British vocalist and former member of UB40 Terence Wilson, better known by his stage name Astro, has died aged 64.
Astro, who performed in the reggae pop band for more than 30 years, died after a short illness, his current band confirmed.
“We are absolutely devastated and completely heartbroken,” said a statement on Ali Campbell and Astro’s Twitter account.
“The world will never be the same without him.”
The band toured Zimbabwe more than five times and would have joint shows with the late South African jazz maestro Ray Phiri and the late Zimbabwean Solomon Skuza.
Astro joined UB40 in 1979 – shortly after the band was formed – but left in 2013 and went on to perform with breakaway group UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro, which had played some concerts this year and was due to go on tour in 2022.
The original band broke through in the early 1980s with their unique take on British reggae and found success with hits like Red Red Wine and Can’t Help Falling In Love.
The Birmingham-based group – named after the then government’s unemployment benefit form – sold more than 70 million records and had three UK number one hits.
UB40 members Ali Campbell, Astro, Mickey Virtue, Jimmy Brown, Robin Campbell, Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan in 1988
A statement from the current UB40 line-up on Twitter said: “RIP Astro.
“We have heard tonight, the sad news that ex-member of UB40, Terence Wilson, better know as Astro, has passed away after a short illness. Our sincere condolences to his family.”
In total, UB40 have recorded 39 UK top 40 singles and 28 top 40 albums, with Astro singing lead vocals on the hit Rat In Mi Kitchen which reached number 12 in 1987.
The group also enjoyed success around the world, including in the US, where Red Red Wine went to number one, as did another cover, Can’t Help Falling in Love with You, which spent seven weeks at number one in 1993.
The original line-up played together for three decades before Ali Campbell left in 2008.
In an interview with the Guardian in May, Astro spoke about the band becoming the voice of working-class people’s dissatisfaction with political and global issues after they formed in 1978.
He told the paper he experienced the “same rigmarole as most black people in the late 70s”, referring to a law which allowed people to be stopped and searched by police if they were deemed to be acting suspiciously – which Astro said was a “weekly occurrence”.
“We found it harder to write love songs than militant lyrics, because it was a lot easier to write about stuff you had witnessed or read about. It seemed natural to us,” he added.
Ali Campbell and Astro played at the Night of the Proms in Antwerp, Belgium in 2000
After the news of Astro’s death broke, BBC Radio West Midlands played the UB40 track Sing Our Own Song as a tribute – with presenter Natalie Graham calling his death “very, very sad”.
“Astro really was a wonderful and an incredible human being and obviously the legacy of the music that we still get to enjoy from the likes of UB40 is something very, very special,” she said.
He acquired his nickname as a child because he wore a pair of Dr Martens boots with the model name “Astronaut”, the musician explained in a 2016 interview with website UK Music Reviews.
“Fortunately, no one called me astronaut because it is rathermouthful so they shortened it to Astro and it has stuck ever since,” he added.
Asked how he felt about touring and performing live, Astro said: “There is no job on this planet that gives you the job satisfaction that I get. I live to be on stage.”
In August, fellow UB40 founding member and saxophonist Brian Travers died of cancer aged 62.
Source: BBC (Additional writing by Rex Mphisa)