From one drummer to another…

From one drummer to another…

In this interview, our very own Rowan Jackson interviews his drumming idol, UB40'S Jimmy Brown. Together they discuss the reggae genre, where the band has been, and the future that lies ahead...


Hi Jimmy, let me just introduce myself…

My name’s Rowan Jackson. I’ve been a professional drummer for years. Thank you for taking this opportunity to talk to me.

I use to play with Nine Below Zero, Bonnie Tyler, and other 80’s players back in the day, but I haven’t done it for years now.

You must have been a real player then, to play with those kinds of people?

I wasn’t too bad but I didn’t make my millions from it so I turned to teaching to give something back. I don’t play much now but I still love a bit of drums, love a bit of reggae as well, so it’s a dream come true talking to you!

Well, you know, that is a problem with a lot of drummers now. Because reggae is anti-intuitive in a way compared to rock - the way it works, and the way you have to think about it, and the way you play it... certainly a lot of really good drummers have trouble getting their head around it and doing it authentically.

I couldn't agree more.

I think it's really hard because it’s the most disciplined style you could possibly have. I think that's because what you leave out is equally as important as what you leave in with reggae.

You’re quite right that people can’t do it. I mean I went through a couple drum clinics back in the day. Harvey Mason who use to do that American TV show was at one of them, and I remember that a couple of the lads were shouting at him, ‘do us a bit of reggae, do us a bit of reggae!’ but he couldn’t do it, he didn’t have a clue of how to go about it.


Well, you know – it’s a completely different approach to music – and I think that unless you’ve got some kind of background and understanding of the music, then it’s really difficult to jump from one genre to another.

Yes, you’ve got to love it. I’m half Jamaican, my Dad’s Jamaican and even at 47 years old I’ve still got the back of my van full of sub-woofers and I’ve got a bit of Bob Marley on in the background. So, it’s really in your blood, or it isn’t. It’s certainly in mine! It’s obviously in yours as well.

Yes I’ve definitely got it in my blood. You know, I couldn’t think of a teacher that I could go to to learn that 'reggae essence', unless it was one of the bests like Carlton Barrett.

Have you seen Carlton Barrett play? He was always one of my absolute drumming idols.

We toured with him. We toured with him and I use to sit for hours watching him play. You know, my ambition is to fuse the styles of Sly Dunbar and Carlton Barrett together. That to me, is the perfect combination.

Well, to me Jimmy you have kind of already done that. That’s how your playing is to me really, because you’ve already got the more ‘poppy’ side and the ‘produced’ side, which Sly Dunbar made his own, and at the same time you’ve got that amazing sound. Carlton Barrett was able to fill a space with just one noise in a song, and I think that you do that too in a lot of your songs.

Yes well, I think I’m a bit of a perfectionist, because I’m trying to do these things as perfectly as possible. That’s the thing with reggae; you don’t do very much, but what you do do has to be absolutely right. It hasn’t always been that way but that’s what happens.

I’ve never seen you play, although I’ve always wanted to. So, I’m coming to see you in November now and I’m looking forward to it more than I can tell you!

With your older albums it sounds like you were playing it all acoustically and live...

Yep, we used an acoustic kit on the first album. At that time we had only been playing 6 months but you know, we were determined when we were young. When you’re young you think you can do anything. So, what we did on the first album, I wouldn’t even attempt to do now because I think that what you gain through experience determines what you create. In the end it came down to discipline, and I think that now we play in a much more disciplined style.

Is it true that you put the band together first and then went off and learned how to play your instruments?

That’s exactly right. We decided to put the band together, and then we thought, OK what should we play? But luckily, I had more experience than the other two…I’d actually sat behind a drum kit once!


After that we locked ourselves away for six months and just learned to play well enough to start writing our own music and that’s when we wrote the first album ‘Signing Off’… To be honest, I think we’ve been learning in public for 35 years.

Well, you’re definitely masters of your trade now.

