published: 9 /
Midge Ure speaks to Andrew Twambley about next year's Voice and Visions tour, being in both The Rich Kids and Thin Lizzy, Live Aid and Ultravox.
"The feeling has gone, only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
We all know those celebrated lyrics and we all know it was Midge Ure and Ultravox....but there is so much more to Midge Ure than one legendary song. Okay, he wrote the second biggest selling single in UK history and, yes. he co-organised the biggest concert the world has ever seen, and will ever see....but how many knew of his time playing guitar in Thin Lizzy? Who knew that he bought a house in the Caribbean, that was destroyed by termites, then a hurricane and and by a volcano?
I could have spent 24 hours talking to Midge and we would still have had plenty to discuss. Pennyblackmusic caught up with him just as lockdown started to ease, and began by asking him about his forthcoming Voice and Visions tour.
PB: It must feel a lifetime since the world went silent a year ago, but I see that you have recently announced a substantial new tour. Is it the Voice and Visions tour?
MIDGE URE: Yes, it’s a follow up to the tour that we were doing in 2019/20 that was cut short by the whole Covid scenario.
I was in New Zealand leaving for Australia on the day that New Zealand closed down, which was the beginning of March 2020. That shows you just how useless we are in the UK! We toured round most of Australia. but the last few gigs were cancelled and we managed to get back home. You couldn’t be any further away from home.
Then we just watched everything disappear…all the festivals and tours. The tour was continually postponed but happily it is now going ahead in Spring 2022. It is a follow-up to the ‘1980’ tour in which we focused on the two albums that came out in 1980, being the ‘Vienna’ album and the first Visage album. So we will concentrate on the next two Ultravox albums, ‘Rage in Eden’ and ‘Quartet’.
PB: Absolute classics.! It’s a massive tour that you are planning. Are there any plans to go abroad after you finish in the UK?
MU: Yes. I do, but, again because everywhere is suffering in differing degrees, there are only a couple of places on the planet where it’s getting back to some form of normality. Everywhere that we had plans to go and visit with the tour, like Scandinavia, Canada and America, they’ve all been postponed.
So, although the tour starts in Spring 2022, we have no idea when or where it will finish. Hopefully, if everything opens up and it’s all safe and we are allowed to go back, we will be touring all over the world.
PB: I realise you have been stuck at home for the past year but you haven’t been sitting on your hands, have you? What’s all this about the “Backstage Lockdown Club”?
MU: Well, I like technology, In fact, I have always liked technology and I have had a recording facility since the early 1980s. I have a little man cave at the bottom of the garden which I converted when I got back from touring. I changed it from just a recording studio and having done a lot of research I invested in some high definition cameras, some tracking equipment and some audio visual mixer gear.
A lot of artists have been doing concerts from home, from their bedrooms and sitting rooms or whatever, but utilising just the web cam and microphone in their computers. As good as the artists are, they usually looked and sounded dreadful. I wanted to do something that was loads better. So, I spent a lot of time and effort researching this stuff so I could set up the Backstage Lockdown Club where people from all around the world can log in and see a couple of events, get VIP tickets and whatever for when we finally get back out there.
So, it was just a way of staying connected with the outside world and it’s as much for maintaining my sanity, as it is theirs.
PB: That’s excellent. Even people who know little about music know Midge Ure for ‘Vienna’ and Ultravox but what they absolutely need to know is that there is a splendid goldmine of product you did between 1978 and 1980 with The Rich Kids and Visage… trailblazing music that set up a generation. Do you remember much about those days or are they lost in a hedonistic blur?
MU: Oh, no, I still remember quite a bit about it. I remember the first day when I moved from Glasgow to London to join up with The Rich Kids. Three of those guys had already been together – they were looking for this mythical fourth person.
I happened to turn up at the studio, learned three songs, and then we went out that night and played those three songs in three different venues in London. We just turned up and opened up for The Police because their support band didn’t turn up. Then we went to a warehouse party where Sid and Nancy and The Clash were hanging out and we played a few songs there, and then we went to the People’s Palace in Camden. We jumped up on stage and used The Boomtown Rats’ equipment and played a few songs there, supporting the Rats.
It was a baptism of fire. They were heady times, everything that I had read about but had never experienced. And, of course. a year into that I bought a synthesizer in to try and utilise it with the Rich Kids, and it broke the band up. Half the band hated it and half the band loved it, and the half of the band who loved it set up together.
PB: [Laughs] The Rich Kids had a hell of a line-up though, didn’t they?
