The good news for Jeremy Corbyn is that he has gained the endorsement of a hugely successful band with 70m record sales to their name. The less good news: this is a band with a history of brutal infighting that puts even Labour’s recent tumultuous months in the shade.
The band in question is UB40, the Birmingham-formed reggae superstars who enjoyed dozens of chart hits during the 1980s and 90s, among them three UK number ones. More specifically it is one incarnation of UB40 – the version led by guitarist and vocalist Robin Campbell, and featuring the majority of the original lineup. There is, however, another band of the same name, headed by Ali Campbell – Robin’s younger brother and the original lead vocalist – which also features two founding members.
The band, whose best-known hit was Red, Red Wine, have offered to share a stage with the Labour leader at a press conference in London.
The dual UB40s confusion dates back to 2008, when Ali left the group. Depending on who you talk to, this was either to forge a solo career, or due to disagreements over business dealings with the band. Adding to the familial strife, middle brother Duncan was drafted into the “continuity” UB40 to take over from him on lead vocals.
In the 2014 interview, Ali said he felt betrayed by the “acrimonious” split and his replacement by his brother. “If you went to see the Rolling Stones and Derek Jagger turned up instead of Mick, you’d feel a bit peeved,” he said. “I haven’t spoken to Duncan or Robin for six years now. It has torn the family apart.”
Ali said he formed his own version of UB40 because the remaining band – “the ‘dark side’ as I call them” – were “destroying the legacy of my band, playing smaller and smaller venues”. Inevitably, there was a court battle, and the newer version now ply their trade as “UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue”, the three longstanding members.
The band’s website says: “We would not want anyone to confuse Ali, Astro and Mickey’s band with the band that carried on using the name UB40 after 2008 made up of other founding members and new members they tried to replace us with in their attempt to trade off the reflected glory of the success of the original lineup.”
Amid all this, it’s less of a surprise that at least half of UB40 have endorsed Corbyn. The band were always seen as left-leaning, taking their name from a document filled in by unemployed people at the time, and released a series of political songs, such as One in Ten, which was about joblessness.
In a statement, the band said: “Jeremy has reignited an interest in politics for people who no longer felt included, and engaged and inspired a new generation of young voters who, for the first time, believe that they have an incorruptible politician who truly represents them. For these reasons, he has our full support as leader of a genuine, believable Labour party.”
The Labour leader welcomed the news. “I am delighted to receive the endorsement of UB40, one of the most successful British reggae acts of all time,” Corbyn said. “UB40’s story was and remains inspiring; people from across cultures and backgrounds coming together and combining their talents – in a time when prejudice was more prevalent – and creativity to produce music that has endured across decades.
“The arts are of central importance to our economy, and will be one of the key priorities for the next Labour government. For every pound invested in the arts, £1.06 is generated for the economy. This is why, as part of my plan to rebuild and transform Britain, I have pledged to increase funding to the arts to reach the European average, so that no one and no community is left behind.”