Freetown Collects UB40

 Freetown Collective's Lou Lyons, left, and Muhammad Muwakil. (Photo courtesy Abigail Hadeed) -
Freetown Collective's Lou Lyons, left, and Muhammad Muwakil. (Photo courtesy Abigail Hadeed) -


BC Pires

EVEN BEFORE I heard their smoking cover of Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine in 1978, a version even better than the Jamaican ones I knew (because of the chant in the middle eight), even before they began selling 70 million records and staying on the British pop music charts for a record four years-plus, even before I found out the original Birmingham-based lineup had English, Welsh, Irish, Jamaican, Scottish and Yemeni parentage – they were diverse 40 years before it became a thing – even before I bought their first CD, I liked UB40, purely because of their name.

Those were different times, as Lou Reed observed, a world few young people today would recognise. What we then called First World countries understood clearly that, unless they helped solve the problems of the “Third World,” the former would be overrun by refugees fleeing tragedy in the latter. The world was so much of a fairer place that there existed a magazine called South (I applied for a job) which represented the interests of the global less developed countries.

In those far more humane days, no British government could dare send refugees to a country that created refugees or plonk them on a barge for spite at ten times the cost of processing their applications.

And, when Brits fell through the social cracks, they managed to get enough to eat daily by signing on at the unemployment office; in 1988, when I first moved to London, almost every Trini-Brit I knew was on the dole. In the LP version of One of Those Days in England, Roy Harper sang, “Every Wednesday morning/At about the hour of ten/I give the Queen my autograph/She gives me the yen.”

UB40 took their band name from a British government form, specifically Unemployment Benefit Form 40.

Do you need more than that to love them? (Though it’s easy to conjecture that that is precisely why Rishi Sunak and the Vote Leave Government hate them, and would dump them on the barge with those criminal refugees fleeing persecution.)

Almost half a century after they were formed, UB40 remain a huge band and their concerts, massive things.

And, this Sunday, our own Freetown Collective will be opening for them!

Freetown is another band I loved even before I heard their mature, impeccable songs. The duo at their core, Lou Lyons and Muhammad Muwakil, are two of the most riveting individuals I’ve ever met – and, though taller than me (it’s not difficult to be), they both qualify as representing short men. Lou is a former lawyer (another bond) and Mud an engineer. They both left secure, well-enough-paying jobs to do what young people so inadequately describe as “follow their passion.” (It’s more like admitting your undeniable truth – and another bond.) They are both singers capable of writing TT songs so well they become global, Mud being particularly blessed with a beautiful voice.

The band they’ve put together so far – I’m rooting for them to find a drummer – is just as striking. They all appeared one by one over six consecutive weeks in my Monday Newsday series, Trini to the Bone, and I don’t think I’ve ever met six people in one place as strong-willed as them. The sisters Malene (pronounced Mah-leenie) and Shanna Joseph and Tishanna Williams – and, yes, Shanna and Tishanna are NOT sisters – stand the notion of “supporting” vocals on its head; all three are lead firetrucking singers! And Jayron Remy, aka DJ Rawkus, bass man and DJ, has half the rhythm section sorted already. (Their individual T2DBs are worth revisiting at or

We’re in a difficult place, TT. People, when they meet in the street, start talking about crime the way they used to talk about cricket or basketball. Or one another. The problems we have failed to solve – crime, flooding, deforestation, traffic jams, systemic corruption – that turn life into suffering seem unaffected, no matter which political pack of jokers we elect. Tobago, for once, is more farcical than Trinidad.

And yet, this weekend, a short man from Trinidad and another from Tobago and four others, who, by luck or by choice, add up to three men and three women, holding the power of the Trinity in their collective grasp, will bless UB40’s audience with a show of love, grace and great songs.

Even today, there is still space for a heart.

BC Pires admits is Trinidad he come from but he don’t write about rum


"Freetown Collects UB40"

More in this section