In 1980 an unlikely collective of Brits from Birmingham helped bring reggae to a mainstream audience around the globe. Named after the English unemployment form, UB40 comprised singer/guitarist Ali Campbell, singer/toaster Astro, keyboardist Mickey Virtue, guitarist Robin Campbell (Ali’s brother) and a powerful rhythm section. The band’s slew of hits included “Red Red Wine,” “If It Happen Again,” “I Got You Babe,” “Rat In Mi Kitchen” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).”
But then in 2008 management disputes caused Ali Campbell and Mr. Virtue to walk away from the brand they created and nurtured for almost three decades. Astro followed suit in 2013, effectively turning the name UB40 into a tribute act with Mr. Campbell’s other brother, Duncan as the new singer.
In 2014 the trio came back together to reclaim their moniker and rightful place in music history. Now dubbed “UB40 Legends”, the group featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mr. Virtue has returned to recording albums like 2014’s “Silhouette and 2016’s “Unplugged.”
And touring, with the band playing The Howard Theater Tuesday evening. Over a bottle or wine (yes, it was indeed red), the trio reflected on the return, their own vino and
Question: Ali and Mickey, why did you leave UB40 in 2008? And Astro, why you in 2014?
Ali Campbell: I had big issues with management. That was the reason for me leaving my own band and brand that I had started in 1979.
Same thing. The management.
AC: The management has just gone to court and been disqualified for being directors for 11 years. I stand vindicated.
Astro: My reasons for leaving were very similar, but the final straw that broke the camel’s back was them recording “Getting Over the Storm,” which was a country album. It was a slap in the face to our fans who had stuck by us over 30 years through thick and thin.
Q: How did you three of you come to reunite in 2013?
AC: Mickey and I and the band have been touring around and playing shows for six years. Astro got in touch and said, “Shouldn’t we getting back together then?” That’s what all the fans wanted anyway.
The big thing fans wanted was a reunion. When Astro came back to the fold, that was the reunion fans were waiting for. It was all jolly, and we’ve been touring the world since then. Here we are.
Mickey Virtue: And no one has shot at us yet. (Laughs)
Q: I see the bottle or red wine here. Is this a pre-show ritual?
Astro: As it happens we’ve brought out our own red, red wine. This is not our particular brand. Ours is a Bordeaux superior blended with a Cabernet Franc. Mellow and great.
AC: It’s very quaffable.
Q: This tour you are billed as “UB40 Legends. Are your old bandmates still touring as UB40, and what kind of problems does that present?
AC: It doesn’t cause us any problems other than…
Astro: It confuses the fans.
AC: Exactly. What we have always said is “UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey.” We’ve never gone out without saying that. Everyone knows who they are getting to see.
The “dark side,” as I call them, always goes out as just “UB40.” They don’t say “not the original lineup.”
Astro: They don’t even say “featuring Duncan Campbell.”
AC: We just get reams and reams of complaints on our site from people who have been tricked into seeing them.
MV: The fact is we own the brand. We had to buy it off the inline revenue. So we bought it. Then they (UB40) dragged us into court for using their name. The name we bought. Before that could all be concluded, they disappeared.
Q: Ali, is it extra frustrating for you because it is your brothers?
AC: It’s still very acrimonious. We don’t talk or anything. But it’s old news. We are doing what we do, carrying the torch for reggae music.
Q: What can people expect when they come to see you guys on tour?
Astro: They can expect as many hits as we can cram into the time that we are allotted on stage. There will be some material from our new album, just so they know what we’re up to lately. But the show is primarily hits because that’s what people come to listen to.
We’re not self-indulgent. We play the hits so everyone can sing along.
Q: Why did you guys decide to play reggae music in the first place?
Astro: In Birmingham there was a whole West Indian population. The music that we were hearing was reggae music. We used to slink out of our beds to go and listen at these hash parties that would start on a Friday night and finish on a Monday morning. Once you’re infected by it, it is something that never leaves you.
Q: Why did you record so many covers over the years?
AC: A lot of our hits were from the “labor of love” series, and people decided we were a cover band. We made 28 albums and only three of them were “labor of love” albums. The rest were all self-penned original albums.
Q: Is there a new album in the future?
Astro: Yeah, we’re already started. We’re halfway through it.
AC: Literally halfway. We’ve done all the music. It’s the best we’ve done in years. Everyone who has heard it, which is not many people, are jumping up and down because they can’t believe how good it is.
Astro: It’s coming out Feb. 15 of next year.
Q: What’s the title?
Astro: Can’t tell you.
AC: He could tell you, but then he’d have to kill you. (Laughs)
UB40 Legends play The Howard Theater Tuesday. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.