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ALI CAMPBELL (UB40) INTERVIEW [2009]

YOUR NEW ALBUM IS CALLED 'FLYING HIGH', WAS IT A LONG TIME IN THE MAKING?

Well, this is probably the fastest album I've ever done. I'd say all in all, if you added up all the hours in the studio, then I probably took about three weeks! That's why it's called 'Flying high' because I am flying high, I mean it's an absolute joy to be in control. Rather that it being a pulling teeth scenario like it was in UB40 when it would take a year to get an album finished. I did feel very frustrated you know? And I'm sure that other members of UB40 felt the same. You'd have an idea but then that idea would take months to feed through and also it would change along the way.

Really I was just compromising with UB40, everyone in UB40 was compromising but it kind of worked, whatever that compromise was it did work for UB40 but now it's so much nicer not to be in the position where you have to compromise, where you just go right, I want to do this and I can do it all at my own pace, when I want, how I want and with who I want and any idea I have is my idea and we can execute it straight away you know?

FUNNILY ENOUGH IT IS AN ALBUM THAT SOUNDS LIKE IT HAS A FREEDOM TO IT, IT'S A VERY POSITIVE RECORD, VERY UP…

Well that's just how it feels to me, I really am flying high. I've got a new band and we've been playing in Albania and Romania, all sorts of out of the way places until i thought they were ready to tour you know? And now we are, in fact a couple of months ago we did a tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Ragamuffin Tour, and basically that was the best response that I've ever had from audiences, the best response ever in all my twenty-eight years of playing.

It was a big weight off my mind I can tell you because you never really know how people are going to react do you? After growing up with UB40 music you just don't know how people are going to respond to you playing live with a new band but I tell you, it was fantastic and that has kind of spurred me on now and I can't wait to do the British dates… they've been a long time coming, I've really been pissing into the wind trying to get this tour together! But I can't wait for it to start because I really want to try and get the same reaction that I got in Australia.

WELL I SUPPOSE IT'S EASIER FOR PEOPLE TO GET THEIR HEADS AROUND YOU PLAYING WITHOUT UB40 BUT I IMAGINE IT'LL BE MUCH MORE DIFFICULT FOR THEM TO SEE UB40 PLAYING WITHOUT YOU…

Well all I can say is that I'm very shocked by what I've seen… I've seen some footage and I am still reeling in shock at what they're doing.

IT MUST BE DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO SEE THEM HEADING IN A NEW DIRECTION AFTER ALL THE TIME AND EFFORT AND CREATIVITY YOU'VE PUT INTO THEM?

Well it's my band! I was hit in the face with a beer glass on my seventeenth birthday and the money I got in Criminal Injuries Compensation was what we started the band with. We were the real deal, all on the dole, poor boys made good and all that. But that was then and this is now… but I was shown some footage of them playing live and, well, enough said. I've been running on angry and that's why I've been so productive. I mean, I've just done two albums in eighteen months and I'm just about to embark on my fifteenth world tour!

YOUR MANAGEMENT WILL BE FINDING WAYS TO MAKE YOU ANGRY IF IT MAKES YOU WORK AT THAT SORT OF RATE!

Well I've now got a a management that I'm really happy with them, they're the best I've ever had. The whole reason for me leaving UB40 half way through the 'Running Free' album was the management, it wasn't so much the band, but I'm really happy with my management now.

GIVEN THE SPEED AT WHICH YOU'VE DONE THE LAST TWO ALBUMS THEY'LL BE WANTING A NEW ONE PRETTY SOON WON'T THEY?

I've already started on it, the next album is called 'The Rhythm Method' but I'm not allowed to talk about that, it's far too top secret but it's going to be brilliant, trust me!

WAS THE NEW ALBUM A FUN RECORD TO MAKE?

Yeah, it was a breeze! 'Running Free' was a breeze. The only problem was with the management of it all really, the logistics of getting me and Sway into one place was a nightmare!

