ITV News Entertainment Reporter Rishi Davda spoke with UB40's Ali Campbell about the death of his bandmate - and long time friend - Astro last year
As Ali Campbell strode on stage towards me, a glass of red wine in hand, I could sense his excitement to be back on the festival circuit after an enforced two-year hiatus. While the pandemic stopped the UB40 founding member from performing live, it provided the opportunity for him to craft his 31st album ‘Unprecedented’. Written with fellow band member and ‘spiritual brother’ Astro - born Terence Wilson - the album is a characteristic blend of originals and covers.
However, just two weeks after the duo finished the final mixes, Astro died following a short illness.
Now touring the tracks they worked on together, for Ali, performing the songs is tinged with a touch of sadness.
Ali said: "It’s sort of made some of the songs a bit more poignant.
"It was quite a happy album when we made it - Astro was in a really good place and he was happy about what we had done.’ Astro died on November 6 2021, leaving Ali stunned. Reflecting on his reaction when he heard the news, Ali said: "He was my brother of 40 years, so obviously it’s left a big hole. I’m still reeling from it, the last thing he said to me was ‘see you Friday, kid’ and I said ‘See you, As’… that was the last time I saw him."
The musical pair first met in Birmingham in the late 1970s and quickly forged a strong bond. Astro joined up with Ali a few years later in the fast-evolving UB40. They went on to travel the world together, delighting fans wherever they performed. Ali knows that the death of his close friend "has changed the way I look at life. I’m looking at my mortality a bit more. I don’t feel afraid of dying like I used to because my friends have done it." Frontman Ali left UB40 in 2008, joined years later by Astro, forming a new version of UB40.
Listen to Unscripted - our arts and entrainment podcast
The original group featuring Ali’s brother Robin is still performing, but the siblings won’t be reuniting. I asked Ali if there was any chance of reconciliation and he said: "No chance at all, the reconciliation happened when Astro joined me 8 years ago.
"I think what Robin is doing now is a tribute band. I should feel flattered that they are out there singing my hits. " UB40’s biggest hits include ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘Kingston Town’ and ‘(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You’.
For the Reggae star, music’s changed a lot different from how it used to be. He notes that ‘we are all busy adapting.
"Now, we don’t have a format, downloads have put paid to that. I feel there is no focus, the charts would focus music, you could watch your single go up the charts." ‘Unprecedented’ is the latest release in a career that has spanned four decades. Ali may now be in his 60s but has no plans to slow down.
"When you’ve got 70,000 people in the sunshine, all singing along and dancing to reggae music, it doesn’t get any better than that for me… Once I get on stage I love it. Reggae is very unifying."