It’s really great talking to you, and you’re so interesting but I suppose that I should really get round to asking you some of my questions…

I was going to ask you, as a drummer myself, throughout school and all of my life, I always got told off for tapping on stuff, and I wondered if that’s the same with you?

Absolutely. Everyone remembers me as the one who was always tapping. I use to drive my mum mad, but I couldn’t help it, it was just something I had to do. I remember we use to turn the bin lids upside down and drum on them, so I must have always had it in me to want to be a drummer.

That’s me too, I used to use marmalade tubs; whatever I could lay my hands on really!

Look, I’m 47 Jimmy, and I play drums, though not very often, but when I do I get kind of knackered. Now, I know that you are a bit older than me, so when you’re embarking on a massive tour, do you get tired?

Well yes, you’ve always got to be dynamic and tight on stage, especially with the genre of music that we play, You can’t get away with being sloppy at all.

It’s a very clean sound you’ve got as well. How do you keep fit for it? Do you find it harder as you get older?

To be honest, I’ll tell you what happened to me – with all the bankruptcy stuff a few years ago, we took quite a bit of time off, and my body started to seize up. You know, I was finding it difficult to even put my coat on at a certain point, because the muscles that I’d been use to using for 35 years weren’t being used. So actually, if I stop doing it, that’s going to cripple me...but at the moment, I have never enjoyed playing as much as I am now.

It’s funny you should say that because I was going to ask you, that after all these years of playing, are there any of your old songs that you play now, that you still absolutely love playing?

I love playing them all, and obviously there are certain songs that you think, ‘Oh God, have I got to play that again?’ …But I think that it’s the songs that we know so well that get the best audience reactions, so we would never stop playing them. For example ‘Red Red Wine’ is a very popular song of ours, and when we play it in front of an audience, you can’t help but get a buzz from it.

We’ve got to the point in our careers now, when the audience views us differently. We are veterans now.

So you don’t have to win them over, as they’re there to see you?

Well, yeah, and it’s great to celebrate that. We’ve known some of our fans for years, so it’s always good to see them again. It’s always great to see everyone still dancing and getting involved in the music.

Nowadays, we feel like we get real respect from the audience, for adding stuff to the genre and producing it still, which is just great.

Well your music is impossible not to love.

Out of all the wonderful gigs you’ve played, is there one that sticks out in your mind?

Several. We’ve had a long career, and performing in Maddison Square Gardens when you’ve got a number one single in the charts is out of this world. But even 10 years before then our first hit record in England was amazing. Our first album was in the charts for 96 weeks, so that was a milestone as well, but we could never forget when we were doing the South African shows, which were immediately after Nelson Mandela had been released, they were phenomenal. The South African people were singing our songs in celebration…100,000 people singing our songs back to us. That was incredible.

There must be a lot of people in music that you love, because I know that you’re the type of musician that loves music…you’re line up has changed a lot lately, but if you’d had the chance to put together a fantasy band of musicians, either alive or dead, who would they be?

You know what, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this question before. Well, the thing is, I’ve already done it really!

Great answer!

I played with Aston the family man Barrett on bass, and he’s one of the men that invented reggae.

So you’ve done it really, Carlton Barrett, Aston Barrett, you’ve played with them all.

So, my last question…Is the band in a good place now?

Yes definitely, we have never been happier. We enjoy playing so much, and we love each other’s company. You know, this time 15 – 20 years ago there was a lot of tension but now there isn’t. It’s a real pleasure for us to all get together and work, we just love doing it.

Has your tour kicked off already or are you just starting it?

Well, we have just taken about 3 years off because and the bankruptcy and we couldn’t work as a result. So, we didn’t do very much for 3 years. Then we put this tour on sale at the beginning of the year, and the tickets sold out that quickly that we’ve had to put another 20+ dates on for later in the year.

Fabulous. Well, it’s been such an inspiration to talk to you. I’m so glad to have had the chance. Thank you for your time and good luck with your dates. I look forward to seeing you in November.

Thank you.

If you would like to see UB40 in concert at the O2 Academy this November 9th, then click here to buy your tickets today!


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