I THINK 'IT'S A CRIME', THE TRACK WITH SWAY, MIGHT BE MY FAVOURITE TRACK ON THE ALBUM…

Well I was really happy to get someone like him who can kind of represent the youth side of things…

IT'S AN ALBUM WITH A BIT OF EVERYTHING ISN'T IT? THERE'S THE REGGAE AND DUB STYLES THAT YOU KIND OF EXPECT BUT THERE'S ALL SORTS OF OTHER STUFF TOO, A GOSPEL CHOIR, A BIT OF SOUL, SOME POP…

Well you said it mate! But I do feel that as well, I think it's totally accessible but I also think it's a harder reggae album than the one I did with Sly & Robbie. I think the dub is wicked, it's pure dub – the drum and the bass – and for me that's an achievement in itself you know? I mean my mission when I started was to promote dub and now everyone knows what dub is… but for some reason UB40 never did dub it enough for me but my new band is a real dub band and this is a real dub album, but with vocals on it!

THERE ARE QUITE A FEW COVER VERSIONS ON THE ALBUM, IS IT DIFFICULT TO CHOOSE WHAT SONGS TO COVER?

Again, that's the beauty of being in the position I'm in now, I don't have to discuss it with a bunch of other people. So when I was on the school run and I was listening to 'Circus' by Britney Spears I heard 'Out From Under' and I just decided there and then that I was going to do a version… and no-one in their right mind would have expected that from me! When I told the management they all started looking the other way and talking about other things but I just went ahead and did it. That's the beauty of being in my position, I can hear something and decide to do a cover of it and then just do it.. done!

AND IT TURNED OUT GREAT DIDN'T IT? THAT'S GOING TO BE THE SINGLE ISN'T IT?

Well it's the lead track, we don't call them singles any more!

BUT YOU'VE MADE A VIDEO FOR IT WHICH I WATCHED ON YOUTUBE AND THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE SEEM TO BE ENJOYING IT…

It's got my son in it, right at the end, because he's got the identical features to play a young version of me. What was funny though on the day we made the video there were a lot of long shots and for them they didn't use me, they used a stand-in, and I met this guy who was my stand-in a bit later in the day when I was doing the close-ups and I shook his hand and he walks away, and as he walks away he walks like Benny Hill… he had the most ridiculous walk and I though bloody marvellous, all the shots of me walking are going to look like I'm Benny Hill!

THERE'S A LOT OF GUESTS ON THE ALBUM TOO AREN'T THERE? WE'VE TOUCHED ON A COUPLE OF THEM ALREADY BUT THERE'S SWAY AND THE SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR, SHAGGY, CRAIG DAVID, LADY SAW… HOW DO THEY COME ABOUT? DO YOU JUST START WORK ON A TRACK AND THINK THIS WOULD BE GREAT WITH SUCH AND SUCH A GUEST?

Yeah that's exactly it. It's like I'll start off doing a number, like with Lady Saw on 'What You Gonna Do Bout It' which I knew as a Doris Troy song but was actually written by The Hollies, and as I was recording that I was thinking it would make a good duet – a lot of the songs I have guests on aren't actually duets if you know what I mean – it was an obvious duet and it was a duet when Doris Troy did it although I can't remember who she did it with… and straight away I thought of Lady Saw because I think she's fucking brilliant, she's the elder stateswoman of dancehall and she can't do a thing wrong as far as I'm concerned.

DOES IT TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF A BIT, HAVING OTHER PEOPLE BESIDE YOU ON SOME OF THE SONGS?

No… it puts it on really. I'm always happy with what I've written and then sometimes I'm kind of resentful when I have to let someone else go on it. That's why I try to choose people that I like because I don't want to put myself in the position of having someone I don't really like on a song that I really love.

WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT FROM YOUR UPCOMING TOUR DATES?

Well I think I've got the hottest reggae and out there at the moment and we'll be playing songs from all three of my solo albums and all the obvious old ones, the 'Kingston Town's, the 'Red Red Wine's… the songs I have to do otherwise people would throw stones!

DO YOU EVER GET TO THE POINT WHERE YOU'RE THINKING 'I JUST DON'T KNOW IF I CAN SING 'RED RED WINE' AGAIN…'?

No, because live it just goes down so well and I'm not one of those people who is self-indulgent on stage, and I'm known because of the hits and I've got a string of them so I'd be daft not to play them because they are what the people who are paying to see me want to hear… it's more that I have to sneak the other stuff around them, take them by surprise and hope they like it!

JUNE 2009

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