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Cheers to 35 years of Red Red Wine

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In October of 1983, UB40 soared to the top of the Billboard chart with Red Red Wine , a cover of an obscure Neil Diamond song originally released in 1968.

But members of the British band had never heard the Diamond version. They loved a 1969 reggae cut by Tony Tribe, a Jamaican singer who lived in London and recorded his version for Dandy Livingstone, another Jamaican vocalist who made a name in the United Kingdom.

Tribe's version was a minor hit in the UK. Distributed by Trojan Records, it reached number 42 on the national chart.

To mark the 35th anniversary of their biggest hit, members of UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey sat down with Billboard magazine for an interview. Saxophonist Terrence “Astro” Wilson said they never tire of playing Red Red Wine.

“I don't think we've done a show without playing it. In fact, I think we'd be lynched if we didn't perform it,” he joked.

Red Red Wine is from the Labour of Love album, distributed by Virgin Records. It contains covers of The Slickers' Johnny Too Bad, Cherry Oh Baby by Eric Donaldson and the Jimmy Cliff hymn, Many Rivers to Cross.

But it was a reggae song the band listened to as youth in Birmingham, England, that propelled UB40 from regional popularity to international fame. Red Red Wine went to number one in seven countries.

Astro told Billboard he and his colleagues never heard the Diamond version.

“We only ever knew it from a guy called Tony Tribe. We had to go looking into the centre of seven-inch vinyls and there was 'N Diamond', so we presumed that was obviously Neville Diamond or Negus Diamond,” he said. “You could've knocked us out with a feather when we found out it was actually Neil Diamond.”

UB40 were the second pop band in two years to reach number one in the United States with a reggae song. Men At Work from Australia did it in 1981 with Down Under.

Now touring as UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey, the trio are in Europe to support the album, A Real Labour of Love, released in March.

In commemoration of its 50th anniversary, Trojan released a box set with Tony Tribe's Red Red Wine. Tribe was killed in an auto accident in Canada during the 1970s.