Being a musician is not all roses on a silver platter, Astro from UB40 spent a few minutes over the phone and gave us a glimpse of what its like being on the road for 18 months – yes, you read that right! That is a year and a half being away from your friends and loved ones. UB40 has had an amazing journey for the past 40 years and is still continuing to serenade ears all over the world. Having been all over the world, you can bet that the band has tried an array of weird delicacies out there. If you were curious to know what’s the weirdest thing Astro has ever eaten, don’t stop here – it’s a slimy one.
Q. How are you doing today?
A. I’m good. I’m actually in Sunny Birmingham for a rare occasion. The sun is shining, and it’s bitterly cold outside but you can’t have everything.
Q. It’s really hot over here so its total polar opposite from where you’re at.
A. Fanstastic. Will it be exactly the same when get to Kuala Lumpur?
Q. It’ll be exactly the same, it hasn’t changed. It’ll be rainy too.
A. I can live with that if it’s only once in a while.
Q. So should we step right into it? What are UB40’s strengths and weaknesses?
A. Our strengths are that we play reggae music and we devoted to play reggae music. I think our weaknesses are not letting people know that there’s more to UB40 than the Labour of Love albums because there’s actually 21 self-planned albums out there. But I’m sure none of the other fans are aware of that just because of the popularity of the Labour of Love franchise. So that’s our weaknesses the fact that people don’t know our entire catalog.
Q. I’m sure true fans would really know every single album
A. I’m sure there are fans out there that do know everything but you know, till this day we are going to get a few people who only knows a few tunes like ‘Red, Red, Wine’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, we hope that will all change.
Q. I’m sure it will! What does reggae mean to you and the rest of the group?
A. For me, reggae music is an international language. It’s the only music that elates me, music that makes me feel great – It seems natural to all of us in the band. It’s the same music that unified us from the early ages of our younger days – it is a universal language. Not everybody understands or speaks English but everybody can understand the rhythm of guitar, and drum and bass line. And that would say a lot more than lyrics.
Q. That’s true. I’ve actually never thought about it that way. How do you usually rearrange a song into a cover? What is the process like?
A. It’s generally really straightforward. If the sound has got a 4 x 4 timing, then you can virtually change any sound into reggae. Not all of them work; the song itself has to stand to the melody. So we’re talking about the songs that were already hits in our eyes – years ago as kids. But not just in our eyes but in the reggae fraternity around the neighborhood where we grew up. There were these artist who’s tracks were never heard of in the mainstream radio, well not until we brought them to life with the Labour of Love franchise.
Q. I see. So what is the biggest inspiration that all of you have?
A. Most of us are inspired by Bob Marley, John Holt, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five. Those were the bands that we grew up listening to. When we decided to become a band, we always tried to emulate the heroes. And so, you know, you do your best.
Q. So what do you think is UB40’s greatest achievement so far?
A. That’s an absolute tough one. I’ve been with them for maybe 40 years now. I don’t even know where to begin… We’ve got so many great achievements for different reasons. One is definitely playing in South Africa. We played in front of 180,000 thousand Africans who were singing UB40 songs. That kind of makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It was you know one of my proudest moments. Another moment was selling out Madison Square Garden the same week that Red, Red, Wine got to number 1 on the Billboard charts. The only other band that had done that was The Beetles. That would be another memorable moment.
Q. Who has been your favorite artist that you’ve worked with and why?
A. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with virtually all of the heroes from the reggae world. But I’ll say personally John Holt; it was very instrumentally informative, doing integrative music especially. I remember there was an album called Thunderbolt back in early 70s. It kind of really transforms the lives of younger kids. We were able to work with him on a couple occasions; he was a guest on one of the tracks of our Fathers of Reggae album. All of our heroes sung their favorite UB40 songs after they recorded theirs on our Labour of Love album. Back in 2014 me and Ali performed on stage with John Holt at Summerfest and it was one of the best performances we’ve really done before he sadly passed away. Yeah he was a massive hero. I was proud to have worked with him.
Q. I’m sure you’ve been on tour like all over the world so how do you balance work and family life?
A. Well, it is pretty easy really. When we come back home, we just slip into our slippers and you become dad, or granddad. It’s family life. We don’t go out and socialize everyday that often because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves and we really don’t want to put our families through all that. And the amount of time we spent together out on the road or on the studio is more time than we spend with our families anyways. So the little time that we do get to spend with them, we just immerse ourselves in family life and so the two never really cross paths. Once the family knows that we are going to be on the road, everybody makes an adjustment to that and as soon as we come back home we resume play.
Q. What is the longest that you’ve been on tour?
A. Back in the day we used to be away for 18 months, It’s a long time. We used to fly our wives and children out if we have a couple of weeks available or if we’re staying somewhere they’ve never been before, for more than two days. We fly them out so they get to see the bits of the world that they otherwise wouldn’t see. So the kids get to go on planes and have a little of an adventure. After that we would just continue on our travels. So yeah, 18 months is about the longest and we used to do that frequently.
Q. So you’ve been to many countries for different tours, what is the weirdest thing that you’ve ever eaten?
A. To be very truthful, I’m not very adventurous but I suppose my proudest achievement was that I managed to eat oysters.
Q. It has a weird texture, I’m not gonna lie.
A. Exactly. I think we all know what the texture reminds everybody of. It might be boring to everybody else but it’s a major achievement for me.
Q. Well, this is the last question I have for you. Is there anything special that you have prepared for your shows in Malaysia and Singapore?
A. In a nutshell, no. The show that we put on is the same around the globe. Nobody gets anything different because we believe It’s a great show and the responses and reviews that we have been getting around the globe is that everybody’s happy. There’s an old saying “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” We’re blessed because we have so many tracks. We can play just everything and its also the hardest part because we also have to choose which song not to play.
Thank You so much for your time to answer my questions.