Reggae legends UB40 are witnessing a renaissance. With singer Ali Campbell’s return after a nine-year break, the band has seen its massive greatest hits tour succeed.
“When people ask us about our longevity, love, I tell them that when I started UB40 in 1979, reggae was 11 years old,” Campbell says via telephone from England.
“Before that, it was rock steady and before that it was ska. It was a baby genre. That’s why, 30 years later, people still like it. It’s the youngest form of music.”
It’s still influential, he adds, with the release of reggae-tinged songs by Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Justin Bieber.
“Reggae’s having a massive influence and long may it continue,” Campbell says.
The timing is perfect, as Campbell returned to the group in 2013. After he left in 2008, the group carried on and replaced Campbell with his brother, Duncan. That didn’t pan out, so the departures of founders Mickey and Astros followed.
In 2013, Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey came together to play a couple U.K gigs. They parlayed that into a full-blown reunion with an 11-piece band and world tours.
“We’re back together again,” Campbell says proudly. “When I left my own band, nine years ago now, the other guys—the ‘dark side’ as I call them—split the fanbase. They didn’t need to split the fanbase. I don’t know why they did.
“When me and Mickey came back to the fold, we told Astro, ‘We’re waiting for you now.’ We have 11,000 people at some of our shows now. We played arenas last year where there were 15,000 people. We’re winning the war, as it were.”
UB40, who plays the Marquee on Tuesday, July 25, is continuing the battle by recording a new album due on February 14, 2018. Campbell wouldn’t spill too much about the collection, other than to say it’s the band’s best effort.
“It’s all a secret, but everyone who’s heard it is going crazy for it,” Campbell says. “It’s going to be a biggie. It’s a return to form—not that I’ve been out of form.”
The Marquee date is part of UB40’s fourth American tour in two years. Campbell relents that it’s great to be back on the road again.
“I know I sound like a Willie Nelson song, but it is good to be back on the bus, with my peers, seeing Arizona and them places there.
“I didn’t think I would miss touring. I was at a stage where I was sick of touring. I wanted to stay home. But you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.”
Now, the focus is on having fun and spreading the message of UB40 with songs like “Rat in Mi Kitchen,” “Red Red Wine” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”
“We’re just concentrating on being in really lovely places and situations, drinking lots of good wine, smoking and singing songs for our very happy public.”
UB40 Legends Ali, Astro and Mickey, w/ Matisyahu and Raging Fyah, Marquee Theatre, 730 N. Mill Avenue, Tempe, 480.829.0607, luckymanonline.com, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, $40 and $60.