were formed in a welfare line in 1978, and their multiracial lineup reflected the working-class community their members came from. The band consolidated its street credibility with political topics appealing to dissatisfied youth and got a boost from fans of the waning 2-Tone ska revival movement. Brothers
(guitar, lead vocals) formed the centerpiece of the group, which also included bassist
. The band purchased its first instruments with compensation money
received after a bar fight, even though few of the members knew how to play them.
But by the end of the year, the group was invited to tour with the Pretenders
. Their "Food for Thought" single reached the U.K. Top Ten in 1980, beginning a long streak of chart appearances. Signing Off
and Present Arms
were big sellers in Britain, if not America, and addressed the political issues of the day in songs like "One in Ten," a Top Ten hit blasting Margaret Thatcher for the country's unemployment rate. Released in 1983, Labour of Love
, an album of reggae cover songs, gave the group its first chart album in America and first number one U.K. hit with Neil Diamond
's "Red Red Wine." Several albums of original material sold well in the U.K., but only respectably in the U.S., where the group's biggest hit was a Top 30 cover of Sonny & Cher
's "I Got You Babe" featuring the Pretenders
' Chrissie Hynde
In 1988, the group performed "Red Red Wine" at a Nelson Mandela tribute concert, and a Phoenix radio station trotted the single out for a second go-round. Listener response was far more enthusiastic, and "Red Red Wine" reentered the charts and went all the way to the top. Finally having hit on a way to conquer the lucrative American market, UB40
responded with another covers album, Labour of Love II
, which produced Top Ten singles with versions of the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)." The group scored a huge hit in America with Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," which was initially featured in the Sharon Stone film Sliver
and spent seven weeks at number one. By this time, UB40
had largely abandoned their trademark left-wing politics and were concentrating more on perfecting their reggae oldies covers than their original material; however, the gimmick resulted in huge sales figures in both the U.S. and U.K., with Promises and Lies
reaching number six in the States and number one in Britain.
In the spring of 1998, UB40
released Presents the Dancehall Album
in the U.K. A third Labour of Love
collection followed a year later. In fall 2002, UB40
bounced back with yet another collection. The Fathers of Reggae
, which appeared on Virgin in November, highlighted the band's roots in reggae in a selection of classics. In 2003, the band scored a major hit in the U.K. when its version of the spiritual "Swing Low" with the multicultural choir United Colours of Sound
became the official anthem for the 2003 English Rugby team. The song was featured on the 2003 album Homegrown
. As their 2005 album, Who You Fighting For?
, was being released, an announcement was made that the band would be working with Birmingham's Repertory Theatre to stage a new musical in the spring of 2006. Two years later their album Twentyfourseven
became their last with vocalist Ali Campbell
and keyboardist Michael Virtue
. Their 2010 release Labour of Love IV
introduced Ali’s brother Duncan
as the group’s new lead singer.