MU: The Rich Kids were great. It was everything that it should have been. Steve New was the guitarist and was seventeen and had no idea about to how to control his guitar. Every time he wanted to do a solo he would go and turn his amp up. I was saying, “Steve when you play chords just have your guitar on seven,” and he would turn it up to ten for a solo so nobody could hear the faults.
PB: He had cool hair though, didn’t he?
MU: He was a really cool kid. He was brilliant. He always had a wealth of books with him. The Rich Kids were all great musicians. They were really good, but they were kids. They were dead before they started, because the media had made them out to be the saviours of rock and roll and they weren’t given enough time to get up and walk, let alone run. So, we were on a hiding to nothing, no matter what we did really.
PB: It led you into the new romantic era, didn’t it? Were you ever actually one of the Blitz Kids?
MU: I went to The Blitz Club but I don’t think I was ever outrageous enough to be one of the Blitz Kids, to tell you truth…but I was let in.
PB: You had an outrageous moustache.
MU: Ha ha, I had the moustache but that wasn’t very outrageous. (Laughs) I didn’t quite have the frilly shirts and things. I wasn’t part of the knickerbocker frilly shirt brigade. I used to go to The Blitz because of the music. Rusty Egan, who was the DJ, unleashed just fantastic bits of electronic stuff from Germany that was never heard here or on the radio. So, it wasn’t just Kraftwerk. It was La Dusseldorf, Neu and Can and it just pumped up through the sound system. You never heard that type of music in a disco…it just sounded brilliant, and that is what inspired a whole musical revolution.
PB: Another one of your lesser known adventures but an extremely significant sideshow in your life was when you played with Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy. How did that come about? Phil liked to party. didn’t he...a lot?
MU: Yeah, he probably did (laughs). These things are a bit of a myth really – like the hamster in the microwave oven stories. He was young and he was a rock star and did what young rock stars do. I think it was blown up to be something much, much worse than it probably ever was. I was a big fan of Thin Lizzy. I saw them in Glasgow performing as a three piece and I loved Phil’s voice and I got to know him when I moved to London. We bumped into each other and just used to hang out.
As I said, the synthesizer killed The Rich Kids, and I was in the studio putting the finishing touches to the first Visage album, I had just joined Ultravox, and I got this phone call from Phil who was in Arkansas, opening up for Journey, playing 30-40,000 capacity venues, and he said, “Gary Moore is not in the band anymore. Can you come out tomorrow and finish the tour for us?’ I thought, “Of all the guitarists he could have asked, why ask me? I’ve got no idea?”. I think he was under the misapprehension that I knew all the material It was a different world on that plane on the way over and in the hotel. I was on stage the very next night...so that was great because that gave me the wherewithal to buy some of the equipment I needed for getting Ultravox back on their feet.
PB: You had a massive hand in the second biggest single in the UK history. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with Band Aid. What does it feel like to have that in your locker? And how on earth did you persuade all those artists to appear on the video?
MU: Oh, that’s easy, the artists....I was locked in the studio for four days. I came up with a little melody [hums melody], Bob had written some lyrics and I was trying to put these incompatible ideas together to make the song. I played all the instruments on the record that you hear, except for Phil Collins’ drums, and by the time I had glued this thing together Bob had already bumped into Duran Duran and he had bumped into Spandau Ballet, because he lived in Kings Road. So. he was always there, and he bludgeoned all these people to commit to coming along and adding their strength to it, and, bear in mind, (people didn’t realise this at the time), when they all turned up on that day, outside the studio in West London, none of them had heard a note. They had not heard the song, had no idea how it went. They had come because they were committed to doing it…. so rounding them up was easy, Bob did that. I did all the musical stuff.
PB: Your career is full of highlights, but where does standing on stage at Live Aid rank?
MU: Oh. as a performance – great. I can look back at that and be proud of how it sounded. I was in Ultravox at the time and we were touring with twenty-two keyboards on stage and the sound checks alone took five hours, so we actually chose the songs that we could perform with the least equipment. To walk on there and do that and have it sound as good as it did with no rehearsal and no sound check, that was a major feat. For me personally standing on that stage, it flew by in a second.. I had been talking about this and working on this for three months as a Band Aid Trustee, so to walk on there and see that sea of people all clapping their hands in time with the 'Vienna' drum beat was just magnificent. It was great.
PB: I bet. Talking about personal stuff now, you’ve got four daughters. and you were one of the coolest guys in music. Do your daughters think you were cool or do they cringe when they see you do anything?
