Throughout the 80s, UB40 barely put a foot wrong. Between their own politically charged anthems, experiments with dub and bringing several 60s Trojan cuts to a new audience, they became true ambassadors for reggae.
Given how good most of their 80s output is, it’s a shame that only two of their albums have been released as expanded deluxe editions, and two of their essential live VHS releases have still yet to surface on a digital format. This Hammersmith show from 1983 didn’t even get a sell through VHS release for the home market. If you’re ever lucky enough to find a copy that hasn’t gone to landfill, it’ll be a “big box” ex-rental with, by now, something of a dubious picture and sound quality.
Their name might not be familiar, but California’s Mento Buru have shared stages with The Specials, Long Beach Dub All Stars, Desmond Dekker, Fishbone and The Aquabats. They’ve been affiliated with the legendary Moon Ska record label. They’ve worked hard to bring good time ska, reggae and Latin sounds to enthusiastic audiences since the early 90s and, by often sidelining the punkier elements that cut through so many of the third wave acts, as their name suggests, they’ve always sounded so much more authentic than some of their would-be peers.
The band began a hit and miss 2020 by issuing a mini album of archive recordings (‘The Skarage Days Revisited ’92-’96’) which acted as a great collection filler for the fan. In many ways, their second release of the year is of much bigger appeal, even if it has a shorter shelf-life in terms of listening opportunities. As its title suggests ‘East Bakersfield Christmas’ finds Mento Buru bringing the sunny sounds of Kingston to the Californian suburbs, contrasting various winter wonderland scenarios with music that often suggests beaches and warmth.
Although only six tracks in length – five different songs and a bonus Spanish translation – the band’s picks are absolutely classic. Their performances often bring so much life to the very familiar songs, and overall, this EP – although quite far removed from traditional festive fare – is a lot of fun.
If you were the kind of person that went to ska and punk gigs back in the late 90s, chances are you saw King Prawn. Chances are you saw the band a lot. There was a period when they seemed to support anyone and everyone. No matter how many times they appeared on a bill, though, they were always entertaining…and once seen, nobody could ever forget bassist Babar Luck’s distinctive presence.
The band split in 2003 but reformed nine years later without Luck. The idea of a King Prawn without him seemed odd at first, especially since he was such an integral part of the original band’s live show, but it was good to have them back. Showing off a more commercial side, King Prawn’s 2014 comeback single ‘Done Days’ was, in some ways, a lacklustre return to studio work, but five years on, the long-awaited full length ‘The Fabulous New Sounds of King Prawn’ is a marked improvement.
It’s not often that New Orleans is associated with reggae sounds, but from from a city with a jazz climate and home to the brilliantly eccentric Dr. John Creaux comes Maddie Ruthless. She’s the self-proclaimed “rocksteady queen of New Orleans” and on this 2010 release, her voice and choice of material comes across with a supreme confidence, presenting a classic sound that could rival a few more established artists.
At their best, the original eight man UB40 were an unstoppable band of brothers taking reggae music to every corner of the globe. With millions of record sales to their credit, it has been said that – save for Bob Marley – they were the genre’s most successful ambassadors. Some may knock 1983’s ‘Labour of Love’ as a lightweight covers record or middle class dinner party music, but it’s unlikely that those detractors have ever even heard Eric Donaldson’s version of ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ or Laurel Aitken’s ‘Guilty’, let alone Dandy Livingstone’s own ‘Version Girl’, so in many ways, in making a covers record, UB40 were making a more than valid musical point. Their 1980-89 catalogue is peerless. The many albums they released between 1991-2008 also have points of interest.
In 2008, the unthinkable happened: vocalist/guitarist Ali Campbell left the band. Keyboard player Mickey Virtue joined him. The six other band members were joined by vocalist Duncan Campbell and embarked on the next phase of their career. In 2013, the ever popular Astro jumped ship and joined Ali and Mickey in their musical endeavours, leaving behind what he dubbed “a rudderless ship”.