UB40 visit ‘phenomenal’ school where their music is on the curriculum

Hit-makers UB40 have been visiting a school to hear how the band’s repertoire is now part of the curriculum for its music-loving pupils.

About 400 pupils from St Edward’s Catholic Primary School in Selly Park, Birmingham, took part in a special assembly, all about the band on Monday.

The reggae pop group’s discography has been taught as part of the pupils’ oracy education – teaching youngsters how to express themselves grammatically and with fluency – and involved Year One to Year Six performing renditions of some of the group’s most commercially successful hits.

The band’s current line up – Robin Campbell, Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan, Jimmy Brown, and lead singer Matt Doyle – all attended, describing it as a “phenomenal” experience.

Campbell, among the founder members of band which has never shied away from being political, also said “it would be really good if we get into the politics with the kids as well”.

During a morning assembly in front of the group, children reeled off all the facts they had learned about UB40, including when the group formed, and how many top 10 hits they achieved.

The pupils told how they had also learned how the band’s name had come from the unemployment form of the same name.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – Closing Ceremony
UB40 performing at the closing ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (Tim Goode/PA)

A mock news report by a Year 6 pupil told how the musicians were famed for “crowd-pleasing songs including Red Red Wine, One in Ten and Kingston Town”, and were known globally, having sold 70 million records.

Year Four had the group’s heads bobbing along as they sang Higher Ground, also signing the words to the lyrics.

In a question from one of the pupils about where the band would be in five years, Campbell joked “in a nursing home”, before adding: “We’ll carry on until we drop.”

He told how the line-up was always changing, and how his brother Ali Campbell left the band 15 years ago, while fellow original members saxophonist Brian Travers and Astro had died.

Among the audience of pupils was 11-year-old Olha Tartasiuk, from Kyiv, Ukraine, who only came to the UK 10 months ago, but whose family already knew UB40 songs.

She said: “I am so happy, when I told my Dad I was meeting UB40 he said: ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it.’

“My dad knows their music, my mom knows their music, it’s really good.”

Jess McDonald, class teacher, oracy lead and self-confessed “massive fan” of the group, said: “We believe in a broad and balanced curriculum with a holistic approach.

“Our children come from diverse backgrounds, different cultures and religions and we feel UB40, being from Birmingham, and reflecting that diversity – the children can really relate to them.”

Pupils at St Edward’s Catholic Primary School in Birmingham held a special assembly for members of UB40 (Jacob King/PA)

“These children can look at UB40, having learned about them the past few weeks, seen their faces, and can think: ‘You know what, that can be me.'”

She said the band’s music had quite literally brought the family of one of the pupils – who had been having a tough time – closer together, “singing their songs in the car on the way to school”.

The reggae pop band, formed in 1978, played their first gig in the Hare and Hounds, in Kings Heath, Birmingham, going on to enjoy huge commercial with over 50 hit singles in the UK chart – and have just returned from sell-out gigs in the United States and Australia.

Afterwards, founder members, drummer Jimmy Brown and guitarist Robin Campbell, said the day had been “phenomenal and emotional”.

Campbell said: “The fact that kids are studying our music in a school – I never thought our music could become part of a curriculum at a school.

“When they sang Higher Ground, particularly, it got quite emotional, because it made me think of the guy who wrote the song – Brian Travers, who passed away.

“It would have moved him. It moved me.”

Brown said: “We’re the luckiest people in the world.”

Campbell added: “We are very much aware we are a product of Birmingham, the fact it is a musical melting pot has created us, it’s why we play the music we do.

“Our particular hybrid of reggae is unique to us – but it only exists because we come from Birmingham.”

The band has always been firmly political in its music, with hits like 1981’s One in Ten about unemployment, and the anti-apartheid anthem Sing Our Own Song.

Campbell said: “It would be really good if we get into the politics with the kids as well,” then, jokingly, he added: “Get them into the lyrics of those songs that really matter – instead of Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.”