New Delhi: Popular singer-songwriter Ali Campbell says he grew up listening to iconic playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle as Hindi music would often be played in cafes in the British city of Birmingham, which has a thriving immigrant population.
The city has people mostly from Jamaica, West Indies, India and Pakistan and Hindi music and reggae were very popular when he was young, said Campbell, who is set to tour India later this year.
“It was the kind of cultural mix that I grew up with,” the former frontman of popular British reggae-pop band UB40 told PTI in an interview over phone.
The 64-year-old musician is set to hold concerts in Delhi on October 25, Mumbai on October 27 and Bengaluru on October 27 as part of his ‘The Goldies’ tour with UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, the band that he formed after leaving the original group in 2008.
“I grew up in an immigrant’s area like Birmingham where predominantly Jamaicans, West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis lived. As a child, I remember watching old Indian movies such as ‘Mother India’ and ‘Pyaasa’. We were accustomed to listening to Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohd Rafi and other beautiful Indian singers as these songs would play on the jukebox in cafes where we spent our youth,” he said.
With Indians from Punjab migrating to the UK, Bhangra, the traditional folk dance of India’s northern state, also picked up in a big way in the ’90s so much so that Campbell even got a “Bhangramuffin” T-shirt made in the style of the raggamuffin T-shirts popularised by reggae aficionados.
Campbell has been to India before for a Bollywood music award event in the ’90s. Through his upcoming three-city tour, he hopes to get a taste of the country once again.
“I want everyone to see my version of what I saw in India. I am sure and hopeful we will come back to India in 2024 for my world tour,” the vocalist added.
The singer — known for songs such as “Red Red Wine”, “Kingston Town”, and “Bring Me Your Cup” — said Fun Lovin’ Criminals drummer Frank Benbini will also join him during the tour as a guest.
UB40, the original reggae and pop band formed in 1978 in Birmingham, went on to achieve global success with its ethnically diverse group. Some of their major hits include “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, “I Got You Babe”, “Labour of Love” and “Promises and Lies”.
Campbell credits reggae — a genre of the music that people would earlier associate with the Caribbean people — for their popularity.
“Over the years, it (reggae) has become more popular. If you look at contemporary dance music in the world, all of the production comes from dub. Reggae is more influential now on contemporary music than it has ever been. My band is popular not because we are such a good band but because we play reggae music.” In 2013, Campbell reunited with former bandmate Astro when the latter quit the original group. They toured extensively and released three new albums. Astro passed away in 2021 following a brief illness.
The band that Campbell formed after leaving the original group features musicians who have been part of the group for 15 years and have already toured 72 countries.
“We are one of the most well travelled groups in the UK’s pop history and we intend to continue doing so through our upcoming world tour,” he said.
The singer may have spent decades in showbiz, but what has remained unchanged is the enthusiasm of a live audience.
“I have been travelling all the time since my adult life and I have never been in a position where I haven’t enjoyed it. I have travelled everywhere in comparative luxury… I get to do what I love doing in front of people who love to hear me sing. I will continue doing it as long as people want me too.” The name of the band comes from the ‘Unemployment Benefit, Form 40’, an unemployment benefit identification card issued to the people during Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as the British prime minister in the late 1970s.
The group named their band after the form and wrote political songs such as “Madame Medusa” and “If It Happens Again” to hit back at Thatcher’s policies. Recalling the early days of his former band, Campbell said they were a group of “disenfranchised” youth who happened to have a platform to talk about things that concerned them.
“We were disenfranchised youth of Thatcher’s disastrous Britain. So we had lots of things to write about. But I don’t think it’s any better now for the kids growing up in Britain. I think it might be worse and I think what 40 years in the business has proven to me is that you don’t change anything by singing about it,” he added.
Campbell said their group, comprising members of both working and non-working class, hit the jackpot when Chrissie Hynde, the founding member of English-American rock band The Pretenders, took them under her wing.
“We had no jobs, were kicked out of the school and went unemployed for almost three years, having no job to fend for ourselves… We were just very lucky that we got spotted by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and she took us on our first tour of England, supporting us when she was on number one at that time. With her help, we released our first single that reached number four and we didn’t look back after that,” he said.
‘The Goldies’ tour is organised by Sanjay M Lal, MD & CEO of ASSET, who said the tour is all about celebrating legends and their fans by reigniting the nostalgia of the golden era of music.
UB40 featuring Ali Campbell’s setlist features favourites like “Red Red Wine” to “(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love with You”, “Don’t Break My Heart”, “Purple Rain”, “Kingston Town” and “I Got You Babe”.