Ali Campbell @ Birmingham Academy, 27th May 2011

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A past-master of understated showmanship, Ali Campbell greeted his partisan audience with a simple “I’ve come home” and had them eating out of his hand from the off.

This was an evening of firsts for this reviewer. The first time at a reggae gig for twenty-odd years, the first in a long long time where women outnumbered men in the audience (and by a long way), and definitely the first time recently where I may have reduced the average age of the crowd by attending!

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The crowd loved Ali, and there was plenty of love in the room. An older bunch, obviously benefiting from a Ben Sherman shirt sale, they had done us all a favour by getting well-oiled before turning up relaxed and friendly for a set that was based on Ali’s recent Great British Songs collection. They danced and sang their hearts out all night and by the end had contributed to a great occasion.

Popularity based on the local factor was to be expected but the Ladies obviously see Mr Campbell as more than just an accomplished reggae singer. “Isn’t he gorgeous” one teenager said to the woman I took to be her mother as he took to the stage for Stick By Me. Ali Campbell as a sex symbol? Even in his more cuddly guise this seems to be the case as my young friend wasn’t alone in whooping and cheering every gyration and move, all performed strictly tongue-in-cheek by Ali, who milked the adulation for all it was worth..

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Radio Riddler had already managed to get the crowd into the right frame of mind with their combination of mixes, dub and live performance as well as threatening the safety of several audience members by hurling free CDs like Frisbees into the crowd. The project have apparently just completed a dub version of the whole of Prince’s Purple Rain and we were treated to their own reggae rendition of When Doves Cry and an “exclusive” playing of Ali Campbells’ Purple Rain. Now I know the theory is that anything in 4/4 time can be played in a reggae style but When Doves Cry was pushing the envelope a bit!

The theory does work on the tunes that Ali chose to cover for the Great British Songs collection and even Standards like The Hollies’ Carrie Anne and The Who’s Squeeze Box are skilfully converted so that they don’t sound awkward or corny. Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street was also given the full treatment and was perhaps the most surprising of the covers complete with authentic sax sounds.

The only nod to UB40 were the hits from the Labour of Love compilations Cherry Oh Baby, Please Don’t Make Me Cry, Kingston Town and the Chi-Lites Homely Girl. Having said that it was scary how many hits there were and how many tunes were recognisable in the set, all delivered in Ali’s trade mark vocal style, and the left handed guitar stance, reminiscent of his UB40 days.

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There was a brief lull as the set went somewhat flat with I’ll Be There and That’s Supposed To hurt but there were enough in the crowd who were word perfect to keep the momentum going and the set peaked with Johnny Nash’s hold Me Tight and Kingston Town.

Ali was called back to the stage twice, the first time bringing a tear to a lot of eyes with I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You, and the second time giving the waiting crowd what the wanted with Red Red Wine, yet another hit in a set of hits.

I would never class myself as a reggae fan or having much knowledge of the music and I may never buy an Ali Campbell record, but on the strength of tonight’s show I would certainly see him play live again. The combination of the man and his audience made for a great gig.

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As this was the first time that I had seen Ali Campbell live I do have one question for any fans who may wander along here: who was the “minder” at the side of the stage? Was he one of Ali’s or a local bloke, because at times he seemed to be part of the act?

Set List

Stick By Me
Squeeze Box
Nothing Ever Changes
Homely Girl
Impossible Love
Paint It Black
Would I Lie to You
Don’t Break My Heart
I’ll Be There
That’s Supposed to Hurt
You Wear it Well
My Heart is Gone
Carrie Anne
Cherry Oh Baby
Please Don’t Make Me Cry
Hold Me tight
Kingston Town

Here I Am Baby
I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You

Red Red Wine

Review – Ian Gelling
Photos – Steph Colledge

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