UB40 Signing Off

“It’s a real ensemble piece. Every time you listen to that album - and a lot of what UB40 do - you really appreciate the deftness and lightness of touch they have. Everyone speaks about Ali’s vocals - but let’s speak about some of the other things… Jim Brown, what and incredible drummer - and Earl’s bass playing was just so heavy! Unless you put this album on and you turn it up full, and turn up the bass frequencies, you don’t get the full effect. But together they were such an incredible force. It’s really worth emphasising just how important this album was
nationally. When this album came out - it was everywhere… everyone had it.”
Prof Paul Long, Centre for Media and Cultural Research, Birmingham City University

2010 marked the 30th anniversary of UB40’s first album “Signing Off”. The band went on to become one of the world’s biggest reggae acts – but to this day, their debut album still stands as one of their most influential releases.

This 45 minute documentary was hosted by Ranking Roger from “The Beat”, and paid tribute to the band while showcasing various hits (and remixes) from the album – and detailing the story behind its recording back in 1980. The album was re-released in Oct. 2010 and accompanied by a nationwide tour.

Since my house is in Moseley, Birmingham – where the band began all those years ago – it seemed like a good idea to make a documentary that was truly local. In fact, producer Bob Lamb’s “Highbury Studio” is just a few minutes walk up the road, towards Kings Heath. Very handy…

This feature included fresh interviews with members of the band – along with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and producer Bob Lamb – among others. The documentary also explores life in Birmingham in the early eighties and reveals the band’s political beliefs – which are still just as strong today. It was a huge help to have Steve Thornton and Chris Williams assisting with production duties – who were Radio Students at Birmingham City University at the time. Special thanks also go to UB40 themselves, Ranking Roger and Jez Collins of the Birmingham Music Archive

This documentary was named as a finalist in the 2011 Sony Radio Academy Awards, in the “Best Music Special” category. Birmingham City University kindly paid for Chris, Steve and myself to attend the awards ceremony in London – along with Brian from UB40. It was a fantastic evening, and although we didn’t win – the guys at Absolute radio were superb hosts who invited us a pre-awards party (with Ronnie Wood and Frank Skinner in attendance).  The Sony judges offered these comments;

“A fresh piece of programme-making that avoided formulaic production techniques in its celebration of a neglected but brilliant album, ‘Signing Off’. Instead it caught the spirit of the times with its tales of band members lounging in the tall grass outside the studio between takes, during a long hot summer. Hugely enjoyable.”

Sections of the documentary aired on BBC WM’s breakfast show and during their Sunday morning History programme, with the full version playing out on Christmas Day. Birmingham Community Radio station “Switch” also played the remixed “directors cut” – which included an extra ten minutes.

Radio New Zealand broadcast a special “Kiwi” version, during their summer programming in 2011. The youtube clip below was recorded by Andrew Dubber during the recording of the band interview at the Hare and Hounds pub (where they played their first ever gig) – and features the New Zealand UB40 content (recorded by Steve Thornton).