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6 September 2016

When Jeremy Corbyn met UB40: “This is my music and I hope you like it“

The story starts on Corbyn Street. 

By Julia Rampen

Jeremy Corbyn may have spent the last month talking anti-austerity, beating the Tories and National Executive Committee decisions, but on Wednesday he was in a more harmonious mood. 

The press had gathered to hear UB40, a retro reggae band, endorse Corbyn for the Labour leadership. 

The story of how UB40 became Corbynites began appropriately enough on north London’s Corbyn Street, where Corbyn met the band’s representative while out campaigning.

After “a long chat about music, society and art”, one thing led to another, and eventually four of the band members were sitting on a panel on either side of the embattled Labour leader.

Much of the time, it seemed like Corbyn was doing the endorsements, not the other way round. He declared of the band, whose title stands for Unemployment Benefit, Form 40: “Music is part of everyone’s existence and your band formed in the 1970s at a time of increasing youth unemployment.”

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Not only that, said Corbyn, but UB40 supported the miners, anti-apartheid protests and refugees. A band up his street, in more ways than one. 

Corbyn’s interest in reggae actually dates back to two years spent in Jamaica as a young man. But he also praised some festivals yet to be discovered by the rave generation –  those of the Durham Miners and the Tolpuddle Martyrs. 

“Music affects people in different ways,” he mused, after turning down the prospect of Strictly Come Dancing. “You associate it with different parts of your life.”

As well as political artists like Joan Baez, it turns out Corbyn is in thrall to Gustav Mahler, the great Romantic composer of the 19th century. 

“I enjoy going to the Proms at least once a year,” Corbyn told the audience. “Trying to understand what motivated someone to sit in a garret room and turn out something that was stupendous. They had to write it out, and then find an orchestra that would support it.”

UB40 has something of a different creative process. “We just go into a room and knock something together,” said Brown. 

So I asked Corbyn what politicians could learn from bands. 

“I think team work,” he said. “Supporting each other, being creative together, improving society together. That is what bands do – until they fall out.” He quickly backtracked. “But no band can ever fall out.”

Jimmy Brown, UB40’s drummer, joined in. “You can see it as co-operation,” he said. “You need everyone together. If you want to get the band together for a long time it should be democratic, really.”

“It’s a collaborative act,” said Corbyn. Brown nodded. “The crew, yeah.” 

Corbyn had another thought. Politicians could also learn from bands’ determination, he said: “To say, this is my music, this is me, I am going to put it out there, and I hope you like it.”