All-time favourites and loved worldwide UB40 returned to Birmingham for their Christmas Hometown Show, bringing together people of all ages to a very packed venue. Celebrating 40 years since the formation of the band with a massive tour earlier this year, the English reggae band seems unstoppable.
“Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” set the tone for the night, as vocalist Duncan Campbell confessed that there’s nothing like a Birmingham crowd and announced some more “really, really old songs for some really, really old people” before the band continued with “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Sing Our Own Song”. Needless to say the audience was booing for a couple of seconds after that comment before starting to giggle.
Duncan’s heartfelt performance on stage created an atmosphere filled with emotion and nostalgia for the 80’s, but he shared the spotlight with drummer Jimmy Brown for a few songs. He left the drums in favour of the microphone multiple times during the night, while also showing some very impressive moves.
UB40 might have many members but there’s always room for more as they invited Gilly G to join them on stage for two songs from the current album, “You Haven’t Called” and “Moonlight Lover”.
Even though the crowd seemed to enjoy the newer songs, everyone was getting impatient for the well-known classics, so when the first words of the next song were uttered, the excitement in the massive venue was unbelievable. Eric Donaldson’s “Cherry Oh Baby” made every single person in the Arena dance and sing along as loud as they could.
We knew we were in for a treat when the next note announced “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (The Temptations cover). All the legs in the standing area were restless, with some unfolding into some really impressive moves. The reggae party kept going with Bob Dylan’s masterpiece “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”.
Bassist Earl Falconer came in front to showcase his falsetto vocals on catchy “Baby” and returned to the new album with the politically charged “Bulldozer”, together with Gilly G, who seemed to be part of the family at this point.
The setlist continued with another cover, this time after The Slickers — “Johnny Too Bad” – which the band made their own. Finally, what would an UB40 gig be without “Red, Red Wine”, the universally cherished anthem? The crowd sang every single word, maybe except the “rap” part. Even though this reggae version is the best-known version of the song, many forget that it’s a cover, and it was actually written by Neil Diamond, who frequently performs the UB40-inspired reggae version rather than his own.
A slight annoyance of this legendary night was the shaky and unfocused images on the big screen. Even though there were some more dramatic and interesting angles than at the usual concerts, the close-ups also made it really easy for the members of the band to appear off-centre and more outside the frame than in.
Before the encore, the members of the beloved band left the stage for a few minutes, while I could hear many fans thought the evening had ended and were going towards the exit as the band returned on stage for three more songs.
Brian Travers came back wearing a very sparkly jacket and led “Food For Thought” with his saxophone. It’s been awhile since Travers had been on stage with the rest of the band as he had to miss this year’s tour due to serious on-going treatment, but his breath-taking performance made him seem like he’d never left the stage.
For Lord Creator’s “Kingston Town”, the crowd was urged to turn on the flashes “to see the lights of Birmingham”. Very shortly, the venue was filled with a sea of fireflies as everyone was swinging and smiling.
What better way to end the night than the heart-warming “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You” (Elvis Presley cover). Kioko, their support who opened the evening, joined the band on stage and they all sang together for the last time this year, not leaving without wishing a Merry Christmas to everyone who came along.
- Here I Am (Come and Take Me) (Al Green cover)
- Maybe Tomorrow
- Sing Our Own Song
- Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (Elton Britt and The Skytoppers cover)
- Midnight Rider (The Allman Brothers Band cover)
- Tyler / King
- The Keeper
- Broken Man
- You Haven’t Called
- Moonlight Lover
- Cherry Oh Baby (Eric Donaldson cover)
- The Way You Do the Things You Do (The Temptations cover)
- I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (Bob Dylan cover)
- Baby (The Heptones cover)
- Johnny Too Bad (The Slickers cover)
- Red Red Wine (Neil Diamond cover)
- Food for Thought
- Kingston Town (Lord Creator cover)
- Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis Presley cover)
Review and Photographs: Andra Tudoran