Posted October 12, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

The Ever Versatile Midge Ure

Midge Ure
Midge Ure

Last year, Ultravox singer-guitarist Midge Ure embarked on the Fragile Troubadour Tour, traveling completely solo and recording the whole experience himself for a documentary released late last year. This time around, he has teamed up with former Right the Stars drummer BC Taylor and L.A.-based keyboard player Tony Solis. The trio will perform Ultravox, Visage and solo material. Both are multi-instrumentalists and will cover drums, bass and electronics. Ure, who just returned from a cruise on the Queen Mary, something he likened to “a floating Downton Abbey,” phoned us from New York.

I think you started by playing with a band called Stumble. What’s the story there?
It was when I was a young aspiring guitarist. You’re listening to 15- and 16-year-old kids back in the day during the British blues boom. During early Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and all of that. There was a track on a Bluesbreakers album that we all fell in love with. It was called “The Stumble.” We named ourselves after that, though none of us were proficient. That was a part-time thing and I was still at school. It grew from there. You move on and get yourself a job and before long, you’re offered the opportunity to join a full-time band.

You wound up hopping from band to band throughout the ‘70s. What was that experience like?
It was funny. Scotland was a bit of an odd place. Stop me if this gets really boring. The clubs and licensing laws for selling alcohol were run by the church. They were pretty powerful at the time. Therefore, we didn’t have clubs where you could see bands play their own material. We didn’t have that pub rock that they had in England. We had to become human jukeboxes and play what was on the charts. Weirdly, Ireland had the same thing. There, they had show bands that covered traditional pop hit records. When you were trying to cut your teeth, you weren’t allowed to play your own material. It wasn’t until you climbed this slippery pole and got yourself a name that you could slip in your own material. It was latent, the whole songwriting thing. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I started writing songs.

How did Ultravox come together?
Ultravox was in existence before I joined. My linear path was from Stumble and various bands I played in in Scotland. I was playing guitar and took over vocals in one of these bands. We had a huge No. 1 record in the UK at the time. The band fell apart. That was when I moved to London and joined ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, who asked me to join his band, the Rich Kids. Then, I finally bought a synthesizer. I was trying to merge the electronic stuff I was listening to in Europe with traditional rock. The synthesizer broke the band up. It’s ridiculous. The idea of merging guitars and synthesizers grew, and the drummer of Rich Kids and I formed the studio project Visage. One of the guys we invited was Billy Currie from Ultravox. That was my meandering way of joining the band.

Do you think of the ’80s as the glory days of synth-pop?
There were artists that were doing interesting things. I thought Ultravox was one of them before I joined the band. I thought their first album was really good and really interesting. It had electronics and the violin. It was an odd combination of stuff. When I joined the band, we carried along these roots. I was talking to my agent last night and he was telling me that Depeche Mode is putting out a new album and playing Madison Square Garden again. I thought, “Where did we go so wrong?” We were just too arty for our own good. We missed the point. We refused to go on stage using backing tracks, which a lot of bands did because the technology at the time was so basic. We shot ourselves in the foot. In America, we could play 3,000 capacity venues and the next logical step was to open for someone bigger than you. We couldn’t do that. Our soundchecks took five hours. We just kind of hit a stalemate.

I’m not sure people know that you co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Bob Geldof gave you a call one day and you two collaborated on the tune?
Bob used to come and see Rich Kids when he was in Boomtown Rats. We kind of knew each other. Bob’s girlfriend, soon to become his wife, was a music journalist. We knew her. We got to know Bob through her. We were part-time friends but not great buddies hanging out all the time. I happened to be doing a TV show in the North of England that his girlfriend was co-hosting. We were finished. Bob was looking after the children and called his girlfriend and I happened to standing next to her when he called. He told me about the footage he had just seen of the famine in Ethiopia. He said he wanted to do something but he wasn’t in the position to do something and asked me to help. We got together and came to the conclusions that we weren’t fit to do anything but write a song. We made a plan to write a Christmas song because over the Christmas period if you get a number one record, it sells twice or three times as much as it does any other time of year. We set out to write something, which we did and pulled in all the talents that we knew. I wrote it on a Casio keyboard in my kitchen and it sounded Christmas-y to me. It’s a fairly obvious thing. It’s not the best song but it did a very good job.

Were you generally interested in political and social issues?
Not until I moved to London. Glasgow was a non-political place. It wasn’t until I moved to London that we had the anti-Nazi League and Never Again Campaigns and I was aware of regional issues. In Scotland, religious issues were the thing. That was something that was quite huge.  In London, I was exposed to a whole different world because I was living in the middle of it and much more aware.

Your last tour was completely solo. Talk about what you learned from that experience.
I set up myself up for this. I did it for this because I was speaking as a guest musician at Paul McCartney’s school in Liverpool. When I was talking, kids were asking about multi-album record deals and world tours, I realized that none of it makes any sense anymore because it only exists for a tiny minority of musicians. I wanted to know what I could do to show people how difficult it is to do that stuff. I set up this whole thing about going on the tour my own. My agent booked the shows, but I did it all on my own. I booked the vehicles and drove myself everywhere. I settled at the end of the evening and sat with the promoter and went through the finances. All of a sudden I was grown up. It’s stuff I never had to do before. Weirdly, the first show was in Seattle, and I was talking to the opening act who asked why I was doing it. I explained that I had never done anything like this. She said she had never done anything but that. That’s what kids have to expect. If they get above that, they’re doing really well.

It’s completely turned around. It used to be that you went on tour and didn’t care how much it costs because you were selling. Touring was a promotional effort to sell the record. Now, you have to put on a record to go on tour. It’s crazy.

You’ve got a band behind you for the current tour. Talk about how you’ve befriended these American musicians.
The drummer I worked with before. He’s great. We’re doing it as a three-piece band. BC Taylor is on drums and there’s a bass player that he knew called Tony Solis. They’re just incredibly versatile musicians and play all sorts of things. Between the three of us, we’re doing songs I haven’t played in the U.S. since the last tour with Ultravox in 1984. We’re jumping from guitar to synths and back and it’s sounding great. It’s a real challenge for me to do that. It’s rattled my cage. I’ve had to think about what I can perform. I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out.





Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].