UB40 with Steel Pulse @ 02 Academy, December 21st 2015


Many a die-hard UB40 fan who couldn’t make this gig tonight may, understandably, be asking, ‘Well, which UB40 were they?’ Point. Following the Campbell sibling schism and wider bands’ musical differences some years ago, there now coexists two entities both bearing the same iconic name. Eschewing any potential, litigious misunderstandings – suffice to say tonight’s UB40 line-up reads as follows — Robin Campbell (co-lead vocals and guitar), Duncan Campbell (lead vocals) Earl Falconer (bass, vocal), Brian Travers, (saxophone and keyboards), Jimmy Brown (drums), Norman Hassan (percussion, vocals). The band also feature, Martin Meredith (sax) and Laurence Parry (trumpet) and Tony Mullings (keyboards) — OK? – Let’s move on…

Rounding off his chat with Brum Live last week,  Brian Travers, was in sanguine, reflective mood, ‘You know – I think I’m becoming a bit of a Hippy in my older years!’ Well, choosing this evening’s gig celebrating the Winter Solstice, in both the pagan calendar and divers astronomic almanacs – marking the turning of the shortest day towards the New Year’s reawakening – maybe he has a point — Man!

Will there be insightful critique, analytical juxtapositions, within a contemporaneous zeitgeist retrospective, regarding the both Bands’ gig tonight? Will there bollocks! The promise of a once in a lifetime, double-bill, of Rock-Steady/Reggae-beats from Birmingham’s finest exponents of the genre for over nearly four decades will be more than sufficient!

Musicologists, fans and the like, will ever gnaw at the bone of contention as to why the name Steel Pulse never became a Reggae-genre defining, iconic brand-ident in itself. Those Swarfega-swilling scruffs, Black Sabbath, down Aston way got the Heavy Metal cachet, didn’t they? ‘Steel Pulse’? Certainly has a ring to it – as made evidently clear when the band went runaway-steam-roller Reggae manic through a fearsome set of classic songs with crucially crunching vitality and panache. Charismatic, shamanic front man, David ‘Dread’ Hinds, twirled and swirled in his Magi regal technicolor robes, matching bonnet and kitsch-cool £Land shades.

Let Jah be praised mightily because – this band are an ensemble of scorchingly talented, tight musicians who can, on the pirouette of a crochet, cut it so loose their DNA strands must be double-jointed.

From Selwyn ‘Bumbo’ Brown’s exotically charmed Hammond organ effects keyboard flourishes, to Amlak ‘AmBASSador’ Tarif’s uber-rude-boy bass solos (and not least his Carl Douglas TOTPs Kung Fu Fighting outfit) or the closing guitars/horns free-jazz fusion mayhem during the closing ‘abracadabra’ coda of ‘Steppin’ Out’ — the case was proven, M’lud. Honking favourites included the fiery and ever apposite anthemic/polemic brilliance of ‘Handsworth Revolution’ and the deliciously caustic up-beat irony of ‘Taxi Driver (won’t stop for me)’.

Sadly, no time left for set-listed Ku Klux Klan — a song burnt in to our memories like the fiery cross that inspired its 1978 debut when they first wore the KKK visceral comedy-clown pointy hoods and racist robes. Are you reading this Donald ‘twat-rug’ Trump? An outstanding set indeed. (…and a name-check must for their utterly sound, Sound-Man, Derek, for the mix/set-list, any errors are the reviewer’s!)

Blues Raid Dance, Rally Round, Roller Skates, Sound Check, Prediction, A Who Responsible, Bad Man, Not King James Version, Handsworth Revolution, Soldier, Taxi Driver, Babylon, KKK, Steppin’ Out.

By now the 02 is filling up cuddly and punters are getting Yuletide gooey as the DJ cranks up Ken Booth’s 1974 classic cover of David Gates’ ‘Everything I Own’. It’s 21.22 of the clock as the lights fade and a grandiloquent opus of a fanfare, somewhat approximating a hippo undergoing a cruise-missile rectal-probe, announces the arrival of our very own ‘Local boys made good.’ Out booms Robin Campbell’s gurning smile and inimitable brummie twang with, ‘It’s great to be home!’ – rejoined with a hullabaloo of hoorays from the heaving crowd. Game on. The trio-horn section honked and silhouette posed on the backstage riser, the Campbell brothers oozed their trade-mark smooth harmonies as the band blazed through their thirty-seven year catalogue of album and singles hits too numerous to mention — but, hey, why not?

‘Sweet Sensation/Mary/Cherry Oh Baby/Beautiful Woman/I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ were just the teasing Hors d’oeuvre before the climatic banquet of delights were about to be served. Sadly, the reviewer + 1, were to be cursed by the ghost at the feast, bearing nasty throat-bugs precipitating their early departure. So, contributions/full set-list to the comments box would be mightily welcome to add to this, maybe — once in our lifetimes’ experience? Just to remind us what we missed, eh? Damn and soddin’ humbugs. Anyway ,

— Merry Christmas One & All — May good Fortune be your constant companion.


Review: John Kennedy

Photograph – UB40 Facebook

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