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Issue 1084

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UB40: Uttoxeter Racecourse, UK 17/5/2014

UB40 @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley
UB40 @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley UB40 @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley UB40 @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley Duncan Campbell (UB40) @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley. UB40 @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley Duncan Campbell (UB40) @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley. Robin Campbell (UB40) @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley UB40 @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley UB40 @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley Duncan Campbell (UB40) @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley. Earl Falconer (UB40) @ Uttoxeter. Photo copyright: Simon Redley

The hottest and sunniest day of the year so far. Thousands of punters flock to the races in the middle of the Staffordshire countryside for a few bets, and to sink more than a few cold ones.

Lots of private boxes and posh catering going on. A very well dressed hen party have their own room, as you come through the turnstiles onto the course. There are lots of flash motors in the car park, with many personal plates. Tasty picnics among the cars too.

A giant billboard promotes Tesco Uttoxeter: âFrom champagne to sugar lumps.â My photographer pal Steve says: âShouldnât it be plugging Red Red Wine today of all days?â He may have a point. More on that laterâ¦â¦â¦â¦â¦

The champagne bars are doing brisk business. The beer bars are doing even better business. Some guys are giving the sunshine and gee gees a miss, even when champion A.P. McCoy is racing, and sit inside watching the Arsenal v Hull FA Cup final. A big cheer goes up when Arsenal equalised 2-2. The guy with the cheeky banter, selling all sorts of different hats at a fiver a pop, has âem flying out. âIâm not partial to looking like a t**t,â said one bloke after he had a tweed cap popped on to his pate. To whom the hat man replied: âSo are you partial to sun stroke then mate?â The bloke sat baking in the sun with copies of the Racing Post to knock out, could well have done with one them there âats, methinks.

A brief history lesson: Uttoxeter Racecourse just down the road from Stoke-on-Trent, was built in 1904 and opened by a company formed to take over the interests and licence of Keele Park racecourse, which had recently ceased to operate. The First World War closed down all racing throughout the country, before racing resumed in 1921. During the Second World War, the course was requisitioned by the War Department and no racing took place. The Uttoxeter Urban Council purchased the racecourse, and it re-opened on April 12, 1952. With a crowd of 12,000, the meeting was so successful that the organisers were almost overwhelmed. In 1988, Northern Racing acquired the course, and in the last ten years there has been major investment in facilities and customer care. Itâs a lovely little National Hunt jumps course, and also stages the Acoustic Festival Of Great Britain every year.

So, today there is lots of laughter, lots of smiles, lots of noise and people have travelled from all over the UK. It is strange; Iâve lived a few miles from three race tracks over the years, but only ever been to one horse racing meeting in my life before today; the Dubai Gold Cup. But no lush greenery and ladies wearing summer tops there. But I am not here for the nags, the beer or the ladies today. I was here for something much more interesting. My invite was from a certain band I have a soft spot for; and I do not mean that swamp at the bottom of my garden either! Those Brummie ragamuffins, UB40. If the sun is out and the cold drinks are flowing, cue the reggae musicâ¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦

The band arrived on site at 7pm in their luxury tour bus, sipping chilled champagne and deffo ready for a good night! Backstage in a super duper tented green room and dressing rooms 1 & 2, the guys chilled out before the show. But first they had business to attend to. A film crew from Dutch national TV were there shooting a programme about the racing, and when they found out UB40 were appearing, they secured an interview with the band.

The Dutch equivalent of presenters Ant and Dec fronted the piece, and persuaded the band to sing along with them on one of their biggest hits, Red, Red Wine, while one of the presenters played acoustic guitar. They were mega keen to get up on stage and sing with the band during the show, but if Hollywood movie star Sharon Stone was turned down at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago, these guys had no chance tonight!

The catering and drinks are always top notch backstage at a UB40 gig (this was where I was going to do a gag about the band always having a good rider in their contracts, linked to being at a racecourse, but when I mentioned that to Robin Campbell backstage, he groaned and evidently lost the will to live!), but tonight I was uber observant. Apart from the bottles of Veuve Clicquot champers, beer and soft drinks in the mini fridges ready for the bandâs dinner at 11pm after the gig, I noted only red wine was present. Of course, it just had to be red, red wine, didnât it? I am told one member of the band, does have white wine on stage though! After the filming with the Dutch chaps, the band nips next door to the main room in the backstage area, for a meet & greet with competition winners and a few mega fans. Happily posing for photos and signing autographs, then a quick change and on stage to go to work.

