UB40, The Rainbow Courtyard, Birmingham


They have had number one singles across the globe and sold millions of albums. But this week, UB40 - a band more used to playing to packed stadia, stepped out onto the stage of a much smaller venue, the 350-capacity Rainbow Courtyard.

The Raise the Roof gig at the closure-threatened Digbeth concert venue was a bid raise funds to soundproof its roof.

"In effect, we are raising money for the church roof," said UB40 Saxophonist, Brian Travers. "Because this, for many young people is like a church. This is where they come to worship some of their idols," he added.

"They like to build up the tension," said one seasoned UB40 fan and he was proven right as the band walked on stage one-at-a-time before opening with the song Travers said was written about the high rate of unemployment in Birmingham, One in Ten.

The audience was a mix of die-hards and their children. Fans, many of whom were seeing the band for the fourth or fifth time, said they had been looking forward to watching their heroes up close.

"I very first saw the band around 35 years ago when they were just starting out and tickets cost 50p," said 56-year-old Margaret Delaney. "It was fantastic to see them back playing in such a small, intimate venue in their home town considering they normally play in stadia all over the world," she added.

Her 25-year-old daughter, Lisa Delaney, on the other hand, was attending her first UB40 concert. "I grew up with this band on the radio and it is wonderful to get a chance to see them live," she said.

Louise McCarthy, a 52-year-old interior designer, said she had been impressed by the band "in the flesh," but added: "What really made the gig for me was the atmosphere."

Much of the pre-gig talk among punters was on whether new singer Duncan Campbell could fill the shoes of his older brother Ali on lead vocals. Band-members intimated after the show that they hoped he was not only able to "slot in and imitate Ali for the sake of the fans, but to add something to the role as well."

Most fans agreed after the band had left the stage that it was mission accomplished on that front. The pillar right in the centre of the stage which obscured Campbell from view throughout did not help his cause, but then, this was not the O2 Arena after all (I think that was the point).

All the same, artists including La Roux, The Prodigy and Joss Stone have graced the iconic Rainbow Courtyard stage in recent years. Reason-enough, Travers said, to try to save the venue from closure after neighbours' complaints about the late-night noise.

"This is not about celebrity or even promoting UB40, this is about the bands who want to entertain people being able to carry on doing what they always have done," he said.

Contrary to when the band plays arena shows, a lot less "smoke and mirrors" were involved in this week"s gig, where the musicians got much closer to their audience than they normally would. "We could see the whites of their eyes and hear what they were saying between songs," band-members joked.

"They could also see us in detail, I would imagine we were a little older and a little fatter than they might have thought. There was no makeup artist here, this was just us doing what we do - entertaining people," said Travers.

The Rainbow and the adjoining music venue, The Rainbow Courtyard, have been live music stalwarts in Birmingham for years. It started out as one of many pubs in an industrial area which had live music on.

However, as other more central venues closed down one by one, it became more and important to the local music scene.

Now, like many others across the country, it is under threat from a Noise Abatement order. The Digbeth area of Birmingham was mot traditionally a residential one, but a recent influx of people looking for an inner city flat resulted in noise complaints.

Recently, Newcastle Quayside's The Cooperage was closed down after residents in newly-built flats complained. The move saddened the band, who said that they had played there during the early days of their musical careers.

In the present though, and closing the show, Guitarist Robin Campbell urged the audience to sing along to the classic Red Red Wine, reminding them: "This is about raising the roof after all" (geddit)?

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