As Terence Wilson, a.k.a. Astro, told the story, he and his reggae band, UB40, didn’t even know whose song they were covering when they decided to record what became perhaps their biggest hit. They’d been smitten by a ska version of the song “Red Red Wine,” which was recorded by Tony Tribe in 1969.
The seven-inch vinyl carried the credit “N. Diamond,” Mr. Wilson said, and he and his bandmates assumed that it referred to a Jamaican artist named Negus Diamond.
“You could’ve knocked us out with a feather when we found out it was actually Neil Diamond,” he told Billboard in 2018.
The song was included on UB40’s 1983 album of covers, “Labour of Love,” and a pared-down version released as a single became a modest hit. Then, five years later, the longer version became an even bigger hit. Ali Campbell is the main vocalist on both, but the longer version includes Mr. Wilson’s distinctive toasting, or rapped vocals, which begin, “Red red wine, you make me feel so fine; you keep me rocking all of the time.”
How popular did that rendition become? So popular that Mr. Diamond took to performing the song — which he’d originally rendered as a glum ballad — with a catchy reggae beat and including a toasting section in which he imitated Mr. Wilson’s cadence. “Red red wine you make me feel so fine, hear it on the radio all of the time,” Mr. Diamond sang in Buffalo in 1989. “I don’t care if the words are all wrong; I don’t care ’cause they’re playing my song!”
Mr. Wilson joined Mr. Campbell and six others in UB40 in 1978 in Birmingham, England. None had extensive music backgrounds, but they developed their own sound and style; Mr. Wilson was the toaster, trumpeter and percussionist.
The eight were a racially diverse group, unusual for the reggae genre, most of whose stars were Black; Mr. Wilson was one of two Black members. But they were united by one thing when they came together: All were unemployed. The group’s name came from a bit of government paperwork, Unemployment Benefit Form 40.
Soon UB40 was famous and touring the world. Interviewed in 2005 by The Dominion Post of New Zealand on the occasion of the release of the group’s 23rd album, Mr. Wilson put his change in fortunes simply: “It is like winning the lottery every week.”
Terence Wilson was born on June 24, 1957, in Birmingham. His nickname came long before he thought of being in a reggae group.
“As a kid I used to run round with four or five other kids wearing these Doc Martin boots,” he told The Dominion Post, “and the actual model name was Astronauts.”
Mr. Wilson was an out-of-work cook when he joined the band, which had already begun rehearsing, in 1978. He and the others bucked the trend of the moment — punk — and instead tried making the music they listened to and loved.
“We knew we had something fresh that hadn’t been heard before,” Mr. Campbell told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser in 2019.
Starting out by playing clubs, the band by 1980 was opening for the Pretenders on tour, raising its profile considerably, especially in Britain. Chrissie Hynde, the Pretenders’ vocalist, had heard the band and become a champion; in 1985 she was a guest on another of the group’s best-known songs, a cover of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”
Much of the group’s popularity rested on covers — among its other biggest hits was its version of a song made famous by Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” released in 1993. But the band also recorded original material, much of it with a political edge. An early signature song, in 1981, was called “One in Ten,” the title referring to unemployment statistics.
Mr. Campbell split from the original group in 2008 in a dispute over management. Mickey Virtue, the keyboardist, joined him soon after, and Mr. Wilson joined them in 2013; they continued to perform as UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey. (Another group continued on as UB40.) Mr. Virtue left the splinter group in 2018, but Mr. Wilson and Mr. Campbell continued to perform and record.
Information on Mr. Wilson’s survivors was not immediately available.
Although the original UB40 lineup eventually fractured, Mr. Wilson said his musical goals remained constant.
“We’re still on our same mission, which is to popularize reggae music around the world,” he told The Dayton Daily News in 2017, when he and Mr. Campbell brought their version of UB40 to the Rose Music Center in Huber Heights, Ohio. “We’re all pleased the genre is now an international language everybody understands.
“It’s played around the world, and not everybody has English as their first language,” he continued. “They don’t necessarily understand what’s being said, but everybody understands a good bass line and a drum beat. I think a bass line can say more than 1,000 words ever could.”