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”.
In September 2010, UB40’s debut album ‘Signing Off’ was afforded a lavish (but reasonably priced) deluxe reissue for its 30th anniversary. In addition to the original album, a three disc set included all the non-album singles in their 12” incarnations and a DVD featuring the promo video clips and each of the band’s UK TV appearances. A thorough job, indeed; the only thing absent was the live clip of ‘Madam Medusa’ from Frejas, 1980 as seen in Miles Copeland’s ‘Urgh! A Music War!’ concert film.
‘Labour of Love’, UB40’s first covers album from 1983, remains one of the band’s best selling albums. While political purists may sneer at the accessible selection of covers found on the record, the album should be applauded for bringing a few well-known (and more overlooked tunes) to a wider audience. These were clearly tunes the band loved in their formative years, and in the case of The Slickers’ ‘Johnny Too Bad’ and Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ in particular, these tunes presented the best of the band’s capabilities at that time.
The album has been pressed on CD three times. Firstly, in its original pressing dating from some time in the late 80s, as a two CD set with 1989’s ‘Labour of Love II’ and, later still, as disc one of the three CD anthology ‘The Platinum Collection’ – a budget priced box set containing the first three volumes of the ‘Labour of Love’ series. It has never appeared in any expanded form. This is a particularly frustrating considering the wealth of extra material from the period; material currently sat gathering dust in the record company archive.