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UB40 Founding Member Brian Travers Dies at 62

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Brian Travers, a saxophonist, arranger and lyricist for the group UB40 and one of its founding members, died Sunday at age 62 at his home near Birmingham in England. The cause of death was cancer; Travers was reported to have undergone three surgeries for brain tumors since they were discovered in early 2019.

Said the band in a statement posted on social media, “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our comrade, brother, founding UB40 member and musical legend, Brian David Travers. Brian passed away yesterday evening with his family by his side, after a long and heroic battle with cancer. Our thoughts are with Brian’s wife Lesley, his daughter Lisa and son Jamie. We are all devastated by this news and ask that you respect the family’s need for privacy at this time.”

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UB40 made a career of melding mainstream pop with reggae like no other musicians since. The group’s two No. 1 hits in the U.S. were covers of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red WIne” and the Elvis Presley classic “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You.” Worldwide, UB40 was reported to have sold more than 100 million albums.

In the band’s native UK, where they remain stars, the group had 39 singles reach the top 40. “Food for Thought” was the group’s first top 10 single in 1980. The Birmingham outfit’s other hits in Europe included “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” “One in Ten” and a cover of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”

In early 2019, he was found to have two brain tumors after having a seizure that caused him to miss dates on the band’s anniversary tour. He was able to return to play with the band, giving his final performance with UB40 in December of that year at the Arena Birmingham.

The original lineup of UB40 stayed together until singer Ali Campbell left in 2008. He was replaced in that role by his brother, Duncan Campbell, who announced his retirement in June of this year, with the band set to soldier on with a new singer.

Travers and his school friends formed the group in the late ’70s. The group was named after a form in England used by people signing up for unemployment benefits. “We had just signed on and somebody said ‘UB40’ and we all instantly knew that was the name of the band,” Travers told The Telegraph. “Thank God for the dole. We got fed, it paid the rent and it enabled us to concentrate on developing our careers. We commandeered a cellar and started rehearsing every day, 9 till 5. … Our first experiences of playing an instrument started together, and we’d humiliate each other over mistakes. But we were very serious about our music.”

In the group’s early days, he told writer Malcolm Wyatt, “We didn’t know the keys, what the right passing chords were, what a bridge was … there’s a lot to be said for knowing nothing about pop music!”

“By the time the Specials – and those guys are my mates, I play in bands with most of them now – were doing that kind of punky, rock-steady Blue Beat thing, which everybody called ska, we were into reggae. We had Bob Marley, Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs, and thought we were a bit ahead of the curve. …. We were just teenagers and all a bit political, and had to be unless there was something wrong with us. We were all socialist. We thought we could change the world and put to right what was wrong. It was exciting, it was cool. … It just so happened that we were in a pop group, talking to the NME and on the telly. We were probably among the more normal pop stars that had ever been out there.”

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