Promises and Lies: The Story of UB40 review – how this band of brothers went to war

Bitter division, financial mismanagement and unexpected political allegiances … we’re all UB40 now

Brummie reggae band UB40 backed Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership battle. Or did they? Because after they got behind him, it emerged that there is another band named UB40, and this lot weren’t saying whether they were pro Corbyn, or Owen Smith, or Donald Trump, or whoever.

Promises and Lies: The Story of UB40 (BBC4) tells the extraordinary tale of how there came to be two bands fighting over the right to be UB40. Why would anyone want to be UB40, purveyors of insipid reggae-lite, you might ask? That’s not the point. They do, and they’re fighting over it, and it makes the Labour leadership contest, and even Trump v Clinton, look like handbags.

The story starts happily enough, back in 1978, in Birmingham. A bunch of mates, including brothers Robin and Ali Campbell, formed a band, copying the Jamaican sounds they loved. They got their big break when Chrissie Hynde heard them and asked them to support the Pretenders on tour (even if she didn’t understand a word they said). UB40 went on to become one of the biggest-selling bands of the 80s.

They weren’t very good with money, though. It all disappeared – in smoke, up some noses, God knows where else. This led to tension, as disappeared money often does, especially within a family. Ali broke loose, was joined by Mickey Virtue, later by Astro, and was replaced as lead singer in the original band by another brother, Duncan Campbell.

So now there are two UB40s, three brothers, a family torn apart, broken, broke, with massive legal bills to add to all the debt – and touring relentlessly to keep afloat. And here they all are, taking part in this documentary. Not together, in the same room; I doubt they’ll ever be in the same room again (they weren’t even for their folk singer dad Ian Campbell’s funeral). The wounds are too deep. You can see and feel the pain.

To be honest, it feels a bit like the country, the world even, right now, divided beyond repair. We’re all UB40 now. Red red wine, stay close to me …

The way they were … UB40 in 1983.
The way they were … UB40 in 1983. Photograph: George Wilkes Archive/Getty Images

Contributor

Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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