/ 17 June 2023


Ub40 25th Anniversary Tour At Grand West
Reggae nights: UB40 – Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue – perform in Cape Town last month. Photo: Dereck Green/Gallo Images

We all know the feeling of setting off to go and see our favourite bands in concert, and if you don’t I recommend you go out and experience it. 

That is just what my wife Sam and I did on Saturday the third of June when we set off to see UB40. We had always planned to make a day of the experience, so as the sun began to set while we made our way along the N1 past Midrand we felt we may have started out a little late.

The feeling of lateness grew after we arrived as, having already decided to have dinner

before the show, we found ourselves faced with queue after queue of people waiting outside the various restaurants the Sun Bet Casino has on offer. We eventually made our way up three flights of broken down escalators to the third floor after being turned away from all the restaurants on the floors below. The dismissive, “you should have booked” (yes I know thank you) or, “there is a 45 minute wait” responses were still ringing in my ears when after one more dismissal we turned to the entrance of Rockets.

Upon entering a delightful young lady welcomed us at the doors and told us that they would be more than happy to accommodate us but… (“here we go again” I thought), they only had space on the couches, my almost scowl immediately turned into a smile. As we were led from the entrance towards the back of the restaurant I looked around at the gold decor, the attempt almost like a 1920’s speakeasy one sees in bad period films, classy if a little cliched until we arrived at an over-stretched brown leather couch several small tables in front of it.

We hadn’t been seated very long when a gentleman came to take our drinks order, just a beer on tap for me and a Long Island Iced Tea for Sam which, in her words, was “Very Nice.

We were handed two menus, the regular menu, flipped to the drinks pages, and their special Arena Menu which they use on concert nights to limit the menu and help the kitchen get everyone's food out as quickly as possible.I was perfectly happy with the limited menu,as main course number two was a Peppercorn and Feta Sirloin.

While we chatted waiting for our food Sam remarked that she could imagine several bachelorette parties taking place at the restaurant and I must admit I have to agree. While the venue itself was large and airy, the decor shiny and the tables and floors clean, it gave off the distinct impression of being a nightclub. This mainly due to overly  loud music that made it difficult to carry on a conversation despite being shoulder to shoulder.

Our food soon arrived and I looked down at a beautifully arranged plate of 250 grams of medium rare sirloin sitting on a bed of rocket and topped with small cubed pieces of feta with a creamed green peppercorn and feta sauce on the side served with an order of fries. 

The first cut into my steak revealed a beautiful pink turning slowly to red centre, medium rare just the way I like it. The fat of the meat was perfectly rendered and added wonderfully to the flavour of the meal, the meat was succulent and juicy almost breaking apart in the mouth and I enjoyed every piece. Unfortunately the peppercorn and feta sauce, while creamy, lacked the sharp pepperiness one looks for in a pepper sauce and had there not been feta on the steak I would not have known there was any in the meal at all, it was unfortunately more a cream sauce than a pepper sauce. The chips however were beautifully crunchy on the outside giving way to a fluffy interior that was most enjoyable. After we both finished our meals, we were very ready to go and enjoy a night of music.

We made our way back down the many broken down escalators, now returned to working order and headed to the Sun Bet Arena.

I am sure anyone who has ever been to a concert can attest that the most annoying thing about any concert is having to queue for what feels like hours to get refreshments. Here I must congratulate the Sun Bet Arena, they were well staffed with numerous refreshment stands and I was able to get us both a couple of drinks in under five minutes and we were very soon making our way to our seats.

I must stress here that while I have been to a few concerts in my time, this was the first time I was able to see what was happening on stage without having to rely on the giant screens either side of the stage. Let me say the difference in experience is really something special.

If ever you have the opportunity to go and see your favourite band I encourage you, if you can, to fork out that little bit extra to experience it.

We sat down and looked up at the lead singer of a five piece ensemble, keyboard, drums, bass and guitar of local South African Tidal Waves they make, according to them, original music for original people, and it was certainly an original sound. Jazz mixed with reggae and blended with a touch of hip hop to make a sound so uniquely South African it would not have been out of place alongside some of our local legends. It was not long before I understood why many regard them as one of South Africa’s hardest working Reggae bands. Song after song kept flowing from the stage as we danced in our seats until finally they sang their final song, a new one off their soon to be released album about the pressures we place on women in our society and a thank you to those women for staying strong in spite of it.

After a quick stage setup we were ready for the main event, of course we were reminded that UB40 is not a sit down band and we were encouraged to show our enthusiasm with more than just a polite round of applause. The indomitable Ali Campbell was introduced along with the rest of UB40.

Mr Campbell may no longer be the sprightly singer of his youth, but his voice has lost none of its vigour. Walking on to start the set with Here I Am a roar went up from the crowd as people cheered, climbing out of their seats, many made their way into the aisles to dance to some of their favourite songs. Here I Am was soon followed by I'll Be Your Baby Tonight, Me Nah Leave Yet and Cherry Oh Baby. While the entire concert was vibrant and enjoyable the moment of truth didn’t arrive until near the end when suddenly the entire stadium was on their feet and an explosion of sound battered the ceiling. Every person was on their feet and singing along to arguably UB40’s biggest hit Red Red Wine. 

This was the start of the climax and the energy it inspired carried us all too soon to the final curtain.

As we made our way out of the arena, the house lights on, there was a definite sense of exhilaration. We didn’t feel like we needed more, although if they had offered I am sure we would have stuck around, and we didn’t feel like we hadn’t had enough. The set list was perfect rising and falling throughout and at the end we all felt elated. 

Thank you UB40, and thank you Ali Campbell. You were phenomenal.