UB40 get it together

UB40. Picture: Supplied

They spent six long years not speaking to each other. Now reggae outfit UB40's Terence "Astro" Wilson is back on stage with fellow founding members Ali Campbell and Mickey Virtue and says he's never been happier.

"You know when you put on an old pair of shoes you love? That's exactly what it feels like to walk back out on stage with Ali and Mickey," the affable trumpeter says in a strong West Midlands accent over the phone from Worcester, England. "You know all the nooks and crannies and exactly how it's going to feel. It's like we've never been apart."

For more than three decades, Astro and Birmingham outfit UB40 helped define reggae music for a generation, topping the UK singles chart on three occasions and selling 70 million records.

Then, in 2008, it all came to an end when Campbell announced he was leaving.

The official line was he wanted to pursue a solo career (Campbell went on to release four solo albums), though he later admitted his decision was driven by management and business disputes - the same reason Virtue left a short time later.

"My only gripe with Ali leaving was when he decided to walk away and all of a sudden we had to cancel the tour and hand back the money from all the deposits," Astro says. "Maybe after the tour we could have downed tools, sorted things out with management, had a fist fight or whatever it takes to clear the air but it was not to be.

"But I can't blame him for leaving. If your heart is not in something and you can't get on with your management there's only so much you can take, you have to walk away."

Astro says it was out of respect for his fellow band members that he didn't speak to Campbell after the split and admits he hoped things would get better.

Even after being declared bankrupt in 2011, along with founding members, Robin Campbell, Brian Travers, Norman Hassan and Jimmy Brown, he remained loyal to the band, led now by Ali's other brother Duncan.

But when, in November last year, UB40 released a country- oriented album ironically titled Getting Over the Storm it was,

says Astro, "the final nail in the coffin".

"I knew things weren't going to be get better because I now had to spend the next 18 months singing songs I didn't like and making out this was something I wished to do, which certainly wasn't the case," says Astro, who quit the band that same month.

"That's not what we signed up to promote. The whole reason for us forming was to help promote reggae music."

Prompted by his wife, who was still in touch with Campbell's better half, the pair caught up for quiet pint.

A couple of weeks later they performed together at a gig in London before moving to the studio where, along with Virtue, they put the finishing touches to Campbell's latest album Silhouette.

Recorded in London's renowned RAK Studios, Silhouette features new songs along with "reggaefied" covers of classics by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Prince.

The album brings back sounds fans of the original UB40 will recognise and Astro admits he's looking forward to bringing the new music to Australian fans next month.

Campbell is currently in a legal wrangle with his brothers Duncan and Robin over use of the name UB40.

Astro is reluctant to talk about the siblings' relationship. What he will say is there is no chance of the original band reforming.

"Sometimes things are broken and they can't be fixed," he says. "Some people would say it's sad but as they say, s… happens.

"We are on an even keel now and hopefully we won't fall into the same pitfalls as the first incarnation of UB40," he adds.

"We are on our mission for reggae and until our mission is completed we are going to keep recording and playing and performing as long as we can."