Saturday, August 29, 2015

signing off

UB40 employed themselves with homemade jazz-dub-reggae to give the world some food for thought.   The multi-cultural collective formed in Birmingham, England around Robin Campbell and his younger brother Ali with some friends from Moseley School of Art: Earl Falconer, Brian Travers, and James Brown.  Norman Hassan, Michael Virtue, and Astro were brought into the fold soon after.   They took their name from the Unemployment Benefit, Form 40; which was used to apply for the dole at the time.    Their first gig was on February 9, 1979 at Hare and Hounds pub in Kings Heath for a friends birthday party.  Ali Campbell:  “We were all so nervous, we were walking round with our instruments on for half an hour before we started playing...It was awful. We’d been used to playing in a cellar, without microphones or a PA system...We were lucky, we’d only done a dozen shows when Chrissie Hynde discovered us at the Rock Garden in London and asked us to support The Pretenders on tour.”

 Brian Travers:   “We were basically just a bunch of lads who hung out together! You know, we’d all started secondary school together when we were 11, we’d knock about together after school… And, because we lived in the middle of downtown Birmingham, of course we felt the waves of immigration before most people did. In that there were lots of West Indian and Asian people in our neighbourhood. And, because in the Seventies there was no black television or Asian television, to these people - who were our neighbours and friends - music was incredibly important! To the point where you even dressed like your album sleeves! So through school all our ambitions were really pointed towards becoming musicians. And so, by the time we left at 16 and found ourselves on the dole, being a musician wasn’t like the impossible, far-off dream that we’d once thought it was! I mean, we’d never had music classes and so we weren’t what you’d call ‘proper musicians’. But then what we started doing was playing records and spending our time copying them - until we could play them note-for-note! And what we discovered from that was that we all had an ear for flat and sharp, and we could hear tones! So, once we started realising we actually could do this, from there we wrote our first songs that we could perform at gigs - and so ‘Signing Off’ was literally our first collection of songs that we could play!”

'Signing Off' was produced by Bob Lamb, Ray "Pablo" Falconer, and UB40.   The album was recorded over three separate sessions: four days in December of 1979 for "King" and "Food for Thought", and two longer sessions during March-April  and June-July of 1980 for the remainder.   The three tracks for the 12" record were cut 18–20 July 1980 at The Music Centre with Ray "Pablo" Falconer, bassist Earl Falconer's brother producing.    The album credits Astro on talk-over vocal;   Jim Brown on  drums;   Ali Campbell on lead vocals and rhythm guitar;   Robin Campbell on lead guitar and vocals;   Earl Falconer on bass;  Norman Lamont Hassan on percussion and congas;   Brian Travers on tenor saxophone and melodica;   and   Michael Virtue on keyboards, strings, organ.  

Travers:   “The album’s producer - Bob Lamb - had been a drummer in a band called The Steve Gibbons Band, who did like real authentic rock & roll. You know, he’d never made it, he was struggling… But - because we couldn’t afford a studio and he was the only guy we knew who knew how to record music - we did the album in his bed-sit! I remember he had his bed on stilts. So underneath the bed was a sofa and mixing desk. And so we recorded the album there on an eight-track machine, with the same 50p coin going through the electric meter continually because we’d booted the lock off it! And, with it being a bedsit and us being eight in the band, we’d record the saxophone in the kitchen - because there was a bit or resonance off the walls, a bit of reverb - before putting the machine effects on it. While the percussion - the tambourines, the congas, the drums - we’d do in the back yard! Which is why you can hear birds singing on some of the tracks! You know, because it was in the daytime we’d be shouting across the fences ‘Keep it down! We’re recording!’... And what’s funny is we’ve actually taken lots of little bird samples on this tour with us - to play during some of the songs, just to remind people of that!”

'Signing Off' reached number twenty-six in Australia, six in Austria, four in New Zealand, and number two in the UK. 

