Despite an incredible 33-year career in which they have notched up more than 50 chart hits in the U.K. alone, and countless others across the world, four current members of UB40 -- sax player Brian Travers, drummer Jimmy Brown, toaster Terence Oswald – known to fans as Astro – and percussionist Norman Hassan -- have all been declared bankrupt by a judge in the band's hometown of Birmingham.
According to a variety of media reports out of Birmingham, across the U.K. and around the world (including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times), the court order lasts for a year and means that tax officers can seize band property to pay off any outstanding debts. The case revolves around the failure of the band’s record label and management company DEP International – and follows on the heels of an acrimonious and bitter fight with vocalist Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue over band finances which split the group in 2008. At a previous hearing in July, the Judge gave liquidators the green light to chase debts and royalty payments on UB40’s hits. He also warned the band they would have to pay costs in the case, which already run into tens of thousands of pounds. At the time the band vowed to fight bankruptcy. Sadly, in recent weeks it became apparent that the bankruptcy battle against the members of the band had been lost.
There is a real Shakespearian quality to the recent trials and tribulations of UB40. Whether its a comedy or tragedy really depends on your point of view about the band. As a fan I've found it discouraging, but oddly fascinating to see how the age old demon of money has made enemies of brothers and bandmates, who have sent broadsides at one another through the media. The human quality of it is certainly messy but makes the story lines more compelling.
The media stories get most of the facts about the case right but none of the nuance and casual readers and fans are left with the impression that the band is bankrupt. This is not true. Individual band members are on the hook and not all of them were included in the ruling. The filing does not mean that the band has ceased operations. Nevertheless the band and Ali Campbell tried to put the news into context. Not surprisingly, Ali Campbell's media quotes further buttressed his long held position as the 'lone voice of reason' stating that he saw the bankruptcy coming and got out when he could.
“This is the very reason why I left the band. This was my biggest fear when I was with them, that bankruptcy was going to happen and no-one can say I didn't warn them. In the 1980s we were living in five-star hotels and we got through a lot of money. Why weren't the other guys listening to me when I started to flag these money problems up? They decided to back the management and not me, I'm still very bitter about it. I was very proud of what I achieved with UB40. It was a band I started, I was with them for 28 years and we made 24 albums. But we were divided and ruled, and this is what happened in the end. UB40 have been asset-stripped by the people around them."His former bandmates unveiled a very different story as the news broke. Drummer Jim Brown shared a long and very revealing post on the UB40 website that sought to put the news into perspective downplaying the sensational quality of the media reports reporting the band were bankrupt (only four members have been declared bankrupt) and laying much of the blame for the band's current economic duress on Campbell, making some damning allegations about Campbell's conduct and claims that Campbell was paid more than his bandmates which violated the 'all for one and one for all' spirit of the band.
“As usual, it's only partly accurate. And the usual ambulance chasing from our ex-singer isn't helping much either. Let me tell you what REALLY happened with UB40 supporting their management. In the year before the split our financial manager was absent from work. This had been going on for a couple of weeks, so we wanted to know why he hadn't turned up for work. When we found out why the band were shocked and angry. Turns out that our ex-singer was going to our financial manager behind the bands back and demanding to be paid more money than the rest of the band. It had always been band policy to pay everyone exactly the same, but because of our ex-singers expensive lifestyle [he had a new girlfriend to impress] he was constantly demanding more and more of the bands income. these demands would come with various threats, usually along the lines of - if he doesn't get what he is asking for he'll leave the band.Amazingly, the week the band members were declared bankrupt, UB40 put up a brave face and performed a special semi-acoustic show at the Hare & Hound pub in Birmingham where the band were honored with a special Performing Rights Society plaque. The pub is famous as they venue where the band played their very first show in 1978. Watch video of 'Food For Thought' and 'Bring It On Home To Me' from the performance below:
At first our accountant gave our ex-singer what he was demanding, thinking that it would be the best way to keep things going. but the demands became so frequent and unreasonable [like keeping the extra money that he was taking a secret from the rest of the band] that our manager found himself in an impossible situation. He was being so compromised by the situation that it was making him ill. When the band discovered our ex-singer was taking money behind their backs we were rightly angry. And we gave instructions to our management that our ex-singer should NOT be given any more than his fair share, which was the equal split that we all agreed back at the beginning. This was when our singer decided to leave. he told us that he could 'earn 10-tines more without you lot' and left. Our ex-singer was found dipping his fingers in the till behind the bands back. The band gave our management instructions to stop that happening, so our singer left. That's how it happened. And the financial difficulties were as a result of our singer leaving. It caused us to lose several million pounds worth of work and this had a knock on effect of creating a black hole that the band have been working to drag themselves out of.
We tried everything we could to come to a reasonable deal over the administration of DEP, but in the end we failed. Now that it has come to a conclusion it gives us an opportunity to put this all behind us and move on. We've got a new album on the way and we are already booking shows for January next year. So it's a relief to get this over with, now we can concentrate on the future.
As usual, our ex-singer is trying to stick the boot in, and did you notice there was no mention of our ex-singers own bankruptcy?, which was for his own out of control spending, nothing to do with the DEP litigation. If you remember, his case didn't get any press attention, so he's careful not to mention it when he's waving his shroud in the press. The claim that our case proves he was right all along is a classic case of putting 2 and 2 together and coming up with 5!
Despite these set backs, UB40 are busy at work on a new album and have just announced a set of tour dates in 2012. Campbell also continues to tour.