Ali Campbell on his new album: Great British Songs

Ali Campbell, the legendary voice of UB40 is set to release his fourth solo album Great British Songs. Produced by Ali, with Sly & Robbie at the helm of the rhythm section, it is a collection of iconic British hits reinterpreted in a reggae style.

Ali has reworked hits from the 1960s and 1970s starting with 1964’s "You Really Got Me Going" by The Kinks and The Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" and including songs by Rolling Stones, The Hollies, Rod Stewart, Free, and The Who and last, but not least, 1978’s much-loved "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty.

I caught up with Ali to find out what led to him reinterpreting the classic tunes.

Your fourth solo album sees you rework classic British tunes into a reggae style. How did the idea come about?
 I recorded a Prince cover of "Purple Rain" with Fine Young Cannibals for a future album they are doing and it was such an unexpected cover that worked really well that I thought how far can I take this? Plus,  I was contacted by a major label a couple of years ago to do this after the Running Free album but the timing wasn’t right – so the idea has been bubbling for a while.

How did you choose the songs to rework?
I chose songs that were by iconic british bands and artists  mainly from the 60’s and 70’s – the songs are all classics and diverse, I think.

What process did you go through to rework the tracks? How have you made your mark on each?
I stayed true to the melodies and put reggae and roots rock beats to them... which takes them into a different genre – then I just did my best to vocal them and do them justice.

Have they all heard their reworkings? Do you know what they thought of them?
They have just been sent out to the original artists and we are nervously... ( joking). Not really - we are eagerly awaiting their feedback...

Which was the toughest to record?
"Love is the drug."

Which is your favourite and why?
"Hard Day's Night" as something clicked with the backing and melody – I love it.

You've worked with prolific reggae production team Sly and Robbie on this album, how did you get involved with them on this project?
Sly and Robbie are my heroes and great friends and I try to work with them at every opportunity.

What did they bring to the album?
They are the best drum and bass duo in the world and they are incredible so the drums and bass are kicking –  we recorded the tracks in Jamaica and then flew to London to lay brass and keys and vocals – they always bring a lot to the table on any album.

The way I’m feeling about my music now makes me feel that I should have left UB40 10 years earlier.

I understand you were collapsed at the end of recording the album you collapsed through illness. How has that affected your approach to work?
I have taken time out – I have had to rest and take it easy in order to get better – we posptoned all the gigs until December under doctors orders but all the gigs have been rebooked from the end of the year onwards  and I can’t wait to get back to work as soon as the doctors tell me it’s safe to do so.

How are you finding the solo career having been a founding member of UB40 and associated  with the band for so long?
The way I’m feeling about my music now makes me feel that I should have left 10 years earlier –  I’m loving the freedom, loving the control and loving playing with my new band round the world. The Dep Band are in my opinion  the best reggae band on the circuit at the moment - so I am happier than I have been in years.

What, if anything, has changed about your approach to writing music?
It’s a much quicker process and much more spontaneous which gives me more confidence, and in turn I am much more prolific.

How did you recruit the Dep Band members?
I was very lucky – the band are all consumate professional musicians and we all get on very well – everything’s been so easy and fitted so well that I feel very lucky and fortunate.

How strong do you feel the reggae scene in the UK is today? How does that compare with 10/20 years ago?
Reggae is the most influential music there is – its effect on contemporary music is second to none. The reggae scene is going from strength to strength in my view.

Is there anywhere you're particularly looking forward to performing your reworkings?
I can’t wait to get out and perform great British songs with the Dep Band in late 2010 and into 2011.

Anything planned for 2011 and beyond yet?
Extensive world touring , throughout the year and a new original album called rythmn method at some point in 2011 which we have been writing the songs for.

Finally, having reworked a selection of the great British songs, can you share with us your top 10 original reggae songs?
1. Small Axe – The Wailers And Lee Perry
2. Are We A Warrior – I Jah Man
3. Natty Dread – The Wailers
4. Strive – Shinehead
5. On The Rock – Movado
6. Heads High – Mr Vegas
7. Good Thing Going – Sugar Minott
8. Herb Man Husslin – Sugar Minott
9. Redemption Song – Bob Marley And The Wailers
10. The Harder They Come – Jimmy Cliff

Ali Campbell's new album, "Great British Songs" is released on Monday, October 18th.