MU: Ha, I think probably both but they wouldn’t tell me about the cool bit and I can see why really. Every year, especially with that song we were just talking about, the schools would ask me to come and sit with an acoustic guitar and sing it to the kids. I used to see them sitting on the floor crossed legs in front of me cringing. I mean absolutely dying. It’s their dad up there and he is doing his thing. I mean how uncool is that?
I think maybe over the years they realise that I do have reasonably high standards and I work very hard to try and maintain those standards, and I think that’s what they see. It’s a realisation that has come to them in the last few years that the only thing you and I leave and the only thing that matters in your life is your kids. So, when I’m dead and gone I want them to be able to look back at any particular piece of my career and say “That was the best he could have done at that moment in time,” and that’s all that matters.
PB: Excluding your time in Slik, because that wasn’t your fault, have you had any other fashion faux pas that you regret looking back?
MU: [Laughs] Oh yeah I think we all have. If you all flick back through your photo albums, you’ll find something that you thought was really cool at the time, but you just looked like a complete dick. There are moments where I think, “Why was my hair looking like that,? Why did I have that ponytail?” But if I go back in time the ponytail thing was really cool, en vogue. All of it dates to the time. All of it like music dates, sounds date, records dates, movies everything, so you look back and think, “Fuck it. it’s old and it’s a bit hackneyed," but at that time, at that exact time, yeah, it seemed to make sense. But, yes, there are as few fashion faux pas. I found myself walking through Soho back in the early 1980s, and I saw my poster up in a gay shop and it was the campest photograph I ever had taken so...[Laughs].
PB: I bet your girls loved the ponytail shots.
MU: Probably! One of my daughters went to a Halloween party dressed as me with a drawn on moustache and little poncy sideburns and that was very spooky.
PB: I realise you are an absolute icon and experienced many successful ventures, but nobody’s perfect and I don’t want people to think you’re invincible, so tell me about your house in Monserrat in the Caribbean.
MU: [Laughs] Yeah, that was a mistake. You know what. It wasn’t a mistake because when I had it then it was great. I did a lot of things, I wrote a lot of material there and it was my little hideaway. But if there is a God it was God saying to me, “Really, you were born on the outskirts of Glasgow and you have got a house in the Caribbean.” so it was wiped out by a hurricane and rebuilt and then wiped out properly by a volcano.
PB: Didn’t you have termites as well?
MU: Actually, I forgot about that. When I bought it, it was termite riddled so I had to rebuild the entire house from the roof down. Everything that was wood had to be replaced. Then there was the hurricane, then the volcano…..disaster!
PB: In 1982 you did the unthinkable and released a version of “No Regrets” by The Walker Brothers, which I must say you pulled off. How on earth did you have the balls to record that?
MU: I had been on 'Top of The Pops' at the same time The Walker Brothers were in the charts. I think Slik and The Walker Brothers were in the charts at the same time. - Us with a Bay City Rollers rip off song and there were The Walker Brother singing this brilliant Tom Rush song which I had always loved. It just stuck in the back of my head and many years later I was doing a favour for a studio engineer friend of mine on a production. He was stuck, and I helped him produce the thing. and he said "Look, do you want any studio time?” and I said, “Great I’ll take a day in the studio," and on that day I did my cover version of the Walker Brothers’ classic. When the record label heard it, they loved it and wanted to put it out, so, yeah,. it was dabbling with fire, I should not have gone anywhere near it but..hey!
PB: But you pulled it off.
MU: Well, thank you. If you are going to do a cover version, try and make it your own. I didn’t go back and reference the original Walker Brothers’ one, I did what I remembered and did this huge kind of build-up, a big, massive, bombastic thing. Then I listened to The Walker Brothers’ version and it doesn’t do that. It just kind of starts and it was just flat all the way through because it doesn’t have the big build-up but mine did. So, I just used did what was in my head.
PB: And, finally Midge, what were you doing on the 4th February 1978?
MU: The 4th February 1978?
PB: I don’t expect you to get the right answer.
MU: No, I haven’t got the right answer, no.
PB: You were with me in Eric’s Club in Liverpool with The Rich Kids.
MU: You’re kidding?
PB: No. It was one of the performances that I remember, I was in Liverpool for three years and I saw everybody between ‘76 and ’79 but so many of them have fogged into the haze of The Grapes next door, but The Rich Kids stuck out as a stand-out moment.
MU: That’s amazing.
PB: Which ages me as well as you.
MU: [Laughs] I’m sure you were younger than I was.
PB: Only slightly, only slightly.
MU: [Laughs] Well, that’s good to know. It’s nice to meet one person who likes The Rich Kids.
PB: They were brilliant. Thanks very much for your time.
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