Words by Ali Arief
On The 26th of February, reggae band UB40 took to the Brighton Centre to perform two hours of pure reggae bliss. The atmosphere was bubbling, with die-hard fans of the band donning merchandise and advertisements for Ali Campbells & Astro’s red Bordeaux wine plastered on the wings of the stage. The opening acts warmed up the crowd with immense enthusiasm, the upcoming dancehall and reggae band Reggae Roast standing out as a particularly exciting and vibrant opening act. UB40 were greeted to the stage with a beautifully warm welcome, with people of all ages uniting to dance and sing. The atmosphere was incredibly welcoming.
The Unprecedented Tour has been touring the country to promote the band’s new album ‘Unprecedented’. The band played the song ‘Unprecedented’ early on, informing the audience that the song was written during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It was a slow track with political lyrics criticising the government’s response to the virus and commenting on how politicians are not to be trusted. It was an interesting break from the dance tracks that were played previously and showed the dichotomy between the good-time music and the politics with which Reggae feels so at home.
The show also took a deeply emotional tone, with a tribute to ‘sing-J’ Astro, a member of the band who had passed away last year due to an ongoing illness. They used the backdrop of the stage to project gigs in which Astro had performed previously, and let him perform to the audience, with his very own set lasting around ten minutes. It was clear to see just how much this man was loved by his fellow bandmates who call him brother, but also by his fans who were visibly emotional when his set was played. Although he is now no longer with us, seeing Astro perform made me think about the lasting impact that musicians can have on the community that is their fanbase, and how even though they are gone, they can still impact and touch the souls and hearts of so many.
The band itself played impeccably. With seven members including Ali Campbells leading the vocals, the audience was treated to incredible saxophone solos, and an amazing five-minute drum solo that had the entire crowd up out of their seats and dancing wildly.
Classics such as ‘Kingston Town’ and ‘Red Red Wine’ were saved right till the end of the set, with the whole audience joining together to sing their most famous songs loudly, including the front of house and stewarding team at the Brighton Centre.
As this was my first ever reggae gig, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, what I found was an audience full of passionate fans, incredible live music and a happy, positive vibe that stayed with me hours after I had left the venue. It is easy to see how UB40 have kept their title as one of the best reggae bands in the world.