham."

The reason I bring this up is that when I went to see UB40 last week with my girlfriend Jo and a couple of friends, she refused to believe that the lead singer wasn't Ali Campbell.  To be fair, he looked a lot like him, sounded pretty much identical and was currently standing in front of a huge sign that said UB40.  However, my friend Paul thought he looked a bit skinnier than recent pictures of Ali Campbell he had seen, so I looked up UB40's Wikipedia entry.  I found out that their current singer was none other than Ali's own brother Duncan Campbell who had been offered the band's lead singer slot back in 1978, but had declined and instead went on to develop a career as a professional spoons player.  When I relayed all this information to Jo she was extremely sceptical: "There is no way that isn't Ali Campbell!  I was just watching UB40 video's on YouTube today and that's the guy in the videos." I thought I'd better drop the subject before she hit me over the head with an ice cube.

Before UB40 even hit the stage, support act Kioko helped to build a really tangible sense of anticipation.  Kioko are a dangerously good young reggae band, also hailing from Birmingham.  Like their mentors, UB40, they blend strong original material with soulful covers and also like UB40 they have an absolutely massive sound.  Their phenomenally funky and catchy 'Deadly Roots', and a skank-tastic cover of 'Monkey Man' were just a couple of the highlights from a great set.  

I hadn't originally planned on reviewing this gig. I only ended up going last minute as my friend Ian had a couple of spare tickets.  Truth be told, I had never been the biggest UB40 fan.  I did know and enjoy some of their biggest hits but I didn't feel I had enough knowledge of the band to do a review justice.  After a couple of songs, including the excellent dubby, funk-tinged original track 'Food For Thought' and brass-heavy arrangements of Al Green's 'Here I UB40- OnstageAm (Come and Take Me)' and The Temptations 'The Way You Do The Thing's You Do', I knew that I had to sing UB40's praises!  

Duncan does an excellent job of stepping into his more famous brother's shoes and seems entirely at ease prowling the stage, occasionally leaning over to serenade the revellers in the front row.  His vocals, particularly on 'Here I am', are soulful and heartfelt, occasionally augmented by harmonies from percussionist Norman Hassan who also provides lead vocals (and dancing) on 'Moonlight Lover'.  When Duncan starts singing the opening phrase of 'Red Red Wine' the crowd go crazy and a wee old lady that has been shouting for it in the gap between every song makes a run straight for the barrier.  It's great to hear the whole of the concert hall singing along to this number one hit.

Other highlights of the night included an inspired version of Bob Dylan's of 'I'll Be Your' Baby Tonight' from the 'John Wesley Harding album.  I'm ashamed to say that I've only just realised that it was UB40 that provided the backing for Robert Palmers 1990 version of the song that provided him with a top ten hit.  There was an easy-going, good-vibe among the Perth audience and UB40's reggae-pop was washing over us like a burst of melodic sunshine.  When they left the stage there was, predictably, raucous calls for 'wan mair tune' prompting the band to hastily return for an encore.  'Kingstown Town', originally recorded by Lord Creator, has an absolutely stonking bass line and keyboard part and was one of the lads greatest hits.  This gives way to UB40's biggest hit of the '90s, a horn-drenched cover of Elvis Presley's 'I Can't Help Falling In Love With You'.  It's another great performance that has feet tapping and heads bobbing in appreciation, and the horn section are quite simply world class.  

As the show ends my friend Paul and I are a little upset because 'There's A Rat In My Kitchen' still hasn't been played.  Disgruntled, we head to the pub to find someone who looks a bit like Ali Campbell to throw ice cubes at.

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