Bands And Legal Bust-Ups: The Great UB40 Name Lawsuit.
Above Photo: Grim scenes I still remember – signing on in Thatcher’s 1980s Britain (© Paul Graham)
The number of lawsuits associated with Punk and New Wave bands continues to amaze.
As mentioned in my Punk memoir, Bombed Out! I liked some early stuff by UB40, especially on their first two albums, Signing Off and Present Arms (the dub version of which was outstanding).
By the time they’d morphed into whatever kind of band sang Red Red Wine I’d long lost interest in them, but that doesn’t stop me respecting their earlier work. Their 1981 release, One In Ten remains one of the best (and best-remembered) musical ripostes to being unemployed in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, and it was a song that has a special and unusual place in the closing pages of Bombed Out! Too.
So it was with some disappointment that I recently read of UB40’s legal troubles stemming from when the band split in two and the desire of both camps to keep touring with the same name.
An article in the Birmingham Mail headlined: “UB40 legal row has cost me £250,000 says Brian Travers” detailed how the band had stayed together for over 28 years, when lead singer and founder member Ali Campbell left the band, to be shortly followed by two other later members of UB40.
UB40 founder member and saxophonist Brian Travers stayed put, with other original members, including the songwriters, and they were already touring the world as UB40.
But then Ali Campbell also started using the name for the band he set up with the other two former members, and the ‘Official” UB40, including two of Ali Campbell’s brothers, took legal proceedings to stop him.
In the Birmingham Mail interview, Brian Travers revealed the battle for the right to use the group’s name has cost his version of the band more than a quarter of a million pounds in legal fees. And despite the £250,000 legal bill, there was still no sign of a resolution.
Travers said: “The case is dragging on. Every time I think something is about to happen, the other side presents more information which a judge then has to read. We’ve spent more than £250,000 on barristers and silks, and the days when nothing happens fill me dread because you still have to pay them.”
“Me and Ali were best friends at Moseley School of Art where we all went…Ali was the best man at my wedding…we haven’t seen each other for eight years.”
Why can’t they just pull up chairs and settle their differences over a pint?
“It’s all gone too far,” says Brian. “But if Ali called me up, I would phone him…even though we’ve had eight years of him giving us a hard time in the newspapers. Not all of it has been true.”
All the founding members of UB40 went bankrupt in 2011 because of the failure of their record label, of which they were directors. Brian had to sell his home to settle debts in the region of £2.5 million.
“By carrying on working we’ve come through all of that bankruptcy thing that happens to a lot of musicians in their 50s if they get ripped to shreds by accountants who want a better life for themselves.”
“Now, we just need to resolve this case over the name. I’m a believer in justice for all, but you have to pay for it.”
“We’ve had more top 40 hits than The Bee Gees and Status Quo, and played more gigs than the Rolling Stones, but the Stones have made more money. They’re very business-minded and this is a business, so good luck to them.”
Ali, Campbell said: “No-one patented the name UB40 because we were told it was a government registration form and it couldn’t be trademarked. Now The Dark Side, as I call them, want to sue us. Let ‘em! It’s my band, I formed it, I have just as much right to use the name as they do.”
At the time of writing, the case is still ongoing.
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