Were UB40’s phones really bugged by MI5? The full bizarre story

7 May 2021, 11:34

UB40 drummer Jimmy Brown says MI5 spooks monitored the group at the height of their fame in the 1980s.
UB40 drummer Jimmy Brown (centre back) says MI5 spooks monitored the group at the height of their fame in the 1980s. Picture: Getty

By Giorgina Hamilton

UB40 drummer Jimmy Brown alleges government security service MI5 were monitored the group at the height of their fame in the 1980s.

UB40 are one of the most popular bands of all time. Their brand of reggae-pop fusion was a huge success in the 1970s to the 1990s.

See more: UB40's greatest 10 songs ever, ranked

Yes the band's drummer has revealed a bizarre story involving the UK's security service during the 1980s.

Long-standing member of UB40, Jimmy Brown, has claimed spooks were watching the band and even tapped their phones.

See more: UB40 feud: Reggae band's complicated history and why the Campbell brothers fell out

Speaking in a new interview with The Guardian Brown claims the government agency watched their every move.

UB40 are one of the most popular bands of all time. Their brand of reggae-pop fusion was a huge success in the 1970s to the 1990s.
UB40 are one of the most popular bands of all time. Their brand of reggae-pop fusion was a huge success in the 1970s to the 1990s. Picture: Getty
“MI5 were tapping our phones, watching our houses, all sorts,” says UB40 drummer Jimmy Brown. (Pictured centre with bandmates in 2016)
“MI5 were tapping our phones, watching our houses, all sorts,” says UB40 drummer Jimmy Brown. (Pictured centre with bandmates in 2016). Picture: Getty

“MI5 were tapping our phones, watching our houses, all sorts,” says Jimmy Brown.

“We thought, ‘Haven’t they got criminals to catch?’ We were just a bunch of potheads, smoking weed and playing music.

See more: UB40 feud: Ali Campbell hasn’t spoken to his brother Duncan despite stroke

"We weren’t planning the revolution, but if the revolution happened, we knew what side we were going to be on.”

Extraordinarily, MI5 whistleblower David Shayler backed up Brown's claims in 1997.

According to The Daily Mail Shayler said the security service spent "years and years" monitoring the band amid concerns they were communists plotting to overthrow the government.

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The claims were supposedly due to the band's staunchly left-wing views and in the same interview UB40 singer Ali Campbell said the band were “the real deal” in tackling issues such as apartheid and Thatcherism.

“We were eight people who had been unemployed since school, trying to wade through Thatcher’s quagmire of shit and then sing about it. We were politicised, were disenfranchised, and we had a lot to say,” said Campbell.

The Daily Mail also reports that Campbell previously said they thought about suing MI5 for the private phone recordings, however they decided not to in case the group ended up “with poisoned umbrellas sticking out of our a***holes”.

See more: UB40 film: Ali Campbell confirms movie biopic is being made to tell his side of the story

Formed in December 1978 in Birmingham, UB40 scored over 50 singles in the UK Singles Chart, and have achieved success around the world, including Grammy nominations for Best Reggae Album four times.

UB40 have sold over 70 million records worldwide. Their original line-up was particularly diverse, with members of English, Welsh, Irish, Jamaican, Scottish and Yemeni parentage.