UB40's Earl Falconer: “You can travel across continents with Steinbergers and they’re always in tune”

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It’s four decades since Brit-reggae stars UB40 emerged, fuelled by the massive bass-lines of Earl Falconer. We raise a glass with the Earl himself...

“Forty years has come and gone quickly. It’s amazing to us that we’ve been going so long. It’ll be a big party this year. We’ve got a gig at the Royal Albert Hall coming up, which will be amazing, I’m sure; we used to play Wembley a lot back in the day and I know this will be just as good. 

I love Steinbergers because I can always get the sound out of them that I want

“I’ll use a Fender Bassman and cab for that show, because I’m back to the old school these days. My first bass was a Hofner copy; I saw it when I was walking past a guitar shop as a teenager. After that I moved to a Fender Jazz, which you can see me playing in quite a few old UB40 videos, and then I switched to Steinberger four-strings, which I still play 20 years after I got them. 

“I know they’re small, and you might think they don’t make the right sound for a band like UB40, but I love them, because I can always get the sound out of them that I want. I prefer them because they’re light, after years of playing heavy basses. I have two of them, but they’re getting hard to get hold of now, and it’s also tricky to find spare parts. 

“The one I use most has got parts in it from all over the place. You can travel across continents with Steinbergers and they’re always in tune, because they’re made of carbon fibre. You’ll see a cool piece of artwork on mine; Brian, our saxophone player, who is an abstract artist, did that piece of artwork on my bass. He does all our T-shirt designs as well.

“I take a headless Warwick out as my backup bass; they’ve given me quite a few guitars over the years. Mine is a similar shape to the Steinberger, with a different bridge and tuners. I’ve also got a Hofner violin bass from the 1950s, but it doesn’t really sound right for UB40, and it’s a bit flimsy, so I keep it at home. 

After so long on tour we’ve reduced the on-stage volume... I'm trying to protect my hearing

“I don’t like in-ears so I wear regular headphones on stage. After so long on tour we’ve reduced the on-stage volume, especially now the in-ears are here, but I still like to have a cab on stage with me. I try to keep everything as low as possible, to protect my hearing, especially because I’m standing next to the drummer. 

“All things considered, my hearing is holding up pretty well. I’ve got mates who are DJs and they have tinnitus, which is hell for them. Feedback can be really damaging too, and it hurts!”

UB40 will be playing a 40th anniversary show at Arena Birmingham on 21 December.

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