Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Midge Ure interview

A version of my interview originally appeared at

Midge Ure has toured the world with high profile bands (Ultravox, Visage, Thin Lizzy) and helped organize the most prosperous charity events in music history (Band Aid, Live Aid, The Prince’s Trust, Live 8).

Yet none of that prepared him for the challenge of becoming a reality TV contestant.

In 2011, the veteran Scottish singer/guitarist signed onto UK series “From Pop Star to Opera Star,” planning an interesting change of pace, but didn’t quite enjoy the experience.

“The moment you agree to do it, you know you’re setting yourself up for a fall. If someone put a gun to my head, I couldn’t sing opera,” the Ultravox leader admitted during a phone interview last week (a rare North American tour, backed by LA-based group Right the Stars, reaches the Coach House on Thursday).

“Once you commit, you have to see it through. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do it very long; I got kicked out straight away,” Ure, 59, said with a laugh.

Ure didn’t memorize any new techniques he could later put into practice.

“When you spend an hour and a half onstage every night doing songs in ridiculously high keys, it takes a toll. If I learned anything, I’d be sitting here warming up my voice. It just went in one ear and straight out the other. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

A few years earlier, Ure had a much better time on one of his favorite British shows, the long running “Celebrity MasterChef.”

“I got tired of my agent [always] phoning up and asking if I wanted to do celebrity ballroom dancing, go to the jungle or whatever…he knew I was a good cook and got me on the program…I survived and it was good fun.”

Following the reality TV foray, Ure reconvened the classic Ultravox lineup for the first time since 1987 to tour the UK, Ireland and Europe.

One of the more successful British synth-pop acts of the early-to-mid 1980s, Ultravox amassed close to a dozen top 20 singles and several gold or platinum albums at home over a seven year period.

Stateside, it barely dented the Billboard charts back then (1983 track “Reap the Wild Wind” reached #71). KROQ placed the tune and “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” in regular rotation.

“When I first toured America with Ultravox in early 1980, the majority of [mainstream pop/rock] radio stations were all playing Styx, Boston and Foreigner,” recalled Ure.

“That was the daily stuff people consumed. It was only college radio and a couple of forward thinking stations who stuck their necks out and played what they call ‘alternative’ music from the UK and Europe. KROQ was one of them…of course the pivotal point for this stuff breaking through was [the emergence of] MTV.”

Ultravox bore the distinction of having two music videos (“Vienna,” “Passing Strangers”) aired on the nascent cable network’s first day in 1981. 

“What little they had was mainly European because we were all making pop clips over there. Once they got shown, The Cure, Depeche Mode – all broke huge in America. At which point they didn’t understand what Ultravox were. Maybe we were too left field for them. We weren’t as instantly palatable as a lot of other bands. In hindsight, maybe people can now look back and see what we did then and see how it’s influenced how music was shaped over the last 25 years.”

Indeed, both Berlin and pioneering Detroit techno deejays acknowledged the affect Ultravox's sleek sounds had on them. More recently, Seal covered “Vienna” on tour in ’08, while the Temper Trap, Ladytron and Cut Copy have delved into similar sonic terrain.

Before leaving Ultravox, Ure was at a career apex, having co-written and co-produced “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” - Band Aid’s #1 song for African famine relief - in 1984.

Ure was “incredibly proud of the British people for putting their hands in their pockets and making that record the success it was. Because it wasn’t a great song; it was ok. And we kick started the whole ‘musicians getting involved and trying to make a difference’ thing.”

These days, he and Band Aid partner Bob Geldof remain trustees for the organization, which continues to send out money which the perennial holiday song generates (all artist royalties were donated) to Africa. Ure said he thinks it’s great that schoolchildren are now taught about those events. 

Even the fact that the pair pulled off Live Aid in July 1985 is something Ure still finds unbelievable.

“It was a magnificent event, a logistical and technical masterpiece, whether you liked the artists or not.”

Right around that same period, Ure saw his solo LP “The Gift,” and single “If I Was” hover near the top of the UK charts. In ’88, follow up “Answers to Nothing” spawned the minor US alt-rock hit “Dear God” and Ure would continue to release CDs here in the ‘90s and early ‘00s.

The solid Ultravox reunion album “Brilliant” arrived abroad in 2012 via EMI.

“We had really high standards. When it came to writing, we didn’t want to [do] any old nonsense, we wanted to really craft this and try to create not just what we did back in the day, but what we’ve learned since we were apart as songwriters, arrangers and producers. And that’s exactly what we did. We put our heart and soul into it.”

Featuring Ure’s dramatic hushed vocals and ominous, yet regal synth/piano work, the spacey “Hello,” catchy title track, Middle Eastern-tinged “Satellite” and sweeping “Lie” are among the standouts.

“I didn’t want to do a retro record by any stretch of the imagination. It has all the core elements that make an Ultravox song – a majestic sweep, cinematic music, mid-European essence - without going back in time to recreate what we did. We wanted to make a contemporary record that stands up to The Killers, Muse or any other band that’s been influenced by [us]. Hopefully, that’s what we’ve done.”

Ure’s current live jaunt – his first on these shores in nearly two decades – is meant to test the waters and drum up interest for a potential Ultravox tour later in 2013. Regarding Right the Stars, who he only met before arriving here to rehearse (“the costs and problems involved in visas”), the singer praised them for doing “very authentic versions” of the old songs while “putting their own stamp on it.”    

No stranger to the Coach House, Ure said he played there “a couple times with a band and acoustically. It’s a fantastic place. I remember having a good time and I had a look 'round The Mission as well.”

Midge Ure plays 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, with Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, Smiling Face Down and Former Human opening. Tickets are $20 and available through

Also catch him 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 at the El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, with Lwin, Gene Loves Jezebel and Right the Stars opening. Tickets are $28.50 and available through For more information:,

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