Still riding the New Wave
When Ultravox released Vienna, their breakthrough hit single from the 1980 album of the same name, vocalist Midge Ure would start and end each day by walking to a public phone booth to call the band’s record company. Unable to afford a phone in his house, he would make this twice-daily pilgrimage to ask how the song was selling.
“I’d phone up in the morning and say, ‘How did we do yesterday?’, and they’d say, ‘We re-ordered another 60,000 copies.’ And then you’d phone at night and they’d say, ‘They’re gone now and there’s another re-order for 20,000.’ And you’d go, ‘What? This is madness!’ Mind you, I still didn’t have a penny in my pocket.”
Midge Ure is aiming to celebrate the past but with an eye to the future.
The Scottish singer claims not to remember the size of his first royalty cheque following the success of the single.
“I just remember someone saying, ‘You’d better think about buying a house.’ It was madness! I couldn’t buy a burger! But they knew [the money] was coming. In those days it took nearly a year to get your royalties. Luckily management was keeping us alive until the money came in.”
Ure is speaking from Brighton during rehearsals for his upcoming "1980 Tour", in which he will perform Ultravox’s Vienna album in full alongside hits from the 1980 self-titled debut by New Wave/synth act Visage, with which he was also involved.
His arrival in Ultravox in 1979 came at a particularly low ebb for the British act.
Ultravox in 1982 at the height of their success.
Having been dropped by their record label and management after three records, vocalist John Foxx and guitarist Robin Simon had also departed. At that point Ure was working on the first Visage album with Ultravox drummer Billy Currie, when it was suggested he step in to fill their positions.
“We literally pooled whatever money we had in our pockets to pay for a couple of hours in a rehearsal studio just to see if it would work,” he recalls. “And it was the best two hours of my life. The sound we made was spectacular.”
The band’s mix of synthesisers and rock instrumentation was perfectly poised to capture the ears and eyes of a world shifting away from the mid-to-late ’70s punk explosion.
“When people turned their back on punk, they reverted to what they liked before that, and that was Bowie and Roxy Music and looking very smart. The kids who instigated the whole punk look, The Bromley Contingent… instead of trying to look ugly and harsh they started looking extremely glam. They used to raid their granny’s wardrobes, so you’d get all these girls at the clubs dressed in 1940s and 1950s clothes looking really cool.”
Four years after Ultravox’s breakthrough, Ure was enlisted by then-Boomtown Rats vocalist Bob Geldof to produce, co-write and perform on Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the 1984 single released by charity supergroup Band Aid in response to the famine gripping Ethiopia. Ure recalls the anxiety he felt prior to a studio session that included such luminaries as Sting, Bono, George Michael, Boy George and members of acts such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.
“There was a dreadful moment when Bob and I were standing outside an empty studio that morning, and we had no idea who was turning up,” he chuckles. “We’d asked them, but we’d spoken directly to the artists. Unfortunately we hadn’t asked an adult, somebody who might actually write down where and when this is going to happen. So Bob leans across to me and says, ‘Is this [supergroup] just The Boomtown Rats and Ultravox?’”
While Ure’s last solo album of original material was 2014’s Fragile, he continues to work on new music. Events such as the 1980 Tour are, he says, designed to celebrate the past with one eye on the future.
“It really refocuses people on the fact that you have an ability, and if you can pull some of those people across into seeing your next tour or listening to your current records, that’s what it’s all about. It’s a bit like flippers and a pinball machine. Sometimes you have to ping the ball a certain way to hit the goal.”
Midge Ure plays The Metro on Saturday March 14
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