Their first single was the double A-sided "King"/"Food For Thought", which went on to sell almost half a million copies.  It was the first UK top ten single from an independent label without major label backing.  Bob Lamb said, "'Food for Thought' was actually the B-side of 'King' originally: although it was a double A-side 'King' was always going to be the main song, but the DJs picked up on 'Food for Thought' because it was quicker and chirpier, more dancey, more of a radio track. So they played that a lot, and really that became the hit, 'Food for Thought', but whenever you bought the record it always said 'King'/'Food for Thought' – 'King' was always, like, the first name on the record, which I thought was pretty cool."

"Food For Thought"

Ivory madonna dying in the dust,
Waiting for the manna coming from the west.
Barren is her bosom, empty as her eyes,
Death a certain harvest scattered from the skies.

Skin and bones is creeping, does`nt know he`s dead.
Ancient eyes are peeping, from his infant head.
Politician`s argue sharpening their knives.
Drawing up their bargains, trading baby lives.

Ivory madonna dying in the dust,
Waiting for the manna coming from the west.

Hear the bells are ringing, christmas on it`s way.
Hear the angels singing, what is that they say?
Eat and drink rejoicing, joy is here to stay.
Jesus son of Mary is born again today.

Ivory madonna dying in the dust,
Waiting for the manna coming from the west.
Ivory madonna dying in the dust,
Waiting for the manna coming from the west.

"Food For Thought / King" single went to number forty-six in the Netherlands, thirty-six in Australia, ten in Ireland, four in the UK, and number one in New Zealand.  

Robin Campbell reveals:   “What happened with Food For Thought was typical of how most UB40 songs are written. I wrote the lyrics, then I brought them to the band and we sat around and worked it to music...The song’s actually credited to ‘UB40’. That’s another thing we’ve always done that’s a bit different from a lot of bands – the whole band’s credited for everything. That was a decision we made right at the beginning, because it seemed obvious that many bands fall out over who gets what song on what album, and the end result is that people all have to get a song or two on each album so they’re earning, and we just felt it watered down the quality. We had three or four strong lyricists and the whole band did the music, so we decided early on that whoever wrote any particular lyric, we would always credit the whole band and share it equally. I think that’s maybe part of the reason we’ve lasted so long as a band… publishing and who shares what seems to be one of the biggest causes of splits. It’s always quoted as musical differences but from bands I’ve spoken to, very often it’s financial differences. So from day one, we decided that wasn’t going to be a source of argument between us...I actually wrote Food For Thought in my flat in Birmingham, just before Christmas one year… so it’s actually a Christmas song! Or rather, it’s inspired by the hypocrisy of Christmas, the fact that there are starving people in Africa and here we are all sat around eating our Christmas dinner and praising the Lord. And people are still dying every day, every minute while we’re doing it. But people tend to forget that because it came out as a single in April. It was our debut single: we had a record deal but the label weren’t in any hurry to release anything, and then we went on tour with The Pretenders who had the number one single and album at the time. So suddenly we had the chance to release a single, and our two favourite songs were Food For Thought and King, which is about Martin Luther King of course, and so we put them out as a AA-side. We certainly weren’t going to wait another eight months to put it out!   Because it was our first single, Food For Thought was obviously a big landmark for us."


Their second single "My Way of Thinking" / "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" charted at number ninety in Australia, twelve in Ireland, and number six in New Zealand and the UK.  

"My Way of Thinking"

"I Think It's Going to Rain Today"

Ub40 - i think it's going to rain today by mickeynold

'Signing Off' 
full album:

All tracks written by UB40 except where noted. 

Side One
"Tyler" – 5:51
"King" – 4:35
"12 Bar" – 4:24
"Burden of Shame"(UB40 / Van Morrison) – 6:29
Side Two
"Adella" – 3:28
"I Think It's Going to Rain Today" (Randy Newman) – 3:41
"25%" – 3:31
"Food for Thought" – 4:10
"Little by Little" – 3:44
"Signing Off" – 4:24

12" EP Side One
"Madam Medusa" – 12:52
12" EP Side Two
"Strange Fruit" (Lewis Allan) – 4:05
"Reefer Madness" – 5:08


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