Bertie Grant recalls his Labour of Love
NEXT month, UB40 kicks off a nine-show tour of the United Kingdom to celebrate the band’s 45th anniversary. Best known for hit songs like Red Red Wine and I’ve Got You Babe (with Chrissie Hynde), their Labour of Love albums contain covers of classic Jamaican songs.
Bertie Grant, a Jamaican, worked on Labour of Love II, the 1989 album that solidified the Birmingham band’s status as bona fide hit-makers. He was mixing engineer for songs from that set, including a cover of The Temptations’ The Way You Do The Things Do.
In a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, Grant recalls mixing 15 songs from those recording sessions which took place at the band’s studio in Birmingham, their hometown. In addition to The Way You Do The Things You Do, he worked on Here I Am (Come And Take Me), originally done by Al Green and Kingston Town, a Lord Creator original.
Grant, who was born in Kingston, migrated to the UK in 1966 and was raised in south London. By the 1970s, he was part of the country’s growing reggae scene and in the early 1980s, met Earl Falconer, bass player for UB40.
“This was before they got any great recognition. They were just a band, a tight unit working together,” he said.
Even with the global success of Red Red Wine, Grant remembers the members of UB40, which included brothers Ali and Robin Campbell, as down-to-earth.
“In reality, the band members weren’t showing wealth. They still hung around Birmingham,” he said.
For Labour of Love II, the plan was the same as its predecessor which came out six years earlier. They wanted to put their flavour on reggae songs they first heard as children in the British Midlands.
Grant’s experience with sound systems throughout the UK was a significant factor when it came to selecting songs for the album.
“They wanted to give back something to the reggae industry but they picked [songs] from the reggae singers, like John Holt and Ken Boothe, because they didn’t know the originals,” he explained. “I suggested Here I Am and Kingston Town which I played a lot on Scorcher, my sound system, because the lyrics were touching and it had a unique melody.”
Red Red Wine was originally done by Neil Diamond but UB40 were familiar with a reggae version by Jamaican singer Tony Tribe which they believed was the original. It was the same with other Jamaican songs they covered.
Labour of Love II was another international seller for UB40. Here I Am and The Way You do The Things You Do made the Billboard Top 10 while Kingston Town peaked at number four in the UK Singles Chart.
Grant, who helped fashion the British lovers’ rock movement of the 1980s, toured Europe with UB40 to support Labour of Love II. He also worked with Ali and his other brother Duncan, on solo albums.