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Promises & Lies: The Story of UB40

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Review

One of those bands that get a consistently sniffy press, UB40’s laudable origins are often forgotten. Associated now with arena reggae and covers by numbers, the Brummie octet began by pricking our collective conscience.

A year before the Specials haunted us with Ghost Town, UB4O were serving up caustic fare like The Earth Dies Screaming, Food for Thought (about the hypocrisy of Christmas), King (the lack of direction since Martin Luther King’s murder) and Burden of Shame (the evils of British imperialism). They hadn’t set out to change the world but, according to saxophonist Brian Travers, “In those days if you weren’t political you weren’t worth listening to.”

To begin with, the multi-ethnic band shirt-tailed the 2 Tone label in order to get gigs. “We were spat at and Sieg-Heiled by the skinheads in the audience because we weren’t fast enough,” recalls frontman Ali Campbell.

Soon they’d sold more than 70 million records, and it was hard to turn on a radio without hearing Red, Red Wine or I Got You Babe. But they lost their money on drink, drugs and… well, no one here has a definitive answer. It split both the band and the founding Campbell family.

Now two groups fight with expensive lawyers for the right to keep the UB40 name, a massive irony considering their jobless origins. It’s an initially enjoyable pop-doc in which lads on the make become lads slagging each other off, a twisted tale of clashing egos and catastrophic waste. Sad but, by the end, very hard to care.

Summary

One of the most successful pop acts of all time, UB40 enjoyed huge success, selling over 70 million records with hits including Red Red Wine, Can't Help Falling in Love and I Got You Babe. However, fame came at a price and the band members found themselves victims of their own success - as well as penniless. This documentary features interviews with Ali Campbell, Robin Campbell, Astro, Brian Travers, Mickey Virtue and Jimmy Brown, as they recall their rise to fame and an ongoing dispute that has split a family and a band, as they continue to tour as two separate groups.

Cast & Crew

Contributor Ali Campbell
Contributor Robin Campbell
Contributor Astro
Contributor Brian Travers
Contributor Mickey Virtue
Contributor Jimmy Brown
Director Roger Penny
Director Charlie Thomas
Editor Roger Penny
Executive Producer Colin Burrows
Producer Andrew Winter
Producer Charlie Thomas
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Music Documentary

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