Interview: UB40's Saxophonist, Brian Travers
By Daood Obaid, Special to LAist
Music of the 80’s ushered in groups like Roxy Music, Sex Pistols and UB40 that gave us “Red, Red Wine” and “If It Happens Again.” Saxophonist Brian Travers has been to UB40 to that of Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’ Band or Roxy’s Music Andy Mackay and whether listening to UB40 debut album “Signing Off” or 2009 compilation album “Love Songs,” its musical odyssey has been surreal to that of Salvador Dali, dada to that of Hugo Ball, and neoclassical to that of Nicolas Poussin. He spoke to us about the history, longevity and musical legacy of the band as he prepared for Thursday night concert at the Sunset Strip House of Blues.
We formed the band in Birmingham UK at the end of the 1970's during a very severe economic depression that closed down a lot of British factories and businesses. There were very few jobs around and we all found ourselves upon leaving school as teenagers unemployed. In those days we received a payment from the government for bare essentials: food, rent, etc, we called it 'the dole', I haven't got a clue where the term came from but that’s what it was known as on the street, it's official title was 'unemployment benefit' and to receive it you had to be registered with the social security department, they would then issue you with a UB40 card which means 'Unemployment Benefit’ (40) being the reg number.'
We chose it as a name because we all had the card but also thought it was funny and had the added bonus of 1 in every 10 British people knowing exactly what it meant thereby giving us an instant 7 million member fan club...or so we liked to think. All our friends were unemployed, very few people in central down town Birmingham found gainful employment during this time, for every job there were a thousand applicants. In fact to us it seemed more realistic and lot easier to form a band, learn to play our instruments (none of us played before leaving school) get gigs, a record contact, earn platinum discs, do the Johnny Carson show, play Madison Square Gardens and tour the world than get a regular conventional job. Here we are 30 years later still learning our instruments, still touring the world playing gigs.