Ipswich: Midge Ure and Ultravox say goodnight Vienna, hello Regent
Having just released their first album together for almost 30 years, the classic Ultravox line-up of Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billy Currie and Midge Ure are undertaking a 14-date tour of the UK this autumn. MARTIN HUTCHINSON finds out more from Midge himself.
With hits like Dancing With Tears in my Eyes, Reap the Wild Wind and Vienna, the band – which formed out of the wreckage of Visage – was at the forefront of the electronic music explosion of the early 80s; although they tended to use standard rock music instrumentation as well which made the band sound unique.
As it turns out, it wasn’t their original intention to get back together.
“We all received an e-mail from promoters Love Nation about three years ago,” says the 58-year-old Scot.
“They mentioned it was 30 years since we wrote Vienna and if we were ever thinking of getting back together, then would be the time.
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“We were all intrigued by the prospect but were adamant it had to be a good tour and not just a rehash of the hits. We wanted to do something of real quality and, lo and behold, the fans came from all over the world and we had a great time.”
Then there was the question of the new album, entitled Brilliant, released back in May.
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“We were approached to do an album, but we thought it was madness and we turned it down,” confesses Midge.
“But once the seed was sown we all thought ‘what if’, so we decided to try it to see what happened. We snuck off to Canada, where I have a home and built ourselves four little studios and did some recordings without engineers or producers – just us.
“We didn’t want to go back to how we sounded back in the day; we wanted to sound fresh and to me it all sounds very contemporary. And,” he adds with a smile, “we used about 90 per cent of what we recorded by ourselves on the record.”
Midge first came to the public’s attention as a member of teeny-bop band Slik, who topped the charts with the funereal Forever and Ever. The metamorphosis for a teeny hero to respected musician doesn’t happen very often.
“I think only a handful of artists have managed something similar,” he muses.
“George Michael springs to mind and maybe Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow as well. It was weird really, the deal we had was awful, but it was the only one we were offered. We didn’t write or produce our first records and didn’t play on some of them.
“Then I got a call from Glen Matlock who had been in The Sex Pistols and I joined his band The Rich Kids and brought synthesisers in.”
His next band was Visage with Steve Strange and Billy Currie.
“I also got into production at that time and worked with Steve Harley, Magazine and Ultravox who I later joined, replacing John Foxx.”
With Ultravox, he wrote and recorded the atmospheric Vienna which was a worldwide smash hit in 1981 but astoundingly was kept off the top of the charts by the comedy song Shaddap You Face.
“It doesn’t matter,” says Midge philosophically.
“It reflected the British taste in record buying at the time.”
“Everyone remembers the Joe Dolce song, but John Lennon kept us off the top for a while too.”
He shakes his head in wonderment.
“It was ridiculous,” he says.
“If it had been a good comedy song like Benny Hill’s Ernie I wouldn’t have minded so much; but it wasn’t even a good comedy record.”
Of course, after Ultravox split up in the mid-80s Midge was partly responsible for the Live Aid phenomenon as he co-wrote Do They Know it’s Christmas with Bob Geldof.
But back to the present and the reunion.
“It wasn’t hard to get back into the swing of things,” he says. “We just naturally assumed the roles we had before; it was like putting on a favourite old jacket and it fit perfectly. It was very comfortable.”
The choice of what to perform on the tour has yet to be finalised and just how much of the new album will feature is in the thoughts of all four band members.
“Yes, it’s a big point for us,” he agrees.
“We can’t play the entire new album, maybe five or six tracks – we just have to agree which tunes to play. There’s also a huge amount of back-catalogue to consider.”
One thing the band is 100 per cent agreed on is that it will be pure Ultravox.
“No, we won’t be playing anything from the John Foxx era, nor anything from the last Ultravox album from 1986,” Midge continues.
“It wasn’t fair to do anything that Warren wasn’t on and there’ll be none of my solo stuff either. It’ll be purely Ultravox form 1979 to 1985.”
They are certainly looking forward to playing live again.
“it’s the reward we get for recording,” he says. “We get to play it live and see the audience reaction. People never dreamed that they’d see Ultravox perform again. We love seeing the excitement build and then see the joy on the faces of the audience.”
As for the future, Midge has a few things in mind.
“I’ve been working on a solo album for about six years and I’ve just got the rights to my autobiography so I’ll be updating that.”
As for the band?
“I’m not sure really. The door is open for anything Ultravox-wise,” he says. “We all have other careers which will carry on, but we could do another album or film soundtrack – anything at all really.”
Ultravox appear at Ipswich’s Regent Theatre on Wednesday, October 3.