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.
The show needs a proper reissue. It captures the still young band at somewhere near their first peak, promoting the ‘Labour of Love’ album. Along with the 1983 ‘UB40 Live’ LP, it remains an essential live document, with Ali and Robin Campbell both in excellent voice. Something else that comes through during the performance is how vital Brian Travers’s sax work – and sound – was to the band back then. He never played in a flashy way, or ever looked to dominate, yet his role within the band was absolutely pivotal. His deep hooks brought life to hits like ‘Food For Thought’ and provided the heart of the overlooked ‘I Got Mine’. He could be soulful or mournful and he could provide uplifting fills, sometimes all within a few bars of each other. Regardless of line up, in many ways, Brian provided the true heart of UB40 itself.
It’s time to sit back and wallow in nostalgia, as you watch a great reggae band at work…
Brian Travers: 1959-2021