So to round off a beautiful day at Uttoxeter; we do have some very beautiful music. Set just past the main grandstand is a huge outdoor stage (which took four days to build), on hard standing - so if it was wet, the fans would not get muddy feet at all. There are huge stacks of PA speakers, lots of lights and shortly after the last race of the day had been run, at bang on 9.15pm the intro music screams out. We are under starterâs ordersâ¦.. In the darkness, the silhouetted shapes of the musicians with their instruments. The lights go up, the volume goes up and they are off.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Britainâs most successful reggae band; the still very mighty UB40.

There are between 8,000 and 9,000 people here tonight on a lovely shirt-sleeves and shorts warm evening, to see and hear Birminghamâs finest belting out hit after hit after hit, and tracks from their current album, âGetting Over The Storm.â I defy anyone not to raise a smile and even jig about a bit to this lot. The sound is crystal clear and not too loud (am I getting old?), with that bottom end bass from Earl Falconer pumping out and drummer Jimmy Brown keeping it super tight. Apparently the racecourse has invested in some state of the art sound gear, to avoid noise complaints from near neighbours, and directed the sound into this sea of bodies, so the volume is soaked up by the crowd. I am told that on the night and even after a few days later, there was not one complaint about excess noise levels. Nor were there any arrests by the police, to prove what a friendly crowd this band attract.

You could hear the squeals of delight as and when the audience recognised the tune that the band were about to give them. There is a vast age range here tonight, from kids to grannies and grandads, but a big percentage of young people. On stage there are smiles galore, as this nine-piece quite clearly love what they do. From the sea of happy faces, that is quite obviously reciprocated.

Lead singer Duncan Campbell is in fine voice and beaming from ear to ear for half the set. Maybe he was thinking about what he was going to spend his winnings on. Dunc' had a score on âEver The Optimist,â that romped home first and won him £170. A lucky guy in more ways than one. He used to run a casino in Barbados years ago, and turned down an offer of joining his brothers Ali and Robin Campbellâs band at that time. Then many moons later, when Ali decided to leave and go solo, Duncan got Aliâs blessing to replace him before accepting the offer of joining the Brum reggae boys as front man. Heâs been there ever since and now into his seventh year at the front.

Here is a great singer with perfect phrasing and vocal control. His diction is spot on, and you can understand every single word of every lyric of every song. Thatâs an art. A huge fan of Sinatra and the big band era, he began his career singing in the folk clubs with his Dad, the late famous folk artist Ian Campbell.

Tonight he is very relaxed and enjoying himself. Some of the crowd actually thought it was Ali singing with the band tonight. Their vocal tone, as brothers, is pretty similar. But for me there is no comparison. Ali did what he did, and Duncan does what he does, both good at what they do. But tonight it is not about former line-ups or absent friends, it is about the here and the now. It is about thousands of happy punters who paid £30 a ticket to see and hear a band they love and respect. They care not a jot about fall outs and all the other shit best left to the suits. This is about having a great time and about timeless music.

Duncan and guitarist Robin Campbellâs harmonies are perfect, and maintain that tight unique vocal sound UB40 is famous for. Every last man here in this nine piece earn their keep, but look like theyâd pay us to be able to do what they do; especially new boy Tony Mullings on keyboards, who grinned for the whole 90 minutes. We get a 19 song set in the 90 minute slot tonight. They open with âPresent Arms,â with the three piece sizzling horn section stage front, between Duncan and his brother Robin on stage right. Martin Meredith on sax, founder member Brian Travers on sax and wearing a natty white cowboy style hat (which I am reliably informed wife Lesley wants back!) and Laurence Parry on trumpet are on fire tonight. Crisp, tight horn arrangements; the punctuation to UB40âs ensemble musical language.âWatchdogs,â âSweet Cherie,â and "Higher Groundâ are flawless and then the crowd spot the toon, when the guys strike up with âCherry Oh Baby.â Itâs sing-along-at-the-races time - 8,000+ voices in harmony with the band. Brian playing keyboards on a riser at the back of the stage, the only song he plays keys on in this set. Then Duncan introduced a track from the bandâs current album, a chart success for them with a bunch of old and new country songs. But with the UB40 magic sprinkled all over them to make it sound just like the band has always sounded. âMidnight Rider,â was a song first performed by the Allman Brothers and covered by the world and his wife. It is a perfect fit for UB40.

An integral part of the UBâs sound is drummer Jimmy Brown and bassist Earl Falconer, who perhaps never get the credit they deserve. Itâs their efforts that get the backbone moving and the tail feathers shaking. They were well "at it" tonight and made it sound easy with what they do, and how they do it. Additional percussion provided by another founder member, Norman Hassan, who comes down front later in the set to sing lead ,and show off some fancy footwork. Earl Falconer gets his chance for lead vocal duties stage front in the set too.

