King City Online ©, & Cerys Davies ©
Let me take you back to 2018 when the Birmingham Music Awards were about to host their first awards ceremony. After months spent cajoling influential industry figures into becoming ambassadors, drawing up lists of nominees and coaxing big name guests, booking a venue and selling tickets, they realised that was the easy bit!
Everything was going to plan until the headline act was cancelled days before the ceremony, forcing one of the founders, Jo Jeffries, to open her little black book of music industry contacts and call KIOKO, a diverse Birmingham reggae band (sound familiar?) who had already played Glastonbury. Knowing that UB40 were going to be in the crowd, Jo suggested KIOKO perform a UB cover to catch the attention of the band.
Sure enough the performance had the desired effect, and UB40 were quick to ask KIOKO to join them on tour. After all, they had caught the eye of Chrissy Hynde in much the same way in the beginning of their career. Chrissy had been so impressed with UB40
on that fateful night at The Rock Garden in the late 70s, that she invited them to tour with her band, The Pretenders, for 35 dates. Seems UB40 saw fit to pay it forward for KIOKO when they blew them away at the BMAs.
We sent the newest addition to the BMAs team, Cerys Davies, to get the inside story from Matt Doyle, former KIOKO frontman, and now lead singer of UB40, as he prepared for their huge show at Sandwell Valley last week.
“It was the first year of the Birmingham Music Awards” says Matt. “Jo got in touch to tell us that a slot had opened up on the bill and that UB40 would be there. We’d been a presence in Birmingham for quite a while and I think UB40 had heard of us so this was the perfect opportunity to build on that and show them what we were made of. Jo suggested we do a cheeky cover to really grab their attention. We unanimously decided on One In Ten. It was our favourite UB40 song; the only problem being we’d never learned to play it and time was short. In the end we all learned all our own parts at home and the first time we played it together live was at the sound check!”
How was the actual show?
“We were performing One in Ten with the original artists themselves standing just a few feet away from us at the side of the stage. No pressure! Then the monitors failed and we couldn’t hear each other playing! But the UB lads were great, shouting encouragement, clapping along and dancing. With their help, we kept the beat going until the technical problems were solved, it was a bit of a blur to be honest!”
Wow, and that led to a forty-date tour?
“Well, first it led to an invite to open for them at the Royal Albert Hall, then Bristol Harbourside, then the tour. After the Bristol show the guys said they thought KIOKO were ready, and that we had what it takes ‘to play to our audiences and get them moving’. It was a really nice match.”
How was life on the road? Were you together with the UB guys much off stage?
“It was great! KIOKO had our own hired bus - not a massive tour bus because we were working to a budget - but we made it work anyway. We spent loads of time hanging out with the UB40 guys and getting to know them. Life on the road was pretty much exactly how you’d imagine it, just crazy and really good fun.”
And now you’re part of the band! That’s amazing. How did you feel when that came about?
“It was bittersweet. I’ve been playing with KIOKO since we were kids in various projects, and we’ve all become the closest of friends, and we still are. They were all very happy for me, very supportive, and they just said it’s absolutely something I should go for, which was a breath of fresh air to hear from them. I really miss playing with them but at the same time I’m glad that this is what I’m doing now and I’m happy to get the chance to play in front of bigger audiences.”
You’ve already done a couple of UB40 dates; so what’s next on the horizon?
“We’ve got the UK tour coming up in November, then Europe, Australia and the US, so a lot of touring, which I’m really excited for.”
Wow. So have you played much outside the UK before?
“Not that much to be honest. We played in Greece as support for Tiny Tempah, we played a festival in Croatia, a private party in Ibiza, and supporting UB40 at the AFAS Arena which was an amazing experience.”
And now you’re the front man, which is incredible when you step back and think you’ve been working towards this for quite some years.
“Yes, and it probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the Birmingham Music Awards. Had we not been invited down to play that show, we wouldn’t have gone out on tour with them, I wouldn’t have got to know them so well and they wouldn’t have got to know me. So big thanks to the BMAs.”
And with that, Matt was off to perform a triumphant hometown show with good luck messages from his former KIOKO band mates on his phone and mom, dad, aunties, uncles and cousins cheering him on from the crowd: The stuff that dreams are made of.