Related Stories By Wonder Guchu Published: 20120402
The magic of UB40


UB40 is among a select cast of very few non-Jamaican groups that made a global impact through playing reggae music.



The boys from the West Midlands cities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom who formed the group had grown up listening to pop music and then ska before they hopped onto rocksteady.

When, in the late ‘70s, Jamaican immigrants found and made homes in the two UK cities, they brought with them reggae music.

Reggae was founded as a protest music and it soon became popular in the UK among minorities and disaffected youths.

It was not long before the boys from Birmingham and Wolverhampton hooked into the music: they were unemployed and had taken part in protest marches and rallies.

And they soon settled on the name UB40 for their group from a form that was filled by unemployed people in the UK to claim benefits.

When Bob Marley and the Wailers split in 1974, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer formed their own groups while Bob Marley struck it out on the road to fame.

This allowed UB40 to become the biggest group in the reggae genre and they launched a successful career that saw them selling more than 70 million copies of their singles and albums worldwide.

The original group had Earl Falconer, Brian Travers, Ali and Robin Campbell, James Brown, Terence Wilson (Astro), Norman Hassan and Mickey Virtue.

Others like Duncan Campbell, Laurence Parry, Tony Mullings and Martin Meredith came in later while Ali and Mickey left the group.

Although the group’s debut single, “Food for Thought” and whose flip-side had “King”, duly ushered them onto the UK national scene, the group really made its name from goosing up copyrighted material to attain international recognition.

They peaked at the top on the US Billboard 100 with “Red Red Wine” off their “Labour of Love” album and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

“Red Red Wine” is a Neil Diamond hit which was number 62 on the Billboard 100 in 1968.

It was also covered by a Jamaican rocksteady musician Jimmy James backed by his group The Vagabonds in 1969.

His version reached number 46 on the UK charts.

It was, however, the UB40 version of the song that took the track to a higher level.

“Can’t Help Falling in Love” was originally recorded by Elvis Presley – who himself made a name by covering other musicians’ songs - and was one of the songs featured in the movie “Blue Hawaii” in 1961.

It went on to be featured in Walt Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch” as well as “Coyote Ugly”.

The third song that gave UB40 great fame is “I Got You Babe”, a Sonny Bono composition that was originally covered by Cher and spent three weeks at the top Billboard Hot 100 position in 1965.

UB40 really specialised in goosing up songs from US and Jamaican artistes among others.

The following is a sampling of the cover versions UB40 did over the years.



1. Bob Marley - Small Axe

2. Bob Marley – Keep on Moving

3. The Blues Busters - Here I am (come and take me)

4. Hopeton Lewis - Groovin’

5. The Slickers - Johnny too bad

6. The Melodians -

Sweet sensation

7. Eric Donaldson -

The way you do the things you do

8. The Paragons -

Wear you to the ball

9. Tony Tribe - Red Red Wine

10. John Holt - Stick by me

11. Teddy Davis -

Tears from my eyes

12. Winston Groovy -

Please don’t make me cry

13. Honey Boy - Impossible Love

14. Eric Donaldson -

Cherry Oh Baby

15. Lord Creator -

Kingston Town

16. Honey Boy - Sweet Cherry

17. Sonny Bradshaw -

Singer Man

18. The Paragons -

Sparkle of My Eyes

19. Niney The Observer -

Blood & Fire

20. Bob Marley - Soul Rebel

21. Johnny Clarke - Legalise it

22. Jimmy Cliff-

Many Rivers to Cross