LIVE: UB40 Reunited – Limelight, Belfast

UB UB2 UB3 UB5 UB6 UB8 UB10There were a few false starts.

A few rounds of cheering kicked in before they did actually appear on stage; and when they did appear, they launched straight into a long intro with keyboards and horn section and pulsing energy and the crowd lit up. Then eventually Ali Campbell and Astro joined them and things got a bit louder. A lot louder in fact.

There have been splits and recriminations with UB40 over recent years, and three original members have come together as ‘UB40 Reunited.’ Ali Campbell, founder and lead singer, Astro on trumpet and vocals, and Mickey Virtue on keyboards. As they stood in front of us at these early stages of the show however, it seemed pretty obvious that the audience really didn’t care about all that ‘reunited’ or not business. They just wanted a UB40 gig. They wanted the reggae and the pop and the hits and the voice and the dreads. They wanted to sing along and a good boogie. The audience was well mixed. There were old school punks from the 70s there, a good number of polo-shirted baldies, the young and the beautiful, the sober and the very drunk. On a school night. Yo!

The original UB40 setup had eight members. I think I counted eleven on stage tonight including the impressive 3-piece horn section. ‘Here I Am (Come And Take Me’) started with loud appreciation from the crowd. The “ooh oohs” sounded female but there weren’t any on stage so somebody was good with the high notes up there. The sing-a-long started spontaneously and they had pleased this crowd from the get-go.

With no words we were then brought straight through to ‘Homely Girl’ where those harmonies were distinctly UB40, even though at one point it seemed to me that everyone on stage was singing which would have brought new voices to the mix. That, by the way, isn’t including what seemed like the whole Limelight full of people who knew all the words and weren’t afraid to use them.

Then straight through to ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’; their own version of the old Temptations song. Astro was cool, walking the stage, chewing gum between verses. Mid-song the microphone was held towards the crowd, indeed the band was waved quiet, so the audience could hear themselves sing. The lyrics are funny outside the song:

“You’ve got a smile so bright, you know you could have been a candle.
I’m holding you so tight, you know you could have been a handle.”

But they obviously work inside the song, and they were working big time for the audience who were squeezing the juice out of all the entertainment that they were supposed to.

‘Groovin’ (Out On Life)’ was another oldie. It had the ladies in front of me rocking from the hips, arms waving in sync, with the occasional bum and lower-leg shake. The song was also accompanied by a fair bit of screaming. I know not why. Actually ‘Version Girl’ had a very similar affect. Right from the start with Astro rapping in the intro, people seemed to be anticipating what was coming next with it, and again were lapping it up with the impressive brass, Astro giving it the moves, and an almost big-band finale.

There was hit after hit. ‘Cherry Oh Baby’, ‘Rat in Mi Kitchen’ (which made the room explode incidentally), and ‘Kingston Town ‘. I got talking with a man in a white polo shirt. He had been to see them here as recently as March of this year. Well, he’d actually been thrown out, but that’s a long story. He’s followed them since he was a teenager. The Limelight had plenty of people in it with a similar sentiment.

But this wasn’t just a greatest hits gig and they played a number of tracks from their new reggae album Silhouette. ‘I Want You’ is the latest single from the album. It’s a reworking of the Bob Dylan classic, which I prefer, but who cares; it is a many covered song, from Ralph McTell to Cher to The Hollies; and hey at least this isn’t the James Blunt version. On the night they gave it a nice brass background and Ali got a good groove on for a minute or two up there. I enjoyed it. I sang along with the rest of the room.

Title track ‘Silhouette’ was their version of an old 50s number (Covered in the 70s by reggae legend Dennis Brown). The audience were synchronised with the music. They may not have known this as well as the others but they were enjoying it nevertheless, repeating the name of the song as often and in as high a key as the chorus demanded. I noticed the keyboards through all this; they were light and droppy. They were nice.

The encore started with a fantastic and heavily appreciated drum solo, and then eventually the rest of the band assumed their position on stage for ‘Food For Thought’. The brass section came into their own for this, particularly the saxophone. Ali was on guitar and Astro had his tambourine. It was real high energy but not super-fast, and was seriously accompanied by a bouncing audience. Then of course, the night was ended on ‘Red Red Wine’ (written by Neil Diamond by the way). As the crowd rocked and sang along, the band members were each silently acknowledged on stage by hand, and applauded. My polo shirted friend pointed up at Ali Campbell during all this and smiled knowingly “He is UB40.”

People walked away from that concert very happy after hearing their favourites, and after singing along to tracks from a new album they may not have heard before. UB40 have sold 70 million records over the years, and judging from this audience’s reaction I can see why. Cara Gibney, GiggingNI.com