âSing Our Own Song,â and then the track I have not stopped humming since Saturday, âHomely Girl,â from âLabour Of Love 2.â The band made a great job of âKingston Town,â too, before âReggae Music,â and âEasy Snapping.â By now, the audience were in the palm of the bandâs hand, and still very much in party mood.
One of my personal favourites, and a great version tonight, âBoom Shacka Lacka,â was very well received before the brilliant âOne In Ten.â A single in 1981 from their album âPresent Arms.â I bought this when it came out, and the hit âKing,â and played them as a DJ in the Leicester nightclubs. I have never forgotten the stunning lyric, âI am a one in ten, a statistical reminder of a world that doesnât care.â Jimmy Brown wrote that lyric I am told. That song and the political sentiment, is as relevant today in this ââwe are all in it togetherâ bullshit, âbedroom taxâ country we live in, as it was when it was first released.

Another early one, and another hit single, âFood For Thought,â and then two more to end the set with; âHere I Am,â and of course, the one they had all been waiting for, âRed Red Wine.â Every voice in the crowd, young and old, male and female were singing their little hearts out. Quite emotional really, for a Saturday night in a little market town most famous for big yellow diggers (JCBâs HQ is a stoneâs throw from the track,) and the birth place of film director Shane Meadows, who made the recent film documentary on The Stone Roses. I bet he digs UB40 (see what I did there?)

The roars for more were as loud as those JCBs revving up on a freezing cold building site on a cold November morning. The band troop back on stage, beaming with smiles, and plunder their back catalogue for an oldie but goodie, âLove Is All,â before a new track from the current CD, âBlue Eyes.â Then before they go eat dinner, and celebrate a storming gig, another chance for a sing-song, on the Andy Williams classic, âCanât Help Falling In Love.â This the band covered in 1993 and scored a number one single with, both in the UK and America. It was also the theme tune of the Hollywood blockbuster âSliver.â

No one can say they did not get value for money tonight from this twice Grammy-nominated band, now in their 36th year together. The guys did not put a foot wrong either. Unlike some âveteran hit makers,â this mob clearly love what they do, give their all at every show and you could never say they were just going through the motions. Out of the nine members, five are original founder members. Three previous members are now in a band together. If they were being honest and had been here tonight, I think all three might just have been regretting leaving the original band. This was a pretty special gig, and one the town will remember for a very long time. The band cite it as probably their favourite gig this year.

The first of what the Racecourse hopes will be an annual event, bringing in a âname bandâ to top off an afternoon and evening of racing. The organisers were so impressed with not only what the boys did on stage, but how âdown to earthâ they were off stage, they have already said they want to bring them back in two years time.

The thing that stuck in my mind tonight is the question; what is a musicianâs job? The obvious answer is to play music. But beyond that? As many songwriters and performers may well tell you; to connect with their audience. To move them. To create an emotion. Not just to churn out songs like a frigging juke box, and go through the motions to grab the cheque, fill the van full of the booze from the dressing room and get away as soon as possible. No.
To make a difference to the life of that person who paid out their hard earned cash to see you. The people who buy your records, who have followed you for most of your career. They want to know you care about them.

Well there is no doubt in my mind, by the reaction from the crowd tonight, the way the band handle themselves off stage with their fans, and the banter between band and fans on-line since that gig, these old Brummie buggers care deeply.

I am sure most of you reading this are aware of recent developments with financial and legal issues, in relation to former members. I do not need to go into that here as it is best left to the lawyers and to the management; fires do not need stoking, and let the band get on with the business of music. Tonight was all about that connection I spoke about earlier. Some of the crowd were moved to tears during the bandâs set, I kid you not. No one left that site anything less than on cloud nine, and that includes the band.

I think maybe this quote sums it all up for me. Often attributed to Ludwig Van Beethoven, but some say it was actually jazz legend Miles Davis who said it: âTo play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable.â

There you have it; that word: PASSION. Thatâs the difference between a band who care and a band just doing it for the fee. This band is passionate about their sound and staying true to it. Another point to consider is this; they are not just about their past glories. Their past hits. If you hear their original material from the current album, it is as strong as most of what they have recorded in the past. Honestly.

Very recently this band sold out venues across the UK on their headline tour, with over 25,000 tickets sold. The tour was so successful and demand is such that they have just announced another leg, in October and November. Another 35,000 people are expected to see the band on that tour, across the 18 forthcoming dates in the Autumn. One venue has already broken box office records, by selling 1,000 tickets in May for a show some six months later.

Maybe before the band walk on to the stage on that tour, Chesney Hawkesâ âThe One And Only,â should be played through the PA. Because as far as the Uttoxeter crowd were concerned, on Saturday night this lot were a very safe bet, a dead cert. The one and only UB40. The real deal. 8,000 people canât be wrong, can they?

All photos copyright Simon Redley
Words SIMON REDLEY

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