Friday, August 31, 2018

Bonus Q&A: Midge Ure appearing in Riverside, Calif. (with Paul Young)

Here is more from my interview with Midge Ure that didn't make it into the main article this week in Southern California News Group papers. Ure and Young perform on Monday at Romano's in Riverside, Calif.

Q: You just starting touring with Paul Young again few months ago. Did last night’s show and the first leg of the tour meet your expectations?
Yeah, the first leg was fantastic. Paul hadn’t toured America [in quite a while before] the Retro Futura tour last year. I had been touring over here the last few years...We were off doing individual things for [most of] the summer, all the festivals. Last night was the first night back in Vancouver. It’s amazing being back onstage, having not played in a couple months. It was astonishingly good.

Q: Do your respective fans seem to be receptive to the double bill? Your music isn’t all that similar.
I think the era is more compatible, rather than the genre. I think people are into music from that time period [1980s]. There were stations that would play both Paul and I. There is an element of the audience that paid specifically to see one person, but it’s totally compatible.

Q: Have you been trading off closing sets?
It depends on how we feel. Paul puts on more of a ‘show’ than I do. It seems to make sense that he goes on second…the only decision that has to be made is who does the soundcheck first. The last person doing the soundcheck is the first person on.

Q: I saw a recent live clip on YouTube from one of the recent shows where the two of you encored with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.” That looked like fun to do.
It was one of those last-minute things. We organized everything about doing the tour together, but we hadn’t organized what we were going to perform together. It’s stupid that we are in the same vehicle, same hotels and sharing the stage and we hadn’t worked out anything as a unit. So ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ is something we kind of all knew.

Q: And you know it like the back of your hand, having toured with Thin Lizzy for a short spell.
I certainly do. Jamie, Paul’s guitarist [has played it]. Very simple and straightforward.

Q: During the ‘80s, you and Paul shared a stage during the all-star Prince’s Trust you oversaw, the Nelson Mandela Tribute concert and were in the same studio for the Band Aid recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Had you ever broached the subject of touring together back then?
I think we were just so incredibly busy at the time…when you do things like Prince’s Trust and the Mandela concert, it’s such a ‘wham bam, thank you maam’ moment. You get in there, get the job done and then you go your separate ways. We were all touring extensively back in the day. Ultravox kept me incredibly busy. Paul was certainly busy. It was never one of those things where you sit down, have a cup of tea and say, ‘ about getting together and doing a tour?’

Q: In 2013, you started playing America on a regular basis again after a long absence. Have you been making up for lost time?
That’s probably possible. There’s an element of that. I cannot say I don’t really have an ego, but if you do, you do. There’s something buried deep down where I have this gripe that Ultravox never really made it here. That I’m still kind of an unknown quantity to the majority of audiences in America. So, it’s some weird late life desire to carry on doing it. When you come out and tour here, you’re touring on a completely different level than how you would tour anywhere else in the world. I’ve kind of gone all the way back to the beginning. Putting equipment in the back of the car. Carrying my own equipment. No crew. It’s really like going back to the early years. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to do that and remind yourself, ‘this is what it’s all about.’ You want to play, sometimes this is what you have to do. There’s no hardship in it.

Q: Ultravox played the Whisky A Go-Go quite often when the band first started coming to America around 1979-80. Does anything stick out in your memory about those gigs?
I think that was the first time I visited (here) with the band. We did five nights at the Whisky. It was in between Christmas and New Year. I remember distinctly playing the Whisky for New Year’s Eve and I went onstage with a kilt – long before Axl Rose did it. Then I went offstage, hung out and a very good Scottish-flavored evening with Ultravox. It may have been before we had an album released. So it was probably late ‘79/early ’80. The Whisky was a great place to play. We stayed in the Tropicana Motel, the one that all the bands stayed at.

Q: Once Ultravox started having a run of hits in England, out here, KROQ was a big supporter. Did that radio exposure help the band get some much-needed attention?Absolutely. There were key areas in America that got Ultravox and were tuned into what was happening throughout the U.K. So the whole New Wave/electronic thing was picked up by KROQ and 91X. Over on the other coast you had WLIR in Long Island...And when MTV arrived, it gave everyone a slightly different flavor.

Q: Speaking of music videos, one of Ultravox’s most memorable ones was "Vienna." What do you recall about filming that? Was it actually done at an estate?
We shot most of it in London because when we asked the record label, Chrysalis Records in the U.K., and said we wanted to make a videoclip, they said ‘why? The record’s already #2.’ I set down with the label to explain that with a videoclip, you can appear on 10 different Saturday night television shows around Europe. Without a videoclip, you had to slide a band in and out and appear on these things. They wouldn’t give us the money to make it. So we borrowed the money from the bank because we had enough to make the video. We had one day to fly into Vienna and get the key shots that we needed in a graveyard to be by this massive gravestone that was used. We did it all on a shoestring budget.

