Since 1979, Ali Campbell‘s vocals have been synonymous with that of Birmingham, UK’s UB40. When photographer David Norris & I caught up with Ali Campbell during their U.S. tour, he discussed with The Pier the time he covered Prince‘s “Purple Rain,” for a Prince tribute album put out by Radio Riddler.
As of 2008, Ali Campbell no longer fronts the original UB40 that he and his brother Duncan Campbell helped start back in 1979. Ali departed in 2008 and was later joined by original UB40 keyboardist Mickey Virtue & Astro. In 2014, they released their own collective record titled Silhouette with future plans to release an Unplugged record in addition to collaborating with the likes of SOJA, Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution and more on a separate release.
[Related: Interview – Ali Campbell & Astro of UB40]
Two weeks before Silhouette dropped, Radio Riddler dropped their Prince tribute record titled Purple Reggae via MITA Records that was released as a celebration to the 30 year anniversary of Prince’s iconic release of Purple Rain. The record was released on 9/28/14 and after more than 5 years in the making, it was produced & performed by Radio Riddler with guest appearances by Deborah Bonham, Citizen Cope, Sinead O’Connor, Beverley Knight and Ali Campbell.
Ali was first approached by Huey Morgan of Fun Lovin’ Criminals who cam eto see Ali at Basic Street Studio in London. Ali tells The Pier: “Huey said, ‘We have a great cover, Purple Rain, and I went ‘Really? Do you really think so?’ and it was a very unlikely cover, but it worked really well and it became a very popular track in our set. And then Prince passed on, so of course we stopped playing it.”
As we all know, Prince passed away on April 21st, 2016. Curious to know if Prince had heard Ali’s reggae rendition of “Purple Rain,” Ali tells The Pier: “Frank Benbini, drummer of Fun Lovin’ Criminals, he’s also in Radio Riddler, he said that Prince hung up on him and he threw a complete seven! He’s screaming down the phone at him and everything…”
Apparently, Prince wasn’t a big fan of the song at all, which raises an eyebrow as Ali Campbell has been known to be a part of successful reggae covers with the likes of “Every Breath You take” by The Police, “(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You” by Elvis Presley, “Here I Am (Come & Take Me)” by Al Green, and of course “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond.
While Ali has a great resume of re-imagining hit songs with a reggae twist, it was “Purple Reggae,” that influenced an entire album of covers: “Purple Reggae gave me the idea to do the ‘Great British Songs’ album where I started covering the Kinks, the Beatles, Roxy Music, Free, Rolling Stone, but I was just thinking… If you could do ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince, you could do a reggae version of almost anything, cant you? So that’s what ‘Great British Songs’ was about.”
Great British Songs is 12 total tracks with reggae-covers of all music stemming from groups based out of Great Britain. You can purchase that album on iTunes by clicking HERE! You can grab Ali Campbell’s last studio album, Silhoutte by clicking HERE! and to pick up your copy of Radio Riddler’s Purple Reggae, you can purchase that by clicking HERE!
Be on the look out for more updates as Ali Campbell, Mickey Virtue & Astro plan to release new material. We’ll have updates as soon as they’re made available to us.
Watch: Radio Riddler – “Purple Rain” (Fronted by Ali Campbell)
Watch: Ali Campbell, Astro & Mickey – “Silhouette”