Thanks to a long running MTV show, the idea for rock bands to rework their wares acoustically – or, indeed ‘Unplugged’ – reached the point of frenzy in the 1990s. That MTV show saw appearances from the likely (Neil Young, Bob Dylan), to the more interesting (REM, Alanis Morrissette), right through to the completely unexpected (Nirvana, Staind, Pearl Jam). Naturally, some performances worked better than others – it showed how Staind, in particular, just didn’t have the spark or the songs for the format – but, nevertheless, the idea of the acoustic show proved popular with audiences across the globe. Years on from MTV’s peak popularity, the acoustic format still endures: in 2016, we saw acoustic albums from Status Quo, Peter Frampton, Jimmy Somerville and more… Even UB40 got in on the act – with disastrous results.
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”.