Q: I did some research and that video was the #134 played on the first MTV broadcast.
Ah, that’s something I didn’t know. That’s amazing!

Q: That video was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who did a lot of groundbreaking videos for Duran Duran and others.
I think when people saw this mini-movie and all the parameters we’d created, cropping the screen at the top and bottom to make it look like CinemaScope, shooting on film, nobody shot on film at the time. Doing all those things, Duran and Spandau and Elton John saw them and wanted Russell to do something similar.

Q: Did you enjoy the process of making videos?
I enjoyed it because it was an extension of what we did. We were heavily involved in the artwork and the graphics, the photography, the stage design of all the shows. When it came to doing videos, we set those parameters, not Russell. We said, ‘we want to shoot it in 16mm, we want it very grainy, film noir.’ Then we went onto direct our own videos. We had learned so much from working with Russell. It was time to move on and do things on our own.

Q: Turning to "Orchestrated," I enjoyed hearing all these old favorites in a different light. Much of the Ultravox catalog was tailor-made for this kind of treatment. Was it a delicate balance to keep enough of the original melody of the songs intact while also adding something fresh?
No, I think the melody lent themselves to that. As you rightly said, a lot of the Ultravox stuff is cinematic. The melodies, counter-melodies, arrangements, those elements are of key importance. What you can do is orchestrations of it. Take some of the counter-melodies that are fixed in in the track and bring them to the fore. That’s exactly what we did. We didn’t really add a lot of new melody stuff to it. What we did was take what was there and expose it a bit more…now there’s enough space there to give those melodies a hearing.

Q: It was a pleasant surprise to find that you located Mae McKenna to reprise her Gaelic vocal role on “I Remember (Death in the Afternoon)” from the original recording on the new album. How’d that come about?
The joys of social media! Mae and I hadn’t seen each other since the original recording. When I traced her down, it turned out she lives 30 miles away from me in the Southwest of England. She was almost local. She just popped up one day and did this lovely vocal.

Q: I read that you plan to put out a new original studio album, correct?
I’ve been working on and off. It’s a fairly constant thing. I’ve been doing so much live work in the last couple of years, I haven’t really been able to knuckle down and focus on what I’m doing. I have no idea what form it’s going to take.

Q: Many fans liked the ethereal nature of your last studio album, "Fragile."
I was very pleased with how that was received. I put a lot of time and effort into that record. Too much time. 10 years. I’m not planning on doing the same thing for the next one.

Q: There’s a new import collection of Ultravox extended 12” mixes coming out later this year on CD and vinyl. What can you tell me about it?
The old record label, Chrysalis, managed to get the copyrights back and the original recordings and is beautifully repackaging them. They’ve uncovered six live multi-track recordings which I haven’t heard yet. There’s a wealth of material there…rather than doing remixes, which has become a fad, I suppose. You know - taking a vocal line and putting on an entire new backing track. Back in the day, you’d get just the music or just the bass, the melodic elements and mix them all together.

Q: When these mixes originally came out did they help get Ultravox exposure in dance clubs and discos like Studio 54 in NYC?
That was the idea. Then you’d always release the 7” record after the 10 or 12” extended mix on vinyl. Once you released them, you’d very rarely hear them unless you were in the clubs. For me, it’s quite interesting to go back and hear what we’d done. There’s always something you did at the very end of a session. You got the mix you wanted, the 4-minute version absolutely the way you liked it, then you would deconstruct the song into sections, put them all together and come up with this 8-minute long version.

Q: What did you think about “Vienna” being used so prominently in an episode of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace?”
I’d actually forgot that they’d asked about it. Then I started seeing social media messages from America, saying, ‘wow, I’ve just watched the entire series and “Vienna” features very heavily in it.’ I hadn’t seen the series. I saw the clip where they used it, the final episode. I thought they’d just use it in the background, but they actually used it in the soundtrack. Played the entire song, no dialogue over the top, it was incredibly well used - threatening and atmospheric and bizarre. It was also used in [the series] ’13 Reasons Why.’ Hugely popular with kids. So there’s a wealth of young people out there that had never heard of Ultravox or Midge Ure who discovered it though its usage on ’13 Reasons.’ Chrysalis are looking at doing a compilation of two solo albums I did. They looked up to see what my most streamed solo track was – it was a David Bowie cover I did back in 1982, which was used in a video game. Young people get connected to this music by playing it over and over on their phones.

Q: Finally, I have a Band Aid question: how did it feel to create a perennial holiday song like ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ that you hear everywhere during the holidays, one that did so much good in Africa?
It took quite awhile for it to sink in what this was...It’s not like the past to me because I’m still doing it. I’m still a trustee and overseeing the funds generated every time that record is played which go forever to the Band Aid Trust. It will long after Bob [Geldof] and I are gone. For us, it’s very fresh and relevant. Several generations have grown up knowing that song and might not know the history as to why the song was put together.

No comments: