UB40 are one of Britain's most successful singles bands and they've booked in to the Trent FM Arena - their first gig in the city without Ali Campbell. "He thought he could earn more money without us," says Astro.
You're in the studio at the moment. What are you up to?
We're hard at it, recording Labour of Love 4, which is going great at the moment.
We're trying to have it finished in time for the British tour.
Are they original songs?
No. The Labour of Love franchise is all covers. Originally, when the band first started, people used to say 'oh yeah UB40 the reggae band from Birmingham… how does that work?' But we all grew up listening to reggae music and we just believed that if the mainstream listened to the same records as we did, they'd fall in love with them just as we did as kids. And we're vindicated because every single Labour of Love album we've recorded has spawned either a top five or a number 1. We started off with a list of about 500 songs and slowly we've just worked our way through them.
Was picking the songs a diplomatic process?
The easy part is picking the songs to do. Where the diplomacy comes in is when we decide which songs aren't going to be on the CD. Everyone's got their favourites and generally speaking everyone knows the tunes but you do have to compromise. You can't have it all your own way.
So which songs are you covering?
Oh I could tell you but I'd have to kill you! If we were to say which songs were being covered before the final stages of production, people might steal the ideas. I can tell you one of the tunes is Bring It On Home To Me, which was originally done by Lou Rawls and Jackie Robinson.
So how has the set-up of the band changed since the fall out with Ali Campbell?
It's a bit like a breath of fresh air him not being there. Everybody's enthusiastic again and getting people to do things isn't like pulling teeth any more, which was the case with Ali in the last 18 months. Obviously, he was more interested in doing his own stuff so once he left it was just a case of getting back to business and doing what we do. It's just flown by. It could have gone horribly wrong when Duncan first joined us but from the very first show, the fans just took to him and they just loved him to bits. So he's growing into the spot now and it's just business as usual.
Where did you find Duncan?
(Laughs) He's Robin's brother. So the harmonies are pretty much the same and the UB40 sound has remained intact. Actually, he should have joined the band years ago but he went off to Barbados and became a croupier.
He must be loving being in a band then?
Oh he is. He was bricking it for the first three months on stage. He was very much like a deer caught in the headlights but he's relaxed now, he knows what he's doing and he's become a lot more confident. It's showing in the performances too.
So the catalyst for the split with Ali was his solo career?
Yeah that is the truth. Although Ali seems to be constantly trying to re-write things, the fact of the matter is he thought he could earn more money without us, so that was it.
It took him long enough to go solo though didn't it?
Well to try and come out as a solo artist in your twilight years, in your 50s…it's a bit of a tall order because the only fans that you've gathered are UB40 fans. But only Ali can answer that really.
We never had a problem with him doing his own stuff. By all means, bring out your own album if the band's not working. Promote it and then when the band are back working again, continue where you left off. But Ali was adamant that his album had to come out before ours. Basically, he wanted us to sit out for a year while he went out and promoted himself and there's too many of us to sit around and do nothing for a year.
So was he fired?
No, we said to him 'do you want to work with us?' and he said 'no, not after the show in Uganda', which was February last year… so he left, basically.
There's no denying it hurt when he left but **** happens. It's the same with your families, you have divorces and break-ups so why should we be any different really?
It must be harder for Robin, with them being brothers.
Oh it hurt Robin yeah but it's hurt Duncan as well because now, Ali's saying Duncan's stabbed him in his back. But Ali had left first. It's not as if Duncan had pushed him out.
Do you still live in Birmingham?
Yeah I only live 4 miles from where I was born.
Is that because of an affinity for the city or because you've got family there?
Both. You're happier in familiar surroundings, Birmingham's where I know, my family are here, my friends are here and I just can't think of a better place to be. I hate London with a passion. I've never had any desires to go there. Birmingham's where I love. It's a beautiful, multi-cultural city and I'm proud of it.
Who's supporting you on this tour?
Eddy Grant. We actually played with Eddy in Ibiza the very first time we toured abroad. We supported him in 1980.
Is your encore always going to include Red Red Wine?
Well you better come and see! We haven't finished with Red Red Wine in I can't remember how many years. We've got such a vast repertoire of tunes to choose from but I think this up and coming tour is going to be really, really good.
UB40/Eddy Grant, Trent FM Arena, Wednesday December 16, £32.50, 08444 124624.